(Originally published in 2010)
Meet Your New Neighbor
Name: Christina & Family
Location: Hubbard Street.
Occupation: Real Estate and Land Use Attorney.
Fun Fact: Christina once owned a vintage guitar shop in Five Points and managed a local band, all while going through law school.
Q: What brought you to Springfield?
A: I’ve always been fascinated with the neighborhood. In fact, I’ve been looking in Historic Springfield for almost 20 years now. Let me explain. I bought my first house when I was 19 years old, in Savannah, GA. A fixer-upper. So I’ve always had a love affair with old, character-rich houses that need a little sweat equity. I’ve had friends that have lived in Springfield as well, so I’ve passively been admiring and waiting for the right time to buy. Twenty years ago the neighborhood was pretty scary place and, quite frankly, I didn’t feel comfortable raising a family in that environment.
Of course, it’s changed since then. Lots of families live here now and local businesses are attracting people from outside the area, which is a good indicator. I almost moved here a few years ago, during the first boom of interest, but had an inkling that the housing bubble might burst. Back then, the cost of buying a house and restoring it was prohibitive. Now that prices are much more reasonable, I felt it was the right time to make the move.
Q: Did you purchase an old or new house, and why?
A: Two old houses, actually. I found one that was mostly renovated, and one goliath that needs a full restoration. The larger house in need of repair was built around 1897 and has quite a history. The renovated house, the one that we’ll be moving into soon, it was built in the early 1900’s.
I’ve restored about 30 houses, so of course I was going to purchase a historic home. I’ve always had a fondness for the unique architecture and fine details of older homes. In fact, the house in San Marco that we’re moving from is 60 years old – and that’s the newest house I’ve ever had!
Q: How did you decide that this specific house was the one for you?
A: This is a long story, maybe more than you bargained for. We found the renovated house first. It just needs some finishing touches but is otherwise move-in ready. We liked the block and it’s proximity to some of the nice cafes in the area, like Uptown, City Kidz, and Three Layers. So we settled on our home, but what really captured my heart was the giant house sitting next door, all boarded up. We decided that we had a vested interest in what happens to the property, so we looked into it.
It was built around 1897 by D.E. Maxwell, a prominent Jacksonville family. The Maxwell family ran the rail roads, among other things, at that time. Even in its current blighted state, it’s easy to see that it was originally built for a wealthy family. The wood work is immaculate inside.
When Mr. Maxwell died, the widow moved out of the house and built a duplex next door, which has since been converted into a single-family home, the restored home that we’ll be moving into. The Maxwell family occupied the houses until 1943. That year the United States government bought the house from the Maxwell’s to use as WWII work-force housing. They chopped it up into 6 units, as it is today. So the history of the house was too much to pass up. I’ve been working with descendents of D.E. Maxwell to get original photos and plans of the house. I want to restore it as accurately as possible. It’s important to me that it’s done right. And that’s the story.
Q: What did your family and friends think of your decision to move into the neighborhood?
A: The reaction has been mixed, but to my surprise, more positive than negative. Many people have an outdated perception on the neighborhood. Some were a little surprised. But most people that know me well know that I’ve always loved Historic Springfield. I’ve restored houses in changing neighborhoods before, so this isn’t anything out of character for me or my family. Many of my friends and neighbors have heard good things about the neighborhood recently, like January’s Southern Living article for example. So they’re excited for my family and plan to visit often.
In fact, my oldest son, who’s a senior in college, thinks it’s really cool. He has friends in Jacksonville that want me to scout out possible houses for them in the area. The younger generation, like my son, seems to be more aware of the positive changes in the neighborhood.
Q: What are you most looking forward to, once you move in?
A: Two things most of all: The social interactivity of the neighborhood and seeing my houses come back to life. I’ve already attended a Wine Society gathering and a First Friday party. I also plan on being involved in SPAR Council and The Woman’s Club.
As far as breathing life into my houses goes, well, that’s another story. Of course we’ll be living in the renovated house soon, but the larger D.E. Maxwell home will take some time to restore. I mentioned earlier that I’ve been trying to secure original plans and photos of the house to better restore it. It’s a huge project, but definitely a labor of love.
Q: How do you see the neighborhood progressing in the future?
A: Now that the Main Street renovations are complete, I see more businesses moving in along the commercial corridor. As the economy improves so will business. I also see more people taking advantage of the housing market. More home owners is a very positive thing for the neighborhood.
As long as Springfield residents are the neighborhood’s biggest advocate, the momentum will continue. It’s important that residents continue to champion the neighborhood and represent it well.
Q: Is there anything specific that you hope to see in the future?
A: I hope to see the neighborhood organizations work more closely together. There are so many great groups, and they’ve accomplished so much individually. With more coordination and cooperation there’s no limit to what can be accomplished. I’ve served on both Riverside Avondale Preservation’s and San Marco Preservation Society’s board, so I’ve seen how groups working together can make a far greater impact than alone.
Q: Anything you’d like to say to your new neighbors, or those considering the area?
A: To my neighbors, Thank you. Thank you for going out of your way to make me and my family feel welcome.
To anyone considering Springfield, I would just tell them the obvious: we have beautiful homes at reasonable prices. And that’s tough to beat.
