A BRIEF HISTORY
'Palatka' is a contraction of
an Indian word meaning 'cow crossing' or 'cow
ford'. The original was some variation
of 'Pilaklikaha' or 'Pilotaikita.'
Originally spelled 'PIlatka', the City Charter, approved on January
had the name spelled 'PAlatka', sparking a debate as to the "correct"
spelling which would last another twenty-two years until the U. S.
Office officially changed the spelling to 'Palatka' on May
24, 1875 so as
not to cause confusion with the town of 'Picolata'.
As early as 1655 the
Spanish were developing Palatka, as well as Gainesville
and Tallahassee into the state's
three principal ranching areas to feed the settlers particularly in the
St. Augustine area where the
slaughterhouses were located. Palatka
became the main forging point for the cattle to cross the St. Johns River on their way to the
In 1763 when the
British took possession of Florida
all Spanish land holdings were declared null and void and the Spanish left the
On an expedition in
April 1774 William Bartram, a British Botanist, wrote of finding an Indian village
on the site of present day Palatka. The
village included a large cultivated orange grove and several hundred acres of
corn, potatoes, beans, squash, melons and tobacco.
After the war for Independence
broke out Florida became a haven
for loyal British subjects and Florida
population swelled from 3,000 in 1776 to 17,000 in 1784. One such immigrant, Joshua Gray, an
unmarried mulatto farmer and Indian interpreter received 1,500 acres, which is
known as the Palatka Tract today or "Gray's Place".
With the return of Florida
to Spain in
1784 the British for the most part left the state and the population declined
to less than 2,000. Gray abandoned the
Palatka Tract. However, the Spaniards
were anxious to have Florida
settled and adopted a very liberal settlement policy allowing anyone who would
swear allegiance to the Spanish government to settle in Florida. Based upon this, Gray returned to his home
in the 1790s on the west bank of the St. Johns River. Although he never acquired title, Gray lived
in Palatka until 1804 working as an agent for the trading firm of Panton and
Leslie. He supervised the company
cattle crossing the St. Johns
River in route to St. Augustine.
3, 1818, the Spanish Governor, Coppinger, conveyed title of Gray's
Place to Bernardo Segui, a St.
Augustine merchant and Mayor.
Segui passed title to George Flemming in January 1819.
was transferred to the United States
in 1821, development of central Florida
increased dramatically. Palatka was the
southernmost point in the river where large oceangoing vessels could
venture. Below Palatka became the main
jumping off point into Florida s
interior either by cart or by small boat further down the St. Johns or Oklawaha
In August 1821,
Belton A. Copp, a Connecticut
Attorney, bought "Gray's Place" from Fleming to use as a jumping off
place for the settlement of the Alachua (Gainesville)
area which was being heavily promoted in the Northeast.
In 1822, a ferry was
begun between Palatka and St. Augustine
and an improved road was built between Palatka and Alachua.
In 1827, a post
office was built and Palatka replaced Picolata to the North as the major
transportation center on the St. Johns
River. The army constructed warehouses in Palatka in 1827 where provisions
were deposited for further shipment down river and into the interior.
With the Seminole
Indian unrest, which began in 1826 the influx of settlers again reversed and
the post office was closed in 1829, due to the decrease in population.
In December 1835,
Seminoles attacked and burned Palatka and the white settlers from the entire
River valley fled to the safety of
In the early 1840s, Fort
Shannon was built in Palatka and
served as the military headquarters of the Central Florida District. As such it was built as a supply depot and
staging area and was not fortified, as were most other forts deeper in the
interior. The building at 110
Madison Street, which was moved from 224
North First Street, across from the Holiday Inn,
served as the officers' quarters of the fort, and is the oldest building in
By 1850, Fort
Shannon had been turned over to the
civilian population and settlers were once again arriving in large numbers to
venture into the Florida
interior. By 1850, Palatka's population
3, 1851, Robert Raymond Reid bought Palatka for $5,000 intending to
subdivide to small parcels; however, he overextended himself and declared
bankruptcy. The land was transferred to
Issac H. Bronson, Federal Judge for the
Eastern Circuit in Florida, who
served as trustee.
8, 1853, the City of Palatka
was chartered by the State of Florida. During the 1850s Palatka became the major
center for transportation, freight, lumber, citrus and tourism on the St. Johns
River. The steamboat traffic on the St.
Johns and its tributaries, particularly the Ocklawaha, secured Palatka's
position as the Hub of the transportation network into and out of central Florida.
During the Civil War
the Union forces occupied the town after federal gunboats gained control of
tile St. Johns River, but this period
had no major impact on the community.
1865 to 1895 marks
the golden age of Palatka, a time when Palatka rivaled Jacksonville
as the major port on the St. Johns.
By 1885, seven
steamboat lines operated out of Palatka, including Hubbard Hart's Ocklawaha
River Line and the Charleston,
Savannah Line of Ocean Steamers.
By the late 1870s the
wharves extended across the entire riverfront with as many as forty ships
waiting in the harbor to load or unload their cargoes.
the railroads expanded into the interior and the freight was shipped directly
by rail. Palatka's decreasing
importance in freight travel was offset with its prominence in the citrus
industry. By the late 1880's Palatka
boasted as being the hub of the cities citrus industry.
During the 1880s
Palatka attracted five new railroad lines and established itself once again as
central Florida's transportation
center. During this same period,
steamer freight influence in Palatka declined.
With the decline of the freight industry, Palatka's commerce became more
dependent on the tourists, lumber and citrus industries. Still a well-balanced economy.
Palatka's great fire
occurred November 7, 1884 virtually wiping out the entire business
district. However, brick buildings
replaced the wood frame structures that were destroyed and Palatka emerged a
more refined city.
By 1890, Palatka
boasted eight first class hotels, the largest of which the Putnam House contained
500 rooms. Winter visitors-included
President Grover, Cleveland and other influential people. The city's winter residents included many
rich industrialists such as James R.
Mellon of Pittsburgh, who
donated the library to the city.
With Palatka prosperity
came residential growth and three neighborhoods developed. "The Hammock" south of downtown
along River Street, Emmett
and Kirby were the most affluent.
"Reid's Garden" north of the business district contained the
home built by Judge Bronson and was noted for its costly residences on large
landscaped lots. However, the homes
while spacious, were for the most part non-ornamental.
The third district
"New Town" was west of the business district and was the area where
the city's black population resided.
The area southwest of
the city known as "The Heights" became a major suburb of Palatka and
for a period during the 1880s was an incorporated municipality.
The 1890s ended
Palatka's golden age. The railroad,
while continuing to be of importance, could no longer compete with Jacksonville. The steamships were reduced to operating
only during the tourist season.
Freezes" of 1894-1895 virtually wiped out Palatka's citrus industry
After the great freeze
Palatka expanded industrially expanding the number of industries especially
those dependent upon wood or its byproducts.
Wilson Cypress Company became the largest cypress mill in the world
producing 80,000 feet of lumber and 60,000 shingles daily. By 1910 Palatka had become the major
industrial center it is today.