Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An 1827 visit to Jackson County, Florida

Shangri-La Spring near Blue Spring was likely visited by
       Rt. Rev. Michael Portier as he traveled across Florida in 1827.
The following account of an 1827 visit to Jackson County by Rt. Rev. Michael Portier, the Catholic Bishop of Florida, is one of the most detailed descriptions of the area when it was still a raw frontier.

The City of Marianna had not yet been founded but the Old Spanish Trail, which Portier followed, could still be traced from Orange Hill on the border with Washington County through Jackson County by way of Blue Springs (Jackson Blue Spring) to the banks of the Apalachicola River near Sneads.


Pushing on the next morning, Bishop Portier soon crossed the border into modern Jackson County. His passage through the magnificent forests that then grew in the region prompted him to wax philosophic:

Rt. Rev. Michael Portier
On beholding this American counterpart of the Thessalian Tempe, one is almost led to put faith in the glowing pictures of ancient Greece, as described by the poets, and in the extravagant stories that travelers tell of certain Asiatic countries. The trees are constantly in leaf and, despite their close proximity, attain an enormous height, bringing their upper branches together as if to ward off the torrid heat of the sun.
What agreeable sensations fill the soul on drawing near to these imposing forests after journeying through interminable tracts of stunted pine-trees, where the air, expanded by the heat and heavy with odor, sickens the traveler at every step, not to mention the suffering caused by the reflected heat of the glowing-white sandy soil. It is like escaping suddenly…into paradise.[i]

Adding to Bishop Portier’s fascinating descriptions is the fact that he crossed the site of Marianna just before Robert Beveridge and his workers arrived to begin clearing the land. His account provides an interesting view of what the land looked like on the eve of the founding of the city:

…On every side you could hear the rippling of the brooks which here and there blended their waters and developed into streams of deep and regular formation. Rocks were to be met as high as the trees themselves, and bordered around with wild flowers, while sweet-scented shrubbery decked the sides and summits of these pygmy mountains. Natural wells, underground caves, oak trees blasted by lightning or cast by the tempest across our narrow pathway like an artificial bridge – everything was present to enhance the spectacle.[ii]

Crossing the Chipola, the Bishop and his traveling companion pushed on to the still new home of William Robinson to spend the night. Portier noted that they “fared better than we expected there,” but also commented on the “coolness of our reception.”
Robinson had arrived from Georgia a few years earlier and acquired more than 3,100 acres surrounding Blue Spring. He built his house on the hill overlooking the spring, then called Robinson’s Big Spring in his honor. Unlike most of the other early settlers of the county, Robinson was unmarried and remained that way until he died. Legend holds, although the device was not mentioned by Bishop Portier, that he built a unique system using chains and buckets to bring fresh water up to the house from the spring.
Portier was fascinated by Blue Spring:

The stream called Big Spring has cut a channel through the rocks over which it dashes with amazing rapidity. Like a small flood tired of being hampered and held up in its progress, it pours over with mighty force into a bed cut deep into the rock. This bed or vase is oval in shape and possibly a hundred feet wide at its broadest span. So clear is the water that the smallest objects are distinctly seen in it at a depth of thirty or even thirty-five feet; while all around the magnolia, laurel, cypress, and cedar are found in profusion. The wild grape-vine, after pushing its plaint branches to the very tops of these trees, hangs suspended over the stream in festoons. Fish without number find shelter in this retreat; but at the slightest sound of an inquisitive wayfarer they seek speedy refuge in the deeper places.
This beautiful body of water, of a perfect blue color, imparts the same tint to whatever it reflects, and when the sun is in the zenith the reflected images take on all the colors of the rainbow through the prismatic influence of the waters.[iii]

This story will continue below, but first enjoy this video on the history of beautiful Blue Springs Recreational Area:



The damming of the stream to create today’s Merritt’s Mill Pond has greatly chanced the appearance of Blue Spring, but the water retains its unique blue appearance and is spectacularly clear.
Setting out again early the next morning, the Bishop followed a pathway that was “little more than a furrow” until he reached a “dark dense wood and guessed that the river Apalachicola was not far distant.”[iv]
Along this section of his journey, Bishop Portier followed the same old trail that had been in use since the Spanish missionaries first visited the area in 1674. Passing between the modern communities of Grand Ridge and Dellwood and then just north of Sneads, he “struck the Apalachicola at its very source, the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.[v]
The greatest adventure of his journey through Jackson County came when he and his companion tried to get across the Apalachicola to the inn on the other side at Chattahoochee Landing:

