Preparing for a feast
Florida Photo Archives
Preparing for a Feast

Between 6000 and 4000 years ago, people began to inhabit the land between the Tolomato River and the Atlantic Ocean. These early inhabitants hunted deer and other animals, fished and collected shellfish, and deposited shells in middens. A large (100 meters in diameter and a meter in elevation) shell ring consisting of oyster, clam, conch, and coquina is believed by some archeologists to be the remains of a circular village. The elevated area was used as house sites and the center was used for ceremonies. When Europeans arrived in the sixteenth century, they found the descendants of these earlier people living in villages surrounded by fields of corn, beans, peas, and pumpkins. Known to Europeans as Timucuans, these Native Americans were immortalized in the drawings of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues who accompanied the Frenchman Rene de Laudonniere to Florida in 1564.

Over 35 land grants were recorded for the land now within the Guana River WMA. Beginning in the 1770s, British Governor James Grant operated an indigo plantation on the southern tip of the peninsula. In 1781, another plantation was established to grow rice. Cattle and hogs were also raised on the land and sugarcane grown. A network of dikes, levees, and ditches were constructed as well as a rice and sugar mill.

James Grant
Florida Photo Archives
British Governor James Grant

When Florida was returned to Spain at the end of the Revolutionary War, the Guana Tract was largely abandoned until Minorcan immigrants began purchasing small tracts for farming.

In the early 1900s, canals were dug along the northern portion of the Tolomato River for the northern expansion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. In the 1920s, real estate investors and developers began to consolidate these tracts in the hope of developing a residential community. Their plans ended with the Depression. A small herd of Spanish ponies inhabited the area until they were destroyed during efforts to eradicate Texas tick fever. An intense pine harvest began in the late 1930s and continued through the 1970s. Between 1931 and 1980, impoundments were constructed for waterfowl hunting. Lake Ponte Vedra was created between 1957 and 1962 to increase and to enhance habitat for waterfowl by damming the river and installing water control structures.

In 1984, the land was purchased by the state through its Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program, and Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Guana River Wildlife Management Area were established.

FWC Facts:
The oystercatcher is one of the largest and heaviest of Florida's shorebirds. It is striking in appearance: dark brown, black and white, with a bright red bill.

Learn More at AskFWC