Jacksonville, FL, is a bustling city along the Atlantic Ocean and the majestic St. Johns River. With a staggering population of over 946,000, it’s one of the most populous cities in all of the southeastern United States. Its history runs deep, with connections to the indigenous communities that once called the area home, such as the Timucua people.
During the British Colonial period in the mid-18th century, Jacksonville was known as Cowford and served as an essential trading post and military point along St. Johns River. Its educational history dates back to the mid-19th century and is highly influenced by religious affiliations.
This post seeks to explore the eight oldest schools in Jacksonville. Discover the schools’ unique history, transitions over time, notable alumni, and other interesting facts. The schools cut through all educational levels, from elementary to college.
Edwards Waters College
1658 Kings Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32209
Edwards Waters College is a private, Christian, historically-Black college in Jacksonville, FL. The school’s history goes back to 1866, when members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME Church) decided to build a school to educate their children. It was the first independent institution of higher learning and the first historically black college in Florida.
The school was first named Brown Theological Institute and later switched to Brown University in 1874. Burdened with financial difficulties, it remained shut for most of the 1870s. It reopened in 1863 as “East Florida Conference High School” before switching to “East Florida Scientific and Divinity High School.” In 1892, it was renamed again to Edwards Waters College in honor of the third bishop of the AME Church.
The school’s building was destroyed in the 1901 Jacksonville fire, with the college rebuilt at its current location in 1904. The school was first accredited as a junior college in 1955 before receiving the four-year college accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in 1979.
Edwards Waters College currently serves 2,871 students in undergrad and graduate programs. Some of the notable alums from the school include Betty Holzendorf, a former Florida state representative; Rahman Johnson, a former Duval County Commissioner; and Jim “Cannonball” Butler, a former NFL running back.
Stanton College Preparatory
1149 W 13th St, Jacksonville, FL 32209
Stantan College Preparatory is a top-rated college-prep high school. The school was founded in 1868 and is recognized as Florida’s second school for African-Americans. After the Civil War, a group of African Americans formed the Colored Education Society to establish a school to educate their children.
The group managed to buy the land on which the Old Stanton property was, but ran into financial problems that rendered them unable to finish construction of the structure. The Freedman’s Bureau donated $16,000 that supported the completion of a two-story wooden structure that housed the first 48 black students. The Stanton was leased out to the Duval County Schools System for 50 years in 1870 to support the public education of African-Americans.
The school was named after Edwin McMasters Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s second Secretary of War and an ardent abolitionist and champion for human rights. The first school building was destroyed in a fire in 1882, with another constructed in the same year.
The second building was also destroyed in the devastating Jacksonville fire of 1901, which destroyed most of Jacksonville’s downtown. A makeshift three-story wooden structure was built in 1902, serving the school until 1917. After lengthy deliberations between the Old Stanton School trustees, interested citizens, and the Board of Education, the Board decided to build a new brick school in 1915, with the structure completed in 1917.
The new 23-classroom building was the elementary, middle, and high school, converting to an exclusive senior high school in the 1940s. In 1953, the Stanton Senior School was transferred to a new location on 13th Street, where it’s present today.
The school was converted to Stanton Vocational High School in 1954 before a curriculum change in 1969-1971 that reverted it to the New Stanton Senior School. The school changed its name to Stanton College Preparatory in the early 1980s.
Stanton College Prep became the first Magnet School under the Duval County School System in 1980. Today, the school is home to over 1,528 students and is one of the best-performing schools in Florida.
Notable alumni that have gone through the school include Emily Swallow, an actress in the TV show “Supernatural”; Kendal Williams, an athlete; and J. Rosamond Johnson, a composer, and singer known for composing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
St Joseph’s Academy
155 State Road 207, St. Augustine, FL, 32258
St Joseph’s Academy is a small Catholic high school and is part of the Diocese of St. Augustine. The school has a rich history spanning over 156 years. Founded in 1867 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the school is the oldest continuously operating Catholic school in Florida.
Augustin Verot, First Bishop of St. Augustine, requested eight nuns under the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph in France to join him and teach literacy to the newly freed slaves. The classes began in November 1866, with the first graduating class of two in 1874.
The original campus was on St. George Street, next to the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent. The school was state-chartered in 1876. It began offering boarding services to girls in 1877, with the program running until 1968.
The school was expanded in 1909, with a four-story structure that housed dormitories and classrooms built to accommodate the growing number of students. The school received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI), an accreditation that remains to date.
In 1980, the school’s management shifted from the Sisters of St. Joseph to the Diocese of St. Augustine. The change came with a campus shift from St. George Street to its current location on State Road.
