St. Johns River

From Academic Kids

The St. Johns River (commonly misspelled as the St. John's River) is the longest river in the U.S. state of Florida, stretching 310 miles (500 km) from Indian River County to the Atlantic Ocean in Duval County. It is one of only a handful of North American rivers that flow from South to North. The elevation change from headwaters to mouth is only about 30 feet, making the St. Johns one of the world's "laziest" rivers. This slow flow makes it difficult for pollutants to be flushed from the waters, which has become a serious problem for the river ecosystem. Despite the pollution the river is home to numerous species. It is not uncommon to see dolphins in the river north of Jacksonville, manatees in the springtime when the water warms up, alligators, bald eagles, ospreys, stingrays, and many species of fish, both salt and fresh water.


The three basins

The upper (southern) basin of the river has indistinct banks, with numerous sloughs and lagoons, often pooling into ponds and lakes. Some of the larger lakes are known today as Lake Hell 'n' Blazes, Sawgrass Lake, Lake Washington, Lake Winder, Lake Poinsett, Ruth Lake, Puzzle Lake, Lake Harney, Lake Jesup and Lake Monroe.

Below Lake Harney, the river is joined by the Econlockhatchee River, and runs between higher bluffs on either side, forming the middle basin. This part of the river runs through what is now the Ocala National Forest. After the English acquisition of Florida from Spain in 1762, English explorer William Bartram was sent by King George III to explore the territory. In his subsequent book Travels, Bartram called the middle basin a "...blessed land where the gods have amassed into one heap all the flowering plants, birds, fish and other wildlife of two continents in order to turn the rushing streams, the silent lake shores and the awe-abiding woodlands of this mysterious land into a true garden of Eden." Here the river forms the broad and shallow Lake George, where marine sharks have been seen in drought years where the normally rain-fed freshwaters of the river cannot fight back the inflowing Atlantic salt water.

The lower (northern) basin begins where the largest tributary of the St. Johns, the Ocklawaha River, joins the flow. (Both rivers are part of the modern Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area.) It passes through the historic city of Palatka, Florida, then through unspoiled riverine bottomland hardwoods, pine flatwoods and sandhill communities, on its way to Jacksonville.

Past Jacksonville, the river becomes an estuary, where fresh and salt water meet, and a wide diversity of living species inhabit the islands, inlets, sounds, streams and marshes of the area.

History and names

The river basin was the home to the native Timucua tribes, who called it Welaka, or "river of lakes".

In the early 1500s, Spanish explorers called the river Río de Corrientes, or "river of currents".

An expedition of French Huguenots landed at the mouth of the river on May 1, 1562, and thus called it Rivière du Mai, or "river of May". In 1564, a bluff overlooking this site (St. Johns Bluff) became the location of Fort Caroline, the first French colony in North America. This fort was captured by the Spanish from St. Augustine a little over a year after it was founded.

The conquering Spanish renamed the river (and the fort) San Mateo, after Saint Matthew, whose feast day fell the day after their victory over the French.

A Catholic mission named San Juan del Puerto was founded on Fort St. George Island near the river's mouth around 1578, and in time the river came to be known as Río de San Juan. This was translated St. Johns River in English, and this name has remained intact through colonization, war, and the creation of the United States.


As the St. Johns River flows through the city of Jacksonville, Florida it is spanned by seven bridges (see below). The Jacksonville Port Authority (often abbreviated JAXPORT) facilities at the mouth of the St. Johns river make up Florida's second largest port. In fiscal year 2003, JAXPORT handled over 1,500 ships, delivering almost 700,000 containers and over 500,000 cars. Some of the major local commodities include gypsum and oil.

The U.S. Navy maintains the Navy Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport near the river's mouth.


See also

External links



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