May Rocks with History

May is a month teeming with excitement in Jacksonville. There are many historical events which happened in May and the weather is optimal for the outdoor celebrations.

The oldest event we celebrate is the arrival of the French Huguenots on May 1, 1562. The time of the year inspired naming the waterway River May (today known as the St. Johns River). The expedition leader, Jean Ribault, left a stone column bearing the coat of arms of his French King Charles IX. The original column was placed by the French explorers on May 2. Today,you can visit the Ribault Monument near Fort Caroline to see a similar column. The picturesque views of the river from the banks of the monument are worth making the trip. The nearby community of Mayport even derives its name from the same historical landing.

To see a mural of Ribault’s Landing, go to the 4th floor on the Main Library in Downtown. Lee Adams, a native of Jacksonville, captured the spirit of Florida’s French history on the 31-by-8 foot painting. While you are there, it is a short walk to see the historic collection of Jacques le Moyne sketches (aka de Bry engravings) in an adjacent room.

Restaurants in Jacksonville are celebrating Ribault and French Week with dining specials.

The French exploration in 1562 was short. A second voyage to the area took place in the spring of 1564. Once again, they sailed into the River May determined to make a foothold in the new world. They located the original stone marker and the settlement where La Caroline was built. Jacksonville is celebrating this heritage on May 7 with “La Caroline: A Rock Opera”. The dynamic show takes place on the rooftop of the Museum of Science & History (MOSH). The production will also go on the road this summer, to be performed in Nantes, France.

May is also the anniversary of the Great Fire in Jacksonville. It was a dry, windy day when a fire started at the Cleveland Fiber Factory on May 3, 1901. By the time the flames were extinguished, 146 city blocks had burned to the ground. This was the third-largest city fire in the United States, behind only the 1906 San Francisco earthquake fire and the 1871 Chicago fire. The best place to learn about the event is at the Jacksonville Fire Museum. The museum is free and is located by Metropolitan Park at 1406 Gator Bowl Blvd.

The Community First Saturday monthly event will take place at the Jacksonville Fire Museum on May 3 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. You can always count on food trucks and live music to go along with this month’s fire exhibits.

First Wednesday Artwalk is on May 7. There will be a Great Fire walking tour offered at 7:30 p.m. The tour starts at the bottom of the Jacksonville Landing escalators.

Explore, learn, and enjoy your amazing city.

Gary Sass is a local historian and owner of AdLib Luxury Tours and Jacksonville Walking Tours. To find out more about the tours available for you or your group, visit or like us on Facebook.

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