Originally the site of an ancient Timucuan village, Ponce Inlet is overflowing with interesting history. There are many ways to experience the rich history of the island. We’ve rounded up our favorite spots so that you can plan your historical-themed day. Let’s dive in!
1) The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Perhaps the town’s most famous piece of history, the Ponce De Leon Lighthouse does not disappoint. Recently named one of the best-preserved lighthouses in the nation, the structure was established as a historical landmark in 1998. On the lighthouse grounds, history buffs will love exploring the multiple buildings turned into museums that were once the lighthouse keeper’s home. The grounds also feature the Ayres Davie Lens Exhibit, one of the finest collections of restored Fresnel lenses in the world. You’ll see why over 80,000 people visit the lighthouse each year when you see the gorgeous view from the top of the climb. Located less than a mile down the road from where you board The Manatee, you can stop by and climb it yourself before your afternoon cruise.
2) Ponce Inlet Historical Museum
A hidden gem, the Ponce Inlet Historical Museum offers a look into early life on the island. The town-owned and operated museum features two historic Florida cracker-style cottages restored to their original layout. Built in 1880, one cottage was originally a fishing camp before it was converted to the town’s first post office. The post office was run by the wife of a civilian lighthouse keeper whose graves still remain next to the cottage today.
The other tin roof cottage was built in 1922 by Redwood Wharton Sr. as a vacation home. Wharton’s son would one day use the home as his own and would eventually open the Inlet Harbor Restaurant that remains in Ponce today. The Whartons lived a simple life here with generator-produced electricity, an outhouse, and hand-pumped rainwater used for laundry and cooking.
You’ll enjoy listening to the passionate and informed locals that volunteer at the museum as you explore the ins and outs of some of the first homes built in Ponce. Located just down the road from where you board the Manatee, this small museum is the perfect spot to check out before or after your cruise. Admission is free, and the museum is open Monday to Friday, 12:30 pm to 4:40 pm and Saturdays 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
3) The Ponce Preserve
Located 2.6 miles north of the lighthouse on South Peninsula Drive, the Ponce Preserve is the perfect pitstop for nature lovers and history buffs alike. Consisting of 41 acres that stretch from the Atlantic to the Halifax River, this park features live oak trees that are over 350 years old. At the heart of the park is a Green Mound State Archaeological site home to a prehistoric Native American shell mound. This riverbank site was found to be the location of an ancient Timucuan village. Unfortunately, most of the Florida shell mounds were destroyed by road crews in the early 1900s, however, this one remains, and laws are now in place to protect these ancient sites.
As you stroll through the trails of the Preserve you’ll notice that it’s a prime location for bird watching. Eventually, you will reach the walkway to the beach where auto racing was originally born. Just a short walk down the beach is The North Turn Restaurant and the exact site of the famous north turn where the first auto racers competed. Maybe even grab a bite to eat at the restaurant to recharge after all that nature exploring! You’ll enjoy the black and white photos of early auto racers that are featured on the restaurant’s walls.
4) The Old La Ponce Hotel
You may get an eerie feeling when you spot the old La Ponce Hotel on the banks of Front Street and the Halifax. This historical hotel, built in 1890, is no longer in service but remains as the site of the first Inn built on Ponce Inlet. This Inn was used mostly as a haven for sailors who followed the Ponce lighthouse to safety during bad weather.
This abandoned hotel can only be seen from the river and what better way to view a piece of Ponce Inlet history than from the comfort of a two-hour boat cruise aboard The Manatee! With three packages to choose from, it’s easy to book regular scenic tour jaunts. From the safety of your seat, you’ll witness parts of Ponce Inlet history, Florida wildlife, and gain even more valuable information from our friendly guides. Contact us today to schedule your tour!