FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

A Tale of Two Huot Buildings

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 30, 2021

 

Former Standard Marine building

The Fernandina Beach historic preservation community recently breathed a sigh of relief at the news that the former Standard Marine Building on the northwest corner of Alachua and North 2nd Streets appears to be headed for a significant rehabilitation and repurposing under its new owners, James and Jenny Schaffer.  The two-story masonry vernacular building, which dates to 1882, appeared headed for demolition as its roof and various other structural elements seemed to be on the verge of failure.  But the Schaffers, not to be deterred, are moving ahead with assistance from local architect Jose Miranda to transform the aging and ailing structure into a new commercial venue.

While many locals have only known the building as the Standard Marine, or Stan Mar Building, the building has a rich and varied history dating back to the 19th century.  The property has served as a a sawmill, a ship’s chandlery, a liquor warehouse, a bath house for horses, and a tent factory prior to being the home of Standard Marine following a fire that broke out in the Standard Marine Building originally located on Centre Street.

The original name for the building — as seen in brick on the building’s pediment — is the Huot Building.  Researching this building under its original name can be a bit dicey, since there are two Huot Buildings, both on North Second Street.

The Great Fire of 1876

Post fire view of N. 2nd Street looking north. (Photo: Florida Memory Project)

Both existing Huot Buildings trace their birth to the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1876, during which existing industrial, commercial and government buildings on North Second Street were completely destroyed, including a sawmill owned by the Huots.

According to a contemporary newspaper account, on March 23, 1876, the fire broke out in a carpenter’s shop in the district and spread so rapidly that 40 buildings were destroyed, including the post office, city and county government buildings, the newspaper printing office and the storehouse of the Charleston Shipping Company.  A steam tug was credited with saving the depot and the wharves.

The fire virtually reduced a thriving industrial business district on North Second Street to ashes.  In reporting this fire days later, the Charlotte Observer claimed that the loss to the city was in the range of $50,000.  North Second Street until the fire had been the major commercial street of the city, home to lumber companies, sawmills, barrel makers and related marine businesses.  The Huot brothers, whose buildings also perished in the fire, set out to rebuild on the now vacant land they already owned.  

Who were the Huots?

Files at the Amelia Island Museum of History indicate that C. H. Huot emigrated from France to the United States in 1852.  He arrived in Fernandina in 1857.  His brother, Dr. L. V. Huot, was a partner in business ventures, but there is no evidence that he ever lived in Fernandina.  He apparently stayed in France.  C. H. Huot, who was married with 12 children, returned to France in 1882, apparently satisfied with the fortune he made in business in Fernandina and having just completed his second building.

10-12 North Second Street

Original Huot building (white) at 10 N. 2nd Street (Photo: Florida Memory Project)

The first new Huot Building was completed in 1879.  Located at 10 North Second Street and later merged with the building to the north at 12 North Second Street, it is known to many people in Fernandina Beach today as the location of the former 1878 Steakhouse and more recently, the Dog Star Tavern.  Here is an account of that building entitled “Improvements” as reported in the Florida Mirror, February 8, 1879:

We have already alluded to the creditable enterprise of our esteemed fellow-citizen, Mr. C. H. Huot, in the erection of one of the finest blocks in the city, but as it approaches completion we deem it well worthy of special notice.  The building is of solid brick, 25 feet front, 75 feet deep, with large show windows; height of ceiling on first floor 14 feet and 12 feet on the second floor.  The office, situated about the center of the room on the north side is surrounded by a neat railing.  The counters, shelving, etc., are models of neatness and good taste.  The woodwork throughout is of selected yellow pine, varnished, thus showing to good advantage and with beautiful effect the handsome grain of the wood.  Covered boxes and bins are conveniently arranged for the holding of coffee, sugars, spices, etc., thus completely protecting the goods from dust.

The second story is divided into six large, well-lighted and airy rooms, suitable for offices or private rooms, with a fireplace in every room.  In the rear of the main building is a stable and carriage house, also a large room which is to be kept especially for the use of captains of vessels, and to be supplied with all the leading maritime and other newspapers.  This will be a convenient place of rendezvous for seafaring men, and all are cordially invited to make it their headquarters while in port.  Between the main building and the reading room is a brick cistern, with a capacity of 6,000 gallons.

