It was a cold January morning by Florida standards, the temperature hovering near forty degrees, when Jimmy and I climbed aboard the Neptune Star and commenced our 90-minute tour of this American Heritage River, one of only fourteen such rivers in the United States. No, don't ask about the other thirteen!
History will tell you (although Ernie was very forthcoming, too) that St. Johns was one of four names given to these intracoastal waters over the course of approximately 600 years, beginning with Florida’s first inhabitants.
The Timucuan Indians originally named St. Johns the river Welaka, which means river of lakes. As the river flows north, it collects water from marshes and underground springs, forming countless lakes, among those Lake Hell ‘n’ Blazes (referencing what the boatmen and fishermen yelled as they navigated though the floating islands of macrophytes, or muck and weeds), Sawgrass Lake, Lake Washington, Lake Winder, Lake Poinsett, Ruth Lake, Puzzle Lake, Lake Jesup, Lake Monroe and Lake George (to mention just a few). Florida has no less than 7,700 lakes, all told. It certainly makes lakefront property in these parts very reasonable.
In the 1500s, Spanish seamen renamed the river Rio do Corrientes, or river of currents. In 1562 – almost 50 years before the Jamestown Settlement – the French established Fort Caroline on a high bluff overlooking the river they called Riviere de Mai, or river of May, given they’d arrived on May 1.
The Spanish recaptured the fort, slaughtered the French and renamed the river, San Mateo, honoring the saint whose feast followed the day they captured the river.
Eventually, the river was renamed Rio de San Juan after a Catholic mission near its mouth named San Juan del Puerto. The English translated that name into the St. John’s River.
Certainly one of the more convoluted family trees I've come across lately.
This slice of forgotten Florida between Lake Dexter and Lake George is prized for its bass fishing;
He named his town Manhattan, than encouraged all his rich friends and acquaintances to come play. For a time they did, until the steamboats gave way to progress and the railroad diverted the commerce and the people. In 1884, the town was renamed Astor, but that recognition didn’t deter grandson William Vincent Astor from selling his inheritance in 1912.
Today, snowbirds that winter in this portion of the St. Johns River are called half-Astors; but you didn’t hear it from me.
In contrast, some American eels live in the St. Johns and spawn in the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. In Jacksonville, where the final 35 miles of the St. Johns River runs before turning back out to sea, much of the river is part seawater. Dolphins and sharks have been seen in her waters around Jacksonville as well as mullet, flounder, shad and blue crabs. Most migrate from the ocean to freshwater springs upriver to spawn.
The largest king fishing tournament in the U.S. is held on a St. Johns tributary where sport fishers come for the king mackerel, cobia, dolphin and Wahoo.
Add one too many forty degree days to the mix and the locals, if not the snowbirds, might begin to whisper uninhabitable again.
No big secret, really; life is always a matter of perspective, St. Johns River a great place to see this wonderful world with new eyes.