Charlie Bennett Found His Park!: Establishing Ft. Caroline & the Timucuan Preserve

Congressman Bennett stands in front of Fort Caroline National Memorial fort exhibit
Congressman Bennett speaking at Fort Caroline, 1971.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (NPS Photo)

By Kaelyn Garard, University of North Florida Intern at Timucuan Preserve
Mr. Clean
Charles "Charlie" E. Bennett was Florida's longest serving Congressman, representing Northeast Florida for 21 consecutive Congresses from 1949 to1993. He moved to Jacksonville around the age of 18 and attended the University of Florida, where he graduated with a law degree in 1934 and opened his own practice in Jacksonville. He served on the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1941. He soon resigned from his position to serve in World War II. He came home a war hero with the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Combat Infantry Badge, and also polio he contracted in the Philippines. As a U.S. Representative elected in 1949, Bennett served as first chair on the Congressional Ethics Committee and spearheaded efforts to institute a House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the "Code of Ethics for Government Service." For these actions against government corruption, Bennett earned a reputation and nickname as "Mr. Ethics" or "Mr. Clean."
La Caroline & Mr. Clean
Charlie Bennett always had an interest in history that sprang from a love of nature, which he learned from his parents.
This interest in science and nature led me to look to the history of the places where these things occurred. We used to take trips to Indian middens….I then had a thorough introduction to history. We liked to travel and take little trips to the museums and old buildings in southern Florida as well as northern Florida. I guess all of that gave me a taste for seeking knowledge of a historical nature. (University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program)
Bennett's love affair with the story of Fort Caroline began when he first moved to Jacksonville. His career goal was to become a public servant and the only proper way to represent the people was to have knowledge of the area, so he began research and discovered the rich history of the French and Fort Caroline. He dug into the primary resources and authored several books on the French colony.
Congressman Bennett is credited with the establishment of Fort Caroline as a National Memorial under the administration and jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1950. Bennett had his hand in a number of previous legislative attempts to create the site before his own time as a Congressman. Bennett's bill faced the same obstacles as prior legislation –the lack of funding for the project and general rejection of the fort's national significance. Determined to solve financial obstructions, Bennett lobbied, fundraised, and donated monies to fund the project himself. He raised and personally donated a total of $40,000 to purchase the land and donated it to the National Park Service. Ultimately, Mr. Clean prevailed, the Secretary of the Interior, Oscar Chapman, signed into order Fort Caroline National Memorial on January 16, 1953.

Last updated: July 17, 2020

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