If you love grand old buildings, then strolling through Riverside Avondale Historic District in Jacksonville will give you many hours of joy.
This city in northeastern Florida has a longer history than many Florida cities and has extensive well-preserved historic districts.
Downtown Jacksonville was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1901. Between the 1901 and the Great Depression, this neighborhood along the St. Johns River was THE place to build a grand home, and many are still here, cherished by current owners and an active historic preservation organization.
Originally, there were 50 grand mansions on Riverside Avenue that were called “The Row.” Today, just two survive. But there are hundreds of other great homes and buildings, some of architectural distinction.
Visit Jacksonville produced a guide to 11 special mansions in Riverside Avondale built before the Great Depression.
When we visited, we saw all 11 houses on foot, doing the first four houses one day and then numbers five to 11 on the second day. If you were to walk the whole route, it would be about three miles roundtrip.
Here is a rough map of the 11 houses and photos and brief information about each.
Also: Be sure to read our broader guide to visiting Jacksonville and this historic neighborhood, including where to stay, eat and other things to do.
Riverside Avondale historic home tour
Information and text from Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage-Landmarks for the Future, written by Dr. Wayne W. Wood, leader of effort to preserve Riverside Avondale and a current resident.
During the early 1900’s, this section of Riverside Avenue was known as “The Row” because of its numerous mansions. Between Margaret Street and Edison Avenue, over 50 of these large-scale homes lined Riverside Avenue, making it one of Jacksonville’s scenic highlights. Unfortunately, all of these mansions have now been demolished except for two, this one and the home at 1541 Riverside Avenue. This house is a striking blend of the Shingle style and the Queen Anne style. Its roof and the walls are almost entirely covered with shingles, including the main porch posts and the arch over the porch entrance. A portion of the veranda lies under the upper stories of a projecting bay, a typical feature of the Shingle style. However, the profusion of gables, balconies, bay windows, latticed window muntins, and scrolled wood trim are traits of the Queen Anne style. The original owner of the house was William J. Kelly, vice president of Naval Stores Export Company. “Naval stores” was the name given to the turpentine and resin business, which was one of Jacksonville’s largest industries at that time. Kelly and the other turpentine magnates were jokingly known as “the Gum Bunch.” This house is now one of the finest bed & Breakfasts in Jacksonville.
Wholesale grocer R. L. Stringfellow obtained a permit to begin construction on this handsome buff-colored brick mansion in June, 1906, but he lived there barely six years. In 1912 Stringfellow built a smaller house behind this one (now 554 Lancaster), where he moved in 1913. He sold this original house to James L. Medlin, another one of “the Gum Bunch,” whose family owned this house for the next sixty years. The eclectic design of the house shows a Colonial Revival influence, and it features a French tile roof supported by oversized brackets. The wraparound veranda is interesting not only for its large size but also for its combining Doric columns with square brick piers.
Colonial Revival was a popular style among Jacksonville’s affluent citizens around the turn of the century. The massive white columns connoted power and establishment, which is why they often appeared on banks, churches, and government buildings. This house is built on an elevated lot, which further enhances its lofty impression. J. E. Johnson, President of the Realty Title and Trust Company, originally owned the house, which was built in 1906. Augustus Anthony, President of the Peoples Bank, bought it in 1923. Its large veranda with towering Doric columns is reminiscent of a plantation manor house and still evokes the mood of the Old South.
The dramatic scale and riverfront siting make this one of Jacksonville’s most significant mansions. It was built in 1928-1929 at a cost of over $100,000 for Leon Cheek, head of the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company, which later became the Maxwell House Coffee Company. This house is Jacksonville’s foremost example of the Jacobethan Revival style, featuring massive polygonal chimneys, a slate roof, leaded glass windows, an elaborate oriel window above the front entrance, and Tudor style arches over windows and doors. The most prominent feature of the main facade is the 3 ½-story tower with a crenelated parapet, which contributes to the castle-like quality of this house.
Prominently sited on a large corner lot, this is one of the best remaining Prairie-style residences in Jacksonville. The broad overhanging eaves, canopies, and extensive windows provide natural cooling and ventilation in Florida’s tropical weather, allowing the windows to remain open in the rainy season. The ornamentation is simple and abstract and contributes to the horizontal rhythm of the composition. Lucius T. Smith, a real estate developer, was the first owner of this stately residence, which was built in 1913.
With a facade suggestive of a Renaissance villa, this is one of Riverside and Avondale’s finest Mediterranean Revival style mansions. It was designed by Marion Sims Wyeth, an architect from New York who became one of Addison Mizner’s chief competitors in Palm Beach. The original owner of the house in 1923 was Helen L. Parrott. She was the widow of Joseph R. Parrott, the President of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. The cost of construction was approximately $34,000. An outstanding feature of the house is its wrought-iron ornamentation, including the entrance gate, balcony, awning support rods, and elaborate window grilles. Cast stone is used extensively in the consoles that decorate the eaves, around the main entrance, and on the bracketed window sills. The weathered stucco exterior and mission-tile roof are further components of the Mediterranean Revival style. From 1958 to 1965, the Unitarian Church occupied the home.
