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Facts page - history

THIS PARTICULAR history of the lake was written by Tip Graham as part of his successful petition to have Kingsley Lake declared an *Outstanding Florida Water* in July, 1989. [The rest of Tip's celebrated petition is available HERE.] Two years earlier, a Hazardous Waste Burn facility was being proposed for Blanding, which over time would have polluted the lake. In the process of opposing this facility it was learned that if the Lake could be declared an Outstanding Florida Water by the State, it would be protected from such possibilities in the future. This is what prompted the petition in 1989, and this short 'history.' We should note that Tip's stated 'legend' — that the lake was named for a "Captain Kingsley" — is apparently not true (see notes at bottom of this page), and the possibly less romantic fact that it was named after the slave trader Zephaniah Kingsley, is, apparently, the 'real' story. We're still interested in finding more specific facts about how the naming came about. Early surveyors calling it "Kingsley Pond" (since it was near the land granted to Zephaniah Kingsley) may indeed be what led to the KINGSLEY name becoming official...! -Clark
Kingsley Lake, six miles east of Starke, Florida, is steeped in history and geological significance, as well as being one of the most popular recreational spots in Northeast Florida.
    According to an engineering study for Clay County, it is the oldest and highest lake in Florida, being perched on the eastern slope of Trail Ridge, which was the first part of the Florida peninsula to emerge above sea level in the Pleistocene era. Geologists also believe that it was formed as a giant sink hole (over 90 feet deep at its deepest point).
    It is also the most stable lake in the North Central Florida area, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, seldom fluctuating more than 16 to 18 inches in measurements above sea level. The water remains delightfully cool during the summer months, since it is fed by countless underground springs around the shore, as well as in the lake itself.
    Kingsley Lake is 5.5 miles around the shore line, and 2 miles across in all directions. It covers approximately 2,000 acres, according to Starke surveyor M. G. McMillan.
    In 1829 the first proposed cross-state ship canal was mapped through Kingsley Lake, but was later abandoned because expensive locks would have to be constructed in order to float ships across the 176-foot elevation of Trail Ridge, just west of the lake.
    The lake is about one mile east of historic Alachua Trail which followed Trail Ridge from the Georgia line into this area and was the favorite "highway" used by Indians in their travels back and forth. Old military maps show Fort Van Cortlandt positioned near Alachua Trail about two miles southwest of "Kingsley Pond", as it was called by early surveyors. Alachua Trail was the scene of many Indian incidents during the 1830s and '40s.
    According to legend, one of these encounters occurred when a young Cavalry officer, Captain Kingsley, was surrounded by Indians on a trail south of the lake and his only way of escape was to swim his horse across the lake to the west shore. The horse was said to have dropped dead from exhaustion, and the lake has been called Kingsley ever since.
    In 1886, three early settlers, engaged in citrus culture on the lake, formed a corporation called Kingsley Lake Navigation Company, with the "intention to operate and maintain, in all its detail, a steamboat line on Lake Kingsley" from a point on the south side to a point on the north side. It is not known whether or not his enterprise was actually placed in operation.
    The Florida State Gazeteer of 1886-87 says: "The first settlement (of Kingsley) was made in 1859 by Mr. Simeon Strickland, and one other gentleman. A post office was established there in 1880 with H.W. Strong as postmaster."
    There were three post offices on the lake at that time: besides Kingsley on the north side, there was Lakeview, a small settlement on the south side, and Ionia on the west side.
    In the 1870s, '80s and '90s, early settlers were mostly small farmers and fruit growers, engaged in the culture of oranges, strawberries, grapes, and naval stores products derived from native pines. At one time there was a tramroad from the main line of the railroad north of Lawtey to haul lumber from the saw mills near Kingsley.
    In 1895 the so-called "Big Freeze" sent temperatures in this area plunging as low as 8 to 10 degrees, destroying citrus groves and causing the abandonment of orange groves at Kingsley and elsewhere. This disaster marked the beginning of a slow, but continuing change in the Kingsley community from an agricultural to a recreational area.
    In the early 1900s, Col. Comer L. Peek, a Starke realtor and developer subdivided a large tract of land on the west side of the lake and sold 60-foot lots for $50 to residents of Starke for summer cottages. Roads to the lake were hardly more than sand trails at that time, but many Starke businessmen commuted the six miles daily in horse-drawn buggies to reach the lake after a hot day in town. Their wives and children usually stayed the entire summer at the lake without coming into town at all. This type of summer residence continued for the next 20 years or more, but with the coming of paved roads and automobiles the summer colonists were joined by more and more permanent residents who built modern, weather-proofed homes that would also be comfortable for year-round living.
    Kingsley Lake is the source of the North Prong of Black Creek, and converges with the South Prong at Middleburg to become a tributary to the St. Johns River. During the 1930s an extensive study was made of the Black Creek Basin with the intent to use Kingsley Lake as a source of water supply for Jacksonville, due to the excellence of its water quality. However, this project was never carried out.
    With the outbreak of World War II in the 1940s, a Florida National Guard Camp on the east side of the lake (an area not yet developed by residents), was taken over by the U.S. Army for a huge Infantry Replacement Training Center named Camp Blanding in honor of General Albert Blanding.
    The north side of the lake, where the old Kingsley post office had been located, became a "boom town" with small businesses and entertainment spots catering to servicemen. This atmosphere continued on that part of the lake until the end of the war, then gradually disappeared.
    Kingsley Lake is almost unique in that it is totally free of water hyacinths, hydrilla, and other obnoxious growth. Its only major threats are from trash brought into the lake by storm water runoff, and a few sub-standard septic tanks. We would hope, however, that these conditions could be improved and future possible pollution prevented should we receive recognition as an Outstanding Florida Water. We also hope, at a later date, to be allowed to tie in with Camp Blanding's sewer system which has excessive capacity for their present needs. OFW status should also be helpful to us in this instance.
    In 1978 residents of Kingsley Lake organized and chartered the Kingsley Lake Property Owners Association, which now includes some 150 member families. It has established a Kingsley Lake Civic Center where meetings and social events are held. Although Kingsley Lake is not incorporated as a municipality, it has a well-organized and equipped fire department.
    The National Guard organization at Camp Blanding is also very supportive of the effort to have Kingsley Lake declared an Outstanding Florida Water.
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Was Kingsley named for Anna or Zephaniah...?   We found this article at Jacksonville's web site, and it makes us want to find out more about how and when the lake was named....

