The Riverside Arts Market lies at the westernmost point of Jacksonville’s Northbank Riverwalk along one of the city’s most vital natural and recreational resources, the St. Johns River.
A 310-mile-long waterway, the St. Johns River transforms itself as it flows lazily north from Indian River County to Northeast Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean. It is also one of the small number of rivers in the United States to run north and numerous lakes are formed by the river or flow into it. The St. Johns was named one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998, but was included on a list of America’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers in 2008.
In Indian River County, the river’s headwaters encompass vast, primordial marshes teeming with alligators, wading birds and waterfowl. In Brevard County, the marsh morphs into a navigable river, gently twisting as it crawls north. Surprises abound as the river reveals multiple personalities along the way: a tapestry of sawgrass lakes, bottle-clear spring runs and darkwater tributaries. As the river leaves Putnam County for Clay and St. Johns counties, it widens considerably, in some locations exceeding 3 miles across. After passing Mayport in Duval County, the longest river contained in the state of Florida ends its journey where it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean.
The St. Johns was formed approximately 100,000 years ago after land rose along the coast and trapped a portion of the sea inland. However, the river did not take on its current form until only about 5,000-7,500 years ago, after the sea began to rise at the end of the last ice age. The hydrological cycle of the arid peninsula was transformed, resulting in rains that fed the surface flow of the St. Johns and its underground springs. Before the arrival of Europeans to Florida, Native American groups, including the Timucua, had called the river home for thousands of years.
The St. Johns River has always played a significant role in the development of Florida. The Timucuan Indians used the river for food, water and transportation for centuries before the Europeans arrived. The French and Spanish battled for control over the waterway in the 1500s. Two centuries later, in his writings, explorer William Bartram immortalized a portion of the river as a “true garden of Eden.” Later, steamboats plied this liquid highway, ferrying tourists and goods to towns and trading posts sprouting along the shore.
The ever-expanding Northbank Riverwalk is one of the most popular and well-used attractions in Downtown Jacksonville along the St. Johns River. The 2-mile greenway landscaped brick walkway connects Riverside with Downtown. In January 2005, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the opening of the 1.5-mile, $8.7 million project. Its features include historic lighting, water fountains, trash receptacles, bike racks, bathrooms, and over 100 benches.