Preserving Future Florida: Doris Leeper


Posted in Backwoods Adventures, Canoe Adventures, Community Relations, Hydrobike Adventures, Kayak Adventures, Pontoon Eco-Tour Adventures

Four hundred and thirty-six years before Doris Leeper departed this planet, the French artist Charles Jacques Le Moyne captured the images of the Timucua Indians, like those living along Spruce Creek. Shortly after her death, Volusia County and other investors dedicated roughly 2500 acres of land to her legacy as a nature preserve to prevent habitat destruction for future generations to experience. They named it Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. Similarly, Le Moyne captured the moments in history before the destruction of the Timucua society so that today we can experience what life was like in Florida when Europeans first arrived and where they had existed for thousands of years. TimucuaTownship

This is how the Indians construct their towns: they choose a place near a swift stream and level it as much as possible. Next they make a circular ditch and fix in the ground, very close together, thick round palings the height of two men. At the town’s entrance they make the opening of the circle narrower, in the form of a spiral so that this entrance does not admit more than two men abreast at a time. The course of the stream is diverted to this point. At the beginning and end of this passage a round edifice is erected, full of holes and slits which, considering their means, are constructed very elegantly. In each, sentinels who are expert at smelling the enemy from afar are stationed. As soon as they detect the scent of the enemy, they rush out, shrieking, to find him. At this alarm the inhabitants of the town run out to defend their fortress, armed with bows and arrows and clubs. The king’s dwelling is in the middle, and has been a little sunk into the ground to avoid the sun’s heat. All around it are grouped the nobles’ houses, lightly constructed and roofed with palm branches.

The quote above is from Theodore de Bry’s 1591 plates he used to publish his Grand Voyages book with Le Moyne’s artwork to illustrate the discovery of the New World. Although preserving Timucua life back then was the last of their lifestyle during the French and Spanish invasions, Doris Leeper has provided future generations the opportunity to experience the Old Florida Pioneer environment, or New World, as it was at that time: pristine and natural.

Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve Map

The aerial map above shows the outline of the Spruce Creek preserve. From the west, Cracker Creek visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, or hydrobikes to paddle into the preserve on water. In addition, Cracker Creek visitors can reserve a pontoon boat to take a two-hour tour of the preserve all the way up to US Highway 1. Alternatively, on foot, horse, or bike, visitors can use this map for directions to the preserve entrance and this map to find your way to the shorelines. For more information about the preserve, please click here to view Friends of Spruce Creek’s website.

Per the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve Stakeholder Meeting 1 October 2012 notes: “The Preserve is a 2,477 acre property bordered by Spruce Creek and Rose Bay to the north, I-95 on the west, and the Intercoastal Waterway on the east. The Preserve is a mosaic of lands owned by several public agencies including the State of Florida, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the County of Volusia, and the City of Port Orange.

The entire Preserve is managed by Volusia County.” What is very special about this land, besides preventing habitat destruction with new development, is that it contains a historical Timucua Indian middens mound. These mounds consist of thousands of oyster, clam, and snail shells that were the waste product from chowders and other seafood consumption.

These mounds also functioned as part of the hierarchy in the community with the chief positioned highest on the mound. In addition, there are smaller mounds scattered around the larger mounds indicating families populating the areas around the chief. Inside the mounds, archeologists have uncovered thousands of years of pottery, bones, toys, tools, cooking utensils, in addition to the majority of the mound constructed with millions of oyster shells. In some mounds, they actually discovered mummified corpses and heirlooms.

Timucua Camp

In their gated community, as illustrated by Charles Jacques Le Moyne, they lived in oval and circular dwellings with conical palm-thatched roof, similar to the image above, with vines woven together and covered with clay to create walls. Because they established residence along the shorelines, they consumed a lot of local fish, shellfish, snails, oysters, clams, and mussels.

They were hunters with bows and arrows, and gathered in the local forests, marshes, and rivers to keep some personalized animal and pottery possessions as heirlooms to pass on to their children. They planted and harvested beans, prehistoric corn (known as maize, before hybridizing), yucca, coontie roots, and squash. Cooking would be group events where the shell mounds would provide the venue for celebrating historic events and hosting feasts for the residents.

Timucua Cooking

The Timucua art was displayed in various forms such as tattoos, clothing, sculpture, and pottery. They spent hours creating elaborate tattoos, as illustrated below, covering large parts of their bodies. Then by using shells, bones, Spanish moss, dried animal organs, and pottery pieces, the Timucua adorned animal hides worn as loincloths for both men and women, but the women accessorized with sashes, shawls, and hairpieces.

Timucua Jewelry Lemoyne Chief and Women

Hair was uncut for both men and women. Women’s hair was loose while men tied their hair up top, as illustrated in the picture below. They wore different outfits for a variety of occasions such as tribal ceremonies, family gatherings, religious events, dances, and festivals.

WordPress forced image

In 1955, a dredging crew discovered the above totem buried in muck on Hontoon Island in the St. Johns River near the mounds also located on the island. It currently resides in the Fort Caroline National Museum near Jacksonville. “It is the largest pre-Columbian wood carving found in Florida and is the only totem of its kind in eastern United States.” – Wikipedia.

Pangea timelapse

Central Florida Indian Timeline After the Pangaea moved the continents apart, the ice age began and the waters receded to expose more land around all of the continents. For thousands of years this gave humans and animals a bridge across some continents that would later be divided by deep oceans.


This remained the same for thousands of years. It was quiet in terms of major evolutionary changes. Mankind eeked out survival in colder weather than today.   Then when the waters rose, the peninsula of Florida became what it is today. The map to the left shows the ice age outline of the peninsula expanding deep into the Gulf of Mexico.



