With a rich and varied history that goes back hundreds of years, Jacksonville, Florida is a hidden gem for urban explorers in the southeast United States. Nestled along the St. Johns River and stretching to the Atlantic coast, Jacksonville has served as a bustling commerce hub for centuries, with multiple ports, several railroads and a handful of military sites located within the metro area.
Many were surprised when I listed Jacksonville as the best city in the United States for urban exploration. However, my reasoning for this choice goes far beyond the fact that I currently live here in Jacksonville. The perfect mix of expansive land area, industrial growth, desolation and decay, and great weather year-round makes this city an ideal spot for some strong urbexing pursuits.
The below list of the best abandoned places in Jacksonville FL is only scratching the surface of what is actually available here in sunny Duval. In fact, I’ve categorized, logged, and visited over 100 abandoned locations throughout the city. From velodromes in the middle of the woods to haunted mansions with eerie pasts, rusted-out treasure hunting ships to meat packing plants and beyond, Jacksonville has everything under the sun.
Note: The buttons at the bottom of each location mentioned below lead to the site Abandoned Florida. The owner of this site, David Bulit, is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for opening up the world of urban exploration in Florida to the masses. His book, Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast, sits on my coffee table at home.
The Best Abandoned Places in Jacksonville FL
Over the years, the city of Jacksonville has seen dozens of economic booms and busts. As a result, it’s packed with abandoned schools, factories, residences and infrastructure just waiting to be discovered by urbex enthusiasts. Read on to learn more about the 10 most fascinating abandoned places in Jacksonville FL, Florida’s largest city.
Note: All of the below places can be explored as of mid 2020. However, it should be noted that all properties here, and many other abandoned places in Jacksonville FL, are private property, and exploring would be considered trespassing.
While there are some that are relatively unwatched, there are others under strict supervision around the clock. Do your due diligence, be smart, and read our resource Caught Trespassing? Staying Out Of Trouble Urbexing in 2020.
Ambassador Hotel (Downtown)
Photo by John Bourscheid, owner of Killer Urbex.
Over the last half-century, downtown Jacksonville has struggled to find its footing as much of the region’s residential and commercial activity has gravitated toward the outer ring suburbs. With economic investment concentrated elsewhere, many once-regal downtown structures have been left empty and crumbling, including the former site of the Ambassador Hotel.
First built as a six-story luxury apartment building in 1924, this handsome brick and limestone structure was converted into the Three-Ten Hotel two decades later. It went through several name changes before reopening as the Ambassador Hotel in 1955, the identity by which it is still known today.
Its reputation began to decline in the early 1980s, and despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places, it continued its downward spiral in the 1990s with multiple drug raids by local police. The city finally condemned the building in 1998, citing a litany of code violations, including bad wiring, poor sanitation, inadequate lighting and inoperable fire escapes.
Despite several well-intentioned plans to renovate the Georgian revival-style building and restore it to its former glory, none has come to fruition as of mid 2020. The most recent proposal came from a local development group that purchased the property in 2018 for $5.4 million; however, the promised 100-room boutique hotel has yet to materialize.
For now, it’s a prime opportunity for urban explorers and one of the best abandoned places in Jacksonville FL. But, its status could change at any time, so don’t wait too long to check it out.
Annie Lytle Elementary School (Riverside)
Photo by John Bourscheid, owner of Killer Urbex.
Construction on this historic school began in 1917 on the site of a former wooden schoolhouse known as Riverside Park School. Designed by the prolific Jacksonville architecture firm Rutledge Holmes, the $250,000 brick structure opened as Annie Lytle Elementary School the following year. At the time, the school building was aesthetically striking, with stately columns, a huge auditorium, a cafeteria with a fireplace and large windows that filled the school with the Florida sunshine.
With construction of two major interstates—I-95 and I-10—in the 1950s (the former can be seen at the top corner of the above image), the school was cut off from the rest of the city and shut its doors for good in 1960. The Duval County School District used it intermittently for storage and offices until the city condemned it in 1971. The building remained largely forgotten until 1999, when an investor acquired it and announced plans to raze the school and build a condominium complex on the site.
Pushback from citizens and local historical groups led the city to declare the site an official historic landmark in 2000, ending any plans for commercial activity. Since then, the school has sat idle except for visits from vandals, vagrants, curious teens and of course, urban explorers, as well as the Annie Lytle Preservation Group.
Four decades of deterioration—including a fire in 1995 that caused a partial roof collapse—have left the old school in tenuous physical condition, so use extreme caution if you decide to venture inside. Despite this, Public School Number Four is well-known in the area as the holy grail of abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home (Downtown)
Photo by Abandoned Southeast.
The city’s first funeral home was founded in the mid-1800s by Calvin Oak, a tuberculosis-stricken Vermont businessman who moved his family to Jacksonville in hopes that its warm, sunny climate would help him regain his health. His gamble worked, and over the next three decades he built the city’s first ammunition factory, operated a downtown jewelry store and founded a marble and mortuary company with his son.
