Pioneers of Northeast Florida
Given its close proximity to the settlements of St. Augustine and the natural abundance afforded by the St. Johns River, the scenic corridor was destined to attract Spanish attention. A fort and mission were constructed at Popo Point and the Hallowes Cove area, encouraged by the success of the Native American settlements in the area. And in the years between 1655 and 1702, Spanish settlers created cattle ranches along the river, including the Aramasaca ranch in the northern section of the corridor.
In the late 1700’s, the failure of the New Smyrna settlement in present-day New Smyrna Beach led to the migration of many Minorcan, Greek and Italian residents in the area. The British governor awarded lands to the survivors, many of whom had fled to St. Augustine. Many of the descendents remain successful members of the community to this day.
The 18th and 19th centuries also saw the rise of the plantation era. William Bartram himself owned a plantation in the corridor, although the venture did not last a year. A much more enduring plantation was established by Swiss-born Francis Phillip Fatio; it covered some 10,000 acres at Switzerland point and once boasted 4,000 orange trees surrounding a palatial home. The home would later be destroyed during the Indian Wars, but today the Scenic Highway travels through 7.5 miles of the old plantation, from Julington Creek to just north of Orangedale.
Fatio would later host William Bartram as he traveled in the area.
In 1869 Marcus Stith Moremen moved from Kentucky to Florida, purchasing 50 acres of the Fatio grant and establishing a packinghouse for the orange groves he landed. Ultimately, the success of this operation allowed him to expand into a 150- acres. In 1873, Rev. Theophilus Wilson Moore from North Carolina purchased 100 acres and planted orange trees along the river and Cunningham Creek; it was Rev. Moore who named the area Fruit Cove. African-American settlers also migrated to Fruit Cove, erecting the historic A.M.E. church in 1870.
Other settlers in the late 1800s include the Jennings and Tolbert families, who created the Orphir Grove Plantation and Walter Hawkins, who established Arcadia Groves.