Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve

Wooden shackles circa 1810-1835
Wooden shackles circa 1810-1835 from the Kingsley Plantation

NPS

Quick Facts

Location:
Jacksonville, Florida
Significance:
protects the area where the St. Johns and Nassau rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean and form one of the largest remaining salt marsh estuaries on the Southeast Coast
Designation:
Ecological and Historical Preserve
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve was named in honor of the Timucua who inhabited the St. Johns River valley for thousands of years and were settled in the area at the time of first contact with Europeans. The modern-day history of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve begins with Fort Caroline National Memorial, authorized as a national park unit in 1950 to commemorate the 16th-century French effort to establish a permanent colony in present-day Florida. In 1988, legislation was enacted to establish Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve to be administered jointly with Fort Caroline National Memorial, which is within the boundary of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

By enacting the 1988 legislation, Congress established protection for one of the remaining unspoiled Atlantic coastal wetlands and prehistoric and historic sites in the area. Today, the Preserve encompasses 46,000 acres of diverse biological systems within the city limits of Jacksonville, the largest city in area in the continental United States. The St. Johns River, which passes through the Preserve, has been recognized as both an American Heritage River and as an America’s Great Water. With over 200 archeological sites providing evidence of over 6,000 years of human habitation, as well as numerous historic structures, the park offers a rich visitor experience in the natural and cultural history of the area.

Much of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is an estuary. Estuaries form transition zones between ocean environments and river environments and are subject to marine influences, such as tides, and waves, and riverine influences, such as flows of fresh water and sediment. The inflow of both seawater and freshwater makes estuaries some of the most productive natural habitats in the world. The diverse biological systems within the park consist primarily of estuarine ecosystems, including salt marshes, coastal dunes, and upland hardwood hammocks, and salt, fresh, and brackish waters. The Preserve is also designated as an Outstanding Florida Water. The ecological zones in the Preserve serve as habitat for pods of dolphins, flocks of migratory birds, and a number of rare or sensitive species such as the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle, the West Indian manatee, the wood stork, and the bald eagle. Visitors experience these natural areas through walking trails and fishing and boating areas.

Inhabited for over 6,000 years, the area contains archeological sites that illustrate one of the oldest and longest periods of human habitation in the Southeast region of the United States. Shell middens and ceremonial shell rings serve as archeological evidence of early American Indian occupation of the region and provide insight into the lives of the Timucua and other pre-European contact civilizations. The history of French, Spanish, English, Union, and Confederate control of the area has also been documented and interpreted for visitors. The history of human interaction with the estuarine environment as told by the prehistoric and historic sites serves as a background for interpreting the modern day uses and management of the local area. 

Throughout its expanse, the Preserve encompasses a diverse variety of sites and structures that tell a number of unique stories. The Ribault Monument consists of a stone column memorial commemorating the landing of Jean Ribault near the mouth of the St. Johns River in 1562. Ribault erected a stone column bearing the coat of arms of King Charles IX to claim the land for France

The 600-acre Theodore Roosevelt Area was opened for public use in 1990 and is experienced through hiking and bicycle trails. In 1997, the Cedar Point boat ramp area was added to the park. This area is a launch site for private boats and provides fishing and bird-watching opportunities.

Kingsley Plantation is a 60-acre National park Service site nestled alongside the Fort George River in the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. It is home to one of the most extensive collections of tabby slave quarters in the nation. Twenty-five out of an original 32 slave cabins are available for visitors to examine. The historic site also boasts a ban, kitchen house, and planation house- all dating from Spanish Florida’s period of slavery and planation agriculture. Kingsley Planation represents a microcosm of both Spanish and American slave systems, as illsutrated by the lives of Zephaniah Kinsley and Anna, his Senegalese wife.

Archeological finds at the site have revealed clues into the lives of the enslaved people, from their religious beliefs to their daily routines. Unlike other southern plantations, Kinglsey Plantation operated under a “task system” in which enslaved workers were given daily tasks to complete. Once finished, they spend the rest of their day working in personal gardens, patching clothes, hunting or fishing. In 1821, Florida changed hands and became an American territory. Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave owner himself, protested against the restrictive racial laws of the United States in1828, accusing the American laws of a spirit of intolerant prejudice. Kingsley Plantation is representative of the interactions between European, African, and Native American cultures, as well as the evolution of those relationships through time. Its buildings and landscape stand as a testament to the perseverance and strength of the human spirit.

The Kingsley Plantation was operated as a Florida state park until 1991, when it was brought under management of the Preserve. The historic district includes a 1798 plantation house, tabby cabin ruins, and slave cemetery. American Beach on Amelia Island preserves and protects one of the last remaining examples of a beach resort established by and for African Americans during the Jim Crow era of segregation. American Beach is home to Nana, one of the tallest coastal sand dunes on the Southeast Atlantic Coast. In order to better tell the diverse stories, the Preserve works in partnership with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and the Network to Freedom organization. Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve owns a number of uninhabited islands and other remote areas that are mostly unused by visitors.

Federal ownership amounts to 8,430 acres, just 18% of the Preserve. Other landowners include state and city parks, as well as over 300 private land and homeowners.