The view across the Apalachicola River
to River Landing Park at Chattahoochee
is the same observed by Bishop Portier
as he waited for the ferry in 1827.
…Proceeding down the river to the boat-landing, we shouted for the ferrymen residing on the opposite bank. For a while hour we taxed our lungs to the utmost, but without result. Noon arrived, and we gave up all hope of making ourselves heard. To return up the river, a distance of twelve miles, to the next ferry without guide or beaten track, would be to risk being overtaken by the night before reaching the goal….My companion offered to swim across the Apalachicola, capture the boat and come back for me. I did not believe he could accomplish it, in view of the strong current, the great breadth of the river, and the presence of alligators.
But, despite my remonstrances and solicitation, he insisted on his plan, and proceeded to carry it out. I beheld him plunge into the river, cut through it like a fish, and gain a distance of a third of a mile in less than ten minutes. Yet I was ill at ease, I confess, until I saw him safe on the other side. A moment later he reappeared with the boat, steering in my direction. But his strength was not a match for the ponderous force he had to meet; the current carried him further down than he expected, and it was only by hauling upon the branches of the trees overhanging the bank on my side that he finally got back. It had been a wonderful exploit.[vi]

Portier’s account of his journey through Jackson County is remarkable for its descriptiveness, but he felt that he had failed to do justice to the country he had seen. “I am relating what I myself beheld,” he wrote, “I am telling what I personally experienced; and I declare that my descriptions fall short of the actual facts.”[vii]

To learn more about Jackson County, please consider one or all of my books that touch on our wonderful corner of Florida. Be sure to visit www.twoegg.tv for video visits to historic sites throughout the South.


         



[i] Portier, Michael. "Journal of his Journey from Pensacola to St. Augustine," 1827.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Andrew Jackson's 250th Birthday: His march through Jackson, Calhoun & Holmes Counties in Florida

Andrew Jackson as he appeared late in life.
(Matthew Brady photo, Courtesy Library of Congress)
Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, would have turned 250 years old today. In the Florida county that bears his name, however, the anniversary will pass quietly.

Jackson County has no events planned to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jackson's birth.

The only part of Florida to touch two other states - Alabama and Georgia - Jackson County was established just three years after Old Hickory made his only visit to the area. He came through in 1818 during the closing phase of the First Seminole War.

Florida was still a Spanish colony in 1818, but the borderlands had been the scene of open warfare since U.S. troops attacked the Creek Indian village of Fowltown in Decatur County, Georgia. The Battle of Fowltown was really two separate events that took place on November 21 and 23, 1817. The action was the first battle of the Seminole Wars.

Creek, Seminole and maroon (Black Seminole) warriors retaliated on November 30, 1817, by attacking a U.S. Army supply boat on the Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee, Florida. The first U.S. defeat of the Seminole Wars, the action is remembered today as the Scott Massacre of 1817 and ended with the deaths of around 34 men, 6 women and 4 children.

Outraged over the Scott attack but unconcerned over the U.S. raids on Fowltown, President James Monroe had Secretary of War John C. Calhoun order Major General Andrew Jackson to the frontier. Jackson was authorized to invade Spanish Florida to "punish" those responsible for the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott's command.

The site of Fort Scott as it appears today.
The commander of all U.S. troops in the South, Jackson was at the zenith of his military career in 1818. He had defeated Red Stick Creek forces at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-1815. He reached Fort Scott at today's Lake Seminole on the evening of March 9, 1818, and assumed command of the troops there on the next morning.

The first phase of Jackson's Florida campaign saw him march into Spanish Florida and battle the Native American alliance at the Battles of Miccosukee, Econfina and Old Town while also capturing the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache. He executed the Creek Indian leaders Josiah Francis and Homathlemico while also capturing and ordering the executions of two British subjects, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert C. Ambrister.

The general was at Fort Gadsden, the fort he had built on the site of the earlier "Negro Fort" or Fort at Prospect Bluff, when he decided to march into West Florida. Reports had reached him that Creek refugees were being fed and supplied by the Spanish at Pensacola.

Click here to see a great first person interpretation of Andrew Jackson by Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park.

