Park Service acquires Spanish-American War fort in Jacksonville

North Florida Land Trust transfers ownership to National Park Service

Ceremony marks transfer of ownership of Spanish-American War fort from North Florida Land Trust to National Park Service.
Ceremony marks transfer of ownership of Spanish-American War fort from North Florida Land Trust to National Park Service. (North Florida Land Trust photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – North Florida Land Trust on Friday turned over ownership of the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort to the National Park Service.

North Florida Land Trust and the National Park Service invited special guests to join them for a ceremony to mark the occasion. Rainy weather moved the event from the military battery to the National Park Service’s Jacksonville headquarters. 

Lake Ray IV presented an antique post flag to NFLT President Jim McCarthy, who then presented it to NPS Superintendent Chris Hughes. The flag had 45 stars, which was the official United States flag between 1896 and 1908 and would have been the type that flew over the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort.

Susan Edelman of the Community Foundation was also there to represent the Delores Barr Weaver Fund, which was instrumental in funding the purchase of the property, along with city funding secured by City Councilman Tommy Hazouri and many other donors. 

“It was a pleasure to be able to help save this important piece of Jacksonville’s history and we are so thankful for all of the support we received,” McCarthy said. “This was a yearlong, plus journey to acquire this property and we are excited to now be able to hand it over to our partners, the National Park Service.” 

NFLT served as the acquisition and fundraising partner of the NPS and worked for a little over a year to raise the money to purchase the property from an individual who bought it at a tax deed sale and had planned to destroy the military installation to build a home. Councilman Hazouri secured $162,500 in city funding to save the fort and early on, the Delores Barr Weaver fund offered a $100,000 challenge grant to help NFLT reach the $400,000 needed to purchase the property. 

“ The city of Jacksonville considers it an honor to have participated in the purchase and preservation of this historic site," Hazouri said.

An anonymous donor matched up to $39,000 and additional donations from the community helped NFLT reach the purchase price. The preservation made sure the only actual fort in Duval County remained intact to become part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

“We are grateful for the partnership with the North Florida Land Trust and for their help to save this piece of history,” Hughes said. “Obtaining ownership of this historic property really is a feather in the cap of the National Park Service and a huge accomplishment for the citizens of our country. Now our work starts to assess this 120-year-old fort, which has been in a state of disrepair."

The 1898 Spanish-American War artillery battery fort was one of four forts on St. Johns Bluff that acted in defense of the river and is the only one that remains. The first, Ft. Caroline, was constructed in 1564 by French Huguenots. It was later taken by the Spanish and renamed Fort San Mateo. The exact location is not known, but it is believed changes in the river left it submerged.

An English fort was constructed in 1778 and was likewise lost when man-made changes to St. Johns Bluff caused considerable erosion along the marsh. A Confederate Earthworks was built in 1862 and has been buried. It now lies underneath a residential development.