A Brief History of Alpine Groves Park

Alpine Groves Park is a 55-acre park located on SR13, William Bartram Scenic Highway, to the east and the St. Johns River to the west, that can provide us with a glimpse back into the history of our area of Northeast, Florida.

The park was originally a small portion of the 1774 land grant given to Switzerland native, Francis Philip Fatio, hence the name of the town, “New Switzerland” and later simply, Switzerland, Florida. The original land grant was for 10,000 acres, but over time, Fatio acquired more land and at later points, some historians say that he owned and managed 15,000 acres.

In fact, when William Bartram travelled through the area, recording the flora and fauna and providing an informative and extensive survey, it was Fatio, “a very civil gentleman,” that showed him his plantation. He also showed Bartram a garden with, “greater variety than any other colony.”

In the late 1800s the St. Johns River was used as the main thorough fare of goods and people in the area. There were also several sawmills in the Switzerland area, as a result, we know that several homes were built along the river. The farmhouse and fruit packing shed currently on the property today date back to the 1880s. There was a fire when the house was being built and it was immediately rebuilt on the first foundation. What we know about what is now Alpine Groves Park is that it was used as an orange grove in the late 1800s and had a farmhouse.

We get most of our historical information about Alpine Groves Park from the Harris Family that purchased the property in 1937-38. John Harris answered an ad for a 47-acre piece of property on a high bluff along the St. Johns River in 1937. The real estate agent was Mr. Capers and the owner was Mrs. Klingberg. At the time, there was no clear title so Mr. Harris told the agent he was going on vacation to Wyoming and when he got back he wanted a clear title. He later added an additional 8 acres to the property for a total of 55. It was Mr. Harris that gave it the name, Alpine Groves, because of its location in Switzerland, Florida.

Harris loved the citrus trees that flourished on the property. He watered the trees from a pipe run from a neighbors well and then dug a well of his own. He used a generator for power until electricity was run in the area. He spent a great deal of time at the property but his family only came out on the weekends until summertime. He eventually built a bathroom inside the house and added a half bath in his wife’s room upstairs.

He purchased five horses, a donkey, an ox, and goats for the enjoyment of the family. They raised chickens and had a vegetable garden. He also planted the Alpinias Lilies that are still growing today between the farmhouse and Ruth Harris Bennett Butterfly Garden, as a nod to Francis Philip Patio’s home country of Switzerland.