An Aerial Photographic Search for the Old King's Road

William S. Lowe, 24 November 2006

for ES 771, Remote Sensing, Emporia State University

"I leave the pleasure to inform Your Lordship that the part of the road to the Musquito,
which Governor Grant had contracted for, and to be completed before Christmas
next, is just now finishing, and is done in such a manner that it will not require any
additional repairs for many years. The Bridges are firm and substantial; the
causeways well made, and the road well opened. A Cart of Waggon, or any number of
them, may pass with ease on twenty miles of good road toward the Musquito. But this
My Lord is not quite half way to the first water Carriage on that river; it being about
twenty-five miles from the road where the new Road now terminates...".

   -  Lt. Governor John Moultrie, September 27, 1771


The Old King's Road was Florida's first highway, beginning from St Augustine in about 1765 to eventually connect Colerain, Georgia, on the St. Mary's River, passing through the settlement of Cowford (Jacksonville), with the new settlement of New Smyrna on the Florida east coast. The road was constructed by British engineers, following the established trails of indigenous people and using crushed Coquina shell as the surfacing material.  Most of the highway has disappeared under pavement; however, traces remain.  Aerial photography of Florida, taken from 1943 on, reveals small segments of the original road.

A Brief History of Colonial Florida and The King's Road

Florida, the "Land of Flowers", was first visited by Europeans in April of 1513 with the arrival of three ships under the command of Juan Ponce DeLeon, the former Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico, and a fellow voyager of Christopher Columbus.  A fiction exists that he was seeking the fountain of youth, but historians now believe his motives were conquest and plunder.  In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles left Cadiz, Spain for Florida and established what is now the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine. Spain was at war with France at the time, and Spaniards established forts and missions on the East coast of Florida, defeating French attempts to colonize and securing their rule of Florida for 198 years, until in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when Spain exchanged its colony in Florida with Britain for the Phillipines and Cuba.

With the advent of British rule, the need for settlers became acute.  Colonel James Grant was appointed Governor of East Florida in 1764, and immediately began to consider the construction of a road to unify coastal settlements and military installations, and to provide a conduit for settlers to repopulate the area.  Lacking resources for the construction, the Governor undertook the task of raising subsciptions to build the road, and commited his own resources to the task.  By 1765, Jonathan Byran, a Georgia planter, had completed an initial survey for the northern portion, from the St. Mary's River to St. Augustine.

The southern route, from St. Augustine to New Smyrna, was delegated to Lt. Governor John Moultrie, who in turn solicited the help of an English Entrepreneur, Dr. Andrew Turnbull.  Turnbull was able to find investors for a colonial settlement at Mosquito Inlet.  Many plantations were established there, and commerce became so great that a daymark was erected at the inlet.

By 1772, the southern route had been completed to Matanzas Swamp, and by 1775 the road reached Colerain, Georgia to the north.  Plantations were established along the route, providing a source of naval stores such as turpentine and pitch, and the lumber from Live Oak trees for building warships.  In fact, the Live Oak population of Flagler County was largely destroyed in meeting this "need".

Following the British occupation, the road continued as the principal route into Florida until well after the Civil War, until the 1880's, when it was replaced in this capacity by the Florida East Coast railroad.  Later, the Dixie Highway and US 1 were to become the favored routes for automobile and truck travel. 

In this 1864 map of northern Florida, the King's Road can be seen from Colerain, Georgia, south to Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and continuing south toward New Smyrna.


 U.S. Coast Survey Office - from the University of South Florida collection


Coquina Rock as a Building and Paving Material

Coquina is a limestone conglomerate containing the shells of small mollusks, from which its name derives.  Its first known use in Florida was for the construction of a powder house in St. Augustine (Ferro, 2000).  Deposits occur primarily along the eastern coast of peninsular Florida from north of St. Augustine, in what is known as the Anastacia Formation.  Coquina is formed by sediment deposition of mollusk shells by wave and current action into quartz sand on beaches.  The shells themselves are composed of calcium carbonate, which dissolves in acidic groundwater to  become calcite, which weakly indurates or cements the remaining shells and fragments with the sand.

As a building material, Coquina is fragile and subject to deterioration.  For this reason, the Coquina walls of structures were frequently protected by lime plaster.  For road surfacing , it was popular in 18th century Florida because of its availability and because it was more durable than the alternative, "corduroy" roads of transverse pine logs.  There are examples of Coquina-surfaced roads still in use in Florida, such as the road from the modern Old King's Road to Bulow Plantation Preserve in Flagler County.

