WASHINGTON OAKS STATE GARDENS
The Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River provide the natural boundaries
for the 389 acres of coastal scenery that comprise Washington Oaks State
Gardens. Ocean waves have washed away the sand, exposing coquina rock
and creating a picturesque boulder-strewn beach. At low tide, many shore
birds feed and rest around the peaceful tidal pools. Visitors can enjoy
picnicking, fishing and walking through the ornamental gardens and along
Along the beach can be found
a most unique rock outcrop. These rocks are believed to be formed from
either a submerged offshore bar or from a beach ridge similar to the present
barrier beach at Washington Oaks.
It is believed that the offshore
bar was formed approximately 100,000 years ago during the last interglacial
period of the Ice Age. At that time, sea level was about 25 to 30 feet
higher than at present. When the sea level dropped during the following
glacial period, the bar was exposed to air and weather. Rain water percolating
down through the layer of sediment, dissolved calcium carbonate from the
shell material, forming a matrix or cement, binding the loose sediment
into coquina rock.
Once raised from the ocean, the
bar stood above sea level for many thousands of years. It was not until
about 5,000 years ago that the rising sea would have started wearing away
the rock to produce the beautiful formation we see today.
Long before Europeans reached Florida, Native Americans came here to hunt,
fish and gather shellfish. The hill at the top of the rose garden is formed
by a midden -- the mound of oyster shells and other discards left by generations
of Indians. Archaeological studies are currently underway to learn more
about the Indian lifeways here.
During the 1500's and 1600's
several French, Spanish, and English groups passed through the area. The
first documented settlement by Europeans came in 1770 when the British
government granted the land to John Moultrie, Lieutenant Governor of East
Florida. Moultrie mined the heaps of oyster shells to produce lime in
his lime kiln and established an orange grove.
In 1793 a fire, probably natural,
swept over the tract. Shortly after, it was acquired by a Portuguese born
merchant who may have constructed some buildings and planted crops. Common
crops on nearby farms were rice and corn.
In 1818, Jose Mariano Hernandez,
a St. Augustine native of Minorcan descent, bought the land. He named
it "Bella Vista."
Hernandez' career as a planter
was typical for many in northeast Florida. He was a citizen of a Spanish
colony, owning lands granted by Spain. In 1821, Florida became a U.S.
territory. Hernandez swore allegiance to the new country and changed his
name to Joseph Marion Hernandez. His service to the government included
representing St. Augustine in the Territorial legislature in Tallahassee
and serving as the first Representative from the Territory of Florida
to the U.S. Congress. He became known as General Hernandez because, as
Brigadier General, he organized and commanded militia before and during
the Second Seminole War (1835-42).
On his several land holdings,
Hernandez raised cotton, sugar, and crops to feed the family, workers,
and slaves. Bella Vista adjoined his cotton plantation to the south, but
was apparently never developed as a separate farm itself. In 1836, Indians
burned plantations along the Matanzas River, that were occupied by U.S.
troops, including Hernandez lands. Since Bella Vista was not garrisoned,
it was not destroyed. But the plantation economy in this part of the state
never fully recovered.
In 1845, Hernandez' daughter
Luisa married a lawyer from North Carolina named George Lawrence Washington.
(He shared a common ancestor with President George Washington.) While
George Lawrence and Luisa Washington lived in the St. Augustine area until
1856, it does not appear that they built a home or resided at Bella Vista.
Washington apparently remembered
this land fondly long after Luisa died. In 1878, he began seasonal visits
to St. Augustine. At Bella Vista, now owned by another daughter of General
Hernandez, he built a small beach house, which he and his sons used for
hunting and fishing and raising citrus. In 1888, he bought the entire
property from her and people began calling it "The Washington Place."
After Washington's death in
1894, the property went to his heirs. One of them, a son from a later
marriage in New Jersey, sold the land to unrelated developers in 1923.
Only the collapse of the 1920's Florida land boom kept the tract from
sprouting a new crop of homes in a subdivision to be called "Hernandez
In 1936 the land was bought
by Louise Powis Clark, a designer from New York. It was to become a winter
retirement home for herself and her third husband, Owen D. Young. Young,
an attorney and industrialist who had been chairman of the board of General
Electric Corporation and RCA, advised the Government on international
The Youngs were responsible
for the name "Washington Oaks," as well as the design of the
gardens and the house. They combined native and exotic plantings, even
adding touches from the Orient, where both had spent time. They gradually
acquired the beach front property from neighbors. Throughout the 1940's
and 50's, children and grandchildren of previous marriages enjoyed extended
In 1962, Mr. Young died. Shortly
before her death in 1965, Mrs. Young gave most of Washington Oaks to the
State of Florida. She specified that the gardens be "maintained in
their present form" and expanded as funds become available.