The school currently serves 390 students in ninth through twelfth grade. It offers numerous academic programs, including honor courses, dual credit programs, and advanced placement courses.
Assumption Catholic School
2431 Atlantic Blvd Jacksonville FL 32207
The Assumption Catholic School is a private Catholic elementary and middle school in downtown Jacksonville. The school boasts a long-standing history that goes back to the inception of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin parish in 1913. In 1923, the parish built the Assumption School at the corner of Gary and Naldo Streets and catered to 110 students mentored by the Sisters of St. Joseph and St. Augustine.
Over time, significant advancements transpired as the parish and school continued flourishing. In 1948, the parish bought land on Atlantic Boulevard that served as the Merrill-Stevens Shipyard Administration Building. The structure was converted into what would become the brand-new Assumption School.
The New Assumption School opened in September 1949 with three hundred students. It was run under new management provided by the Sisters of St. Dominic from Adrian, Michigan. In 1958, the school built six new classrooms to accommodate its expansion.
Assumption Catholic School received additional classrooms in 1965 for fifth- and eighth-grade students, converting it to a PK-8 school. The remodeling also converted the old auditorium into a library and media center.
The school received accreditation from the Florida Catholic Conference in 1973, an accreditation that it holds to date. Assumption Catholic School currently serves over 600 kids in pre-K through eighth grade. The students can participate in sports teams such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, cheerleading, softball, and cross-country.
Riverside High School
1200 McDuff Ave S, Jacksonville, FL 32205
Riverside High School is a top-rated four-year high school in Jacksonville, FL, under the Duval County Schools District. Up to 2021, the school was identified as Robert E. Lee High School. It was founded in 1928 and was named in honor of the Confederate States of America General Robert E. Lee.
The school is the second oldest high school still operating in its original location in Duval County. Architect Victor Earl Mark designed the school in 1926-27, with the school opening on Robert Lee’s birthday on January 19, 1928, as an all-white school.
The school added a fieldhouse between the stadium and the back of the school in 1940. Further renovations saw Robert E. Lee High get a cafeteria, a meeting room, a basketball gym, a boys’ locker room, and a music room.
Robert E. Lee High underwent two desegregation cycles, in 1968-71 for the faculty and later in the 1971-72 school year for the students. The school also added an outdoor pool in the early 1980s.
A fire at the school damaged the library and multiple classrooms, leaving behind a $4.5 million loss. The restoration process saw the expansion of the cafeteria and library, as well as a new two-floor building to accommodate ninth-grade students. The school had been a three-year high school since its inception in 1928.
The school’s name was a source of controversy for many years, with critics seeing the use of the general’s name as support for white supremacy. An online petition filed in March 2021 requesting a name change gathered over 15,000 signatures. The Duval County Schools Board, on a 5-2 vote in June 2021, decided to rename the school to Riverside High School.
Riverside High School currently serves over 1,912 students in ninth through twelfth grade. The students undertake numerous college preparatory programs, including advanced placement courses, dual credit programs, STEM classes, and CTE courses.
Some of the notable figures that attended the school include
- Catie Ball, a former Olympic swimmer
- Don Bessent, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher
- Mark McCumber, a professional golfer
- Stephen Nicholas, an NFL player for the Atlanta Falcons
- Hans Tanzler, former mayor of Jacksonville
- Harmon Wages, former fullback for the Atlanta Falcons
- Alex Fudge, player for the Los Angeles Lakers
- LeRoy Butler, former safety for the Green Bay Packers and Football Hall of Famer
- Stetson Kennedy, author
- Earl Leggett, former tackle in the NFL
- Hoyt Axton, singer and songwriter
Andrew Jackson High School of Advanced Technology
3816 N Main St, Jacksonville, FL 32206
Andrew Jackson High School of Advanced Technology is the first fully accredited academic institution in Duval County. It has a rich history dating back to 1928, when it was opened alongside Riverside High School. Andrew Jackson is the oldest high school still operating in its original location in Duval County.
Originally established as an ‘all-white’ school, Andrew Jackson integrated successfully in 1970. The school is named after U.S. President Andrew Jackson, an instrumental figure in the history of Jacksonville and Florida.
A long-standing rivalry between Andrew Jackson and Riverside sees them recognized as having the city’s oldest athletic competition. The annual football game was traditionally held on Thanksgiving Day at Gator Bowl Stadium and was celebrated by alumni from both schools.
