12 June 1999
On May 1, 1562 almost 50 years after Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain, Frenchman Jean Ribault sailed into waters he called the River of May (now the St. Johns River) and established a place for French Huguenots. The Timucuan Indians lived on both shores. Forts were built and battles fought here, all the way through the American Civil War.
Buccaneers, pirates, adventurers, runaway slaves, revolutionaries and outlaws roamed the area. The Timucuans called the St. Johns the "Weleka" or "Illaka" meaning "exceptional" in the sense that the river flowed to the north, instead of falling slowly away to the south as most rivers do. Not only does it flow north, it does so in a current so forceful it requires the most powerful ferry engines to overcome, and each crossing at the ferry was a drama of skill of the ferry pilot against the power of the river. After several years, the small French settlement called Fort Caroline was destroyed by Spanish forces from the military garrison at St. Augustine. Spain controlled Florida for the next two centuries. The British then ruled for a 20 year period They developed plantations and build a road from Savannah to St. Augustine. The King's Road crossed the river at a narrow stretch called Cowford (located approximately where downtown Jacksonville is today). A second Spanish period lasted from 1763 to 1821, the year Spain ceded the Floridas to the United States.(The peninsula was divided into East and West colonies). The Americans moved into the new territory and at the Cowford ferry crossing, commerce and a small settlement began to form. The next year several residents led by Isaiah D. Hart surveyed the village and named it Jacksonville for General Andrew Jackson, the territory's first military governor.
By the beginning of the Civil War, industry (such as area lumber mills) had made Jacksonville a growing city. The town was deserted and burned several times during the war, but within twenty years it became one of the nation's top winter tourist resorts, with many grand hotels.
In the late 19th century, Jacksonville had a major yellow fever epidemic. Also, the southward bound railroad moved into the area. In 1901, most of the core city burned down However, by 1911 Jacksonville has rebuilt itself and was a bustling metropolis.
There are many sites between Georgia and Florida that are rich in African-American history. Trace Northeast Florida's black history through nine sites: American Beach, Catherine Street Fire Station, Kingsley Plantation, Masonic Temple, Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Edward Waters College, Olustee Battlefield and Edwin Stanton School. Call the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau for a trail guide.
Today, Jacksonville continues to make history as one of the nation's largest cities in land area (841 square miles), a major port city, financial center, site of Navy bases, and home of the NFL, a Mayo Clinic medical center, numerous waterways, and nearly one million residents. Also six beautiful beaches, located on an island 37 miles long and three miles wide. Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach to name a few.
Information from: http://www.coj.net/wweb/nature/history.htm