Dear Call Box: I saw the picture in the Times-Union of Marjenhoff Park under water and was curious about its history.
Dear T.W.: For kids who lived near Marjenhoff Park, it was a fun spot where they could watch ducks make daily flights from their homes to the park pond, indulge in sandlot baseball games and gather holly, mistletoe and ferns.
The park was named for Alex Marjenhoff, president of the South Jacksonville City Council. From 1907 to 1932, South Jacksonville was a separate municipality with its own government and city services.
Lilla White, a well-to-do property owner, gave the land to the city in 1923 on condition that it be used as a public park. The park is between Huntsford and Southampton roads and Alamo and Bee streets.
Until 1929 the land was little more than a swamp, avoided by residents. Alex Marjenhoff led a drive to have the city use salvaged materials to fill in the marsh, clear the grounds and create a pond with an island and a tall palm tree in the center. Residents donated trees and plants.
A residents committee petitioned the council to name the park for Marjenhoff, and it was dedicated in December 1931. Fred Marjenhoff, one of Marjenhoff’s sons, attended the ceremony as a 4-year-old.
“My momma got me all spic-and-span, and I was running up and down the bleachers,” he said in a 2004 Times-Union story. “Dad gave me a look, and that was all it took. I sat down and twiddled my thumbs.”
After that, he twiddled them no more. The park provided countless hours of recreation for his family and other neighborhood children. The Marjenhoffs lived in a one-story white-frame house across a dirt road from the park.
Fred Marjenhoff, who retired in 1984 as the parks department’s recreation activities superintendent, said in that same interview that he was the first to try out the park’s swing set. On the day it was being installed, he was home sick with a sore throat. He looked out the window, saw workers putting up the chains and asked his mom if he could take a swing. Mom said OK — as long as he donned a sweater.
It was never a problem rounding up enough players for a game of football or softball or friends to hang out by the pond. When he was 7, Fred Marjenhoff said they spotted an alligator in the pipe system leading from the pond to the St. Johns River. They chased the 5-foot reptile for a while before one of the older youths shot it.
Brother Richard Marjenhoff, who was born in the house in 1923, said his mother kept six ducks in pens inside their fenced-in yard. After their morning feeding, the ducks flew to the pond and frolicked all day. In the evenings they waddled home.
Eventually the pond was filled in and a covered pavilion, benches, grill, swings and playscape added. Cars whiz by on the towering Interstate 95’s rebuilt Overland Bridge.
Alex Marjenhoff’s parents, Johannes and Franziska Marjenhoff, met on the boat, came from Germany and settled in Charleston, S.C., in 1866. Alex Marjenhoff, who worked in the printing business, moved to Jacksonville in 1921.
The Marjenhoffs were interviewed in 2004 because 76 adults and children came to the park for their first reunion. For many this was their first visit, and for others their first in decades. Not only did they come from Jacksonville but from Pennsylvania, Ohio, South Carolina and North Georgia. They had one reunion after that, said Sally Marjenhoff Murdock, Alex Marjenhoff’s granddaughter and a St. Augustine resident.
Since then, Frank and Fred Marjenhoff have died, as have several other family members, said Murdock, whose eldest grandson and two of her three sons run a couple of The Pig barbecue restaurants.
Billy Patterson, who lived as a child on Southhampton three houses from the park, also has such fond memories that he recently wrote a story about it.
When he was in the fourth grade at Southside Grammar School, he didn’t have money to buy Christmas gifts for his parents, sister and a sister yet to be born. It was 1962, and he decided to use a little ingenuity. His teacher had them make decorations from red and green construction paper.
“Most of the decorative designs were related to things that actually grew — greenery for table decorations, cute little Christmas trees and wreaths to hang on a door,” he wrote. “So I got to thinking that if people liked these construction paper crafts, what would they think of the real stuff?”
The park was loaded with holly, mistletoe and ferns. So Patterson grabbed his dad’s hedge clippers and before long, had two grocery bags full of greenery. He jumped on his beat-up Western Flyer bike and went door to door selling his bounty for a quarter a sprig and easily netting $5. The next day he gathered more greenery and headed for the South Shores/Bishop Kenny area. He hit the jackpot. Residents gave him a dollar for the mistletoe, though he only asked for a quarter.
“It puzzled me why they would pay more for mistletoe, but I found out the answer to this later in my teen years,” said Patterson, who is president of Antique & Modern Cabinets.
On the fourth day, he was caught by a city park employee, ending his Christmas enterprise. Nonetheless, he ended up with about $35.
“So, for a money-challenged 10-year-old, Marjenhoff Park was the wonderful wise man that provided me with the abundant gifts of holly, mistletoe and ferns, which in turn provided gifts for my family,” he said. “And as I grew older, I became a much wiser man about the Magi and who they were celebrating so many years ago.”
If you have a question about Jacksonville’s history, call (904) 359-4622 or mail to Call Box, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Please include contact information. Photos are also welcome.
Sandy Strickland: (904) 359-4128