Florida’s Oldest Plantation House
Visit the grounds and buildings of a sea island plantation, about 20 minutes south of Amelia Island in northeast Florida. According to the National Park Service, the Kingsley Plantation house, constructed in 1798, “is the oldest planter’s residence still standing in Florida.”
Located riverfront, Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island is worth a visit any day of the year (and admission is always free). It’s a scenic route from Amelia Island along Heckscher Drive through Big and Little Talbot Islands then onto Fort George Island.
Roam the grounds and step through the ruins of 25 tabby slave cabins (circa 1814). The plantation has the main house itself (c. 1798) on the Fort George River waterfront, plus adjacent kitchen house c. 1814, and a large barn. Wander along the riverbank and walk upon the dock. The Kingsley property offers an amazing riverfront vista. There’s also an interpretive history garden where key plantation crops are planted — sea island cotton, indigo (for making dye), and sugar cane. The plantation bears the name of a planter and slave trader, Zephaniah Kingsley, who married one of his slaves and set her free. Anna Kingsley was an African woman who became a plantation manager and business woman, an intriguing individual of the plantation era.
The Kingsley Plantation offers plenty of exhibit signs explaining its history, allowing visitors to take self-guided tours at their own pace around this sprawling riverfront property with its own dock on the Fort George River. Brochures and audio program are also available. However, park ranger tours can also be booked weekends (held at 11 am and 3 pm) on a limited basis (call in advance for reservation).
Two days a year offer an extra special opportunity to experience a presentation at Kingsley Plantation when history comes alive. The grounds are full of reenactors and special demonstrations.
During Black History Month each year in February, the Heritage Festival is held. Reenactors create a timeline of Fort George Island’s history with lots of demonstrations. The other big event of the year at Kingsley Plantation is held in autumn, Harvest Day. During this annual October special event, visitors can watch butter churning, demonstrations of the process of making indigo dye and tabby, blacksmithing, cotton ginning, and weaving. Reenactors also fire vintage weapons during this special event.
Kingsley Plantation daily visiting hours are 9 to 5, seven days a week (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day) — admission is always free. Note that touring the main plantation house itself on week days is unavailable “due to preservational concerns,” but can be booked on weekends only (more below). But the kitchen house (c. 1814), barn, and slave quarters, garden and grounds can always be toured. There is also a visitor info/bookstore on the property. WEEKEND TOURS: Visitors can call ahead to reserve a free guided tour on weekends, led by park ranger, of the plantation house, at 11:00 a.m. and 3 p.m., call 904-251-3537 or 904-251-3626. Weekend tours are limited, so be sure to book ahead (free).
(Also see Google map below). From Amelia Island, travel south taking the Nassau Sound Bridge onto Heckscher Drive/A1A. It’s a scenic route, about a 20 minutes, passing through Big and Little Talbot Islands, onto Fort George Island, where Kingsley Plantation is located. After Huguenot Memorial Park, the turn for Kingsley Plantation is about a mile further, on the right (about a half mile before reaching the Mayport Ferry landing.) The unpaved road to Kingsley is Palmetto Avenue, that leads through native maritime forest for about two miles, before reaching the Plantation house on the riverbank.
Address: Kingsley Plantation, 11676 Palmetto Avenue, Jacksonville, Florida 32226
For more information visit the National Park Service Kingsley Plantation website, or call 904-251-3537 or 904-251-3626.
Timucuan Trail State and National Parks
Kingsley Plantation is part of the “Timucuan Trail State and National Parks,” a co-op between America’s National Park System, the state of Florida, city of Jacksonville and the Nature Conservancy. This northeast Florida system of parks “includes some of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and preserves the area’s rich historic and prehistoric sites,” according to the National Park Service. Explore “the Real Florida” represented within this very special park system. Visitors travel through lovely marshland, beautiful coastal dunes and thick, native maritime forest. Artifacts uncovered in this region suggest human habitation dating back 6,000 years.