Washington Oaks State Gardens is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and
Matanzas River, also known as the Intracoastal Waterway. Within this coastal
hammock you will find magnificent live oak trees. These trees offer shade
as you walk through this tranquil and peaceful gardens. The gardens will
take you on a journey down footpaths that lead you to enjoy the many varieties
of plant life. Each season yields a new experience with the flowering of
annuals, perennials, combined with exotics and native vegetation complimenting
a beautiful natural setting. The gardens are well known for azaleas, camellias
and roses. The rose garden features many different types including Don Juan,
Tropicana, Kentucky Derby, Sweet Surrender, Sun Flare, Double Delight ,
Madellion and the wild Cherokee Rose. Upon stepping out of the rose garden
many couples unite at the octagon, located next to one of the many reflection
ponds, to recite their wedding nuptials. While strolling along the pathways,
bordered with carpets of mondo grass, labels identify the wide variety of
ornamental and exotic plants throughout the gardens. One of the highlights
at the park are the many citrus trees along the outer perimeter of the garden.
A walk in the formal gardens will
provide an atmosphere of tranquillity. Many visitors spend several hours
wondering and relaxing in the formal gardens located within the park. The
garden makes remarkable use of exotic and native species all nestled within
a picturesque oak hammock. Within the gardens you will find everything from
azaleas and camellias to the more exotic bird of paradise.
Although the park is most known for the formal garden, the majority of the
parks nearly 400 acres exists in natural condition. The beach dune areas
of the park provide nesting places for endangered sea turtles. The loggerhead
sea turtle is a frequent visitor to the beaches of the park.
The coastal scrub is home to
several endangered and threatened species. Due to aggressive resource
management practices, the endangered scrub jay is starting to once again
be seen at the park. The Gopher Tortoise also makes his home in the scrub.
The endangered Florida Manatee
is frequently seen along the western boundaries of the park in the Matanzas
River. This gentle giant can be seen frequently swimming and feeding in
the shallows along the parks seawall.
There are excellent bird watching
opportunities at Washington Oaks State Gardens. Well over one hundred (100)
species of birds have been observed in the park and surrounding waters.
The hammock forest is active during the spring (April-May) and fall (Sept.-Oct.)
migration when many species of songbirds, including the colorful wood warblers,
move along the Atlantic Flyway. The bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and northern
harrier are seasonal inhabitants of the Matanzas river basin (fall and winter
months are best for birds-of-prey) and a variety of wading birds, including
egrets, herons, wood stork and white ibis, feed in tidal creeks and marshes.
Washington Oaks State Gardens is a popular place for recreational fishing.
Fishing can be enjoyed from the parks seawall in the Matanzas River and
from the beach, if surf fishing is your pleasure. A number of different
species are routinely caught including whiting and blue fish in the surf
and redfish, drum and flounder and several species of trout along the seawall.
Fishing from the
seawall as well as surf fishing is allowed at Washington Oaks.
Non residents are required
to posses a Florida Saltwater fishing license. Florida residents are not
required to posses a license when fishing from shore.
Washington Oaks State Gardens provides a beautiful picnic facility beneath
large majestic oaks. There is a covered pavilion with other tables and grills
located throughout the picnic area . The picnic areas close proximity to
the parks hiking trail and the Matanzas river, makes it a popular meeting
place for an after lunch hike.
The pavilion is available for
reservation by calling the park office at 904-446-6780.
Restroom facilities and a schildren
play area is also available in the picnic area.
Washington Oaks State Gardens provides trails for both hiking and biking.
The Bella Vista trails, include the Timucuan hiking trail, Jungle Road hike
and bike trail and the Old A-1-A hike and bike trail. This 1.7 mile trail
system explores a mature coastal maritime hammock and ventures into the
edge of a dense canopied coastal scrub.
Hiking and biking
trails provide and exploration of the elegant coastal hammock.
The Mala Compra hiking loop
is a one half (1/2 mile) loop that explores the ecotone between the coastal
maritime hammock and the estuarine tidal marsh along the Matanzas River.
The hiking trails at Washington
Oaks State Gardens were developed by the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection in cooperation with the Florida Trail Association.
The park is open every day from 8:00 am until sundown and the admission
fee is $3.25 per car or $1.00 per person if you are on foot or bicycle.
Washington Oaks State Park is located two miles south of Marineland, off A1A.
For more information on Washington
Oaks State Gardens contact the park at:
Washington Oaks State Gardens
6400 North Oceanshore Blvd.
Palm Coast, Florida 32173
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