Anyone in Jacksonville, Florida who drives down Interstate 95 near Riverside will likely see the old and abandoned building known as Annie Lytle Elementary School or School House Number Four. The once grand school building and piece of Jacksonville history has been left in complete disrepair for almost forty years.
The brick building that stands today was not the original structure. The original structure was a boxy, wooden school house built in 1891, and was called Riverside Park Elementary. In 1915, Duval County passed a million dollar bond to build over a dozen new brick school houses, and School House Number Four was one of the schools built. The school was later renamed Annie Lytle Elementary School after a former teacher and principal.
The construction of the grand new school was started in 1917 and completed in 1918. This $250,000.00 structure was designed by architect Rutledge Holmes, and built by Florida Engineering and Construction Company. This school was once a grand brick building with many features such as beautiful columns at the school entrance, a very large auditorium, high ceiling classrooms, large windows that would overlook beautiful terraces, and a large fireplace in the cafeteria. The classrooms of this historic school were on the second floor, while the administrative rooms, library, lunch room and auditorium were located on the first floor. The grand building overlooked Riverside Park, until construction of I-95 and I-10 isolated it in the 1950’s, leading to the school’s doors closing in 1960. The building was used as office and storage space, but by 1971, it was condemned and completely abandoned.
Over the past almost 40 years, time has taken a grave toll on the once opulent school building. Vandalism has overtaken the building with garbage and graffiti, and in 1995, there was a fire that caved in the ceiling of the auditorium. In October of 1999, Foundation Holding Incorporated purchased the property with plans to build condominiums in it’s place. Arguments for preservation by historic societies and public outcry would lead to the building becoming a Jacksonville approved historic landsite in 2000. Since then, the building has continued to sit in disrepair.
There are many urban legends surrounding School House Number Four. Rumors and stories of a psychotic janitor who killed children, suicidal teachers, a boiler room explosion, and many others exist. However, there is no proof to substantiate any of these claims. Paranormal Teams make frequent visits to the school, and it has been labeled as “The Most Haunted Place in Jacksonville”.
Recently, while driving down interstate 95, I felt a strong prompting to stop and take a closer look at School House Number Four. The first thing you notice about the area is that it is not the safest part of town, but that is not because of the ghosts or legends of this historic school. It is because the entire area has become run down. The school sits only feet away from interstate ramps, creating heavy noise form oncoming traffic. Yet, there seems to be a peacefulness that surrounds the school itself.
As a psychic medium, I could feel the energy of the past all around me. I could feel the energy of a once wonderful place, forgotten. I did not feel the great haunting, or that there was truth to any of the urban legends. I could feel the imprint of a janitor who kept to himself a lot and thus, made others feel uncomfortable, but with no psychotic tendencies. I could feel the many children who learned their primary skills there each day. If anything, there is simply a residual haunting, where energy of people who once resided within the walls has remained, like an imprint over time. This once grand building, though in disrepair, still feels like if you just look past the abandoned and neglected look of the structure, you can see the children excitedly going to school to learn each day. I do not feel there was anything truly haunting the school, besides a past, sadly forgotten, as our world becomes more modern and times continue to change.
We, as a people, must never forget the importance of our past. It is sad to see such a great piece of architecture and history go to waste and disrepair, while rumors and urban legends abound. While this school, so close to the interstate, would never be appropriate as a school for primary learning again, it is a grand building whose past should not be forgotten. The energy that surrounds the building is simply there to say, “Please, do not forget what I once was. Do not forget the children and the great educators who were housed within my once grand walls.”