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Posts Tagged ‘France’

near Gould, Ark.
Visited: August 29, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 240 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

They’re EverywhereWHAT IS IT?
Site of one of France’s earliest permanent New World settlements. For almost 200 years, from 1686 to 1863, the Arkansas Post was an important city but now nothing remains.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is a murky peninsula, surrounded on its wide sides by the bayou, its tip pointing towards the Arkansas River. The sky shines a hazy grayish blue, reflecting the waters’ dark dingy tint. Trees grow in the water. Fields of lily pads float everywhere amidst lime green algae and yellow lotus flowers add an unseen color and a delicate beauty. Snowy Egrets fly above skulking alligators, multiple dragonfly species hover incessantly, mosquitoes swarm and yearling deer race through the ruins of an early Arkansas town.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
It is hard to believe this abandoned bayou backwater could ever have been an important place, but for nearly two centuries, it was the center of European life in the Arkansas region. In 1686, the French built a fort, establishing a trading post and solidifying control of the Arkansas River. The River’s flooding, Chickasaw war parties and British raiders continually forced the fort to be moved.

In 1763, France cedes the region to the Spanish, who soon after establish a presence at Arkansas Post. British soldiers attack the Fort in 1783, during the American Revolution, because Spain has sided with the colonists. France regains the territory in 1800 and sells it to Thomas Jefferson as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Arkansas Post becomes capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and the Arkansas Gazette (still the State’s major newspaper) begins publication.

Six Flags Over ArkansasIn 1821, Little Rock becomes the capital, the paper moves and the population shrinks from 1830 to only 114. The town is all but dead. The penultimate nail comes in January 1863, during the Civil War, when Union gunboats destroy the Site’s newly built Fort and mercilessly shell the town. Nothing remains. Nature deals the final blow through erosion and the changing course of the Arkansas River. All that remains are alligators, deer, dragonflies, wild turkeys and lotus flowers.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. We wish we could have spotted some alligators. Maybe if the sky had not been overcast.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The N MEM is located in the bayou country of southeastern Arkansas, about 60 miles from Pine Bluff and 100 miles from Little Rock.

From Pine Bluff, take U.S. Route 65 southeast until the town of Gould. Wind your way through the back streets of this tiny town along Arkansas Route 212. Once you hit U.S. Rte. 165, turn north (left). In about 5 miles, turn east (right) onto Arkansas Rte. 169. Rte. 169 will lead you through the bayou and to the Park.

If you would prefer to stay on larger roads, continue on 65, past Gould, and to Dumas. From Dumas, take U.S. Rte. 165 for 15 miles until Ark. Rte. 169. Turn right and you will soon be there.

Bayou Country

CONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The bookstore has a sparse, but well thought out and interesting selection of merchandise for sale. Jaw Harps, reprints of the two Harper’s Weekly’s that mention the Arkansas Post Civil War battle, reprints of the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, a cute canned Alligator (stuffed animal in a can, not a meal) and ceramic mugs stamped with the fleur de lis. Cool books include an Arkansas traveler’s 1819 journal, a book on the Indian gun trade, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a history of the Arkansas Post written by a Park Service employee.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
One kind Ranger looked happy to see us; it was a dreary, rainy midweek day and few people were venturing to this bayou ghost town.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
There are a few neat displays in the Museum and the film, while superficial and hokey, is watch-able. The Park holds no interesting secrets and no spellbinding historical revelations. The Site does an able job with its limited material. The Site provides a terrific bird checklist that even lists the specific areas of the Park to look for each bird.

FUN (3/10)
We would have had more fun of there were alligators. We cut our pleasant, but humid, walk around the Post Bayou Nature Trail short because the rain started to come down in droves. The thick trees were not going to provide a sturdy canopy for long. The old townsite was anticlimactic, consisting of only one or two ruins. The climate, ruins, scenery and colonial history reminded us of Georgia’s Fort Frederica NM. We did not have much fun there, either.

Photogenic ThreeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Only if you have a thing for French colonial history. We have heard good things about the newly opened White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located about 30 miles to the north in St. Charles. The White River NWR is close to the Cache River, the place where some ornithologists believe they found the ivory-billed woodpecker, an elusive bird species thought to have gone extinct. We had our binoculars on and ears open at Arkansas Post but saw and heard nothing.

TOTAL 40/80

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Part of Timucuan Ecological and Historical PreserveJacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 139 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Welcome to JacksonvilleWHAT IS IT?
Reconstructed 16th-century fort that marks the brief Protestant French (Huguenot) presence along the southern Atlantic coast.

