As a historical preserve, it protects what remains of what was once a bustling military encampment near Baldwin. In fact, it was the Confederacy’s largest and strongest field fortification. First manned in 1862, it continued to enjoy a strategic position near the junction of Florida’s major railroads.
Cone-shaped concrete markers note the location of campfires discovered – all throughout the parking area – and a nature trail leads to earthworks along McGirts Creek. The original protective battlements ran nearly three miles.
There are many interpretive signs regards life during the Civil War in Jacksonville. Not as much emphasis is provided regards the life of the nearly 8,000 soldiers once stationed here.
However, Camp Milton Historical Preserve has a living time capsule of sorts that we’ve seen nowhere else. It’s an arboretum that recalls major figures and events from the Civil War.
Each of the trees in this arboretum were sprouted from a seed or cutting of a tree at a historically significant site such as a sycamore from the plantation where Robert E. Lee was born, or the honeylocust tree that stood closest to President Lincoln during his Gettysburg Address.
It’s an unusual way to tell the story of the Civil War while preserving the genetic heritage of those trees that survived the battles of more than 150 years ago. Many placards are duplicated multiple times in different places in the park, as multiple trees were grown from the same genetic stock. A good idea, as it’s obvious some didn’t do well in Florida soil.
Following the paved path through the arboretum, you’ll find one branch of it leading to the creek and a replica bridge that “might have been here,” and the other to the park’s restrooms at its connection with the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail, where the ever-so strategic railroad ran during the Civil War.