Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Flood Waters flow at Bellamy Bridge - 2/26/2013

The Chipola River is nearly one-mile wide in the Bellamy Bridge area of Jackson County thanks to nearly 1-foot of rain that fell in the area over the last few days.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, the one-half mile walk that leads to the historic bridge, is completely flooded and water today was flowing through the parking lot like a running stream.

The video above and photos below were taken today (2/26/2013).

Entrance to Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail

Water flows in a stream across the parking lot.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is completely flooded.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail completely submerged.

Entrance to Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail.

Chipola River from Hwy 162 Bridge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Update: Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail remains closed (2/20/2013)

February 20, 2013 - Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail remains closed due to flooding. About 5 feet of water continued to flow across two parts of the trail today, blocking access from the parking area on Highway 162 to historic Bellamy Bridge itself.

Sections of the trail, which was 100% flooded last week, have started to dry out and damage appears to have been minimal. 

Opened to the public on November 1, 2012, the one-half mile long trail provides public access (when it is dry!) to historic Bellamy Bridge, the oldest bridge of its type in the state of Florida.  It is the focal point of one of Florida's best known ghost stories and the land crossed by the trail is rich in historical significance.

You can read more about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge.

The photos below were taken today and show the slowly drying sections of the trail as well as one of the places where flood water continues to flow across it.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail begins to dry out.

Trail entrance is now dry.

Mud and some water remains along first section of trail.

The flood washed thousands of acorns onto the trail.

A bench is now high and dry. It was underwater last week.

Flood debris in the swamp along the trial.

Water flows across a section of the trail.

Water continues to flow through the swamp.

Palmetto plants stand in the floodwater.

Damage to the parking area has been repaired.

Water flowed through the fence like a river last week.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail remains flooded! 2/16/2013

February 16, 2013 - The Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail in Jackson County remains flooded today.

Flood waters rose over the trail on February 13th as the Chipola River topped its banks and water spread out into the floodplain. The river crested yesterday and has begun a slow drop, but as of noon today virtually the entire length of the popular and historic trail remains underwater.

The video above will give you a good idea of the current status of the trail, which is likely to remain flooded for several more days. The photographs below also were taken today at around noon.

Trail Entrance with water still up to the gates.

Parking lot erosion.

Trail remains underwater.

Looking down the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail

Another view down the trail.

Debris piled against trail entrance by flood waters.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Water Flows Uphill at Bellamy Bridge?

This is the strangest sight I've seen in awhile. While shooting video of the flood waters that have inundated the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail today (2/14/2013), Jackson County Tourism Director Pam Fuqua and I noticed that water appeared to be flowing uphill along a roadway adjacent to the trail parking area.

Is it an optical illusion?  I don't know. It was much more evident in person, but when you look at the video provided here you will clearly see what I'm describing. In the distance in the first part of the video, the water appears to be flowing uphill instead of downhill in the direction of the camera. The second part of the video is a closer look at the phenomenon.

We've all heard strange stories about this place but they mostly revolve around the ghost of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, the young woman said to haunt the historic bridge. This is the first time I've ever encountered anything quite like this.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Just an update, the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail remains almost completely inundated by flood waters from the Chipola River. It is going to be at least a week or so before the water will be down enough for us to begin cleaning up the trail to make it safe for visitors.

Here are some still photos of the water appearing to run uphill:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is 100% Flooded

Jackson County's popular Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is flooded for its entire one-half mile length as of today (February 13, 2013).

The Chipola River has been making a dramatic rise due to heavy rains that have fallen over recent days in Southeast Alabama. The river rises from creeks that form there. The trail could be walked all the way to Bellamy Bridge as recently as Monday, but by noon today was completely flooded and water was pouring across the new parking area on Highway 162 between Greenwood and US 231.

The trail follows the route of the historic old road that led to Bellamy Bridge from the 1600s until it was closed to the public in 1963 when the new Highway 162 bridge was completed nearby. Completed and opened to the public on November 1, 2012, the trail has become a popular recreation spot and has seen heavy traffic from county residents and visitors alike.

Bellamy Bridge is believed by some to be Florida's "Most Haunted Bridge." The historic steel-frame structure is said to be haunted by the ghost of Elizabeth Jane Croom Bellamy, a young woman who died in Jackson County on May 11, 1837. Her wispy ghost has been seen in the vicinity of the bridge and its wooden predecessors since at least the 1890s.

To learn more about the history of Bellamy Bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge or consider my new book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, which can be purchased on the upper right of this page.

The photos below were taken today (2/13/2013).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Picnic Shooting at Blue Hole (September 28, 1869)

The Run from Blue Hole as it appears today
On September 28, 1869, a shooting near Blue Hole Spring in Jackson County ignited one of the bloodiest confrontations of the Reconstruction era, not just in Florida but in the entire South.

The event has grown in magnitude over the years until some recent writers have described it as a "massacre" while others point to it as an example of political assassination by an organized band of "regulators" determined to stamp out justice and fair treatment for black citizens freed from slavery just four years earlier.

