Fort Caroline National Memorial is a unit of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, a U.S. national park site. It memorializes the short-term presence of French settlers in 16th century Florida. Its heritage is full of stories of exploration, survival, territorial battles, religious disputes, and first contact between American Indians and Europeans.
The site chronicles the unsuccessful attempts by the French to colonize Florida and memorializes the lives and deaths of 16th-century French colonists from the first trip in 1562 by French explorer Jean Ribault, a Huguenot, to Laudonniere’s founding of a Huguenot settlement at la Caroline on June 22, 1564 and the famine in 1565 followed by Ribault's second expedition in 1565 that resulted in disasters related to conflict with the Spanish from St. Augustine that resulted in destruction of Fort Caroline and Ribault’s death. When the Spanish took Fort Caroline in 1565, they destroyed it. In retaliation, De Gourgue’s expedition in 1567 later captured two Spanish forts and massacred the Spanish in late April 1568. De Gourgue left Florida in May.
The first replica fort at Fort Caroline National Memorial was built in 1964 and destroyed by Hurricane Dora later that same year. What remains today is a 1/3 scale replacement replica of the original fort.
The place to start your tour is at the Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center (TPVC) which has an exhibit "Where the Waters Meet" that showcases the richness of the environment in northeast Florida and how humans have interacted with this environment for some 6000 years.
The National Parks Passport Cancellation Station is located at the TPVC bookstore.
Admission to this national park site is FREE.
There are several trails for hiking. Two lead to the fort which is at the bottom of the hill from the TPVC. The trail from the parking lot is longer and steeper. The more direct trail out behind the TPVC passes a dock where boaters can tie up and visit the fort. You will also see a replica of a Timucuan chickee, a thatched hut.
Once down at the fort, you can read all the info boards and markers as you walk around. I was surprised to see that the riverfront part of this fort was basically a stockade fence built with large angled support posts set at intervals for support of the fence sections. I was also struck by how open the fort was and how low the riverfront wall was. In one section, the fence was only mid-chest height, and I’m 5’7” tall. The replica cannons were nice. The fort provides picturesque views of the St. Johns River.
Another part of the Fort Caroline National Memorial is the Ribault Monument. It is situated atop St. Johns Bluff. It commemorates the 1562 landing of Jean Ribault near the mouth of the St. Johns River. See my separate review of this attraction.
Another part the Fort Caroline National Memorial is Spanish Pond. Five hundred Spanish soldiers marched four days through marsh, forest tangle, fierce winds, and heavy rainfall to an encampment near here. This is where Menendez and his men camped, exhausted and weary, the night before the attack and capture of Fort Caroline. Today, Spanish Pond's boardwalk and trail provide a chance for a walk. It connects you to more trails through pine flatwoods, oak hammock, and tidal marsh in the neighboring Theodore Roosevelt Area. Spanish Pond is located across from the entrance to Fort Caroline National Memorial. It is open 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM daily. I hiked part of the trail with some young college fellows. It was an easy hike.
Other units of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve include:
- Ribault Club that was built in 1928 and is a monument to the resort era on Fort George Island. It's open Wednesday to Sunday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
- Theodore Roosevelt Area which is a 600-acre area of hardwood forest, wetlands, and scrub vegetation. It is also rich in cultural history. There are a number of hiking trails.
- Kingsley Plantation which provides a look back at slavery and 1800’s Southern plantation life.
When one explores all the units of the national park, it becomes a five-star attraction.
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