The school currently serves over 991 students in ninth through twelfth grade and is one of the top-rated schools in the Duval Country Schools District. It has five magnet academies, with programs under:
- Air Force Junior ROTC
- Sports Medicine
- Early College Program
- Video Game Design
- Cyber Security
Andrew Jackson High School is the only public school in Duval County with an off-campus football stadium. The stadium is next to the North Shore Elementary School, about three-quarters of a mile from the campus.
The school has served numerous notable alumni, including:
- Wanda Hendrix, a 1940s Hollywood actress
- Robert Edward Femoyer, a Medal of Honor recipient and World War II Army Air Corps navigator
- Former mayors of Jacksonville: Jake Godbold, Lou Ritter, and W. Haydon Burns
- Rita Coolidge, a Grammy award-winning singer
- Dennis Yost, lead singer of the pop group Classics IV
- Leon Washington, assistant specials coach for the New York Jets
- Professor Backwards, comedian
- Micah Ross, former wide receiver in the NFL
- A.C. Lyles, producer
- Connie Haines, singer
The Bolles School
7400 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32217
The Bolles School is a private, co-ed, day and boarding school in Jacksonville that offers college preparatory programs to nearly 1,614 students. The school has a preschool, elementary, middle, and high school section.
The Bolles School has an interesting history, with significant changes in its operations over the years. The school was established as a military school in 1933 by Agnes Cain Painter, a faithful long-term secretary to philanthropist Richard J. Bolles.
Richard J. Bolles was a successful stock market trader who, upon his death, bequeathed all his fortune to Agnes Cain. The school was named in honor of Bolles. The original campus was formed from the San Jose Hotel, a prestigious hotel on San Jose Boulevard that had collapsed in 1928.
The school dropped its military affiliation in 1961, and the graduating class in 1962 marked the end of the military era. The school also adopted a co-educational policy in 1971, with the first class of ladies graduating in 1972.
Bolles proceeded to open a lower school program in 1981 with a kindergarten class, gradually expanding each year until the full pre-K to the fifth-grade structure was complete. The school acquired the Bartram Campus, formerly the all-girls Bartram School, in 1991.
The acquisition allowed the school to have a boarding section for the girls and add a separate middle school section. The school also added another campus in Ponte Vedra Beach to serve PreK to fifth-grade kids.
Sidney, a student from Savannah, Georgia, became the first lone graduate in a simple ceremony held at the school’s dining hall in June 1933.
The Bolles School has dozens of other notable alumni, including
- Caroline Barlow, a 2010 Rhodes Scholar and US Naval Academy Brigade Commander
- George Bovell, an Olympic bronze medal swimmer
- Dee Brown, a former NBA player with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors
- David Larson, an Olympic gold medal swimmer
- Chipper Jones, a National Baseball Hall of Famer
The school also has a robust athletic program, with Sports Illustrated ranking it as the ninth-best in the nation. Bolles received the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Sunshine Cup for the 26th time in 2022.
2800 University Blvd N, Jacksonville, FL 32211
Jacksonville University is a private, four-year university in the Arlington District in Jacksonville, FL. The school was founded in 1934 as a two-year junior college. It was originally known as the William J. Porter University.
The school’s initial campus was on the third-floor auditorium of the First Baptist Church Educational Building, with sixty students enrolling in its first year. The school changed its name to Jacksonville Junior College in 1935.
The school switched locations three times, including a period spent in the Florida Theatre building. Jacksonville Junior College bought land in Jacksonville’s Arlington neighborhood to establish a permanent campus, the current location for the university.
The schools began introducing four-year university programs in the mid-1950s, culminating in a name change to Jacksonville University in 1958. The school merged with the Jacksonville College of Music and was renamed Jackson University.
The university received full accreditation as a four-year school by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The school currently serves roughly 4,001 students, offering more than 100 majors and minors in undergraduate programs, as well as 23 master’s and doctoral programs.
The school has nurtured numerous notable alumni, including:
- Paul G. Gaffney II, president emeritus of Monmouth University
- David “Jack” Dorsett, a retired vice admiral of the U.S Navy
- Dee Brown, an NBA player
- Micah Ross, a former NFL player
- Terrence Mann, actor and director
- Leonard Skinner, inspiration for the band name Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Jay Thomas, actor
- Will W. Weatherford, former Florida state representative
- Frank Pace, producer
Unlock Endless Possibilities with Jacksonville Schools
Jacksonville is a vibrant city with a rich cultural and educational history. The school’s education system can be traced back to the mid-1860s with the formation of the Duval County Schools system.
The schools on this list are part of the city’s 157-year history of public and private education. Some of the schools highlighted are top-performing public magnet schools that would be an excellent fit for your child. Additional research on their academic offerings can lead you to the next school for your child.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com.