Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, Jacksonville
Through the cooperation of the National Park Service, Florida Park Service and Jacksonville Department of Parks, the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve includes tens of thousands of acres of protected wetlands and ecotourism playgrounds that stretch throughout much of Jacksonville's ecologically sensitive northeast side and down, across the river, to include the coastal hammocks, bluffs and trails of the scenic Ft. Caroline area. Unlike most parks, which have somewhat clearly defined boundaries, fingers of the Timucuan Preserve permeate right into scenic residential neighborhoods, skirt major commercial areas and even edge up to the busy port and surrounding industrial sector.
The Timucuan Preserve's primary visitor center is located at Fort Caroline National Memorial. Tucked on high sand dune bluffs overlooking the river in a residential area between the beaches and downtown, Fort Caroline is a replica of the original French settlement established n 1564. For more about the history and significance of Fort Caroline, see my separate entry).
A second visitor center is located north of the river on Fort George Island at the Kingsley Plantation Historic Site. The centerpiece of Ft. George Island State Historic Site (one of several parks encompassed by the Timucuan Preserve) and part of Northeast Florida's Black Heritage Trail, Kingsley Plantation is a historic old plantation house left over from the era of slavery. The plantation grounds include remnants of old coquina slave huts and Indian mounds, as well as expansive views of marshland vistas.
This is a fort from 1564 and recreated-of course. The history is a real story to read about in the attached. Jean Ribault was an explorer, and upon a return trip from England in 1565, he had a battle with the Spanish with a fleet of ships. Spanish in turn came back to this fort and killed most of the citizens and soldiers, and executed Ribault.
It is located off Monument Road at Mount Pleasant Rd. TAke Hwy 115 north and follow signs. Entry to the visitor center and fort is free and operated by Florida/NPS
This is a part of the Timucuan Preserve Ecological and Historical complex. It is a park to see nature and has a trail to the marsh area, or you can continue on for a round trip of 6 miles to Fort Caroline. The hike I took to the marsh was 3 miles round trip, and only saw a few birds, but the area is quiet and serene.
Take Monument Rd off Hwy 115 to Mount Pleasant Rd to the park. Entry is free and operated by NPS and state of Florida.
This is an old well preserved home and surrounding buildings, as though it would look like in the old days of planting and working the land. The plantation had been operating since 1761, when John McQueen harvested indigo for blue dye. The house was built in 1798, and Kingsley married a slave women and they then came to own the island in 1814. Crops grown then were Sea Island cotton, indigo, and sugar cane. The plantation thrived until the Civil War, and afterword it declined but still had crops until 1929 era. Kingsley's wife moved to Haiti and operated a slave farm down there, while he tried to raise money to support the slaves that he moved down there.
Take Hwy A1A north cross at Mayport ferry. The exit to Kingsley and Ribault is off the road about 3 miles.
This is the visitor center and house of the Ribault Club that was founded in 1928. The club finally broke up due to tough times in the Depression and later. It used to have parties, dances, and many cultural events for the city out there, as well as sports activities and a place for northern wealthy to stay in a warmer south climate. It finally went to the State in 1989, after attempts to develop the area did not succeed.
It is located off Hwy A1A, after porting on the ferry at Mayport, and exit to Ribault & Kingsley. Go for about 3 miles to the center. You can also take US 95 to 9A loop to Heckscher Dr and follow that east about 5 miles to Palmetto Dr.
Inside has a small but informative museum of the clubhouse and the evolution of the area form Indian culture to today reality.
Tucked on high sand dune bluffs overlooking the St. Johns River in a wooded residential area half way between the beaches and downtown is Fort Caroline. The original French settlement was founded in 1564 -- one year before the Spanish founded Saint Augustine, which today has prevailed as the nation's oldest city.
Today, Fort Caroline boasts scenic nature trails, a visitor center, and a boat dock, in addition to serving as a visitor center for Jacksonville's vast Timucuan National Historic & Ecological Preserve.
Why is Fort Caroline important? Here is the fort's and region's earliest history in a nut shell:
1513: the Spaniard Ponce de Leon landed in what is today called Guana River State Park, half -way between present-day Jacksonville and Saint Augustine. Although he laid claim to "La Florida," Spain still failed to establish an actual settlement for decades.
1564: French Huguenots sailed into the mouth of the St. Johns River and established Fort Caroline in present day Jacksonville. Thanks to Fort Caroline, the first ever official trade transaction in North America occurred in what is now Jacksonville, a fact that the Port Authority likes to trumpet today.
1565: The French settlement in "Spain's" Florida angered the Spanish king, prompting him to send his best admiral, Pedro Menendez, to the area to eradicate the Huguenots and finally establish a successful Spanish colony. He founded Saint Augustine at another natural harbor about 40 miles south of Fort Caroline. His men defeated the French and Saint Augustine went on to withstand numerous invasions and politcal exchanges to become what still exists today as the oldest city in the United States.
Had Menendez lost, Florida's history may have been decidedly more French than Spanish and Jacksonville, not Saint Augustine, would be the nation's oldest city today.
The centerpiece of the Ft. George Island State Historic Site and part of Northeast Florida's Black Heritage Trail, Kingsley Plantation is a historic old plantation house left over from the era of slavery. The grounds include the plantation house itself along with remnants of old coquina slave huts and Indian mounds, as well as scenic marshland vistas.
Kingsley Plantation also serves as a second visitor center for the Timucuan Preserve (see separate tip) which has its main visitor center at Fort Caroline (also see separate tip).
This is a great little park tucked out of the way. Never been more than a few people here. nice walk the fort through the forest, and good view of the river once you get to the fort. My 6 year old nephew had a blast playing here.