The Florida Maritime Heritage Trail 
Coastal CommunitiesCoastal EnvironmentsCoastal FortsLighthousesHistoric PortsHistoric Shipwrecks

Port of Jacksonville

Port of Jacksonville.
Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Port Authority.


    From the dawn of seafaring, mariners have preferred to embark on voyages from one sheltered harbor and return to another. Natural bays, coves, inlets, and river mouths offered protection for watercraft from the weather and the open ocean. Good harbors were those that had bottoms that held anchors in place and deep water close to shore for easy loading and unloading of cargoes. Over time people altered natural harbors to suit their needs, building docks, jetties, quays, and channels. Harbors then became ports with facilities for the transfer and storage of commercial goods, accommodations for passengers, the exchange of currencies, and the maintenance and repair of watercraft. Ports often were marked by aids to navigation, such as lighthouses, and defended by fortifications at their entry points. Scholars believe that the earliest ports date from the 6th century B.C. The ancient port of Alexandria, Egypt, established by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C., has been in continuous use ever since it was founded. What goes on there today has changed very little since ancient times.

Port of Miami

Port of Miami.
Photo courtesy of Port of Miami.

    Florida has some of the best natural harbors in the United States. Consequently, the peninsula has become an international maritime crossroads connected to four continents - North America via the Gulf of Mexico, South (and Central) America via the Caribbean Sea, and Europe and Africa via the Atlantic. Before the advent of railroads and interstate highways, Florida's sheltered harbors defined the occupational and economic patterns of native peoples, European colonists, and territorial settlers. As Florida's strategic and commercial ports evolved, coastal communities developed around specific activities, such as fishing, and products, such as lumber. Some were defined by a single export, such as phosphate, or by a special function, such as naval support. Today, Florida's ports play a leading role in international trade and tourism continue in the 21st century to grow in economic importance.

Strolling along
By the teeming docks,
I watch the ships pull out.
Black ships that heave and lunge
And move like mastodons
Arising from lethargic sleep.

The fathomed harbor
Calls them not nor dares
Them to a strain of action,
But outward, on and outward,
Sounding low-reverberating calls,
Shaggy in the half-lit distance,
They pass the pointed headland,
View the wide, far-lifting wilderness
And leap with cumulative speed
To test the challenge of the sea.

          - Carl Sundberg

Port of Jacksonville.
Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Port Authority.

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Florida Coastal Management Program This web page was funded in part by the Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Coastal Management Program, pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Award No. NA97OZ0158. The views expressed in herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the State of Florida, NOAA, or any of its subagencies.
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