I enjoy exploring the St. Francis Trail in Ocala National Forest it leads you through a scenic wilderness and to a historical ghost town site. There is a kiosk at the trailhead that describes some of the history on the town. Today the town is long gone and nature has reclaimed the area. Walking through this lush wilderness you’d never think that there was once a booming town out here.
St. Francis was once called Old Town, it was a river town that served the steam boat traffic on the St. Johns River in 1888. They had a post office from March 15th, 1888 to Oct. 15th 1909. When the train line came out of Jacksonville in 1886 it began taking the business from the steamboats. Steamboats worked their way from Jacksonville upriver along the St. Johns to Sanford. Here they would stop to exchange household goods for citrus and timber. The town faded away after river traffic vanished in the wake of railroads for commerce.
As I explored along the trails and surrounding woods I could see some old Cypress stumps and even some old logging trams. One of them I found a large Cypress tree still standing with some cut marks on the side of it from loggers.
I enjoy the views by the river here and the different habitats you experience along the way. I followed the trail towards the townsite, there you can see the old wagon road and follow that back to the where the trail loops back to the trailhead. That direction leads to an old railroad line as well. On this adventure I spent some time by the St. Johns and St. Francis Dead River areas. You can see the old townsite on maps but it always has been difficult for me to find the exact location. If you look closely by the shoreline you can see some old dock pilings. You can see an old dock there in photos from the 1870’s where the packing house once was. It is quite amazing to be standing there in modern times and being able to reflect back upon the past. There is something about being in these places that takes you back to another time.
There were several homesteads scattered throughout the property and by one of them I found an artesian well. The wells furnished the residents with an abundant supply of water. Typically these are capped off now and days but this one is still flowing out of a pipe there. I wondered if there was a homestead nearby. Everything is very overgrown so it’s hard to really know the layout of the town but some maps available give you the general idea. I always enjoy the adventure of exploring these areas and learning about the past.
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