Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A view from Fort Caroline

To celebrate National Parks Week, we decided to highlight one National Park per day from our region.  Today's park is a doozy--Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve.  Quite a name, right?  The preserve lives up to it, with three sites that explore major cultural impacts on the area.

Recreation of a Timucuan structure and dwelling area

The first of these culture groups left its mark throughout the area, but may be most evident at our first stop--Cedar Point.  The Timucuan people and their ancestors lived in northeast Florida for about 6,000 years.  They left behind shell middens (trash heaps) and even structures like shell rings and mounds.  Visitors can glimpse remnants of these shell deposits throughout the preserve.

Entrance to the Ft. Caroline National Memorial

Our next stop, chronologically speaking, is Fort Caroline National Memorial.  Fort Caroline was the first outpost established by France in their attempt to create a presence in the new world.  Built in 1564, the site saw immense hardship early on and was shortlived.  Little more than a year after Fort Caroline came into being, Pedro Menendez established St. Augustine.  The French and Spanish immediately pursued one another in battle.  Ultimately, Fort Caroline was destroyed and the French were driven away.

Replica Cannon at Fort Caroline National Memorial

Despite the persistence of local archaeologists, the original Fort Caroline has never been discovered.  Some speculate that it has been lost to the St. Johns River.  This memorial was built from historical maps and documents.

Our final stop, and my personal favorite, is at Kingsley Plantation.  Located on Fort George Island, this site was a plantation for about 150 years.  It is named for Zephaniah Kingsley, who owned the land for 25 years.  During his tenure, his slaves built the tabby slave cabins and tabby barn that can still be seen today. 

Slave cabin excavation under way during a UF field school.

Like the other sites in the preserve, Kingsley has great historical interpretation and beautiful views.  But it also has active excavation.  For each of the past four years, the University of Florida has carried out fieldwork to learn more about the enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation.  Some of their discoveries have been interpreted on signage near the cabins, but if you visit the park during the early summer you may just get to see some archaeology in action!

Each part of the preserve features beautiful wildlife and fascinating pieces of northeast Florida's past.  But don't take my word for it--go see for yourself!

For directions and to learn more about the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, visit:   http://www.nps.gov/foca/index.htm

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