By  Mike Miller  Updated July 15, 2023

Palatka, Florida Things To Do, Lodging, Dining, & Real Estate At End Of Article

Palatka is a small city of 10,686 people on the St Johns River about 60 miles upriver (south) from Jacksonville.

Ravine Gardens ColumnColumn at Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka

It is strategically located at a sharp bend on the river that is the unofficial boundary between "upriver" and "downriver" St. Johns.


In the old days, the larger steamboats could load up in Jacksonville or northern seaports and easily navigate the deep waters of the St. Johns River to Palatka.

Vintage Postcard Palatka, FloridaVintage Postcard Palatka, Florida

Further south - upriver - the waters became shallower and the route more meandering and the river was limited to smaller passenger and freight steamers.

The first residents in the area were the Timucuan, a Native American tribe that was erased from history during the Spanish occupation of Florida.

In more recent times, the Seminole tribe lived in the area and named it Pilotaikita which in their language meant "crossing over" or "cows crossing", a reference to the narrowing of the river at this location.

Over time the name was shortened to Pilatka.

Downtown Palatka

The first big-time activity after the Spanish left in 1763 was the establishment of Rollestown across the river from Palatka near present day San Mateo.

Denys Rolle was a wealthy English philanthropist who developed a 78,000 acre plantation and recruited settlers from the streets of London, including paupers, pickpockets and prostitutes.

Many came as indentured servants. Most of them ran away as soon as they could because they couldn't handle the hot, humid climate and harsh working conditions.

Rolle replaced the runaways with black slaves imported from West Africa. The plantation eventually failed and Rolle abandoned the operation and took his slaves to Great Exuma, Bahamas.

The point of land in East Palatka where it all started is still known as Rollestown and there is a historical marker there that tells the story.

Rolle is still one of the most common surnames in the Bahamas. When slavery was abolished in the Bahamas, Denys Rolle gave all of his Bahamian land to his newly freed slaves and their descendants.

Palatka Riverfront Boat Works

Palatka's riverfront location was recognized long ago by the military as an important point for controlling the St Johns River.

Forts were built in the area during the Seminole Wars from 1817 to 1858.

The town was incorporated in 1853 and began to develop until the Union Army occupied and controlled the town during the U.S. Civil War. 

Things began to boom again after the war and several hotels were built to accommodate northern tourists who came for the temperate climate in the winters and the good fishing, hunting and boating.

Steamboats ran from Palatka up the Ocklawaha River to Silver Springs, Eustis and Leesburg, and also went up the St Johns River to Sanford and Enterprise.

In 1875, the U.S. Post Office changed the town name to Palatka because people were confusing Pilatka with Picolata across the river.

Palatka Downtown Building Mural

The town prospered with industries including logging, ranching and citrus production.

The railroads came to the area in the 1880s and Palatka's location on the river made it a natural crossroads for train transportation also.

The town was nearly destroyed by fire in 1884 and was rebuilt almost entirely with brick structures.

Many of these still stand today in the nicely restored downtown area.


Some of the old buildings are decorated with colorful murals celebrating milestones in the city's history.

Palatka is part of the Florida Main Street Program that has helped restore the downtown areas of many Florida towns.

Palatka Bronson-Mulholland House

Judge Isaac H. Bronson was a prominent local figure, and his house - known in the old days as Sunny Point - is a historic site now known as the Bronson-Mulholland House at 100 Madison Street in Palatka.

It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public for visits and is also used as a museum and is available for special events.

One of Florida's prettiest state parks is in Palatka.

Ravine Garden State Park is a 59 acre park that was built by the Works Progress Administration during the depression with cypress buildings, rock gardens and field stone terraces.

The park entrance is called the Court of States and boasts a 64 foot high monument dedicated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The park is part of Palatka's annual Florida Azalea Festival held on the first weekend of March every year since 1938. The festival celebrates the seasonal arrival of the azalea blossom to Northeast Florida.

In addition to park activities, many of the festival events take place downtown along the riverfront.

Palatka Florida Mug Race PosterPalatka Florida Mug Race Poster

Every Memorial Day Weekend hundreds of sailboats of all types and descriptions gather on the Palatka waterfront for the annual Mug Race.

This is a 38 mile long race down (north) the St. Johns River to Jacksonville.

Recommended Palatka Restaurant


185 U.S. Highway 17
East Palatka, FL 32131
Tel:  386-325-1094

Corky Bell's Seafood at Gator Landing is just east of historic downtown Palatka on the east end of the U.S. 17 bridge that crosses the St. Johns River.

This bridge is known as the Doughboy Bridge, as it is flanked by bronze statues of World War One soldiers to whom the bridge is dedicated.

Corky Bells AerialCorky Bell's Seafood

Corky's is on the St. Johns River at a location the locals refer to as Devil's Elbow because of its steep turn from east to south at that spot. The restaurant commands a beautiful view of the river.



Ravine Gardens State Park - 1600 Twigg Street. Explore the picturesque gardens and winding trails of this state park, known for its stunning ravines, azaleas, and camellias, offering a peaceful retreat in the heart of Palatka.

Palatka Golf Club - 1715 Moseley Avenue. Tee off at this scenic golf club, featuring an 18-hole championship course surrounded by lush landscapes and challenging fairways, perfect for golf enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Bronson-Mulholland House - 100 Madison Street. Step back in time at this beautifully restored Victorian-era mansion turned museum, where you can admire its intricate architecture, period furnishings, and learn about the rich history of Palatka.

Palatka Riverfront Park - 501 St Johns Avenue. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the St. Johns River at this charming riverfront park, offering scenic views, picnic spots, a playground, and a serene atmosphere for relaxation and family fun.

St. Johns River Center - 102 North 1st Street. Discover the ecological wonders of the St. Johns River at this educational center, featuring interactive exhibits, aquariums, and displays showcasing the diverse wildlife and ecosystems of the region.

Palatka-to-Lake Butler State Trail - Accessible from various points. Embark on an outdoor adventure along this 47 mile scenic trail, perfect for hiking, biking, or horseback riding, as it winds through picturesque landscapes, woodlands, and historic railway corridors.

Peniel Baptist ChurchPeniel Baptist Church
Wikimedia Commons, Don Keeton

Peniel Baptist Church - 5227 Silver Lake Drive. Experience the tranquil beauty and spiritual significance of this historic church, which dates back to 1854 and features charming architecture, serene surroundings, and a warm community of worshipers. 





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