Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve

So…what’s the oldest settlement in the United States? If you asked 100 people this question I’m sure that the most popular answer would be the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, MA. However…those folks would be wrong as the Pilgrims landed in 1620; so let’s try again. A whole bunch of the others would be the Jamestown colony in VA…which would correctly be the oldest surviving English settlement…but again not the first as it was in 1607. Again, close but no cigar.

Anybody that’s been to the Outer Banks of NC has heard the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke NC which was essentially disappeared and nobody knows why. Another great guess…but as in the above two it’s wrong as the Lost Colony landing was in 1584.

So let’s try it from the earlier side…looking back the first settlement was (or would have been if it had not been abandoned after being devastated by a hurricane) in Pensacola FL which was established by the Spanish in 1659. No cigar here either as it was abandoned.

This brings us to the final pretender…the landing of the settlement at Jacksonville in 1564 at a place called Fort Caroline on the southern side of the St. Johns River which leads into Jacksonville. Unfortunately…this one didn’t survive either…but was wiped out by soldiers from the actual oldest surviving colony in the United States. The trouble was that some of the French settlers pretty quickly took to privateering and started preying on the Spanish gold ships heading back home from the New World. This naturally attracted the attention of the Spanish crown and resulted in an expedition led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1865. He proceeded to establish a settlement that is still in existence today. Naturally this settlement attracted the attention of the French at Fort Caroline and their leader Jean Ribault made a fateful decision in Sep 1865 to sail his soldiers down and attack the Spanish rather than just march the 50 odd miles down there for the attack. Unfortunately for Jean…September is hurricane season and his ships were devastated by a storm. This led to another fateful decision by Pedro…seeing that the French were almost undefended he marched his forces North (being smarter than Jean was) and attacked Fort Caroline wiping the men out and appropriating the women and children. He then marched back to his settlement and finished establishing it

Oh yeah…the name of the settlement…Saint Augustine FL which is the oldest surviving European settlement in the United States. It predates those in the Arizona territories by Spanish coming up from Mexico by 4 or 5 years.

So what does all of this have to do with a blog post? Glad you asked.

We spent 3 days this week touring the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve…this is run by the National Park Service and encompasses 3 different sites under one management system.

Tuesday we headed off on a gray and pretty dismal looking afternoon to the Fort Caroline National Monument which is part of the Preserve. Nobody knows where the actual Fort Caroline…numerous archeological digs over the years have failed to find the site. The best guess is that it’s either underneath a nearby subdivision or lost to some changes in the river channel over the centuries. Anyway…the Park Service has the original plans of the fort since one of the colonists was a map maker…and they built a 1/3 size fort to the same design in a spot near the river that (assuming that had been the actual land contours 450 years or so ago) would likely have been selected as the fort site.

The colonists had friendly relations with the local Timucuan tribe led by Chief Saturiba…he lent the colonists 80 braves to help build the fort. Since he needed to supervise them they built him a shelter to watch from…that probably looked pretty much like this.

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Here are some shots of the fort entrance, interior, and a look over the wall towards the St. Johns. The walls are about 8 feet high on top of a 10 foot or so earthen berm with a moat at the bottom.

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After this we had sore knees so we headed back home. For dinner we went out to Outback since the Irish Pub we wanted to go to was closed.

Wednesday we headed out for our second day in Timucuan…this time in the Theodore Roosevelt Preserve this is south and east from the Fort Caroline area. We went on a nice hike of about 3 miles out through the marsh, along the side of the river, and back through some pine bottoms.

Here’s a nice spooky looking shot of the path and then of a Little Blue Heron that we spotted down by the river wildlife overlook. This overlook is about a mile or so downstream past the point you can see almost at the left side of the last Fort Caroline Picture above.

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We also spotted this Great White Heron…but he was way out…so the picture isn’t the best.

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Our final stop for the way was at the site of the old Willie Browne cabin…he was the landowner here who donated most of the land that now makes up the Theodore Roosevelt portion of the preserve. Nothing is left but the foundation at this point.

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With that we headed home, had a shower and hit Culhane’s Irish Pub which was our original destination last night…but they were closed as they are normally closed on Monday nights. Last Monday being Saint Paddy’s Day they naturally opened so closed on Tuesday instead.

We were a bit disappointed that the Murphy’s Stout they were supposed to have on draft was temporarily not on draft as they had devoted about 6 or 8 taps to Guinness for the holiday. We managed to stifle our disappointment with Guinness and Smithwick’s though and ordered some food. We had two appetizers…the first was potato skins with bacon and cheese. These turned out to be more like potato wedges rather than just skins and were full of nice crispy bacon and Irish Cheddar Cheese. Far and away the best potato skins we have ever had. Second up was a pair o Lamb Sliders…essentially mini burgers made from ground lamb with spicy mustard, some sort of other sauce on the bun and onions/lettuce/tomato. Again…these were truly outstanding and we left sufficiently stuffed with food that was not only the best bar food we ever had but was better than a great number of restaurants we have eaten out. We’ll definitely keep this on our radar for our next stop in Jacksonville and might even go there again before we leave.

We got up this morning and for a change it was warm and sunny so we set off on the third leg of our Timucuan journey. This time we had to cross the river (we took the ferry near the base rather than make the 30 mile drive out of the way to the nearest bridge and stopped by the Kingsley Plantation area. This was a cotton plantation from 1811 to 1865 and we got some nice shots of the plantation house, slave quarters, and river views. The house is not your typical southern plantation house as the design was changed to better get ventilation and cool breezes in the hot muggy summer seasons.

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From there we headed another 20 or so miles north and were originally going to visit Fort Clinch which was a Civil War era defense fort. After looking at it we decided to skip the fort and head off or another hike instead…but stopped at the picnic area first for a chicken salad wrap that we picked up on the way…and luckily came across our only wildlife siting of the day…this little gecko or lizard (we couldn’t tell which).

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After lunch we headed off to the Willow Pond Nature trail for a 1.5 mile or so hike…the hike was nice and we saw the most vivid neon green Duck Grass we’ve ever seen (it’s the free floating small green plant all over the water surface)…but alas no wildlife.

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After that we were pretty tired so we headed home and had dinner. Tomorrow we’re going to go over and take a walk down the beach…probably veg out over the weekend as we tend to not do fun stuff on the weekend to get smaller crowds. Monday will be laundry day and Tuesday we’re off to Charleston.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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