Founded in 1822, Jacksonville is the centre of Florida’s “first coast” region. It lies along the mouth of the St. Johns River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It was first inhabited by the Timucuan Indians before the Europeans settlement. This area was initially known as “Wacca Pilatka”- a Timucua word, which means ” Cows’ Crossing”.
Fort Caroline marks the Europeans settlement by a group of French Huguenots in 1562, which was built on the south bank of the St. Johns. However, the settlement was short-lived as the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés destroyed their fort in 1565. During the Spanish reign, the territory was vigorously protected to prevent intrusion by the French. The Spanish established the Fort San Mateo on the former French Fort Caroline site. This became part of their mission system which spanned from South Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish converted the natives to the Catholic faith during their reign.
At the end of the Seven Years War in Europe, 1763, in order to keep the city of Havana- which was more important to the Spanish Empire, Spain gave control of their enormous region to British. Before the British lost control of the Florida territory, plantations were built along the St. Johns River on which cotton, rice, indigo and vegetables were grown. This period was an active time of development as the population increased and trading expanded. The first road from Savannah to St. Augustine – the King’s Road- was built during this period. Names of places were interpreted to English and during the English period between 1763-1783, Wacca Pilatka which means “Cows’ Crossing”, was changed to Cowford – a place where cows ” ford” along the river.
In 1783, the British were forced to leave the Florida colony as the Spanish returned to regain control of the territory. This rule was short-lived as many of the loyalist population left for Canada or the Caribbean while nearby Georgians saw a great opportunity in the South. Spain handed over the ownership of Florida to the United States after several topple and intrusions. Florida was acquired from Spain in 1821 by the U.S territory. In 1822, the townsite was laid out and was named Jacksonville in honour of Andrew Jackson. Jacksonville became an official port of entry during this year. Andrew Jackson was famous as the seventh U.S President and also the first military governor of the Florida Territory.
With an established commerce network, industries such as lumber mills developed. Jacksonville obtained manufactured goods from the North and exported lumber, oranges, vegetables, and cotton. By the time Florida achieved statehood in 1845, Jacksonville was the centre of commercial activity territory. However, the development was hindered by the Seminole Wars. It was a period of profound change for the United States, especially in the South. Florida withdrew from the Union but supported both the Union and the Confederacy in Jacksonville. Jacksonville played an important role in the Union blockade of the Confederacy. It was occupied by Union troops four times during the American Civil War. This led to an increased population, with both freed and escaped slaves in search of safety and a new life.
Due to the war, Jacksonville experienced damage to property and also economic devastation. By the late 1800s, during Reconstruction, it evolved as a winter resort and about 70,000 people annually seek for a vacation from the cold northern climate. Improvements were made to the harbour which expanded the industry despite the yellow-fever epidemic of 1888 and the Great Fire of 1901. During the devastating widespread fire, over 2,300 buildings were burned to the ground.
The fire ruins incited the transformation that was needed in Jacksonville. A public library was built in 1905 which was donated by Andrew Carnegie. In 1910, the first paved road connecting the city and the beach was opened. The growth spread around the outlying area in the 1920s and electric trolley cars linked the two sides by 1923. Although the development was on the increase, the Great Depression slowed down the development but Jacksonville was able to regain its economic strength. The city of Jacksonville merged with the county of Duval in 1968 to form a single governmental unit. The city was awarded a National Football League franchise, the Jaguars, in 1993 and was able to emerge into the international spotlight as home to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.
Educational institutions established in Jacksonville include; Edward Waters College (est. 1866), Jones College (est. 1918), Jacksonville University (est. 1934), Florida Community College, Jacksonville (est. 1966) and the University of North Florida (est. 1965).
Today, Jacksonville is a blend of all cultures and races, ever eager to welcome new visitors. It also offers a vibrant economy for great quality of life for its residents and its visitors. Read our article on the city center of Jacksonville.