Adrienne Flynn Hollis

Adrienne Flynn Hollis
Hollis children then

Her Grandparents’ Story

Adrienne Flynn Hollis is the granddaughter of St. Elmo Acosta, the multi-talented statesman and city advocate who helped bring about the first automobile bridge over t

Engagement photo

Engagement photo

 

he St. Johns River in 1921. Hollis grew up with Florida history right in her living room. She was born at St. Vincent’s in 1931 (as were all seven of her children, she points out), and her parents lived with her maternal Acosta grandparents for several years in a house at 3rd and Liberty streets in downtown Jacksonville.

“My grandfather came down through Don Pedro Menendez, and at one point the family owned the Oldest House in St. Augustine,” Hollis stated matter-of-factly. “His nickname was Chic, and all the generations named after him have had the same nickname.”

Her grandfather, she remembered, was very much ahead of his time – predicting and advocating for such things as underground electricity and sewer services. He established a “city nursery” that was staffed with men from the prison farm, and the plants, trees and shrubs that were raised were given away and also used to landscape city parks and public places. The two years he spent with the Florida Legislature were expressly for the purpose of advocating for a bridge, Hollis said. Then he came back to the city that he loved and served as City Parks Commissioner.

Acosta told people that he considered the St. Johns River Bridge one of his greatest accomplishments. It was later named the St. Elmo W. Acosta Bridge and still bears his name, even though the original bridge was demolished in 1991 and replaced with a new span. His grandchildren, however, have a different favorite accomplishment.

“One of the neatest things he did was to raise money for an elephant at the Jacksonville Zoo by taking up pennies from schoolchildren,” said Hollis. “I remember how exciting it was when she finally arrived. The zoo named her Miss Chic, after my grandfather.”

The Acostas owned 20 acres where the Episcopal School of Jacksonville is located today – on the banks of the St. Johns – and they used to summer there before eventually moving there for good in their later years.

Mr. Flynn

Mr. Flynn

“We used to climb on the Great Oak and swim in their pool,” recalled Hollis. “After my grandfather died, my grandmother had their large kitchen knocked off and a little bitty one put in the home. I think she was sick of all the cooking and work she had done in there over the years.”

Her Parent’s Story

Hollis’s father was a “Mandarin Flynn,” whose father died at 32 of typhoid fever in the 1911 epidemic that struck the Jacksonville area. His mother tried unsuccessfully to continue the family grocery store at the corner of Flynn and Loretto roads. But eventually she gave up and moved to San Marco to work at Furchgott’s Department Store. Hollis’s father dropped out of school after 6th grade and went to work to help his mother. He was the third child and baby boy of the family. Her father’s sister worked for Colgate-Palmolive in the First Federal Building right across from the George Washington Hotel.

“My father’s family rented a house on Hendricks and he first went to work for a local grocery store. But eventually, he worked his way up and became a superintendent at JEA,” she shared.

Her Story

When Hollis’s parents married, they lived first with her grandparents at 3rd and Liberty. When Hollis was four, they moved to Pearl Street, in an area known as North Shore. Her father was only working two days a week, sharing split shifts with other workers, because it was the Depression. He hunted and fished to keep the family fed, and they had a garden and chickens.

“I remember the chickens running around the yard without a head, and I learned how to skin quail, squirrel and all kinds of things,” said Hollis. “We would go shrimping off Heckscher Drive with big nets that we would bait with fishmeal. At 14, I bought my own net and my friend Betty Altee and I would fish at the bulkhead on Dancy Street, near where she lived.”

Hollis attended St. Joseph’s Academy from kindergarten through 12th grade, and the trip to get there required several bus changes.

“We caught a little ‘peanut bus,’ which only held 10 or 15 people,” she recalled. “We would get to Brentwood, sit on a bench, transfer to 7th and Pearl Streets, then walk the five blocks to the school at 7th and Market. I can’t believe my mother let me do that at such a young age.”

When she was 12, her mother worked at Carleton’s Drugstore in the cosmetics department – and Hollis got a job there as a “soda jerk.” She worked two nights a week for 25 cents an hour. On Saturday, she answered phones for a refrigerator repair service, and also helped with the day nursery that the wife of the repairman ran. In 10th grade, Hollis worked after school from 2:30 until 6 p.m. at a shop on Main Street that sold clothing and lingerie. School didn’t get out until 2:30, and since she ran all the way to work, she was consistently 10 minutes late. Then, after work, she would run back to Kirby Smith for basketball practice, which started at 6 – again arriving usually a few minutes late.

“I do remember two highlights of my teen years,” said Hollis. “One was the day a girlfriend and I took a bus ride into Jacksonville to Cohen Brothers where the first escalator was installed. We couldn’t believe it! We rode up and down for a good half hour. Another time we went into town and walked down to the old train station, which was still running at the time, to see the very first TV. It was tiny and mounted high in the air. We just stood there in awe. Couldn’t believe a picture could come through a wire.”

Hollis graduated in 1948, a few years before the school closed, she thinks because a child about 13 or 14 fell off a third floor balcony and died. The school became Jones Business College, and the building eventually burned down.

Their Story

“My husband was a great man, and that is why I have great kids,” Adrienne Flynn Hollis said of Austin ‘Bud’ Hollis, Sr., the man she fell in love with while he was in Jacksonville on military discharge. “We were on a double blind date, each with another person, but obviously, our other dates didn’t work out. We were married for 61 years, and I was the happiest person in the world.”

City Light Company, 1930, where Hollis’ father worked

City Light Company, 1930, where Hollis’ father worked

Bud passed away four years ago, but he left behind six children (a seventh died as an infant), 24 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren – with the 33rd and 34th, a set of twins, about to be born. Hollis remains very close to them, and she has great memories of raising the children in the two-story house she and Bud built (completely by themselves) on Mina Road in Mandarin.

“We paid $1,100 for two and a half acres of beautiful land, and then we read books about how to build a house and figured it all out. It took about two years to finish it and cost us $18,000. We moved the family in when there was only subflooring, brick on the walls, and no ceiling – and a tarpaper roof. We borrowed $1,000 from our son’s savings from his paper route, put particle board over the floor and slept in three rooms until the rest of the house was livable. We made an outdoor toilet with a hole and concrete blocks and cooked on a camp stove. It was the happiest time – the kids had their horses and they played on the land. We would build a fire in the yard and the children from next door would come over to play.”

Hollis would go on to raise quail, open Heritage Realty with her husband, become a nurse at age 50 (inspired by her experience with her baby daughter Trecie who died as an infant) and become a Master Gardener. Today at 83, she is just as happy and active with sewing, painting, gardening, getting together with school friends and helping with family, but she still relishes those days when she was “poor but didn’t know it,” raising her children simply and happily.

“I wish I could go back and be young for one day and see all my children at the same age while they were still little,” she said as she smiled. “I’ve had a beautiful, beautiful life.”

By Laura Jane Pittman
Resident Community News

Hollis children now

Hollis children now

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