Sunday, July 27, 2014

#70 Cave Archaeology of Jackson County (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Beautiful cave in Jackson County, Florida
The remarkable archaeology of local caves is #70 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

Archaeologists from the University of West Florida spent this summer pursuing real and intriguing scientific research in Jackson County.  The field school focused on cave sites at Hinson Conservation & Recreation Area, the future Jackson County Greenway and a prehistoric cave site on private property near Marianna.

Learn more by watching this great video from the Florida Public Archaeology Network:

I had a great time getting to know Gregg Harding (featured in the video) and other students and faculty members from the University of West Florida.  They were consummate professionals who came out of a true love for our community and its unique archaeology.

It was particularly rewarding and nice to see how much they enjoyed and respected the people of Jackson County and the high regard with which they held our beautiful places and rich past.

We wrapped up the weeks of Field School with a cookout at Citizens Lodge and an after dark tour of the historic and haunted Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fundraising for Bellamy Bridge footbridges reaches goal!

Bellamy Bridge near Marianna, Florida
The Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is about to take a major step forward!

Located at 4057 Highway 162, Marianna, Florida (between Greenwood and US 231), the one-half mile walking trail provides access to Jackson County's historic Bellamy Bridge. The old steel-frame span across the Chipola River turns 100 years old this year and is the focal point for one of Florida's best known ghost stories.

As of yesterday, the effort to raise $7,500 to fund new footbridges along the trail has reached its goal.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail
The Jackson County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the expenditure of $5,000 by the county's Tourist Development Council to support the project.  The money for the capital/interpretive project comes from the county's hotel or "bed tax," which is paid by visitors who enjoy stays at hotels in Jackson County. NO property tax money is being spent on the project.

The use of "bed tax" funding on the boardwalks also received unanimous approval from the Jackson County Tourist Development Council and matches $2,500 raised locally through donations from citizens and businesses. Most of these donations were small and reflect the wide interest the community has taken in the project.

Flooding in 2013
The construction of the boardwalks, which will cross the sites of two historic wooden bridges that once served as approach structures for the main bridge, will open Bellamy Bridge even during most times of high water. Much of the trail follows an elevated causeway built in the 1870s, but gaps where the two wooden bridges once stood have allowed river flooding to block the trail for months at the time.

All of that will soon change. The construction of the footbridges will allow visitors a high and dry way of reaching Bellamy Bridge except during the highest of floods.

In addition, the new footbridges along with leveling work along the trail will open it for persons of all abilities by making it passable for wheelchairs, powerchairs, etc.

"Orb" at Bellamy Bridge
Notice how it illuminates the ground!
A beloved landmark for generations, Bellamy Bridge may be the "most haunted" bridge in Florida. It is also the oldest. Tragic stories dating back more than 100 years have led to the growth of four different ghost stories in the bridge area, the most famous being the tale of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy. The young woman came from an elite antebellum family. She died in 1837 and alleged sightings of her ghost in the Bellamy Bridge were first reported more than 120 years ago.

The Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail was opened in 2012 as a new and free way for the public to reach the historic bridge. The former access route, via Bellamy Bridge Road, was closed by private landowners. The trail, however, approaches the bridge from the opposite side of the river, is well-marked and features a rock parking area, interpretive panels and benches for resting at key intervals.

The path also passes through one of the most beautiful natural settings in all of Florida.

To learn more about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, please visit

To learn more about the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, please visit

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#71 Ghost Town of Webbville (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Looking down Union Road from the site of Webbville
Webbville, a ghost town and the lost county seat of Jackson County, is #71 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

When Marianna was still just a series of wooded hills, a small town was planted in the wilderness about four miles north of present-day Cottondale. Named Webbville after James S. Webb, an early settler and merchant, the community was the business hub for an area of rich lands called the "Chipola Settlement."

Other early settlers of the Webbville area included William S. Pope, Charles F. Stewart, Thomas Baltzell, Ebenezer J. Bower, Thomas Russ, William J. Watson, Joseph Russ and Lackland McIntosh Stone. These men and their families figured prominently in the histories of Marianna, Sneads, St. Joseph and Apalachicola.

Colonel Stone's well
At some point soon after his arrival during the mid-1820s, Colonel Stone had his slaves begin to dig a well on a hillside east of Webbville. They unexpectedly tapped into a vast network of caves and became so afraid of falling into an unknown abyss that they refused to do more work at the site. Stone had to look elsewhere for water, but his well still remains and is the only known intact trace of the Webbville settlement.

Webbville became the first official town in Jackson County when it was incorporated by the Florida Territorial Legislative Council in January 1827. The move was part of an effort to secure a permanent designation as county seat. Settlers were flooding into Jackson County by the thousands and there was a growing need for a permanent county seat.

Early map showing Webbville, Marianna & Campbellton
Robert and Anna Maria Beveridge, who founded Marianna nine months later in September 1827, had other ideas. They and their investors offered to donate land for a town square and to build a new courthouse and jail at no cost to the taxpayers. The offer ignited a political war between Webbville and Marianna, with the future of the county hanging in the balance.

