Hemming Park Celebrates 152nd Birthday

July 11, 2018  
Hemming Park photo taken in 1857

Jacksonville's most historic public space recently turned 152. Originally a village green, it was the first and is the oldest park in the city. The area was established as a public square in 1857 by Isaiah Hart, founder of Jacksonville. For a century and a half it has served and continues to serve as a central gathering space for Jacksonville citizens. It has survived disasters, been the host to several Presidents, and is now the monthly site of Jacksonville's Downtown Art Walk.

After Isaiah Hart's death in 1861 and the end of the Civil War, the Hart family deeded the land to the city for $10. It was first known as “City Park”, then “St. James Park” after the grand St. James Hotel was constructed across the street in 1869. The area was renamed Hemming Park in 1899 in honor of Civil War veteran Charles C. Hemming.

The Great Fire of 1901 destroyed most of the wooden structures in Jacksonville and many others, too. Hemming's Confederate monument was one of the few structures to survive the fire.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon both gave speeches at Hemming Park a few hours apart on October 18. President Lyndon Johnson delivered a speech in Hemming Park on October 26, 1964.

The City renovated the park in 1977 converting it into a concrete/brick-paved square and changing the name to Hemming Plaza.

In September 2014, the city of Jacksonville entered into a public-private agreement with the nonprofit organization, Friends of Hemming Park, to manage the park. The organization is charged with revitalizing and programming the square. The nonprofit organization was created by community leaders and members of The Cultural Council of Jacksonville, and Downtown Vision, Inc.

The first Wednesday of every month, Hemming Park is converted into the centerpiece of Jacksonville's Downtown Art Walk.