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From Hell House to eternity

Man buys famous Lynyrd Skynyrd site to preserve band’s legacy

By Don Coble
Posted 1/12/22

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Adam Hartle remembered riding his jet ski along Peter’s Creek not long ago and making an impromptu stop at a vacant lot with a shanty dock.

He strolled among the …

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From Hell House to eternity

Man buys famous Lynyrd Skynyrd site to preserve band’s legacy


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Adam Hartle remembered riding his jet ski along Peter’s Creek not long ago and making an impromptu stop at a vacant lot with a rickety dock.

He strolled among the moss-draped oaks and tried to imagine what it must have been like to be there more than 40 years ago when the thundering sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd used to echo from what was known as the Mudcrutch Farm through the swampy wilderness.

When he returned months later, he saw tractor-trailer loads of lumber stacked on newly-paved streets and the basic outline of new homes being created by cinder blocks.

The more the land was being transformed into the Edgewater Landing subdivision, the more determined he became to keep the lot where Hell House served as crude rehearsal studio like it was back in the early 1970s – raw and unforgiving.

“It’s nature, and it’s history,” Hartle said. “The band did so many good things here, I don’t think Jacksonville gives Skynyrd enough credit. I didn’t want to see some house go up here, become some lady’s back yard and see them tear up the dock. I didn’t want to see the history get torn up.”

So he bought it.

His plans for the .6-acre lot are simple: he’s going to leave it alone.

While the rest of the neighborhood becomes a gated community of two- and three-car garages, HOA and CDD fees and half-million-dollar mortgages, the only thing Hartle wants for his property is to preserve an appreciation for all the songs that were created in the steamy one-room shack.

The band decided to work on their songs in the woods instead of their homes in the Westside of Jacksonville. They weren’t distracted by anything other than their music or the occasional screech of an owl, and they weren’t bothered by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for playing too loud.

Hell House had a tin roof, toilet and no air conditioning. Conditions were brutal – hence the name – but it’s where the group wrote their first three albums and perfected hits like “Free Bird,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Swamp Music” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Band founder and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant paid $50 a month for rent in the early 1970s. The band eventually moved out and the shack was destroyed more than 20 years later by an electrical fire.

But the significance – and the sanctity – of the land can never be erased as long as there’s still one fan still chanting, “Turn it Up!”

“I came here all the time in the last few years just to hang out. I’d ride my jet ski up to the dock,” he said. “I live on the other side of the (St. Johns) river, so I’d just buzz up here and hang out. This was before there were any houses here. This was all land. I’m a Skynyrd fan. As more and more houses started going up, I kept thinking it would be a shame if somebody built a house right here.

“It was expensive. Everybody told me I was crazy. My wife told me I was crazy. She said, “You’re wasting your money.” It’s not an investment. I’ll never see that money back. I’m never going to sell this land, but it’s all right. I’m happy to do it because I was in a financial situation where I could do it. It means a lot to me; it means a lot to other people as well.”

With the help of author Bob Kealing, the land also will be embraced by the state. Kealing and Hartle’s application to have the property designated a Florida Heritage Site early this month was approved last week.

“There was some great synergy on this,” Kealing said. “The more I researched it, the more I realized that’s a pretty amazing place up there in the woods. They were using Hell House the same time Petty was doing his thing (in Gainesville).

“I saw where they were building a housing development there and they even had streets like Free Bird Loop, which was amazing to me. People outside of Florida think there’s no history or culture here, and they couldn’t be more wrong.”

Keating also was the driving force to have the Jacksonville house on Riverside Avenue where the Allman Brothers wrote most of the songs for their first album, “The Allman Brothers Band” designated a Florida Heritage Site.

Since Hartle used his 501(c)(3) charity, The Great Church, Inc., to buy the land, and with the heritage description, it means the land will remain pristine from progress for the next generations of Skynyrd fans.

“The cool thing is they did this at mom and dad’s house. They made it a historical site, so they can’t tear it down. That’s pretty cool, pretty cool,” said Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother who took the microphone after his older brother Ronnie was killed in a 1977 plane crash.

“It is a special place and we can’t tell you what it means to everyone who’s part of the Skynyrd family. We’re amazed by it all. It’s nice they’re going to keep the memory of Hell House alive and he won’t allow anyone to cover up the history of the place.”

The band still draws massive crowds and will embark on its 2022 tour in a couple of months. As they continue to make music, Hartle wants the old lot to remain quiet – and sacred.

“There’s enough money-grabbing in this world,” Hartle said. “Sometimes you’ve got to keep things the way they are.”

Which many consider to be progress.