The Way We Were: Carol Cochran Todd

The Way We Were: Carol Cochran Todd
1958 duPont High School Homecoming Court during Carol Todd’s senior year; from left Jane Ross, Patsy Scanland, MaryJo Pabst, Jane Diaz, and Carol Cochran Todd

Carol Cochran Todd has seen over seven decades of change across Jacksonville. But there’s been at least one constant thread woven into the fabric of her life here, and that is respect—the respect she witnessed as a little girl, the respect she was taught in school, the respect she holds today for all people. 

Originally from Chicago, it was her dad’s job with Armour and Company that brought the Cochran family to Jacksonville to work in the regional office. It was the spring of 1944, and Todd was not quite four years old. For her mom, the move was a difficult one, as she initially missed the advantages of a large city—the cultural opportunities and urban education. To complicate matters, the travel back and forth to visit family was cumbersome, a car ride over two days or an overnight train trip. 

Todd remembers vividly one of those train rides back and forth to Chicago with her mother. It was the spring of 1945, and their travel time was interrupted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral train heading from Warm Springs, Ga.,  to Washington D.C. Female passengers wept. Males held their hats to their hearts. Such a display of respect for the deceased was not an unusual occurrence in those days, and Todd recalled how years later she would often witness funeral processions from local churches to Oaklawn Cemetery on San Jose Boulevard. It was commonplace for cars to stop, men to exit their vehicles, and hold their hats to their hearts while standing on the passenger’s side as the procession passed. 

Todd’s family missed Chicago, and an opportunity arose for them to return to Illinois with an advancement potential for her dad’s career. But by then, they had grown to love Jacksonville—its people and its way of life. “We have Florida sand in our shoes now,” her mom had said. And so, they chose to stay in their Jacksonville home on Riverside Avenue across from Memorial Park for a bit longer.

Todd attended West Riverside Elementary School where weekly assemblies were held in the auditorium. They began with a salute to the American flag followed by the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer. A chosen student would then read an excerpt from scripture prior to the principal, Mrs. Hughes, delivering a talk on an aspect of character development. Occasionally, as a special treat, a movie would follow. Todd still sees in her mind’s eye a scene from “The Little Match Girl” based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, that of a young girl standing in the snow while gazing into a warm, lighted building. 

As the school’s principal, Mrs. Hughes occupied a position of great respect, and her goal of instilling in her students a concern for other people was taken very seriously. So, when she had admonished the student body during a weekly assembly to “never put anything over the Bible,” Todd, ever questing to do what was right, rushed home to remove from the bookshelf her family’s copy that had been flanked by other texts.

By January 1950, the Cochran family had moved from Riverside to Miramar, settling on Jean Court. It was the last street to have mail delivery at that time. One of the most exciting events to take place there, a most fantastic story to recount for old friends back in Illinois, is that a bear had been seen running through the back yard, initially brought attention to by a neighborhood dog barking at bushes. 

Carol Cochran Todd with her mother Elizabeth Clark Cochran and baby brother Charles Clark Cochran
Carol Cochran Todd with her mother Elizabeth Clark Cochran and baby brother Charles Clark Cochran

Upon her family’s move, Todd began attending Alfred I. duPont Elementary School, which eventually became the middle and high school she graduated from. When Todd first enrolled, duPont was a first-through-sixth-grade school built on land donated by Alfred I. and Jesse Ball duPont who lived in a large home on the river. It was built to accommodate Southside’s growing population. Until then, youngsters went to either Southside Grammar School or Hendricks Avenue Elementary. Later, San Jose Elementary would be built, and duPont’s student body would gradually transition, every year removing the lowest grade and adding a grade at the highest level until eventually it became a high school. So, there were some students who attended duPont from first grade through to high school graduation. It wasn’t until after Wolfson High School was built that duPont became a junior high school.

Every winter, Mrs. duPont and her female assistant would come to have lunch with the students in the duPont cafeteria. On that very special day, the school’s PA system, normally used only for announcements, would play classical music. The ladies would arrive elegantly dressed in wool suits with matching hats. Around their shoulders hung furs, each with the furry animal’s head and feet still attached, Todd recalled with a giggle. She and her classmates found the guests fascinating, and it was instinctively understood that they were to be on their best behavior, to show respect for their school’s namesake.

