During the late 19th century, asylums were commonly built in areas outside towns and cities to remove highly contagious tuberculosis patients from their home environments, and to provide fresh air in a rustic setting. In a once-rural area of Jacksonville, the first of several medical institutions that would eventually combine to form UF Health Jacksonville was born.
A New Hospital and Nursing School
On June 4, 1870, land was acquired in the community of Oakland to build the Duval Hospital and Asylum for those who were incapable of working. The medical campus — consisting of three small buildings and a cemetery to serve the county’s aged, infirm, indigent and mentally ill — was located at Jessie and Franklin streets. Seven years later, a new, spacious one-story building was completed at the hospital. The facility housed a kitchen, a chicken house and an isolation building for tuberculosis patients.
With new railroad lines reaching the region and clustering around the African-American suburb of LaVilla in the early 1880s, Jacksonville emerged as a Gilded Age resort for tourists from the North. Outbreaks, such as the smallpox epidemic of 1883 and the yellow fever epidemic of 1888, along with a growing African-American population, resulted in the expansion of medical facilities to serve the local area. This included the 1883 construction of an isolation pavilion, an 1888 renovation and the hiring of a full-time physician at Duval Hospital and Asylum.
Additionally, the Boylan Industrial Training School for Girls by the Women’s Home Missionary Union Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1886. Located at the intersection of Davis and Duval Streets in LaVilla, the school was named after benefactor Ann Boylan DeGroot, created with the purpose of educating young Black women to become missionaries and tend to the needs of the sick.
Recognizing a need for continuing medical services for the city’s Black community, the Women’s Home Missionary Union Society acquired property adjacent to its Boylan campus to establish a nurse training program and hospital through a donation made by Matilda Cutting Brewster of Danielson, Connecticut. Named in honor of her late husband, the George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training opened in January 1901 as a one-room treatment unit consisting of a cot, a table and a few chairs.
The Great Fire of 1901
A few months later, life in Jacksonville and the impact on its medical community would change forever. On May 3, 1901, a small fire at LaVilla’s Cleveland Fiber Factory spiraled out of control, leading to one of the worst disasters in Florida’s history. By the end of the day, more than 146 city blocks had been destroyed by the fire, leaving 10,000 residents homeless. The Great Fire of 1901 would go on to become the third-largest urban fire in U.S. history, behind the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.
In the following decade, a post-fire redevelopment boom transformed the city into a modern metropolis of 57,699 structures built of brick, concrete and steel. With African-Americans being the largest demographic within the increasingly congested city, both LaVilla and Oakland densified, resulting in space constraints for the once-rural campus of Duval Hospital and Asylum and the George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training.
In 1910, the Boylan Industrial Training School for Girls relocated across town to Oakland, after completing construction of a new, four-story brick structure adjacent to Duval Hospital and Asylum. With Boylan’s original campus being redeveloped into multifamily housing, Brewster Hospital also relocated to LaVilla.
In 1914, St. Luke’s Hospital relocated to what is now the main campus of UF Health Jacksonville, opening a new, larger hospital on an 8.5-acre site bounded by Boulevard, 8th, Jefferson and 10th Streets along Hogans Creek, just west of Springfield. This section of town eventually became known as the prestigious African-American community of Sugar Hill.