A Treasure in Springfield
“It’s the only place in Jacksonville that haunts, entertains, teaches, mesmerizes, and delights me all at the same time.”
Gloria pauses for a long time after she gives this description and gazes up at the few clouds hanging in the sky, obviously envisioning images from her memory that she can’t possibly begin to justly describe. Thin and dressed in various shades of black with the exception of thick green woolen socks poking out of her scuffed loafers, her face shows that she has lived a long but careful life and it is framed by a soft black winter hat and medium length grey hair. Her 60 year old eyes look excited for our interview where she can bear to me the beautiful details of her beloved home for 4 days a week and 7 hours a day, The Karpeles Manuscript Museum.
The museum, like fascinating Ms. Gloria, is humbly grand from the shadowy outside, but upon further investigation, observers can’t help but fall in love with the depth, history, and mystery that is begging to be explored.
On West 1st Street, nestled between Boulevard Street and North Laura Street, sits a massive old white building held up by four large white columns. Florida palm and oak trees skirt the block that is in the heart of Springfield on the Northern side of Downtown Jacksonville.
Built in 1921 to host the meetings of the First Church of Christ, the building was sold in 1992 to Mr. David Karpeles, the man who owns the largest private collection of important original documents and manuscripts in the world. Mr. Karpeles was a math professor before he began investing in real estate in California. His investments quickly made him a millionaire and then he then began to collect manuscripts.
The collection includes over 1 million documents and manuscripts pertaining to literature, science, religion, history and art.
In 1983, Mr. Karpeles decided to open up museums across the country to house and display his collection with the primary goal of stimulating interest in learning, especially in children.
With locations all across the United States, Mr. Karpeles rotates the documents every four months between his museums. There are 12 locations in 10 different states: Santa Barbara, California; Tacoma/Seattle, Washington; Newburgh, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; Duluth, Minnesota; Charleston, South Carolina; Buffalo, New York [Porter Hall]; Buffalo, New York [North Hall]; Shreveport, Louisiana; Fort Wayne, Indiana ; Alvin, Texas; and Rock Island, Illinois.
Not only does the museum host important documents, it also is available to rent for weddings, parties, receptions, concerts, or other special events for only $150 an hour.
“At my wedding reception, my husband and I had the priveledge of dancing among some famous Beethoven manuscripts. Classical music brought us together as we studied at Florida State University, and it was a very special opportunity to be able to incorporate it into our big day!” Rachel Alexander, 23, of Jacksonville.
For such a beautiful place, the Karpeles Museum is sadly overlooked. Even though the museum has free admission, there were only 341 recorded visitors to the museum in all of 2013.
Gloria attributes the lack of visitors to “maybe the business of today’s society? People are to wrapped up in their new Smart Phones to take the time and really appreciate art that has been influential to so many people for hundreds of years.”
The lower floors of the Karpeles Museum are off limits and have been for about 2 years. Bright orange cones block off the path due to water damage. It is unclear of why the museum has been neglected.
Whether you are a visitor to Jacksonville for the very first time or if you have lived here for 60 years like Gloria, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum is a treasure that you do not want to miss. With a welcoming park right next door, a visit to the museum would be a unique date idea for couples, a great educational environment for families, and just a wonderful place to explore alone on a Tuesday afternoon.
If you stop by, be sure to say hello to Gloria!