A large platform where two cannons at the Spanish-American War Fort formerly stood, pointing towards the bluff overlooking the St. Johns River.

The fort looks much the way they left it, which isn’t surprising because it was constructed of steel-reinforced concrete. Built for battle in 1898, its walls are thick and completely intact. A tunnel, which leads to a dark, dank underground ammunition storeroom, also appears untouched by time.

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Executive Director, Jim McCarthy stands in a ammo bunker lit only by a small circular skylight.

Standing in that room, it’s easy to imagine Spanish-American War soldiers passing ammunition to each other, as they prepared to defend Jacksonville from Spanish ships sailing up the St. Johns River. The two cannons that once faced the river are long gone. But their gun rails are still there. And after climbing to the top of the deeply shaded bluff that once hid those powerful military weapons, a visitor can experience the same sweeping view of the river and surrounding landscape that troops stationed in the area once did.

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Left: One of two cannon mounts with metal rings that would support the cannon as it rotated. | Right:  A view from inside the fort.

“For 118 years old, it’s in remarkable condition,” Jim McCarthy, North Florida Land Trust’s executive director says one recent day while touring the fort, located on 3.2 acres in the Fort Caroline area. “They knew what they were doing in those days. They knew how to build something that would last.”

McCarthy and his organization are now striving to make sure the unique historic fort, which few people outside the neighborhood even knew existed, will last for many more years. The nonprofit land trust, which has protected thousands of acres of environmentally significant land in the region since its founding in 1999, has been raising money to purchase it from its private owner, who had planned to tear it down to build a house on the site.

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The St. Johns River as seen from the bluff at the Spanish-American War Fort.

The fort is the only standing fort left in Jacksonville. “Folks who knew about it, knew about it. Those who didn’t, didn’t,” McCarthy says. It should have been declared a historic site years ago, he says. But that request would have had to come from the owner, and none of its owners ever requested it.

After signing a purchase agreement with the individual, who bought the property at a tax auction, the nonprofit obtained funds from a variety of donors, including $162,500 from the City of Jacksonville, a challenge grant of $100,000 from The Delores Barr Weaver Fund, $10,000 from The Jaguars Foundation, $5,000 from local attorney Wayne Hogan and an anonymous donation from a woman who has offered to match donations up to $39,000. More than 150 people also donated smaller amounts, including an 8-year-old girl, who gave $5 at a neighborhood fundraising event. McCarthy is optimistic that they will raise the $400,000 necessary to purchase the fort from the private owner by the November deadline.

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A large platform where two cannons at the Spanish-American War Fort formerly stood, pointing towards the bluff overlooking the St. Johns River.

The fort is an important piece of Jacksonville’s history, McCarthy says. “Saving it is a win-win for everybody.”

The fort never did see battle. The war was short lived, and in the 1920s, the government sold it to the first of a series of private owners. It needs only minor repairs. The land trust plans to turn it over to the National Park Service for management, which would make it available to the public as part of the existing Fort Caroline complex.

Jacksonville has long been a military town, McCarthy says. “This is a part of who we are.”

 

For more info visit northfloridalandtrust.org