VIDEO: Exploring NE Florida's Camp Milton Historic Preserve

Apr 3, 2017

WJCT presents a collaboration between the University of North Florida's Environmental Center and Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida on 19 short videos showcasing the city, state and national parks of the First Coast, produced by Sean Lahav, a project leader in the environmental leadership program.

Camp Milton Historic Preserve, 1225 Halsema Road N

The site of a major Civil War fortification, it is also home to several endangered species that live along the midway point of the popular Jacksonville-Baldwin trail.

Description

The Camp Milton Historic Preserve is on the western edge of Jacksonville, along McGirts Creek.

The site of several clashes between the Union and Confederate armies, the preserve housed massive Confederate forts in the 1860s. 

Aside from its historic legacy, the preserve boasts a varied landscape of swamps and lakes. Those habitats bustle with little blue heron, snowy egrets, white ibis, tricolored heron, which are listed on Florida’s register as “species of special concern,” as well as wood stork, which is “endangered” on both the state and federal registers.

The preserve also hosts the endangered eastern indigo snake and the threatened flatwoods salamander.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday  

History

Camp Milton sprang up quickly in early 1864, under the supervision of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. A military engineer, Beauregard erected the camp after the Battle of Olustee, along the main westbound railway, and McGirts Creek in order to block any advances by the Union army into what was the Confederates’ crucial transportation and agricultural hub in Northeastern Florida.

Beauregard’s correspondence shows that by March 1867, the camp bore the name of John Milton, Florida’s governor for most of the Civil War. Around the same time, about 7,500 troops streamed to Camp Milton — 6,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry. The camp saw more prolonged military engagement than any other Civil War site in the state.

When Union forces eventually seized Camp Milton, they set the log fortifications ablaze and attempted to raze the earthworks. 

Some two decades after the war, John Harvey built a homestead — the “Cracker” cabin — which he had to move when the state bought the land for the Whitehouse naval field. An archeological exploration in 1992 concluded that Camp Milton “may be one of the most significant sites associated with the Civil War in Florida and statewide, if not national, significance.”

Amenities

  • A boardwalk meanders through Camp Milton, leading visitors through the history, flora and fauna of the preserve.
  • A Learning Center and History Museum sit near Harvey’s home and display Civil War artifacts found on site. An expanse of paved routes web through Camp Milton, which also serves as the midway point for the popular 15-mile Jacksonville-Baldwin trail.

A boardwalk snakes around Camp Milton Historic Preserve, walking visitors back to the 1860s when the site served a major Confederate stronghold during the Civil War.
Credit SEAN LAHAV / UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA'S ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER

Activities

  • Historic Tours Camp Milton Historic Preserve features remnants from the Civil War that reveal themselves to visitors on the boardwalk and road self-guided tour.
  • While the original Harvey house is back onsite and under renovation, many lost structures have been reconstructed. A small footbridge has been built over McGirts Creek, replicating the crude logs-and-dirt span that stretched over the once-deep creek. Although slumped, the mounds of earth are still recognizable off the boardwalk.

Recreational Activities

  • The preserve’s rich natural world engulfs the boardwalk, allowing for observations of various species. Towering over the preserve are more than 50 historical trees, each identified along with its namesake and significance, including the Gettysburg Address Honeylocust, the Shiloh Silver Maple and the Harriet B. Stowe Live Oak.
  • Thanks to its connection with Jacksonville-Baldwin trail, Camp Milton offers recreational opportunities, including biking, rollerblading as well as horseback riding. 

Trails

Camp Milton Historic Preserve features a boardwalk but no designated trails.

Parking

The preserve has a 51-spot parking lot. Entry is free. 

Location

Camp Milton Historic Preserve is located in west Jacksonville.

Directions via Interstate 10: Head west on I-10. Take exit 351 and follow Chaffee Road until it intersects with W. Beaver Street. Turn left on W. Beaver Street and stay on it for a little over a mile. Turn right on Halsema Road N. After less than two miles, Camp Milton Historic Park is on the right.

Dima Vitanova can be reached at dima93vitanova@gmail.com and Vince Kong can be reached at vkong@wjct.org