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Learn About Northeast Florida’s French and Spanish History at Fort Caroline

by Aoife O'Riordan

Mar 8, 2024

© Karen Foley | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

Take the kids on an educational trip to Northeast Florida, where the whole family can learn about the region’s rich Spanish history and brief French influence in the 16th century. Located in north Jacksonville, Florida, Fort Caroline, a national monument and part of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, was an attempted French colonial settlement in Florida back in the mid-1500s.


Today, visitors to Fort Caroline can see a reconstructed fort showing how the early French settlers lived before the Spanish attacked. The real fort’s foundations likely lie beneath the marshy waters over which the reconstructed fort looks out. Sloped outlooks and cannons sit within the wooden walls of the fort, and the kids can imagine what life was like centuries ago.


There’s also the Ribault Column, commemorating the 1562 landing of Jean Ribault near the mouth of the St. Johns River. The column overlooks St. Johns Bluff and, on a clear day, visitors can see as far as the Atlantic Ocean.


A visit to the memorial and preserve is more than just a glimpse into 500 years of history. It’s also a great way to expose the kids to some of Florida’s terrain and indigenous history. There’s a visitor center with an exhibit called Where the Waters Meet, showcasing the rich environment of Northeast Florida and how humans have interacted with the terrain for thousands of years. The national preserve offers classes for children to better learn how the Timucua people lived, such as a lesson on Timucua pottery.


Bring the kids on a hike through the preserve’s many miles of trails winding around the area, walking the same paths used by Timucuan Indians or the old roads enslaved men, women and children ventured to reach the fields. Popular trails include ones through Theodore Roosevelt Park, Kingsley Plantation and Fort George Island. Theodore Roosevelt Area consists of a bird observation tower, views over the marshes and the site of a historic cabin owned by the last private owner.


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