By Judy Kent
Flagler County’s history is best understood within the larger context of Florida’s history. To view an account of Florida’s history from “Ice Age to Space Age” Florida Facts The brief comments below are intended to highlight a few of the specific events that occurred here using the same time frames as those of the Short History of Florida. These events make Flagler County the interesting and unique place that it is today.
EARLY HUMAN HABITATION 10,000 AD – 1513
While Florida’s earliest inhabitants tended to settle in the state’s interior, changing conditions enabled Timucuan Indians to settle here well before the arrival of Europeans. It is estimated that as many as 14,000 lived in the area between the St. John’s River and Cape Canaveral. A visit to Tomoka State Park via the Internet will give you an overview of the Park’s resources and information you will need to visit the site. An interpretive display there shows how the abundant natural resources of the area supported the long and highly developed culture of the Timucuan Indians.
If you visit the park, be sure to look for another display describing how the forces of nature have shaped our coastal environment. Ocean currents and wind have been building and changing our barrier island, marshes and forests for eons. It is still a work in progress.Washington Oaks State Park affords another opportunity to view and learn about the unique geography and ecosystems of our county. If you walk the beach there you will see outcroppings of coquina rock that will figure prominently in the construction of forts and plantations in the following eras.
EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND COLONIZATION 1861-1875
As the hostilities between Spanish forces based in St. Augustine and French ones based near present-day Jacksonville escalated, Flagler Beach became the scene for the dramatic part of the history. The inconclusive naval battle that was waged offshore took a strange turn as a violent storm overtook the French ships, pushing them south and wrecking them on the beach somewhere near Mosquito Lagoon (Ponce de Leon Inlet). The surviving soldiers and crew made their way north along the beach through today’s Flagler County to the Matanzas River where they attempted to surrender to Menendez. The story of the brutal massacre that ensued is still recalled at Fort Matanzas National Park.
FIRST SPANISH PERIOD 1565-1763
The Spanish were in St. Augustine for almost 200 years. Contact with the Europeans and their livestock took a terrible toll on the Indian population. Diseases to which they had no immunity soon decimated their numbers, until at the end of this period the Timucuan nation ceased to exist. Hostilities between the Spanish, French, English and Indians destroyed many of the artifacts of the Indian civilization. One result of these wars was the Matanzas massacre when shipwrecked French Huguenot soldiers walked north on the beach toward their doom in what is now northern Flagler County. The inlet south of Anastasia Island is now called Matanzas.
BRITISH FLORIDA 1763-1784
It was in 1766, following the Treaty of Paris, that the British extended King’s Road from Georgia to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, through present day Flagler County and on to the Turnbull Colony at New Smyrna. Bridges were constructed over Pellicer Creek and the Tomoka River. It was in active use right up to the 20th Century and sections it remain as a primary North-South road through Flagler County today.
SECOND SPANISH PERIOD 1784-1821
Generous Spanish land grants provided an impetus for immigration during this period. Josia Dupont received an oral grant from the Spanish king, but Indian conflict made it impossible for him to establish a successful plantation at this early date. His son, Abraham Dupont, would return in 1825 with his family. Their descendants are among the earliest families to reside in Flagler County.
James Russell also obtained a large land grant but sold his interest to Charles Bulow shortly thereafter. Bulowville, as his plantation was called, boasted a sugar mill, and produced sugar cane, rice, cotton, and indigo. Two hundred slaves cleared the land and worked it. Visit the website at Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park and the State Park to learn more about this turbulent era. Traveling there you will be using Old King’s Road and Old Dixie Highway, the same roads that served the earliest inhabitants of the region. The old-growth forests and marshes through which you pass still look much the same as they did in this early period.
Captain James Ormond I received another land grant in 1807 for a large parcel at the site of today’s Bulow Creek State Park. If you visit the park today you will find the magnificent Fairchild Oak that shaded early settlers. An interpretive display explains that Ormond’s efforts to establish the plantation were cut short when he was shot and killed by a runaway slave. The family returned to their native Scotland, but in 1820 young James II returned and took over the operation of the plantation. James II died only nine years later, and the plantation was abandoned, later to be destroyed during the Second Seminole war.
TERRITORIAL PERIOD 1821 -1845
In the winter of 1831 naturalist John Audubon visited several plantations in East Florida. He and his party walked from St. Augustine to the Hernandez plantation at Mala Compra and spent ten days sketching and collecting specimens. After a quarrel with Hernandez, the party left there on Christmas Day and proceeded to the Bulow Plantation, where they were received most graciously by young John Bulow. The productive expedition lasted four weeks and included a trip into the interior to an area near present day Deland. The return trip to St. Augustine required a wagon and six mules to transport the collected specimens.
Joseph Hernandez and John Bulow both initially supported Indian rights and attempted to maintain friendly relations with them. Subsequent Indian raids and the burning of Mala Compra Plantation changed Hernandez’s outlook, and he began an active role in the local militia. His property at St. Joseph was used to store provisions and ammunition, while Mala Compra served as military headquarters for the unit. On one occasion the militia marched south to the Bulow Plantation in pursuit of Indian raiders, only to be greeted by a warning shot from, Bulow’s cannon. The militia prevailed, detaining and binding Bulow while they “…enjoyed the comforts of his home.” Hernandez ultimately attained the rank of Brigadier General and had a major role in the Seminole Wars.
