What is it about visiting a Fort that makes us all giddy and childlike? I think it's because we all loved Forts when we were kids and imagined all the battles, pirates and soldiers that existed at the Fort. Well...if you have the chance to head over to the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve just off the coast of Jacksonville, FL, you will find a wonderful Fort to explore. Fort Caroline National Memorial is nested in the preserve just along the banks of the St. Johns River. While it is not original the Fort was built as a Memorial to the short-lived French influence in Florida's history. While the exact location of the original Fort Caroline is still unknown, it is thought to have been located not far from the location where the memorial stands today. The area not only offers visitors a chance to see the replica of Fort Caroline, but there are several hiking trails to explore the rich salt marsh and coastal lands that surround the Fort. While there, don't forget to stop into the visitors center where over 6,000 years of history is waiting to be explored.
Fort Caroline is definitely different and more primitive than any other Fort I have seen in Florida. The original Fort Caroline was built by French Colonist looking to claim a piece of land for themselves in the "new world". With the help of the Timucuan Indians they established a colony complete with a village and Fort. The triangular shaped Fort was built along the banks of the St. Johns River and the best view of the Fort can be seen from the boat dock just east of the Fort. There you can see the massive timbers shaped like spears that surround the Fort walls acting as the first line of defense from invaders. You can also see just how close the Fort is to the St. Johns River. Just as the Timucuan Indians looked to the water for sustenance, the French too would realize just how important the river was to survival.
The massive fort doors welcome you to a time long ago. Once you're inside, you are free to start exploring, several canons surround the walls and educational signs tell the story of the French who once lived here. Once at the highest level of the fort it is an open 360 degree view of the river. Just outside of the fort you will see the flag with the French royal coat of arms, this flag is a reminder that at one point in time the area was settled by the French. It is a great area for children to explore and learn about Florida history, a place where imagination and history come together. While hiking the grounds you can also explore other smaller exhibits that the park has put together, like the Timucuan village exhibit. The National Park is constantly looking to expand and highlight the lives of the Timucuan Indians that once lived in the area.
I found out after visiting the park that the original memorial was built by the National Park Service in 1964 but was destroyed that same year by Hurricane Dora. The new fort is bigger and better it is almost a full size replica of the original Fort Caroline.
All in all my visit to Fort Caroline was short. While I did have a chance to see Kinglesy Plantation, my husband and I wanted to take in a few of the other sites in the area and hike a few of the many trails offered at the preserve. Guess that will just have to be another FL 365 adventure set for another day.