In celebration of Preservation Month, we asked you to share stories about special Florida historic places, and we received this heartwarming story (and amazing photos!) from William Hoff about finding community in historic Springfield. Check it out below!
My wife and I moved to Springfield in 2008, a historic character-rich neighborhood just north of Downtown Jacksonville. Established in 1869, its walkable streets, inviting front porches, eclectic architecture and relative affordability attracted us to live. With that decision came questions like: Are you sure? Do you feel safe? You don't plan to stay long, right?
Like many other older urban neighborhoods, the Springfield neighborhood has a long and varied history. Successful times of growth, investment, creativity, and status, followed tragic lows that plagued many similar urban areas across the United States, including divestment, addiction, blight and flight.
By 2008, the community had begun its modern revitalization in earnest, hindered by its notorious (but well-earned) reputation over the past several decades and intensifying worldwide economic crisis. So, when my wife and I moved to our first apartment on West 11th Street in Springfield, we did so cautiously, aware of both its charms and challenges. Six years and a home purchase later, we were still in the neighborhood and had formed deep connections. The tight-knit community socialized together, celebrated together, and worked exceptionally hard at improving the community together. Many, many hours were spent bootstrapping ways to create positive change in the neighborhood, including changing its outdated reputation, which still had a significant impact on the community. During one of these informal brainstorming sessions, an idea emerged that proved to be transformational: Jacksonville Porchfest.
PorchFest wasn’t an original idea. A festival of music on the porches of walkable streets was a known quantity, but not so much in the South, and definitely not in Florida, where it feels like suburbs and sprawl outnumber historic walkable communities ten trillion to one. In the Northeast US, however, these types of festivals were embraced. So, when the novel idea was presented to Springfield Preservation and Revitalization (SPAR), the local community organization, as a way to draw people into the neighborhood, exposing them to the unique sense of place, and helping dispel the lingering negative reputation.... hey, what did we have to lose?
The first Jacksonville PorchFest was held on November 6th, 2014. Fifteen front porches hosted twenty musical acts. We invited food trucks and vendors to come and closed off one street to car traffic. It drizzled a bit early in the day, and while we had decent pre-publicity, we had no real expectations on how many people would actually attend (hundreds if we're lucky and it doesn't rain?). Well, it didn’t rain. Musicians played. Vendors sold out. The closed street was overwhelmed with 3,000 attendees, the vast majority from outside the neighborhood. The sight literally brought some longtime Springfield residents to tears, having never thought the long-beleaguered community would ever be seen as anything but dangerous and "other." It was an overwhelming success, smashing records and stereotypes, setting a new trajectory for the historic neighborhood.
Fast forward to today. Jacksonville PorchFest has thrived, now routinely welcoming 10,000 attendees, featuring mixed music genres, cultural activities, and both local and touring performers. It's a destination event for many, filling up local rentals and hotels, with attendees coming as far away as Canada. Named "best festival in Jacksonville" for multiple years, the free event is as diverse, welcoming and memorable as Springfield itself. It has changed perceptions of our neighborhood immeasurably. More old homes have been thoughtfully renovated, complementary infill housing has flourished, and the Main Street business corridor has come alive.
None of this would be possible if not for the historic nature of the neighborhood - the timelessly alluring architecture that initially attracts people, the walkable streetscapes that enhance quality of life, the mature tree canopy that offers invaluable shade to enjoy outside, and the inviting front porches that offer a space to engage with neighbors as part of daily life, thus building community. It's that strong sense of community that has kept my wife and I here some 15 years, three homes, and two kids later. As some have said, "It's the historic character that brings people here, but it's the character of the people that keeps people here."
Jacksonville PorchFest is set for Saturday, November 4th, 2023.
We want to hear your stories! Do you have one to share? Let us know!