Conflict between European settlers and Seminole Indians is a consistent theme throughout this era. One result was that Old King’s road fell into disrepair, and the bridges across Pellicer Creek and the Tomoka River were destroyed. Travel was difficult and dangerous. Local historian John Clegg describes the mail route through Flagler County in 1844 as follows: “…take a boat down the Matanzas River past the Dupont residence and then overland to St. Joseph plantation and thence to the headwaters of Halifax River and by boat on to New Smyrna.” To learn more about this turbulent era, revisit the Internet links mentioned in the above text and visit the State and County Parks for a first-hand view of these fascinating historical sites.
General Joseph M. Hernandez was the region’s most influential political leader during the period between Florida’s statehood and succession. He served as the representative to the constitutional convention at St. Joseph and as the first appointed delegate to congress.
In 1844 Louisa Hernandez, the daughter of General Hernandez, married George Washington, a distant relative of the president. After Louisa’s untimely death, Washington bought the Bella Vista property. He used it primarily for hunting and fishing and built a country home there for his son George Washington Jr. You can visit the Washington Oaks State Park today to learn more about the lives of these early residents. You can visit the website at Washington Oaks State Park and visit the State Park to learn more about their story.
CIVIL WAR ANDRECONSTRUCTION1861-1875
Flagler County supported the Confederate cause through military service and the supply of timber, beef, citrus cotton and salt. Salt was in short supply and great demand as meat preservative. The salt works at the Mala Compra Plantation was an important source, but Union patrols made the area insecure and the operation was moved eastward to the coast. There the great iron vats from the St. Joseph sugar plantation were used to boil seawater in the production of salt. For an overview of the social upheaval that occurred here during this period use the link to Florida Facts
FLORIDA DEVELOPMENT 1875 – 1926
In 1886, wealthy industrialist Henry Cutting and his wife, Angela, built an elaborate hunting lodge on the Matanzas. There he hunted and fished during winter months with his frequent guests from prominent families in New England and Chicago. Like other northern visitors of the era, they arrived by steamboat. After Henry’s death, his widow married an exiled Russian prince, Boris Sherbatow. They continued to winter on the estate. Flagler County is currently restoring the property, now known as Princess Place. It is located in the northern region of the county, on the unpaved section of Old Kings Road. Call the Department of Parks at 437-7490 for more information and visit this interesting site.
The coming of the railroad that connected Jacksonville and Ormond shaped the next chapter of Flagler’s history. The route traveled through Windemere where settlers were already raising cattle. Rail transportation spawned tremendous growth in timber and turpentine production in this area, now known as Espanola. Tram railroads built by Utley J. White extended into remote areas of the county and served the expanding operations. Timber was exported and used locally for building railroads and making the barrels that would take potatoes to market. Potato farming grew in importance as rail transportation provided access to markets to the north. Life was harsh for those who labored in the Florida frontier. Those who built the railroads logged the timber and worked the turpentine were most at risk. In later years author Zora Neale Hurston became the voice for these often forgotten and ignored. Look for her books in the library and visit the Agriculture Museum to learn more.
Henry Flagler purchased the narrow gauge railway that had served the area in 1885 and converted it to standard gauge, greatly increasing access for the cattle, timber, turpentine, potato and citrus producers of the interior. The county was named in his honor. The Historical Society of Flagler County has an interesting collection of photographs from this period at their museum in Bunnell.
An inland water route between Jacksonville and New Smyrna was begun in 1881 by the construction of a canal connecting the Matanzas and Halifax Rivers. This waterway would eventually extend to south Florida. We know it today as the Intracostal Waterway. A visit to Gamble Rogers State Park will provide access to the Waterway as well as the Atlantic beach. It is a popular spot for water sport recreation and wildlife observation.
In 1915 Dixie Highway was constructed as a narrow brick road from Jacksonville through St. Augustine, Hastings, Espanola, Bunnell and ending at Flagler Beach. Now tourists from the north would have a land route to Flagler’s beach. When the newer highway was built in 1926, the more direct route bypassed Espanola and contributed to the decline of that community. Today Dixie Highway (US 1) is a major north-south route, but Old Dixie Highway still serves the community.
Flagler became a county in 1917 as a patchwork brought together from the southern portion of St. John’s County and the northern portion of Volusia. The communities of Bunnell, Espanola, St. Johns Park, Haw Creek, Dupont, Korona and Ocean City (Flagler Beach) were the economic and population centers of the time. Bunnell became the county seat.
With the advantage of better transportation and infrastructure, Flagler County’s development accelerated. Ornamental fern production replaced citrus as the latter moved south after the severe freezes at the turn of the century. Changing market conditions caused a gradual shift from potato to cabbage farming.
WORLD WAR II AND THE POST-WAR “BOOM” 1945-
The post-war “boom” was a little late in arriving in Flagler County. It came in the form of a highway known as I-95 and a corporation known as ITT. Once again, new transportation routes and corridors of development went hand in hand. Plans made public in 1969 envisioned the development of a community of 700,000 souls in a place named Palm Coast. The property covered about 68,000 acres and was to have amenities including hotels, restaurants, and waterfront and wooded home sites, golf courses, tennis clubs and more. While the population density has not reached the original projections, Palm Coast is today a thriving community.
(see Daytona Beach News-Tribune article on history of Palm Coast)
To learn more about the history of the area, see the Short Bibliography of Florida.
Come to the Flagler County Library and see also:
Blount, Robert S. Spirits of Turpentine: A History of Florida Naval Stores 1528 to 1950. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Agricultural Museum, 1993.
Clegg, John A. The History of Flagler County. Bunnell: John Clegg, 1976.
Derr, Mark. Some Kind of Paradise: A Chronicle of Man and the Land in Florida. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1989.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Stories. Northport, Maine: Audio Bookshelf, 1995.
(An audio cassette read by Renee Joshua-Porter.)