Marianna scored the first blow by obtaining the designation of County Seat from the Territorial Legislature. Webbville struck back by taking the fight to the U.S. Congress, where a House Committee gave the title to Webbville even though the town stood on 16th Section lands reserved for school purposes. The town dealt with this issue by founding the Webbville Academy, Jackson County's first school. The institution was incorporated by the Legislative Council on December 22, 1827.

19th century ceramic fragment from site of Webbville
Marianna turned back to the Legislative Council and although the territorial legislators could not overrule the U.S. Congress, they did have the power to fine any county official who did not conduct business from the new courthouse in Marianna. Money spoke louder than words and the sheriff, county judge and other local leaders shifted to Marianna, even though Webbville remained the legal county seat of Jackson County.

The battle was far from over. Webbville struck back on February 9, 1832, when the Legislative Council voted to carve off the entire eastern half of Jackson County away as part of a new county. Named Fayette County after the Marquis de Lafayette, the new entity included all of the land between the Chipola and Chattahoochee/Apalachciola Rivers. In Jackson County, the towns of Bascom, Grand Ridge, Greenwood, Malone and Sneads all stand on lands that were once part of Fayette County.  The move was intended to remove Marianna's most vocal supporters in time for a referendum on which town would become the permanent county seat.

Site of Webbville
The move failed, however, because most of the residents of the new Fayette County had no desire to be part of a separate county. They appealed to the Legislative Council for relief and the act establishing Fayette County was repeal. Its lands returned to their original jurisdiction.

Webbville ultimately lost its fight with Marianna, but without really losing it. In the eyes of the U.S. Congress, the town that no longer exists is still the legal county seat of Jackson County. The decision of the Territorial Council to fine public officials that refused to conduct business from the courthouse in Marianna had its desired impact. The courthouse remains there today on the square donated by Robert and Anna Maria Beveridge.

Piece of a broken wine bottle exposed by erosion
As for Webbville, it slowly faded away. The town no longer existed by the time of the War Between the States (or Civil War), but its name was preserved by the plantation of Colonel W.D. Barnes which stood on the site. Union troops raided Barnes' Webbville plantation on their way to the Battle of Marianna, destroying hay, stockpiled corn and other foodstuffs. They also killed livestock, poultry and burnt barns.

The site of Webbville is now just a place where Union Road crosses a hilltop as it leads from State Highway 73 north to County Road 162. To find it, turn from Highway 73 onto Union Road and drive to the top of the hill that you see ahead of you. At that spot you will be sitting in what was the main business district of the Town of Webbville.

Mission San Nicolas interpretive panel
near site of Webbville.
Be sure to stop and read the Interpretive Panel for Mission San Nicolas at the intersection of Highway 73 and Union Road. It is Tour Stop #10 on the new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail, a 150 mile driving tour of eleven Spanish colonial sites in Jackson County.

To learn more about Webbville and the early history of Jackson County, please consider my book:

(Book) The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years

(Kindle E-Book) The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years

It is also available at The Vintage Depot in the restored L&N Train Depot at 2867 Caledonia Street, Marianna, Florida. They are open Monday-Saturday, so drop in for a visit!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail is now complete!

Interpretive Panel at Mission San Carlos site
The new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail is complete!

The trail is a 150-mile driving tour that takes visitors to eleven unique Spanish colonial sites in Jackson County, including the sites of Spanish missions, historic American Indian villages, noted landmarks and a surviving trace of the real Old Spanish Trail. It begins and ends at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center at 4318 Lafayette Street in Marianna.

You can pick up a free guide booklet at the Russ House that features information and photographs of each site, a map of the entire drive and directions to each of its stops. The booklets are available from a display stand on the porch when the visitor center is closed.

Blue Springs in Jackson County, Florida
To give you a brief overview, the driving tour leaves the Russ House and stops first at historic and scenic Blue Springs, the only first magnitude spring in the Chipola River basin and landmark noted in reports and journals by early Spanish explorers. Also at Blue Springs is Tour Stop #2, the Original Old Spanish Trail. An interpretive kiosk points out an original section of the Old Spanish Trail and describes its significance.

Canopy oaks along Reddoch Road
From Blue Springs, the tour follows Reddoch Road to State Highway 69 north of Grand Ridge. This section of modern roadway follows the original trace of the Old Spanish Trail and as you drive beneath its canopy oaks, you will be following a path that Spanish explorers used as early as 1674. From the intersection of Reddoch Road and Highway 69, the trail turns south to Grand Ridge and U.S. 90, today's "new" Old Spanish Trail. It follows U.S. 90 through Sneads to the eastern edge of the county and the Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook on the west bank of Lake Seminole.

