Meandering along the north border of Lake County, is Florida’s longest river and one of the few rivers flowing North in the state.
Traversing 310 miles of the Sunshine State from the swamps west of Vero Beach to Jacksonville, the St. Johns River is a popular waterway among Central Florida boaters. Several centuries ago, the slow-trickling river was the heart of the naturally gifted region and a Southern-style of living.
Beginning in the 1800s, many settlers came to Lake County by steamboat on the St. Johns River. Settlers flocked to Central Florida to homestead government property. By the 1880s, tourists had begun to take a liking to the sunny reception in Florida.
While steam boaters enjoyed the “honeymoon years” of the new mode of transportation during the late 1800s, vibrant towns began sprouting along the two dozen miles of St. Johns River shoreline in Lake County.
Crows Bluff, Hawkinsville and St. Francis all failed as fledging communities along the river, but for many boaters, including kayakers and canoeists, the series of Lake County ghost towns make for some sensational side trips.
St. Francis, also known as Old Town, is 116 miles south of Jacksonville on the west bank of the river. Pilings can still be seen in the St. Francis Dead River where a grand Riverside Hotel once stood. The town also featured its own weekly newspaper (The Florida Facts), post office, general store and warehouse. Even after the train derailed the steamboat’s burgeoning popularity, several of these towns continued to thrive until business came upon hard times when a freeze in 1894 destroyed hundreds of acres of citrus groves. While the land surrounding the series of ghost towns is relatively uninhabited today, the scenery changes dramatically when traveling north along the St. Johns River to the community of Astor.
Canals are lined with relaxing vacation homes, several marinas and other riverside business are bustling with tourists and local boaters alike. However, the activity surrounding Astor is nothing new.
The community has been inhabited for thousands of years by several groups including the French, Spanish and British. The Timucuan Indians once called this region home, primarily because of its excellent growing conditions, and an abundance of fish and game.
|Along the St. Johns River in Astor is one of Lake County’s more famous waterside restaurants, the Blackwater Inn. The restaurant features a delicious range of seafood and fine steaks to accompany its wide selection of spirits. Accompanying the Blackwater Inn and its upstairs lounge, William’s Landing, there are several other ideal waterside eateries in Lake County. For more information about dining choices in the County, check out Lake County’s Restaurant Guide. Receive a free copy by calling (800) 430-LAKE, stopping by the Lake County Welcome Center, located at 20763 U.S. Highway Groveland, or view our online version.