3 April 2015

Palatka, Florida: Old and New

This incarnation of the impressive Memorial Bridge over St Johns River in the background to this waterfront shot was built in 1976 and is taken from Palatka. It runs into East Palatka and is 4020 feet (or 1230 meters) long.

This historical marker is next to the police station in downtown Palatka:

Established as a trading post in 1821, the settlement was burned in the Seminole War (1836). In 1838, the U.S. government constructed Fort Shannon which served as a garrison, supply depot and hospital for the forts in the southern area of Florida. Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor and William T. Sherman were stationed here. During the Civil War the city was occupied by Federal troops. In the postwar period Palatka became one of the leading tourist centers of Florida.'
It's difficult today to imagine this lovely but rather sleepy little town as an important tourist center, although two notable people to be attracted towards Palatka were Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thomas Edison.
By the waterfront are other information boards, this one being about the trail of the naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823). Bartram is a rather obscure figure today, although he was once famous for his book Travels (1781), the full title of which reveals its subject matter fully: Travels through North & South Carolina, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws, Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. One of the most interesting points to note is that this publication influenced writers, the most notable being the early Romantics Wordsworth and Coleridge.


Patrick Murtha said...

William Bartram's "Travels" is a marvelous book, well worth reading, and easily accessible in a Library of America edition.

I'm enjoying all the posts on Florida. I looked up more information on Palatka (there is a lot at Wikipedia), and it seems to be a rather interesting little town.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thanks a lot for this, Patrick, and I'll check out the Bartram. Yes, I'd certainly fully recommend Palatka if you like pretty (but small) towns. Unfortunately, that's almost the end of the Florida posts!

(On a separate subject, I received an email from James Liccione Wednesday to express his gratitude for my post: he really did put his heart into the Hurston monument, so I'm very pleased that I could say some very positive words about it.)

Patrick Murtha said...

I have always found it interesting that Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings were friends, although of course the times and the racial barrier did not make it the easiest of friendships. Rawlings' social attitudes showed considerable growth later in her life, as her wonderful Selected Letters (highly recommended) make clear.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Those selected letters sound very tempting. The first time we headed for Cross Creek we got caught in a torrential rainstorm and I was forced to pull into a small mall in Interlachen. As we couldn't even leave the car without getting instantly drenched, we quickly realised that Cross Creek would probably be sodden all day, but good often comes from bad: as soon as the rain started to ease, I dove into a thrift store opposite and made a great discovery: The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Journal of Florida Literature! A pristine copy of the 2005-06 edition of this was tucked away in the corner of a book shelf, and along with a few scholarly essays on Rawlings it contains about a hundred pages of fascinating letters by MKR to Cliff and Gladys Lyons. It was mine for the princely sum of forty cents!

And yes, the relationship between MKR and Zora is interesting: in many respects they came from different worlds. I suspect that the area in Fort Pierce where she briefly lived is much the same as it was then: obviously very poor, and the only white person we saw was a church leader. But although it felt very much like a time warped segregated area, there were none of the external hallmarks of self-harm - such as graffiti and vandalism - that we may well have found in a poor white area.