Exploring a natural Florida anomaly: Devil's Millhopper
A short drive from Jacksonville, Devil's Millhopper is a 120-foot deep sinkhole similar in appearance to the hopper of a mill. A geological anomaly and National Park Service designated natural landmark, the site was acquired by the state in 1974. It includes a network of trails, boardwalks and an observation deck to allow visitors to see the sink up close without causing soil erosion.
Visitors to the park over the years have found several prehistoric archaeological artifacts such as arrowheads, but the exact locations of any discoveries remain unknown. These incidental finds seem to indicate at least early visitation to the area, if not habitation. Archaeologists may find more concrete evidence of Native American presence in the area through future research.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) reportedly constructed a stairway to view the sink in the 1930s. The CCC was a program created by the federal government during the Great Depression. They built many parks, bridges and other structures to improve infrastructure and provide jobs for unemployed men. Today, visitors can see some remnants of the CCC’s work in the park, including the limestone entrance gateway.
Other recent historic use includes turpentining of longleaf pines in the area. Turpentine is a valuable resin extracted from trees, and it was once a very important industry in Florida. There are a very few catface pines remaining in the park as a reminder of the turpentine industry.
Oral history, or history passed down through spoken stories, has given us many legends about the origin of the name “Devil’s Millhopper.” One tells how early visitors who found bones and fossils at the bottom of the sinkhole believed that animals and beasts went down to the bottom to meet the devil. According to another story, the devil kidnapped a Native American woman and then created the sinkhole to trap her rescuers.
In truth, the sinkhole formed when the limestone underneath it collapsed. However, these stories show us how the Millhopper has captured visitors’ imagination for a long time.