Historical Society Breaks Ground on Jacksonville History Center

Historical Society Breaks Ground on Jacksonville History Center
Ron Salem, Brittany Norris, Matt Carlucci, Mike Crabtree, David Auchter, Chris Miller and Alan Bliss gathered for the groundbreaking moment.

The Jacksonville Historical Society (JHS) held a groundbreaking ceremony last month to celebrate the first phase of work on The Jacksonville History Center – the city’s first museum dedicated to showcasing Jacksonville’s rich history.

JHS board members and city officials participated in the event, held in front of the historic Florida Casket Company building on Oct. 5. The 103-year-old building will be transformed to become the home of this interactive and educational historical center.

“The Jacksonville History Center is a long-overdue opportunity for this community to get to know one another,” said JHS Board Chair David Auchter at the ceremony. “We need to get to know each other, we need to get to respect each other as a result, and maybe even be kinder to one another – and it’s going to happen right here in this building.”

“Public history is where the evidence of the past meets the appetite of citizens in the present for authoritative research and understanding about their place and the people and events that preceded them,” said Jacksonville Historical Society and History Center CEO Dr. Alan Bliss, in part, in his introductory remarks.

The ground floor of the three-story building will be a dedicated space for historical displays and exhibits; the second floor will be developed as a venue for performances and events. The third floor will be transformed into a “desperately necessary” expanded archives and research space for the extensive archival collection JHS possesses, much of which is currently stored at off-site warehouses, Bliss said.

During the ceremony, Bliss thanked current and former JHS board members and Jacksonville city councilmembers in attendance, including former City Councilmember Randy DeFoor, whom Bliss credited for the initial idea behind what has evolved into the Jacksonville History Center as it’s designed today. Additionally, he thanked DeFoor for her role in directing “a significant appropriation of American Recovery Plan resources to the historical society.”

“During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she is one of a number of city council members and others here present who have been so pivotal to sustaining and elevating this organization’s resources at key moments,” he said.

Several current city officials attended the ceremony as well, including City Council President Ron Salem and councilmembers Chris Miller and Matt Carlucci.

“The renovation of this building will enable an expansion of the society’s capability to perform its work and to be an even more valuable partner in preserving and sharing Jacksonville’s past, serving its people in the present and in the future,” Salem said. “Those stories matter, so we appreciate the opportunity to help advance that work here at the Jacksonville History Center.”

In a later interview, Bliss said the Jacksonville History Center will hold rotating exhibits on a dearth of subjects, including music, baseball, insurance, banking, U.S. Navy, civil rights history, medicine and technology and natural history.

“This town is rotten with stories,” he said.

Bliss added Phase 1 will focus primarily on renovating the exterior of the 13,500-square-foot building, including “electrical, plumbing, concrete [building units], then the roof, and then preliminary interior work, which basically means sealing the exterior brick walls from the inside to prevent the permeation of water, moisture, humidity from the outside atmosphere coming into the air-conditioned building.” The estimated cost for Phase 1 is $1.2 million.

Bliss said JHS will require another estimated $1.7 million to complete Phase 2, which will involve interior work, HVAC, completing the interior utilities, refinishing the floors and replacing all the windows.

Also in a later interview, Councilmember Matt Carlucci discussed a bill he plans to introduce to the City Council for that remaining $1.7 million.

“This is simply $1.7 million to finish up the building improvements for the Casket Factory so we can have the [Jacksonville History Center],” he said. “I’d just like to get it done. I think it’d be the right thing but it’s a bit of a big ask – I get that – but again, we can keep doing this with small increments of help and drag it on for years or we can have something really nice in an important part of town for this type of facility to help continue bringing up the Eastside.”

Carlucci said he plans to hold meetings with his colleagues on the council to discuss the bill and hopes to get “as many co-introducers or co-sponsors as possible.”

Bliss said JHS hopes to complete this first phase of work by the end of March or beginning of April 2024.

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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