Jackson left Fort Gadsden with an army of 1,092 men and two cannon and marched back up the Apalachicola River to what is now Torreya State Park. Boats had been prepositioned there by soldiers from Fort Scott and the general crossed his army over to Ocheesee Bluff in today's Calhoun County on May 9, 1818. The crossing of so many men was dangerous and took all day to complete.

The next morning, guided by the Creek chief John Blunt for whom present-day Blountstown is named, the army turned northwest and entered the county that now bears his name. The following is excerpted from my book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years:
Jackson Blue Spring, where Gen. Jackson's army camped on
May 10, 1818 while marching through West Florida.

The army turned to the northwest on the morning of May 10th and crossed into Jackson County. Their route led them across the approximate site of Grand Ridge to Blue Spring where they camped for the night. Captain Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, called the spot “Big Spring,” a name that it held for a number of years. He described it as being “forty yards in diameter and of considerable depth with a rock bottom and a clean rapid current.” 

The soldiers in Jackson’s army marveled at the beauty and richness of the surrounding countryside. Young himself kept careful records of the quality of the lands through which they marched. 

The army continued forward on the morning of May 11, 1818. Crossing the hills between Blue Spring and the Chipola River, they reached the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River in today's Florida Caverns State Park by noon. It was here that a supposed incident involving Andrew Jackson took place. 
The Natural Bridge of the Chipola River is seen at left. The
sink into which the river descends to begin its underground
journey is at the center of the photo.

According to the oft-recited legend, Jackson’s army was moving forward in two columns. One column, led by the general himself and guided by John Blunt, crossed the river at the natural bridge. The second column, maching more to the north, was forced to halt and build rafts so the men and artillery could get across the river. Jackson’s column reached the planned rendezvous point west of the river and the general, known for his temper, supposedly became irate when the second column failed to appear on schedule.

When the bedraggled men of the flanking column finally trudged into camp, legend holds that Jackson berated their officers, demanding to know the reason for the delay. His temper soared even higher when they explained the reason for their lateness. The general had seen no river. The legend holds that it was not until John Blunt explained the phenomenon of the natural bridge that Old Hickory could be placated.

It is a fascinating little story and one of the few about Andrew Jackson that survive in the county today. Mrs. Janie Smith Rhyne, a Jackson County writer and historian of the 20th century, even memorialized the event in poem:

“About first candle-light he spied
His draggled cavalcade
Emerging from the northward swamp –
No sooner seen than sprayed

With oaths as hot as shrapnel shells.
They pled, ‘We built a raft
To cross the river;’ Jackson yapped
‘No river there, you’re daft!’

‘I crossed no stream.’ ‘Then come;’ they led
Him to Chipola’s bank.
He saw, and spat another oath;
Then all his mind seemed blank.” 

The "River Rise" where the Chipola River resurfaces after
flowing beneath the Natural Bridge. It is also part of Florida
Caverns State Park in Marianna, Florida.
There seems to be more legend than truth about the story. Captain Young, Jackson's topographer, did not record it in his journal. He wrote instead that the men were well aware that they were crossing a natural bridge and even offered his own opinion as to how it had been formed:

The Natural Bridge is in the center of a large swamp and appears to be a deposit of earth on a raft or some similar obstruction. The passage is narrow and the creek, with a rapid current, is visible both above and below. 

Young, of course, was mistaken about the formation of the bridge. It is really formed by the sudden disappearance of the Chipola River down a sink and into a series of limestone passages. It flows underground for a short distance before rising back to the surface. Nineteenth century loggers cut a canal across the top of the feature to allow them to float timber across to downstream mill. The logging run takes away a bit of the original appearance of the bridge, but it is still quite visible today.

The absence of any mention of the legendary natural bridge incident in Young’s account is curious. A careful examination of his memoir, however, shows that the legend probably grew from an incident at the Natural Bridge of the Econfina River near present-day Perry, Florida. Jackson and the main body of his army crossed over that bridge but had to wait for a second column to catch up. When the soldiers arrived, they explained that it had been necessary for them to build rafts to cross a river.  

The real incident at the Econfina Natural Bridge was somehow claimed by the early settlers of Jackson County and relocated to the Natural Bridge of the Chipola. A number of the soldiers in Jackson’s army came back to settle Jackson County and it is possible that their descendants remembered their story about and natural bridge incident and assumed they were talking about the one at Florida Caverns.

Kelly Banta of Florida Caverns State Park (L) discusses the
history of the remarkable caves with historian Dale Cox (R)
in a scene from a coming documentary.
A second legend about Jackson’s passage through Jackson County appears to have more of a basis in truth. 