The three-story downtown funeral home changed hands several times over the following quarter-century and was ultimately acquired by Harry Moulton and Samuel Kyle in the early 20th century. The old building was replaced by a new, more modern facility was in 1914; built in the Prairie School style, the two-story structure featured a garage with a turntable.
After Moulton’s death in 1936, the business changed its name to S.A. Kyle Funeral Home; 25 years later, the addition of a new partner required another name change to the Kyle-McClellan Funeral Home, which remained in place until it was purchased by the Peeples Family Funeral Homes in 1992. The firm moved on to a new location in 2013, abandoning the century-old facility to squatters, drug dealers and prostitutes.
Since then, the building has seen a partial roof collapse, extreme water damage and the effects of a fire in 2019. Though it’s currently still standing, it likely won’t be long until the forces of nature or city government completely level this historic structure.
Public School No. 8 (Springfield)
Photo by John Bourscheid, owner of Killer Urbex.
Originally known as Graded Springfield School, this public school building welcomed its first students in 1909. The school was built to serve the Phoenix Avenue neighborhood, a working-class settlement that peaked in population in the mid-1920s. The school was expanded in 1926 by local architect Roy Benjamin, who is best known for designing the Florida Theatre and San Marco Theatre.
The area’s population declined until the 1960s, when construction of the Haines Street Expressway isolated the neighborhood. The building was repurposed as a Montessori school in 1991, but by the end of the decade the Duval County School Board determined the $10 million in renovations it desperately needed weren’t a good investment.
Instead, they opted to vacate the school in favor of a new building, which opened to the public in 2005. The building housed the Northeast Springfield Head Start Center until 2013 and has sat vacant ever since. While not in the best neighborhood in the city, Public School No. 8 is quickly being considered a great addition to the long list of abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
PotashCorp Phosphate Terminal (Talleyrand)
Photo by Standard Stealth.
Built in 1966, this $3 million terminal was designed to support the phosphate mining and processing operations of the Occidental Agricultural Chemicals Corporation, which also operated a massive mine and processing plant in White Springs, about an hour outside of Jacksonville.
The new terminal boasted a production capacity of more than 3,000 tons per hour and featured six massive concrete storage containers, a car unloading facility with a 48-inch conveyor belt, six steel storage tanks and a mooring facility.
The terminal was acquired by the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Inc. in 1995, which shuttered the facility completely just four years later. The site has lain dormant for the last two decades, developing a reputation as the “echo domes” for the sound quality inside the hollow steel storage tanks. Overall, it is one of the most popular places for out-of-town urbexers to visit on their list of abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
The Neff House (Fort George Island)
Photo by Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo.
This private home hidden in the forests along Fort George Island was constructed as a summer residence for wealthy Chicago businessman Nettleton Neff in the early 20th century. The Tudor Revival-style home boasts a striking circular entry tower with a wrought-iron balcony above the front door.
Unfortunately, a series of personal tragedies that culminated in Neff’s suicide in 1931 meant he never had the chance to occupy the home. It was ultimately purchased by local shipbuilding mogul Kenneth Merrill, serving as a family retreat until 1967 when the Merrills sold it to the Betz family, who chose to make the home their year-round residence.
The Betz family expanded the home with a kitchen wing, garage and swimming pool, occupying it until 1985, when Fairfield Communities bought the home to support its archaeological efforts in the region. During their occupancy, the Betz’s and the Neff House gained international notoriety with the supposed discovery of an alien sphere. The full, incredible story is covered in WJCT podcast series Oddball.
The Florida Park Service took over the property in 1989, repurposing it as office space and a residence for park rangers. Structural issues led to the abandonment and sealing of the building in 2002. It takes a good hike to get here, but if you can find it, you will be exploring one of the most interesting abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
Mt. Calvary Baptist Church (Brooklyn)
Photo by Tim Postal.
Though it has seen a revival—some might say gentrification—in recent years, the historically black neighborhood of Brooklyn is still home to several interesting older properties, including Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.
The land on which it sits was originally a vast 800-acre plantation founded by Philip Dell in 1801, which was sold to a Confederate veteran after the Civil War and redeveloped into the Riverside and Brooklyn neighborhoods. Note: one of the oldest abandoned places in Jacksonville FL is in Brooklyn, the Buffalo Soldier House, which is just around the corner from this church.
The Brooklyn neighborhood in particular attracted many African-American war veterans. The Mt. Calvary Baptist Church was built to serve the community in 1955, designed and constructed by James Edward Hutchins, one of the region’s most prominent African-American contractors.
