Jacksonville's Beaches have been popular with tourists since the first oceanfront hotel, the Murray Hall, opened in 1886 in "Ruby," as Jax Beach was first known. At that time, a local rail line connected downtown Jacksonville with the area and rapid growth quickly followed. The area was renamed "Pablo Beach," a name that stuck with the area until 1925, when Jacksonville had established enough of a name for itself that it made sense to associate with its neighbor across the ditch. Around the turn of the century, Henry Flagler extended the rail line north along what is now Second Street. He then built a massive luxury hotel in what is now Atlantic Beach, catering to well-known American families such as the Vanderbilts and the Whitneys, further cementing the First Coast as a premier vacation destination.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, Pablo Beach saw a great deal of development and an influx of permanent residents who were joined by hundreds of city-dwellers on summer weekends. Three trains a day were the only way to get to the beach until 1910, when Atlantic Boulevard, the state's first highway, was completed. It was paved with oyster shells and brick. After several hotels, including Henry Flagler's, were destroyed by fire along the beach, developers built the Casa Marina in 1925, which helped Jacksonville Beach retain its crown as the finest tourist destination in the South. Flagler's hotel was rebuilt as a smaller hotel and operated in the quiet residential enclave of Atlantic Beach until Hurricane Dora forced its demolition in 1964.
Neptune Beach was a small, sandy spot between Pablo Beach and Atlantic Beach until Dan Wheeler, who had a house where the Sea Turtle Inn now stands, decided he wanted the train to stop at his house to simplify his daily commute to downtown Jacksonville. He built a station at his own expense and named it "Neptune." The area remained part of Jacksonville Beach until 1931, when residents voted to form a new city.
When Duval County consolidated in 1968, Jacksonville, Neptune, and Atlantic Beaches opted to remain independent and today have their own mayors, city services, and local governments. Each town has a unique flavor and atmosphere that is apparent as you travel through and between them.¹
1. Wood, Wayne W. ( 1989). Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Press.