O' Leno State Park - Keno
Example of keno set, a gambling game from which the town of Keno got it's name. It was eventually renamed Leno, then Old Leno, which was shortened to O'Leno.
From the handout given at the park:
O’Leno State Park and River Rise Preserve State Park Fact Sheet
•Together the parks number 6212 acres. 4,500 in River Rise Preserve and the remainder in the older O’Leno State Park.
•There are 18 different natural communities within the parks boundaries.
•Both parks contain the 3 mile “natural bridge” where the Santa Fe River flows into the sink and returns to the surface at the rise.
•Hernando De Soto traveled through these parks in 1539 while exploring the interior of Florida. Here he met members of local Timucan speaking tribes the Utina and Potano.
•The Park occupies property in both Alachua and Columbia Counties.
•We have 55 listed Cultural sites on park property.
•There are 19 miles of equestrian trails at River Rise Preserve State Park. With a 20 horse stall barn and primitive campsites.
•There are 61 family campsites with water and electric. Two primitive Youth Camps for 25 people apiece and one up to 10 person “hike in/hike out” primitive campsite.
•A town existed here first called Keno and later Ken that lasted from the 1840’s until the mid 1890’s. Hence the origin of the park’s name “Old Leno” becoming O’Leno.
•1935-36 the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 418 Camp P-67 constructed Camp O’Leno to be used as a park/forestry training area. Some of the CCC buildings are still being used today by the park.
•The camp became a park in 1940, and is one of the older state parks. River Rise was purchased as a Preserve in 1974.
•Florida’s First Federal Roadway, the Bellamy Road traveled through the park in the 1820’s. It originated from an earlier Indian trail and later the Camino Real which connected missions in the interior of Florida with St Augustine.
•There are 6 miles of hiking trails.
•There are 17 cabins and 8 support buildings in our Group Camp.
•Both parks receive about 65,000 visitors annually that spend over 2 million dollars annually in the local economy. 67 local jobs are generated because of the parks.
•The park creates over $230,000 in local sales tax revenue.
History of O’Leno State Park
O’Leno State Park occupies an historic crossroads area, unique compared to all of north Florida. The Santa Fe River along with its geologically unique disappearance into the ground and aquifer (River Sink) and its reappearance 3 miles to the south (River Rise) creating a natural land bridge, has the first basis of this land being a crossroads. Before the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s, Native Indian presence and villages were abundant in north Florida. Villages were close by. Research has also shown that the Santa Fe River was a boundary line between the Utina and Potano tribes of the Timucua Indians.
The first European to pass through the area was the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto in 1539. In the Spanish mission period of the 1600’s, the Spanish used the Indian trail for their road running from St. Augustine, through the Santa Fe land bridge, to Tallahassee and Pensacola, calling it the El Camino Real.
About two hundred years later, when Florida was a U.S. territory, the federal government contracted with John Bellamy, a plantation owner, in 1824 to build the first federally-funded major road from St. Augustine to Tallahassee. This road followed the El Camino Real and also passed through the Santa Fe land bridge. This road became known as the Bellamy Road, now referred to today as the Old Bellamy Road.
Just a quarter mile of the River Sink and 2 miles north of the Old Bellamy Road was a fitting place for a town. A town was established on the west bank of the river in 1840 by a man named Henry Matier. The town as “Keno,” a popular bingo-type gambling game in those days. Later, in 1876, the General Store manager, Col. Whetstone, applied for a post office from the U.S. government. It is reported that the request was denied due to the name of the town being associated with gambling. Therefore, the town’s name was changed to Leno, and a post office was granted. Several years later, Col. Whetstone moved the post office to his seat of residence in Mikesville, three miles to the north.
In the latter 1800’s the town of Keno/Leno grew by the hard work defeating the odds of nature, establishing grist mills, saw mills, and cotton gins along the river by first creating a couple dams and channeling the river into the shoots, where the mills were strategically built. The dams were created by embedding cedar slats across the river, backed by barriers of large rocks to direct the river flow. Remnants of these dams, mill sites, and cedar slats and shoots can be seen today when the river is down low. Due to the grinding capability from the two grist mills and six cotton gins and circular saw mill, Leno became and agricultural hub for the area.
In the days of Keno/Leno, criss-crossing the Bellamy Road was the north-south “Alligator Road,” passing Keno/Leno, and heading north up to the city of Alligator, now Lake City. When the town heard in 1894 of a railroad coming through the area, they were hopeful. But the train bypassed Leno, going to Fort White instead. This struck a major blow to the town, and many of the residents moved to neighboring communities. A major freeze then occurred in 1896 killing the major crops in that day, oranges, cotton, and tobacco, which sealed a final blow to the once thriving town of Leno.