One of Florida’s largest mounds, Mount Royal was first documented by William Bartram in 1765, when it was an important central feature of a large village along the St. Johns River. Constructed between 1250 and 1500 A.D., this archaeological site has multiple layers of complexity, including being the location of a Spanish mission in the late 1500s.
Address: 120 Indian Mound Dr, Crescent City, FL 32112
Open: Access must be arranged in advance or at the gate
Land manager: Florida Division of Historical Resources
From US 17, follow Georgetown Point Rd (CR 309) south into Welaka. Continue through town and south past the first fish hatchery ponds and both entrances to Welaka State Forest. Turn right at the Y onto Mount Royal Avenue, passing a state historic marker. Where the road to the Fort Gates Ferry goes right, continue straight.
Mount Royal is inside a gated community, but public access to this nationally significant archaeological site is guaranteed by a deed transferring land from the State of Florida to the subdivision in exchange for conservation of the mound and access to it. You’ll need to buzz in at the gate. If there are not clear instructions on who to contact, call the land manager (weekdays) to arrange access. Once in, turn right off Mount Royal Ave onto Indian Mound Dr, which parallels the airstrip, and then onto Sellers Ct to find the site. Please respect private property: park by the pavilion to walk around the mound, which is cared for by the homeowners association.
This National Register site is short on walking but long on history. At the base of the mound, a pavilion with an interpretive display explains how John and William Bartram visited and described the mound during their visit in 1765. At that time, it was quite visible from the St. Johns River. A Bartram Trail sign (Site 21) is placed along the river at the point where the Bartrams would have seen it.
In 1894, archaeologist Clarence Moore excavated the mound and discovered copper implements – which meant trading, since Florida has no native copper – as well as beads and pottery with the burials here. Those artifacts are at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Later excavations by B. Calvin Jones led to the discovery of clues about the Spanish mission, San Antonio de Anacape, located nearby. When the Franciscan friars left in 1587, the Timucua occupied the premises.
Keep in mind this site is a vertical cemetery, a burial mound for the Timucua. We did not plan nor expect to walk to the top, but we did so with a group and a guide who was mindful, offering prayerful words. The size of the live oaks atop the mound drive home the fact that this is an ancient site. These massive trees were not here when Moore dug around.
One of the more intriguing things we learned was that the Mount Royal Complex extended northward across the barriers we see today – the subdivision, the airstrip, the road to Fort Gates Ferry – and into what is now Welaka State Forest. William Bartram described it as a “noble Indian highway…terminated by Palms and Laurel Magnolias, on the verge of an oblong artificial lake, which was on the edge of an extensive green level savanna.” That terminus was pointed out to us as the Indian Lakes within the state forest today, which can be seen on a hike within the forest on the William Bartram St. Johns River Loop.