and Now by Betty Ruth Salls Weber
a small community in northeast Florida on the east side of the St. Johns River, has an amazing and idyllic yesterday and today. Some things have changed in the past 130 years. However,
some things are still very similar. When driving down Federal Point Road or Commercial
Boulevard, you know that history is still in the making.
The names of
old pioneer families such as Tenney, Brown, Brubaker, DuPont and Atkinson are still visible on their descendants mailboxes
today. Their roots are buried deep in the soil, and their hearts are entwined
to form a community such as few people are able to experience today.
goes, Dont ever say anything bad about anyone in Federal Point, because were all related in some way and we like it that way.
The first settler
in the area was Cornelius DuPont. He lived right on the point, with his house
overlooking the beautiful St. Johns River. He owned 1,500 acres and many slaves. DuPont was a wealthy man with a large amount of money on deposit in a bank in South
Carolina. He rented his slaves to other landowners up and down the St. Johns.
His house was large and comfortable,
the only one on the point at the time, except for several small slave cabins. Life
was pleasant and easy for him. The only road to Jacksonville was the St. Johns
River. The road to St. Augustine was a trail, suitable for walking or horseback. When the trail crossed a creek or a branch, the early settlers forded the water and
continued on their way.
The early members
of the community were cooperative in this wilderness. DuPont had only to hang
a white flag on his dock, and soon somebody would answer the flag and inquire what was needed.
Supplies from Jacksonville were often brought in this way. They
relied heavily on the food hunted in the forest, taken from the river and grown in the garden.
The woods and the river were alive with fish and game. The soil was rich
and fertile, as evidenced by the fields of cabbage and potatoes.
The Civil War
seriously hampered the DuPonts lifestyle, as Yankee gunboats moved up and down the river, sometimes firing on homes and docks
for no apparent reason.
One day DuPont
saw the Yankees landing at his dock. He knew the Federals were searching for
Colonel Francis Dancy. Dancy lived with his family at Orange Mills and was home
at that time, being too old for active military service.
mounted his horse and raced to the Dancy plantation to warn that enemy troops were approaching. The entire Dancy family fled the house and hid in the ditches in the fields while the Yankees searched
the property. Even though the baby cried during the ordeal, the soldiers did
not find anyone.
After the troops
left, Dancy moved further into the interior of the state and operated a supply line for the Confederate troops for the rest
of the war.
DuPont, the war was a financial disaster. His slaves were freed and the
money on deposit in the bank was lost.
His health was failing. He had no way to work his land.
One day he
hung a white flag on the dock and John Francis Tenney answered it. Tenney lived
in a house in Orange Mills with his wife and children.
book, Slavery, Secession and Success, he states that they brought supplies from Jacksonville for the DuPonts and then began
to negotiate to purchase the land and house at what was then called DuPonts Landing.
that John Francis Tenney and Frank Folsom, his brother-in-law, bought the 1,000 acres that DuPont owned for $1,500. DuPont felt that the land was useless to him without slaves.
In 1866, the
Tenneys and the Folsoms moved to DuPonts Landing. They researched the records
in the county seat, St. Augustine, and found that when the United States first acquired Florida, the surveyors wrote Federal
Point for that area on their field notes. The name was changed at that time from
Duponts Landing to Federal Point.
Folsom and John Tenney began to develop the land and build a community. Tombstones
in the Federal Point Cemetery show that John Tenneys wife, Nancy, and their 8-year-old daughter and an infant daughter died
within that year.
The land was
surveyed into lots of a few acres or more, and sold mostly to New Englanders who were anxious to find their spot in the sun. They came by sailing vessels and steamboats up the St. Johns River. They first ones lived in the slave quarters until they could build their houses.
It was John
Tenneys intention to populate Federal Point with honest and upright settlers. He
accomplished his goal. Under his leadership, Federal Point became a thriving
community. Orange groves covered the land as well as strawberries, potatoes and
other vegetables. They found a lucrative market in Palatka and distant cities
in sending their products on the St. Johns.
A large wharf
was built, jutting out from the point. Farmers from Federal Point and the Hastings
area brought their fruit and vegetables by wagon, drove onto the wharf, and unloaded their wares onto the steamships that
plied the St. Johns with passengers, mail and freight.
It soon became
known about the countryside that Tenney played a lively fiddle. His services
were in demand at dances and parties as far away as St. Augustine. He records
in his book the struggles he had fording the streams, and keeping his fiddle dry when he went throughout the countryside.
As the community
grew, John Tenney became known as Squire Tenney. He pushed for incorporation
of Federal Point and became the mayor, a post that he held for more than 40 years. He
operated a store, the post office and wharf, married again, played the fiddle, and wrote a weekly column for the Palatka newspaper.
When his only
son, Frank Folsom Tenney, grew up, he operated a hotel a few hundred feet from the wharf.
