Northeast Florida was a surprisingly busy region in the 1700s. The earliest Florida town, St. Augustine, had been formed more than a century earlier, as had Fort Caroline. There were also a few noteworthy towns, villages, and strategic military locations in nearby southeastern Georgia.
When the British took over the land from the Spanish for a brief period, they commissioned a roadway that, they assumed, would be extremely useful in linking the various nearby communities.
After surveying and securing funds, it was decided that this new roadway would run from St. Mary’s, GA, to New Smyrna Beach, FL. It passed straight through Jacksonville’s city center, crossing diagonally through what’s now downtown Jax to reach the narrowest crossing point of the St. Johns River – a stretch the British referred to as the Cow Ford.
The 150-mile limestone road was completed in two phases, with the first phase running from south Georgia to St. Augustine, and the second completing the route to New Smyrna Beach.
The British called it the King’s Road, and it immediately became critical to both the British and the colonies during the Revolutionary War. But as a result of that war, the British lost control of the territory to the Spanish about a decade after the road’s completion.
The Spanish, who’d previously controlled the land for decades without any need for such a roadway, didn’t make much use of it once they took ownership of it. By the time the U.S. government took over the land in the early 1820s, much of the King’s Road had fallen into disrepair.
A decade or so later, the U.S. Army was tasked with repairing and rebuilding the roadway. But by that point, it had perhaps already outlived its usefulness. The brand-new city of Jacksonville had been platted on a grid system that more or less disregarded the roadway. Developments south of the St. Johns River would soon eliminate the other side of the Cow Ford as well.
By the late 1800s, railroad paths had surpassed the King’s Road in usefulness, with the tracks running parallel to the roadway in many instances. And the addition of new roadways such as US-1 in the early 1900s would put the final nail in the coffin for King’s Road.
Today, almost none of the original limestone path can be found in Northeast Florida. But stretches of the old roadway have been incorporated into modern roads in Jax – some portions are called Kings Road, some are Old Kings Road, and a smaller stretch is even called Historic Kings Road. A placard honoring the old roadway can be seen within the pocket park at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Kings Avenue – the latter of which was also part of the original path.
So even though the King’s Road didn’t get a whole lot of usage when it was built, it still helped shape some of the area’s modern roadways.