Sunday, May 6, 2018

Economic chaos strikes Jackson County. What should we do?

Dale Cox is a retired business leader and journalist
who lives in the "suburbs" of Two Egg, Florida. He has
received national awards for literature and investigative
journalism and has managed multi-million dollar
media outlets and news operations in locations
across the United States.
The following is an open letter to the people and leaders of our community.

Jackson County residents are awakening to a financial crisis that is striking our community from the top to bottom.

The move to close Fire Rescue stations on some days due to insufficient staffing numbers brought the situation home to many, but the county's budget situation is neither sudden nor unexpected. In fact, it has been building for years and numerous local citizens and business people have raised concerns about it only to be promised callbacks that never came or reassurances that the matter was being studied.

In one case a local businessman was even told by an intermediary that he should get behind a specific county commissioner politically if he wanted to be heard.

So what happened? Where did the money go? What can we do about it?

Here are some answers that you have not read in the Jackson County Floridan or Jackson County Times. In their defense, the former often blames lack of staffing for its inability to cover key stories in the community while the latter sometimes says that it only covers "good news."

What is the problem?

The answer, in short, is that we are in the depths of an economic recession that goes far beyond what the rest of the nation suffered in 2008-2009.

Full-time employment in the county is down dramatically since around 2006 due to NAFTA which was a factor in the closings of the local Russell Corporation plants and facilities as well as other industrial operations; the closure of Dozier School for Boys due to the controversy and publicity that surrounded the facility; the loss or downsizing of businesses that supplied these facilities and, last but not least, a dramatic decline in the number of locally owned small businesses.

The net result of the above is that we have lost thousands of full-time jobs with benefits while at the same time local public assistance rolls have skyrocketed.

Financially, many more people in our community are hurting than our leaders seem to realize.

Consider these two statistics:

  • Median income in Jackson County has declined from $36,442 in 2009 to $35,470 in 2016. This is a drop of $972 over seven years. As economic development experts will tell you, that is a shocking decline.
  • The number of businesses in Jackson County has dropped from 863 in 2007 before the national recession began to 768 in 2017. In other words, we have lost 10% of our business community since 2007.
As Jackson County is learning the hard way, unemployment numbers do not always tell the true story of what is happening to a community's economy. Unemployment numbers, for example, do not count people who have been unemployed for so long that they no longer receive unemployment compensation. Nor do they count the people once employed here who have been forced to move away in search of work.

Young people are leaving for better opportunities in other places.

You often hear people say that their son or daughter, niece or nephew had to leave Jackson County to find a good job. This is more true today than ever.

Here are the facts:
  • Jackson County has 1,906 fewer people in the primary working age demographic (18-65) than it did just 8 years ago. 
  • Local officials often blame this on population aging - or as one county leader actually put it - "old people dying off." Census data, however, suggests that this is not the case. The county's population of residents over the age of 65 - many of whom still work to make ends meet - has indeed grown by 1,253 people since 2010. Unfortunately, we have lost 2,715 people in the 18-65 and 17 and under age groups. 
  • Jackson County has lost 617 households since 2009. If you think you are seeing more "for sale" signs along our roads and streets, you are.
  • The drain in our labor force is a very real problem when it comes to attracting new industry to the community. If we can't demonstrate that we have a strong, prepared labor force, we can't attract industry. No factory wants to open somewhere only to find that it can't hire enough people to run its lines.
Sales Tax collections are down.

The loss of 95 businesses, the decline in population and the loss of full-time jobs are all impacting the retail business in Jackson County. Here are the facts:
  • Sales tax collections in the main category are down dramatically over the first 8 months of 2017-2018 when compared to the same line item for the same months in the year before the recession (2006-2007).
  • The drop is bigger than you might think. This year, collections in this category are down by $244,823 from their level in the first 8 months of 2006-2007.
Money that one decade ago was helping to fund local government is simply no longer there in the amount that it was back then.

Gasoline Tax collections are down.

Gasoline taxes fund road work and improvements in Jackson County. These monies too, however, are on the decline. 
  • Using 1-cent local option gas tax collections to measure this decline, the amount brought in during the first 7 months of the 2017-2018 fiscal year is down by $8,394 since 2006/2007.
  • The real number has dropped from $391,034 during the first 7 months of 2006/2007 to $382,640 during the first 7 months of this fiscal year.
  • All other gas tax collections that benefit the county are also down. 
As families cut back on expenses or leave the area, their need to buy gasoline here decreases. When fuel purchases go down, money coming into county coffers also goes down. 

Tourism is way down.

Jackson County had a small but thriving tourism industry in 2006/2007. It has dropped by around 10% since that time.
  • Tourism tax (i.e. "bed tax") collections in Jackson County were $124,158 for the first four months of 2017-2018 (the most recent numbers available). This is a drop of $12,032 in actual dollars from 2006-2007 when collections totaled $136,190.
  • Just as sales tax collections reflect retail sales in a community, tourism tax collections reflect hotel and campground stays. Fewer people are staying here overnight than were doing so one decade ago.
  • Attendance at Blue Springs is down dramatically since the county commission doubled entrance fees. Numbers for the 2017 summer season show a decline of nearly 15,000 visitors since 2014, when fees were increased. Money collected at the gate is down since that year. Concession sales are down since that year. Boat rental fees are down. Pavilion rental fees are down. Total revenue from the park is down by around $18,000 from 3 years ago. If that trend continues this summer, the park will make less money than it did before fees were doubled while serving nearly 20,000 fewer local residents and visitors.
It should be mentioned that efforts designed to help attract more visitors to Jackson County have often been blunted or ignored by county administration. Consider the following:
  • The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity funded and approved the results of a $20,000 study on ways to improve tourism traffic along U.S. 90 in Jackson County. The plan was prepared by this writer and approved not only by the state, but also by the Tourist Development Council and the Board of County Commissioners. Since that time, several years ago, nothing has been done implement any of the recommendations. One county official even informed a group in Sneads last year that he "hadn't had time to read it" and wasn't sure what he had done with his copy. 
  • Local citizens raised and gave to the county more than $5,000 in funding for boardwalks on the Bellamy Bridge trail, an amount matched by the Tourist Development Council. County officials gave assurances that the money was sufficient for the purpose. Despite annual promises to build the footbridges - which will allow access to the popular tourism attraction during most times of high water - they still have not been built. The county now says that it has spent the money donated for the purpose and despite repeated requests has failed to answer specific questions about unauthorized expenditures from the fund.
  • Requests that the Tourist Development Council lead a group to organize an annual reenactment of the Battle of Marianna were rejected. A reenactment of the battle staged for its 150th anniversary in 2014 attracted thousands of people. 
  • One of the landings on the Merritt's Mill Pond canoe trail has been closed by property owners and has not been replaced. 
  • The Upper Chipola River paddling trail, approved by the state after the county promised to maintain it, is barely maintained.
  • The county's decade old effort to create an approved plan for development of tourism resources along Lake Seminole from Neals Landing on Highway 2 to Sneads is still not complete.
  • The fall in tourism tax revenue is also reflected by the decline of gas tax collections. With our population and median income falling, our failure to return to pre-recession/pre-Dozier controversy levels of tourism has is hurting us in areas far beyond hotel stays.
"Other places have the same problems."

