Palatka (pronounced puh-lat-kuh) is a city in Putnam County, Florida, United States. The population was 10,558 at the 2010 census.It is the county seat of Putnam County.Palatka is the principal city of the Palatka Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is home to 72,893 residents. The city is also home to St. Johns River State College, St. Johns River Water Management District Headquarters, and Ravine Gardens State Park. The area is well known for its local festivals, most notably the Florida Azalea Festival and the Blue Crab Festival.
Location in Putnam County and the state of Florida
The area was once the domain of the Timucuanpeoples, two tribes of which existed in the Palatka region under chiefs Saturiwa and Utina. They fishedbass and mullet, or hunted deer, turkeys, bear andopossum. Others farmed beans, corn, melons,squash, and tobacco. However, infectious diseasethat came with European contact and war devastated the tribes, and they were extinct by the mid-18th century. The last people evacuated with the Spanish to Cuba in 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain after the Seven Years' War.
During the late eighteenth century, remnants of Creek and other tribes made their way to Florida. In a process of ethnogenesis, the Seminole tribe was formed. They called the locationPilo-taikita, meaning “crossing over”, or “cows’ crossing.” Here the St. Johns River narrows and begins a shallower, winding course upstream to Lake George and Lake Monroe.
In 1767, Denys Rolle (1725-1797), an English gentleman and philanthropist, established Rollestown on the east bank of the St. Johns River at the head of deep-water navigation. His 78,000-acre (320 km2) plantation was a utopian commercial and humanitarian experiment, recruiting settlers off the streets of London, including paupers, vagrants, pickpockets and "penitent prostitutes." Two hundred indentured servants arrived to clear wilderness foragriculture and livestock. Unaccustomed to either hard work or a subtropical climate, however, they scattered. Rolle next imported slaves from West Africa to tend chickens, hogs, goats andsheep, or produce cotton, indigo, citrus and turpentine for export to England.
He built a mansion and laid out a village, but trouble beleaguered the "ideal society." In 1770, a disgruntled overseer sold over 1,000 of his employer's cattle and disappeared with the money. Rolle hired new overseers and bought more slaves, but the plantation failed to prosper. When Spain resumed control of Florida in 1783, Rolle abandoned the colony and chartered a ship to carry his household belongings, livestock and slaves to a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) estate on Great Exuma in the Bahamas. The point in East Palatka, is still called Rollestown.
With changes of sovereignty in Florida came numerous changes of ownership in Pilo-taikita, now contracted to Pilatka. In 1774, naturalist William Bartram noted an Indian village on the west bank, but it was abandoned before later European Americans came to settle. The current existence of Palatka can be traced to the settlement established there in 1821. After the United States acquired Florida in 1821, Nehemiah Brush established a ferry and bought a 1,200-acre (4.9 km2) tract in 1826 and another of equal size the next year. The site became a distribution point, where goods were shipped by a New York company to supply immigrants at the Grant of Arredondo, which lay to the west.
The arrival of land-hungry American settlers created confrontations with the resident Seminole. When the government attempted to relocate the tribe to the west of the Mississippi as part of Indian Removal starting in 1833, the Second Seminole War began. The Seminole attacked and burned Pilatka in 1835. Recognizing the site's strategic importance for control of the St. Johns River, the main artery into Central Florida, the US Army in 1838 established Fort Shannon, named for Captain Samuel Shannon. It included a garrison, supply depot and hospital. During 1842 the Seminole were driven from the area, and consequently Fort Shannon was abandoned by the army in 1843. Settlers made use of the military piers and buildings, including eight blockhouses, to develop the town. By 1847, it was growing rapidly. In 1849, Putnam County was created, with Pilatka the county seat. With the help of Judge Isaac H. Bronson, it was incorporated as a city on January 8, 1853.
During the 1850s, Florida in general and Pilatka in particular gained a reputation as a haven for invalids escaping northern winters. Steamboats carried them up the river in increasing numbers. One visitor wrote that amusements included "sailing, fishing, rowing, walking, riding in buggy and onhorseback, whist, euchre, backgammon and hunting."
The tourist trend was interrupted by the Civil War, when gunboats cruised the waters and Pilatka was destitute and largely deserted. On October 7, 1862, the USS Cimarron fired several shells over the town after seeing some Confederate cavalry. Mary Boyd pleaded with Union Commander Maxwell Woodhull to spare Pilatka, assuring him that the horse soldiers were not residents. He complied.
Among the notable residents of Pilatka during the war was Confederate spy Lola Sánchez and her sisters. Sánchez became upset when their father was falsely accused of being a Confederate spy by the members of the Union Army and imprisoned. Officers of the Union Army then occupied their residence in Palatka, Florida. On one occasion Sánchez overheard various officers’ planning a raid and alerted the Confederates forces. As a result, the Confederate forces, led by Capt. John Jackson Dickison, surprised and captured the Union troops on the day of the supposed raid in what is known as "Battle of Horse Landing".