Mr. Huot is pardonably proud of his property, but is public spirited enough to wish that some other good citizens may follow suit with a building that may throw his entirely in the shade.

Museum files indicate that Huot operated a dry goods warehouse on the first floor, supplying local merchants with bulk goods brought in by ship.  He seemed to run an export/import business, because he also stored goods awaiting shipment on departing ships.  The second floor of the building was home to Huot, his wife and 12 children.  The family returned to France in 1882.

The next tenants were the Kelly brothers, who operated the building as a feed and grocery store until the 1930’s.  By 1945, the building was a derelict with a hefty tax lien against it.  Bar Pilot Captain George Davis paid the $5,000 tax bill that year and transformed the building into first a woodworking shop, then a furniture store.  After Davis sold it, it was joined with the adjacent building and began decline.  It was eventually used to store a campaign button collection.  In 1974, Gene Oviatt bought the building and turned it into the 1878 Steakhouse.

As this building changed owners over the years, it underwent many changes of use, including that as the first known library in the town.  From a general store to a woodworking shop, a furniture store, a steak house and a tavern.  The building is currently undergoing additional rehabilitation as it readies itself for its next occupants.

101 North Second Street

Building (pink) appears on 1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.  (Note shoreline of Amelia River)

This building replaced another Huot-owned building that appeared to house a sawmill, that was destroyed during the March 23,1876 fire.  Huot operated a sawmill near the new building which employed 25 workers and produced 25,000 feet of lumber per day.

The following description of the Huot building at 101 North Second Street shortly after its completion, appeared in the Florida Mirror, Dec 23, 1882 .  It was entitled:  Huot’s New Store:

The schooner Ellwood Doran arrived in port Wednesday from New York with a full cargo of merchandise, consigned to Mr. C. H. Huot.  The cargo consists principally of dry goods, groceries, provisions and ship chandlery, and was purchased by Mr. Huot personally at the North for his new store, which he recently occupied.  This new building of Mr. Huot’s is the handsomest, most convenient and best constructed business block in the city, occupying the site of the old store of the Huot brothers, corner of Second and Alachua streets, which was destroyed in the great fire of 1876.  The store is 101×40 feet, two stories and is built entirely of Philadelphia brick.  The whole lower floor is utilized as a store, the west and south side being occupied by the dry-goods department, while the north end is devoted to the sale of general merchandise.  On the east side is Mr. Huot’s private office and counting room.  The handsome counter is in semi-circular form, and is provided with three desks, with teller’s windows.  The middle one will be presided over by Mr. Huot’s cashier and book-keeper, Mr. John Gunn, and will be used for the firm’s mercantile business exclusively.  Those on either side are to be used for settling the accounts of the mill hands in Mr. Huot’s saw-mill, and for the convenience of captains to pay their crews and stevedores.  The store is well lighted on the Alachua and Second street sides by large windows and  has two front entrances, one on each street.

The second story, which is not quite finished, will contain six rooms.  At present it will be principally used for storing goods.  From this story a flight of stairs leads to the cupola, from which a magnificent view can be obtained of the city and harbor.  Mr. McGiffin superintended the work of construction.

Mr. C. H. Huot and his brother, Dr. L. V. Huot, who now resides in Paris, have been identified with the business interests of this city since before the war, and by their shrewdness, close attention to business and economy, have amassed quite a fortune, and own considerable real estate, several stores, and a saw-mill in this city.

We believe that around 1910 a German immigrant named Charles Blum expanded his growing wholesale liquor business that was based in Jacksonville to Fernandina and the 1882 Huot Building.  

The photo below, courtesy of the Amelia Island Museum of History, was taken the day prior to the start of Prohibition.  It clearly shows the Chas. Blum name on the building.  According to research found in Museum files,  Palace Saloon owner Louis Hirth used the 1882 Huot Building to store liquor sold at the Palace Saloon. On the last day before Prohibition became the law of the land, Palace patrons paid for their liquor at the Saloon, then headed toward the warehouse to take delivery of their purchases.

