Long before Florida became a popular tourist destination, it was a pawn in battles between Spain, France, and Britain. Fort de la Caroline was built in 1564 to protect the first French settlement in the United States on the banks of the St. Johns River, in what is now Jacksonville.
The French settlers were aided by the native Timucuan Indians, who shared their food and helped build the fort. Relations with the Indians eventually soured and many of the French were slaughtered by the Spanish, who then forced the Timucuans into missions. The Timuccuans diminished from a force of tens of thousands to a population of 550 by the end of the 17th century, largely due to European diseases and fighting with other tribes.
The original Fort Caroline is thought to have washed away during the late 19th century, but a replica was built based on sketches by the settlement's cartographer, Jacques le Moyne. The memorial also features the visitor center for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Fort Caroline National Memorial is a unit within the preserve) with a collection of rare Timucuan artifacts on display, most notably a wooden owl that is the largest wooden effigy recovered from an archeological site in North and South America.
If You Go
Jacksonville can be a confusing city to navigate and many maps have trouble keeping up with the road construction. Make sure you have a current map.