FeaturedFirst Coast Flashback

The Coney Island of the South: When “Dixieland” Took Over the Southbank

Dixieland Park - Photo via State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The view along the modern-day Southbank riverfront in Jacksonville is not necessarily the most exciting.

There’s a Doubletree hotel, some high-rise condo buildings, an apartment complex, and maybe one day there will be something resembling the proposed Healthy Town project as well.

But for a brief time during the early 1900s, this stretch of land was home to an amusement park called “Dixieland”.

Dixieland Amusement Park opened in 1907, with an aggressive advertising campaign in which it hyped itself as the “Coney Island of the South”. It covered dozens of acres along the Southbank, reaching as far inland as the mighty Treaty Oak. In fact, the Treaty Oak was considered to be part of the park and was covered in festive lights during Dixieland’s lifespan.

It was a fantastically bizarre experiment – its most notable attraction, aside from a 160-foot roller coaster, was an ostrich farm. Visitors could watch ostrich races and even ride on the back of an ostrich. The farm also later featured alligators as well – because, you know, Florida.

In addition to the ostrich farm, the park featured carnival rides, vaudeville acts, comedy shows, and just about everything that’s now become a modern cliché of early amusement parks. There was a baseball field nearby the park, at which Babe Ruth once played – a story often repeated in accounts of the history of Treaty Oak.

The park gave the city a notable tourist attraction just a few years after the Great Fire of 1901 had wiped out the entirety of the downtown district.

Ultimately, however, it just wasn’t a sustainable idea. The gimmicks wore off, and attendance dropped. Eventually, the park would shut down, with the Treaty Oak being the only structure to survive to this day.

The ostrich farm, interestingly enough, was successful enough to keep going on its own for a while longer even after the amusement park shut down. It lasted a couple more decades before closing in the ‘30s.

Obviously, there’s nothing like Dixieland in modern-day Jax. The entire concept, straight down to the name that invokes memories of the Confederacy, would simply not work in today’s world.

However, it’s undoubtedly an interesting piece of Jacksonville history.

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The Coastal
The Coastal is Jacksonville's newest magazine, founded in 2015 to provide news, reviews, and things to do for young people on the First Coast.