In the early 1950s, Southside was small-town living. Almost everybody knew each other or knew of each other through church, Sunday school, or scouts. This was a time when San Jose Boulevard from Oaklawn Cemetery past University Boulevard was a canopy road made of oak trees. Beneath the tall oaks, on either side of the road, was a row of redbud trees that, when in bloom, created traffic jams as drivers exited their cars to take pictures of nature’s breathtaking beauty. It was a time when Oriental Gardens Road, not far out of San Marco, was not yet a residential area but a popular tourist attraction known for its floral gardens, particularly its banks of azaleas. Foot walks were a Jacksonville attraction. It was a time when San Marco was more like the business section of a small town, complete with a grocery store, a drug store, a dime store, a gift-and-toy store, a dry cleaner, and a dress shop. The Towne Pump bar and liquor store was there, too, next to Mim’s Bakery across from the current Lions Fountain, which had been the spot of the original, compass-themed fountain whose wrought iron top now stands on a pedestal in the Square.

These were the days when moms would form a carpool line on Saturday morning outside the San Marco Theatre, hand their children nine cents for admission, and pick them up again afterwards. Todd recalled the uproar when admission soared to 15 cents! Prior to the feature film, a black-and-white news reel and then an animated cartoon would be shown. Not too many children paid attention to those though, as more important were trips up and down the aisles to see who was there and with whom and to visit the concession stand for Junior Mints and Jujubes.  

Students at a duPont High School gym dance – 1957-58
Students at a duPont High School gym dance – 1957-58

As Todd and her friends grew and gained a bit more independence, moms would drive them not to the theatre’s entrance but to the bus stop. They’d travel downtown by bus in groups of five or six, dressed in their finest clothing, including gloves, and eat lunch at the counter in the newest downtown spot, The Krystal. Afterward, they’d take in a movie at the Florida Theatre. Sometimes, they would opt instead to admire merchandise at the two departments stores, Furchgott’s and May-Cohens, which stood on the current site of City Hall.

At Furchgott’s, Mrs. Amelia Deavy, who happened to be a friend of Todd’s mother, reigned over the cosmetics department. She taught the girls how to wear makeup and was generous with Elizabeth Arden samples. Christmas cards were exchanged for decades until she died in 2013 at the age of 100. Todd said she still remembers Mrs. Deavy as being glamorous – looking so pretty, always smelling good, and wearing nail polish.

Another downtown Jacksonville lady who played a role in Todd’s life growing up was Mrs. Underwood from the china and crystal department on the second floor of Underwood Jewelers at the corner of Hemming Park. Every year, Mrs. Underwood would host a table setting contest that the Home Economics departments of every school would encourage students to enter. And as Todd remembers it, every high school graduate was gifted a silver teaspoon from Mrs. Underwood in the pattern of her choice. 

Being mobile in those days meant that you could drive the family car. It was unusual for a young person to have his or her own vehicle, and the norm was for a family to have only one car for the entire household. Driving meant dates to football games or to one of three drive-in theaters: Texas Drive-In on San Marco Boulevard, Crystal Drive-In on Atlantic Boulevard across from Assumption Church in St. Nicholas, or the Smoke House on San Jose Boulevard just before Lakewood. Just as years earlier they had walked up and down the aisles of the San Marco Theatre on Saturday mornings, Todd and her friends would circle around the lot to see who was attending the drive-in that night and, of course, park next to the most popular boys. Afterwards, a slumber party in shorty pajamas at a girlfriend’s home was a favorite phenomenon all the way through high school. Of course, if the boys visited, they’d have to leave by the girls’ curfew time.