BEAUTY (2/10)
We asked the Ranger at Castillo de San Marcos NM why did the French sail to St. Augustine instead of waiting for the Spanish from their reinforced fortress. His response, “Have you been to Fort Caroline yet? Then you’ll know” And we did. Even though Fort Caroline N MEM is a 1/3-sized reconstruction, its historical smallness and flimsy walls were apparent. It is not much of a fort, more like a triangular shaped enclosure with thin walls overlooking the wide, deep St. Johns River.

We arrived in Jacksonville on a dreary, cold, rainy day. Massive barges floated down the river while steam and smoke bellowed from the many factories. Had it not been for the million dollar houses on the River’s far side, the vista might have been mistaken for Industrial Revolution-era London. Who would build a house overlooking this disgusting river span? Maybe Charles Dickens.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
In 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault sailed to the mouth of the St. Johns River hoping to find a suitable area to be a refuge for the persecuted Protestant French. Two years later the fort was built and a 200-person colony was established. The colony would double its size in under a year but saw its end by 1565 at the hands of the Spanish. See our Fort Matanzas review for more background.

In September of 1565 after receiving military reinforcements, the Huguenots launched a preemptive attack on the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine located 20 miles to the south. They picked the wrong month. Once out on the water, the weather changed rapidly and the French found themselves sailing into a hurricane. The violent winds tossed and wrecked their ships far to the south of St. Augustine.

The Spanish learned of the Huguenots terrible luck and sent soldiers to take the sparsely protected Fort Caroline. After swiftly reappropriating the fort and massacring some 250 settlers, the Spanish went looking for the accursed French. They found the exhausted Huguenots south of St. Augustine and slaughtered all but 16 of the 350. The French presence in the region was officially over.

Coastal ViewCROWDS (4/10)
This Site cannot handle crowds well. Not really a problem in our case because there was only one other couple there. Unbelievable since it was Super Bowl week, the biggest thing that has happened to Jacksonville since the Huguenots. Still, the museums ceilings are low and loudly echoed the couple’s conversation with the only person on duty, a talkative and opinionated volunteer. We could not concentrate enough to read the exhibits’ small print text.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Fort Caroline is 13 miles east of downtown Jacksonville. The road that hugs the St. Johns River from Florida 9A (Jacksonville’s beltway) to the Site is fittingly named Fort Caroline Road.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
At least it’s unique. We haven’t seen a pine needle basket craft kit or a fluffy hand puppet in the shape of a clam at other Sites. If only you didn’t have to face the very chatty volunteer to get to the books, several of which are specific to Fort Caroline. Did we mention the clam puppet makes noises?

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
No Rangers, just one volunteer. She shocked us when she explained that the Park’s Ranger generally does not do a good job.

New FranceTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
There are no Ranger programs. We heard rumors that there are monthly living history reenactments. Hopefully they are not battle reenactments because they would not take long to finish. The newly refurbished Visitor Center museum is nice and provides a good introduction to the Timucuan Indians who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the Frenchmen’s fleeting inhabitation.

FUN (3/10)
The most fun the Site offered was a close-up view of a Carnival Cruise Line ship making its way into Jacksonville to provide much needed Super Bowl hotel rooms.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (2/10)
We cannot see much reason to travel to Fort Caroline N MEM. The fort’s story is told in depth elsewhere – by Rangers at Fort Matanzas NM – and the industrial scenery is dismal at best. The reconstructed fort offers no exploration possibilities. It is just an enclosed yard.

TOTAL 30/80

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south of St. Augustine, Fla.
Visited: February 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 137 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Nearing the FortWHAT IS IT?
A Spanish stone masonry fortification finished in 1742 whose purpose was to guard the mouth of the Matanzas River, a back door channel into the important colonial city, Saint Augustine.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Fort Matanzas stands on Rattlesnake Island, a small piece of land that bisects the mouth of the Matanzas River. The surrounding waters are much calmer than the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The fort sits around estuarine marshlands and enjoys a typical Florida coastal feel. The building, itself, is very small. Only seven soldiers lived here at its most crowded. Five cannons point upstream from the deck-like perch. These soldiers lived in a narrow one-room deck level enclosure, while the officers lived directly above.

The Fort has a functional charm. There are no wasted bricks and no superfluous space.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
The Spanish built Fort Matanzas because of its strategic defensive position. The Fort faced its first test in 1742, while it neared completion. James Oglethorpe, Governor of the British colony of Georgia, led 12 ships into the Inlet, in an effort to attack St. Augustine from the rear. Fort Matanzas’ cannons repelled the attack and never saw battle again.

