Mayport is a small fishing village along the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville, Fla. It is an area rich in history, food and military presence. As it is geographically located along the first coast of America, Mayport shares its history with the neighboring areas of St. Augustine, Fort Caroline and Matanzas Bay. The land was originally home to the Timucuan Indians who, along with farming fruits and vegetables, began the rich tradition of fishing in the area.
On May 1, 1562, French Protestant Jean Ribault landed at the mouth of what is now known as the St. Johns River and named it Riviere de Mai. Ribault also erected a monument in the area to further establish the French presence in the area. This claim of the area by the French angered the Spanish who had established themselves in other parts of Florida. The Spanish would eventually run the French out, but not before they created the settlement of Fort Caroline. Eventually, the Spanish and Ponce De Leon established St. Augustine.
Naval Station Mayport opened in December 1942 and is the Navy’s fourth largest base. The base has a rich history that includes involvement in the “Cuban Missile Crisis” of 1962. The base has the privilege of being home to the first successful “missile mail” launch by the U.S Postal Service. Throughout the years, Mayport was home to dozens of ships, including the USS Charles F. Adams, which is currently being pursued by the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association as the site of Jacksonville’s and the state of Florida’s first floating Navy museum.
The St. Johns River Ferry, also known as the Mayport Ferry, has been in operation since 1874. It travels 2.5 miles across the St. Johns River to link State Road A1A between Mayport and Fort George Island. Without the ferry, the route between the two would be about 28 miles. The ferry has had close calls with closure in recent years as it has been the subject of state and local budget cuts. Citizens of the community have rallied together each time to raise money and oppose cuts, ensuring its continued operation for now. The future of the ferry remains in question though as ridership continues to sink and budget cuts continue to be needed.
The Old St. Johns River Light was constructed in 1858 along the mouth of the St. Johns River and stayed in commission through 1929. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest standing building in Mayport. The lighthouse was replaced by a lightship moored several miles offshore for many years until the ship was replaced by the modern St. Johns River Light. That light was erected and commissioned in 1954 and is still active today.
Apart from the naval base, Mayport shrimp may be the area’s biggest asset. Caught by the dozens of shrimp boats that call Mayport Village home, Mayport shrimp can be found fried, grilled or sauteed and alongside grits in many restaurants throughout the Northeast Florida area. One of the restaurants is Singleton’s Seafood Shack, home of a “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” episode in 2010. And the more recent updates to Safe Harbor have added the opportunity to enjoy at lunch the freshest seafood in all of the city. Both establishments are located near the St. Johns River Ferry and reels in fresh catches directly to each locations daily.
There is still so much more to the history of Mayport, but now that you know a little, gather your rods, tackle, appetites and friends and discover it yourselves.
For more history on Mayport’s past, watch this short video below created by Birdman Productions.