San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park is a state park located in Wakulla County, Florida. The park preserves the ruins of Fort St. Marks, which was active from 1836 to 1864 and again from 1886 to 1918, when it became a prisoner-of-war camp. It also contains the site of Camp Lawton, where troops led by General James F. Fagan were stationed during the SpanishAmerican War. In addition, the park has interpretive exhibits about the history of the fort and camps, as well as hiking and canoeing access to Lake Jackson.
On November 13, 1978, the park received new life with the creation of the Apalachee Center for History & Culture, which serves as both a research facility and visitor center. The center’s location within the park allows its staff to engage directly with park visitors, while providing researchers with an opportunity to examine artifacts, documents, newspapers, letters, census information, photographs, maps, etc., all of which are available for study.
The park is open between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday (the gate remains open until 6 p.m. on Fridays). Visitors needing special accommodations can make reservations at the park up to 11 months prior to their visit. There are no pets allowed inside the park. No alcoholic beverages or glass containers are permitted on the grounds.
The park offers canoe rentals, camping facilities, picnic areas, nature trails, and playgrounds. Picnic tables may be reserved up to 11 months in advance. Canoeists may take advantage of a boat launch right off the bank of the Gulf Coast Highway. Amenities include a museum/research facility, called the Apalachee Center for History & Culture, which opened in September 2005.
Opened in May 2006, the $5 million facility includes more than 5,000 square feet (460 m2) of exhibit space, a theater, conference rooms, and administrative offices. The facility is home to the University of West Florida’s Center for Regional Studies, which provides historical interpretation and public awareness programs each season. Programs offered include guided tours, children’s days, weddings, receptions, business meetings, and picnics.
The park also hosts the annual opening day ceremony of the fall semester. Activities include reenactments by costumed docents, living historians, and actors, as well as talks, performances, and demonstrations presented by students and faculty members of the university. Other events held at the park include book signings, holiday light shows, and concerts. A major feature of the park is the presence of large trees, some of which are over a hundred years old. Some of these trees provide a habitat for wildlife not seen in southern Florida, such as northern black racer snakes and pileated woodpeckers.
Trees under threat of loss from hurricane damage are marked with red ribbons during the summer. Many of those removed for destruction during storms are replaced by young tree seedlings grown from stumps, roots, and branches taken from elsewhere. Others are kept standing, but trimmed annually to maintain a healthy shape.
A palachee zoo animal, a baby alligator, is featured in this photo. Alligators, crocodiles, turtles, and birds of prey are common sights here. A pair of bald eagles flying together is a sign of spring. Bald eagles rarely nest in south Florida, preferring remote lakes and rivers. An American white pelican feeding her chicks is a welcome sight every April. Ospreys and brown pelicans have returned to nests near the park in recent years, though. Nearby Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge protects nesting pairs of bald eagles.
Apalachee State Park, created in 1945, originally included only Ft. St. Mark’s property. When the U.S. acquired the Floridas East half in 1949, the boundary was adjusted so that the entire area now encompassed by the two parks is listed as San Marcos de Apalachee Historic State Park. The name change was made official by the Board of Trustees of the Florida State Parks system in 1957.
Interpretive displays at the park include one dedicated to the history of the fort, another covering the period of the Civil War, and still others presenting various aspects of the lives of the soldiers who manned the post throughout its existence. One such display covers the construction of Fort St. Marks, including details of the stockade established outside the fort proper to confine Union prisoners of color. Another features a collection of weapons used during the war, including several Confederate guns captured at nearby Camp Lawton. Still other exhibits cover topics such as nutrition, medicine, death, desertion, and recreation. Camp Lawton, named after Major William Lawton, Jr., was established by his father, William Lawton, Sr., in 1898 along with four other posts (Conway, Pinckney, Griffin, and Stockton) following the end of the Spanish American War. Located near Tallahassee, the post provided guard duty for the railroads and postal service around the capital city.
At least three companies (A, B, and C) of the First Infantry Regiment were assigned to the post, with Companies D, E, G, and H being part of the second regiment. Company K remained behind to garrison the prison, which had been in use since 1863. During the next twenty years, the Fort grew considerably in size, reaching full strength in 1903. However, even then, only five companies could be mustered into service at any given time, due to budget cuts and a decline in military preparedness.
This proved problematic in early 1917, when the United States entered World War I; although twelve companies were eventually sent overseas, many of them arrived too late to see combat. As a result, the fort was reduced down to a single officer’s company in June of that year, with most men being discharged back to civilian life. Only six officers and 43 men were left to man the post, which was soon thereafter declared “unnecessary” and abandoned. After serving as a recreational destination for local residents for nearly a century, the fort was purchased by the state of Florida in 1945, at which point it officially became known as San Marcos de Apalachee Historic State Park.
The park has such activites as:
- wildlife viewing
Other animals found in the park include:
- mink farms
Among the birds found in the park are:
- blue heron
- owls like:
- red tail hawks
- red headed woodpeckers
- turkey vultures
Reptiles found in the park include:
- gopher tortoises
- carolina anoles
- yellow bellied slider turtles
- snapping turtles
- banded watersnakes
- coach whips
- eastern hognose snakes
- diamondback water snakes
- northern black racer snakes