A few years ago I attended a meeting of Jacksonville executives who had gathered to welcome a new CEO to town. As the newcomer shared her fresh impressions of Jacksonville, the rest of us found ourselves looking at Jacksonville through her eyes, comparing what she described herself seeing with our own perspectives, as citizens with more settled notions about our city. She had come to Jacksonville knowing almost nothing about this place.
Most of those in the room that morning could relate, because we had also come to Jacksonville from elsewhere. Soon enough, everyone around the table was sharing recollections of their first encounter with this big river city, and it became clear that everyone has a Jacksonville story. Some came for a job, some for school. Several came because a parent or spouse was transferred to Jacksonville through some connection to the military – typically the Navy. Some arrived with expectations formed in advance, while others had little idea what Jacksonville would be like. Everyone agreed on one thing though – the city eventually surprised them.
In ways large and small, Jacksonville seems to do that. It is physically big and sprawling. Newcomers who anticipate a provincial Southern city pretty soon discover that its people are amazingly diverse. That owes to circumstances that are part of our past and that affect us in the present. We are a seaport city and, for more than a century and a half, been the setting for global trade and immigration. Since the city’s establishment 199 years ago, we have been a transportation nexus – by road, rail, river, and eventually by highways and airways.
Every city is a legacy passed on by those who came before us. Whether you are a fifth generation Jaxson or you arrived only yesterday, you have inherited a fascinating, complicated city.
Everyone at that meeting table had their own Jacksonville story, beginning with how they got here. So do you. I wonder what your story is?
A few years ago, the JHS adopted the motto, One City, Many Stories. Next year, for Jacksonville’s 200th anniversary, the Jacksonville Historical Society will publish a book that will allow us to share stories about our relationship with the city. Can you help us? Follow the link here, and answer the brief questions you’ll see there. We will use as many stories as possible in our forthcoming book, which will be a glimpse of Jacksonville at a historic milestone in its existence.
Alan J. Bliss, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer