The History of Neptune Beach
The history of Neptune Beach starts with Ex-New Yorker Henry Flagler, founder of the Standard Oil Company and later the Florida East Coast Railway. Mr. Flagler first visited Jacksonville, FL, in the late 19th century, and made it a stop on the Florida East Coast Railway. This led to new building—primarily summer cottages for the well-heeled—on the Atlantic Beach coast.
U.S. Army veteran E. F. Gilbert, a jeweler and land speculator, initiated the first road to reach Atlantic Beach, thereby making it accessible to people of more modest means. Initially the building of the road was executed using convict laborers, but was later halted when local government decided to defer funding to other projects. It was Gilbert’s son, Fred Gilbert, a car dealer interested in hosting auto races on the beach to promote his business, who persuaded the government to resume the project in 1908. In 1910 this project resulted in Atlantic Boulevard. At this point the area was no longer just the holiday destination of the super-rich, but an Everyman’s paradise. In the 1920′s, as cars became more ubiquitous, the popularity of Atlantic Beach soared.
Neptune, the northernmost part of what was then called Pablo Beach, was developed as new beach property in 1913 by the Atlantic Seashore Company. The new area became famous as the take-off point for Lieutenant James Doolittle, who left Neptune Beach in 1921 on a transcontinental flight to San Diego that took 21 hours and 18 minutes. The town’s designation as “Neptune Beach” arguably began in 1922, when it was recorded that Dan G. Wheeler, Sr., who owned a summer home on Neptune Beach, built Neptune’s first train station. At the time the area had a very small population.
Neptune Beach took a while to develop into the town it is today. In 1925 Gabe Lippman purchased half a mile of ocean front property in Neptune Beach. Unfortunately for Lippman his extensive development plans (which would have included a golf course, hotel, and pier) stalled, and the same year he sold the property to Majestic Homes Corporation of St. Louis.
Interest in developing Neptune Beach picked up after the period of the Great Depression and Neptune Beach became an official town on August 11, 1931. The town’s first mayor was O. O. McCollum and the local government met at Dan Wheeler, Sr.’s old train station. Boosted in part by the New Deal, construction on a new town hall began in May 1933 and was completed in 1935. Also in the first half of the 1930’s a series of public works projects in the area helped improve the town’s infrastructure. By 1940 the population was at 1,363. Around this time the town was really shaping up. It had a small business district, fire and police departments, and a water and sewer system. Still, many streets wouldn’t be paved until the 1950’s and beyond.
After World War II the town population grew to almost 1,800 people. A quiet, serene beach area, it limited its commercial development to Atlantic Boulevard. But its popularity would surge in the 1960’s, as the naval population—boosted by the nearby naval bases—became larger and more families moved into the area. In 1968, when the majority of communities in Duval County consolidated with Jacksonville, Neptune Beach stayed mostly independent (residents do vote in the Jacksonville mayoral election and have representatives on the Jacksonville city council.) Today, according to the most recent population census taken in 2010, the population of Neptune Beach stands at 7,037.