Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Florida's First Astronomical Observatory was in Jackson County

This is a view of Irwin's Mill Creek in the northeast corner of Jackson County. The location of the first astronomical observatory in the history of Florida was not far from this spot.
Neal’s Landing – It is a little known fact that the first scientific observatory in the history of Florida was established in what is now Jackson County in 1799.

Florida was still a Spanish possession at the time and the observatory was the result of a joint U.S. and Spanish expedition assigned to determine the exact boundary line dividing the two nations. Spain and the United States had ratified the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1796 and the treaty established the 31st parallel as the official dividing line between the United States and Florida.
The problem was that no one knew exactly where the line ran. To find out, the two countries assigned teams of surveyors to hack their way through the wilderness and mark the new boundary. The U.S. team was headed by Andrew Ellicott, a veteran of the American Revolution and the man called on by President George Washington to survey the new District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.). The leader of the Spanish team was Stephen Minor, a Pennsylvania native that had served in the Spanish army during the American Revolution and then settled in what was then Spanish territory at Natchez, Mississippi.
The two men, accompanied by other surveyors and a detachment of Spanish cavalry, started their work on the line in what is now Alabama in 1799. After they determined the starting point, Ellicott and Minor traveled separately by ship to the mouth of the Apalachicola River while the other men of the survey party chopped their way due east through the wilderness, marking the line with a series of mounds of earth known today as “Ellicott Mounds.”
Most of the mounds can still be found, but although the surveyors did the best they could with the equipment of the time, the Ellicott Line was incorrectly located for virtually its entire length. The errors were corrected by later surveyors.
Severely blistered by poison ivy, Ellicott began his trip up the Apalachicola River on July 18, 1799. The wind did not cooperate, however, so he moved his equipment from his ship into a canoe and set up off stream. Pushing ashore at a Native American village in what is now Calhoun County, he purchased horses and crossed into present-day Jackson County on July 23rd.
Following an old trail along the route of today’s River Road, he made contact with the surveying party on the banks of the Chattahoochee River just north of Irwin’s Mill Creek on July 25, 1799. In his journal he noted that, “The observatory was finished on the 27th, and the instruments unpacked and set up; but the rain continued until the 30th, and prevented any observations from being made until that day.”
Ellicott was soon joined by Minor and the two officials spent a total of 28 days at their observatory in Jackson County, conducting astronomical observations to determine what they believed to be the precise location of the 31st parallel. In the process, they also recorded the first known weather observations in the history of Jackson County.
On July 28, 1799, for example, Ellicott noted that the day was “cloudy with rain all day” and that the temperature began at 82 degrees in the morning, but fell to 80 degrees at 10 a.m. On August 20th he reported that the morning began “remarkably fine and clear, wind from the east,” but that a severe storm blew up at around 9 a.m. At 1 p.m. he reported a “gust of rain accompanied by large hail stones from the S.W.”
The observatory was abandoned on August 23rd and the surveyors moved down to the present site of Chattahoochee in Gadsden County where they continued their work. Their Jackson County observatory, however, was the first known such scientific establishment in Florida.
The site, located on the Chattahoochee River just north of Neal’s Landing, is now overgrown and forgotten, with nothing more than one of Ellicott’s mounds remaining to mark this landmark event in the history of Jackson County, Florida, the United States and Spain.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Location of Webbville

I received a question from a reader who was curious to know the location of the Jackson County "ghost town" of Webbville.
Webbville was a prominent community during the 1820s and rivaled Marianna for the title of county seat. In fact, the U.S. Congress actually designated Webbville as the official county seat of Jackson County. The Florida Territorial Legislature threatened to fine any public official that did not conduct business from the courthouse in Marianna, however, and all of the county's officials moved to that location. Webbville, however, still remains the congressionally designated county seat.
Nothing remains of the town today. The site was located near the intersection of Highway 73 and U.S. 231. Union Road leads north off Highway 73 near the intersection. This dirt road (Union Road) was the old Campbellton Road that connected Marianna, Webbville and Campbellton. The Webbville site is located on the hill between Highway 73 and Russ Mill Creek. Union Road crosses directly through the site.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lake Seminole History, Part Eleven

Continuing our look at historic sites around Lake Seminole, we have more today on Camp Recovery.
This site is located in Decatur County, Georgia, about thirty minutes or so from Sneads. To reach the site, just go across the river to Chattahoochee and turn left at the light as you arrive in town. Follow Booster Club Road up into the Lake Seminole area and then veer right instead of going straight into the Booster Club Park area (if you are familiar with the lake, you will recognize this as the road to Wingate's Landing). The camp site is a few miles ahead on the right.
A historic marker and memorial archway stand by the entrance on the highway. From there it is a short walk up the lane to the cemetery site, which is accessed by a small gatehouse. The monument erected by the U.S. Government during the 1880s can be seen there.