The Longest River in Florida
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