As a fort, this Site has limited historical significance. However, nearly 200 years before Fort Matanzas’ construction, another more important historical event occurred on these lands; an event that solidified Spain’s 200-year colonial rule over Florida and ensured the safety of their trade routes.

In 1565, the Spanish looting of South America was in full swing. Boat after treasure-filled boat sailed from Cartagena, Columbia or Vera Cruz, Mexico on to the Spanish capital city, Havana, Cuba up the Gulf Stream and over to Spain. These treasure ships passed close to the shores of present-day Florida.

In 1564, Protestant French (Huguenots) built Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville and began to raid the Spanish galleons for their treasure. The devoutly Catholic Spanish resented the French infidels’ religious choice and their brazen theft. In August 1565, the Spanish founded the town of St. Augustine to subdue the French and protect their ships.

In September, after receiving reinforcements, the French decided to attack St. Augustine en masse leaving Fort Caroline virtual defenseless. Instead of a swift victory, their ships were caught in a hurricane that wrecked the boats and swept the men far south of the new Spanish city. The Spanish caught up with the Huguenots at the mouth of the soon-to-be named Matanzas River.

After the unarmed and exhausted French surrendered, the Spanish bound and then killed all but 16 of the 350 Huguenots. Matanzas is the Spanish word for slaughter. St. Augustine flourished and the French never again gained a foothold in this area of North America.

Soldiers’ QuartersCROWDS (5/10)
We shivered alongside more tourists than we had expected. Our layered clothing, wool hats and gloves spoke the same question: Didn’t we all leave the northern winter to avoid this?

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is located just a few miles east of Interstate 95 on the Florida A1A, 14 miles south of St. Augustine. A ferry to the Fort site departs from the Visitor Center hourly on the half hour. The ferry is free and reliable. We arrived on an unseasonably cold and windy day but unlike the violent Atlantic Ocean, the Matanzas River Inlet was calm. Wind whipped against our faces but the ride was short and sweet.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
We would have appreciated a larger bookstore to browse as we waited for the next ferry. Space is tight, especially if more than one person is perusing the shelves. Titles like A Taste of St. Augustine and Famous Florida Recipes, although not directly related to the site, add flavor to the small selection. Books on famous Florida ship wrecks and the Spanish treasure fleets were more appropriate reading companions to a visit to Fort Matanzas. Samples of coquina, one of the materials used to build the Fort, are scattered around the little shop.

COSTS (5/5)
The Site, ferry ride and the tour of the Fort are all free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
We encountered a plethora of Rangers. Three Rangers and two volunteers accompanied our group on the ferry to the Fort site. No one could have any excuse for leaving the Site with an unanswered question.

TOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
All boat trips to Rattlesnake Island include a 25-minute long talk about the Fort. Because of the cold, the volunteer gave his entire talk in the long, narrow soldiers’ quarters. We were allowed to explore the other room, the deck and the roof when the talk ended. The lesson was informational and nice background to a tour of St. Augustine and its fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.

A tour of Fort Matanzas is an essential companion piece to a Fort Caroline NM visit. Fort Caroline NM has no Ranger talks and no interpretive panels. If you want an understanding of its historical role, you almost need to visit Fort Matanzas.

There are no Museum facilities at Fort Matanzas NM. If you arrive at 10:35 a.m., for example, you will have to deal with idle time. The short introductory video is dated and confusing and the mile long Nature Walk loop is under construction.

FUN (5/10)
We weren’t expecting a boat ride to be involved in our visit, which is what happens when you read a guidebook too quickly. The fact that it was free and left every 30 minutes warmed us to the idea. The Fort was charming; the ferry was fast.

A Ranger might have given a more extensive explanation of the events around the building and use of Fort Matanzas. But the volunteer who led our tour won us over with his Pittsburgh accent and the fact that he is the second person on our trip that recognized the B on Gab’s hat. Brownie points for that.

Overlooking the MarshWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10)
On a nice sunny day, we are sure the ferryboat trip to Fort Matanzas makes for a lovely day. However, it is not a big-ticket historical destination like nearby St. Augustine and the Fort is awful small. Our freezing bones are still screaming at us for leaving Miami. This Site is for history buffs and those eager to learn everything about Spanish colonial history. We are glad we traveled to Fort Matanzas NM prior to St. Augustine because it provided a good base of understanding for the intensive lesson the old city provides.

TOTAL 48/80

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