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W. Haydon Burns

William Haydon Burns (March 17, 1912November 22, 1987) was the thirty-fifth governor of Florida from 1965 to 1967. He was also mayor of the city of Jacksonville from 1949 to 1965.

Early life

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Haydon Burns' family moved to Jacksonville in 1922, where he attended Andrew Jackson High School before going on to attend Babson College in Massachusetts. Before the outbreak of World War II he was an appliance salesman and a flight school operator. During the war, he joined the U.S. Navy and was posted as a technical officer in the office of the Secretary of the Navy. Following the war, he returned to Jacksonville and began a public relations and business consulting firm.

Mayor of Jacksonville

In 1949, he was elected to his first term as mayor of Jacksonville. He was elected to four more terms as mayor, longer than any other mayor of Jacksonville to date.

During his time in the mayor's office, he oversaw massive growth in Jacksonville. He promoted the city around the world in an attempt to lure international investments and to get corporations to relocate offices to the city. He commissioned the production of a slide show called "The Jacksonville Story", hundreds of audiences saw it around the world. The American National Exhibit showed a film version in the Soviet Union. Burns personally made presentations at The Hague and in Israel. He made "The Jacksonville Story" known from coast to coast, and so was Jacksonville's mayor.

He was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, president of the Florida League of Municipalities, and delegate to the International Congress of Municipalities. While mayor, he won tax breaks for insurance companies and Prudential Insurance relocated from New Jersey to a skyscraper in Jacksonville. Other insurance companies followed, and Jacksonville became known as the insurance capital of the South.

A new courthouse and City Hall were built on the site of rotten wharves, and a long-promised Civic Auditorium was built on the river. Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum and Sam W. Wolfson Baseball Park made the city thoroughly modern. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, today CSX, moved from Wilmington, North Carolina to the Jacksonville riverfront. The world's largest Sears Roebuck store opened on what once was skid row. A modern expressway system took shape and the city got the Jacksonville Suns baseball franchise and a hockey team.

The city faced many problems during Burns' term. Racial violence ignited on August 27, 1960 during a protest to integrate downtown lunch counters in the Hemming Park shopping area. Segregationists responded by attacking the protesters with ax handles; the day is remembered as "Ax Handle Saturday." Burns tried to blame the ax handle riots on visitors but the police chief attributed the attacks to locals. The city's police department was ridden with scandal and multiple grand jury indictments were handed down on public officials all around him.

One of his final acts as mayor was his handling of the Hotel Roosevelt fire in downtown. With his quick action, he saved most of the hotel visitors from possible death from smoke inhalation. He left the mayor's office in 1965 to become governor of Florida.

Governorship

Burns was sworn in as governor on January 5, 1965, to serve an abbreviated two year term. This short term came about because the cycle of gubernatorial elections was changed so as not to coincide with presidential election years. While in office, he oversaw progress in the development of a new state constitution, as well as new areas of outdoor recreation and industry.

The 1966 gubernatorial elections pitted the sitting governor against Robert King High, a popular Miami politician. This primary was significant because Burns represented the conservative wing of the Democratic Party and King was the choice of the liberals from South Florida. Governor Burns lost the 1966 Democratic primary; he avoided supporting King in the general election. Political observers in Florida point to King's supposed failure to seek such endorsement from Burns. This left the party divided in the face of united Republican support for Claude Kirk. He left office on January 3, 1967 as the first Democratic Governor of Florida in history to be succeeded by a Republican.

Post-governorship

After his term ended, the governor returned to private business consulting in Jacksonville. In 1971, he made an unsuccessful attempt to be reelected mayor. As time went by, many of Burns' accomplishments for the city of Jacksonville were forgotten. Many of the projects that he help to create, such as the city's civic auditorium, rebuilt in 1996 and renamed, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, Wolfson Baseball Park, City Hall and Coliseum have all been replaced with newer structures. However, his work for the city's growth remains evident today. Haydon Burns remained in Jacksonville until his death in 1987.

Jacksonville's main public library, built in 1965, was named the Haydon Burns Library in honor of the former mayor. It was designed by Taylor Hardwick, a local architect who designed many local structures built in Jacksonville. However, it too was replaced in 2005 by a new Main Library.

In 1966, the building located at 605 Suwannee Street in Tallahassee, Florida opened and was named the W. Haydon Burns Building. It became home to the State Road Department, now the Florida Department of Transportation.

In 2004, the city of Jacksonville renamed the old City Hall, built by Burns, the Haydon Burns City Hall Annexe.

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