Monday, September 16, 2013

After going to Putnam County’s Bartram Trails Workshop earlier this summer, I thought I’d go find Bartram myself.  I set off one day last week to follow the driving map put out by Putnam’s Trails and have a bit of an adventure that Bartram might have appreciated.

First stop: Downtown Palatka!

Both John and William Bartram visited Palatka while cruising down the St. Johns River. They apparently stopped for some watermelon sponsored by the locals and learned just one of these reasons that Florida is so great: 

Mr. McLatchie invite me with him on a visit to an Indian town [Palatka] about twelve miles distant from the trading-house to regale ourselves at a feast of watermelons and oranges, the Indians having brought a canoe load of them to the trading-house the day preceding, which they disposed of to the traders.   

This was a circumstance pretty extraordinary to me, it being late in September, a season of the year when the citruels [watermelons] are ripe and gone in Georgia and Carolina.  But here the weather yet continued hot and sultry, and consequently this cool, exhilarating fruit was still high in relish and estimation. 

If you visit, make sure you check out the murals downtown, one featuring Bartram’s Ixea, a flower he named in his travels through Florida.

Second Stop: Ravine Gardens State Park

Ravine Gardens is always one of my favorite places to visit in Putnam County. The ravine is a naturally formed crater with lots of trails through it and bridges across it. The park also has a driving path around the rim, allowing for great accessibility for all.

Third stop: Welaka Vineyard

In the true nature of the Bartram’s exploring spirit, when I saw a sign for a vineyard, I pulled over! I found rows and rows of muscadine grapes, a Florida native.

In fact, William Bartram came across them in his travels in the area too, though I think I’ll opt to disagree with him about the grape’s taste!

“It is really astonishing to behold the Grape-Vines in this place. From their bulk and strength, one would imagine, they were combined to pull down these mighty trees, to the earth, when in fact, amongst other good purposes, they serve to uphold them: they are frequently nine, ten, and twelve inches in diameter, and twine round the trunks of the trees, climb to their very tops, and then spread along their limbs, from tree to tree, throughout the forest; the fruit is but small and ill tasted.”

Fourth Stop: Mount Royal
Mount Royal is a great archaeological site in Putnam County. The site features a huge mound and a Spanish Mission occupation. Some of our earliest documents of the site are from the William Bartram’s notebooks.

About noon we landed at Mount-Royal, and went to an Indian tumulus, which was about 100 yards in diameter, nearly round, and near 20 foot high, found some bones scattered on it, it must be very ancient, as live-oaks are growing upon it three foot in diameter; what a prodigious multitude of Indians must have laboured to raise it? To what height we can’t say, as it must have settled much in such a number of years, and it is surprizing where they brought the sand from, and how, as they had nothing but baskets or bowls to carry it in...

The site is nestled in the middle of an airpark neighborhood but is open to the public. There’s even a guest book for visitors to sign! Check out our blog post about the site to learn more about the mound.

The ride home...
Heading back home through St. Johns County, I decided to try a new route for me, but one that the William Bartram might be proud of...

 State Road 13 weaves along the St. Johns River from 207 up into Julington Creek. The drive is peaceful and beautiful, with old oak trees, pine flats and marshes. I think I might have gotten a glimpse of the Florida the Bartrams' knew and loved so many years ago.

To learn more about the Bartram Trail in Putnam County, visit their website.

Texts and Photos: Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff

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