The landscape of northern Jacksonville is dominated by the twin cooling towers of the St. John’s River Power Park. Each of the twin natural-draft cooling towers can cool 250,000 gallons of water per minute and although they present an aggressive stance, they are not symbols of America’s muscular nuclear power industry. The Power Park is a coal-fired electric power-generating station. Many people who do not live in the area are under the misapprehension that the towers are for the cooling of nuclear rods. This is incorrect; the nearest nuclear power plant is the Crystal River 3 Nuclear Power Plant in Crystal River.
The Power Park is situated on some of Jacksonville’s most desirable acreage, near the St. John’s River and the marshes of the Nassau Sound. Greater Jacksonville is an enormous place that runs as far as the Crady Bridge on its northern edge. Much of its prime real estate is situated along the A1A, the coastal route running up through Amelia Island. This area is a culturally rich one that was home to the Timucuan Indians and whose history dates back to pre-Colombian times. A prime parcel of real estate is Fort George Island, which contains the Kingsley Plantation. The beautiful and serene plantation site makes a nice technological contrast to the power plant and other signs of modern industry that spoil the vista. The plantation’s history, however, is another chapter in the annals of slavery. It goes one beyond that with the fascinating personal history of the Kingsley owner, who enjoyed a polygamous and multiracial marital arrangement that conflicted with his deep-seated conviction that slavery was of benefit to all societies, including that of those he bought and sold.
The first industrial use of the site was as an indigo plantation in 1793. Zephaniah Kingsley and his wife, a slave from Senegal purchased and then freed by Kingsley, owned the plantation from 1814 until 1839. Anna Kingsley lived apart from her husband in quarters above the kitchen, from which she managed the domestic routine with her own group of slaves. Mixed marriages like this were common with plantation owners in eastern Florida. Kingsley kept three other slaves as mistresses, with Anna the de facto den mother. Kingsley vigorously defended the practice of slavery while at the same time proudly championing and promoting his biracial offspring, and when the Florida Territorial Council abolished the Spanish-rule three-tier class system of white landowners, black slaves, and free blacks, Kingsley moved his family to a plantation in Haiti. Ownership of the plantation then transferred to Kingsley’s nephew.
The site changed hands six times during the slavery era. The plantation is now a National Park Service historic site on the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. It’s located on Fort George Island (you access via a causeway), and the admission is free. Also on Fort George Island is the Ribault Club, a building that dates from the island’s resort days in the 1920s and which houses the island’s visitor center.
A visit to the plantation is a primer in the practice of slavery. Rather than highlighting the plantation’s industry, the Park Service plaques illustrate how industry operated and succeeded through the forced servitude of the African slave. You aren’t able to enter the main house, but the kitchen building has two exhibition rooms with plaques that describe the slaves’ route from Africa to servitude in America and their daily lives on the plantation grounds. An outdoor plaque asks that you imagine the plantation owner’s family cooling themselves on the porch by breezes from the St. John’s River while watching the slaves hurry back and forth in their backbreaking daily routine.
Although indigo was the primary crop of Fort George Island, it was Sea Island cotton that was the Kingsley plantation’s cash crop. The plantation was self-sustaining and it operated as a lucrative business until the end of the Civil War. In the late 19th century, a new owner turned the island into a resort when the difficulties of sustaining business without forced labor became too much of a challenge.
The park is small and comprises the ruins of the old slave cabins, the main house and its kitchen building, and a boat dock. The house, built around 1797, is the oldest plantation still standing in the state of Florida. The slave cabins have been site of important archaelogical digs, one of which confirmed that the slaves brought from Africa and continued to practice their native customs.
A small bookshop and restroom facilities are located in an adjacent building that dates from the resort era.
Fort George is also a residential island. Apart from humans, the island apparently is home to peacocks. We saw a white peacock strutting on a lawn and then later two more garden variety peacocks pecking in the road. The peacocks proved difficult to capture on the camera. Mr. B’s peacocks were out of focus and mine were deleted. Mr. B. had more luck with other birds.
Also included in this post are some random snaps from around the area that Mr. B. and I took with the new camera. I think one would be hard-pressed to see the difference between the Lumix and the D5000. All of today’s pictures are the D5000 and the storm photos from yesterday are the Lumix.
Kingsley Plantation: ****
If you visit: Be prepared for a dirty car. The site is located at the end of a limerock causeway that, while in good condition, still tosses up enough dirt to warrant an immediate trip to the carwash.