This is a common excuse heard in Jackson County, but is it true? Consider these facts:
  • Holmes County to our west and Gadsden County to our east have increased their sales tax revenues during the same time that Jackson County has seen its revenues fall. In fact, those two counties along have increased sales tax collections by $879,000 during the period described above while Jackson County has suffered a decline of $244,000.
  • Washington County and Holmes County, on US 90 and I-10 west of Jackson County, have increased their 1-cent local option gas tax collections while Jackson County has experienced a drop. Washington County's collections are up by $8,540 and Holmes County's by $2,076 while Jackson is down by more than $8,000.
  • Tourism is increasing in Washington and Holmes Counties to our west and Gadsden County to our east, while falling in Jackson County. Washington County has increased its tourism tax collections over the period described above by $4,896. Holmes County is up by a remarkable $14,794. Gadsden County is up by $25,104. This reflects an increase of more than $40,000 in tourism tax collections by adjoining rural counties while Jackson County's dropped by more than $12,000.
What is the answer?

This is the question that many of us have been pondering for years. I have discussed the very same trends outlined above with county administrators, county commissioners, tourism leaders, other business people and at the Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Jackson County class for years. Others have done the same. Our inability to get anyone to pay attention has been so frustrating that I have sometimes wanted to bang my head on my desk.

The recent news about Jackson County Fire Rescue was just such a moment. Those who pay attention to such things have known for years that this problem was coming. The problem of our trained employees leaving for other places so they can better support their families is not new, and yet years have passed with no major effort to provide better pay so they can stay here. 

Nothing written here should be taken as a criticism of any person or group of people. My goal is to put the facts and my thoughts on them out there for my friends and neighbors to consider. I am an eternal optimist and I believe that we can reverse these alarming trends - and should have already reversed them - but time is growing short. I am not running for public office and have no plans to do so. I hope that this will be seen as what it is, an open letter to the people and leaders of Jackson County with thoughts and ideas from someone who just wants to help.

Here are some recommendations that I have after studying the numbers. Your ideas may be better than mine. It is time for us to start thinking and listening and - above all else - taking action.
  • Clerk of Courts Clayton O. Rooks should lead a full audit of county funding to tell us how much is coming in and where it is going. This would help our leaders see places from which money can be moved or cut to assure that our most important county services - Fire Rescue, Law Enforcement, etc. - are not only funded but improved. Reducing these services is not an option. This would also help us identify any financial improprieties.
  • County commissioners should consider an immediate moratorium on non-essential travel outside Jackson County by their employees. This money is needed to keep Fire Rescue running.
  • Work with Chipola College, Baptist College of Florida, Troy University, FSU, FAMU, UF and other institutions to provide real training so county employees can improve themselves. We can always get better and improving the skills of the people who work for us is a good way to help them get better and more efficient at their jobs.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, increase another tax or fee until our economic situation is turned around. Real people are suffering here. Median income is down. Our working age people are fleeing and taking their children with them. Use the money that we have to make things better. It can be done. Private businesses do it all day, everyday. 
  • Don't assume that every thought, criticism or idea is political. Most people here just want to see things get better. 
  • Work together. The county should work together with Sneads, Marianna, Graceville and other municipalities to find areas of agreement that all can support (and vice versa). Communities in specific parts of the county should work together. Malone, Campbellton and Graceville, for example, have Highway 2 in common. Perhaps they could work together to improve that corridor of the county? The same is true for the Historic Highway 90 Corridor that passes through Sneads, Grand Ridge, Marianna and Cottondale and the US 231 corridor that connects Campbellton, Jacob City, Cottondale, Alford and the Compass Lake area.
  • Clean up! Make our interstate exits the cleanest and prettiest in Florida. You never know who is going to come off that highway to look around while out scouting locations for a new business or industry.
  • Lower the entrance fees at Blue Springs back to $2 per person so local families - especially those with reduced incomes as a result of this situation - can afford to go.
  • Work to make it easy to do business in Jackson County. Reduce fees for startups. 
  • Find a way to fix our awful cell and internet service. Let's face the fact: If we want to have a 21st century economy, we have to provide the infrastructure to attract 21st century businesses. Large swaths of Jackson County have no cell phone service and substandard (or no) internet service. Hold the feet of our existing providers to the fire and seek out other companies willing to solve the problem at THEIR expense in exchange for a chance to make money here.
  • Invest in our young people. Seek out high school students here in Jackson County who want to major in business, tourism, engineering, law enforcement, fire rescue services, parks and recreation and more. Invest in them by helping with their college expenses in exchange for a commitment that they will return and work here for a set length of time. Provide them with internships and mentoring. If we can afford to help only one, that is one more than we can count on now.
  • Listen to local business owners. They can tell you their stumbling blocks to growing and hiring more people.
  • Seek out success stories in other places, not to duplicate but to learn how they created success. We have our own special place and want to keep it that way. We can always learn from others, though, about how they made their communities better places.
  • County and city administrators and elected officials should return calls and answer emails from constituents.
  • Finish projects that are on the drawing board. Get the Historic Highway 90 Corridor plan going. Washington and Holmes Counties are already ahead of us. We want to be a part of the success that they are already realizing.
  • Dream. Look for ways to do something good instead of searching out stumbling blocks.
  • Stop blaming others. Let's work together. We know that we need to. It means that some of our ideas will be pursued and some won't. That's fine. Movement is better than no movement.
  • Take advantage of our human resources. We have many people in Jackson County who have achieved remarkable things in their lives. Listen to the advice and suggestions that they can offer.
  • Improve our own corners. In other words, make our own neighborhoods better through elbow grease and cooperation. Not everything takes money to do. If we all improve our own neighborhoods, the whole county will improve.
  • Get involved. This is a message to citizens especially. Attend meetings. Offer advice. Run for office. I admire anyone willing to put their name out there. I appreciate the service of all of our current elected officials, just as I appreciated the service of those who served before them and will appreciate the service of our next round of leaders. It is the American way.
  • Care. We all have to care for each other and our communities. Churches, we need you now more than ever. Community organizations, we need you too. Individuals, you as well. Do everything you can to make things better.
I hope that at least someone out there will take the time to read through this long editorial and that it benefits you. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed.

