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History of Putnam County, Florida

Contributed by Melanie Cox

Putnam County, Florida is located 55 miles south of Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. It was organized January 13, 1849 from parts of Alachua, Baker, Clay, Marion, Orange and St. Johns counties and named for Major Benjamin Alexander Putnam (1801-1869), of St. Augustine, prominent attorney and officer in the Second Seminole War. Benjamin Alexander Putnam was also the first president of the Florida Historical Society.

The county has about 100 miles of St. Johns River frontage and includes about 1,500 lakes of varying sizes. Lake George and Crescent Lake lie mostly in the county and are two of the largest lakes in Florida. Together with the St. Johns River they form the basis of Putnam County's claim as the "Bass Capital of the World".

Palatka, the county seat, derives it's name from the Indian word "Pilatka", meaning "Crossing Over" or "Cows Crossing". The earliest known reference to the town is found in Bartram's Travels, published in 1769, where it was described as an Indian settlement of some eight or ten habitations whose people tilled several hundred acres planted in corn, beans, squash and other crops.

The earliest white settler in the county was James Marver, who established a trading post with his companions Hines and Woodruff on the site of present-day Palatka. This post was active in the Indian trade until the outbreak of the Seminole Wars. The first elected governor of Florida was William Dunn Moseley elected in May of 1845, who was a resident of Putnam county. The original Moseley home still stands in the Forest Park section of Palatka. During the Civil War, Palatka was occupied by Union troops, and a lively battle with a force of Confederates took place west of the city on the site of the present St. Johns Community College.

From 1860 to 1919, steamboats served the St. Johns river from Jacksonville to Sanford, and up the Silver River to Silver Springs. Until the coming of the railroad in the 1880's, these steamboats were the main method of travel in northeast Florida. Points of interest in Putnam county include Interlachen, founded as a tourist and citrus growing town in the 1880's, and Crescent City which lies on beautiful Crescent Lake in the southern part of the county. Along the banks of the St. Johns, Welaka and Georgetown, once landing ports for the steamboats, are famous bass fishing villages.