Long ago, Northeast Florida was first inhabited by Timucuan Indians who lived along creeks and waterways. The Spanish came into the area in 1513, led by Juan Ponce de Leon. He named the area La Florida and, in doing so, established the region's rich tradition of history and heritage. In 1564, the French built Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, establishing the first Protestant colony in America. They lost their foothold in Florida to the Spanish, who conquered the French and built a settlement in nearby St. Augustine in 1565, 55 years before the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
A major page of history turned when Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 and a year later at "Cowford" a narrow spot on the St. Johns River to ferry cows across, the town of Jacksonville was established (named after General Andrew Jackson.) By the time Florida achieved statehood in 1845, Jacksonville was an important port in the cotton and timber trades.
During the mid-to-late 19th century, Jacksonville was billed as the "winter city in summerland" and became a haven for those seeking respite from colder northern climate. The sunny weather, beautiful beaches, a major shipping port, and the busy waterways drew tourists from around the world.
A raging fire in 1901 destroyed 2,368 downtown buildings but launched a renaissance which set the city on its modern-day course. Although slowed somewhat by the depression, Jacksonville rebounded during World War II with the building of military installations. In 1968, the city and county governments were joined to create the geographically largest city in the contiguous 48 states. At about the same time, modern skyscrapers and additional bridges were built making way for major development south of the river.
For the next 25 years, Jacksonville's river and its ocean port again served as the lifeblood of the area, attracting many new residents, businesses and visitors. The city quietly evolved into a major business center of the South. In 1993, the quiet ended. The National Football League awarded a franchise to Jacksonville, pushing the city into the national spotlight and toward a new destiny.
Today, Jacksonville is an exciting vibrant city that maximizes its natural attributes and reaches out to welcome visitors.
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