This was written as a "stream of thought" so please excuse me if I made any errors or typos.

Thank you.

Dale Cox
May 6, 2018

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

67 Confederates you should meet before it is too late

Woodbury "Woody" Nickels, CSA
Beaten to death and burned at the Battle of
Marianna on September 27, 1864.
I was terribly saddened this morning to see that a friend of mine, who happens to be a professor at Florida State University (FSU), had written this social media:

...let's be clear about one other thing: removing confederate monuments has nothing to do with "erasing history." And everything to do with publicly defenestrating the confederacy--its ideals and its combatants.

If you aren't familiar with the term "publicly defenestrating" - and I admit that I wasn't - it means to publicly throw someone or something out of the window. In short, my friend the professor is advocating not only that Confederate monuments be torn down, but that we throw everything about the Confederacy out the window - including the men who fought in its armies.

Was he suggesting that dead Confederates be dug up from their graves and thrown away? I hope not.

The good professor is certainly entitled to his opinion. My ancestors fought to preserve Freedom of Speech for one and all. Some gave their lives. Others were permanently disabled. They served in the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard. Some also served in the armed forces of the Confederacy. If you aren't familiar with the Confederate Constitution, the Bill of Rights from the U.S. Constitution was copied verbatim into it so that it guaranteed Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, the right to hold and bear arms and so on.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church is sometimes called
"Florida's Alamo" because men and boys fought to the death
and were burned alive there during the Battle of Marianna.
The issue of slavery is emotional and raw, even after all these years. We seem to forget, though, the tidal wave of blood that washed that sin from our land. Estimates vary, but between 640,000 and 1,000,000 men and boys gave their lives in the War Between the States (or Civil War). Some wore blue. Some wore grey. We don't know how many civilians died from disease, starvation and battle wounds. All were sacrificed on the altar of war. The Union prevailed. Slavery was abolished (even in the North where it had remained legal throughout the war).

Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee among them, urged their soldiers to go home, to rebuild and to become good citizens. And by and large they did. Some went on to serve heroically in other conflicts, notably the Spanish-American War in which many former Confederates again donned the blue of the United States.

The loss of so many hundreds of thousands of men and boys, however, haunted the land. Wives, daughters and mothers could not forget. They could not throw the memories of their loved ones out the window. They raised money, penny by penny and dime by dime, and they raised monuments. The first ones went up in the 1870s, less than twenty years after the end of the brutal conflict.

Union veterans return a captured flag to Confederate
veterans in Marianna during the early 20th Century.
These were not monuments to slavery or oppression. They were not memorials to a "lost cause." By and large they were raised for the simple purpose of remembering sons, fathers and brothers. They were not political. They were not symbols of defiance. They were erected with reverence not for a vanquished Confederacy, but for loved ones who never came home. Union veterans often attended the dedications. Sometimes they even returned flags that had been captured on the battlefield.

The men of that era used such opportunities to shake hands, to bury old wounds and to remember lost friends. They found ways to make peace with each other. It strikes me as incredibly sad that our present generation is so intent on destroying the foundation built by the old soldiers who had faced each other over the barrels of their rifles so long ago. If they could forgive and honor each other, why can't we?

Most Confederates were conscripted. That means they were drafted. They didn't run off to fight for slavery or states rights or anything else. They went because their state ordered them to go. Many went because their state had been invaded and Union armies were ravaging the countryside to break the will of the South to fight. That was the case at a battle that is dear to my heart.

Preserving the memory of the Battle of Marianna has provided
opportunities for today's generations to learn about the role of
African-American soldiers during the war. The 82nd and 86th
USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) fought there.
The Battle of Marianna was fought on September 27, 1864. It was a small engagement compared to many of that horrible war, but it was brutal. You can read about it here.

Other Confederate troops were involved, including units in which my ancestors served, but much of the memory of the event centers around the desperate last stand of the Marianna Home Guard. These men and boys fought desperately from in and around St. Luke's Episcopal Church after they were trapped on its grounds.

A total of 67 men and boys fought with the Marianna unit that day. Some were as young as 13.

Of that number, 7 were killed in action and 6 were badly wounded. Another 24 were taken as prisoners of war and 9 of those died in prison. At least 13 of the volunteers were over the age of 50. At least 8 were under the age of 18.

These men and boys were doctors and lawyers, merchants and farmers. Some were disabled from other wounds. Some were mere schoolboys. You can read about them below and I hope that you will, especially those of you who feel that their memory and monuments should be erased forever.

Have we really reached the point in time at which it is appropriate to toss out forever our collective memory of little boys and old men who took up arms to defend their community when it came under attack? May God forgive us if that is so.

Capt. Jesse J. Norwood's Company
Marianna Home Guards (1st Florida Militia)

Jesse. J. Norwood, Captain, age 30, state senator and attorney, captured and imprisoned, died immediately following the war of debilitation from time as a prisoner of war. He left behind a wife and three children.