Florida remained isolated and uninhabited on a permanent basis by humans for thousands of years. Visitors included the migratory tribes that roamed in and out during the different seasons.


Then 7000 years ago, humans became more sedentary and setup permanent residence along the rivers, migrating south from the northern continent. Today, evidence shows Timucua Indians settled in what is now Flagler County.


Over the decades, the families expanded further south into Volusia County, from Tomoka Island to south of New Smyrna Beach.   This was the age of industrial growth and agriculture.


Over the next 5000 years, Timucua Indians would inhabit and build their style of architectural mounds and sharing building methods, at the same time pyramids and Aztec temples were being built in other parts of the world.

By settling in one area, unlike other nomadic Indians, the Timucua created their own agricultural processes such as crop rotation, granaries to protect produce from weather and insects, control burn to open farmland, and hoed to plant seeds to raise for food.

As they increased in population, families would congregate to create a new village nearby that would form clusters of gated communities.

For protection, the village included a council house that the first Europeans claimed could hold up to 3000 people.



Shell Mounds in Volusia County

Shell mounds, also known as middens, have been found all over Florida and South Georgia. Of these,  11 have been discovered in Volusia and range from as far north as Tomoka State Park down to South New Smyrna Beach Castle Windy and as far west as the Tick Island mound.

Volusia Midden Map

Castle Windy Green Mound Hontoon Island Mound Lake Ashby Midden Nocoroco Mound
Old Fort Mound Ormond Mound Spruce Creek Mound Thursby Mound Tick Island Mound
Turtle Mound        

Barbarous Spaniard Massacres

Whether the explorers lost their minds in a foreign land and distant place or their bigoted and greedy leadership created beasts, the Spanish unmercifully killed 111 French settlers who first landed in Jacksonville and created Fort Caroline. This killing spree continued for hundreds of years throughout North and South America. Below is an excerpt from the French Captain, Nicolas de Challeux, of Fort Caroline, who barely escaped.

The wicket gate open, the Spanish force, having traversed forests, swamps, and rivers, arrived at break of day, Friday, the 20th September [1565], the weather very stormy, and entered the fort without any resistance, and made a horrible satisfaction of the rage and hate they had conceived against our nation. It was then who should best kill the most men, sick and well, woman and little children, in such a manner that it is impossible to conceive of a massacre which could equal this for its barbarity and cruelty.

This killing spree continued down the coast to St. Augustine that same year where the Spanish massacred or enslaved 134 French settlers and militia personnel.

Extinction of a Tribal Race: Timucua Indians

Although the Spruce Creek Timucua were not involved with the Jacksonville Fort Caroline and Saint Augustine massacres in 1565, the European plagues and disease wiped out a large majority of their populations and the rest killed by enslavement or warfare. “By 1595, their population was estimated to have been reduced from 200,000 to 50,000 and thirteen chiefdoms remained. By 1700, the population of the tribe had been reduced to 1000. Warfare against them by the English colonists and native allies completed their extinction as a tribe soon after the turn of the 19th century. They became extinct as a people.” - Wikipedia.

A Legacy of Preservation

Canaveral Seashore Park mapThis, of course, includes all of the ecological and natural beauty of the undeveloped original virgin Florida landscapes aggregated by local cities and county resources to preserve this land.

Prior to Spruce Creek, Doris Leeper spent years working to preserve the Canaveral National Seashore parks from south New Smyrna Beach down to Playa Linda Beach, in Titusville.

In the map to the left, the darker green areas comprise the Canaveral National Seashore and its inclusion of the separate mainland peninsula.   While residential developers were trying to figure out how to consume environmentally sensitive land, Doris Leeper was figuring out ways to prevent habitat destruction and preserve the native lands for future generations.

We will forever be grateful Doris was tenacious enough to save these resources for future generations.


Preserving Unique Inhabitants

Spruce Creek Conch Shell Melongena Sprucecreekensi

Spruce Creek Conch Shell Melongena Sprucecreekensi

Spruce Creek is home to a wide variety of endangered species and special wildlife breeding and rearing ecosystems. The shell image left is a unique resident in that it is found nowhere else on the planet.

It is a subspecies of the King Crown Conch snail and inhabits the mouth of Spruce Creek, in the saltwater bays. In 1994, John K. Tucker named the Melongena Sprucecreekensis in recognition of its unique location. These conch can open and eat live oysters and clams. The largest it grows to almost 7½“ with a width of a little over four inches.


A Legacy of Art

Doris Leeper photo

In addition to her preservation efforts, Doris Leeper was a prolific artist and advocate for helping students of the arts. She started the Atlantic Center for the Arts adjacent to the Spruce Creek Preserve to help elevate students into the professional world. Some samples of Doris’s work appear below.

New Smyrna Beach Art Untitled wood and metal - cropped Doris Leeper Steel Quilt @ OIA

Bibliography/Further Reading

With much chagrin this author offers the following links knowing they most likely will change and be defunct, especially with US Government unpredictable technology management and naming conventions not followed. My objective is to share the information and provide attribution to those who also contributed to history, in some form or another. Please add a comment if you have any corrections or questions.

All explorer transcriptions and engravings are from Discovering the New World, Based on the Works of Theodore de Bry, edited by Michael Alexander (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).

Canaveral National Seashore map courtesy of the National Park Service website:

Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve map courtesy of Department of Environmental Protection website: Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve.pdf

History of the Byway, Scenic & Historic A1A Coastal Byway,

Pangaea Map animated GIF:

Timucua wikipedia:

LGM Florida coast map:


The Spaniards in Florida: Comprising the Notable Settlement of the Hugenots,

Spanish massacre French Hugenots:

Spruce Creek Shellmound:

Fort Walton Beach Indian Mound Museum - pottery and jewelry images captured at this location.

Friends of Spruce Creek Preserve,