Flagler County at the Crossroads: Community or Concrete Jungle?

by: Ed Siarkowicz

President, Flagler County Historical Society

I first moved to Florida in 1992. Royal Palm Beach was a small community nestled in the woods and swamps between bustling West Palm Beach and a place called Loxahatchee, which was as “country” as it gets.

“At the outset, I invite you to think about American history in a whole new way: not as a series of ‘lessons’ with dates, names and events to memorize and ‘recite’, but as a story from the past that will help you understand the world in which you live.

– David Saville Muzzey, Governor Morris Professor, Columbia University, 1945

The Palms West Chamber of Commerce has been the driving force behind the promotion and development of the community. They had very smart and talented people working for them who were determined to promote the area – attracting business, developing the economy and promoting recreational areas.

In 1995 I moved to St. Augustine.

South Florida was just too hot for my New York blood, and St. Augustine had a sentimental vibe about it as a childhood vacation destination.

A few years later, I started hearing from friends I had made at the Palms West Chamber of Commerce. “We are thinking of moving, how is Saint-Augustin?” they all asked.

After telling them about the story, character and vibe, I asked the question, “Why do you want to move?” »

Their collective responses still frustrate me today. “The Royal Palm Beach is no longer what it used to be. The trees have all disappeared. It’s one mall after another with no sense of character. The charm disappeared, the population exploded and crime increased. That’s not why we moved here. It’s time to find another place to call home.

The first thing that came to mind was grasshoppers.

They descend, they take what they want, and when their resources are depleted, they move on to the next location, leaving behind a trail of destruction in an area that will never be the same again.

Archaeological remains of the St. Joseph Plantation documented by scouts in the 1960s. The location is now the site of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits. Courtesy picture

Flagler County’s history is as old as the Earth itself. Prehistorically, woolly mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, smilodons (saber-toothed tigers) and Volkswagen Beetle-sized armadillos crashed through some of the same foliage you see growing in your backyard. . Megalodon sharks swam in the oceans. They ate great white sharks. We know we have these things because their remains have been found along creek banks, in C-section canals, and in piles of dirt emerging from holes dug for retention ponds, swimming pools, and fence posts. .

We are not the first humans here. Native Americans hunted, fished, collected, cooked and buried their dead here 15,000 years ago. We know they were here because their spearheads, arrowheads, pottery and burial mounds have been found in the same places as prehistoric creatures. Just two years ago, a spearhead the size of the palm of your hand was brought to the Historical Society. It came out of a fence post hole in St. Johns Park – still razor sharp. It was dated between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago.

ITT and Garfield were not the first modern settlers in our area. What is now Flagler County began as the breadbasket of the Spanish military fort of St. Augustine in the 1500s. Pedro Menendez de Aviles led a reconnaissance party to our coquina ridge just east of Old Kings Road, September 1565. He was looking for French sailors who had settled in local Native American villages after being shipwrecked by a hurricane en route to attack St. Augustine. We have a 58-year-old urban legend of a group of high school kids who spotted “conquistador armor” in Graham Swamp that we’re working to validate.

King George III’s chief cartographer, Johann Wilhem Gerard De Brahm, came to our area in 1765 to map, record resources and befriend native peoples after England took control of Florida on Spain.

Hewitt’s 1770 sawmill and dam cut the timber to build the homes that housed 20,000 British Loyalists in St. Augustine who had fled the 13 northern colonies during the American Revolution.

With the construction of Kings Road from Cowford (Jacksonville) to the Turnbull Colony (New Smyrna Beach), plantations sprung up to grow indigo, Sea Island cotton, and sugar cane.

Enslaved African Americans were brought here by the British during what was a horrific time in history. Their stories of life, death, escape and expertise in carpentry, cattle ranching, rice cultivation and the chemistry of sugar production resonate through our lands and forests.

These stories must be told by their descendants to teach people today layers of history so that THAT history will never repeat itself. We feel we have enough evidence from Bulow Plantation to extend the historic Gullah Geechie Corridor into Flagler County.

Native American tribes, fed up with Europeans in the 1830s, began burning their plantations, which led to the Seminole Wars, which led to the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears.

Osceola traveled through our lands en route to his capture under a White Flag of Truce near Fort Peyton, St. Augustine.

The Civil War, the land booms of the early 1900s, women’s suffrage, racial injustices, agriculture and the ITT era – our story is endless in its good and its bad. These are all teachable lessons that can educate young people and their families and enrich the community.

The past must be brought back to the present.

Flagler County is at a crossroads. We are currently experiencing one of the greatest development booms in our history.

Do we plow it or search for artifacts through archaeologists who can tell the story of our local heritage and embed history kiosks in business districts?

Are we clear cutting or preserving historic green spaces that are tax deductible for developers through organizations such as the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation?

Do we make our money building cookie-cutter anesthetic communities and strip malls, or do we consult archaeological studies and historians to find out not what we can do, but how we can enrich the community and create opportunities for educational experiences linked to existing walking and cycling paths?

Have we become known only for our beaches and have to shut down tourism when the next hurricane shuts down A1A for eight months, or are we capitalizing on everything Flagler County has to offer?

Are we fighting our growing pains on social media where nothing is doing anything to make a difference, or are we showing up to city council and county commission meetings excited to let our elected officials know what’s going on going on in the minds and hearts of their constituents? Are we a divided and falling house, or are we united to maintain an agreed quality of life?

Flagler County is at a crossroads.

Will your actions or inactions now turn THIS community into the place you’ll want to live in 20 years from now, or will you go in search of a new “scenic” place to retire when Flagler County loses its appeal ?

Decide now what tomorrow will look like.

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