Jacksonville Walking Tour Reveals Secret Tunnels | News
JACKSONVILLE - The greater Jacksonville metropolitan area is home to more than one million people. But how many really know the history behind the city that got its start in 1822 as Cowford?
Gary Sass has made it his calling and his business to do just that. Sass been conducting private tours of Jacksonville for 7 years with his company, Ad Lib Luxury Tours and Transportation. This summer, he started the Jacksonville "Top to Bottom" Walking Tour. Every Tuesday morning, Sass leads his group on a 1 hour and 45 minute walking tour of downtown. He says two "escapes" highlight his tour. "They are the tunnels complete with an old underground vault and the rooftop of the Florida Theatre," says Sass, dressed in an Andrew Jackson replica uniform. Along the way, Sass tells his customers about the history behind our city.
The tunnels are located under the intersection of Laura and Forsyth. Sass leads his group into the old Atlantic National Bank building and down the stairs. Benny's Sandwich Shop is located on one end of the lighted tunnels that now are used as a public walkway. "When you exchanged money in those days, you physically exchanged money. So you're walking the the money through the tunnels," says Sass. Sass gets private access behind a guarded locked door. "Welcome, Welcome," says the security guard as she unlocks the door for the group. The group walks down a long, narrow, dimly lit corridor that empties into a small room with an old safe on the wall. Sass explains money was brought down from the surface by a elevator behind the small vault.
Another room houses a huge Debold safe. The heavy safe door is always open. Inside the safe are large safe deposit boxes. In another room, 5 gallon stacked containers read "emergency drinking water." The safe was used in the 1960's and 70's as a bomb shelter. Back above ground, Sass shares historical nuggets of Jacksonville's past. You learn how the city was the Hollywood of the South. "We had 26 movie companies here making movies," he says. Sass also talks about the devastating fire of 1901. "The whole city burns to the ground in just 8 hours," says Sass.
The top part of the "Top to Bottom Tour" is exclusive access to the rooftop of the Florida Theatre. "Watch your step," says Sass as guests step onto the roof after taking an elevator and climbing one flight of stairs. Back in the 1920's and 1930's, galas were held on the roof before big shows, "So they would have big parties up here on the rooftop," says Sass.
The tour wraps up along the river with satisfied customers. One guest said "We lived in the area for four years. We hardly came downtown and I think this tour might make the difference." The Jacksonville "Top to Bottom" Walking tour is every Tuesday from 10:00 am to 11:45 am. The tour starts and ends at The Jacksonville Landing. Tickets are $20 but discounts are available. For reservations call 827-1845 or the website of adlib tours.