Local tradition holds that Creek and Seminole families watched his crossing of the natural bridge from hiding places in the caves and rock shelters of Florida Caverns State Park. Native American families still living in both Jackson County and Oklahoma preserve strong oral tradition about the incident. A representative of one family described in 2007 how older members of the family would take children to the area of the natural bridge and point out caves in which their ancestors said they had hidden while the soldiers marched past.  

One such cave is today's Old Indian Cave. This cave was once called the Natural Bridge Cave and is located in a commanding outcrop of limestone from which the natural bridge is clearly visible. The multiple entrances to the large cavern would have provided hidden places from which Creek and Seminole families could have seen the troops marching past.

Click here to watch a video exploration of Old Indian Cave at Florida Caverns State Park.

Beautiful formations at Florida Caverns State Park.
After crossing the natural bridge, Jackson’s army continued on past Blue Hole Spring and Rock Arch Cave before turning to the northwest again and marching out of what is now Jackson County near present-day Graceville. The trail they followed took them through some of the fine farmlands between the Chipola River and Holmes Creek. The country was impressive and they knew that once the Seminole War was over, the area would be wide open for settlement. Men from the Williams and other families returned to the Chipola River country even before Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States. 

Jackson’s topographer, Captain Hugh Young, clearly had the future settlement of the area in mind as he recorded his observations of the country through which the army passed. Describing the area below and around present-day Grand Ridge, for example, he noted that it was “good pine land with reddish soil.” With regard to the land west of the Chipola River through which the army marched, he wrote that it was “excellent land” with a “mixed growth of oak, pine and hickory with several sinks affording abundance of excellent water.” 

Curry Ferry, where Jackson's army crossed the
Choctawhatchee River, remains a Holmes County landmark.
The U.S. Army crossed Holmes Creek near present-day Graceville and then marched along the old Pensacola - St. Augustine Road through what is now Holmes County. Jackson crossed the Choctawhatchee River at Curry Ferry Landing and then continued on westward to Pensacola and eventually the Presidency.

Click here to watch a video on the history of Curry Ferry in Holmes County, Florida.

Although he spent only a few days passing through Jackson, Calhoun and Holmes Counties, Andrew Jackson played a pivotal role in the settlement of the area. His march gave rank and file military men a chance to scout the countryside. Many came back within two years to clear fields and build homes, ignoring the fact that the land in question still belonged to the Creek Nation and that Florida was still a Spanish colony. 

It was not until 1823 - one year after Jackson County was established by the Florida Territory's Legislative Council - that Native American leaders signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek and gave up their rights to most of the lands that form the county today.

To learn more about the First Seminole War, please enjoy this video and be sure to check out the books at the bottom of the page:




Please click here to learn more about Florida Caverns State Park:  https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Florida-Caverns.





Tuesday, February 28, 2017

147 years ago: The murder of Jackson County Clerk of Court John L. Finlayson

Dr. John L. Finlayson, Clerk of Court for Jackson
County, was murdered on February 26, 1869.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
This week marks the 147th anniversary of the murder of John L. Finlayson, Jackson County's Clerk of Court. State Senator W.J. Purman was wounded in the attack.

The Reconstruction era was at its height in 1869 and Florida was still patrolled by troops of the U.S. Army. Citizens were deprived of their rights under the First and Second Amendments of the Constitution and could even be jailed for such things as carrying a firearm or peacefully assembling.

The people of Jackson County had faced a shocking litany of wrongs in the four years since the war. Rape was legally excused as an "act of war." Kidnapping and false imprisonment were countenanced by Federal officials who then openly defied the local courts after being indicted for their crimes. Teenage girls were dragged before military tribunals.

It has long been assumed that the shootings of John L. Finlayson and W.J. Purman were carried out by assassins attempting to break the power of the Reconstruction government. This is certainly possible but remains unproved. No one was ever arrested for the crime. Purman said at the time that he believed the motive was personal.

