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Palatka Main Street Program Designated Florida Main Street Program of the Month

seal of florida

Florida Department of State
Kurt S. Browning
Secretary of State

For Immediate Release
June 03, 2009

Joan Jefferson

Palatka Main Street Program Designated Florida Main Street Program of the Month

Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning has announced Palatka Main Street as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month for June 2009. Selection for this award is based on accumulation of active participation in the Florida Main Street Program. Located 45 miles south of Jacksonville on the St. Johns River, Palatka is the county seat of Putnam County.

“Through the principles of the Florida Main Street Program, Palatka is actively working to rejuvenate their downtown into a viable commercial district,” said Secretary Browning.

Palatka was originally called Pilo-taikita by the Seminole Indians, meaning "crossing over" or "boat crossing." In 1833, the Second Seminole War began when the government attempted to relocate the tribe. Pilatka was attacked and burned in 1835. Later in 1838, the military established Fort Shannon in their strategic efforts to control the St. Johns River, the main waterway into Central Florida. The fort was abandoned by the army in 1843, but what remained would later spur development of the town.

By 1847, Pilatka was growing quickly. Established in 1849, Putnam County was named in honor of Benjamin Alexander Putnam, who was a soldier, lawyer, Florida legislator and the first president of the Florida Historical Society. The city name became Palatka in 1875, when the post office decided to end the confusion with nearby Picolata.

Between 1840 and 1850, Palatka was a major shipping port for oaks, cedar, cotton, sugar and syrup. The town benefited from profitable timber, citrus and farming industries. River freight lines hosted Palatka as a loading stop on the St. Johns as goods were shipped down the Ocklawaha, and continued north. Several railroads also created a junction in Palatka bringing more traffic and activity to the area. In the late 1800s, Palatka had the second largest cypress industry in the world. Citrus and timber were shipped worldwide and tourism attracted the famous.

The late 1890’s brought devastation to the community and the surrounding county. The business section of Palatka was virtually destroyed by fire in November of 1884; only the courthouse and its records were salvaged. Consecutive freezes during 1894 and 1895 brought the thriving citrus industry to a halt. However, vitality returned to Palatka as northern immigrants relocated for the milder climate. Some of these newcomers ventured to resurrect a flourishing citrus industry.

In the 1970s, downtown Palatka started to suffer the negative effects of newly built strip malls and suburban shopping centers. There was a need to create a Main Street Program to help the diminishing downtown, and address infrastructure and streetscape issues.

Designated in 1989, Palatka Main Street was one of the earliest Florida Main Street programs. Since then, the community has benefited from reinvestment of over $18.3 million in public and private projects. In addition, the commercial district has grown, with 137 new businesses resulting in the creation of 365 new jobs.

A signature event of Palatka Main Street is the widely popular Annual Florida Azalea Festival. March 2009 marked its 63rd year of existence. The event takes place in historic downtown Palatka and Memorial Park with a parade, entertainment, and a boat show. Additional festivities include the Azalea Queen Beauty Pageant, 5K Run, BBQ Cook-off, and the Car, Truck, and Motorcycle show.

Florida Main Street is a technical assistance program of the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State. The Bureau conducts statewide programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, and preserving Florida's historic resources. Main Street, with its emphasis on preservation, is an effective strategy for achieving these goals in Florida's historic retail districts. Since 1985 the Bureau has offered manager training, consultant team visits, design and other technical assistance, as well as the benefit of experience gained by other Florida Main Street programs.

To learn more about Palatka Main Street, call 386.328.1503.

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