A salty old fishing village with its own gritty charm
Though it is now part of the incorporated city limits of Jacksonville, Mayport has retained a distinct identity over the years as a salty, rustic fishing village at the edge of one of the largest Naval Stations on the East Coast. This small community dates all the way back to May 1, 1562, when French Huguenots landed here, near the mouth of what is today known as the St. Johns River. Originally, the St. Johns was dubbed the “River of May” in honor of the date of their arrival. Thus, this area by the river’s mouth subsequently became known as “Mayport.”
A Mayport pelican enjoys its catch.
While Naval Station Mayport occupies a corner of oceanfront right where the river meets the Atlantic, the historic village of Mayport is situated along the river right next to the base, where famed coastal highway A1A is interrupted by the St. Johns River Ferry, a public auto ferry that crosses between Mayport on the south bank of the river and Ft. George Island on the north bank. (From Ft. George Island, A1A proceeds northward connecting Florida’s four northernmost islands). The St. Johns River Ferry is a short but scenic highlight for travelers cruising up and down Florida’s coast.
Docks at the Mayport Boat Ramp
Near the Mayport ferry dock, a popular boat ramp and marina area draws many opportunistic pelicans that can either be seen begging for handouts from fishermen or scanning the waters for their next meal. The Mayport boat ramp is also a great place to look for dolphins and to see massive oceangoing ships making their way to and from the Port of Jacksonville. Naval helicopters can also be seen and heard overhead shortly after takeoff or before landing. A couple blocks from the ferry and boat ramp, a historic, decommissioned orange lighthouse still stands just inside the fencing that surrounds base property. While it is not accessible to the public, the lighthouse is visible and serves as an icon for the Mayport community.
The historic St. Johns River Light stands just inside the bounds of Naval Station Mayport.
For a couple of blocks west of the ferry dock, a fleet of weathered shrimping boats used regularly for commercial fishing operations are berthed. Many Jacksonville-area restaurants serve “Mayport shrimp,” but a pair of fresh-from-the-boat-in-back seafood shacks located here in Mayport have been drawing rave reviews for years.
A shrimp boat heads out to work in the ocean.
To sum up, visitors won’t find a lot of modern luxury and refinement in this salty little corner of Jacksonville, but that’s what helps make Mayport special. With a ferry, pelicans, dolphins, fresh-from-the-boat seafood shacks, and a weathered old lighthouse, Mayport is gritty Old Florida at its best.