(Originally published in 2010)
Meet Your Long-Time Neighbor
Location: E. 5th Street
Occupation: Crossing guard for R.L. Brown Elementary
Fun Fact: Ms. Robinson has collected over 400 individual recipes from friends and family, but not one of them is for carrot cake (She’s taking suggestions).
Q: What brought you to Springfield?
A: Well, it was the early 80’s and we were living in Boston, Mass. “We”, meaning my husband and me. We went on vacation down to Jacksonville. He’s from the North, so anywhere in Florida was good enough for him. It was winter, freezing cold up in Boston, but still balmy down here in Jacksonville. When he saw a guy cutting his front yard, that was it, he was sold on Jacksonville. He just thought that was the greatest thing, to be cutting the lawn in winter.
But that was in Arlington. That was a “nice” neighborhood at the time. So how did we end up here? Good question. I didn’t quite get it at first, either. When my husband said he bought a house in Springfield, I said to him, “Why are we moving to Harlem?”. But we could have more space here in Springfield, the houses are bigger, and it was less expensive, so it made practical sense, I guess.
We first moved here in 1982, when I was pregnant with my third child. I bought this house in 1988 though, just after my husband passed. It was built in 1916.
Q: Looking back, what are some things that come to mind during your first few years here?
A: I did mention the part about my husband moving me to Harlem, right?
I wasn’t thrilled the day we moved here, no. It wasn’t what I wanted. But the next day, I took a walk into Downtown. I walked past the stores and people. Walked into the city a little bit, and thought to myself, “I could get used to this.”
You see, I was at home all day while my husband worked. I saw things that he didn’t see. You see a lot during the day, at home. You see things that others don’t see. I took advantage of that opportunity to learn more about the neighborhood, and my neighbors.
When we first moved in here, “White Flight” was taking place, or had taken place. There were proud people still here that didn’t sell quickly enough, or that were too stubborn to leave. And, of course, there was the blight.
I made a conscious effort to break down the barriers between me and my new neighbors though. I said “Hello” to everyone passing by my house, as I still do today. I used to use flowers and trees and gardening as a way to talk to people, people that weren’t comfortable talking to me. After people talk about flowers and trees, it’s an easy transition to recipes, and then children and family. That’s how I did it.
I enjoyed raising my children here too. Four children. They’re all grown up now, with children of their own. It was a good experience for them. The diversity, being exposed to different walks of life; I think it helped them grow. And you should have seen the proms! Springfield is the place for prom dresses. We have the grand staircases, the chandeliers, and creativity to really show them off. I enjoyed those times especially.
But what I liked about the neighborhood the most, and still do, is that my neighbors came in all different colors and have all different histories. It was exciting to meet new people. My husband would come back from work and I would tell him who I met that day, their story, etc. I think he thought I was a little crazy.
Q: Do you have a favorite neighborhood memory from that time in your life?
A: In 1988, I think, the Springfield Woman’s Club organized a block party. It was a real, New York-style block party, with a live DJ and everything. People were dancing and laughing in the streets, and everyone, even the troublemakers, were on their best behavior that night. The funny thing is, and not everyone knows this, is that I had to convince the DJ to show up. The DJ was so worried about being in Springfield that she brought her mother along with her.
Q: Have you noticed any changes to the neighborhood over the years?
A: Yes, some good and some that I don’t understand. The neighborhood has had its ups and downs, like any area, but it’s steadily improved to where it is today. That’s great news. It is.
But there are also some things I can’t quite understand. Like having a keyed lock on your front gate. Call me old fashion, but that’s a bit much for me. Another interesting phenomenon is that people have become very territorial about Springfield. It’s suddenly a popular place to be from now, even if you’re not. I talk to people and hear them say that they’re from Springfield, when their really in the Eastside neighborhood, for example. I have a more holistic view of things, and don’t think that that should matter. I’m a school crossing guard on the Eastside, but I live in Springfield. And that’s ok; both communities share many of the same issues and same dreams.
Q: Do you take part in any neighborhood organizations or events?
A: Honey, I’m burned out.
I was the Springfield Woman’s Club president for a few years, starting in 1996, I believe. It was a stretch, but a fun stretch. I also was active in Greenscape, the Urban Core CPAC, Jax Pride, and a few others. But I’ve expanded my horizon’s a little bit since then. It’s not all about Springfield for me anymore. I love all of Duval County.
Q: How do you see the neighborhood evolving into the future?
A: That’s a tough one. I’ve watched the ups and downs. I’ve seen places like Pittsburgh boom, then bust, then boom again. But Springfield is on the right track. Things have definitely been changing.
But the City of Jacksonville has been known to foul up a good thing though. We got so much housing stock already in existence, yet they continue to build out and sprawl. They aren’t the best planners.
Q: What advice would you have for someone thinking about moving into the Springfield Historic District?
A: I have two pieces of advice.
First - Get to know your house, your neighbors, and your neighborhood first, before you jump head into anything else. It’s easy to see a house and say, “I like it!”, but it takes more that to really get comfortable with it and settled into a neighborhood. Springfield can keep you busy if you want it to.
Second - It’s all about the people. The people make up the neighborhood. Your neighbors are the ones that will make or break a neighborhood for you, and this goes for any neighborhood, not just this one. It’s not all about the structures, no matter how unique or historic they are.
Your neighbors are the ones that will mind after your children, whether you know it or not. They’re the one’s that will find your lost dog with you. They’re the ones that will keep an eye out for you when you’re gone. They’re the ones that you’ll stop and chat with on the front porch or sidewalk.
And I think we have the best neighbors in all of Duval County.
