We all hear the stories from our parents or grandparents about “the good ol’ days,” or how it used to be in the city we live in. It’s no secret a lot has changed since Jacksonville was laid out in 1822. Present day Jacksonville features the biggest scoreboards in the world, over 800,000 residents and is currently one of the best places in the country to find a job. But how much do you really know about the history of the city we call home?
You’re probably familiar with facts like Jacksonville is home to the oldest, continuously operating community theater in the country, or that Jacksonville is also home to the country’s largest urban park system with 111,669 acres of parks and features one of only two rivers in North America that flows north instead of south.
But what about those landmark spots that were THE place to be 30 or 50 years ago? Today, we’ve got busy beach bars like Lynch’s Irish Pub, Hoptinger, The Shim Sham Room, family spots like the Autobahn Indoor Speedway and the Jacksonville Zoo and delicious restaurants like The Blind Rabbit, Black Sheep, and so many more. What about before of all this?
Darlene Visscher, a former resident of Jax who grew up here, came down to Jacksonville from New York in 1972, when her father, who worked for Volkswagen at the time, took a job in the city. She said that where she grew up in South Jacksonville near Old Kings Road, and it was a special place.
“Some of the places my dad took us to was the Philips Highway Drive-In movie theatre. Even in 1972, drive-ins were becoming a dying breed. But we would go there occasionally to see scary movies. A restaurant I remember nearby was a Chinese restaurant called Chopstick Charlie’s. My dad loved that place, it was cheap, fast and it reminded him of NY-style Chinese food. I believe neither of those places still exist today.”
In 1956, Jacksonville had 11 drive-in theaters. Almost every drive-in featured miniature golf, concession stands and some even had swimming pools. But by the 1960s, the rise of television and other factors contributed to the decrease of drive-in popularity. The Normandy Drive-In was replaced by the Normandy Mall Shopping Center in the beginning of 1960.
Ken Sweat, another resident who grew up in Jacksonville Beach during that time, remembered what it was like living in Arlington in the ‘60s and growing up and eventually attending Fletcher High School.
“Beach Road Chicken Dinners is an old favorite, and they’re still there on Atlantic Blvd. I think they started in the ‘30s. Every weekend, we’d make a trip for ice cream, the place I remember going to was Dipper Dan. We would make a family night of it and might go to the Midway Drive-In. The Midway was on Beach Boulevard near where Sam’s Club is now located. At the beach, our favorite treat was Nick’s Pizza. It was just east of Angie’s Subs where Penman Road crosses Beach Boulevard, but the road didn’t go across in those days. Nick’s was legendary and located in a simple cinder block building.”
One of the biggest changes in Jacksonville has to be its growth. According to Ken, it really reflects how our society has evolved in the last few decades.
One thing seems to remain constant in Jacksonville, it’s love for both the beach and nature. Take the Jacksonville Beach Pier for example, after hurricane Dora wrecked the pier and completely decimated it, we’ve kept it alive. It’s a huge part of our culture. Not to mention EverBank Field and all the parks and preserved land. Jacksonville was, is and will continue to be a beautiful place to grow up, go to school in, raise children and maybe even retire in. It’s up to you to create the memories.