History and modernity passed on the river Saturday morning.
I was a last-minute passenger on a boat tour operated by the St. Johns Riverkeeper, an advocacy group based in Jacksonville. As part of their work they encourage folks to get to know the river, and one of the ways they do that is to sponsor history, ecology and culture tours during the year.
Because my gentleman friend was one of the speakers, I got to go along on one leg of their fall trip. Our large-scale pontoon boat left the dock at 8:30, with a little breeze and a light chop on the water, a clear blue sky, and just a suggestion of coolness in the air.
The St. Johns has a rich heritage of river travel, beginning with Timucuan canoes and the explorations of John Bartram and his son, William Bartram, around 1765. As the new nation grew, many steamships used the river as a highway to the exotic sights and locations of the Florida frontier.
Sanford sits the end of what is considered the navigable part of the St. Johns. After you leave Lake Monroe (which is not a lake at all but a dilation of the river), you need a smaller boat for the rest of your journey. And so Sanford was historically the end of the line for rivership tourists in the late 1800s who came to this "Gateway City to South Florida." Even President Chester Arthur came and spent a week here in 1883.
All that helps explain why there is a growing excitement about the new eco-tour and dinner cruise boat that was making her way to town last week. There's just something that feels right about having a paddlewheeler docked at the marina.
I'd been following the Barbara Lee's progress on Facebook, so you can imagine the thrill it was so see her passing under the bridge and into Lake Monroe for the very first time, bright and brave, with the morning sun in her face.