Carol Cochran Todd – Sweet 16 - 1956
Carol Cochran Todd – Sweet 16 – 1956

Prudential Insurance had moved its headquarters from New Jersey to Jacksonville in the 1950s and had built a beautiful building on the river, which became the site of a lot of community activities. The owners were very generous with the use of their indoor auditorium, where Todd’s senior class play was performed in 1958. There was an outdoor patio, too, that was open for families to stroll on Sunday afternoons and couples to meander hand-in-hand in the evening. Each summer, when the class of third year midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy came to Naval Air Station Jacksonville for training, they would be entertained at a dance there. They’d wear their dress whites, and young women of comparable age were invited, dressed in summer formals. Many marriages came of the festivities. “It seemed quite glamorous,” Todd said, “a place worthy of a movie setting!”

Todd went on to graduate from Queens College in Charlotte, N.C. and attend a year of graduate school in Atlanta. Then, she returned to Jacksonville.  On Thanksgiving weekend in 1964 at Riverside Presbyterian Church, she married Ethan Ogilvie Todd, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon from Greenville, S.C. She had met him in the hospital room of her dear friend and next door neighbor, Helen Mickler, who was in traction for several months as the result of an auto accident.

The Todds settled in a home on Arbor Lane, not too far away from her family home on Jean Court. The neighborhood had begun to change by then. It had been built shortly after the Acosta Bridge, known as the Old Bridge, was built, making the Southside accessible for residential development. Many of their new neighbors were the original builders, the parents of Todd’s friends whom she had met in Sunday School and Girl Scouts years before, and they were aging. They were either dying or downsizing to smaller homes, and the houses were being sold to young families.

Todd described the house they bought as “a wonderful house very carefully and thoughtfully built in 1924 by a doctor from South Dakota. It was his dream house,” she said, and it had been adorned with select chandeliers and tapestries from Europe. Todd continues to reside there and is amazed that the original white oak floors remain in beautiful condition despite years of children skating circles on them from the hall through the dining room into the kitchen and back to the hall again. 

Todd’s three sons, who had come along in the mid-60s, were among the first children to live on Arbor Lane in quite a long time. Within a few years, the streets and yards were coming back to life again with bicycles and baseballs. It was a time when parents looked out windows to watch after each other’s children. “That’s something that’s a big change,” Todd said. “You look out the window now and hardly ever see a child except getting out of a car and going into a house. Children don’t play outside anymore,” she said with a wistfulness in her tone. 

When her youngest son was in the third grade, Todd drove to Gainesville daily to attend law school at the University of Florida. After being a child welfare volunteer, she became a lawyer practicing in that field, first in the State Attorney’s office and then in private practice. 

Todd retired from law 15 years ago to serve as part-time nanny when her first granddaughter was born. Two more followed, and “a grandson completed the group four years later,” she said. “Their growing up and the restrictions imposed by our current health crisis has made my home quiet once again. I am reading those books that I have been saving to reread, painting, and again working in my yard, a hobby that I began years ago when my children were young and we were all out in the yard together!”

Carol Cochran Todd with granddaughters Salley Todd, Lila Todd, and Hattie Todd
Carol Cochran Todd with granddaughters Salley Todd, Lila Todd, and Hattie Todd

In the 70-plus years that Todd has lived in Jacksonville, the number of buildings that have been torn down, especially those to make way for new condominiums and apartments by the river, is too numerous to mention. Changes in street names, too, have been prolific. For example, Atlantic and Beach Boulevards used to be called Old Beach and New Beach Roads. The Main Street Bridge was called the New Bridge. University Boulevard was known by various names, as it began at the river and ended way out at Fort Caroline in Arlington, spanning three sections, she recalled, noting the first part of the road was called Longwood, which ran from the river to just past Philips Highway. It then turned into Love Grove. Then, when the road reached Arlington Expressway, it became University Boulevard due to its proximity to Jacksonville University.

Todd pointed out that San Marco today is still very attractive and quite charming, but that a car is required to go anywhere. “We can’t buy scotch tape, or milk, or a loaf of bread to make school lunches anymore without driving somewhere,” she said. “No longer are there the same local conveniences, and it’s no longer as safe to send your child on a bike to run an errand like that. No longer does everybody know everybody.” 

But whether she knows them or not, Carol Cochran Todd honors others with an abiding sense of respect. The credo she holds herself to is “Be open. See the world through other persons’ eyes—through writers and artists and musicians and the person sitting in the room with you,” she said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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