In 1845, Florida became the 27th State of the Union and William Dunn Moseley became Florida’s first elected Governor. He held that office until 1849, when he located to Palatka. He died here in in Palatka in 1863 and is buried at Westview Cemetery.
In 1849, Putnam County became the 28th Florida County. It was created from parts of Alachua, Orange, St. Johns, Marion and Duval counties. Putnam County was named in honor of Benjamin Alexander Putnam, who was a soldier, lawyer, Florida Legislator and the first president of the Florida Historic Society. Putnam died in Palatka in 1869.
Palatka was Putnam County’s first occupied town. The name, originally spelled Piloaikta or Pilatka, is a Seminole word meaning “crossing over” or “cow’s crossing”. In 1837, the Federal government established a military post called Fort Shannon, during the Seminole Wars, in Palatka.
Both Confederate and Union troops occupied Palatka during the Civil War. Palatka was under fire from gunboats on the St. Johns River. At one time, the city was occupied by 5,000 Federal troops.
Between 1840 and 1850, Palatka was a major shipping port for pine, turpentine, oaks, cedar, cypress, cotton, sugar and molasses. Goods were shipped down the Ocklawaha, loaded onto larger steamers in Palatka and plied north on the St. Johns River to destinations like Savannah and Charleston.
In 1855, Col. Hubbard L. Hart bought and operated the State stage line between Palatka and Tampa. The same year, H.A. Gray started the first line of barge freighters on the Ocklawaha River, propelled by people with poles. Three weeks was the required time between Palatka and Silver Springs. From 1860 to 1919, the Hart Line Steamers operated only through the winter season from Palatka to Silver Springs, and also between Palatka and Leesburg as freight boats.
A disastrous fire swept through the business section of Palatka in November of 1884. Only the courthouse and its records were saved. Another devastation included the entire county at this time. Consecutive freezes during 1894 and 1895 brought the thriving citrus industry to an abrupt standstill.
After the Civil War and through the early 1900s, the county prospered largely because of the use of the St. Johns River and its tributaries. The impressive timber, citrus and farming industries (as well as tourism, in the later part of the 1800s) was extremely profitable for Palatka. Citrus and timber were shipped worldwide and tourism attracted the famous. In the late 1800s, Palatka had the second largest cypress industry in the world.
Palatka boasted several world-class hotels, like the Arlington, Saratoga, LaFayette and the Putnam House. These and other hotels had rooms to accommodate as many as 6,000 guests.
Many famous national figures have wintered in Palatka, among them were Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Edison, President Theodore Roosevelt, Josh Billings, William Cullen Bryant, Sidney Lanier, Henry Ward Beecher, Jay Gould, John W. Gates, Isaac Elwood, James R. Mellon, John Jacob Astor, Ben Butler and many others. Gen. Ulysses Grant visited here after his term in office in the presidency. President Grover Cleveland and his wife spent their honeymoon here.
Crescent City was settled in the mid-1800s. This city sits among wooded bluff between Crescent Lake (shape resembled a moon in crescent) and Lake Stella (shape resembled a star). There are more than 20 historic buildings in the downtown area that reflect the architectural “Golden Age” from when this area was settled. The area is included in the “Fern Capital of the World” and nationally known as the “Bass Capital of the World.”
In Welaka, the British developed an outpost in 1780 called Fort Gates. Today, the ferry service that was established to shuttle troops across the St. Johns River still exists as Florida’s oldest continuously operated ferry.
Developed in 1881, Interlachen, meaning “Land Between the Lakes,” was planned to accommodate the rail line that passed through the area between Palatka and Gainesville. The town grew as northern immigrants located here for the mild climate and the hopes of prospering in the citrus industry. In 1894, Interlachen shipped the second largest number of oranges in the entire state. Many of the buildings and homes in this community still stand as a heritage to the local history.