The Forgotten Rivers of Jacksonville

Published June 18, 2015 in Urban Issues

The Forgotten Rivers of Jacksonville
The St. Johns River isn't the only river in the River City! Today, Metro Jacksonville's Kristen Pickrell takes a look at Jacksonville's other rivers, while sharing interesting facts about each.

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Locator Map

1. Cedar River

The Cedar River wanders through the Westside before joining the Ortega River. Popular with weekend anglers, fish that travel between the Cedar River and the St. Johns River are also caught be commercial fisherman.

The Cedar River is on the west side of Jacksonville, running into the Ortega River just west of Roosevelt Boulevard.
One reason you should get to know the Cedar River is for its history. Back in the 1930s, the Cedar River was actually supposed to be home to a Works Progress Administration (WPA) park. The WPA was a large “New Deal” agency instituted under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The WPA employed millions of unskilled workers, operated arts and literacy programs, fed children, and redistributed housing and clothing during the Great Depression. Almost every city had a bridge, school, or park built by the WPA at this time, and during its peak, the WPA provided almost 8 million jobs.

The Great Depression had hit Jacksonville hard, and in 1934, the WPA offered to build us a 3,5000-acre park system. The park would have stretched nearly 15 miles, starting at Cedar River and connecting Ribault River and Ortega River to form a greenbelt around urban Jacksonville that would stimulate economic development. However, ultimately, city leaders didn’t see the value of spending their money, so the park was never built.  

Another reason you should know Cedar River is for the Cedar River Restaurant. This restaurant chain was established locals Kathy and Roland Bell, who both came from seafood and restaurant backgrounds. The Cedar River Restaurant was the Bell’s first restaurant, which opened up in 1976. Their goal was simple—served good seafood at a reasonable price, and doing it in a family atmosphere.  

2. Ortega River

The Ortega River Bridge

The Ortega River runs from the west side, near Camp Milton, to the Duval/Clay County line near Orange Park, and up to Ortega, where it runs into the St. Johns River.

Like the Cedar River, the Ortega River has some notable history, too. Right off of the Ortega River is the island of Ortega, which was said to be the “lair” of the outlaw (rumored pirate) Daniel McGirtt. McGirtt came to the area known today as Ortega in 1780, after being court-marshalled on false charges as a rebel troop in Georgia. As a result, McGirtt turned on the Americans, becoming part of the British militia and leading raid parties into rebel plantations. He and his group of men, known as the “Banditti,” started with just cattle, but soon moved to stealing and plundering whatever they could get their hands on. McGirtt was captured and taken to Castillo de San Marco, where he escaped. McGirtt would take to ambushing the Spanish when England ceded Florida, and McGirtt would be arrested in 1785. He made three separate attempts to get back in to Florida, before successfully doing so, where he was then captured and jailed in St. Augustine in 1797. He died shortly after.

The Ortega River is also known for being the recreational boating center of Northeast Florida.  Its “Marina Mile” is a waterfront strip that includes several marinas, boat shops, yacht sales, and similar various other marine-type shops. Ortega Landing is located on this stretch, as is the Lakeside Marina and the Ortega Yacht Club. The Ortega River is also home to the Ortega River Bridge, which is the most frequently opened bridge in Florida, due to the fact that it sits only 7 feet above the water.

3. Arlington River

The Arlington River

The Arlington River is located in Arlington, just south of the Mathews Bridge. The Arlington River crosses under University Boulevard, where it meets Pottsburg and Silversmith Creeks.
On Strawberry Creek, just east of the Arlington River, the remnants of a late 18th century dam remain. In 1795, Florida was under Spanish rule once more, and the Spanish Governor began handing out grants to encourage settlers to the area. The largest of these grants, totaling about 16,000 acres of land over the course of almost 20 years, was given to an Italian named Francois Richard. Richard had a sugar cane plant in the Dominican Republic prior to coming to settling in along Strawberry Creek. Richard’s Plantation, Strawberry Hill, was used as a saw mill and a cotton gin. Richard used almost 250 acres damming and flooding capabilities in Strawberry Creek downstream to Arlington River, which gave the water enough power to operate his mill. The remnants of the dam are the roadbed seen where Arlington Road crosses Strawberry Creek today.

4. Trout River

Fishing from the old Main Street Bridge over the Trout River in Panama Park.

The Trout River runs from Cisco Road, outside of Nassau County, to the St. John’s River near Panama Park. The Trout River splits near old Kings Road into the Trout River and Little Trout River.
One major destination located along the Trout River is the Jacksonville Zoo. The Jacksonville Zoo covers approximately 117 acres and is home to almost 2500 animals. The zoo participates in nearly 50 national and international conservation initiatives and projects and has close to 15 exhibits.

One of these exhibits is the Trout River Plaza Botanical Gardens. This garden is partially walled, which provides a wonderful view of the Trout River. Within the plaza, there is a large fountain, sculptures, mosaics, and of course, plants.  