Meet Your New Neighbors
Name: Russ and Bruce
Occupation: Russ is the Accreditation Coordinator for the American Culinary Federation, and Bruce serves as a Pastor and Professor of Communications.
Location: Pearl Street
Fun Fact: Russ and Bruce have spent the better part of 20 years collecting art, and their home doubles as a spectacular art museum of sorts. Each piece of art has a story.
Q: How did you arrive in the Springfield Historic District?
A: We've always loved "transitional" and changing neighborhoods.
We moved from Racine, Wisconsin, and before that we lived in Stanton, Virginia. Stanton is a small community of thirty five thousand or so, but has five historic districts. All different types, from extravagant to not so nice. Our house in Stanton was built in 1904 by a relatively well known architect named TJ Collins. We lived in one of the "transitional" historic districts in Stanton, but after 4 years our professional lives and political preferences drew us to Wisconsin.
Racine, Wisconsin was our destination. We bought a house a block and half away from Lake Michigan, in another federally designated historic district. It was nice, but the winters took their toll. The neighborhood itself was, again, changing and improving, but the local community there didn't necessarily like all the rules that came along with being a historic district. There was a lot controversy on the local level.
We liked it though. We could walk into downtown and walk to festivals and events. We lived there for about two years, but after two Wisconsin winters we decided it wasn't for us. The leaves start to change at the end of August there. It just wasn't where we wanted to put down our final roots. We thought about moving to our vacation house in Spain, a "vacation bolt", as our English friends say, but getting permanent EU citizenship nowadays is very tricky.
In the beginning of 2010 we realized we wanted to leave Wisconsin, to somewhere warmer preferably, so we started looking. Well, we still hadn’t sold our house in Virginia, and now we had the one in Wisconsin too, so we had to figure something out.
In a coincidental turn of events, someone that was interested in our house in Stanton, Virginia was moving away from the Springfield Historic District. It was the first we had heard of the area. We actually entertained tradinghouses, but unfortunately that didn't work out. In the process, however, we did a thorough investigation of the neighborhood and it really caught our imagination. We hired a real estate agent in Jacksonville, told them what we wanted, and waited to hear back.
When the agent got back to us, all he brought us were properties in Riverside, Avondale, or Arlington. He really tried to steer us away from Springfield. He even convinced us to fly down from Wisconsin to look at a house in Riverside, which looked really amazing in photographs, I have to admit. But when we got there it didn't look anything like the photos he sent us. It was pretty much stripped. We were very disappointed and decided to take a walk around the area, on Post Street. We looked around and said to ourselves, "what's the big difference between this and Springfield, and why are would we pay so much more to live here?"
So we decided that the Springfield Historic District was where we ultimately wanted to be, and we moved here in May 2010.
Q: Did you buy a historic or new house, and why?
A: Our house was built in 1908. It was originally a single-family home, then it turned into a duplex years later, then back into a single family home in 1998. This house met just met our needs, really. That's it. That’s why we chose this one specifically. We looked at new replicas and other older ones too, but this one had the character and floor plan that we wanted. Believe it or not, not everyone wants an open floor plan!
Q: What did your family and friends think about the move into the neighborhood?
A: Our family and friends think we're crazy to begin with! We've been together for about 20 years now, and we've moved our primary residence 8 times, vacation home 4 times, and commercial properties 9 times. So on one hand we were crazy to move again, but on the other hand – why not, it's Florida!
We get more visitors now than we did in Wisconsin, it's safe to say.
But this is the 3rd act of our lives, and we don't plan on moving again. Hopefully our ashes will be the last thing that moves from here.
Q: Now that you've settled in, what do you enjoy about the neighborhood?
A: We really enjoy the people. Like I mentioned, we always loved transitional neighborhoods. Especially historic districts. You see all walks of life, meet all kinds of people, and they are just so much more interesting than bland, suburban neighborhoods.
I think we live on the quintessential Springfield block, because there's a little bit of everything on our block: elderly people that have lived here forever, young professionals, middle-class families, well-to-do, etc. We've gotten to know people by simply walking our dog down the sidewalk, for example. People stop and say "hello". We really like that.
We like the proximity to everything too. We have family in Charleston, SC, which is only 4 hours away, and we really enjoy visiting Savannah as well, which is much closer of course. Being centrally located in the city is a plus. Oh, and we enjoy a little café just a couple miles away in downtown. It's become our weekend ritual to have breakfast there, and it's so close.
Q: How do you see the Historic District developing in the future?
A: I really hope to see Main Street come alive. There's so much to be done there, but I think it will change because there's so much opportunity. If I were a few years younger, I would probably invest on Main myself.
But I think a lot of it is attitude and perception. Once more people start to catch on to the changing demographics here, the falling crime numbers, and the old images and myths start to dissipate, I think the retail and commerce will follow.
We've got to get "outside" people involved and interested too, it can't just be residents. For example, I spoke to the owner of a nice Italian restaurant and a popular gym about opening up on Main Street. I think business people are coming around to it, but they just aren't "there" quite yet. It will happen.
Maybe we just need to stand up and scream like in the movie Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any longer!"
Q: Do you plan on participating in any neighborhood events or organizations?
A: We've already been to a couple First Friday parties, we did the Holiday Home Tour, and we went to the Dog Days in the Park festival. We'll see what the future holds.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone thinking about moving into the Springfield Historic District?
A: I'd give the same advice that we were given: walk your block. Walk around and become familiar with the environment and your neighbors. Every block is different in the neighborhood, so make sure to be familiar with yours.
Also, use a realtor that knows the area. That makes a big difference.
And one last thing…..be active in the neighborhood!