Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chipola River could once block traffic for weeks!

The rains and high water we have seen this winter reminds me of stories I have heard and read from the early history of Jackson County, when rivers and creeks were much great barriers to travel than they are today.

The Spanish, for example, visited the county in 1674-1675, 1677 and 1693. They usually followed the real "old Spanish trail," a footpath that led from the Apalachicola River near today's Sneads northwest across the county along a line that took it just north of Grand Ridge to Blue Spring and on to the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River at Florida Caverns State Park.

Most of their surviving accounts describe few problems in their travels, but in 1693 they found the water running high and it caused major difficulties for them. At the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River, for example, they described water and mud that reached the girths of their horses. As still happens today, so much water was coming down the Chipola that it overflowed the sink where the river normally goes underground and flooded the bridge itself.

The Chipola, in fact, would continue to cause problems for more than 200 years to come. By the time of the Civil War, for example, an open wooden bridge spanned the river at Marianna, but during high water the entire structure would be submerged. This meant a total halt to mail and other communication with the county seat, as English tutor Sarah Jones, who lived on Governor Milton's Sylvania Plantation, described in 1862:

When we arrived at the swamp near the Chipola, which flows into the Chattahoochie [i.e. Apalachicola], the water was up to the spokes of the wheels, and when we returned, less than two hours afterwards, the water had risen more than half a foot. “It is just nine days since any mail left this place,” said the postmaster, “and the river is rising now, so there will be no chance of sending for a week or two.” And no chance of obtaining the mail either!

Jones related that the postmaster would often throw away all but the most recent newspapers to save postal patrons the "trouble" of reading old news. The river would continue to cause such problems almost annually until the elevation of the bridge was finally raised in the years after the Civil War.

To read more of Miss Jones' descriptions of Jackson County during the Civil War, please consider my new book The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States. It is available through Amazon by clicking the link here or can be purchased in downtown Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea on Lafayette Street across from the Battle of Marianna monument. You can read more about the Natural Bridge of the Chipola at

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