Beluthahatchee Park is located on the William Bartram Scenic Highway (SR 13) approximately one-quarter of a mile south of Roberts Road and approximately 200 feet north of Cricket Hollow Lane. The Beluthahatchee Park is a four-acre park located within the 70-acre tract of land purchased by Stetson Kennedy in 1948 after the 18-acre Beluthahatchee Lake was created by impounding Mill Creek in 1945. This lake meanders through a natural basin and is surrounded by high bluffs, currently owned by the Lake Dwellers Association, a non-profit Florida corporation formed by the lakefront residents. In 1949 the 70-acre tract was subdivided and platted by the owner/developer Stetson Kennedy who recorded the restrictive covenants setting aside land in perpetuity as a wildlife refuge, and stipulating that residential construction be consistent with the developer’s goal of “serving as a working demonstration that human and natural habitat need not be mutually exclusive, but can coexist in harmony.”
The perimeter of the property is surrounded by a heavy canopy native vegetation overstory consisting of mixed coniferous and hardwood defined by live oak, laurel oak, water oak, longleaf pine, and cabbage palms. The native vegetation understory consists of saw palmetto, southern magnolia, water, and laurel oak. The lake native vegetation overstory consists of pignut hickory, sweetgum, and bald cypress and the understory consists of sweetgum, southern magnolia, and swamp dogwood.
Although much of the perimeter native vegetation has been preserved despite intensive development around its borders, the Beluthahatchee enclave provides a wildlife habitat and continues to serve as a rookery and roosting place for ospreys, eagles, snowy egrets, tri-colored heron, white ibis, little blue heron, wood storks, black-crow night herons, wood ducks, anhingas, purple gallinules, bronze grackles, red-winged blackbirds and many other species.
On April 6, 2005, Kennedy was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and he was nominated for the National Heritage Award presented at the Library of Congress. Stetson Kennedy residence is a National Literary Landmark, as recognized by the Friends of the US Library.
Kennedy’s career as an author began in 1942 with Palmetto Country, a volume in the American Folkways Series edited by Erskine Caldwell. This was followed by Southern Exposure in 1946, Jim Crowe Guide in 1956, and The Klan Unmasked in 1957, based upon Kennedy’s infiltration of the Klan following WWII. Numerous awards received by Kennedy during the course of his career are indicative of the significance of his life work.
The final draft of Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Seeds of Man, Guthrie composed more than 80 songs while in residence at Beluthahatchee, almost all of which had to do with the “sense of place”, and human rights issues inspired by Kennedy’s writings. The 2003 nomination by the Florida Center for the Book and the Council for Florida Libraries the Friends of Libraries – USA designated Beluthahatchee a Literary Landmark (No. 83 in the National Register). An additional marker, in Kennedy’s name, was also approved, to be erected following his demise.
In 2005, the 88-year old Kennedy received a Life Estate on this property from the Florida Community Trust’s land acquisition program. The majority of the site will be left in its current state (consisting of 4 original lots and Kennedy home), with the addition of a “Mother Earth Trail” throughout the property, as envisioned by the Kennedy Foundation.
Kennedy’s home will be open year-round offering educational exhibits and programming focusing on the life and work of Stetson Kennedy, Woody Guthrie, and William Bartram, and later this facility will be open to the general public (upon his passing) on a regular basis as a museum and archive. This home features an open floor plan which will also allow for community meeting space, much needed in this rapidly growing and developing area.
Parking for visitors to the site will be located on the currently impacted property. A small clear pond, fed by an artesian well, will serve as a central location for outdoor picnicking and nature appreciation. The Kennedy Foundation will operate and maintain the Kennedy home and archives that will share office space in an adjacent home with the William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway corridor group. The third home on the property has the potential to provide space for an Artist-in-Residence through the Florida Folklife program, another link with Kennedy’s legacy of promoting Florida’s rich traditional culture. Finally, the fourth home on the property, a one-bedroom log cabin, will serve as a caretaker residence.
New site amenities include a picnic pavilion, canoe dock, access to the Beluthatchee Lake, and use of the two wildlife observation platforms.
The acquisition of the Beluthahatchee Park gives St. Johns County the opportunity to continue the legacy of Stetson Kennedy and his Vision for the future as a Literary Landmark, to carry forward the shared Kennedy/Guthrie three-fold legacy of devotion to human rights, mother earth, and the traditional culture.