Due to its prominent location, the “Marble House” has been one of the most well-known symbols of Avondale’s elegance since the time of its completion. It is an interesting variation of the Mediterranean Revival style, with classical elements such as the ornate entrance porch and a balustrade across the terrace. The most unusual feature of the house is its exterior veneer, which is marble quarried in Georgia. Most of the ornamentation on the main facade is also marble, including the cartouches that flank the upstairs balcony, the arched bas-relief panels over the French doors, and the frieze on the entry porch. The residence was originally built in 1928 at a cost of over $70,000 for contractor Walter Bryson, who had to sell the house shortly after completion due to the “crash” at the end of the Florida Land Boom. However, his son was able to buy the house back fifteen years later and still lives there.
Influenced by the palaces of Venice, Italy, this superb Mediterranean Revival residence is a prominent landmark on St. Johns Avenue. It was designed by architect Jefferson Powell, shortly after he returned from a trip to Venice. The main entrance projects as a two-story pavilion, whose dramatic ogee arch as well as the star-wheel motif in the balcony are taken from the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan on Venice’s Grand Canal. Various other types of arches highlight the windows, with columns, stylized leaded-glass panels, and several other kinds of brick and cast-stone ornamentation. The porch and porte-cochere are dominated by arches and have crenelated parapets. Even the chimneys have arched windows in them. This mission-tile roof is typical of a Venetian residence. The house was built for Max Knauer, a prominent hardware dealer, at a cost of over $30,000 in 1929.
The prominent location of this elevated corner lot allowed the architect Jefferson Powell to use Tudor and Jacobethan Revival motifs to create a castle-like effect. The design enables the house to face on both Edgewood and Pine, turning the corner in an interesting way and giving the building an appearance of breadth. A crenelated parapet formalizes the intersection and serves as the main entrance. The balustraded terrace on the Pine Street side also contributes to the appearance of a fortress. Typical of the Tudor style, there is a good deal of randomness within the overall symmetry, including eight different window styles, three different styles of brick bonds, and cut stone placed irregularly around the central facade. It was built in 1927.
Built for businessman Robert V. Covington in 1925, this is another excellent Mediterranean Revival mansions. Designed by architects Marsh & Saxelbye, it was constructed of hollow tile covered with stucco and has a red tile roof. The facade features ornamental wrought-iron balconies and grilles, as well as decorative cast-stone around the entrance.
This outstanding riverfront mansion on Richmond Street is the epitome of the Tudor Revival style in Jacksonville. It was built at a cost of over $130,000 in 1928 for the family of Edward W. Lane, one of the founders of the Atlantic National Bank. Mrs. Lane worked closely with the architectural firm Marsh & Saxelbye to adapt the features she admired most in English architecture. The exterior of the house is a compendium of Tudor Revival architectural details: half-timbering with pegged joints, leaded-glass windows, a slate roof, Tudor-style arches over the doors and some windows, ornamental cast stone, massive chimneys with star-shaped stacks and chimney pots, steep gables with ornate vergeboards, and random-shaped limestone blocks that trim the windows, doors, and corners. The interior is also exceptional. It contains pegged oak floors, elaborate beamed and sculpted plaster ceilings, wainscoting, massive fireplaces, and an octagonal breakfast room with a gold-leaf ceiling. As the biggest house on the largest lot in the entire neighborhood, the Lane residence embodies a style and elegance that is purely Avondale.
How to tour Riverside Avondale historic district
You can do this historic home tour a lot of different ways. You can obviously walk, as we did, using this page of info and map and your phone mapping app to find your way to the next house.
You could drive or bicycle through the neighborhood and seek out these 11 houses, discovering along the way all the many other beautiful structures from that era — and there are a lot.
If you don’t want the history/architectural detail of these houses, you can just wander a few blocks on either side of Riverside Avenue and you will encounter lovely views and homes everywhere you walk.
The innkeeper at our bed-and-breakfast, the Riverdale Inn, recommended tours by www.gotukn.com, which offers three-hour tours of the residential architecture in Riverside Avondale for $55 per person. (9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday.)
We loved walking it because that’s how you discover the small things that often bring the most delight, such as the 100-year-old hexagon pavers that are the most common sidewalk material in Riverside Avondale .
For more information, visit Riverside Avondale Preservation.
RAP has an annual home tour. The 46th Annual Home Tour is scheduled for April 9-10, 2022. If you fall in love with Riverside Avondale, then you’ll be interested in this video, which tells the story of the many-decade fight to preserve this neighborhood from commercial development, bad zoning and freeways that would have obliterated it.
A note from the editor:
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