Monday, April 21, 2014

#80 The Old Spanish Trail (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

1823 map showing part of original Old Spanish Trail
Road from Mt Vernon Ferry (Chattahoochee) to near Marianna is the original.
The historic Old Spanish Trail - sometimes called El Camino Real or the Mission Road - is #80 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the full list as it is unveiled.

Jackson County is blessed with a series of roads that could rightfully be called "Old Spanish Trails." There is the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road, which followed the approximate route of today's State Highway 2. Early maps also show a road running up the west side of the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers along the route of today's River Road (Highway 271). And, of course, today's U.S. 90 is often called the Old Spanish Trail. There also is a county road connecting Sneads, Grand Ridge, Cypress and Marianna named the Old Spanish Trail.

So which of these was the original or "real" Old Spanish Trail?  The answer might surprise you because it is "none of the above."

Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee Landing
The Old Spanish Trail crossed the river here south of the bridge.
River Road and the Pensacola-St. Augustine Road were both Spanish trails, but the former went north and south while the latter replaced the earlier "Old Spanish Trail" of legend. U.S. 90 was built in the early 20th century and commemorates the original Old Spanish Trail but for the most part does not follow its route. Local records. meanwhile, show that county road called "Old Spanish Trail" was built during the Reconstruction era along the telegraph line that connected Marianna with Chattahoochee and Tallahassee. Its name commemorates the earlier Spanish road, but it does not follow the same route.

Where the Old Spanish Trail crossed the Apalachicola
The "real" Old Spanish Trail can still be traced today, although much of the route cannot be followed by car.

According to the accounts of early Spanish missionaries, soldiers and explorers, they crossed the Apalachicola River between today's Chattahoochee and Sneads by dugout canoe. Their route came down a natural gully cut into the steep bluffs to today's Chattahoochee Landing Park. From there they paddled across to the Jackson County shore at a point just south of today's U.S. 90 Bridge.

The original trail led west through the vast floodplain swamps along a still visible trace below Victory Bridge to the high bluffs south of today's Apalachee Correctional Institution. From the point it intersected with high ground, it turned almost due north and followed the ridge up across U.S. 90 to today's West Bank Overlook Park at the western end of the Jim Woodruff Dam.

Lake Seminole from the site of Mission San Carlos
The Spanish mission of San Carlos (the second of that name) stood on the hilltop here in 1680-1696. At the time of its existence it was the westernmost outpost of the King of Spain in all of Florida. Consisting of a church, a home for its priest and a large village of Catholic Chacato Indians, Mission San Carlos was destroyed by Creek Indian raiders in 1696.

Mission San Carlos is now a stop on the new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail, a 150 mile driving tour that links eleven Spanish colonial sites. A guidebook is available at the historic Russ House and Visitor Center in Marianna and an informational kiosk will be erected soon at West Bank Overlook Park.

Section of original Old Spanish Trail along Reddoch Road
From Mission San Carlos, the trail wound west across the site of present-day Sneads. It ran slightly north of but parallel to U.S. 90 until it reached what is now Providence Church Road. This modern county road follows the route of the "real" Old Spanish Trail northwest to the point where it intersects with State Highway 69 north of Grand Ridge.

From that intersection, the route of the original trail is followed by Reddoch Road (Highway 164-A), a paved county road that leads northwest from Highway 69 to its intersection with Blue Springs Road (Highway 164).

Providence Church Road and Reddoch Road combine to form the single longest stretch of the original Old Spanish Trail that can be driven by car in Jackson County today. The route leads through the beautiful rolling hills north of Grand Ridge and past numerous ponds and small lakes, some of which were described by Spanish explorers.

Old Spanish Trail kiosk at Blue Springs
The trace of the original road is in the background.
Although Reddoch Road intersects with Blue Springs Road today, the original trail continued straight west into Blue Springs Recreational Area where a portion of it can still be seen today.

On the left just past the booth where visitors to the park pay their entrance fees an old road can be seen deeply cut into the hillside overlooking the spring. This is a rare surviving segment of the actual Old Spanish Trail and is now Tour Stop #2 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. A new interpretive kiosk is in place there.

Tour Stop #1 on the driving tour is Blue Springs and another new kiosk has been built overlooking the historic spring.

The Spanish knew Blue Springs by the name "Calistoble." The name is probably a Chacato (not to be confused with Choctaw) Indian word, but its meaning has been lost. They believed the spring to be the main source of the Chipola River, which they labeled as the "Calistoble" on early maps.

Andrew Jackson marker at the Natural Bridge of the Chipola
Florida Caverns State Park
From Blue Springs the trail angled again to the northwest to today's Florida Caverns State Park where it crossed the Chipola River by way of its Natural Bridge. A portion of the road to Blue Hole Spring follows the original route across the Natural Bridge.

The Spanish referred to the vast floodplain swamp of the Chipola River as the "great forest of Chipola." Tradition that the name comes from the Choctaw word for "sweet water" is not correct, as the Indians who lived in the area during the 1600s were Chacato and not Choctaw. Most of the Chacato later merged with the Alabama-Coushatta people who then lived among the Upper Creeks.

The main group of this band now lives in Texas, although some descendants reside in Oklahoma. The exact meaning of the word in their language is not known.

Blue Hole Spring at Florida Caverns State Park
From the Natural Bridge, the Old Spanish Trail followed today's park road to Blue Hole Spring. From there it continued west along a route that can no longer be driven but can still be seen in places.

The original trail passed a large cave several miles northwest of Marianna where the Spanish mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino stood in 1674-1675. This cave has not been identified by archaeologists and could be any one of several near today's intersection of Highway 73 and Union Road.

The Catholic church at San Nicolas was the site of the first Christmas service in what is now Jackson County. Established in 1674 at the Chacato village of Atanchia, the mission only survived for about one year. Spanish accounts indicate it stood at a cave large enough to hold 200 people and inside of which a natural spring or karst window produced a stream of water that flowed from the "living rock."

Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail kiosk in Cottondale
From the long lost mission site, the trail angled to the southwest and crossed at or near what is now Cottondale before continuing on to pass out of the county west of Alford at today's Oak Hill.

A military expedition followed this section of the Old Spanish Trail in 1677 on its way to attack a fort held by Chisca (Yuchi) Indians somewhere in present-day Walton County. The history of that raid is interpreted by Tour Stop #11 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. A new informational kiosk for the stop stands next to U.S. 231 in the parking lot of Cottondale City Hall.

An important part of American history, the Old Spanish Trail is commemorated by U.S. 90 today. Its real path is an important part of the new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. You can learn more about that driving tour at

Be sure to pick up a free guide booklet at the historic Russ House in Marianna and enjoy doing some exploring of your own!


Gavin Hall said...

Dale, quick questions. In what year did the first Spanish settlers set foot in Jackson county along the Old Spanish trail?
Secondly, any more info on the route from Blue Springs to Caverns? Did they travel due NW straight to the Cavern? Crossing through the woods from BS, crossing 71 and going by current Dogwood Heights and new MHS?

Dale Cox said...

Gavin, They first arrived in 1674. The route from Blue Springs to the Natural Bridge was likely the same as shown on very early plat maps which show a trail leading from the spring to the Natural Bridge. It wound a bit as old roads did, but it generally passed to the west northwest through the Dogwood Heights area and into the park at about where the main entrance is today.