Florida's Kingsley Plantation - Part 1

The Old House Web

Story and photos by Deborah Holmes

Kingsley Plantation
Built in 1798, Kingsley Plantation is the oldest plantation house in Florida.

Kinglsey Plantation, a modest 18th century plantation, is a study of contrasts-- a seemingly simple place that tells a complex story.

Fort George Island on Northeast Florida's St. Johns River provides aserenely beautiful setting. Approachable only by ship in the year 1798, when KingsleyPlantation was built, the island provided a gentleclimate, suitable to growing fine Sea Island cotton and citrus. Its isolationalso afforded protection from invaders -- while effectively imprisoning theslaves that worked the plantation.

A sand andoyster shell road that now traverses miles of swamp and mangrove jungles,providing a land approach to the house as well as access to the TimucuanEcological Preserve. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, the river was the only approach to theisland -- and the only exit -- virtually assuring that slaves could not escape.

The plantation house itself initially strikes one as simple and modest. But in contrastto the simple oyster shell and lime "tabby" cabins that housed the plantations slaves, the house is amansion.

slave cabin
A tabby slave cabin reconstructed by the National Park Service, among the ruins of the original slave cabins.

Sitting on a coquina block foundation, the house consists of a rectangulargreat room with two fireplaces, and a large room attached at each of fourcorners. Porches run the length of the north and south sides of the house. Anoutside stairway leads up the second floor bedrooms and an attic. A trapdooropens from the attic to the open-air observation deck.

A separate saltbox house and kitchen are attached to the main house. At theedge of the estate, ruins of 25 slavecabins can be seen. At one time, slave cabins werearranged in a semi-circle. Today only one cabin has been reconstructed by theNational Park Service, which owns and maintains the plantation and theecological reserve.

Thecabins and main building foundations were built of tabby, a mixture of equal parts lime, water, sand andoyster shells. The shells, left in 4 foot high mounds by the Timucuan Indians,provided ample building material to expand the plantation buildings to includebarns. The tabby mixture was poured into wood frame molds, hardened and used forexterior walls.

Wooden blinds on the front living room windows.

house fireplace
One of the two original fireplaces in the plantation house great room. While simple in style, the fireplace is elegant compared to those in slave cabins (right).

slave fireplace

(Click on any picture for a larger view)

newel post
Newel post and main inside stairwell.

pine floor
Original southern pine floor one of the four square rooms on each corner of the house.

termite damage
The NPS fights a never ending battle against insect infestation and rot in this warm, humid climate. Above, evidence of termites in the plantation house.

Stacks of cedar shingles await placement on roofs of various Kingsley buildings.

Original six over six windows and wooden clapboards on the plantation house.

cabin window
Simple wooden shutters shut out cold -- and light -- in the tabby slave cabins.

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