A.F. Blount, Lieutenant, age 44, a physician, he was severely wounded in the shoulder.

Christian J. Staley, Lieutenant, age 53, he was captured at the Battle of Marianna and imprisoned at New Orleans, Fort Lafayette and Fort Warren. He was paroled on February 12, 1865.

B.J.Alderman, private, a merchant and former California gold miner, he helped bond the construction of the Jackson County Courthouse. He was imprisoned but paroled before the Federals left Marianna.

Isaac Anderson, private, he was captured during the fighting but paroled by the Federals before they left Marianna.

William E. Anderson, age 51, a former brigadier general in the Florida militia, he put down an insurrection in Calhoun County in 1860. He was a lawyer. Captured during the Battle of Marianna he was imprisoned at New Orleans, Fort Lafayette and Fort Warren and was not released until June 26, 1865, well after the end of the war. He later served as county judge for Jackson County.

Lawrence T. Armistead, 3rd Lieutenant of Company E, 6th Florida Infantry, had been wounded in the wrist at Chickamauga and was home on medical leave when Marianna was attacked. He escaped across the Chipola River at the end of the battle. He was a student of the ministry before the war.

Robert Armistead, age 15, private, was a school boy who was marched into battle under the leadership of his instructor. He was captured in the fighting, but was released the next afternoon in Vernon, Florida.

J. Austin, private, was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans and Ship Island. He died in prison on Ship Island and is buried there in an unmarked grave.

Frank Baltzell, age 13, private, was a student at the Marianna Academy and a "printer's devil" at the local newspaper before the battle. He was taken prisoner in the fighting and was either released or escaped at Vernon on the next afternoon. He later became the editor of the Marianna Courier before moving to Alabama where he was a journalist and a leader in the Populist Movement.

Richard Baltzell, age 15, private, was a student at the Marianna Academy. Captured during the fighting, he was released at Vernon on the next afternoon.

Thomas W. Baltzell, age 15, private, was a student at the Marianna Academy before the battle. He marched into battle behind his teacher, Charles Tucker. He was wounded in the hand and taken prisoner. He was held at prisons in New Orleans and on Ship Island, Mississippi. He was too sick to be transferred from the island to Elmira Prison in New York on November 5, 1864, and instead was held on Ship Island until May 1, 1865. He was released at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on May 5, 1865 and made his way home.

Henry O. Bassett, age 39, captain of Company E, 6th Florida Infantry, was home on leave when Marianna was attacked. The former sheriff of Jackson County, he was beaten and bayoneted to death on the banks of Stage Creek during the Battle of Mairanna. His body could be identified only by the Confederate uniform pants that he was wearing.

John Blaney, age 50, private, was captured during the Battle of Marianna and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He died at Elmira on December 15, 1864, and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York.

James H. Brett, age 52, private, was the local constable and a veteran of the Mexican-American War. He was the original 1st lieutenant of the defunct "Jackson Guards" militia company. He received a severe wound that tore the muscle from his left forearm during the fighting and was also clubbed to the head with a rifle butt. He died of his wounds shortly after the battle.

Albert G. Bush, age 49, private, was captured at the Battle of Marianna and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He survived and turned to his farm after the war.

Hon. Allen Henry Bush, age 55, private, was the local circuit judge and had been a practicing Marianna attorney since the 1840s. He was a delegate to the ill-fated Florida Constitutional Convention on October 25, 1865, at which he voted in favor of the ending of slavery. He was reported to be "conciliatory" to the Republicans who controlled Jackson County during the Reconstruction era.

Rev. Richard Bush, age 50, was a local minister who was captured during the fighting. He was paroled by the Federals before they left Marianna.

John C. Carter, age 22, private, had served as a private in Company E, 6th Florida Infantry, until he was badly wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga and was given a medical discharge. He volunteered when Marianna was attacked and was burned to death when St. Luke's Episcopal Church was torched by Union soldiers.

John Chason, age 57, private, was a farmer in Jackson County. He was wounded in the neck during the battle and taken prisoner. He was held in prison at New Orleans and Ship Island. He died at the latter place of dysentery on December 19, 1864, and was buried in Grave #99 on Ship Island, Mississippi. His grave is now unmarked.

Ellis Davis, age 63, private, was the captain of a state militia company during the Second Seminole War and had also served as captain of the defunct "Jackson Guards" militia company. He suffered a compound fracture of his thigh during the fighting and was disabled for the rest of his life.

Marmaduke Dickson, private, was severely wounded in the Battle of Marianna and died later in the day.

Dr. Horace Ely, private, was a local physician, merchant and hotel keeper. He was the contractor who built the 1850 Jackson County Courthouse. Ely was captured in the fighting but was paroled by the Federals before they left town.

Miles Everett, private, was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He was released from prison on March 2, 1865, but was so ill that he remained ina hospital in Richmond, Virginia for six weeks. He returned home after the war.

Francis M. Farley, private, was the former captain of Company E, 6th Florida Infantry. He was captured at the Battle of Santa Rosa Island in 1861 and imprisoned. Eventually paroled, he returned to his company and served until he was badly wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Given a medical discharge, he returned home and was elected Clerk of Courts for Jackson County. He escaped across the Chipola River at the end of the battle.

Samuel B. Gammon, age 56, private, he was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans and Ship Island. He died at the latter place from typhoid on December 8, 1864, and was buried in Grave #72. His grave is unmarked.

Thomas N. Gautier, Age 32, private, was the owner of a Marianna mercantile firm and the Oak Hill leather tannery. He was captured during the fighting but managed to escape before the end of the battle.

Peyton Gwin, teenager, private, was an employee of the local newspaper. He received a severe blow to the head from a musket butt during the fighting.

Samuel (William) Harrison, private, was captured during the battle and carried away to prison. His fate is unknown.

