Words and images by Erin Reedy
It was a 1901 fire that demolished much of Jacksonville, opening the way for a citywide architectural re-imagining. And that fire-sparked chance to rebuild over a century ago has today put the city on the map as a community that possesses the most Prairie School homes in the Southeast.
That single spark from a chimney ignited warehouses full of smoke moss, quickly evolving into a conflagration that could be seen even in Raleigh, North Carolina, 500 hundred miles away. When it was finally extinguished, this great fire had leveled 146 city blocks, destroying over 2,368 buildings, much of the downtown area.
Although the after-effects of the fire were devastating, leaving 1,000 people homeless, it gave people the opportunity to start the city anew.
“Architects and builders came from all over to get a piece of the pie to rebuild,” said Wayne Wood, a former optometrist turned Jacksonville architectural preservationist who has written several books on Jacksonville’s history. “One of those people who came down from New York was a 28-year-old architect named Henry Klutho.”
It was Klutho more than anyone else who carved out the new face of the city. He came to Jacksonville within two months of the Jacksonville fire with the goal of joining the reconstruction, knowing that he would have the chance to mold the city’s architectural style, while also making a name for himself.
His first buildings were designed with classical lines inspired from his time in Europe. However, many of his designs in Jacksonville were inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Prairie School style.
Klutho designed other buildings in other styles but his first true Prairie School style building was his own home that now sits on West Ninth Street in Springfield. His home brought Klutho into the limelight as an architect and made a “bold architectural statement,” according to Wood.
Today, Jacksonville has the largest number of Prairie School style homes outside the Midwest. This style was largely made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and consists of open floor plans and horizontal lines.
These statements can be seen across Jacksonville in both Klutho’s buildings and in the imitations from other architects of the time.
“Well I’m very fond of Louis Sullivan. He’s one of the greatest architects that ever lived, so I love the ornamentation [of the Prairie School],” said Wood.
Anyone who is interested in seeing Prairie School designs need only to take a driving tour of what Woods considers the most notable houses in Jacksonville that are in the Prairie School style.
These 10 are by no means the complete list of Jacksonville Prairie School style buildings and homes. However, these locations can give viewers a taste of this unique architecture and a glimpse into part of Jacksonville’s rich history.
1) Henry John Klutho Residence 30 W. Ninth St.
Klutho’s two-story home had broad, six-foot overhangs that projected over the second story windows. The living, dining and entry all flowed together in an open floor plan with a stair case to one side. One side of the house features stair-stepping windows. His residence was the first Prairie Style house in Florida and perhaps even the South.
2) 2821 Riverside Ave.
The architect for this house is unknown, however, the overall design was heavily influenced by one of Klutho’s that was also on Riverside Avenue, but has since been demolished. There is speculation over the architect and one theory is that the contractor for this house had an office next door to Klutho in the St. James Building. There is not a firm answer as to whether the contractor did in fact design this house, but the similarities to Klutho’s other designs are evident.
3) 2525 Riverside Ave.
This is one of the few Prairie Style houses built in Jacksonville in the 1920s. The most distinctive features of this house is the large size and the cross- pattern decoration of the porch railing and upper central windows. It also has dramatic urns that line the main entrance that are similar to planters that were used by Frank Lloyd Wright on his earliest Prairie- style houses. This is one of two Prairie School residences known to be designed by James R. Walsh.
4) 2911 Riverside Ave.
Built in 1915 this residence known as the Clementine Porter Residence. Porter had this home built after her husband passed away. Little is known about the architect and designer R. Lee Sevil but it is evident in this design that he explored in Prairie Style. This home has unique features including the Savannah brick exterior, which is rarely seen in Jacksonville.
5) 2254 Riverside Ave.
Although not designed by Klutho, this Prairie School home was built in 1916. W. Mulford Marsh designed this house, which incorporates the Prairie style concepts such as horizontal lines and the emphasized rooflines. The home was originally built for James A. Yates, a Jacksonville attorney, for only $9,500.
6) 3305 Riverside Ave.
The architect and designer of this home, Ransom Buffalow, never got to see this masterpiece to its completion. Located at the new Avondale subdivision at the intersection of Riverside and Avondale avenues, Buffalow capitalized on the site by having two main entrances to the house on both streets. It is suspected that this home, built in 1922, was probably the last fully dedicated Prairie Style building to be constructed in Jacksonville.
7) 3037 Riverside Ave.
The designer and builder of this residence is unknown but it was built in 1914. The original design has been changed but many of its features still show the Prairie Style. These features include the abstract porch piers, beveled glass and an original iron fence. It is said that this residence was originally owned by N. Wilson Redmond who was the manager of the downtown Imperial Theatre.
8) 1804 Elizabeth Place
Perhaps the “purest” Prairie Style home still in Jacksonville, this residence was built in 1913. One of the most unique features of this house is the main roof that has cantilevered slabs that emphasize the horizontal structure. This feature allows the windows to remain open even during rain.
9) 1805 Copeland St.
The William P. Baldwin house was built for the vice president of the Baldwin-Lewis Naval Stores Company in 1921. It was built by Ransom Buffalow and is one of his top Prairie School designs. The strong horizontal emphasis is carried out by the low-pitched overhanging roof, the second-story band of windows connected by a continuous projecting sill, the detailing on the chimneys and the porch urns.
10) 2105 N. Pearl St.
Built in 1915, this is one of the few wooden frame buildings that articulate the Prairie Style here in Jacksonville. The porch on the house’s south side originally had a bold cantilevered roof. That effect was ruined when the porch was enclosed, but strong horizontal lines and low pitched rooflines are still noticeable. This home was originally owned by W. L. Sharkey, who was the co-owner of Gilreath’s Quick Launch on West Bay Street.