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The secret past of Blue Cypress Park

There is a public pool, a golf course, huge playing fields and a fishing pier. But there is also a secret to this 118 acre recreational hotspot. Blue Cypress Park was once the site of Oran Baxter's St. Isabel plantation. It is another link in Arlington's Kingsley connection, reaching from Zephania and Anna Kingley's home on Fort George Island to John and Mary Kingsley Sammis plantation at Clifton. Zephaniah made family members out of business associates John Sammis and Oran Baxter by the marriage of his daughters Mary and Martha to them in the 1820's.

A decade later, Oran and Martha had built their plantation called St. Isabel into a thriving business. Tragically, Oran would not get to enjoy his life's work and died prematurely in 1847. Unsecured debts on the land now came due but Martha, having inherited her mother's business acumen, managed to reverse her fortune in just seven years, becoming one of the ten wealthiest people in Duval County.

Martha, a quadroon and legally considered a negro, exemplified the complex relationships and business ethics of many free blacks in the planter society that had developed along the northern St. Johns River corridor. At one point, she owned almost fifty slaves. Despite this, she was a staunch and outspoken Union supporter throughout the Civil War. When her home burned to the ground in December of 1864, it was said to be the work of Confederate guerillas. The effort of rebuilding surely contributed to Martha's death in 1870 here at St. Isabel. Husband and wife were reunited in the Clifton cemetery, although Martha's grave is unmarked.

Blue Cypress Park has another secret as well. There is a boardwalk along the St. Johns riverbank that will guide visitors to the adjacent 36 acre Lion's Club Park. An excellent place to fish or birdwatch, the boardwalk is also a great platform to observe all manner of commercial ship traffic, from barges to tankers offloading at the Talleyrand terminal.

Find it:  Blue Cypress Park is located at 4012 University Blvd., N. There are two entrances; the first driveway allows access to the pool. The second driveway leads to the playing field, picnic shelter and golf course. Follow the road past the shelter and turn right at the fairway. This road leads to the fishing pier and boardwalk. Watch for golf carts!

             The Arlington Lions Club Park entrance is north of Blue Cypress Park at 4322-1 Richard Denby Gatlin Road. You can park in the lot here and hike to the Blue Cypress pier or vice versa. Both parks close at sunset.

Related article: Arlington's Kingsley connection

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