Mayport, Florida Council ~ P.O. Box 331944, Atlantic Beach, Florida 32233 ~

July 21, 2024

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Mayport Navy League is a recognized non-profit organization under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.  Contributions are tax deductible as otherwise provided by law.

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Today one of the U.S. Navy's most strategically significant seaports, Mayport's early history was fraught with military engagements, as control of the mouth of the St. Johns River was hotly contested.  The first European to visit Mayport was the French naval officer, Commodore Jean Ribault, who landed at Ft. George in 1562.  After establishing an outpost, the French were defeated in 1565 by Spanish forces from St. Augustine.  The Spanish took advantage of a hurricane to attack by land and sack the French post while the French ships were foundering in the storm off St. Augustine.

The Spanish later built three forts in the area, most notably, "St. John of the Portal" near the mouth of the river, believed to be the source of the river's name.  Spain retained jurisdiction of Florida until turning it over to Great Britain in 1763, and the British would rule for twenty years.  Following the American Revolution, the treaty returned Florida to Spain, and the territory remained under Spanish control until it was ceded to the United States in 1820.

The first U.S. military use of Mayport occurred at the beginning of the Civil War, when a Confederate company, the Jacksonville Light Infantry, established a fort at the site of today's naval station.  It was named Fort Steele, for the company's commanding officer.  Faced with superior numbers of Union troops, however, the fort soon was considered indefensible, and its guns were buried and the fort abandoned.  Mayport itself saw no action in the Civil War.

In the late 19th century, land developers from Chicago established Burnside Beach near the mouth of the St. Johns River.  Possibly named for a shipwreck offshore, Burnside Beach was located on property now part of the naval station.  The developers laid tracks for a railroad to the area, and they established the new communities of Seminole Beach and Manhattan Beach immediately south of Burnside Beach.

Nearby, Atlantic Beach became a fashionable tourist destination in the late 19th century, and several hotels were built.  One visitor, Elizabeth Worthington, was so enthralled with Mayport during her 1914 visit that she decided to settle.  First acquiring two oceanfront lots, she expanded her holding to some 300 acres, with plans to raise horses and grow figs.  Miss Worthington promptly wired her fiancée, Jack Stark, to join her.  The Starks were married in Waycross, Georgia, and began to plan their new home in East Mayport, Wonderwood by the Sea.

Wonderwood was built on the waterfront at the present harbor at Naval Station, Mayport, and the estate eventually comprised more than 20 buildings.  The Starks' home, Miramar, overlooked the harbor on the site of the present Administration Building (Bldg 1).  In the early 20th century, the Starks operated a riding school and a lodging and dining facility.  In addition to entertaining guests from around the world, the Starks were strong supporters of a broad range of community efforts, contributing substantially to the growth of the village.

During the 1930s, the U.S. government recognized significant naval value in the region.  In 1939, Duval County citizens approved a $1.1 million bond issue to buy land for a naval base.  In 1940, Mrs. Stark and other local property owners were summoned to a court hearing in Jacksonville to discuss the sale of their properties.  There they learned that much of their property would be purchased for a naval base to support aircraft operations and two aircraft carriers.  Although the price offered by the federal government was below what they considered market value, the Starks remained staunch supporters of the community.

The Naval Section Base at Mayport was commissioned in December 1942.  The following year the base became a Sea Frontier Base and was used for maintenance and refueling of submarines and as a homeport for minesweepers.  On adjacent property, in April 1944, the Naval Auxiliary Air Station was commissioned and schools for anti-aircraft and degaussing training were established.  The two bases provided vital support to the personnel and logistics war effort.  After World War II, the bases were decommissioned and placed in caretaker status.

Reactivated in June 1948 as a Naval Outlying Landing Field, and later as a Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, under Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Mayport was expanded to provide longer runways.  In October 1952, USS Tarawa (CVS 40) was the first capital ship to utilize Mayport's new carrier basin.  USS Coral Sea (CVA 34) was the first of the new Midway-class carriers to visit Mayport.  In 1955, Mayport was recommissioned a Naval Auxiliary Air Station, and Commander Carrier Division Two soon relocated to Mayport.  In 1956 USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) changed homeport to Mayport.

For the remainder of the 20th century, Mayport's capabilities, in both aircraft and ship support, continued to grow to support the increasing importance of the base to the fleet.

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