Something that is also notable about the Trout River is that it used to be home to the Sid Walker’s Riverview Amusement Park in the 1950s. The park had a huge roller skating rink, about 10 rides, restaurants, a swimming pool, a ballroom, and even some picnic areas. Unfortunately, by 1959 a large portion would be demolished for a shopping center.

5. Ribault River

The Ribault River with Lem Turner Road in the background.

Ribault River is located near New King’s Road, running through Moncrief and into the Trout River. Ribault River has some history, too, as the river is named after French naval officer Jean Ribault. Ribault joined the French navy under the command of Huguenot admiral Gaspard de Coligny, who sent Ribault on an expedition to create a colony in the New World. Ribault left in 1562 to sail across the Atlantic and explore the mouth of what is now the St. John’s River. They continued up to South Carolina, where Ribault then left 27 men under the command of Albert de la Pierria at Charlesfort, and sailed himself back to France.

Ribault was originally supposed to return within the year to Charlesfort with supplies. However, the French Wars of Religions had broken out and Ribault was detained and imprisoned. In 1563, Ribault’s former Litenuiet, Rene Gouldain de Laudonniere, replaced Ribault in the expedition for colonization in North America.

Charlesfort had fallen to mutinay, unfortunately, so Laudonniere founded a new colony in Jacksonville, known still today as Fort Caroline. Ribault would make it back to Florida to take over Ft. Caroline in 1565. Disaster would strike days later, as Pedro Mendez, a commander of the Spanish fleet, attempted to take over the newly found colony. The timing worked in Mendez’s favor, as a hurricane masked his fleet and utterly destroyed Ribault’s. Ribault was killed in the disaster.

6. Broward River

a brief video of a drive across the Old Broward River Bridge in 2010 courtesy of Frank Rey at

One end of the Broward is located near Heckscher Drive, where it meets the St. John’s River. The river runs to a split between Main St and I-95. One side of the fork goes north and runs into Little Cedar Creek, the other ends near Biscayne Boulevard, running in to Cedar Creek.

Like many of the rivers, Broward River is no exception when it comes to a history lesson. Broward River is named after Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Florida’s 19th governor. Prior to the Spanish-American War, Broward wasn’t involved in politics, and was only really known for this steam tug, because he used it to smuggle arms to Cuban revolutionaries. However, in 1889, he entered the political scene as sheriff of Duval County, and would remain sheriff through the 1892 and 1896 elections. In 1900, he served as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, and in 1904, he won the election for Governor’s Office.

During Broward’s tenure as governor, he oversaw the start of the Everglades draining/development, the Choctawhatchee National Forest was founded, and the state’s institutions of higher learning was incorporated at UF, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes, and the Florida State College for Women. Broward would be elected to the Senate after his tenure, but unfortunately passed away before taking his seat.

7. San Pablo River

A view of the San Pablo River (Intracoastal Waterway) from Castaway Preserve Park.

San Pablo River became a part of the Intercostal Waterway when a 10-mile channel was dug to connect it to St. Johns County's Tolomato River in 1912. The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) covers 3,000 miles from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast. The ICW is composed of inlets, rivers, bays, and some artificial canals. The ICW is broken in to 3 major segments: the Gulf ICW, which extends from Brownsville, Texas to Carrabelle, Florida; a second Gulf ICW that extends from Tarpon springs, Florida to Fort Myers, Florida; and the Atlantic ICW, which extends from Key West, FL to Portsmouth, Virginia.

Along the San Pablo River, you can find the Castaway Island Preserve, a 300 acre nature preserve. This preserve offers a boardwalk, lookouts, nature trails, and kayak launches.

8. Fort George River


Fort George River runs from Fort George Inlet, north of Huguenot Park, and runs in to the ICW. One place to visit along Fort George River is Fort George Island State Park and the Kingsley Plantation. Fort George Island State Park has the highest point along the Atlantic coast up to New Jersey. The park includes the Ribault Inn Club, several oyster shell mounds, and is basically right next door to Little Talbot Island and the Timucuan Ecological Preserve. The park offers biking and hiking trails, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and beach access.

The park is, of course, also home to the Kinglsey Plantation. The Kingsley family owned a 18th century plantation and their residency is still preserved today. Operated by the National Park Service, the Kinglsey Plantation offers tours of the grounds, which include exploring the slave quarters, barn, garden, and kitchen home. The plantation house itself may also be viewed.  

9. Nassau River

The Nassau River, viewed from the Nassau River Bridge. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.

The Nassau River forms the boundaries between Nassau and Duval Counties. A notable place to stop near the Nassau River is Little Talbot Island. Little Talbot Island is an undeveloped barrier island with more than 5 miles of beaches. Little Talbot also offers many dunes, salt marshes, and maritime forests. Activities at Little Talbot include bird watching, camping, surfing, picnicking, and hiking.

Neighboring Little Talbot Island is Big Talbot Island, another place you can visit along the Nassau River. Big Talbot Island is a nature preserve that offers kayaking, hiking, biking, and pavilions. Big Talbot also has a trail that leads to Boneyard Beach, a beach that has salt-washed trees scattered all over it.

Article by Kristen Pickrell. Contact Kristen at

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