Following the war, tourists returned to find new hotels, including the Putnam House, built by Hubbard L. Hart, and the Larkin House, which had accommodations for 250 guests. Steamers ran up the Ocklawaha River to Eustis, Leesburg and Silver Springs, or the St. Johns River to Enterprise andSanford. Industries included logging, raising cattle and hogs, and orange groves. On May 24, 1875, the post office changed the spelling to Palatka, ending confusion with Picolata.
By the 1880s, several competing railroads crossed the community, which became an important junction. These included the Florida Southern Railroad, the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad, the St. Augustine and Palatka Railway, and the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad. On November 7, 1884, Palatka suffered a devastating fire. Guests arrived that season to find no accommodations, and so continued on the train south; this was the beginning of a gradual shift of tourism elsewhere. The city lost trade, shipping and transportation preeminence to Jacksonville, on the coast. With its downtown rebuilt in brick to be fireproof, Palatka emerged a finer place.
In 1893, A. E. and H. S. Wilson of Saginaw, Michigan bought the Noah J. Tilghman & Son sawmill, which processed cypress lumber. Renamed the Wilson Cypress Company, it expanded operations and became a major employer. At its peak, it was the second largest cypress mill in the world, but closed in 1944. The Great Freeze of 1894 and 1895 destroyed Palatka's citrus groves for 5 years, which were formerly a major attraction. The ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal was once intended to pass the city. Today, tourism remains important.
The composition of the Palatka area economy is unreflective of Florida as a whole. Unlike many cities in the Sunshine State, Palatka has a large manufacturing sector, employing 17.2% of the city's total civilian workforce. Comparatively, Florida's statistics indicate 5.9% of the state's entire workforce is employed by the manufacturing sector.Georgia Pacific is the single largest private employer in the city. The Koch owned firm employs 1,470 people at its pulp, paper, and plywood operations. PDM Bridge is another large manufacturing company operating in Palatka. Their facility is located in Barge Port on the St. Johns River. The Eau Claire, Wisconsin based bridge builder utilizes the river for the transportation of its finished products. PDM Bridge is notable for the fabrication of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge structure. The bridge is part of the Capital Beltway and connects Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia.
The Palatka area was of early significance in accessing the interior of the state. This significance was due to its location at the end of an expansive portion of waterway at the divide between the upper and lower St. Johns River. First established as a trading outpost, tourism would eventually boom and fuel growth for decades. The decline of waterborne travel in Northeast Florida, and the United States in general, ultimately reduced the importance of tourism in the city. Nowadays, large international airports and bypassing interstate highways carry vacationers to destinations further south. Tourism remains a vital part of Florida's modern economy. Of the state's total employed, 15.5% worked in tourist related industries. Again, the Palatka labor market is unlike that of the state. Only 7.1% work in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services. The tourism industry may not hold the glory it once did, but it continues to be of importance to the Palatka economy as a whole.
In recent years, the Putnam County government has adopted policies focused on facilitating Ecotourism in the region. Nature trails are being expanded and kayaking waterways have been improved and mapped. Portions of the Florida Trail runs through the area and connect local hiking trails to other trail systems in parks throughout the region. Ocala National Forest is the second largest National Forest in the state. Other large parks include Welaka State Forest, Etoniah Creek State Forest and Dunns Creek State Park. Other conservation areas exist under the management of the Putnam Land Conservancy and St. Johns River Water Management District. Both entities operate regionally and identify and protect ecologically sensitive areas. If progress continues, and ecotourism creates a vibrant local economy, economic incentives could drive further preservation of the natural habitats, benefitting the environment as a whole.
Of residents aged 16 years and over, 53.3% were in the labor force; 45.6% were employed and 7.6% unemployed. Compared to Florida's average, Palatka has a higher percentage of unemployed. Of the same survey, the State's unemployment was 4.6% of the available labor force.The current Florida unemployment rate, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, stands at 7.0%. The Palatka area is bordered on all sides by five separate metropolitans. Of these statistical districts, Delton-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Gainesville, and Jacksonville all had better performing unemployment statistics than Palatka. Currently, the unemployment rate in the Palatka Micropolitan Statistical Area is 13.8%. Gainesville showed the most favorable conditions with an unemployment rate of 8.7%. Statistics for Palm Coast and Ocala both indicated unemployment rates higher than that of Palatka. Regionally, The employment numbers of Palm Coast have been hit hardest, the bedroom community has an unemployment rate currently at 16.6%.