Hanna City Park, Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is a public beach and city park near Mayport and Jacksonville Beach. It’s 447 acres of mature coastal hammock, which is rare to find along Florida’s heavily developed Atlantic coast. Part of the park was known as Manhattan Beach, Florida’s fist beach community for African Americans during the segregation period of the US. It started in 1900 by blacks working on the Florida East Coast Railway and flourished until 1940. The park has a very nice camp ground, hiking trails, off road bike trails and a fresh water lake.
While in the area I spent a lot of time exploring the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve which includes Fort Caroline, Dutton Island , Kingsley Plantation and the Theodore Roosevelt Area.
For thousands of years the native people depended on the rich natural resources of the St Johns Estuary. These pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus arrived) natives made contact with the first European (French) arrivals to the area in the mid-1500s and are known as the Timucuans. The Timucuans offered food to the French and helped the strange newcomers build Fort Caroline. The natives did not long survive contact with the Europeans. When the Spanish arrived (and drove out the French), they imposed their own culture on them through the Mission system. The natives had no immunity to the European diseases and were wiped out 100 years later.
Fort Caroline was built in 1564 by the French, mostly Huguenots (protestants). King Phillip II of Spain (Catholic) viewed the French as heretics and in 1565 captured Ft Caroline and massacred the French. The French recaptured the fort in 1568 and the Spanish took over again. “La Florida” would remain in Spanish control for the next 200 years. It was the first time European nations fought for control of lands in what would become the United States and it would not be the last!
Kingsley Plantation: Florida’s Oldest Plantation Home
Kingsley Plantation by built by slaves in 1798 as the centerpiece of a massive plantation on Fort George Island. Florida was then a Spanish colony and the plantation was symbolic of many such that developed in the extreme northeast corner of the future state. American planters came across the border from Georgia looking for rich lands where they could grow cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, corn and other crops.
A unique structure, the Kingsley Plantation House actually shows that considerable thought went into its design and construction. Built with numerous angles and numerous windows, the house was designed so that windows could be opened in all directions to let breezes blow through to bring comfort to the residents inside.
The front of the home faces the Fort George River, a common feature of many plantation houses. The river, not the road, was then the focal point of the farm and the primary route of transportation and communication for the farm. Schooners and barges were loaded there with Sea Island cotton and other crops for transport to market.
In 1814 the plantation became the home of Zephaniah Kingsley and his African wife, Anta (Anna) Madgigine Jai. A planter who came to Florida in 1803, Kingsley married Anna after purchasing her as a slave in Cuba in 1806. He legally freed both her and their children in 1811.
The Kingsley family prospered under Florida’s Spanish government. Anna was her husband’s partner in the operation of the farm and she also owned land and slaves of her own.
Things changed in 1821 when the United States gained possession of Florida. Laws were implemented greatly restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Zephaniah Kingsley fought against such
laws. Despite the fact that he owned slaves, he was an early proponent of treating people according to their abilities, not their color.
He debated with lawmakers over the civil liberties of free blacks and even wrote a major treatise on the subject. By the 1830s, however, the situation became intolerable for the Kingsleys and they decided to leave the country.
Giving 50 of his slaves their legal freedom, Zephaniah Kingsley relocated them along with Anna and their two sons to Haiti, which had become a free black republic following a bloody revolution. He died in 1843, but was long survived by Anna who eventually came back to Florida where she died in the 1870s.
The Kingsley Plantation is now maintained by the National Park Service. (Info taken from the website).
Theodore Roosevelt Area and the Willie Brown Nature Preserve (no, not the politican Willie Brown)
The nature preserve is miles of thickly wooded peaceful nature trails, vast grassland that supports both water and land animals, ancient piles of discarded oyster shells which yield clues about an extinct culture, and the legacy of preservation bequeathed to all by this property’s last private owner, Willie Browne.
In 1960 Willie gave seven acres of land along Mt. Pleasant Road to the Campfire Girls organization for a place to build a campground and lodge. During the last years of his life Willie struggled to keep his property. Though real estate developers eagerly offered him millions of dollars for his property, Willie refused to sell. “Money cannot buy happiness and this place makes me happy,” Willie once said. Willie worried that there would come a time when Jacksonville would be so densely populated and developed that no wild areas would remain where people could enjoy the natural beauty of “Old Florida.”
In 1969 Willie Browne donated all his land to The Nature Conservancy with the stipulation that it or any future owner would keep the land in its natural state. Willie requested that the property be named for his hero, former president Theodore Roosevelt. In December 1970, Willie Browne died alone in his cabin, content that he had done everything possible to nurture, conserve, and protect the gift of land bequeathed to him by his father. With his passing, Willie bequeathed his conservation values and his precious gift to all of us, for all time. Thank you Willie!
“A Behanding in Spokane” was playing at the Players by the Sea theatre in Jax Beach. The play was a little weird. About a man that had his hand cut off by gangsters and spent the rest of his life cutting off hands and looking for his hand. It was mildly entertaining.
Next stop St Augustine, Florida.