Meet Your Long-Time Neighbor
Location: E. 5th Street
Occupation: Retired retail service worker
Fun Fact: Jo-ann is a self-proclaimed history buff, who gained an interest in the subject from listening to her mother tell stories about life in Jacksonville after the Great Fire of 1901.
Q: What brought you to Historic Springfield?
A: My mother and father moved our family to Springfield when I was three years old. We had been living several miles to the North, but my mother got a job at a local cigar factory, King Edward Cigars, and she needed to move closer to the bus line to get there everyday. So we moved into a house on the corner of 3rd and Walnut in 1946.
I spent the next 18 years in that house, until I married my husband in 1964. My husband and I moved out, but we didn’t go very far. My mother owned a few houses in the neighborhood by then, so we lived in one of her houses.
We lived there for four years, but then we had to move away to Dallas, Georgia, for my husband’s career. Although we moved to Dallas, a suburb of Atlanta, we visited family every summer back here in the neighborhood. I just couldn’t wait to come back down. Dallas, Georgia was just a small town and too country for me. I’ve been a city girl all my life, so I missed it terribly. You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.
Well, we kept coming back every summer through the years to visit family, and eventually, after my husband passed away, I came back to live permanently in 1988. I’ve been in this house ever since.
Q: What childhood memories of the neighborhood do you have?
A: Growing up in Springfield was just a great experience for me and my siblings. It was quite the place to be back then, you know. This was the elite neighborhood in the city. Doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, and other well to do people called this neighborhood home. Some quite famous people have their roots in Historic Springfield too, if you care to look them up.
I remember it being a very friendly neighborhood, where everyone knew everyone else, and people watched out for each other, and helped each other. We never had to worry about anything.
The Capital Theatre was on the corner of 8th and Main Street. And every Saturday morning my girlfriends and I would walk up there to spend the day. For twenty five cents we could watch a picture show and enjoy a bag of popcorn. We would spend all day outside and when it started to get dark, the neighbors would holler “Ya’ll better get home before dark!”
My first job was at the corner of 3rd and Walnut, as well. There were a number of shops there at that time, including a shoe store, restaurant and bar, and a drug store. When I was fifteen years old I had my first job tending to the soda fountain inside drug store.
I remember the parks along Hogan’s Creek being so pleasant and nice too. A good place for kids to play.
Q: What happened when the neighborhood took a turn for the worse?
A: That’s a complicated issue. I don’t know if I can put my finger on one thing. I think it was the early 1970’s when the neighborhood really started to deteriorate. Racial tension was a big issue back then, which was one of the biggest contributing factors, in my opinion. Black folks started to move in and lots of the well to do white folks moved out to the suburbs. Long-time neighbors were replaced with strangers and people started not to take care of their homes as much. I don’t think you can blame it on any one thing, but that was the start of it: people moving away.
The worst times were in the 1980’s. Guns, drugs, and prostitutes were on every corner. You couldn’t walk down the street or even sit on your front porch without being scared for your safety. In fact, one day my son was goofing around on the front porch, minding his own business, when two guys snuck up behind him and beat him badly with a sawed off shotgun.
Another time, my mother and I were washing collared greens in the kitchen sink, getting ready for supper, when we heard loud popping sounds. A man was shot and killed right outside our house in the middle of the street.
Heck, even the flowers on my front porch were stolen!
Q: How has the neighborhood changed since that time?
A: Most everything’s changed. It’s back to being a nice place to live again. People know your name and say hello, just like when I was a child in the neighborhood. The police and local organizations, like SPAR and the Block Captains, have done a great job at getting rid of the crime in the neighborhood. My sister and I go for long walks all the time now, where before we wouldn’t dare.
Of course I’ve gone back to planting my flowers too. Every spring and summer you’ll find me outside milling in the garden. People say I’ve got somewhat of the green thumb, you know.
Q: Do you take part in any of the neighborhood events or organizations?
A: I used to be very much involved in the neighborhood groups. I was a Block Captain for sometime, reporting anything and everything that was even remotely suspicious. And I was involved in SPAR Council too. However, I have to take care of my sister now and that doesn’t give me the time to do everything that I’d like. I still enjoy reading the newsletters that they send out though; they keep me informed on what’s going on in the community.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the neighborhood now?
A: I like the people. I like that when I go outside in the morning to get the paper, people walking their dogs will stop and say “Good Morning”. Like I said, it’s gone back to being a nice neighborhood to live now, the friendliest that I ever heard of.
My son moved into a gated community on the river about a year ago, and he still doesn’t know his neighbors. Of course that’s unheard of here. And that’s what I like most about the neighborhood.
I also enjoy the history of neighborhood. It has such a storied past, you feel like you’re living in history. My house was built in 1909, over a hundred years old and still standing strong.
Q: What do you think is in store for Historic Springfield?
A: Just good things, more good things. More businesses, more good neighbors. Hopefully a grocery store I can walk to!
Q: Anything that you’d like to say to someone thinking about moving into the neighborhood?
A: I’d tell them that I think the neighborhood is a good investment. It’s a wise investment for the future. I’ve seen the neighborhood in its best years, and at its worst. And now it’s well on its way up again. It’s only going to get better. And you can’t help but enjoy it.