Dunns Creek State Park has a rich history. Although the potential for PaleoIndian and Archaic period sites is high, current historical documentation begins with the Orange, St. Johns I and St. Johns II periods.
The people of the Mount Taylor and Orange cultures of East Florida lived full time along the coast and in riverine settings, exploiting the rich, diverse resources of the now developed coastal marshes and adjacent hardwood forests. The major distinguishing characteristic between the two cultures is the presence of ceramics; a fiber-tempered ceramic is representative of the Orange Period culture. The earliest Orange vessels were plain, undecorated wares, but incised and punctuated designs soon were prevalent.
The St. Johns I and II cultures developed out of the fiber-tempered Orange culture that occupied the same region during the Late Archaic. By around 2,500 B.P., vegetable fiber had ceased to be the main tempering agent for ceramic vessels. Instead, pottery was made from clay rich in microscopic spicules of freshwater sponges, which, when fired, made the vessel chalky to the touch. The change marked the beginning of the St. Johns culture. St. Johns pottery continued to be produced for the next 2,000 years.
The St. Johns cultures have been divided into two major periods, St. Johns I and II, which have been further subdivided based upon changes in ceramic types, influences from cultures outside the region, social structure and religious organization. The St. Johns cultures were highly adapted to the coastal marshes and the areas surrounding the St. Johns River.
Many of the St. Johns II people were Timucuan speaking. It was the people of this cultural tradition that were present in the northeast region of Florida at the time of European contact.
From the 16th through the beginning of the 18th century, the Spanish occupied Florida. They established a series of missions and military outposts to the north, across the Panhandle and along the St. Johns River in order to control Indian labor, Catholicize the native population and defend against other European incursions.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish developed several cattle ranching areas and issued large land grants, many along the St. Johns River, to encourage ranching and agriculture. But it was during the British Period (1763-1783) that this system became more focused, with an increase in the development of plantations, especially along the St. Johns River.
The name Dunn’s Creek comes from John Dunn, a lawyer and coffee planter. He received a grant in 1765 that allowed him to farm an area “between the two lakes” in Putnam County near Dunns Creek State Park. Additional documentation of the time period shows that Lord Adam Gordon owned property located just south of Dunn’s Creek. He, like many of the British land grantees, was an absentee owner.
An interesting exception was Deny Rolle, who attempted to establish a utopian settlement named Rollestown on the St. Johns River near present day Palatka. During the British period, Crescent Lake was named Lake Rolle and there were a number of grants belonging to Deny Rolle fronting the lake on the north side.
The property set aside for Lord Adam Gordon eventually became the property of Col. John Broward, after whom the Broward land grant as well as nearby Lake Broward is named. On Aug. 24, 1816, George J.F. Clarke purchased the property from Broward.
During the latter part of the 19th century, the names Crescent Lake and Dunns Creek became formalized, changing from the earlier designations Lake Dunn, Lake Rolles, Lake Gordon and Deep River.
Along the southwestern boundary of the state park is the town of Sisco. In 1884, Sisco was settled by Henry and Claire Sisco along the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad. For the next 40 years or so, the population of the town ranged from 60 to 150 people and at times had a post office, hotel, general store and a steam sawmill. Nineteenth-century post office records clearly indicate at least three homesteads located within the Dunns Creek State Park property.
The railway station was abandoned in the 1920s and the former Sisco building purchased by a female African-American Mason organization that ran it as a convalescence home. When Highway 17 was slated to run through the center of the building, the Masons moved it and later had it torn down. Today, not much remains of the town of Sisco, but several of the original settler families still live in the area.
The state property has experienced turpentining, logging, cattle ranching and farming within the 20th century. On Oct. 10, 2001, the park was obtained by the Florida Park Service from the Nature Conservancy.