Isaiah D. Hart- Jacksonville’s Founder

When Isaiah D. Hart first came to the Cow Ford, he pitched a tent at the foot of Liberty Street in what is now downtown.  

It was 1821 and the area later known as Jacksonville only had two other settlers, a general store and the Timucua Indians who brought their cows to water at the mouth of the St. Johns River.  By then Hart had moved on from the profitable business of selling slaves and cattle to focus on the business of founding a town. 

And while it might be hard to imagine now, persuading neighbor John Brady to invest in creating a town wasn’t an easy sell. But Hart must have been persistent because Brady eventually gave in and donated the land for downtown’s streets.  

The vision Hart had of what would become downtown Jacksonville included a small plot in the city center, later called City Park, now James Weldon Johnson Park. As our city’s first urban planner, Hart saw the need for a public space where commerce and community would come together.  

So by 1822, a survey that was foundational to Hart’s vision was completed and he set about relocating his family from St. Marys, Ga., to live in a newly constructed log cabin. 

As the city grew from the original 20 blocks he and a business partner platted, Hart served in many capacities including judge of elections, clerk of the court and postmaster. He owned nearly all of what is now downtown Jacksonville, a large section of Springfield and 2,000 acres near what is known now as Marietta, which was a plantation. 

When Hart died in 1861 (shortly after his wife, Nancy), the city he founded had grown to some 2,000 residents. He was originally buried in a family vault downtown, which was relocated after the fire of 1901. 

If a person’s character can be known by what they choose for their final words, then it is worth noting the inscription that Hart had placed on his tomb: 

When I am dead and in my grave, 

And these bones are all rotten;  

When this you see, remember me, 

That I may not be forgotten. 

Today Hart is still remembered as Jacksonville’s founder, a primary early settler who outlived all the others and the person whose estate allowed the permanent creation of the park we still know as the heartbeat of the city.