Southern Rock mourns the man who saved Hell House’s legacy

By Don Coble, [email protected]

GREEN COVE SPRINGS — Adam Hartle planned to put a historic marker on the only empty lot in Edgewater Landing where the legendary Hell House once stood.

Hartle bought the lot two years ago to preserve Southern Rock’s history and the legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The marker’s been purchased, the date was set for Jan. 15 — Skynyrd founder Ronnie Van Zant’s birthday.

Whether it happens now is unknown. So much of Hartle’s plans died with him on Nov. 30 when he reportedly suffered a heart attack.

Hartle was 43.

His story is compelling. Too small to play, he worked with the University of Florida football team’s video department and was a game day analysis coordinator. He also was the junior varsity football coach at Mandarin High before he became an assistant coach at Nease. While with the Panthers, he met 16-year-old quarterback Tim Tebow. Hartle played a role in Tebow’s recruitment to the Gators by introducing him to then-head coach Urban Meyer.

Hartle also was a successful entrepreneur, buying stock in Apple and Tesla before they became the rage on Wall Street.

But two other passions drove Adam — stand-up comedy and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He toured nationally and worked primarily at his comedy club in Austin, Texas.

He bought the 0.6-acre lot 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.”

He bought it to keep bulldozers and progress from wiping away a significant piece of musical history. The lot still sits without development. The rickety dock has been replaced and rotted away again. Until the marker is placed, there’s nothing to suggest Lynyrd Skynyrd once called it home.

“It’s nature, and it’s history,” Hartle told Clay Today last year. “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 0.6-acre lot were simple: he would leave it alone.

Hell House had a tin roof, toilet and no air conditioning. Conditions were brutal — hence the name.

“I went there a few times when I was young,” said current Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant. “What I do remember is it was named right: It was a Hell House. It was a square room. It was secluded.”

Hartle said the land wasn’t bought as a financial investment. It’s about keeping the music — and its birthplace — alive.

He said he was motivated by Skynyrd’s “Every Mother’s Son.” The lyrics included a line, “I can see the concrete creeping.”

“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,” Hartle said.

Fly high, free bird, fly high.