John W. Hartsfield, private, was captured during the battle and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Fort Columbus. He died at Fort Columbus of diarrhea on February 15,1865, and is buried at Cypress Hill National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Dr. Thaddeus W. Hentz, age 30, private, was Marianna's dentist. A son of noted 19th century novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, he had served as a private in Gamble's Light Artillery but was discharged for medical reasons four days before the Battle of Marianna. One of his fingers was shot off during the fighting and he was taken prisoner. Hentz was imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. Released on March 2, 1865, he was hospitalized for roughly one week in Richmond, Virginia, due to general debility before returning home. He resumed his dental practice after the war and also helped disabled Confederate soldiers with facial reconstructions.

W.H.Hinson, private, was captured during the fighting but escaped before the end of the battle.

J.B. Justiss, private, was sometimes called Captain Justiss due to previous service in the state militia. He was captured during the battle and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He was exchanged in March of 1865 but was so weak and sick that he was hospitalized for two weeks at Howard's Grove Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, before he could return home.

W.O. Kincey, private, was captured during the fighting but escaped before the end fo the battle.

Rev. Richard C.B. Lawrence, age 42, private, was a local minister and the brother-in-law of Dr. Thaddeus Hentz. He was shot through the thigh during the fighting and took refuge in the blacksmith shop behind St. Luke's Episcopal Church. He was rescued by his family with the help of a Union sergeant and avoided imprisonment. He continued his ministry after the war.

Arthur Lewis (Sr.), age 58, private, was a former merchant. He was severely wounded during the fighting and died at his home two days later. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marianna.

Felix H.G. Long, age 47, private, was a local planter. He was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Fort Lafayette. He suffered a stroke at the latter place and was permanently disabled. He was released on December 14, 1864.

Dr. Nicholas A. Long, 49, private, was the 1st lieutenant of a militia company during the Second Seminole War. He was a planter and physician before the war, was a delegate to the National Whig Party Convention in 1848 and served in the Florida Legislature in 1849. He was captured in the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Fort Lafayette. He was released from prison on December 14,1864, so he could care for Felix H.G. Long. He returned home.

Israel McBright, private, was captured in the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and possibly Elmira. His fate is unknown.

W.L. McKinley, private, escaped at the end of the battle.

Adam McNealy, age 47, private, was a member of the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners at the time of the battle. He had served as one of the county's delegates to Florida's Secession Convention in 1861. He was shot through the lung and struck to the head by a musket butt during the fighting. He eventually recovered and in 1869 urged the governor not to place Jackson County under further military occupation. He served on the Jackson County Board of Educatoin following reconstruction and helped to create the county's modern public school system.

Alex Merritt, age 32, private, was a local merchant and later owned the mill that gave today's Merritt's Mill Pond its name. He was captured during the battle and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He was released from prison on December 12, 1864, and later resumed his profession as a merchant and millwright.

C.R. Moore, private, escaped across the Chipola River at the end of the battle.

Edwin W. Mooring, age 32, private, was a local merchant and the owner of a legal whiskey distillery. He was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He returned home after the war and was later murdered by his brother-in-law.

Nicholas Morgan, private, escaped at the end of the battle.

Milton Mosley, private, escaped at the end of the battle and opened a store near present-day Malone during later years.

John T. Myrick, Sr., private, was a former state senator, a merchant and a trustee of the Marianna Male and Female Academy. He was a Unionist and helped lead Richard Keith Call's Unionist campaign in 1860. The Confederate government sought judgments against him during the war and he was in contact with Union naval forces at St. Andrew Bay in January 1864. He was captured during the fighting but was paroled by the Federals before they left town. His son Littleton was killed in the battle.

John T. Myrick, Jr., age 16, private, was a Marianna school boy who was known as "Jack" to his friends. He was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. His brother, Littleton, was killed. Jack was released from Elmira on March 29, 1865, and returned home forever embittered against the U.S. Government. He was accused of murdering three African-Americans during Reconstruction after one of them was accused of killing his friend, Margaret McClellan. He fled the county and lived out the rest of his life as a farmer in Missouri.

Charles Nickels, age 14, private, was captured in the fighting. He was released the next day in Vernon, Florida.

William Nickels, age 64, private, was a Marianna merchant and innkeeper who also served as a trustee of the Marianna Academy. He was captured but paroled by the Federals before they left town. His son, Woody, was killed in the battle. He was a prominent Unionist.

Woodbury "Woody" Nickels, age 16, private, was a Marianna school student who marched into battle under his teacher, Charles Tucker. He was shot through the leg when he tried to escape St. Luke's Episcopal Church after it was set afire by Union troops. He crawled to a nearby headstone where his head was crushed by a Union soldier who beat him to death with the butt of his musket. His body was partially burned as the church collapsed.

Rev. E.B. Norton, private, was a local minister. He escaped at the end of the battle.

James (Daniel) O'Neal, age 51, private, was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He was "too sick" to be paroled on February 13, 1865, and died at Elmira on March 5, 1865. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York.

Frederick R. Pittman, age 51, private, was a farmer and former Whig politician. He was captured during the battle and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He was released from prison on December 12, 1864.

Walter J. Robinson, captain of Company A, 11th Florida Infantry, was home on leave at the time of the attack on Marianna and volunteered for service with Norwood's men. He escaped across the Chipola River at the end of the battle.

H. Sweell, private, escaped at the end of the battle.

Solomon Sullivan, age 54, private, was badly wounded during the battle and died while receiving treatment at the home of Mrs. Mary Armistead.

Peter Taylor, private, escaped at the end of the battle.

Charles Tucker, private, was the school master at the Marianna Academy and led his students into the fight. He was captured but paroled by the Federals before they left town. Several of the young boys of his school were killed.

Charles Tucker, private (from Quincy, Florida), was in town on a court matter and volunteered to fight. He was captured in the battle and imprisoned at New Orleans, Ship Island and Elmira. He died at the latter prison camp on December 11, 1864, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York.

Hinton J. Watson, private, was an owner of the Marianna mercantile firm of H.J. Watson & Company. He was captured during the fighting but was paroled by the Federals before they let town. His business collapsed in 1868 due to post-war economic conditions but he went on to serve in the Florida House of Representatives.

O.M. Watson, private, escaped at the end of the battle.

