The location of what might be Florida’s oldest seaside resort for African-Individuals is hidden someplace within the dunes of Hanna Park, largely forgotten however stored alive by a handful of surviving pictures, a couple of tales and a surviving 60-cent round-trip prepare ticket from Jacksonville to this slice of sandy paradise.
For a number of a long time, beginning about 1901, Manhattan Seaside was a refuge for black beach-goers in segregated Northeast Florida, turning into a bustling place that included pavilions and boardwalks, swimsuit leases, concessions and trip houses.
By the mid-1930s it was largely gone.
“It is at risk of being misplaced to time,” mentioned Brittany Cohill, who started digging into Manhattan Seaside’s historical past whereas a graduate scholar on the College of North Florida. “How will we not know all of those tales?”
She is now operations supervisor of the Seashores Museum and Historical past Park and is making an attempt to boost consciousness of the previous resort. She’d prefer to see a historic marker positioned in what’s now Hanna Park, the oceanfront park owned by town of Jacksonville. And he or she’s additionally hoping to listen to from anybody who has previous household tales or pictures.
The resort started life round 1900, as railroad magnate and developer Henry Flagler constructed the grand previous wood Continental Resort in rural Atlantic Seaside, on the oceanfront between Seventh and 10th Streets.
Many who helped construct it and workers it have been black, however they might not use the resort for recreation. So Flagler, having no need for the oceanfront he owned to the north, set a part of it apart for blacks to make use of.
It was alongside an extension of Flagler’s East Coast Railroad, which went from Pablo Seaside — now Jacksonville Seaside — to Mayport, stopping on the Continental Resort after which, starting in 1907, at Manhattan Seaside.
Cohill is not certain how the reasonably grandly named stretch of dunes received its identify, although she notes that Flagler had lived in Manhattan earlier than shifting to Florida.
It quickly turned an attraction for blacks who lived on the seaside and to the residents of Jacksonville, the place blacks then made up greater than 50 % of town’s inhabitants.
“It was a well-liked vacation spot for church congregations. They might have kids’s days. Black labor unions would come out to the seaside. Individuals would come from all around the Southeast. There was no different seaside for them to go to,” she mentioned.
Racial segregation was very a lot a actuality in these days; certainly in 1924, Pablo Seaside handed a regulation making it unlawful for whites and blacks to wash collectively within the ocean.
Cohill believes Manhattan Seaside might predate another black seaside resort within the state. “I name it Northeast Florida’s first African-American seaside. It might be Florida’s first; I nonetheless should do some extra digging earlier than I could make that official declare,” she mentioned.
No confirmed bodily proof of Manhattan Seaside has been discovered: Storms scoured the seaside and dunes the place it as soon as stood and builders later demolished the remaining buildings. However Cohill believes, primarily based on previous maps and images, that it was close to the excessive dunes at car parking zone eight, towards the south finish of what is now Hanna Park.
Black entrepreneurs akin to Mack Wilson and William Middleton ran seaside pavilions there with lodging and leisure. Images from the 1920s present the 2 resorts, constructed into the dunes and sprawling onto the seaside.
Wilson’s place had a restaurant and a bathhouse, and supplied “tub fits, dancing, and rooms.” Cohill learn within the museum’s archives that Wilson had 1,000 bathing fits for lease, presumably an exaggeration. “He did lease bathing fits. I do not know if he had 1,000 bathing fits.”
A photograph of Middleton’s resort confirmed a pavilion constructed excessive over eroded dunes, simply to the east of a few substantial buildings the place ladies in white attire and males in hats, vests and darkish pants take within the sea air.
Philanthropist Eartha White, founding father of the Clara White Mission, introduced the needy to her Contemporary Air Camp in Manhattan Seaside, together with 86 kids suspected to have tuberculosis. They spent 4 weeks dwelling in tents close to the seaside, below the care of medical doctors and nurses.
Within the early years, blacks have been in a position to purchase property in Manhattan Seaside, which Flagler owned. His Atlantic Seaside resort wasn’t massively profitable, and he wanted cash greater than he wanted the land, Cohill mentioned.
Round 1915, although, white buyers started shopping for land all through the realm, planning a resort that will stretch to the St. Johns river jetties. They refused to promote to blacks, Cohill mentioned, and arrange restrictive rental insurance policies.
“They have been scheming from the very starting to attempt to take away African-Individuals from the land, as soon as Henry Flagler began promoting off his land holdings,” she mentioned.
Manhattan Seaside held on although, and by 1931 a bunch referred to as the Manhattan Seaside Amusement Company was boasting in a brochure of its resort, which “provides solely amusement of the higher class.”
Nonetheless, the seaside confronted a number of challenges to its survival.
Erosion was an ever-present menace to the realm’s pavilions, which pictures present prolonged onto the sand. When the property was gone, it was gone — there was no recourse. No seaside renourishment or large seawalls have been there to supply even momentary safety.
Practice journeys to Manhattan Seaside led to 1932, making it tough for a lot of to get there.
Quickly black residents of Jacksonville had one other seaside to go to. By 1935, A.L. Lewis, president of Afro-American Life Insurance coverage Firm in Jacksonville, had opened up American Seaside on Amelia Island. That went on to be a thriving black seaside as Manhattan Seaside light away.
Cohill mentioned a letter within the museum’s archives exhibits builders purchased Mack Wilson’s property and in 1934 demolished the buildings.
In 1942, the Military Corps of Engineers put a four-gun artillery battery on leased land at Manhattan Seaside for coastal protection. There could be no frolicking on the seaside there.
“After World Struggle II, there wasn’t any of the energetic boardwalk-style neighborhood there,” Cohill mentioned. “That was all gone. However folks nonetheless talked about Manhattan Seaside, the identify remained.”
Marsha Dean Phelts, who wrote a ebook about American Seaside referred to as “An American Seaside for African Individuals,” mentioned she heard many tales about Manhattan Seaside. Some have been from her mom and her grandparents, who instructed her of massive crowds and lengthy weekends and the prepare rides to and from the seaside.
“As Manhattan Seaside was misplaced, American Seaside was developed,” Phelts mentioned. “However Manhattan Seaside was the factor. It was the Daytona Seaside of black Jacksonville. It was no secret.”