|City/Town: • Jacksonville
|Location Class: • Educational
|Built: • 1918 | Abandoned: • 1971
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit
Also known as Annie Lytle School, Public School Number Four was originally a small wooden schoolhouse built in 1891 called Riverside Park School. Due to a population increase in the area, wings and extensions were added to the building until it was considered a fire hazard. In 1915, Duval County voters passed a $1 million bond to build more than a dozen new brick schoolhouses. Built by the Florida Engineering and Construction Company, construction on the new schoolhouse started in 1917 and was designed by Rutledge Holmes along with William B. Ittner who acted as a consultant. Holmes was an architect from Charleston, South Carolina, who like many other architects came to Jacksonville after the Great Fire. Some of his other works include the Old Duval County Courthouse Annex (1902) and the Seminole Club (1903). He was hired to design two other public schools for the county, those being Grand Park School and Woodstock School. According to Reclaiming Jacksonville, Holmes killed himself with a .32-caliber pistol in 1929. His suicide note reads: “Do not notify anyone. I have some pains in the region of my heart. Should I die I would like to be wrapped in one of my camping blankets and buried under some pretty trees in the country in an unmarked grave. Take what I have in Quincy for the trouble. -R. Holmes.“
The new school built over the site of the old Riverside Park School was known as Riverside School or Riverside Grammar School. The school was later renamed Annie Lytle Elementary School in the 1950s after its former long-time teacher and principal, Annie Lytle Housh. It was never referred to as Public School Number Four but rather it was used as a designation that it was Duval County’s fourth public schoolhouse.
Public School Number Four was completed in 1918 and cost over $250,000 to construct. Overlooking Riverside Park, the grand brick building had many beautiful features such as columns at the school entrance, a very large auditorium, high ceilings in the classrooms, large windows, and a large fireplace in the cafeteria. The classrooms were located on the second floor, while the administrative rooms, library, lunchroom, and auditorium were located on the first floor. In the 1950s, the construction of I-95 and I-10 isolated the school, leading it to its closure in 1960. Sometime after, the building was used as office space and storage for the Duval County Public School System before it was condemned in 1971. Many locals have claimed that it was rented out to a Catholic school in the late-60s or early-70s, but there are no records to confirm this.
On October 29, 1999, Foundation Holding Inc. a subsidiary of the Ida Stevens Foundation, purchased the property in order to covert the building into “Lytle Place Condominiums”. The foundation had converted the old Duval High School into a senior living facility. Unfortunately, federal funding programs for such projects were discontinued and with that, the project never got off the ground. With no funds to renovate, demolition was the next viable option but due to public outcry and pressure from multiple historical societies, Jacksonville approved historic landmark designation in 2000, halting any plans for demolition.
The schoolhouse has sat empty for over 50 years now. Vandalism is prevalent throughout the building with graffiti covering nearly every inch of the interior and garbage strewn about the property. In 1995, a massive fire dealt a considerable amount of damage to the building, gutting the auditorium and causing a large part of the roof to collapse. In 2012, another large fire destroyed what was left of the roof. Public School Number Four is well known throughout the state for its status of being one of the most haunted places in Florida. Many tales and legends surround the old schoolhouse. One of these tales claims the principal was a cannibal and devoured naughty children who were sent to their office. Another and probably the most well-known tale, the janitor would take kids down to the boiler room and burned them alive. One kid escaped, blowing up the boiler in the process which caused the entire east wing to catch fire. Of course, none of these tales are true but that doesn’t stop curious ghost hunters from seeing the school themselves. After the school’s condemnation, police have reported one rape happening there as well as multiple counts of vandalism, trespassing, B&E, and arson. You can read about Public School Number Four and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast.