MILEAGE CHART TO LOCATIONS FROM ASTOR
ON THE ST. JOHNS RIVER
AERIALS OF THE ST JOHNS
RIVER NORTH & SOUTH OF ASTOR
The St. John's River is one of
only 14 rivers in the U.S. to be designated as an American Heritage River for its
extraordinary ecological values as well as its rich and extended human history.
From the book, "River of Lakes: A
Journey on Florida's St. Johns River".
"The St. Johns is a river of infinite potential, a place to indulge myths, to evoke
shards of timeless magic, to search for the natural realities that are sublime
instead of merely virtual and safe. After all, this is a river where dreams have been
chased through the early morning mist for centuries on the peninsula, from inside the
heart-pine log dugouts of the earliest Paleo-Indians to the sleek polymer hulls of
the most modern canoeist and boater. If we are lucky, we may yet find enough wildness
left here to take the shrillness of civilization out of us, to discover a place, as
Sherwood Anderson once wrote, where we can still "learn the trick of the quiet."
HISTORY OF THE RIVER
mysteries join with today’s pride and glory along the riverbanks of the St. Johns.
Scattered along the river’s landscape are shipwrecks, plantations and Native American
History, much like its sepia toned water, runs deep in the St. Johns River. From
shell fossils of early animals preserved in spring water caves, to pre-Colombian and
Native American middens and mounds, and the wrecks of civil war steamships embedded
in the muddy river bottom – the St. Johns is your most satisfying science and history
Many European artists, naturalists and writers found the beauty of these waterways
inspiring, turning their creativity into historic legacies. Inspired by his time
spent on the St. Johns River, composer Fredrick Delius created the orchestral work,
Florida Suite. “His lasting impressions of the wild life about him gave rise to a
growing firm conviction of the supremacy of instinct and the wonder of it all,”
biographer Eric Femby later wrote. “The play of light through the dense woods and
gray veil of Spanish moss touched the scene with a mystery he was later to evoke in
music.” The musician's house can now be seen at Jacksonville University, where it is
furnished with period furniture and accessories dating from the composer’s time.
Before the arrival of European settlers, the first Floridians - pre-historic Native
Americans - are believed to have lived along the river for thousands of years.
Historical artifacts give you insight into ancient civilizations. During river bottom
dredging, workers found three totems near what is now Hontoon Island State Park. At
the park pontoon ferries will take you to a 2.6-mile island, where totem replicas
mark the spiritual presence of the Otter and Owl Clans who once inhabited the island.
The northeast portion of the basin is home to some of Florida’s most significant
historical resources including some of the continent’s earliest military
installations such as St. Augustine’s Fort Matanzas and Fort Caroline in
Jacksonville. Symbolizing a time in American history, Kingsley Plantation, located on
Ft. George Island near the mouth of the river and established in the 1700’s, is a
national historic site. U.S. Navy shipbuilding was a major industry along the St.
Johns, during both World Wars. Likewise, the wide breadth of the river in southern
Jacksonville served as a major port for seaplanes during World War II.
During the Civil War, the luxury steamer Maple Leaf was pressed into service as a
supply ship. Loaded with supplies and traveling from Palatka to Jacksonville to
rendezvous with thirty other Union ships, the Maple Leaf crashed into a Confederate
“bomb” – a wooden barrel filled with gunpowder. The explosion killed four African
American crewmen and sank the steamship within minutes. In 1987, the Maple Leaf was
excavated and over the next few years more than 6,000 artifacts were recovered. In
1994, the Maple Leaf was recognized as a National Historical Landmark Shipwreck Site.
After the Civil War, steamboats brought tourists on Florida river excursions from
Charleston and Savannah. And since then, many generations of people have found an
incomparable and everlasting beauty in the St. Johns River. This majestic Florida
River has had a place in the prehistoric through the present. And it will continue
to inspire American history. As Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings once wrote, “If I could
have, to hold forever, one brief place of time and beauty, I think I might choose the
night on that high lonely bank above the St. Johns River.”
NATURE ON THE RIVER
bustle of urban America lies a Florida rarely seen. A Florida that contains the
secrets of thousands of years of ecological wonders, from the American treasure of
the bald eagle to the endangered beauty of the West Indian manatee, from the wading
roseate spoonbill to a number of artesian springs once considered the “fountain of
A natural wonder, the St. Johns River is one of only a few rivers in all of North
America that flows north. But beyond the current is a world too extraordinary to
ignore. A kaleidoscope of historical and natural wonders - living in concert with
the modern world growing up around it.
Witness the West Indian manatee, a familiar resident of the river. These large
mammals, that can grow to a length of ten feet and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds,
enjoy the warm water temperatures of the artesian springs within Blue Spring State
Park. In the late 1960’s Jacques Cousteau and his divers visited Blue Spring when it
was still privately owned, producing a documentary that led to the purchase and
protection of the West Indian manatee’s favorite winter habitat.
Many people are surprised to discover that Florida has the second largest population
of bald eagles of any state in the country. Only Alaska has more. Nearly 70 percent
of the state’s population nests are in Central Florida along the St. Johns River.
This icon of American heritage is now making its comeback in Lake George and even
more predominantly in the Ocala National Forest where you can witness the elegant
strength of the bald eagle soaring over the treetops.
Along the glassy waters of the Wekiva River, a tributary of the St. Johns River, a
jungle-like variety of wildlife awaits exploration. The Wekiva sub-basin contains the
single largest population of Florida black bears. You may even spot an unexpected
rhesus monkey brought originally to Silver Springs as backdrops for Tarzan movies
filmed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Descendants are now living along the Wekiva River
among alligators, largemouth bass and the Wekiwa siltsnail, a mollusk found nowhere
else on earth but here.
CULTURE ON THE RIVER
The St. Johns River
is off the beaten path of Florida’s more popular attractions. Amidst brightly painted
backdrops the natural rhythms of this river greet those who venture along it. Take a
voyage through the St. Johns River.
The St. Johns River’s cultural
assets are invaluable sources of education and entertainment. The river is your
route to the culture and art of Florida communities. For example, the river borders
the city of Deland. When Henry A. DeLand laid the foundation for the city that would
bear his name; he envisioned a center of culture, education and beauty, like the
Athens of ancient Greece. Home to Stetson University and the DeLand Cultural Arts
Center, the city provides a full slate of cultural offerings. DeLand’s national
award-winning Main Street features an eclectic mix of boutiques, antique shops,
restaurants and gift shops.
One of the southeast’s most unique cultural attractions is Deland’s African American
Museum of the Arts. This venue is dedicated to the unique art of African and
Caribbean culture. The DeLand Museum of Art displays changing exhibitions of various
art forms in two gallery spaces. A personal tour guide is available by appointment
to help you make the most of these precious displays.
Florida’s oldest private university will be your guide to the Duncan Gallery of Art –
a modest sized, energetic gallery located in the former Carnegie Library on Stetson’s
On the campus of Daytona Beach Community College the Southeast Museum of Photography
is one of only 12 photography museums in the country and features historical and
contemporary photography exhibits. Several miles away from the hustle and bustle of
Daytona Beach, travelers will find the white-framed, two-story Mary McLeod Bethune
House on the campus of historic Bethune-Cookman College. At the site, visitors can
learn about the renowned civil rights leader and her famous college through
photographs and artifacts.
Central East Florida visitors will also find pleasant historic districts in the midst
of the Space Coast’s high technology attractions. Originally settled in the 1860s,
Historic Cocoa Village features a quaint collection of 50 shops and eateries along
oak-shaded sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Numerous historical structures have
been restored and are in use once again, including the Village Playhouse, a former
vaudeville theater now used for community productions, and the Porcher House, the
home of wealthy citrus grove owners, now open for public tours. Leisurely walking
tours of the village are offered at Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science.
The Wells'Built is the last remaining pre-World War II African American hotel in
Orlando and was one of the few hotels in Orlando serving African Americans during
segregation. In the mid-1920's, Orlando's Parramore neighborhood was the center of
the city's African American community. The streets bustled with commerce by day and
erupted with music by night, at Dr. William Wells' South Street Casino - a popular
dance hall. When big-name entertainers and athletes like Joe Louis, Ella Fitzgerald,
Ray Charles, and Pegleg Bates came to town, they stayed at Dr. Wells' Wells'Built
Hotel, next door to the Casino on South Street. The South Street Casino was
demolished in 1987, but the historic Wells'Built Hotel still stands.
Further south along the banks of the St. Johns River, Putnam County offers pleasant
glimpses into olden times with sites like the Bronson Mullholland House, the Putnam
Historic Museum and the David Browning Memorial Railroad Museum. The exhibits in
these quaint museums tell the story of Putnam County, including the impact of the
Civil War, the advent of steamboat travel along the St. Johns River and the gilded
age of the Flagler Railroad.
Azaleas bloom in odd places at Ravine State Gardens. The 182-acre botanical garden
in Palatka is set in a deep ravine along the banks of the St. Johns River and
features camellias, azaleas and other flowers. Walking trails lead around the ravine
and along a spring-fed creek at the ravine’s bottom.
As the deterioration of two historical buildings in downtown Melbourne became
increasingly apparent, a small group formed the Brevard Regional Arts Group (BRAG) to
revive the treasured landmarks. The Henegar Center was born from the vision of this
dedicated group of community leaders. The buildings, formerly public schools, were
donated for transformation into cultural arts facilities. The heart of the Henegar
Center is a theatre whose stage curtain was taken from the original Broadway
production of The King and I, with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems for
the highest quality productions.
If you are a music enthusiast, the St. Johns River has rhythm in the spring. The
Jacksonville Jazz Festival attracts the most accomplished entertainers and performers
from across the country. Just a stone’s throw away, the Jacksonville Maritime Museum
displays a model of the aircraft carrier Saratoga, ship construction, famous
riverboats and tall ships. Keeping along the waters edge, venture to The Cummer
Museum of Art & Gardens. This fine arts facility opened its doors November 10,
1961. Built on the site of Arthur and Ninah Cummer’s former home, the museum was
launched with their sixty-piece collection. The Cummer’s permanent collection has
grown to over five thousand works of art encompassing eight thousand years of art
history. Particularly noteworthy additions are the Wark Collection of early Meissen
porcelain, the Dennis C. Hayes Collection of Japanese woodblock prints, and the
Eugène Louis Charvot Collection of nineteenth-century prints and paintings. Two
acres of formal historic gardens, created by Mrs. Cummer, enhance the museum campus.
The first garden at the Cummer residence was planted in 1903 and followed the English
style. The Italian Garden followed in 1931.
THE RIVER WATER SHED
The quality of our
nation's waters -- rivers, streams lakes, and estuaries -- is determined by
activities within the land area, or watersheds, which surround them. Although most
discharges of pollutants from factories and cities directly to our waterways have
been strictly controlled for many years, water quality problems remain. These
problems are principally associated with run-off of rain and snowmelt. This run-off
picks up soil and pollutants from the city streets, suburban lawns, and rural farm
fields to become the principal reason some 40% of surveyed rivers aren't suitable for
the uses (recreation, supporting, fish and wildlife, etc.) for which States have
designated them. Physical changes, like removing streamside vegetation, interrupting
flows with dams, draining or filling wetlands, and bulk-heading channels also degrade
our water bodies. Even air pollutants from cars, power plants and other combustion
sources harm our waters and the life they support when pollutants fall back to earth
or are carried to the ground by precipitation. Pollution also seeps into the soil, is
carried to aquifers, and then flows underground to rivers, lakes, or coastal waters.
HISTORICAL RIVER INFORMATION
As the sun
rises over the sawgrass marshes that mark the starting point of the St. Johns
River, it slices through the mist that defines mornings in swampy central
Florida. The rain that fell here overnight may evaporate in the afternoon, it
may be used for irrigation, or it may wind its way along the length of the 310
miles of the St. Johns River and flow into the Atlantic Ocean.
Downstream, the St. Johns will declare itself a mighty river, but here in Indian
River and Brevard counties, there are few defined banks and boundaries.
Waterfowl, wading birds, river otters and shore birds inhabit the maze of
tributaries and sloughs.
This portion of the river is fed mostly by rainfall, with the help of a few
springs. The molecules of hydrogen and oxygen that mix in these shallow waters
flow north -- unlike many North American rivers -- and begin a long, slow
journey to the ocean.
The St. Johns River is commonly divided into three drainage basins. Basins, also
called watersheds, are land areas that drain into a water body. Because the St.
Johns River flows north, the upper basin is the area to the south. The middle
basin is the area in east-central Florida where the river widens. The lower
basin is the area in northeast Florida from Putnam County to the river's mouth
in Duval County, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
The water travels this path slowly. The river's total drop from beginning to end
is less than 30 feet, or about one inch per mile, making it one of the "laziest"
rivers in the world.
A river of many names
Change has always come slowly for the St. Johns River. More than 100,000 years
ago, much of the river was an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, ocean levels
dropped and barrier islands prevented water from flowing east into the ocean,
leaving it trapped in flat valleys. The water slowly meandered northward and
formed the St. Johns River. The river, thus, is an ancient intracoastal lagoon
As the river flows north and continues to collect water from marshes and
springs, it forms countless lakes on its path. First comes Lake Hell 'n' Blazes,
then Sawgrass Lake, Lake Washington, Lake Winder and Lake Poinsett. The river
flows into Orange, Volusia and Seminole counties, forming Ruth Lake, Puzzle Lake
and Lake Harney.
Because of these lakes, the Timucuan Indians gave the river its original name,
Welaka, meaning river of lakes. The Timucuan used the river for food, water and
transportation for centuries before the Europeans arrived.
The river has had many names. Spanish seamen renamed the river in the 1500s and
called it Rio de Corrientes, or river of currents. In 1562 -- almost 50 years
before the settlement in Jamestown -- the French established Fort Caroline on a
high bluff overlooking the river they called Riviere de Mai, or river of May,
because they arrived there on May 1.
The establishment of Fort Caroline angered the Spanish, who marched north from
St. Augustine in 1565, captured the fort and slaughtered the French. The Spanish
then named the river San Mateo, honoring the saint whose feast followed the day
they captured the river.
Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, commander of the Spanish army and founder of St.
Augustine, was impressed with the St. Johns River. In 1596, he made a note in
his diary: "The river seems to be full of goodly fish, and the forest inhabited
by all kinds of birds and beasts, the meat of which is quite tasty."
Later, the river was renamed Rio de San Juan after a Catholic mission near its
mouth named San Juan del Puerto. The English translated that name into the St.
Johns River, a name that lasted through English, Confederate and American
possession of the river and remains today.
'A brief place of time and beauty'
The flow of the St. Johns River is strengthened south of Lake Harney by the
confluence of the Econolockatchee River in Seminole County. After Lake Harney,
the St. Johns begins a transformation. Banks become better defined and a
recognizable river is formed that flows north of Sanford into lakes Jesup and
In her 1942 book Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wrote of this area. "If I
could have, to hold forever, one brief place of time and beauty, I think I might
choose the night on the high lonely bank above the St. Johns River," she wrote.
These lonely banks mark the beginning of the river's middle basin. This area has
historically been prized for its bass fishing, and boasts a diverse bird
population that includes egrets, ibis and great blue herons, ospreys, turkeys,
cranes and a sizeable population of bald eagles. Deer and a large number of
alligators reside in protected areas here along the river's banks.
One of these protected lands is the Lake Monroe Conservation Area. Owned by the
St. Johns River Water Management District, 94 percent of the conservation area
is wetlands that constitute the majority of the floodplain of Lake Monroe. The
District has many properties open to the public and allows recreational
activities on these lands whenever such activities don't pose a threat to
protected water resources. The Lake Monroe Conservation Area allows hiking,
fishing, horseback riding, bicycling, camping and boating in designated areas.
North of Lake Monroe, the winding waterway consolidates and continues,
straddling the county lines of Lake and Volusia counties. South of Lake
Beresford, the river meets Blue Springs State Park, the ancient home of the
Timucuan Indians and one of the modern-day homes of some of Florida's manatees.
The banks of the river still display artifacts and mounds of discarded snail
shells left by the Indians centuries ago.
Beyond Blue Springs, the river enters a region of Florida famed for its
resemblance to the Florida of legend. As the river runs through the Ocala
National Forest and feeds into the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, it
feeds wet prairies, ponds and lakes. The Ocala National Forest is a landmark of
Florida, being the most heavily visited of the state's three national forests.
Regardless of its popularity, this part of the river offers a sense of solitude
that is not easily paralleled. The land is lined with towering palms, large live
oaks and scrubby sand pines. Behind the tree line, bobcats, panthers and black
bears roam. The contiguous landscape goes on unspoiled for miles in every
Highway of the centuries
Traveling through Ocala, one can more easily imagine the sense of adventure and
awe that must have overtaken the first Europeans to see the region. Two of the
most famous explorers of the river were John and William Bartram. In 1763, King
George III sent the two to explore Florida, which England had recently acquired.
William Bartram published his book Travels as a result, detailing his
exploration of the river as far south as Lake Harney.
In 1765, William Bartram wrote of the stretch of the river in what is now the
Ocala National Forest. "...blessed land where the gods have amassed into one
heap all the flowering plants, birds, fish and other wildlife of two continents
in order to turn the rushing streams, the silent lake shores and the awe-abiding
woodlands of this mysterious land into a true garden of Eden," he wrote.
Here the river creates Lake George, the largest lake on the St. Johns River.
Though it is large -- 12 miles long and six miles wide -- the lake is remarkably
shallow, averaging only about 10 feet throughout. The water of Lake George is
also variably brackish, or high in salt content. This is because the river flows
so slowly it is influenced by the tide from the Atlantic Ocean for hundreds of
miles upstream. In years when little rain has fallen, sharks have been seen in
the river as far south as Lake George.
Past Lake George, the St. Johns River goes through yet another transformation.
It exits Volusia County and enters Putnam County, running along the Marion
County line for a few miles. In Putnam County, the St. Johns River widens where
it meets the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary that meets the St. Johns.
Here, the river enters its lower basin.
After the St. Johns meets the Ocklawaha River, it flows along the Caravelle
Ranch Wildlife Management Area for several miles. Jointly owned by the District
and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the area helps the
restoration of these two major rivers and protects threatened and endangered
species. The hammock islands are favored nesting sites for bald eagles.
Other significant wildlife species found here include alligator, gopher
tortoise, eastern indigo snake, spotted turtle, Florida black bear, little blue
and tri-colored heron, snowy egret, southeastern kestrel and limpkin. In the St.
Johns River, manatee and snail bullhead can be seen as the river continues its
half-completed journey north.
Several miles downstream, the St. Johns River runs through the city of Palatka.
Originally named Pilotaikita, a Seminole word for "boat crossing," the area has
been used for hundreds of years as a transportation hub on the river.
Transportation has always been an important use of the St. Johns River. When
William Bartram sailed down the river, he stopped briefly at an Indian village
on the very spot where Palatka is located. Into the 1830s, the area was a
trading post, until Fort Shannon was built there in 1935 to secure the strategic
location during the Seminole Indian Wars. In the 1850s, Palatka became a port of
entry into the interior of the state. Steamboats brought tourism and were vital
to the city's economy until the 1920s.
Modern ships still traverse the river. Cruise lines, recreational boats and
commercial shipping are interwoven into the river's economy.
North of Palatka, ships on the St. Johns River see a much more expansive river
as it continues. As the river straddles the St. Johns County line, leaving
Putnam County for Clay County, it widens considerably, averaging up to two miles
across. Standing on one of these ships one sees the St. Johns for what it is, a
powerful and steady force of nature.
A beginning and an end
On the west shore of the river between Palatka and Jacksonville lies the
District's Bayard Conservation Area. For roughly seven miles, the river is
bordered with riverine bottomland hardwoods, pine flatwoods and sandhill
communities. Woodland birds, such as warblers and woodpeckers, share the area
with an assortment of creatures.
The river crosses out of St. Johns County and then Clay County and completely
enters Duval County and the heart of Jacksonville. This is the largest city in
Florida and, like Palatka, was founded with the river as its primary asset. The
U.S. Navy presently has several bases in Jacksonville along the river,
contributing greatly to the local economy. Additionally, gypsum, oil depots, and
a variety of commercial traffic strengthen the city's economy.
In Jacksonville, the river turns sharply to the east toward the Atlantic Ocean,
only a few miles away. Here, the river is always a mix of fresh and salt water,
making the St. Johns River more an estuary than a freshwater body.
An estuary is a place where freshwater meets salt water, and is home to an
extraordinary diversity of life. The beauty and diversity of this region is
punctuated by sandy barrier islands, inlets and a combination of sounds, rivers
and extensive coastal marshes.
As it leaves Jacksonville and runs along the spot Fort Caroline stood long ago,
the St. Johns River meets the Intracoastal Waterway, forming an expanse of
marshes with fluctuating depths. Due to the fact the mouth of the river was
often shallow, jetties were built here at the end of the 19th century, allowing
Jacksonville to become a viable ocean-going port. Jetties are pier-like
structures that project into a body of water to influence the current or tide or
to protect a shoreline from storms or erosion. Improvements through the 20th
century have prevented erosion along the river.
After passing Mayport, the longest river contained in the state of Florida ends
its journey where it spills into the Atlantic Ocean. Over its length of hundreds
of miles, it has collected runoff from thousands of square miles of land. But
here, things don't seem to be measured in miles or gallons. Where the ocean
envelops the St. Johns River with a docile embrace, the sky and the ocean seem
to stretch on endlessly.
As the sun sets over Florida, the water cycle continues. It is likely that some
of the unfathomable amount of molecules gushing into the ocean will rise into
the sky and fall into the St. Johns' watershed again. The resources offered by
the river will continue to sustain Florida's residents in many ways. With
responsible human stewardship, the beauty, tradition and abundance of this great
river will flow on.