What’s your family story?

by | Oct 5, 2021

Celebrating the Jacksonville Bicentennial in 2022 will take many shapes and forms. From planned public events to bicentennial co-branded races, tournaments, galas and more, there’s also opportunity to share personal stories of family histories that reach back decades or a century-plus. Here’s one example of the stories the Jacksonville Historical Society would like to solicit and share here and on our websites (jaxhistory.org and jax200.org). Discovered while paging through an 1876 edition of Webb’s Directory for the City of Jacksonville, here’s a piece of history from Tracey Arpen, a Mandarin resident.

“John Arpen, who owned the Empire Grist Mill, was my great-grandfather. The grist mill was located near the north side of the Acosta Bridge, just off Bay Street,” said Arpen. “Henry and Nicholas are listed as grocers in LaVilla, but James Weldon Johnson, in one of his autobiographical books, described it as a confectionery sort of business. His mother regarded it as a rather unsavory place and told her kids to stay away from it. Apparently she was right.”

Arpen continued. “Patricia Drozd Kenney, in her master’s thesis ‘LaVilla, Florida, 1866-1887: Reconstruction Dreams and the Formation of a Black Community’ includes this passage:

“One alderman, H. W. Arpen, a Dutchman, was arrested for selling liquor on Sunday. James Weldon Johnson recalled a common scene he witnessed at Arpen’s general store, located on the corner of Ward and Second Streets: ‘The store included a bar, and it seemed that there were never less than a dozen drunks, black and white, hanging around. There was generally lots of profane and obscene language, and not infrequently a play of pistols and knives.’

“My grandfather, John Arpen, owned a dairy that was located for a while in Springfield (21st and Pearl) and also in Panama Park. Shortly before my father was born in 1919, the family moved the dairy to what is now duPont Avenue. They basically did a cattle drive down Main Street and the one bull in the herd saw his reflection in the window of Furchgott’s and charged it. My grandfather had to buy a new plate glass window for Furchgott’s, which was then located on the northwest corner of Bay and Main,” concluded Arpen.

Jacksonville is One City, Many Stories and we’d be pleased to share yours. Click here to tell us your bicentennial story!

Kate A. Hallock
Chief of Staff / Communications Director

Above photo: Dairy owner John Arpen with his milk wagon in Springfield, circa 1910-1918. [Photo courtesy of Tracey Arpen, grandson.]

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