Hutchins went on to serve as President of the United Craftsmen’s and Builders Association and a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Florida State Business League and National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
At its peak in the mid-20th century, the neighborhood was home to about 6,000 people, but the area soon began to shift to more commercial and industrial use due to the nearby railroad infrastructure and construction of the Fuller Warren Bridge. Over the next several decades, the residential area declined precipitously, leading to the abandonment of the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church building in 1999.
Jacksonville Terminal Passenger Tunnels (Downtown)
Photo by Tim Postal.
Jacksonville has been a railroad town for nearly two centuries, and nowhere is this heritage more evident than downtown, where five railroad companies (Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, Florida East Coast Railway, Seaboard Air Line Railway, Southern Railway and Georgia Southern and Florida Railway) came together in 1895 to open a regional terminal.
First known as Union Depot and then Flagler Depot after regional rail magnate Henry Flagler, the terminal was replaced by a new Union Station in 1919. Then the south’s largest railroad station, it saw peak traffic of 20,000 passengers and 142 trains each day and housed a restaurant, several snack bars, a barbershop, newsstands, a drugstore and a handful of other shops and services.
The station was abandoned in 1974 in favor of the newly-constructed Amtrak station a few miles away. In 1982, former CSX Transportation chairman Prime F. Osborn III spearheaded an effort to revive the building as a convention center, which opened as the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center in 1986 and remains in use today.
Though the station itself has changed shape, the tunnels underneath it remain largely untouched. A large main tunnel connects to side tunnels and ramps that once led to the passenger platforms, and most of this hidden infrastructure is available for exploration. However, be prepared to encounter dirty standing water, roaches, rats and various other creatures during your visit. It is one of the most dangerous and difficult to locate abandoned places in Jacksonville FL, so if you’re hunting the tunnels down, be sure to stay safe and bring a friend.
Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area (Cecil Field)
Photo by David Bulit of Abandoned Florida.
This top-secret site in western Duval County near Cecil Field was used to store nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It featured 89 ammunition bunkers in various sizes and configurations, including underground spaces with concrete doors for nuclear weapons and small buildings for storing explosives.
The existence of the site was kept hidden from the public until 1985, when a book was published that spilled the beans on several nuclear storage sites around the country; however, U.S. military leadership declined to comment or confirm the information.
In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush began dismantling nuclear weapons across the country, and the weapons in Jacksonville were moved to Amarillo, Texas to be decommissioned at a Department of Energy plant. A few years later, Cecil Field was redeveloped as Cecil Commerce Center, but a few storage buildings and bunkers remain behind barbed-wire fencing nearby.
If you decide to plan a visit, use caution—anyone caught on-site is likely to be charged with trespassing. The area is owned by the city, and is used for road training for local police. Out of the locations on our list, this is likely one of the least visited abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
Jacksonville Ford Motor Co. Assembly Plant (Mathews Bridge)
To support the growing popularity of the Ford Model T and subsequent models, Henry Ford expanded his empire beyond Michigan, constructing 17 satellite facilities around the world, including one in Jacksonville.
In 1923, work began to convert the former Bentley Shipyards property into a $2 million manufacturing complex that included two large boilers and a 75,000-gallon water tower as well as a parts department and showroom. Just three years later, the facility was expanded from 115,000 square feet to more than 165,000 square feet to support increased demand.
Unfortunately, the company’s exponential growth came to a screeching halt during the Great Depression, and the Jacksonville facility ceased manufacturing automobiles and was used simply as a parts distribution center until 1968. In the decades that followed, it was sold off to a series of companies that used it for storage until 2015, when an investment company based in Spain acquired the property along with 35 acres of land adjacent to the Mathews Bridge.
The company has yet to announce any plans for the property, leaving the former Ford facility seemingly vacant and ripe for exploration. While extremely difficult to get to, the Ford Plant is one of the most sought-after abandoned places in Jacksonville FL.
Some Honorable Mention Abandoned Places in Jacksonville FL
The ten locations above are simple a self-developed top ten list based on my own explorations and research. However, there are a ton of great abandoned locations for urban exploration in and around Jacksonville. Some other locations to consider include:
- The old JEA Tower building in downtown Jacksonville
- Jacksonville Jewish Center
- The Claude Nolan Cadillac Building
- The historic Laura Street Trio
In addition, venturing outside of the Jacksonville city limits brings about some incredible locations to explore, including the culturally-rich Evans Rendezvous right by the ocean in American Beach, abandoned amphitheaters in Jekyll Island, skeletal driftwood beaches at Big Talbot Island State Park, and extensive locations in and around the Reynolds Industrial Park in Green Cove Springs.
While it may not be the first city to spring to mind when considering urbex destinations in the southeast U.S., Jacksonville has a surprising number of available sites for discovery and exploration. From forgotten factories to shuttered schools and even a few mysterious military outposts, there’s plenty for urbex enthusiasts to love about this sprawling city on Florida’s First Coast. But the above is simply scratching the surface of abandoned places in Jacksonville FL to explore.