Locating Remnants of the Kings Road:  the Flagler County Library Study

In July of 2006 a study of the Old Kings Road, authored by Wiiliam P. Ryan, was published by the Friends of the Library, Inc. of Flagler County.  Mr. Ryan gives an excellent  account of the history, archeology, preservation, and location of a remnant of the original road.  The new Old Kings intersects US 1 to the south of the US 1 - I95 intersection.  At this juncture, the new route follows the original fairly closely, as evidenced by an 1839 map of Florida made by order of General Zachary Taylor, later President of the United States (Ryan, 2006).

To the immediate west of the intersection NW of the new Old King's Road is an area containing ruins known to be on the original route.  Hewitts Mill and Fort Fulton sites have been donated to the Florida Agricultural Museum.  Following a map of the area constructed during a study of the ruins in 1983 by William M. Jones, Mr. Ryan identified a possible stretch of the original road leading from the area of the mill site to the north and a causeway leading to the "Twin Bridges" double span crossing Pellicer Creek.  The remains of the bridge pilings can still be seen (Ryan, 2006).

The linear feature outlined below is believed to be a segment of the original road. The line is about 10 degrees angled to the left of vertical.  Pellicer creek is seen in the upper right.


10 km SW of Fort Matanzas, Florida, United States 1/7/1999,  Latitude 29.64603, Longitude -81.29135

U.S. Geological Survey

 The Archeology of Old Roads:  Aerial Photography and Multi-Spectral Image Interpretation

Remote sensing has added a new dimension to practice of archeology, since it provides a systematic way of conducting archeological investigations, largely supplanting the traditional exploration and discovery method (Avery and Berlin, 1992). Visual identification by interpretation of aerial photographs is an important way of site detection, and with multi-spectral airbourne or satellite sensors, can provide additional information in the near-infrared portion of the spectrum, since the the negative effect on vegetation of such structures as roads and building foundations can be seen more clearly.  Active remote sensor systems such as radar and lidar provide the ability to penetrate clouds and vegetation canopy adds still another tool for site identification.

Old roads can be identified through the use of old maps, other historical documents indicating landmarks, topographic maps and digital elevation models, which show the likely routes along ridgelines, and linear features in photography and multispectral imagery. 

Florida Aerial Photography and the University of Florida Collection

Beginning in 1937, the United States Department of Agriculture undertook the task of largely covering the State
of Florida by aerial photography for the assistance of farmers in providing data useful to soil conservation and crop
determination.  From the inception until 1975, the department acquired over 100,000 9 x 9 inch black and white
aerial photographs, from which were constructed over 1,000 photomosaics.  Because the earliest negatives were
unstable, they were destroyed, leaving only the positive copies for posterity.

These images were recognized for their value for research in many studies of conservation and land use, and funding
was obtained through the Library Services and Technology Act of 2002-2004 to digitize the collection and preserve
it for the public at the University of Florida Map & Digital Imagery Library.

Shown below is an 1995 image the area of the remnant of Old King's Road, which is barely discernable. 



Also in the UF collection is an image of the same area, taken in 1952.  The quality is such that no remnant can be discerned.  However, it can be seen that Pellicer Creek and the Hewlitt Branch parallel and to the right of the above outlined areas, shows a much more robust water body than is now present.


Some Conclusions

Without the efforts of organizations such as the Friends of the Flagler Library and the dilligence of historians such as Bill Ryan and William M. Jones, what little is left of our heritage would surely be lost. There seems to be a perpetual race in Florida and elsewhere between the forces of development and the those who wish to see the traces of our past at least recorded before being destroyed.  Remote sensing is a tool for preserving some of our heritage.


Avery, T.E., and Berlin, L.G., "Fundamentals of Remote Sensing and Airphoto Interpretation", 5th Edition, Prentice Hall, 1992.

Historic Florida Map Collection, The University of South Florida Center for Instructional Technology, Temple Terrace, Florida,

The University of Florida Map & Digital Imagery Library, Gainesville, Florida,

Ryan, William P., "Tracing Old Kings Road: Flagler County's Historic Heritage Link", Friends of the Library, Inc., July, 2006,

Ferro, David, et. al., " The Conservation and Preservation of Coquina", Bureau of Historic Preservation, Tallahassee, Florida,

United States Geological Survey, Washington, DC,