Anna Kingsley a 'free person of color'

When Anta Majigeen Njaay was 13, she was captured during religious wars that swept through her homeland of Senegal on the coast of Africa. She and other slaves survived the sea journey to Havana, Cuba, where she was bought on the docks by 41-year-old Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader from North Florida.

They sailed to his Laurel Grove plantation at Doctors Lake where more than 100 slaves grew corn, cotton, potatoes and Mandarin oranges on 200 acres. Anta's name became Anna Jai Madgigine.

Kingsley considered her his wife and told an interviewer that they had been married by African custom outside the United States. Though Anna Kingsley was still legally a slave, a neighbor said ''she was always called and considered a free person of color.''

When Anna Kingsley turned 18, Zephaniah Kingsley freed her and their three children. They later had a fourth child. They eventually moved to a plantation on Fort George Island just north of Jacksonville.

Zephaniah Kingsley continued to bring slaves into Florida, where the slave trade was legal under Spanish rule. He smuggled them into Georgia, where slavery was lawful but bringing in new slaves was not.

Zephaniah Kingsley trained slaves in skills like bricklaying, carpentry and weaving to get a higher price when he sold them.

His views about slavery were complicated. He said he didn't think slavery should be based on color, but thought slavery was a ''necessary evil'' for agriculture. He wrote a book that was often quoted in debates about slavery leading up to the Civil War....[continues, at jacksonville.com]

'Also learned from this Clay County site, that...
...in 1790, a Spanish land grant was made to Zephaniah Kingsley which included present Orange Park.
So we're getting closer to knowing how this all came about!
Don't we have some HISTORY buffs here who could help us out...?? -C.

Now... MORE than one person has reported the following about how the lake became known as Kingsley:
"The late Reverend J. L. Strickland of Clay Hill, said that Kingsley received its name during 'the Indian War' (probably the final Indian War, which lasted from 1857 to 1858). He told of a Captain Kingsley, who, while doing scout duty, found himself completely surrounded by Indians except on the side next to the lake. The lake being the only means of escape, he swam his horse across it. Tht horse came out of the lake at the camp on the west side of the lake, about where the Kingsley Lake Baptist Church is now, and 'stiffened and fell dead.' Captain Kingsley requested that the lake be given his name because the lake and his horse had saved his life."
...but do you believe it...? Be interesting to know HOW or WHY this story got started — assuming Reverend Strickland didn't make it up! Tip Graham's 'history' mentions the same 'story' - as does the 'history' at Kingsley Beach's new web site (taken from Tip's account I believe). Fred Blakey suggests otherwise....

Historian Fred Blakey (recently retired from the University of Florida) responded to my inquiry regarding how Kingsley Lake was named, with the following...
"The lake was named for Zephaniah Kingsley, a wealthy slave owner who came to Florida in 1803. He had extensive holdings in the Orange Park area and also his main plantation on Ft. George Island. The P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History (352-392-0319 ext.306) can give you the details. Cordially, Fred Blakey
Mr. Blakey published a book on the history of Clay County in 1976, called Parade of Memories. I bought a copy over the web ($22), and when I have a chance I will read it. And I still hope to find out more about the particulars regarding the actual naming of the lake. Any help for our readers, of course, will be appreciated. -Clark
P.S. On June 19, 2003, I asked the people at the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History to research the origin of the lake's name. They report that Allen Morris's "Place Names of Florida" states that the lake is indeed named after Zephaniah Kingsley, and they suggested that if Zephaniah was also a Captain (! anybody know ?) it might be that both accounts are true! More research needed.


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