View of Mission San Carlos site (bottom) and Lake Seminole
The Overlook is the site of Mission San Carlos, a Spanish mission that served Christian members of the Chatot (or Chacato) tribe from 1680-1696. During these years it was the westernmost Spanish settlement in all of Florida. An interpretive kiosk on the shores of the lake tells the story of the mission and its tragic destruction by Creek Indian raiders in 1696.

The tour then leads back along U.S. 90 to Sneads and up River Road past Three Rivers State Park and through the beautiful Apalachee Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Drivers enjoy stunning views of Lake Seminole and the many waterfowl that flock to the WMA. Picnic areas can be found along the route at Three Rivers, Parramore Landing Park and Buena Vista Landing.

Chattahoochee River at site of Ekanachatte
The next stop is at Neal's Landing Park on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. An interpretive panel here tells the story of Ekanachattee ("Red Ground"), a Creek Indian village established during the 1760s. British soldiers stopped here in 1778 as the American Revolution raged and many of the town's chiefs and warriors volunteered to join the British in their fight against the American colonists in Georgia. Ekanachatte remained an important town during the Second Spanish Era (1783-1821) and was one of the bases of the notorious pirate and adventurer, William Augustus Bowles.

Section of Old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road near Malone
From Neal's Landing the tour takes drivers west along State Highway 2, which follows the general route of the original Pensacola-St. Augustine Road. This early trail was first mapped by a British military expedition in 1778 and is believed to be the trail that famed pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone followed during his long walk across Florida!  An interpretive panel that tells the story of the early road can be found at Veterans Park on State Highway 71 in Malone.

Campbellton Baptist Church
From Malone the drive continues west on State Highway 2 across the Forks of the Creek swamps to Campbellton Baptist Church, the oldest Baptist church in Florida still in continuous use. The existing structure dates to the 1850s and was a landmark of the Civil War's raid on Marianna. It was founded in the 1820s by a congregation that included a number of men and women who came and settled in the Campbellton area in 1819-1820 when Florida was still part of Spain. This Spring Creek settlement grew to become the modern town of Campbellton and an interpretive kiosk on the grounds of the church tells its story. A second historical marker provides details on the history of the church itself.

Heritage Village at Baptist College of Florida
Leaving Campbellton, the tour continues west on State Highway 2 to Graceville and the outstanding Heritage Village on the campus of the Baptist College of Florida. This landmark historic preservation effort features an array of beautifully restored historic structures maintained by the college. Individual structures include churches, homes, a log cabin, a one-room school, a syrup shed and more. The interpretive panel on the grounds tells the story of the Chatot (Chacato) Revolt of 1675, an uprising against the Spanish by part of the Chatot tribe. Led by the old chief Dioscale, Chatot and Chisca warriors drove the Spanish out of Jackson County but in turn were defeated by a Spanish military raid.

Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail
From Graceville the tour follows Highway 2 back to Campbellton and then turns south on U.S. 231. From 231 it turns east on Highway 162 (Jacob Road) and continues on to the next stop, the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail. This interpretive nature trail leads to Florida's oldest and most haunted bridge! The historic bridge, which turns 100 years old this year, stands at the site where it is believed that Spanish explorer Marcos Delgado crossed the Chipola River in 1686. Multiple interpretive panels along the trail detail its history and as you walk its 1/2 mile length you experience a hardwood floodplain forest that has been restored to feature the trees and plants that Spanish explorers found growing in Jackson County during the 1600s.

Tunnel Cave at Florida Caverns State Park
After enjoying the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, you continue east on Highway 162 to the Old U.S. Road which leads south to Caverns Road and Florida Caverns State Park. The park features Florida's only public tour cave and is rich in history. The original Old Spanish Trail crossed the Chipola River via the natural bridge that can still be seen in the park. The Army of Major General Andrew Jackson crossed the river on this geological feature in 1818 as the First Seminole War raged during the Second Spanish Era (1783-1821). The park visitor center features displays on its geology and history.

Mission San Nicolas interpretive panel
From Florida Caverns State Park the trail returns to U.S. 90 at Marianna, continues west through downtown and then turns north on State Highway 73 to the next stop at the intersection of Highway 73 and Union Road. This interpretive kiosk tells the story of Mission San Nicolas, a Spanish church complex established in 1674 at the mouth of a large cave. The precise site has never been found, but it was at one of the numerous caves in this vicinity.

Fernandez de Florencia interpretive panel at Cottondale
From the Mission San Nicolas stop, the trail continues on to U.S. 231 and turns south to Cottondale and the final stop at the parking area behind Cottondale City Hall. This interpretive panel details the 1676 Fernandez de Florencia expedition, a military raid that passed through Jackson County en route to an attack on a Chisca Indian fort in today's Walton or Okaloosa Counties. The expedition passed across the site of Cottondale, following an old trail that led southwest into what is now Washington County.

After enjoying Cottondale, take U.S. 90 east back to Marianna and the end of the tour!  For more information, pick up the new free guide at the historic Russ House and be sure to visit: