The first bridge across the St. Johns River was
opened in 1926. At the same time, the road was paved from
Ocala to Astor to Barberville. It was a draw bridge with a covered
part and a house for a bridge tender on the west bank. The first
tender was the former ferry operator, McQueen Johnson.
While he was on duty in the middle of the bridge he was shot in the
back, and fell across the very middle of the bridge, with his head
in Lake County and his feet in Volusia County. Both counties refused
to claim jurisdiction and the murder was never investigated. The new
bridge was built in 1978. The bridge house
was moved away in 1980.
In 1763, James Spalding and Roger Kelsell established two trading
posts on the St. Johns River. Their "upper store" was located in
Astor, with the "lower store" south of Palatka. Spalding chose the
Astor site because it was at the crossing of three Indian trails
coming here from the southwest, west and northwest. The location was
also used by several Indian villages for launching their canoes when
fishing or hunting parties wanted to explore the river. In 1769,
Gov. James Grant promised Spalding to make a town out of his upper
store. He didn't keep that promise. In 1774, Indians ransacked the
store and the storekeepers fled to Shell Isle. When Spalding closed
the store, the chiefs agreed to pay for the damage. By 1776, William
Panton was in business with Spalding.
Later, Mr. Forbes succeeded Panton and Mr. Leslie succeeded Spalding
in the business. The site was later the location of Fort Butler, a
crude log stockade and barracks erected in 1838. It was
designed to protect the river. A post office was established at the
fort in 1839. The fort was abandoned in 1843 for health reasons.
William Astor, the grandson of John Jacob Astor, bought 12,905.93
acres on the river from the Moses Levy estate. With his partners,
William S. Boyd and Richard McLaughlin, a 12,000-acre town site was
laid out and named Manhattan. Lots were 20 acres and square,
surrounded by roads on all sides. The downtown section had normal
size city lots. Buildings included a nondenominational church,
schoolhouse, and free cemetery. William Astor built the Astor Hotel
in 1878. It included a post office and Clyde Line steamship agency
office. The town was renamed Astor in 1884.