Bayard is a small community in the southeastern section of Jacksonville, FL. It is at the intersection of Philips Highway (US 1) and Old St. Augustine Road. It is so small that you would never think that it was a community at all or that, at one time, it was actually its own incorporated town.
Up until recently, the only way one would know Bayard even existed was from signs along US 1 reading “Bayard 5” and from the Bayard Country Store. In fact, it was the Bayard Country Store that first attracted me to the area. An antique shop in a three-story, white siding building that looked like it belonged on the main drag of an Old West town. It used to be the oldest building found along US 1 between downtown Jacksonville and St. Augustine, FL. It was even showcased in a local public broadcasting production called “Ghost: North Florida Legends (2002)”. Now it’s gone. A developer bought the property in 2004 as the building was turning 105 years old. The structure that became the face, the identify of Bayard for so many Jacksonville residents demolished in 2005.
I visited the Bayard Country Store on several occasions in the past. As antique stores go, it was average with a hodgepodge of disorganized consignment booths. You could tell the owners, who had the property for over two decades, left the interior spaces in whatever state they found it. With exception of a staircase that the owner added sometime in the 1980’s or 90’s. Antiques even spilled over into a modern, ugly and cheap addition that was added probably in 1971.
The building underwent a lot of change in its 100-year history, but some amazing features still remained. The original tin tiles were still present on the soaring first floor ceilings. A sliding barn door on the side of the building spoke of the practical needs of early owners. Upstairs, many of the once tiny boarding rooms still had their original all wood-paneled walls. Most of the original windows remained, however, that might have been more a product of neglect than preservation. A large patio and upper balcony also remained. You could just imagine people sitting out on the patio, enjoying the evening breezes.
In the late nineteenth century during Bayard’s growing years, W. W. Wing and his family moved to Bayard to profit in the town’s burgeoning lumber industry. Unfortunately, Mr. Wing was tragically killed in a sawmill accident leaving his wife to fend for herself. Juliette Wing built the Wing Hotel from 1898-1899 with assistance from of her grown son, C.W. Wing. Mrs. Wing ran the hotel to support herself and her children.
The structure’s top two stories of the main section housed 12 boarding rooms. The first floor was a general store and post office with Mrs. Wing registered as Bayard’s Post Master. The upper rear floor was the Wing’s personal residence. Later, in the 1920’s, a tea room was added to serve the more gentile customers. Business was bustling as the hotel remained a hub of activity and commerce for many decades. It was reported that a great percentage of boarders would return year after year, practically live in the hotel for the entire vacation season.
Although the Wing Hotel suffered a decline in the Depression years, the opening of U.S. Highway 1 in 1938 helped to bring more travelers to Bayard. At some point, the town became shrouded in a murky past. The hotel, along with an adjacent motor hotel were rumored to have been home to a thriving prostitution industry.
The doors were finally closed for all business in 1954. That is until life was brought into the old hotel by Mr. and Mrs. Anthony in 1982. The couple converted the structure into an Antique store, taking after the once motel turned Antique Village next door. Renewed interest in the southside slowly increased traffic flow to the store.
In 2000, the property was first offered for sale in the Florida Times-Union. News got out that the Bayard monument was endangered of being sold to a developer that might ultimately tear it down. A concerned citizen requested the City of Jacksonville to designate the building as a historic landmark. A landmarked structure is given legal protections that gives Jacksonville’s Historic Commission the authority to approve any physical alterations. However, the Anthony’s refused their approval of the landmark status in fear that it could threaten future sale of the store. Under owner protest, designation is extremely stringent. And in 2001 the city was unable to prove the building was sufficiently significant.
The owners might have had some hope for the building to be saved. Yet, they were well aware of McLamb Entereprises’ intentions when they sold it to them in 2004. However, one can sympathize with the retirement-aged couple that probably just wanted to spend their remaining years with a hunk of cash.
The Wing Hotel/antique store was not a terribly “gorgeous” building. It was pretty unremarkable when compared to other turn-of-the-century architecture. But it was the unique heart of Bayard. It set the community apart from all the others, not only in Jacksonville, but in all of Florida. The loss of the building might have been easier to bear if an equally unique structure was built on the site. Now it is just a run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter shopping center. Further depressing the situation is the new center is over 80% unoccupied. An empty blob of storefronts and parking lot.
Moral to this story? I don’t know. Make a lot of many and buy endangered properties? Nice idea but not always possible. What we all can do is try with all our mights to save what we truly and deeply care about with any myriad of actions. Petitions, community action, fund-raising, etc. That is why my next posts on Bayard’s old African-American schoolhouse is so important to me.