The Timucuan Indians inhabited this area for at least 2000 years prior to European arrivals. Their pottery shards can be found along the shoreline, and the Mount Royal midden, about 8 miles south of Stegbones, shows a history of trading that included all of North America.
Europeans came into the area in the late 1700's. The Rolle Plantation (1765-84) stretched from Federal Point north of Hastings and south to Dunns Creek, producing turpentine, rice and corn. After difficult years, the Rolles moved their possessions and slaves to Exuma in the Bahamas where the name is still in evidence. Lumber, citrus and tourism were the bigger draws, and these helped establish Welaka in about 1850, finally incorporating in 1887. The actual Stegbone's location dates to 1874 when the town of Nashua was established just up the hill on Sisco Dirt Road by Yankee immigrants (Nashua, NH?). They focused on citrus. This was certainly the main economic force on the property, known as Seminole Groves, at least until the great freeze of 1894-5. 4" spiral riveted water piping found in the electrical easement indicates the need for spring water to grow and process the citrus crop and it is said that a large bell was placed on the dock to summon paddlewheelers to stop by and pick up the crop.
But, for the most part, this area of Florida was bypassed by the growth of the early 1920's and later. People tended to settle along the Atalantic coast. This remained an area of large acreage and undeveloped natural resources.
After World War II, Americans wanted to relax and enjoy life’s pleasures again. In 1946, Bob Allender, coming down from KY, began Bob’s Camp in what used to be that citrus grove on the east bank of the River about two miles north of Welaka. (The Allenders remained in the Welaka area right up to their passing. Bob passed away at age 97 in 2006, shortly after his wife). The camp started as a single wood frame cabin (#3) and extensive dock, left over from the citrus days. Bob eventually converted the citrus dock, added three more cabins and sites for camping. The fishing was great. In 1972, Allen Norton acquired the camp and it became Norton’s Place. Bob moved across the street initially into a single-wide trailer and Allen added a couple of mobile homes. In the mid-80’s, James Harmon, a quiet ex-Navy man who loved to fish, garden and keep to himself, moved into Bob’s old mobile home and became the caretaker and fishing expert.
In July of 1998, Jim and Terry Stege purchased Norton’s Place and renamed it Stegbone’s, one of Jim's UF nicknames. (Sadly, James Harmon passed away one week prior to closing.) A good deal of cleaning, repair and renovation occurred. Norton's double-wide moved across the road to replace Bob's single-wide trailer. From 2000-2004, the camp was managed by Mike Upton, an ex-Navy man, who made every guest feel like they had come home. Since then, a number of interesting personalities have helped out and come and gone. Terry passed away in June of 2013. Jim remains committed to the camp and its guests. Since late 2013, we have had Dennis Dowling as manager, and Dena Dalbney and Gary Voigt looking after the place.
Most of "what was" has not changed. Our stretch of the St. Johns River has been declared one of the Great Heritage Rivers of America, of which there are only 14 such stretches. The fishing is good. But it is not just the fishing. It is life itself around the camp.
As you approach Stegbone’s from the north, stresses float away as you cross the River in Palatka and again at Dunn’s Creek. At Satsuma, turn towards Georgetown over the railroad tracks. The train no longer stops. Amtrak and CSX don't know what they're missing as they race on to Miami or New York. After 2.8 miles of pastoral ranch land with cattle grazing in huge pastures under big oaks, drive down N. Fish Camp Road and return to what is right with life: honest pleasures, shared with friends and family, in a peaceful and rich, natural environment.