David Gum

David Gum

Jacksonville resident David Gum was born and raised “on the curve” at the end of South Shores Road and Old Hickory Road. His mother Bonnie, who is now 97, still lives in the home his parents built. He has many funny and interesting memories of the area known as South Shores.

He shared with The Resident, in his own words, some of his stories from early childhood:

“Built in the 1930s, South Shores is wedged between the Bishop Kenny High School property, the old Southside Generating Station land, and the river off Atlantic Blvd. Growing up there was a special thing. We had endless woods and unused riverfront to explore and call our own. It is impossible to recall all of the tree houses and ‘forts’ the kids built. In those days Bishop Kenny was a small school, and what is now the sprawling athletic complex then existed as a boy’s wonderland. The property had been the Merrill-Stevens shipbuilding yards in WWI. Two long inlets remained that were home to mothballed WWI Navy ships. To us, nothing was off limits, the ships, old dry dock, and old abandoned buildings. I remember it being more fun, and getting more wasp stings, than I knew possible.

“Twice in my childhood these inlets became focal points, drawing people like magnets. The first time was when the Navy sent letters to South Shores and St. Nicholas residents stating that on certain days WWI helmet liners and, even better, unused gas masks would be thrown to parents from an anchored ship. For quite a while after that kids attired with helmets and masks were spotted all over Southside.

“The second great cause for gathering at the inlets came shortly after a dredging that resulted in a two-foot thick ‘muck’ along the banks. Some man of vision saw fit to scatter turnip seeds, which flourished in the muck. Once again, kids swarmed, equipped with paper grocery bags to fill with turnips to bring to their parents.

“Speaking with my grown-up neighborhood counterparts, I was reminded of two other pastimes that we often indulged in on that seemingly magical turf. In back of Bishop Kenny, the white sands were inundated with fossilized sharks’ teeth from the original inlet dredging. We excavated these by the jarful. And in the summer, blackberries covered the sand. Picking and door-to-door blackberry selling became quite the cottage business for young entrepreneurs.

“Possibly the best part about growing up in South Shores during the 1950s and 1960s was dining at the neighborhood restaurants. We felt truly privileged to have not one but two of Jacksonville’s iconic eateries of the day. It was well worth the short half-mile walk down Old Hickory Road or South Shores because then you could reward yourself with all the 10 cent Krystal burgers you could hold. How many of us of certain ages remember hanging out as teens at this place in our cars? It was Southside’s answer to Arnold’s Drive In from Happy Days.

“Two blocks west on Atlantic Blvd. was Pizza Joe’s Sorrento Pizza Patio. It was incredible! Imagine, a cheese pizza for just 55 cents or a spaghetti dinner for 85 cents. Too bad it closed in 1968!

“Wandering down memory lane wouldn’t be complete without the retelling of the South Shores neighborhood’s most notorious incident of the era. In 1961, the Southgate Plaza hosted a traveling carnival, complete with animals in cages. A full grown black bear escaped and made its way along the river to Old Hickory Road, robbing trashcans along the way and terrifying housewives. The police gunned down the marauding devil. The bear’s paw was in the Bishop Kenny trophy case for years and may still be there today.”

Gum is a graduate of Wolfson High School and University of North Florida, and he is currently a piano bar entertainer in Jacksonville. Look out for Part II of Gum’s reminisces in next month’s Resident.

By Laura Jane Pittman

 

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