Dixieland Amusement Park and Ostrich Farm

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Long before Walt Disney transformed a Florida orange grove into the nation’s top tourist destination, Jacksonville was the place to go.

Downtown, at perched on the edge of the St. Johns River, in the area now occupied by the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Treaty Oak Park, was Dixieland Amusement Park and Ostrich Farm, which opened in 1907. Billed as the “Coney Island of the South,” Dixieland featured amusements not seen anywhere else in the region and drew thousands of visitors daily. Favorite features were the 160-foot wooden roller coaster, hot air balloon rides, parachute jumps, a toboggan and the Flying Jenny, a large merry-go-round that boasted 56 brilliantly painted wooden animals.

Now Showing

Spectacular shows included lion wrestling, comedy acrobatic and high-wire performances, vaudeville acts, alligator, dog and pony shows and ostrich races. Famous bandleader John Phillips Sousa entertained crowds and silent filmmakers shot many of their movies at Dixieland, including jungle pictures which added elephants, tigers, camels and horses to the menagerie of animals. Thousands of sports fans turned out to watch Babe Ruth play an exhibition baseball game. And park goers sunned on Dixieland’s bathing beaches and cooled off in its swimming pools – all for a 10-cent admission fee, affordable even for the day.

Dixieland land closed in 1916. Much of its collection of exotic animals found a new home at the Jacksonville Zoo, which opened in the Springfield neighborhood in 1914. Today, nothing of Dixieland remains, save for one beautiful remnant – a massive 70-foot tall, 25-foot wide Live Oak tree dubbed “Treaty Oak.”

One Solidary Remnant

One of Jacksonville’s oldest living things, the tree stands in Jessie Ball DuPont Park, informally known as Treaty Oak Park, and is believed to be at least 250 years old, up to 400 years old by some estimates. The tree’s name comes compliments of popular Jacksonville journalist Pat Moran. Moran was intent on saving the tree from developers during the early 1930s. To that end, Moran penned an article claiming that the tree had been the site of a treaty signing by Native American tribes and early European Settlers centuries before. Turns out, the story was bogus. But readers loved it and the name stuck. To Moran’s credit, however, historians still speculate that the site was a favorite camp ground of Seminole Chief Osceola.

Also to Moran’s credit, the tree remains protected to this day. The Alfred I. du Pont Foundation purchased the land in 1934 at the behest of Alfred’s wife, Jessie Ball du Pont, an avid garden club member. She donated the land to the city of Jacksonville in 1964 with the strict stipulation that it be used only for a public park and that the ancient oak be preserved “for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.”