Abandoned for nearly 20 years, this former school has seen hundreds of students, tragedies, and trespassers pass through its halls. The reputation of the abandoned, Greek revival building has become infamous since its days of teaching students. Today, locals call it the Devil School for dozens of urban legends that take place behind its brick walls. The columns outside the front door loom overhead, reminding the residents that there’s still more to see inside the building. Dozens of people have been arrested over the years for breaking into the building to explore it themselves. The reason? Because it’s said to be the most haunted building in Florida.
Originally built in 1891 and named the Riverside Park School, a wooden schoolhouse was built on the site of the future school, serving students near the Jacksonville area. In 1915, a more permanent building was constructed by the city after the woodens structure became dangerous and began to crumble. Riverside Grammar School, as it was renamed, was opened in 1918 and served as the fourth school built in Duval county. The school featured a large amphitheater, a fireplace in the cafeteria, and dozens of classrooms on the second floor. The building has “Public School Number 4” inscribed on its bricks to reflect its status, and is sometimes still referred to by the name, well into its abandonment.
In the 1950s, the school was renamed the “Annie Lytle Elementary School,” after a beloved former principal. It would only be open as a school under this name for a few years, as the building would be bypassed by a new interstate initiative in the late 60s and was all but abandoned. It served as storage for the city and a few offices for nearly 10 years before the school district decided to abandon it completely, allowing it to slide into dereliction and disrepair. That’s when the urban legends began.
Urban explorers tell stories from the time of the school’s operation like a janitor who tortured children in the boiler room, which might sound familiar to anyone familiar with the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Other legends say the school was used for countless satanic rituals at the height of the satanic panic in the 1970s and 1980s. The school has been a hot spot for purported paranormal activity for decades, with many people trespassing on the premises reporting odd sounds, footsteps, and voices. The graffiti adds to its air of mystery and darkness. Some even claim to see ghostly children peeking around corners or running up the stairs, only for there to be no one there when the top of the stairs are investigated.
Nicknamed “The Devil School,” law enforcement and historians nearby say that none of the legends associated with the building are rooted in any sort of truth. In fact, they assert that the only criminal activity at the school happened after its abandonment. Nearly a dozen urban explorers and trespassers have been arrested for breaking into the building, some seeking to add more graffiti to the crowded walls, others looking for ghosts among the rubble of classrooms long since closed for good. The legends keep the spirit of the building alive, adding to the eeriness of its abandonment.
Public School Number 4 has a long and storied history, but the building was nearly demolished to create condominiums in the 1990s, but groups of historians worked to get the school designated as a National Historic Landmark. Volunteers attempt to maintain the building now, hoping it can have a brighter future and someday be used as a museum. Trespassers will be prosecuted, so you may not be able to visit this historic building properly, but you can look beyond the chain link fence to see what it once was and imagine what it could be in the future. Just don’t believe the urban legends about satanic rituals and murderous janitors. The real legend is the school that educated thousands of children in its heyday.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.