Lynyrd Skynyrd Historic Sites in and Around Jacksonville

In the not-too-distant past, I created and took a self-guided tour of the various sites associated with the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. They and their music have always played a big role in my life. And the music was all I played while learning guitar and for the first 25-30 years of my musical life.

I have posted a few pictures here and there, always with the promise of one day publishing all of them, along with the stories history behind them. This is that day. It’s October 20, 2020–the 43rd anniversary of the plane crash.

This is a very lengthy, detailed post. I have placed it behind the “read more” link (but like most things WordPress, it’s probably not working right). Go get yourself a six-pack, kick back, and start reading.

—Pf

Bridge1

The Highway 16 bridge over the St. Johns River, a good ways south of Jacksonville. It’s where part of the 1970s Pepsi Cola Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute video was shot. Bassist Leon Wilkeson is shown wearing his bull horns hat while driving a souped-up dune buggy across the bridge and into the sunset while “Freebird” is played in the background.This stretch of the highway leads from I-95, and west to Green Cove Springs, FL. Once you cross this bridge heading west, you are officially in “Skynyrd Country.” The Lynyrd Skynyrd historic sites will begin at Green Cove Springs (a few miles past this bridge), and extend north some 20 miles into Jacksonville.

RVZPark1

The Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park is on Highway 17 near Green Cove Springs, Florida. At 90 acres, the park first opened in 1990 and has been continually been added onto. Funding for the park and its ongoing operations is provided by The Freebird Foundation.

HellSite`The former site of "Hell House," is the holy grail among Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. The band couldn't rehearse in Jacksonville because the police would get called about "noise disturbances." The guys in the band pooled their money and rented a tiny wooden cabin out in the woods and next to a creek, some 20+ miles away from Jacksonville. Although the cabin had electricity and running water, in had NO air conditioning. Because of the constantly loud music from dawn to dusk, as well as the sweltering Florida heat, the band nicknamed the cabin, "Hell House." They used the cabin as their rehearsal space for several years, not relocating until late 1975. They would drive there together every morning, set up their equipment, practice, and leave in the evening. A small boat dock behind the cabin gave the band a place to fish when taking breaks, and Ronnie Van Zant a place to sit and write song lyrics while the band was practicing inside the cabin. The band wrote their first three albums at "Hell House." Fan favorites such as "Gimme Three Steps," "Swamp Music," "Comin' Home," "Saturday Night Special," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Freebird," and many more were conceived, written, and worked up at the "Hell House." The house burned down many years ago. Since then, the land has been partially cleared and a gated residential community, Edgewater Landing, occupies the area. The tract where "Hell House" stood, including the dock, has not been built on. It is lot #129. Fortunately, the real estate developer was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. He named some of the streets after Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. All that's left of the "Hell House" now are a few water pipe ends sticking up out of the ground (see photos). Also, over the years, a few fans have "excavated" the land there to some extent, and found very old cigarette packs and Budweiser beer cans several inches below the ground. I wonder when and how they got there.
HellTrestle

Green Cove Springs, FL. Just beyond the bridge wall and under the power lines is the train trestle where the main photo for the “Nuthin’ Fancy” album was made. It is about a hundred yards down the creek from “Hell House,” the band’s official writing and rehearsal studio.

HellDock`

This is the tiny dock behind the former “Hell House.” The original, older dock is underneath this one–you can see it from the edge of the creek. It was on the original dock that Ronnie Van Zant would sit and fish, swat at alligators, and come up with the lyrics to the band’s most famous songs.

VanZantHouse1Ground Zero: The Van Zant House, at the corner Woodcrest and Mull streets on Jacksonville's "West Side," which Ronnie Van Zant unaffectionately called "shanty town." This house was the boyhood home of not one, not two, but THREE rock stars, the Van Zant brothers. Ronnie of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny of the current Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Donnie of .38 Special. Also living here were two Zan Zant girls, along with the parents, Lacy and Marion "Sister" Van Zant. Lacy was a truck driver before an injury retired him in the late 1960s. After that, he stayed home and worked on other people's trucks in a small garage on the right (facing) side of the house, which has since been enclosed. Marion was a stay-at-home mom for all of the children, and a big supporter of her sons' music careers. Lacy, on the other hand, thought they were nuts and needed to find real jobs (until they made it big). The last Van Zant family member to live in this house was Lacy, who died in 2004. He was 89.
Grocery1

A block up Woodcrest from the Van Zant house is the former Woodcrest Grocery, where Ronnie worked as a kid and also sat out front listening to older men (including Shorty Medlocke, Ricky’s father) play and sing the blues. This store was the inspiration for “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe.”

Grocery3

HydeParkElementary

This school building is Hyde Park Elementary, where Ronnie Van Zant and some other band members attended when they were kids. It is adjacent to the ball field where the famous fly ball incident occurred, which became the band’s starting point. The rest is history.