John B. Whitehurst, age 40, private, was the local justice of the peace. He was captured during the fighting and imprisoned at New Orleans and Ship Island. He died at the latter place from tuberculosis on October 24, 1864, and was buried in Grave #4 in the prison cemetery. His grave is unmarked today.

William B. Wynn, private, was a local farmer. He was captured during the fighting and help prisoner at New Orleans, Ship Island and Fort Columbus. He died at the latter place on December 21, 1864, and was buried at Cypress Hill National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Other Confederate units present at the Battle of Marianna included Companies E & G, 5th Florida Cavalry; Company C, 1st Florida Reserves (Mounted); the Woodville Scouts (Alabama State Troops); the Greenwood Club Cavalry, and the Campbellton Cavalry. Various individual volunteers also served.

If you would like to read more, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. It is available in both print and Kindle formats.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Riverside Cemetery turns 190 years old

The old section of historic Riverside Cemetery in Marianna.
Riverside Cemetery is a historic burial ground in the southeast corner of the charming old city of Marianna, Florida. It turns 190 years old this year.

Riverside was laid out by Robert and Anna Beveridge in 1827. They new that their soon to be developed town would need a public burial ground. They selected a spot on a separate hill just beyond their planned community.

The Beveridges had come down to Florida from Baltimore, Maryland. Mr. Beveridge was a successful merchant and with his wife possessed strong political connections. Their investors included many prominent allies of Andrew Jackson.

Grave of Arthur Lewis
Killed in the Battle of Marianna
Sadly, one of the first people to be buried in the cemetery was Mrs. Beveridge herself. She was only 24 years old but already the mother of three children when she came down with the fever and died on March 24, 1830.

She was buried in Riverside Cemetery, but the location of her grave site has been lost to time. It is certainly possible that she is buried in one of the ancient brick crypts in the oldest part of the cemetery.

The section includes some of the oldest oak trees in Marianna.

The former area where both slaves and free African Americans were buried is just downhill from the crypts and markers of Marianna's earliest white settlers. The wooden markers that once designated the burial places of early African American residents have long since rotted away, although indentations in the ground still mark their graves in the southwest corner of the oldest part of the cemetery.

Burial trenches of Confederate soldiers at Riverside Cemetery.
Two burial trenches contain the remains Confederate soldiers who died at the Marianna Post Hospital in 1863-1865. Most of these men were the victims of illness or infections and their graves are marked by small headstones. Near them rest several of the local citizens and soldiers who died in the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

Separated from the area of oldest graves is a single monument to a Union soldier, Lt. Isaac Adams of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Marianna.

Adams no longer rests at Riverside, but his monument remains.  He and other Union dead from the battle were exhumed during the late 1800s and their remains taken to Barrancas National Cemetery near Pensacola.

Monument to Lt. Isaac Adams, 2nd Maine Cavalry
The lieutenant's grave played a key role in the Reconstruction era confrontations that rocked Jackson County. Several young girls - relatives of men and boys killed in the Battle of Marianna - removed the flowers from Lt. Adams' grave and scattered them in the dirt. They were hauled before a military court, but showed up with backing from almost the entire community.

The Carpetbagger officials who ruled Marianna after the War Between the States (or Civil War) backed down in the face of this show of support and released the girls. The incident is remembered today as the "Battle of the Flowers" and was the beginning of the local uprising that eventually drove out the occupying force that controlled Jackson County from 1865-1876.

Riverside Cemetery is a peaceful and beautiful place. The azaleas and dogwoods bloom each spring, giving the cemetery a surreal charm.

A stroll through its acres and acres of stones and graves offers you the chance to walk not just through the history of Marianna and Jackson County, but through the history of Florida, the South and the Nation.

The main entrances to the oldest part of the cemetery are on Franklin Street, two blocks south of Jackson Street, in Marianna, Florida. It is open to the public during daylight hours.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ghosts of Aycock: Was 1905 fire the largest mass murder in Jackson County history?

An Aycock Brothers locomotive on the tracks at Aycock,
Florida. This may have been the locomotive that brought the
bodies from the logging camp back to the sawmill town.
Aycock was a prosperous lumber mill town that once stood along the L&N railroad between Cottondale and Chipley.

The town took its name from the Aycock, timber and naval stores barons from Georgia. They secured a massive timber tract in western Jackson and eastern Washington Counties in 1904 and expanded existing sawmills on the railroad near today's intersection of Aycock Road and Historic U.S. 90. A mill town soon grew around this operation.

Little remains of Aycock today, but an incident associated with the town gives it special significance in U.S. history.

The following is excerpted from my book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: 10 Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida.


A stand of longleaf pines in the Florida
Panhandle. Aycock was in the business
of turning hundreds of thousands of
such trees into lumber.
N OCTOBER OF 1905, NEWSPAPER READERS ACROSS THE NATION learned with horror that one of the largest mass murders in Florida history had been enacted at a logging camp just west of the Jackson County community of Steele City
. The incident claimed the lives of eight county inmates and a man employed to stand watch over them. 
On visiting the site of the camp today, it is difficult to imagine the horror once enacted there. The surrounding scene is one of farms and woods, with no visible trace remaining of the camp where the crime took place. Few people in the vicinity know the horrible history associated with the site or of the ghostly figures long said to haunt the woods there. Truth be told, however, if there is any place in Jackson County with the tragic potential for a real mass haunting, this is it.