Both Hirth and Blum abandoned liquor sales during Prohibition.  Hirth turned the Palace Saloon into an ice cream parlor; Blum moved quickly into non-alcoholic beverages. He was owner, president or founder of four soft drink companies:  Blum Beverage Co.; Charles Blum Beverage Co., Inc.;  Jacksonville Gay-Ola Bottling Co., and Tropical Manufacturing Co.

In an interview with Jim Hardee conducted by Beverly Miller for the News Leader, more stories about the next chapter of the building’s history were revealed.  Hardee told Miller,  “Rumor has it that at one time there was a brothel upstairs, and the placement of the fireplaces indicating individual rooms up there seems to bear that out.”

Hardee added that In World War I horses were washed in the building; during World War II Army tents were made there.  “At that time the shrimping boats were commandeered for the Coast Guard.  After the war, shrimping began again.  “When [Standard Marine] moved into the building in 1949,” Hardee added, “a man had been murdered up there.”

Standard Marine moves to 101 N. Second Street 1949-2004

Brothers John and Noble Hardee founded Standard Hardware & Grocery Co. at Fernandina in 1900 and located their business on Centre Street.   Later younger brother Ira joined the company.   In 1949  following a fire, the company divided into two businesses:  Hardee Brothers Co., serving the family hardware business; and Standard Hardware catering to the shrimping industry.  Standard Hardware, later known as Standard Marine occupied the historic Huot Building at 101 North Second Street while Hardee Brothers remained in the original building on Centre Street, where Fantastic Fudge stands today.   Standard Marine Corporation went on to expand to Key West and Tampa exporting marine supplies to South America and all over the world.  The company was headquartered in Tampa.

Fire in the Centre Street Standard Marine business. Photo courtesy Susan Hardee Steger

With the decline of the shrimp industry due to imports and shrimp farming, the Standard Marine Corporation made the decision to close its Fernandina Beach location in 2004, while still retaining ownership of the building.  The Burbank Family networks continued in operation west of the main building along Alachua Street, but eventually relocated to the former pogey plant property at the north end of Amelia Island.

In 2004 the building and adjoining property sold to the Lane Corporation, but development plans faltered.  In 2014, the property sold again, this time to Front Street Property, LLC, owned by Atlanta developer Richard Goodsell.  

Several interested parties presented the property owner with plans to develop the property.  However, Goodsell, a strong proponent of historic preservation, rejected all of them because he believed that the projects were not in the best interests of the City. In many cases, the plans included tearing down the Standard Marine Building. 

With the effects of time and weather taking their toll on the building, many people complained to the City that the continued existence of the now unsightly building was in jeopardy while Goodsell tried to find the right buyer for the property.  In 2018, City Code Enforcement, the Historic District Council, and the Code Enforcement and Review Board all demanded action to address the building’s structural integrity and appearance.  

Following an architectural study and several public hearings, Goodsell agreed to undertake a variety of actions to both stabilize the building and improve its appearance until a new owner could be found.

Goodsell believes he has found the right owners to rehabilitate the old building in James and Jenny Schaffer, who are already moving to incorporate the building into the City’s local historic district.

An aside

Following the 1876 fire, a smaller fire that occurred a few months later south of Centre Street and another major fire that occurred in 1883 on Centre Street, the Fernandina City Council amended their recently passed fire ordinance as follows:

“… it shall be unlawful to build, erect or construct any wooden buildings, or buildings covered (except the roof) with corrugated iron or tin, within that portion of the city lying south of Broome Street, west of Fourth Street, and north of Beech Street.”

Acknowledgements

The author extends gratitude to the Amelia Island Museum of History for archivist Ronda Outler’s generous assistance and use of their files.  She also crediits Cara Curtin for several accounts found in the Museum files.  And finally, thanks to Susan Hardee Steger for her wealth of knowledge about “the family business” — Standard Marine.

 

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