Ravine Gardens is one of the nine New Deal-era state parks in Florida. Azaleas were chosen as the theme flower because of their brilliant bloom during the tourist season. By 1934, more than 95,000 flowers had been planted. In 1937, the gardens were declared 'the Nation's Outstanding CWA Project.' Ravine Gardens was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U. S. Department of the Interior in 1999, and was recognized as a National Landmark for Outstanding Landscape Architecture by the American Society of Landscape Architects.
The original administration building dates back to the initial development of the gardens. The neighboring Wilson Cypress Company of Palatka was a member of the Southern Cypress Association, which was headquartered in Chicago. The architectural plans used for the construction of the building are a duplicate of the cypress structure that created so much interest at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded the construction of the administration building. The interior is paneled in pecky cypress, the floors are heart pine and the gabled roof is consistent with structures from that area. The fireplace of native stone and the exterior consists of cypress half-logs. The Wilson Cypress Company donated lumber and the structure was completed in 1934. Some modern utilities have been added, but the building has no air conditioning. With the exception of new roofing and a wheelchair access ramp, the building is essentially unchanged. Furnishings include five of the original cypress tables made from logs and cypress knees. Although it has been moved a short distance from its original location, it remains locally and regionally significant as an example of American Rustic Architecture, as part of the overall designed landscape and as a surviving example of New Deal-era construction. The building is now leased and maintained by the Garden Club of Palatka, Inc. and used as headquarters for their activities.
Built between 1934 and 1935, this building was Y-shaped, with two open porches forming the arms of the Y, and a one-story building forming the leg. The junction was topped by an octagonal second story, which was originally an open observation deck. It was later enclosed with vertical board siding and sash windows. Like the Administration Building, this was a post and beam structure built of cypress with sabal palm logs used for the porch columns. The porches and lower structure had end gable roofs with a gable over the entry and the second story had an octagonal peaked roof. In its final form, all of the roofing consisted of cypress shakes. Also like the administration building, clipped gable-roofed birdhouses were placed at the peak of the gables and a herringbone pattern was used for the siding in the gable ends. Siding of the lower story and the gable ends was of the half-log boards that were used in the other structures. A lime rock wall formed a low terrace around the building. This structure was originally located to the west of the administration building.
Not much is known about the rustic waterwheel and its origins. It was located approximately 125 feet downstream from the spillway at the northern bridge. It was an under-shot wheel made of unknown wood and set on stone column bases. Unlike common waterwheels where water spills over the top, this wheel turned when water ran below it. The bases and apparatus were removed in the late 1970s.
In 1938, the local Jaycees transformed their Jaycees Day into the first official Azalea Festival. The first Azalea Pageant was held at the Amphitheater in 1938 and the Azalea Festival was touted as one of the oldest festivals in Florida. There were 10 contestants at this first pageant. The first Azalea Queen was crowned in white azalea blooms with a matching azalea bouquet. She was given a $100 prize and photographed at Ravine Gardens. More than 7,500 visitors attended this festival, according to an article by the Palatka Daily News. In the upcoming years the festival grew and activities expanded throughout the town and Courthouse lawn. In an effort to streamline the schedule, in 1980 the gardens were abandoned as the location for the pageant. The Jaycees decided to hold the competition at the newly dedicated riverfront. Ravine Gardens still joined in celebrating the Azalea Festival in the years following special park events. In 1993 the park Citizen Support Organization (CSO), the Friends of Ravine Gardens, Inc., decided to bring the celebration back to the park by joining the festival with their own festival version called Azalea Days. This event features plant and craft vendors, a variety of food, music and entertainment, and ranger-led wagon tours around the azalea covered slopes of the ravines. Azalea Days is an old-fashioned, fun-filled annual event for the whole family.
Barbara Caile's best memory of the Ravine Park is that it was THE place to take out-of-state visitors or just to visit. "I am certain that we never missed coming from Jacksonville during each azalea season. Even though young, I do remember the beautiful coloring of the azaleas and walls of color, now partially hidden by the growth of trees and plants. I still appreciate the park's natural beauty and historic value and feel blessed to have enjoyed the Ravine in my childhood as well as in my senior years." The Court of States is one of the original landscape features of the gardens and a key element in its overall design. It was originally conceived as two rows of paired lime rock pillars, topped by cypress logs forming a trellis and three stone fountains in the central area. Hollies trimmed in topiary shapes originally lined the spaces between the columns and the fountains, with Washington palms on the exteriors of the columns. A series of geometric planters were also located within the courtyard. The outer limits of the Court were defined by a low lime rock wall forming a half-circle at the north end with stairs going to the Roosevelt Obelisk.