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Ownership of the original property dates back to 1816. Through the early 1900s various sections of the property were purchased by individuals for riverfront homes and the property was covered with orange groves. By 1935 a freeze had killed off the orange groves, and the owners moved from the property. The homes fell into disrepair, and the land became a wilderness again. Because of the seclusion the area became populated with gypsies, pirates, and bootleggers. It is rumored that moonshine was ferried across the St. Johns and ended up at one of the most popular restaurants in Jacksonville.
Since 1950 the campus has been home to Jacksonville University (JU). There are 25 buildings supporting the academic programs and administration with a new building under construction that will be the home of the Schools of Nursing and Orthodontics. Nine halls located in five dormitory buildings and four apartment buildings provide housing for JU residential students. Four additional apartment buildings are under construction, with opening having been scheduled for Fall 2003. There are athletic fields and facilities supporting the football, basketball, golf, tennis, track and field, and crew programs.
The land that is now the campus of Jacksonville University passed through many hands from the time of the Spanish grants. Records show Francis Richard as the owner of the Branchester Tract in 1816, and they also show that the Park Tract, now the area for JU dormitories, had a number of owners as well. In 1873 one of the landowners sold a small portion of the property to the African Methodist Episcopal Church for use as a cemetery. More recent history reflects that until the purchase of the original 137 acres (Branchester Tract) in 1947, the riverfront portion of the property was an exclusive area populated by stately homes, the Chesterfield plantation, and covered with handsome orange groves.
Apart from Edward Waters College, founded in 1866 for black students, there were no educational opportunities for the local citizens of Jacksonville. What began as Porter University, a two-year college, in the fall of 1934 is now Jacksonville University. Since the purchase of the original 137 acre property in 1947 for the new home of the university, additional purchases have given the institution 235 contiguous acres. The campus is well-maintained, with educational and administration buildings that support the educational mission of JU and provide a setting conducive to the enjoyment of the learning experience. Constructed fountains with benches and gazebos and grassy areas with planted flora are positioned on campus to blend in with the natural setting of the area. Natural areas have been left intact for the enjoyment of those of the university and the community at large. From various areas of the campus a viewer can watch the St. Johns River flow past on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.