The story of the Aycock Ghosts begins with the purchase of a vast tract of timberland in the area by the Aycock Brothers of Georgia. Already well-known lumber barons, the Aycocks lived in the city of Moultrie but chartered their Florida operation in nearby Cordele in 1904:

…Application for a charter for the Aycock Bros. Lumber Co., composed of W.E. and T.J. Aycock and Evans Reynolds, has been filed with the county clerk. The capital stock of the proposed corporation is to be $50,000. The main office will be in Cordele, but the principal operations of the company’s manufacturing department will be in Florida.[i]

Aycock Road crosses today's CSX Railroad west of
Cottondale in Jackson County, Florida. The town of Aycock
once stood in this vicinity. The 18-wheeler visible in the
background is on U.S. 90.
Construction began almost immediately on an industrial complex at the small railroad siding of Allie, located four miles due west of Cottondale on the L&N Railroad between that town and Chipley. It was the railroad, in fact, that had drawn the attention of the Aycock Brothers to the site. The trains provided a way for them to get their lumber and rosin out of the woods and to market. By the spring of 1905, construction of the massive plant at Allie was almost finished:

The Aycock Bros. Lumber Co. have now nearly completed their large saw mill at Allie, six miles east of town (i.e. Chipley). This will be one of the largest and most modern saw mills in West Florida with a cutting capacity of one hundred thousand feet per day. With three large brick dry kilns and a big planning mill they will work about 150 hands.[ii]

Even today, an operation of the size and scope of the Aycock mill would be considered impressive. The initial hiring of 150 hands to run the mill and harvest the timber also created the need to house them, preferably on-site. The firm handled this by building one of the largest “company towns” ever constructed in Jackson County. In addition to homes for perhaps 500 people (workers and their families), the community also included stores, a railroad station and a post office as well as the various mills and other facilities associated with the company’s operations.
With the completion of its houses, stores, sawmill, drying kilns, railroad station and planning mill, it was logical that the company owners would stamp their name on the community itself. Allie ceased to exist and on May 31, 1905, the Pensacola Journal reported that, “The Aycock Bros. Lumber Co. have changed the name of the post office and telegraph office and railroad station to Aycock, Fla.”[iii]
Another early 20th century photo of one of the two
locomotives that operated on Aycock's logging railroad.
To support the industrial facilities at Aycock, the company built or acquired a system of logging roads, a naval stores camp and a small railroad that ran south from the L&N tracks for about ten miles through the edge of Washington County and then back into Jackson County again. It carried rosin and timber from the outlying naval stores camp west of Steele City and just north of Alford to the main complex at Aycock.[iv]
Although they hired more than 150 people to run their operation, the Aycock brothers were as interested in securing cheap labor as other timber barons of their day. An opportunity presented itself to them in the form of the convict labor leasing practice then in operation across much of Florida.
The convict leasing system had been initiated in 1877 and allowed counties to lease convicts from their jails to private businesses. The money gained from the practice went into the county Road & Bridge Fund and was a vital source of revenue for local government. The practice also eliminated the need for counties to maintain large jail facilities, since the employers leasing the inmates were responsible for housing and feeding them.
Florida convicts leased as laborers to a timber company. The
victims of the Aycock fire were attired much like these men.
State Archives of Florida
The Aycock brothers entered almost immediately into leasing contracts with the Board of County Commissioners for Jackson County. The use of convict labor may even have been part of their business plan before they ever started building their company town west of Cottondale. To house the inmates turned over to them, they established two convict stockades: one on the grounds of the main operation at Aycock and the other 10 miles south down the logging railroad at the remote naval stores camp. These locations allowed the company to house convicts at both ends of their massive 25,000 acre timber tract. Both stockades, generally described as wood-frame buildings, were finished and in use by the end of the summer of 1905.
The convict leasing system was not without its critics. The early 1900s were a time of great social reform in the nation and newspaper editors and private citizens alike railed against the system, which they equated with slavery. Counties were literally leasing human beings to private companies and these individuals were then worked, often in substandard conditions, with no choice in the matter and receiving no compensation for their labors.
The conditions at the Aycock stockades were far from ideal. Not only were the convicts worked long hours under harsh and dangerous conditions, they were chained inside the stockades at night to eliminate any possibility of escape. It was a recipe for disaster and that is exactly what happened in the early fall of 1905:

On the night of October 7, Aycock Brothers Lumber Co. convict camp burned in Jackson County. In this fire, James Longino, the guard on duty, and eight convicts, were burned to death. Four or five of the bodies were cremated. The only two remaining victims…barely escaped with their lives and are now lying in Aycock’s stockade at Aycock, Florida, in a badly burned condition.[v]

Aycock can be seen on the railroad just west of Cottondale on
this 1909 map of Jackson County, Florida.
One of the two survivors, identified as William McCoy, was so severely injured that there seemed but little chance that he would recover. His escape, and that of his fellow survivor, was gruesome almost beyond imagination:

I remember hearing how some of them climbed as far as their leg chains would let them through the windows and begged witnesses to cut off a foot to free them from their chains and from being burned alive.[vi]

News of the fire stunned people in Jackson and Washington Counties and as the story spread, the nation was equally appalled. The cause was first thought to be accidental, with speculation focusing on the explosion of a faulty oil lamp. The theory was so convincing, in fact, that a coroner’s inquest was considered unnecessary.
Information came to light over the coming days, however, that quickly changed opinions about the fire. Alarmed by the horrible tragedy and undoubtedly concerned over their own liability in the matter, the Aycock brothers hired a private detective from Chipley named Tom Watts to look into the fire.  Watts had established a reputation investigating cases of fraud against the L&N Railroad and quickly became convinced that the fire was not accidental at all, but was “one of the most horrible crimes ever committed in the state.”[vii]
Two railroad spikes from the site of Aycock are among the
artifacts from the town on display at the Washington County
Historical Society Museum in Chipley, Florida.
Watts discovered something that the failure to empanel a coroner’s inquest had prevented from emerging already: the heads of James Longino, the guard over the stockade, and an unidentified convict had been smashed with a blunt object. Sam Jones, a misdemeanor convict who served as the trusty of the camp, told the detective that he had seen a man named Jim Glassco enter the guardroom at the entrance of the stockade. A few seconds later he heard two heavy blows, saw fire suddenly rise up from the building and then watched Glassco come out and run away.[viii]
Convinced that Glassco was involved in starting the fire, Watts arrested him and took him first to the Washington County Jail in Chipley. From there the suspect was carried by rail to the Jackson County Jail in Marianna:

I find the motive for the crime to have been robbery. Longino had on his person $48.10 and the convict had $5. Longino had drawn a gun (for cause) on Glassco the same night of the fire. The weapon used by Glassco was a spike maul, such as commonly used by railroad trackmen.[ix]