The shooting took place on a Friday night:

W.J. Purman, Reconstruction era state senator
from Jackson County, said that the shooting
was not politically motivated.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
SHOCKING MURDER AND ASSASSINATION – Intelligence reached us last night of a shocking assassination and murder which took place at Marianna, Jackson County, on Friday night last, about 8 o’clock. – The victim was Dr. John L. Finlayson, Clerk of the Circuit Court. It seems that Dr. F. and Maj. W.J. Purman were on their way to some place in the village. Maj. P. walking a little behind, and while crossing a vacant lot were fired on by some person behind a tree at a distance of forty yards, one shot striking Dr. Finlayson in the head and penetrating to the brain and another striking Maj. Purman in the neck. Dr. F. survived about two hours, and Maj. Purman was regarded in a critical condition. The perpetrator of this cowardly and shocking murder is unknown, but if there is justice in Florida it is to be hoped that he will not long escape discovery and punishment. (Tallahassee Floridian, March 2, 1869)

Local tradition holds that the fatal shots were fired from behind an ancient tree that still stands in the yard of the historic Davis-West House in Marianna. The home was then rented to Finlayson and Purman.

The two men were an odd pairing. Purman had served in the Union army and had arrived in Jackson County following the war to assist Charles Hamilton in the operation of the local office of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. Commonly called the Freedman's Bureau, the agency ostensibly worked to help former slaves as they adapted to life as free citizens. 

In Jackson County, however, the bureau was accused of corruption by both local residents and Federal officials. Purman was at the center of many of the allegations.


Confederate Service Record
Card from the file of John
L. Finlayson.
Finlayson, on the other hand, had been born and raised on his parents' farm just west of Marianna. He served in Capt. Richard Smith's Marianna Dragoons (later Company B, 15th Confederate Cavalry) and had returned home from the war to find that Union raiders had looted the farm. His mother, despite her Unionist sympathies, later said that the destruction was done "by the Yankees, at the instigation of the Devil."

His recent history was not enough to deter the young physician from associating himself with Carpetbaggers like Hamilton and Purman. He was described by a newspaper of the time as "one of the leading radicals" of Jackson County. 

...Dr. Finlayson was born in Jackson county, but a liberal education, a generous nature, and a patriotic spirit, made him a Republican. He was, therefore, a “Scalawag.” Senator Purman was born in the North, but had the audacity to settle in Florida. He was therefore, a “Carpet-Bagger.” And who can doubt that if what politicians and writers allow themselves to say of these classes is believed, some will be found bad enough or fanatical enough to endeavor to exterminate them? And who can avoid the fear that others equally fanatical, equally bad, less accustomed to political affairs, should take up the creed of retaliation, and create other innocent victims? (Pensacola Observer, March 19, 1869).

The author of the above commentary was the editor of the pro-Northern Pensacola Observer. He was correct in fearing that "others equally fanatical, equally bad" might try to retaliate. 

Charles Hamilton, onetime Bureau official in Jackson County and now Florida's sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote a private letter to friends still in the county to advocate attacks on local whites by former slaves. Purman, to his credit, intervened and stopped such violence before it could be started.

Local citizens gathered in Marianna in the days following the murder to express their general concern. A committee was appointed and the following resolution was unanimously adopted:


The historic Davis-West House from the murder scene. The
fatal shots were traditionally fired from the oak tree on the
left side of the photograph.
WHEREAS, on the night of the 26th of February, 1869, Dr. JOHN L. FINLAYSON was assassinated, and the same act nearly resulted in the assassination of Major W.J. PURMAN, who was badly wounded, and thinking as we do, and as all men of correct views think, that assassination is a most despicable act, which should be discountenanced and frowned down by all honest men, and deeming that it is very meet and proper that our community should express its abhorrence of the act, we do.

Resolve. That the said act of assassination meets our entire detestation and disapproval. We condemn it as we condemn any action of assassination, and we do not think that any portion of our citizens approve said detestable act.

Resolved, That we concur in opinion with Major Purman that the act was not induced by political feeling, but was caused by personal animosity.

Resolved, that it is the duty of civil authorities to be untiring in their efforts to find out and arrest the perpetrators of this atrocious deed.

Resolved, That these resolutions be published in all the newspapers of Florida.

J.L.G. BAKER, President.

C.W. Davis, Secretary. (Tallahassee Floridian, March 9, 1869).


Gov. Harrison Reed of Florida.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
The assassination of Finlayson and shooting of Purman also echoed loudly in the halls of the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Governor Harrison Reed announced on March 9 that the state would offer a $2,000 reward for the capture of the person or persons responsible. The amount was a substantial sum in the lean years that followed the War Between the States (or Civil War).

