The 190th anniversary of the founding of Jacksonville was celebrated Friday with the re-installation and rededication of the historic marker along East Bay Street that commemorates the event.
The restored marker was unveiled by Daniel Dearing, the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Isaiah D. Hart, one of the city’s founders and, as history recalls, its first mediator.
“This is my first chance to celebrate my family’s history in public,” Dearing said before he pulled back the cover from the marker.
Dearing shared some of his family’s history.
Hart moved from his plantation in St. Marys, Ga., to North Florida along the St. Johns River in 1821. He traded Lewis Zachariah Hogans cattle worth $72 for 18 acres of land that was covered with trees and swamp.
Hart built a log cabin on the north side of the river and soon after, his wife, Nancy, and their two sons joined him.
At the time, there was only one road through the area, the “King’s Road,” a dirt passage carved out of the forest by the British in the mid-1760s.
Hart observed the number of people who traveled the crudely built road and decided a town at the location could grow and become a center of commerce.
The first step in building a town would be to mark off some streets, Dearing said.
That’s where the mediation became historically important.
In order to build roads, property owners had to donate the land, so Hart took his plan to Hogans and the other major landowner, John Brady. They were not enthusiastic at first.
After much discussion, and likely a lively debate, Hart persuaded the two local land barons to agree to the proposal.
On June 15, 1822, Hart and Brady tied a rope around a bay tree at what is now the southwest corner of Bay and Market streets and laid out 20 city blocks and the settlement became a town that would eventually become Jacksonville.
There’s also a story behind the historic marker at the site.
It was originally installed in 1967 by the Jacksonville Historical Society and was restored just before Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. More than a year ago, it disappeared, said Emily Lisska, executive director of the society.
“At first, we thought it might have been stolen and sold for scrap metal,” she said.
A more likely scenario was that the marker may have been knocked down by an errant vehicle, she said.
“It disappeared for quite some time,” she said.
As it turned out, the cast-iron plaque and its damaged base was rescued by some City workers and put away unceremoniously in the freight elevator in the Courthouse Annex.
When it was rediscovered, the workers cleaned it, restored it and mounted it on a new base at its original location, just in time for the unveiling Friday.
Lisska said the next time the founding of the city will be celebrated at the marker will be June 15, 2022, Jacksonville’s bicentennial.
“I just hope the marker is still here then,” she said.