The Port of Jacksonville is the county seat of Florida's Duval County. It lies on the St. Johns River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean about 40 kilometers south of Florida's border with Georgia. Located in the center of the "First Coast" region of Florida, the Port of Jacksonville is about 195 kilometers south of the Port of Savannah and some 420 kilometers north-northwest of the Port of Palm Beach. The Port of Jacksonville is one of the United States' largest cities by land area (over 217 hectares) and one of the State's biggest urban areas. In 2005, over 782 thousand people called the Port of Jacksonville home, and over 1.2 million lived in the metropolitan area.
The largest deep-water port in the South, the Port of Jacksonville is the State's major commercial and transportation center, and it is an important wholesale distribution hub for the southeastern United States, especially for automobiles. In addition to the Port of Jacksonville, it is the hub for regional highway and rail networks, and it is home to a busy international airport. The local Port of Jacksonville economy is largely based on services, banking, the military, manufacturing, fishing, and tourism. The Port of Jacksonville's diverse economy is its strength. Complementing transportation and distribution industries in the Port of Jacksonville are financial services, information services, biomedical technology, insurance, and other industries.
The Port of Jacksonville hosts three military facilities, and the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay is located nearby, giving the Port of Jacksonville the third largest military presence in the United States. Naval Air Station Jacksonville employs about 23 thousand civilian and military personnel. Naval Station Mayport is the third largest concentration of the US Naval fleet in the United States, and it can accommodate 34 ships and all types of US military aircraft. Blount Island Command, a Marine Corps Base, supports rapid deployment activities for personnel and supplies. The Florida Air National Guard is also located in the Port of Jacksonville at the international airport.
The Timucua Nation created the first settlement in the Port of Jacksonville area more than 6000 years ago, but the first European settler was French Huguenot Jean Ribault in the mid-16th Century. He established Fort Caroline in 1564. Spanish conquistador Pedro Menendez de Avlies destroyed the French fort a year later in 1865, killing all the French soldiers but the Catholics.
The Spanish named the future Port of Jacksonville village Fort San Mateo. They ceded it to England in 1763. The English called the first permanent settlement Cowford, as livestock could ford the river at that point. The British returned the Port of Jacksonville area to Spain in 1783.
Named after Andrew Jackson, the Port of Jacksonville townsite was planned a year after the US acquired Florida from Spain in 1822. The Florida legislature approved a charter for the Port of Jacksonville in 1832. While some industry developed, the Port of Jacksonville grew slowly due to the Seminole Wars and occupation by Union troops in America's Civil War.
The Port of Jacksonville was an important supply point for the Confederates and, with several blockades by the Union, it changed hands repeatedly. After the war during Reconstruction, the Port of Jacksonville grew as a resort for rich and famous winter refugees during the "Gilded Age." Though tourism suffered from it, harbor improvements encouraged industrial development in spite of an 1888 epidemic of yellow fever and a destructive 1901 fire. Over 13 thousand structures were built in the Port of Jacksonville from 1901 to 1912.
In the early 1900s, the Port of Jacksonville was a magnet for New York movie-makers, and over 30 silent film studios sprang up. The appearance of Hollywood on the West Coast, compounded by local conservative politics, ended the film industry. Today, the Port of Jacksonville Silent Film Museum recalls those days.
The Port of Jacksonville grew as an insurance and banking center in the early 20th Century, and the United States Navy became a major economic force and employer in the 1940s. Three naval bases were constructed in the Port of Jacksonville. German U-boats operated off the coast at Port of during World War II. They sank a tanker, and German saboteurs entered the area in 1942. During the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, the Port of Jacksonville was America's busiest military port.
Today, the Port of Jacksonville is a major deep-water port and Florida's main commerce and transportation center. As a major center for wholesale distribution in the southeastern U.S., motor vehicles are one of the Port of Jacksonville's most important cargoes. With its rail and highway network links and the Port of Jacksonville's international airport, Jacksonville is one of the busiest commercial centers in the State. The Port of Jacksonville's economy is dominated by insurance, banking, health care, two U.S. naval air stations, and manufacturing of contact lenses and paper products. Tourism, fishing, and shipbuilding are also important to the local economy.