As Brooklyn Booms, Long-Time Residents Worry Development Erodes History

Jan 26, 2018

Plans to open a liquor distillery in Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood are running up against opposition from a nearby church.

The proposal is part of a recent development boom, which includes plans for more shops, restaurants, and a brewery in the neighborhood that’s sandwiched between downtown and Riverside.

Some long-time residents worry the changes could paper over the area’s historic character.

A proposed distillery on Chelsea Street in Brooklyn is one of the projects the Downtown Development Review Board is considering. City law prevents alcohol-serving establishments from opening too close to churches unless the board issues exceptions.

Brooklyn Pastor Donald Pressley of the Church of God in Christ Temple opposes all current development proposals, especially the distillery that would open down the street from him.

“You’re destroying a community, and we need help as far as revitalizing, bringing families in, so we can promote growth and development for people,” he said. “That’s not going to help us — a liquor distillery.”

Walking down Chelsea Street, just a stone’s throw from the church, local author and historian Tim Gilmore is recounting the important role Brooklyn played in the Civil War, a role he said that’s been largely forgotten.

“There was a fort here and a blockade that was once heavily manned by black Union soldiers. And once the Confederates won out at the Battle of Olustee west of town, Jacksonville, as the Confederates marched this way, it kind of became a wall against the Confederate march into the state,” he said.

Many of the area’s original residents were former slaves or black Union troops. Paul Garner has lived in the same Brooklyn house since he was five. Now in his 50s, Garner said the vibrant community he once delivered newspapers in is a shell.

Industrial development and the construction of the Interstate-95 interchange forced out many of the families he grew up with. And now that more development seems inevitable, so does the erasing of Brooklyn’s historic character, he said.

“Every time someone bought a property, they didn’t think about preserving it like you would do in some other areas like Riverside and San Marco. First thing they do, ‘I want the land, tear it down,’ there’s nothing here because the value of the historic part is not important to them,” Garner said.

Pastor Donald Pressley is in talks with the distillery developers as the Downtown Development Review Board is scheduled to take another look at waiving its liquor restriction next month. A lawyer for the distillery developer declined to comment for this story.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.