Northern Gateway | Palatka

Title: The Battle at Horse Landing | Artist: Betty Sutliff | At: South 3rd Street at St. Johns Avenue

Palatka sits on the shores of St Johns River as it narrows and converges into Lake George and meets with the Ocklawaha River. Its strategic location along the St. Johns has shaped its history. Notably in the 1850s the Steamboat Era brought tourists to Palatka as they made their way on the Ocklawaha River to Silver Springs, Eustis and Leesburg or took the St. Johns River down to Welaka, Astor, Sanford and points south. The Steamboat Era boomed after the Civil War, and new hotels were built in Palatka, including the Putnam House, built by Hubbard L. Hart, and the Larkin House, which had accommodations for 250 guests.

Palatka, in Putnam County, is the northernmost city along the byway. It is home to such features as:

  • The beautiful Ravine Gardens State Park
  • The annual Florida Azalea Festival
  • The Blue Crab Festival
  • Mug Race Weekend
  • Over 25 outdoor larger-than-life murals

The first Saturday of May each year is “Mug Race Weekend”. Yachters gather together here in Palatka and fill the St. Johns River with sailboats as they embark on their sail up to Jacksonville. Sailing, fishing and boating are a large part of Palatka’s recreation.

Another unique feature of Palatka is its series of over 25 outdoor murals. The murals provide vivid imagery highlighting Palatka’s multi-faceted history. The Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee has sponsored most of the murals with the goal “to accurately depict the historical, cultural, and natural riches of Palatka and Putnam County in larger-than-life murals.” There are additional murals sponsored by others. Take some time “seeing” Palatka’s history in murals, such as:

  • The Mug Race
  • The Putnam House, 1891
  • Steamboat traveling up Ocklawaha at Night
  • Cattle Drive to Paynes Prarie, 1930
  • A mural honoring Billy Graham
  • The Civil War Battle at Horse Landing

Before beginning his ministry, the Reverend Billy Graham spent time and was baptized in Palatka. He gave his first sermon in Palatka’s Peniel Baptist Church.
As early as 1655 the Spanish were developing Palatka, along with Gainesville, St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Palatka became the main crossing point along the St. Johns River for cattle heading to the slaughterhouse.

In 1763 the Spanish turned Florida over to the British and officially left the state, but not for long. Shortly after in 1767, Denys Rolle, an English philanthropist and nobleman, established Rollestown on the east bank of the St. Johns River at the head of deep-water navigation. His plantation was to be a utopian commercial and humanitarian experiment. The experiment was over by 1784 when the Spanish re-took control of Florida and the British left.

In 1774, famed naturalist William Bartram came to the Palatka area. Known as the “flower hunter” by the local tribes, he catalogued the local flora and fauna.

Putnam County Chamber of Commerce
1100 Reid Street
Palatka, FL 32177
Telephone (386) 328 1503

Links: Ravine Gardens State Park, Blue Crab Festival, Tour of Murals, Florida Azalea Festival, Mug Race Weekend, The Putnam House