We’ve talked before about the Timucuan Preserve, a local 46,000 acre nature preserve divided up into separate sites by creeks and waterways on the northeastern edge of town. One of our favorite Timucuan Preserve sites to visit is Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island. Fort George Island was home to several plantations during Florida’s plantation era. The property gets its name from former owner Zephaniah Kingsley, who lived there with his family and about 60 enslaved laborers from 1814 to 1837. During that time, the plantation produced Sea Island cotton, citrus, corn, and sugar cane. After the Civil War, ownership of the property and house changed hands several times until it eventually became part of the National Park Services in 1991. Now Kingsley Plantation, along with the rest of the Timucuan Preserve, is managed by the National Park Services, the State of Florida, and the City of Jacksonville. It’s a unique co-op that allows us all to enjoy a little bit (actually, a lot) of history and nature right in our own backyard.
Today, the main house at Kingsley Plantation is the oldest standing plantation house in Florida. And the remaining slave quarters provide us with a unique glimpse into what daily life was like on the plantation. One really interesting thing to note is the construction method used in building the structures. The slave quarters, kitchen, and barn were all constructed from “tabby” which is made from a process that combines oyster shells, sand, and water. Leaving the mixture to harden results in a shelly, white material comparable to concrete.
The plantation grounds are open to the public seven days a week from 9am-5pm. Admission is free and the drive out to the property is reason enough to hop in the car and head out there. The road, just off of Heckscher Drive, takes you through some really beautiful Florida landscape. It winds through wetlands and alongside creeks and marshes. You’ll pass a turn-off for the Ribault Club, another interesting historical site on Fort George Island. The last stretch is a two-mile drive on a narrow dirt road. It’s shaded by towering trees and ends at the plantation property, which is situated on the south bank of the Fort George River. That means that Kingsley Plantation can also be accessed by boat, if you so choose.
Once on the property, there is a lot to explore…the main plantation buildings, the slave quarters, a garden, and the waterfront. There is also a short walking path from the main property to a dock where you can walk further out over the water and get a nice view back towards the main house.
Our favorite activity at Kingsley Plantation (aside from touring the historic buildings) is plopping down in the lush green grass right by the water’s edge and enjoying a picnic lunch. You have the beautiful main house on one side and the Fort George Inlet on the other. On a warm sunny day, it is pretty much the perfect spot to relax, get some fresh air, and forget that the craziness of the city is just a few miles away. It’s a great place to watch boaters pass by on the water and lose yourself for a while in this idyllic “Old Florida” setting.