Riverside and Avondale each boast beautiful historic parks and abundant green space. Indeed, access to such places was a high priority for the district’s earliest developers, each of whom set aside significant acreage for parkland. Aside from the major parks detailed below, the neighborhoods also are dotted with small pocket parks and multiple points for accessing the St. Johns river.
3700 Park Street
Boone Park is located in the Avondale area. The city purchased most of the property from William Elijah Boone and four other owners in 1926. Mr. Boone (1853-1938) bought and then rebuilt locomotives, which he leased to local industries in North Florida and South Georgia. In 1937, the “little house” was constructed on the grounds for use by the Girl Scouts, and the first tennis courts were built sometime prior to 1946. After the tennis clubhouse opened in 1950, the park hosted the city’s major public tennis tournaments for decades. RAP has worked extensively for improvements at the park in recent years. Two of its sponsored committees (for the North and South portions of the park respectively), led by Doris Keith and Richard Skinner, oversaw major renovations between 1997 and 2003, with substantial funding and assistance provided by the city.
3925 Valencia Road
Fishweir Park is located in the Avondale area and takes its name from nearby Fishweir Creek. The property is part of Fehrenbach’s Subdivision that was platted in 1882. The extension of the streetcar line to the area spurred residential growth leading to the development of the Fishweir Park and Stockton Place subdivisions about 1913 and the construction of nearby Fishweir Elementary School in 1917. The city obtained the land for the park in 1960 and 1961, and created the park in that decade. There is now a terrific new playground area for children.
1620 Riverside Avenue
Memorial Park lies nestled between Riverside Avenue and the St. Johns River. In 1918, the Jacksonville Rotary Club proposed the idea for a park to honor the 1200 Floridians who perished in WWI, and the city purchased the property in 1919. Thirty-one civic groups worked in planning and raising funds for the park, which was dedicated Christmas Day, 1924. The park soon became the scenic focal point of Riverside. Designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers firm, the park features the bronze sculpture Life, created by the celebrated Charles Adrian Pillars (1870-1937). In 1986, Anne Freeman founded the Memorial Park Association, which along with the city has worked steadfastly to restore and preserve this historic landmark, particularly after a tornado devastated the grounds in 1997.
753 Park Street
Riverside Park is located adjacent to Park Street in Riverside. The 1869 plat of Riverside reserved fourteen acres for a park, and after receiving the land as a donation, the city began developing its second-oldest park in the early 1890s. Workers created walk paths, a carriage lane, and two spring-fed lakes that were stocked with ducks. Ornamental stone bridges and camphor trees further beautified the landscape, which became one of the South’s loveliest parks by 1907. Other past amenities included a bandstand and tennis courts, and the Men’s Garden Club and the city created a camellia garden on the grounds in 1967. Following several years of RAP-initiated improvements, disaster struck the park in 1997 when a savage storm devastated the grounds. Fifty-two trees were lost, but the city and RAP worked diligently to restore this Riverside landmark. Most recently, RAP has led the effort to implement a wonderful and well-utilized children’s play area.
It should be noted that the Annie Lytle School, built in 1917 and featuring a neo-classical portico supported by colossal Doric columns, used to overlook Riverside Park before construction of the I-95/I-10 interchange isolated the building and reduced the park’s footprint.
Photo credit: Lance Taylor
Willowbranch Park is located in the Riverside area, along the course of Willowbranch Creek. Development of the park began in 1916. Additional acreage was acquired southeast of Park Street between 1921 and 1925. Dr. Harold Hume donated 1700 azalea bushes around 1924 to beautify a portion of the grounds, while the Willowbranch Library opened at the park in 1930; and the creek was straightened and bulkheaded in 1934. Eventually four other small City parks/gardens were created from the park property – one south and one north of St. Johns Avenue and two along Park Street (in the 1950s). RAP has worked to preserve and improve the park, along with the Willowbranch Park Improvement Committee that formed in 1999. Through the years it has remained one of the City’s most picturesque parks. At the instigation of Councilman Jim Overton in 2002, a bronze memorial plaque honoring Patricia Austin, the deceased wife of former mayor Ed Austin, was installed at the park in 2004. An immense live oak tree canopies two benches provided for the relaxation of visitors.
Rock trivia buffs also might be interested to know the park is the first place the Allman Brothers played together in a free concert. They came to jam with a band called the Butch Trucks, and since they didn’t have a name they were simply introduced as the Brothers Allman.
Willowbranch Rose Garden Park
2870 Sydney Street
Willowbranch Rose Garden Park is located in Riverside between Mallory St. and Azalea Terrace, across from Willowbranch Park. In 1916, the site was part of the City’s initial purchase for the land to create Willowbranch Park. It remained part of the park until 1955, when members of the Jacksonville Rose Society established the Variety Rose Garden on the site. The Society and other volunteers (with the City’s help) maintained the roses for many years. However, eventually the garden deteriorated until in 1998 two teenage brothers, Adam and Joseph Bierce, took over restoration of the remaining garden. At RAP’s request, the park name was changed in 2002, and today it contains two rose beds with timber borders, a bench for relaxing, and parking for approximately eight cars.
(Thank you to the city of Jacksonville’s website, coj.net, for park information.)