BallfieldWhere it all started. This is the ballpark where Ronnie hit a fly ball that knocked Bob Burns out. Ronnie and his friend Gary Rossington rant to check on Burns, who woke up soon thereafter. The three started talking, the subject of music came up, and Ronnie advised the other two that they were going to start a band, and that he (Ronnie) would be the leader and singer.
WhiteysDock2

Whitey’s Fish Camp. This place is more than 50 years old, and figures prominently into Lynyrd Skynyrd history, both past and present. It’s on Doctor’s Lake, a tributary of the St. Johns River and where Ronnie and Gary were fishing during the 1970s Pepsi Cola “Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd” video’s opening shots. Also, several of the band interviews in “Freebird: The Movie” were filmed on the dock. Ronnie Van Zant often proclaimed that Whitey’s Fish Camp was his favorite restaurant. He dined there often, and the place was only a stone’s throw from his last home, just off nearby Brickyard Road. Present-day Skynyrd band members, including Johnny Van Zant, have been spotted there, as have former members of .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and all those other famous Jacksonville bands. Some have told me that Derek Trucks, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band and a Jacksonville resident, has also been spotted there a few times with is wife, Susan, and others from their musical camp. I really wish I lived next door to this place. It has some of my favorite things in life…. fishing, seafood, and live music.

WhiteysBar4

TheJug

The Jug. It was here that Ronnie and the band stopped in one afternoon early in their career to have some beer before playing a local dance. A woman asked Ronnie to dance, and he obliged. Next thing, her husband bolts through the front door and threatens Ronnie with his life. As the astonished band members quickly drove away, no one said a word. The guys were in shock and the car was silent–well, except for Allen Collins, who started muttering something to the effect of “I was cuttin’ the rug down at a place called the jug.” The rest is history.

AllenHouse2The former home of guitarist Allen Collins (the one who played the long solo in "Freebird"). Around 1975, after the band had become successful, Allen had this house built on Julington Creek Rd. The big room on the left side was the garage for his massive collection of antique and classic cars. Behind the house was another garage and a fully-equipped recording studio. This was where the Rossington-Collins Band did some of their writing and early rehearsals. Allen lived in this house until his death in 1990 from pneumonia, which was a complication from massive injuries and paralysis he sustained when he and his girlfriend had a tragic car accident on January 29, 1986. His girlfriend was killed, and Allen would never be able to play the guitar again--at least not on a professional, touring basis. The house is MUCH larger than it appears in the photo.
AllenWreckThe small culvert on Plummer Grant Rd, less than a mile from Allen's home, that he hit going an estimated 80 miles per hour, causing the 1986 wreck.
VZGainesPlot

The plot at Jacksonville Memory Gardens containing the former tomb of Ronnie Van Zant, and the graves of Steve and Cassie Gaines and their parents, along with Steve’s widow, Teresa Gaines Rapp.

SteveTomb

Steve Gaines’ grave site at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.

CassieAndParentsTomb

The final resting place of backup singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister) and their parents, at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.

GainesRappTomb

Memorial bench for Teresa Gaines Rapp, widow of guitarist Steve Gaines and sister-in-law of backup singer, Cassie Gaines.

CDanielsWords from Charlie Daniels on a bench at the original tomb of Ronnie Van Zant at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.
VanZantBench

Memorial bench for Ronnie Van Zant at Riverside Memorial Park.

RonnieTomb2Ronnie Van Zant's original tomb at Jacksonville Memory Gardens. In June 2000, the graves of Van Zant and Steve Gaines were vandalized. Van Zant’s family decided to relocate his remains to Riverside Memorial Park cemetery in Jacksonville. The original tomb remains in place.
VanZantFamilyPlot

The Van Zant family plot at Riverside Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. Ronnie Van Zant, one of his sisters, and his parents, are now buried here.

LacyMarionGrave

Lacy and Marion Van Zant (Ronnie, Johnny, and Donnie’s parents) graves at Riverside Memorial Park.

RonnieGrave2

Ronnie Van Zant’s grave at Riverside Memorial Park.

LeonGraveThe grave of bassist Leon Wilkeson at Riverside Memorial Park. Allen Collins, his wife, Billy Powell, and Leonard Skinner himself are buried at this cemetery.
BrickyardDrivewayAt the time of his death, Ronnie Van Zant, his wife Judy, and baby daughter Melody lived about a quarter-mile down this rural, secluded lane off Brickyard Road and by the lake. The train track parallels the road on its left. After Ronnie's passing, the house was sold to Robert Nix of The Atlanta Rhythm Section. It has since been torn down and replaced.

Humble Beginnings

WoodcrestAndMull

The corner of Woodcrest and Mull streets, on Jacksonville’s “West Side.” Arguably one of the most significant neighborhoods in musical history. Three kids by the name of Van Zant grew up here.

The End of the Line

BrickyardRailroad

A lonesome railroad track runs through a rural area between Middleburg, Florida, and Doctor’s lake, in the Brickyard community, where Ronnie Van Zant started a family and spent his last years. It runs past the site of his last home, which is a quarter-mile down a modest rural lane just behind the camera. When I think of Ronnie, I think of trains, probably due to the opening line of his masterpiece, “Tuesday’s Gone,” and another song he penned, “Railroad Song.” If you really think about it, Ronnie’s entire life was analogous to a train. Not a train wreck, but a train. This scene also featured in the video to the song, “Down on Brickyard Road,” written by Johnny Van Zant in paying tribute to his late brother. And, as one might guess, the lake where Ronnie kept his fishing boat is just to the left. To me, this was the most somber, heart-wrenching site on my entire trip. It sums up Ronnie’s life perfectly. Train, roll on.