PROCLAMATION!
$2000 REWARD!
Harrison Reed, Governor of the State of Florida, to all to whom these Presents shall Come – Greeting:

WHEREAS, It has been made known to me that a foul and atrocious murder was committed upon the person of John L. Finlayson, in the town of Marianna, and county of Jackson, in this State, on the night of Friday, the twenty-sixth day of February, A.D. 1869; AND, WHEREAS, At the same time and place, the Hon. W.J. Purman was dangerously wounded by the same individual, to me unknown, and by the discharge of the same weapon which killed said Finlayson:

Now, therefore, I, HARRISON REED, Governor as aforesaid, by the power and authority vested in me, do hereby offer a reward of TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS to any person or persons who may apprehend or give such information as may lead to the apprehension and conviction of the party or parties who committed this foul and desperate murder.

And I hereby enjoy upon all good citizens the duty of aiding, by every means in their power, the exertions of the officers of the law to bring the guilty to punishment.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State to be affixed, at Tallahassee, this fourth day of March, A.D. 1869.
HARRISON REED, Governor.
Attest: - JONATHAN C. GIBBS, Secretary of State.
March 9, ’69. (Tallahassee Floridian, March 9, 1869)

Such efforts failed. No one was ever brought to justice for the shootings. The mystery over the motive for the attack still exists today, especially because Purman said a short time later that he did not believe the purpose was politcal:

Mr. W.J. Purman has had, in this and the adjoining counties, many enemies, growing out of his conduct as Bureau agent, but it was generally believed that all active animosity on that account had by the time he was shot subsided. We are informed and believe that he had numerous enemies in this and adjoining counties on account of his connection with the collecting of U.S. dues to discharged United States soldiers, who believed that he had collected and defrauded them out of large amounts of the same. Whether their suspicions and charges are well based we are not to determine and do not ourselves charge, but may numerate as one of the numerous causes that has created to him enemies. This coupled with his declarations soon after his shooting, when in a critical situation, such as the law writers assign to establish the rule of evidence by dying declarations, and which declarations can be established by at least three very honorable, moderate and entire reliable gentlemen, that he did not believe the shooting was the result of “political animosity,” “but was done by personal enemies,” places the fact beyond a doubt that it did not partake of and was not prompted by political feeling. (Tallahassee Weekly Sentinel, April 27, 1869)

Unless some new information is discovered, the murder of Clerk of Court John L. Finlayson will remain one of the tragic mysteries of Jackson County's past.

Dale Cox
February 28, 2017


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The railroad comes to Jackson County, Florida


A train rolls on the L&N through
the Panhandle of Florida.
State Archives of Florida: Memory Collection
The dream of linking Jackson County to larger markets by rail had been in a state of slumber for many years but as the economy surged following the end of Reconstruction, it did not take long for the vision to awaken. On March 4, 1881, under intense lobbying from residents of West Florida, the state legislature approved the incorporation of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. The P&A, as the line was commonly known, was authorized to lay tracks from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River. Jackson County was finally getting its railroad.
The new line quickly found the capital it needed when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) purchased $3,000,000 of its bonds and $3,000,000 of its capital stock in exchange for control of the company. This was a pre-arranged deal since both of the P&A’s principal officers were also executives with the L&N. The line, however, retained its P&A name for many years and functioned as a division of the larger company.

Many residents, for good reason, were still skeptical that the railroad would come. They had been let down many times before, but this time things were different. 
Col. W.D. Chipley, the vice president and general superintendent of the P&A, came to Marianna in early August. He offered $50,000 for right of way to build the railroad through the county and also announced plans to buy 2.5 acres for a depot at Marianna. Chipley told community leaders that he needed to hire as many workers as possible:

…The proposition was accepted by our citizens, and the survey of the road by Marianna will be “finished up” at once. The grading between here and Chattahoochee river will begin between the 10th and 15th of December next. All the laborers possible are desired.[i]

The crew poses with L&N #876.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection.
Things moved quickly. On September 6, 1881, the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported that contracts had been let for most of the distance between Marianna and Chattahoochee. Two hundred men were already at work clearing the right of way and grading the bed for the tracks. Major William H. Milton was the contractor for the five miles closest to Marianna. By the 20th of that month word reached Columbus that a site for the depot had been selected “between Mrs. White’s and Mrs. Myrick’s.” [ii]
October brought news that 411 men were now at work on the section of the line between the Apalachicola River and Marianna, with “every mile but two having a force on it.” November came with news that a severe drought was affecting Jackson County but that large numbers of hands were passing through Marianna on their way to join the work crews laying the tracks. Twelve miles of track bed had been graded between the county seat and Chattahoochee. 
There was also a report of a violent outbreak in one of the work camps:

