Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon led his weekly memo to the mayor and city council members with the news on Friday: “Old Kings Road will open at 5:00 p.m. today. I think you will agree that it looks great.”
A version of that memo, oral or written, has been going around for almost three centuries, which is as long as Old Kings Road has been around, and repeatedly rebuilt, repaved, enlarged and even shifted from place to place. Friday’s memo capped the latest re-building of the road. This time it was the $6.3 million four-laning of a 1.5-mile stretch from Town Center Boulevard south to State Road 100. The segment had been closed since Feb. 16, 2009.
On Saturday, traffic was light but speeds on the broad more brisk than the posted 40 mph speed limit (down from pre-construction 45, which already seemed a crawl on the circuit), as if drivers were more than ready to get on with it. The asphalt looked a shiny black, the median lined with seven to eight-feet trees (if anyone knows what kind of trees they are, please let us know in the comments) and toddler palms still looking more like beheaded stick figures than trees.
Utility poles have all been replanted, but they’re concrete now, and their continued existence along the road signals that underground utility lines will have to wait for another generation of construction there. At a few points along the enlarged road, the beginnings of side-roads shoot off, but to nowhere for the moment: they’re markers of future developments. Those may be a while. At the southernmost end of the enlarged road, the Kings Pointe commercial development remains a vast, green land of lots begging for takers. But across the street the new car wash was busier than some of Detroit’s assembly lines of late.
The length of the new road is paralleled, for the first time, by a wide concrete sidewalk (to call it handsome would be stretching things a bit, but as sidewalks go, it does have a spotless je-ne-sais-quoi quality) and an equally wide, boldly marked bike lane on the road itself.
What’s missing from the new segment, besides the intimacy of a two-lane country road, is the close, green warmth of the trees that used to hug and shade the road. That closeness has been replaced by clearings, retention ponds and, most jarring of all, a longish segment toward the latter, southern part of the road that chugs unobstructed along I-95. That segment was rerouted closer to the superhighway (see the areal image) to accommodate the future emplacement of a Wal Mart on the eastern side of the road. It’s why the road had to be closed, rather than traffic-jiggered all those months. That’s also the point where you may realize that any notion of Old Kings Road as it once was is as buried under the new asphalt and concrete as old Seminole and settler amulets.
Old Kings Road, or The Kings Road, as its ancestor was known, is one of the oldest roads in North America, and was the very first road into Florida before the days of I-95 or U.S. Route 1 or even the days when such a thing as a state of Florida existed.
“This was the route of hopeful settlers, rich plantations, men seeking wealth in the live oak trade, armies, angry Indians, and famous soldiers,” wrote Bill Ryan, the historian and member of the Flagler County Historical Society, in The Search for Old Kings Road, the most current history on the old road. “It is now a newly paved road with bridges and overpasses. New residents do not know of its history.”
It was also the route of many memories.
Butch Malo Remembers Hiking Old Kings Road in 1976[media id=16 width=250 height=100]
Butch Malo, who owns Advanced Cable, a local cable system on the barrier island, remembers hiking Old Kings Road from New Smyrna Beach to St. Augustine as the Boy Scout troop master of Ormond Beach’s Troop 74, along with some 100 Boy Scouts from around the region. They hiked, camped, cut through brush, walked on what remained of the road’s cobble-stone sections. “You could tell some of the areas through the woods that was still undisturbed, you could still tell there was trails and areas when it was still like it from back then,” when Palm Coast didn’t yet exist.
The four-laning of the road is the latest move away from its history, Malo says. “It’s a shame to see progress. I think we regress a little bit when progress takes over some of our history.”