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A Snap-Shot of Palatka

The Florida Review


Within the last thirty-two years of our sojourn in the Land of Flowers and Sunshine it has been our province to visit the town site of Palatka very many times. We have rarely missed a year since 1879 from paying our respects to its beautiful and pleasing locality.

Our first recollection of Palatka was in the fall of 1879 or early spring of 1880. The river pier was the most conspicuous part of the town, as there were very few business blocks that marked the town to be anything like a market of commercial importance. The town then had a magnet for tourists, being the headquarters of the Hart’s line of stern-wheel steamers that plied the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers.

Many were compelled to stop over in the town to make the never-to-be-forgotten trip up that noted, meandering, wild and weird stream to the most beautiful Springs in the state. The palatial steamers that plied the majestic St. Johns from Jacksonville to Sanford made daily stops at Palatka, on which occasion it seemed al the town’s population were on the dock to see and to welcome the only occurrence that ever broke the dull thug of monotony which took possession during the interval of the day. Nearly every residence was a boarding house, and they, with the one or two small hotels, were surrounded with trees, shrubs, flowers and semi-tropical verdure.

The scene, as I recall it, was an orange grove paradise with many palmetto trees on its streets, intermingles with curiosity shops exhibiting for sale ever known thing that could be made attractive; shells from the East and West Indies, sea beans and alligator teeth in every shape as ornaments; woods of every kind from all over the world made into walking sticks and birds of every hue, egret and red flamingo, and alligators of every size for sale, alive or stuffed.

As we recall the winters of the eighties and early nineties, the town showed signs of rapid and vigorous prosperity, with every evidence of being a close rival of its slow neighbor, Jacksonville.

The distance from Jacksonville to Palatka is about fifty-five miles. The railroad journey is uneventful, although there are ten stations or stopping places, but only one of significance marks the distance, Green Cove Springs, of which we will have something to note in a future edition.

Only the zealous student of nature could extract substance from which to draw admiration. To the untrained eye it is one barren, uncultivated forest with here and there an oasis of green clearing that marks the home of a railway attaché or a cattle ranch. The stops seemed to be turpentine stills, surrounded by miserable huts, the homes of the Negro employees. I was entertained with the thick varieties of wild foliage. The graceful Spanish moss was everywhere prevalent, drooping from limb in trellised beauty.

Ever and anon we would ride along the river’s bank and the broad, dark blue water glistened with a thousand sparkling diamonds as the gray distance of the opposite shore marked the outline of the east coast. Here and there a tall magnolia tree would pinion our gaze to admire the beauty of its large adobe buds and still larger snow-white blossoms. Now and then we were greeted with flaming red clusters of the wild coffee bean blossoms and patches of wild ferns. Every creek we crossed was coked with the hyacinth, gleaming forth a wealth of purple, reaching out on their tender stems far above the water.

Thus we were taking note, when, of a sudden we were in Palatka. Our first impression was made from a sign of large dimension in the center of a cleared field of land fifty or seventy-five acres and read thus:

Four Railroads
Rotating in Eight Directions
Deep Water
Transportation and Good Roads.
We Want More Factories, Farmers and Winter Residents.
Population 6,000
Paved Streets, Sewerage, Electric Lights, Fine Water.
Good Health and Good Hotels.    Ask Board of Trade.

We philosophized over it and concluded if that field and many others were cultivated and gave evidence of thrift and prosperity, it would be a greater drawing card for prospectors, farmers and winter residenters. All progressive towns are today displaying along their lines of railroad entrances the evidences that invite immigration and speaks louder than words of the advantages worth investment.

Palatka is situated on the banks of a beautiful bay of the St. Johns River and is the county seat of Putnam County, so marked by a conspicuous stone structure in the middle of a whole block in the very center of the town. The marked improvements that are everywhere under way, a new sewerage system, miles of new streets paved with vitrified brick, new sidewalks, a river front boulevard, a spacious park with rows of palmetto trees and semi-tropical foliage, a waterworks system that is called free, the opening of a hotel that will accommodate 500 people are all tell tale evidences of Palatka’s future greatness.

The fact is that the Rip Van Winkle sleep of twenty years’ lethargy has passed away, and after this long rest the citizens are one and all rubbing their eyes to a keen sight of future prospects which will surely pay handsomely in a very short period of time. We have been assured that as soon as the internal improvements have been accomplished a general renovation of the riverfront will have the next attention and then but few towns in Florida will have any better advantage for the prospector.

Excerpt from The Florida Review, Vol. V, No. 4. April, 1911.


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