The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida, covering the length of 310 miles. It is also one of the few rivers in the United States that flows north. The St. Johns River starts in Indian River County and ends in Duval County, in the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Johns is one of the world’s “laziest” rivers because the elevation change throughout the river is only about 30 feet.
The river’s low velocity combined with the low elevation causes the river’s width to be extremely wide for the majority of its course. The St. Johns River’s average width is over two miles, and in some places exceeds three miles. Because of the river’s slow moving waters, it is difficult to flush many of the pollutants from the river, creating a serious problem for the river’s ecosystem. Many of the pollution sources include discharges from the wastewater treatment plants and runoff from urban and agricultural areas.
The St. Johns River flows through the city of Jacksonville and is
spanned by seven bridges. The Jacksonville Port Authority facilities at
the mouth of the St. Johns River make up Florida’s second largest port.
In 2003, the Jacksonville Port Authority handled over 1,500 ships,
handling almost 700,000 containers and over 500,000 cars.
The St. Johns River is very popular for fishing, especially for catching largemouth bass. There are saltwater, freshwater, and brackish-water species to be found here.
The area of land that now comprises the river was once connected to the Atlantic Ocean, making the river just an extended system of lagoons and tributaries. The river was formed when the ocean levels dropped and barrier islands and reef formations walled off the system of lagoons from the ocean.
The river basin was home to the native Timucua tribes, who called it Welaka, or “river of lakes.” Spanish explorers called the river Rio de Corrientes, meaning the “river of currents.”
French Huguenots landed at the mouth of the St. Johns in 1562. In 1564, a bluff overlooking this site became the location of Fort Caroline, which was the first French colony in North America.
A Catholic mission named San Juan del Puerto was founded on Fort George Island near the river’s mouth in 1578. The river became known as “Rio de San Juan” which translated to the St. Johns River in English. The name has remained intact throughout colonization, war, and the creation of the United States.