Florida – Ascending St. John’s River

The St. John’s is the great river of Florida, rising in the region of lakes, swamps and savannahs in the lower peninsula, and flowing northward four hundred miles to Jacksonville, then turning eastward to the ocean. It comes through a low and level region, with mostly a sluggish current; is bordered by dense foliage, and in its northern portion is a series of lagoons varying in width from one to six miles. The river is navigable fully two hundred miles above Jacksonville. The earlier portion of the journey is monotonous, the shores being distant and the landings made at long piers jutting out over the shallows from the villages and plantations. At Mandarin is the orange grove which was formerly the winter home of Harriet Beecher Stowe; Magnolia amid the pines is a resort for consumptives ; and nearby is Green Cove Springs, having a large sulphur spring of medicinal virtue. In all directions stretch the pine forests ; and the river water, while clear and sparkling in the sunlight, is colored a dark amber from the swamps whence it comes. The original Indian name of this river was We-la-ka, or a ” chain of lakes,” the literal meaning, in the figurative idea of the savage, being ” the water has its own way.” It broadens into various bays, and at one of these, about seventy-five miles south 6f Jacksonville, is the chief town of the upper river, Palatka, having about thirty-five hundred inhabitants and a much greater winter population. It is largely a Yankee town, shipping oranges and early vegetables to the North; and across the river, just above, is one of the leading orange plantations of Florida—Colonel Hart’s, a Vermonter who came here dying of consumption, but lived to become, in his time, the leading fruit-grower of the State. Above Palatka the river is narrower, excepting where it may broaden into a lake; the foliage is greener, the shores more swampy, the wild-fowl more frequent, and the cypress tree more general. The young “cypress knees” can be seen starting up along the swampy edge of the shore, looking like so many champagne bottles set to cool in the water. The river also becomes quite crooked, and here is an ancient Spanish and Indian settlement, well named Welaka, opposite which flows in the weird Ocklawaha River, the haunt of the alligator and renowned as the crookedest stream on the continent.