The Town of Hastings, Florida, named after Thomas Horace Hastings (1860 – 1897), is located in the agricultural heart of the upper St. Johns River Valley 45 miles south of Jacksonville, 10 miles northeast of Palatka, and 15 miles southwest of St. Augustine. The area was first settled by Native-Americans about 3,500 years ago. After the founding of St. Augustine by the Spanish in 1565, Fort Picolata, about 10 miles nort of present day Hastings, was established on the St. Johns River in the late 1600’s. The Fort was burned in 1740 by the British under Oglethorpe during the War of Jenkins’ Ear. The Fort was reconstructed in 1755 by the Spanish.
The agricultural history of the Hastings area commenced with the transfer of Florida from Spain to Great Britain in 1763. Upon transfer, the British governor entered into the Treaty of Fort Picolata with the Native-Americans, thus, opening the St. Johns River Valley for peaceful agricultural settlement. Among the large farms established along the river near what was to become Hastings were Rollestown established by English philanthropist Denys Rolle in 1767, the Wiggins Plantation near present day Tocoi established following the return of the Spanish in 1783 by Job or Joseph Wiggins; and the Philip Fatio Plantation at New Switzerland. Rollestown was originally called “Charlotta” after Rolle’s mother, Isabella Charlotta Walter Rolle. Rolle also named his daughter Isabella Henrietta Charlotta. Rollestown occupied 20,000 acres and was devoted to citrus, cattle and naval stores. The enterprise was intended as a utopian agricultural community for the poor, a land of “Peace and Plenty.” With the withdrawal of the British in 1783, Rolle moved his community in the trading ship the Peace and Plenty to Exuma in the Bahama’s where he established the twin communities of Rolletown and Rolleville.
Credit: Florida Bureau of Archives, Departmnent of State, Tallahassee.
Job or Joseph Wiggins was Rolle’s agent at Rollestown and stayed there following Rolle’s withdrawal for a short period of time before establishing his own plantation near present-day Tocoi. Upon Wiggins’ death, the plantation was sold. Wiggin’s widow, Nancy Wiggins was disallowed any inheritance by the Spanish authorities since she was not legally married, the nuptuals have been performed in an Anglican Church rather than in a Catholic Church as required by Spanish law.
In the 1790’s, Indian attacks became more frequent and the farms and plantations along the St. Johns River were abandoned. American troops under Andrew Johnson invaded Florida to put down Indian depredations. This led, ultimately in 1821, to the treaty of Amity, Settlement and Limits between the United States and Ferdinand VII whereby the United States assumed possession the the two Floridas. War between the United States and the Indians continued until the conclusion of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). That war required some 200,000 American troops to defeat some 3,000 – 4,000 Seminole Indians under the chief Micanopy. At various times during the war, forts were established throughout the Hastings area. These included Fort Hunter at Rollestown, Fort Shannon at Palatka on the site of a trading post burned by the Indians, Fort New Buena Vista at East Palatka, Fort Moccasin Branch near Orange Mills and Fort Hudson also near Orange Mills, Fort Searle near Bakersville, Fort Weedman seven miles west of St. Augustine, Fort Harney west of St. Augustine and Fort Hanson on Deep Creek near Hastings. A military road was also created connecting St. Augustine with the Rollestown area and Fort Brooke (present day Ocala). The Indians again arose during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). Thus, essentially the area near Hastings remained unsettled until after the Civil War.
Credit: Florida Bureau of Archives
Following the end of the Civil War, Jacksonvile, Green Cove Springs and St. Augustine began to develope as winter resorts for rich northerners. In the 1870’s New Yorker Utley J. White commenced the development of narrow guage railroad to support a logging industry. His railroads reached the southern portions of St. Johns County in the mid- 1880’s. White’s railroad was purchased by Henry Morrison Flagler who commenced its conversion to standard guage. In the 1890, Thomas H. Hastings estabished a farm known as Prairie Garden at what was to become Hastings. There, using greenhouses, Hastings was able to supply vegetables for the hotels constructed by Henry Morrison Flagler. At about the same time, Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad to Prairie Garden and called the station “Hastings Station.” This, in turn, permitted the shipping of potatoes to northern markets and the development of the potato industry. By 1901, the Hastings area shipped 43,000 bushels of Irish potatoes and 23,000 bushels of sweet potatoes and had become the “Potato Capital of Florida”. Other businesses were established including merchantiles and the Middleton House Hotel, rates $1.50 a day. Transportation other than by train remained a problem with the abysmal conditions of the roads.
Credit: Florida Bureau of Archives
The need for barrels in which to ship the potatoes also resulted in the formation of a barrel factory. In 1909, the Town was incorporated by a Special Act of the Legislature. Growth continued. The road problem was, however, solved with the formation of the Dixie Highway Association. The Dixie Highway was, itself an outgrowth of the Lincoln Highway Association formed In 1913 under the auspices of Carl G. Fisher (1874-1939), of the Prest-O-Lite Company and later developer of Miami Beach; Henry C. Ostermann a promoter for the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West; and Henry B. Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company. That association itself arose out of the Good Roads Movement in which state Senator Austin S. Mann originally of Hernando County and later Jacksonville was nationally active. Mann was the father-in-law of Governor William Sherman Jennings. The Good Roads Association arose out of a bicycle group, The League of American Wheelmen formed in 1880. It had as a slogan, “Lifting Our People Out of the Mud.” In early 1915, the route for the Dixie Highway was designated as running through Hastings, with a connector from Hastings to Orlando. The town celebrated its designation as being on the Dixie Highway with a parade with decoraded floats, carrages and automobiles.
Traces of the original Dixie Highway and the connector are visible today in Hastings. For a scenic drive along the old Connector in the Hastings area:
- Head west along Florida 207
- Turn right on to Campbell Rd / Old Hastings Brick Rd and head west
- Turn left on Federal Point Rd and head southwest
- Turn left on County 207A
- Turn right on to Florida 207 and head south to East Palatka
- Turn left on Old San Mateo Rd / San Mateo Brick Rd and head southward to San Mateo
The touring car decorated with Spanish moss at the lower right-hand portion of the photo was the winner of the first place price for best decorated vehicle. The scene appears to be at the intersection of N. Main Street and St. Johns Ave. looking in the direction of the present site of the Potato Exhange Building.
As indicated in the photo, Hastings remains the “Potato Capital of Florida.” Although, Hastings is rapidly become a home for many who work in nearby St. Augustine, Palatka, and Jacksonville, the area retains its rich agriculural history. The area is a center for numerous potato, cabbage, and sod farming operations. In recognition of the growth, the Town adopted a new City Charter in 2005. The Charter provides for a Town Manager – Town Commission form of government in which the administration of the Town is entrusted to a professional city manager responsible to the City Commission which sets policy. The Town owns and operates its own water and sewer system.