A first appearance was held for Glassco at the courthouse in Marianna and the county grand jury was ordered to convene. Although Detective Watts believed that a “strong case was made out” against the suspect, the grand jury did not agree. No indictment was returned against Glassco and the grand jurors instead recommended that the county commission cancel the Aycock Brothers’ contract and do everything possible to bring those responsible to justice..
A sawdust chain from the site of Aycock is now on display at
the Washington County Historical Society Museum in Chipley.
One of the Jackson County Commissioners, J.M. Barnes, went out to the naval stores camp to view the scene of the fire firsthand. After conducting a brief investigation of his own, he determined that “whiskey was very much in evidence.” It was his conclusion that the “guard being drunk probably caused the fire.” Strangely, there is no indication in county records that the Sheriff of Jackson County was ever asked to investigate the matter.[x]
Detective Watts, as might have been expected, vehemently disagreed with Commissioner Barnes. He wrote to Governor N.B. Broward in Tallahassee, calling for a state investigation. Expressing his belief that eyewitness Sam Jones was somehow involved in the crime, the company detective warned that time was of the essence:

The scene of this terrible crime is some ten miles from the railroad in the logging woods of the lumber company. There is much yet to be learned in this case by careful investigation, and I am sure you will appreciate the importance of looking into the matter fully.
The witnesses, some of them, have already scattered off – one of the most important ones now being in Atlanta, Georgia.[xi]

The company detective expressed his view of the incident plainly to Governor Broward, “I regard this as being one of the most horrible crimes ever committed in the state.”

Gov. Napoleon B. Broward of Florida, for whom
Broward County is named, ignored a request for
a state investigation of the Aycock fire.
State Archives of Florida
The determined detective’s efforts aside, no justice was ever obtained for the nine men who died as a result of the terrible fire at the Aycock Brothers naval stores camp. Their bodies were taken up the logging railroad to the main community of Aycock where they were buried in a now forgotten plot by the L&N (today’s CSX) Railroad. The most any of the fatally injured men ever got from the county or the Aycock company was the money paid to the doctor who amputated their legs in an unsuccessful effort to save their lives after axes had been used to cut off their feet so they could be pulled away from the chains that attached them to the burning building. Dr. J.S. McGeachy of Chipley was paid $624 for “amputating Six Legs, Visits, Dressing.”[xii]
The survivors of the tragedy, along with the family members of some of the dead, brought suit in federal court against Aycock Brothers Lumber Company for their losses. John Bryant, who had lost his feet when they were cut off to free him from his chains, sued the company for $25,000, as did the families of several of the others. After two years, the Aycock Brothers settled with Bryant for $5,000. Of that amount, $1,500 went to the lawyers who represented him. The unfortunate former convict received $3,500, the apparent value that the parties agreed to place on the legs and feet he left behind at the naval stores camp:

Upon a consultation of the counsel for the plantiffs and defendants to these suits a compromise was effected by the company paying to Bryant and the other plaintiffs a sum of $3,500 and bearing the costs of the litigation. The suits were based upon injuries received by Brant and the deaths of a number of convicts in a stockade, which was destroyed by fire a year ago. Relatives of some of the men burned to death in the stockade, brought actions for damages, but settled for very small amounts.[xiii]

At the time the Aycock Brothers paid John Bryant $3,500 for the loss of his feet, their company was worth roughly $500,000. In fact, their mill town four miles west of Cottondale continued to thrive for a number of years, at one point even boasting a jewelry store. The old growth longleaf pines were finally all harvested, though, and Aycock faded into history like so many of the Florida Panhandle’s other sawmill towns. Not a single building stands today.

Aycock may have faded away, but the terrible tragedy enacted 10 miles south of the town lingers. The publicity over the fire helped end the practice of convict leasing in Florida and elsewhere, but no formal law enforcement investigation of the incident ever took place. Was it mass murder, as Detective Watts believed? Or was it a case of drunkenness gone bad, as a Jackson County Commissioner concluded? No one can really say. 
Perhaps it is this lack of concern as to their fate that keeps those unfortunate men lingering close to the place they died. Local legend holds that both the old naval stores camp site, where the tragedy took place, and the cemetery where the unfortunate men lay buried are haunted by their spirits. At the secluded stockade site, it is said that the ghosts of the dead still walk in the night. Shadowy figures have been seen moving through the trees and on certain nights it is said that the moans of dying men can be distinctly heard echoing through the bays and swamps.
At Aycock itself, legend holds that blue lights can be seen in the night at the spot where most of the unfortunate victims were buried. The graves themselves are unmarked, even though the men were the prisoners of Jackson County and under its protection at the time they died. The simple wooden markers placed on the graves by coworkers rotted away long ago.
Some believe that the ghosts appear in two different places because their legs and feet rest in the dirt at the site of the naval stores camp, while the rest of their bodies lay forgotten under the dirt of Aycock itself. Perhaps they continue to appear because justice for them has never been done?

Artifacts from the site of Aycock are on display today at the Washington County Historical Society Museum in Chipley, Florida. The museum is open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

If you are interested in reading the true stories behind this and other ghost stories from Jackson County, Florida, please consider my book: 

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: 10 Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida.  

[i] Augusta Chronicle, September 20, 1904, p. 4.
[ii] Pensacola Journal, April 19, 1905, p. 1.
[iii] Pensacola Journal, May 31, 1905.
[iv] E.W. Carswell, Washington: Florida’s Twelfth County, 1991, p. 313.
[v] Tom Watts to Governor Napoleon B. Broward, October 1905, Carswell Collection.
[vi] Gilbert Keener, Washington County Commissioner, 1978, quoted by E.W. Carswell, Washington: Florida’s Twelfth County, p. 313.
[vii] Watts to Broward, October 1905.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] J.M. Barnes, quoted by E.W. Carswell, Washington: Florida’s Twelfth County, p. 315.
[xi] Tom Watts to Gov. Napoleon B. Broward, Octonber 1905, Carswell Collection.
[xii] Bill of Dr. J.S. McGeachy, November 6, 1905, Jackson County Archives.
[xiii] Montgomery Advertiser, March 14, 1907, p. 5.