…A white man from Gadsden county became involved in a difficulty with a negro some weeks ago. The white man had but one friend with him and that was a colored man from his own county; the rest of the negroes took part for the negro, and the white man was taken out and severely whipped; after which he left the camp and returned to his home. Last Thursday night, as the negroes of this camp were sitting around their fires, they were fired upon by several parties. One negro was killed and several more wounded. The parties who did the shooting are unknown, though suspicion points to the whipped white man and his friends. The negro killed was, unfortunately, the one who befriended the white man. The ringleader in causing the difficulty escaped unhurt. Since this we hear every man has left this camp. The railroad contractor at the time of the first difficulty was absent.[iii]

Marianna's historic 1880s depot as it appeared when still
located near the tracks. It was badly damaged by fire but
moved to its current location on Caledonia Street and restored.
Dale Cox Collection
Despite such incidents, the project moved quickly. The drought dried up creeks and swamps along the route making it easier for workers to prepare the grades and trestles. Even the steamboat lines on the Chattahoochee River, which would soon face competition from the new railroad, pitched in to help. The crew of the steamboat Moore found the machinery for building the bridge over the Apalachicola River hung up on a sand bar below Neal’s Landing. They used a tow line to pull the barge free and sent it down to the construction site at Chattahoochee.[iv]
It took a little over one year to build the railroad line through Jackson County. Crews working from both the east and the west neared Marianna in January of 1883:

The completion of the P.&A. draweth to a close.
We expect to have through trains on next week.
Work on the bridge at Chattahoochee is retarded on account of high water.
The steamer Newton or some other boat will soon be sent to Chattahoochee to be used for transferring purposes.
The track layers from the west expect to take dinner here next Tuesday. Our citizens ought to “set ‘em up.”
Capt. W.D. Chipley, Col. DeFuniak, Chief Engineer Davies and others of the P.&.A.R.R. were in town last week.[v]

Marianna's historic depot building as it appears today. It has
been rotated on its axis. The side facing the right of the
photo actually faced the railroad tracks in its original location.
On February 10, 1883, as was reported in The New York Times, “Pensacola was connected with the Apalachicola River to-day by the completion of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad.”[vi]

It would take two more months to complete the bridge over the river at Chattahoochee, but for all practical purposes Jacksonville was now linked to Pensacola by rail. Marianna gained considerable importance as the location of one of only two original depots on the line (the other was Milton). Other communities along the route had to settle for a boxcar parked on a siding instead of a full station of their own, at least for the time being. Stations came to other communities in time.
The building of the P&A had been a dramatic accomplishment. A total of 161 miles of track had been laid across swamps, rivers, creeks and bays from the Apalachicola to Pensacola. Not only that, but the railroad paid black laborers on an equal scale with white laborers with both earning $1.50 per day for their work on the line.
Col. W.D. Chipley
Washington County Historical Society

As was normally the case with privately built railroads, the P&A received massive land grants from the State of Florida. More than 2,830,000 acres of land were transferred to the railroad from the state with the expectation that the company would then sell off or develop the land to recover its expenses in building the line. As the land was sold, new settlements and towns developed bringing widespread economic development to all of West Florida.

The plan worked as expected. Col. Chipley was named land commissioner for the line and by 1897 his efforts had led to the sale of more than 995,000 acres of land for a net of $860,343.65. New towns rapidly grew along the route of the line. In Jackson County, for example, the town of Sneads grew out of what had been the old Pope’s settlement. The railroad also gave birth to the modern towns of Grand Ridge, Cypress and Cottondale. Such places as Chipley, Bonifay, Caryville, Westville, DeFuniak Springs and Crestview also came into existence thanks to the P&A Railroad.





[i] Marianna Courier, quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 10, 1881, p. 2.
[ii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 6, 1881, p. 4, and September 20, 1881, p. 4.
[iii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 1, 1881, p. 4.
[iv] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 26, 1881, p. 4.
[v] Marianna Courier quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, January 24, 1883, p. 4.
[vi] The New York Times, February 11, 1883.
[vii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 13, 1883, p. 4.
[viii] Greg Turner, A Short History of Florida Railroads, Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 86.