See Rock City

See Rock City

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Palatka, FL

 City Hall

Palatka is a city in Putnam County, Florida, United States. The population was 10,033at the 2000 census. As of 2004, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 10,796. It is the county seat of Putnam County and includes East Palatka. The city is home to St. Johns River Community College and Ravine Gardens State Park and hosts a bluegrass music festival twice a year.

Gas stations on Road 15 : Putnam County, Florida



Bird's-eye View in c. 1880

The area was once the domain of the Timucuan nation, two tribes of which existed in the Palatka region under chiefs Saturiwa and Utina. They fished bass and mullets, or hunted deer, turkeys, bear and opossum. Others farmed beans, corn, melons, squash and tobacco. But war and disease devastated the tribes. Florida would then be taken over by the Seminole, who called the location Pilo-taikita, meaning boat (pilo) ford (taikita), or "boat crossing." Here the St. Johns River narrows and begins a shallower, winding course upstream to Lake George and Lake Monroe.

View of the Charles Boyd home : Palatka, Florida

Because of the Treaty of Paris, control of Florida changed in 1763 from Spain to England. In 1767, Denys Rolle, an English philanthropist and nobleman, established Rollestown on the east bank of the St. Johns River at the head of deep water navigation. His 78,000 acre (320 km²) plantation was a utopian commercial and humanitarian experiment, recruiting settlers off the streets of London, including paupers, vagrants, pickpockets and "penitent prostitutes." Two hundred indentured servants arrived to clear wilderness for agriculture and livestock. Unaccustomed to either hard work or a subtropical climate, however, they scattered. Rolle next imported slaves from West Africa to tend chickens, hogs, goats and sheep, or produce cotton, indigo, citrus and turpentine for export to England. A mansion was built and a village laid out, but trouble beleaguered the "ideal society." In 1770, a disgruntled overseer sold over 1,000 of his employer's cattle and disappeared with the money. Rolle hired new overseers and bought more slaves, but the plantation remained unprosperous. When Spain resumed control of Florida in 1783, Rolle abandoned the colony and chartered a ship to carry his household belongings, livestock and slaves to a 2,000 acre (8 km²) estate on Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The point in East Palatka, however, is still called Rollestown.

View of Florida Furniture Product's building : Palatka, Florida

With changes of sovereignty in Florida came numerous changes of ownership in Pilatka, as Pilo-taikita was first contracted. In 1774, naturalist William Bartram noted an Indian village on the west bank, but it would vanish. After the United States acquired Florida in 1821, Nehemiah Brush established a ferry and bought a 1,200 acre (4.9 km²) tract in 1826 and then an equal number in 1827. The site became a distribution point, where goods were shipped by a New York company to supply immigrants at the Grant of Arredondo, which lay to the west.

Hiawatha on the Oklawaha River, 1918

Hart Line's "Hiawatha" steamboat carrying passengers, 1919

The infusion of American settlers, however, created hostility among the Seminole people. When the government attempted to relocate the tribe starting in 1833, the Second Seminole War began. Pilatka was attacked and burned in 1835. Recognizing the site's strategic importance for control of the St. Johns River, the main artery into Central Florida, the military in 1838 established Fort Shannon, named for Captain Samuel Shannon. It included a garrison, supply depot and hospital. During 1842 the Seminole were driven from the area, and consequently Fort Shannon was abandoned by the army in 1843. But the piers and buildings it had erected (including 8 blockhouses, 5 of which burned in a fire of 1855) would spur development of the town. By 1847, it was growing rapidly. In 1849, Putnam County was created, with Pilatka the county seat. With the help of Judge Isaac H. Bronson, whose house in now a museum, it was incorporated a city in 1853.

Steamer Hiawatha in 1905

During the 1850s, Florida in general and Pilatka in particular gained a reputation as a haven for invalids escaping northern winters. Steamboats carried them up the river in increasing numbers. One visitor wrote that amusements included "sailing, fishing, rowing, walking, riding in buggy and on horseback, whist, enchre, backgammon and hunting." The trend was interrupted by the Civil War, when gunboats cruised the waters and Pilatka was destitute and largely deserted. On October 7, 1862, the USS Cimarron fired several shells over the town after seeing some Confederate cavalry. Mary Boyd pleaded with Union Commander Maxwell Woodhull to spare Pilatka, assuring him that the horse soldiers were not residents. He complied. Following the rebellion, tourists returned to find new hotels, including the Putnam House and the Larkin House. Steamers ran up the Ocklawaha River to Eustis, Leesburg and Silver Springs, or the St. Johns River to Enterprise and Sanford. Industries included logging, raising cattle and hogs, and orange groves. On May 24, 1875, the post office changed the spelling to Palatka, ending confusion with Picolata.

Mule drawn street railroad car

By the 1880s, several competing railroads crossed the community, which became an important junction. These included the Florida Southern Railroad, the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad, the St. Augustine and Palatka Railway, and the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad. But on November 7, 1884, Palatka suffered a devastating fire. Guests arrived that season to find no accommodations, and so continued on the train south -- the beginning of a gradual tourism shift elsewhere. It would also lose trade, shipping and transportation preeminence to Jacksonville. Nevertheless, with its downtown rebuilt in brick to be fireproof, Palatka emerged a finer place.

Winter in Florida, 1893

In 1893, A. E. and H. S. Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan bought the Noah J. Tilghman & Son sawmill, which manufactured cypress lumber. Renamed the Wilson Cypress Company, it expanded operations and became a major employer. At its peak, it was the second largest cypress mill in the world, but closed in 1944. The Great Freeze of 1894 and 1895 destroyed Palatka's citrus groves for 5 years, which were formerly a major attraction. The ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal was once intended to pass the city. Today, tourism remains important.

View of Union Railroad Station : Palatka, Florida

Notable residents:

Isaac H. Bronson, judge & congressman

Pop Lloyd, baseball player

William Dunn Moseley, first governor of the state of Florida

Joseph Stilwell, general

Jarvis Williams, football player

John L. Williams, football player

Michelle McCool, American professional wrestler

Willie Offord, football player

Alexander Strausz, cartographer, school superintendent, engineer and brewer

Johnny Tillotson, American singer, songwriter

Sites of interest:

Angel's Diner (Florida's Oldest Diner)

Old Atlantic Coast Line Union Depot, home of the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society

Bronson-Mulholland House (1854), home of the Putnam County Historical Society & Museum

Central Academy

Larimer Memorial Library

Palatka North Historic District

Palatka South Historic District

Ravine Gardens State Park

St. Mark's Episcopal Church

External links:

City of Palatka

Palatka Daily News

Palatka Florida Community News

Palatka Bluegrass Festival

Placing the cornerstone : Palatka, Florida, 1916

Larkin House in c. 1880

Second Street in 1880

Street scene : Palatka, Florida, 1916

Articulated train of the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad Company, 1915

Bird's eye view of park and city hall : Palatka, Florida, 1915

Looking north along River street : Palatka, Florida, 1914

Looking down Lemon street : Palatka, Florida, 1914

River Street, from a 1913 postcard

Saratoga Hotel building : Palatka, Florida, 1911

General view of the skyline at the waterfront part of the city : Palatka, Florida, 1910

Fountain in front of office

Putnam House hotel : Palatka, Florida, 1908

Protection of citrus against weather : East Palatka, Florida,1905

Advertising card for the Ocklawaha and Saint Johns Navigation Company

Collapse of railroad bridge : Palatka, Florida, 1903

Colonel H.L. Hart's garden, 1890

The Gray family in front of their home, 1890