The San Marco neighborhood started out as “Oklahoma”. William Jones received a land grant in 1793 for acres on “Cow Ford”. Cow Ford is a name that references old Jacksonville. Jones did something to the Spanish Government and they took the land back from him. William Hendricks (Hendricks Avenue) was next to own the property in 1797. Hendricks would marry Elizabeth Hudnall and she would eventually call the land “Oklahoma”.
The Hendricks land extended west to Old Kings Road and South to about present day River Road. It had everything a community of the time would need in the 1800s, sixty homes, a church, a saw mill, a railroad depot, a ferry dock and extensive orange groves. One of the most prominent citizens of Oklahoma was Harrison Reed. He was governor in 1868 and 1873.
Reed’s sister, Margaret Reed Mitchell and her husband, Wisconsin railroad tycoon Alexander Mitchell soon came in Jacksonville. They both fell in love with Oklahoma and built their winter home, Villa Alexandria, on 140 acres on the river. By 1872, the palatial estate included a mansion (near the present corner of River Road and Arbor Lane), barns, tennis courts, a swimming pool, polo field, over 2,000 orange trees, bridle paths and formal gardens. By 1873 Mrs. Mitchell was one of Jacksonville’s most influential women and was active in many charitable causes. She died in 1902. Details about the history of the neighborhood may be found at the San Marco Preservation Society.
The real development of South Bank began in earnest with the opening of the St. Johns River Bridge in 1921. Telfair Stockton bought 80 San Marcoacres of land north of the Mitchell estate for the new “San Marco” subdivision. The business district is based on the Piazza di San Marco in Venice Italy. The clay pit of Gamble & Stockton Brick Company was transformed into Lake Marco. An additional subdivision, Villa Alexandria, exists from 1929. The first two homes in this development were built by Carl and John Swisher. The Swishers moved their King Edward Cigar Company from Chicago to Jacksonville. Swisher Cigars still exists today in Springfield.
The neighborhood’s initial success carried it through the Depression years. The scenic layout, lack of commercial intrusion and proximity to Downtown continue to make the area one of Jacksonville’s most popular neighborhoods. With new developments slated to start construction where empty lots are now, the area will see more demand for housing and basic services.
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