The tourists came from the north to spend the entire winter there. They
fished in the river, ate sumptuously in the dining room, walked in the orange groves and enjoyed the sunshine.
employed his family and neighbors in the business of running the Groveland Hotel. It
was filled with beautiful antiques and contained cut glass in the dining room.
The Groveland became
the center of social life in Federal Point. Todays area senior citizens remember
going there for special occasions such as a wedding reception.
to the activities at the hotel, a clubhouse was built across Commercial Avenue where the ladies met for their gatherings,
teen-agers held their parties, and little children hunted for Easter eggs. It
was Federal Points community center.
In the early
days, Captain Edwin Smith constructed a large building that was the forerunner of the Groveland Hotel. He opened a store and planted a 10-acre orange grove. His
interest in the Episcopal Church prompted him to look into establishing a church in Federal Point. The first meetings were held in a large room in his house. St.
Pauls Episcopal Church prompted him to look into establishing a church in Federal Point.
The first meetings were held in a large room in his house. St. Pauls Episcopal
Church stands today as a wonderful tribute to Captain Smith and the early pioneers who founded it in the 1880s.
in St. Pauls today is to experience a lively service, filled with the descendants of the early settlers. St. Pauls attendance is growing remarkably. An addition has
been designed to preserve the historic look. Three of Squire Tenneys great-great-grand
daughters help supply the music at the church.
orange groves are all gone as victims of freezes. The big wharf is gone, probably
a casualty of winds and tides. Steamships are no longer on the St. Johns so there
is no need for the wharf. The clubhouse, post office and store are no longer
there. Federal Point is not incorporated anymore so there is no need for a mayor.
The hotel and
Squire Tenneys house are still standing. Recently, Bob and Ginny Quackenbush
purchased the property, and they have begun to restore the hotel.
have preserved a sense of community in Federal Point. Whether an old timer or
a newcomer, there is that feeling of belonging.
Turn off Route
207, just a few miles east of Hastings to find the Federal Point Road. It is
a scenic road through the countryside. The view from the road offers fields of
potatoes, cabbage, flowers, glimpses of the river and of the stately homes that stand guard by the riverside. Some of the homes have been there since early days.
March and April
are azalea blooming time, a good time of the year to visit the cemetery off a little dirt road. Surrounding the cemetery are burgeoning azaleas. Huge oak
trees stand like sentinels.
In some places
on the Federal Point Road an old brick road is still visible under the macadam. Many
remember when it was a very narrow brick road connecting them to the outside world.
The pavement went right over the brick, widened for todays cars.
on the left side of the road, has been closed for years. The homes of the Atkinson
sisters come into view. The story of the Browns and the Atkinsons make the history
of Federal Point and the St. Johns River come alive. Lizzy Taylor Brown and Becky
Taylor Atkinson were sisters, growing up just after the Civil War. Their parents
were Ephram and Mary Charlotte Taylor.
the St. Johns River, making his living selling fish. The fish sold readily up
and down the river, but the life was very hard. Mary Charlotte, mother of the
two girls, died and left Ephram to raise his children.
He arranged for Lizzie to live with Squire Tenney and help to raise his young son, Frank. Becky lived with Ephram. He built a palmetto-thatched
cabin on Tick Island, above Lake Monroe.
Becky was left alone while Ephram fished the waters of the river. Becky was tied to a tree so that she could not get lost
in the woods or drown in the river. Ephram had no other means to take care of
One day as
he was returning home after fishing, he saw a huge alligator stalking Becky, who was asleep on the ground. He yelled and beat the water with the oars to scare the alligator away.
The gator whirled and ran back to the river. But while turning, the gator
hit Becky with its sharp, heavy tail and injured her. She carried the scars for
the rest of her life.
after that happened Ephram found a water moccasin under Beckys bed. He then took
Becky to live with Squire Tenney. Both girls grew up to Squires household. The descendants of Becky and Lizzie still live along Federal Point Road, on property
purchased by the women and their husbands.
At the end
of Federal Point Road, turn left on Commercial Boulevard to head down to the river and the site of the old wharf. The road passes the Episcopal Church, pristine in its new coat of paint, new addition and new landscaping.
Then the road
passes the old Groveland Hotel, in the beginning stages of restoration. Squire
Tenneys house still sits majestically on the riverfront in need of restoration.
It doesnt take
very long to tour Federal Point but the sounds from the past are almost audible; Squire Tenneys fiddle, steamships whistles,
slave spirituals, Yankee gunboats, children playing by the river.
don't live a pioneers life, but they still have the pioneer spirit. There is
something unusual about the people at Federal Point. It is the unique place to
be, yesterday and today!
It was John
Tenneys intention to populate Federal Point with honest and upright settlers. He
accomplished his goal.