The site of the incident is inside today's Florida Caverns State Park. The Blue Hole Spring still flows, but a cave collapse in recent years has changed its appearance in a dramatic way from the popular swimming place enjoyed by thousands of visitors since the opening of the park more than sixty years ago. It is a peaceful place today, where visitors to the park can reflect on nature and history and enjoy boardwalks and foot bridges.  A small swimming spot remains, but is seldom open due to changes in the clarity of the water.

Blue Hole prior to the cave collapse
The Blue Hole and the nearby Natural Bridge of the Chipola River have been popular picnic areas since long before the Civil War. On September 28, 1869, a large group of former slaves or "freedmen" were making their way to the spring for a picnic and gathering when the incident took place.

There are several versions of what happened, but the basic facts are these:  Calvin Rogers, the black Reconstruction era constable of Jackson County was leading the party along the road to the spring when for some reason he walked ahead of the main group and disappeared around a bend in the road. From his unseen location, Rogers suddenly called out that he had been shot at, although no eyewitness described hearing a gunshot:

...He then called for Wyatt Scurlock, one of his friends, who on his approach to Rogers caught up a child, and he and the child were killed by one shot from some unknown person. Rogers, with the party, returned to Marianna, and with a party of whites and blacks, went in search of the murderer. They could find no clue to the perpetrator of the deed. (Macon Telegraph, 10/15/1869)

Blue Hole Spring as it appears today.
The incident was tragic and could not have come at a worse time for the citizens of Jackson County. Just four days earlier the county's government appointed carpetbagger sheriff, John W. King, had vanished taking with him a noteworthy sum of the county's funds.  With the constable involved in the shooting in one way or another, the people had no law enforcement officer to turn to for help in solving the crime.

A coroner's inquest was held, the members of which determined that Scurlock and the child had been killed by a shot fired by an unknown person. A posse was organized and a search conducted of the area, but no trace of the murderer with the possible exception of some prints from a horse could be found. Both the coroner's jury and the posse were made up of both black and white citizens.

Far from being the "massacre" described in some modern accounts, the picnic shooting was tragic and, unfortunately, never was solved. The blame  for this largely rests on the occupation government that controlled Florida during the Reconstruction era. A competent and trustworthy sheriff was not appointed for Jackson County and the citizens had no one in whom they could depend for a reasonable investigation.

The facts of the incident are extremely strange. Why did Calvin Rogers walk ahead of the group and out of sight at the time of the shooting? Why did he call specifically for Scurlock from an unseen location after claiming that a shot no one else could hear had been fired at him?  Under the circumstances, it might seem reasonable that Rogers himself should have been a suspect in the murders, but he never became the focus of an investigation and events over the next few days became so violent that they obscured the incident at Blue Hole Spring.

The citizens of the county held a public meeting in the wake of the shooting and a number of the principal business leaders of Marianna offered a reward for the apprehension of the person or persons responsible. The reward was never claimed and the murders of Scurlock and the child became more statistics of what is remembered today as the Jackson County Reconstruction War.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"The Scott Massacre of 1817" is now in print!

I'm pleased to announce that my latest book, The Scott Massacre of 1817, is now available as both a paperback and an instant download for Kindle at Amazon.com.

The book is the first in-depth study ever written of the Scott Massacre, the first U.S. defeat of the Seminole Wars. The battle took place on the Apalachicola River between the present-day towns of Chattahoochee and Sneads and resulted in a devastating 98% casualty rate for the army command of Lieutenant Richard W. Scott.

You can order through Amazon by following these links:

The Scott Massacre of 1817 (Book $19.95)

The Scott Massacre of 1817 (Kindle $9.95)

It is a little known fact that this bloody but almost forgotten battle on the eastern border of Jackson County led directly to the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States. Had it not taken place, we might still be under Spanish rule and the Seminole Nation might still reign supreme.

The book details how a war of words between U.S. Army officers and the Creek Indian chief Neamathla escalated into a shooting war when Major General Edmund P. Gaines ordered his forces to attack the chief's village of Fowltown in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. The Battle of Fowltown ignited what is remembered today as the First Seminole War of 1817-1818 and so outraged a loose alliance of Seminole, Red Stick Creek and African (Black Seminole) that hundreds of warriors converged on the Apalachicola River.

The first target of opportunity to present itself to them was a large wooden boat slowly making its way up the river. Commanded by Lieutenant Richard W. Scott of the 7th U.S. Infantry, the vessel carried 50 men, women and children. As it reached the stretch of the river just south of today's U.S. 90 bridge between Chattahoochee and Sneads, the boat was attacked by hundreds of warriors who had ambushed themselves along the banks of the river.

By the time the smoke had cleared, Scott was dead along with most of his command. Of the 50 people on board the boat when the attack was launched, only one man escaped without injury. The total U.S. loss in the battle was 43 killed, 5 wounded, 1 captured.

The massive defeat ignited outrage in Washington, D.C. and led President James Monroe to order Major General Andrew Jackson to the frontier with authorization to invade Spanish Florida. Jackson's 1818 campaign all but destroyed the Seminole Nation west of the Suwannee River and easily demonstrated that Spain could not defend its old colony. Within three years, Florida would become part of the United States.

The Scott Massacre of 1817 benefits the historic preservation efforts of the West Gadsden Historical Society. It is now available through Amazon.com and soon will be available at the society's normal book retailers throughout Gadsden County as well as at Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna (same block as Watson's and the Gazebo Restaurant).