Saturday, August 16, 2014

#65 The forgotten Penn-Jarratt Railroad (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

A Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
A long-forgotten railroad that ran up the west side of the Chipola River from Marianna to the Alabama state line is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

Near the western border of Florida Caverns State Park and within sight of Blue Hole Spring, the bed of an abandoned railroad cuts through a limestone outcrop before continuing north out of the park. The story of this railroad was almost completely forgotten, but with help from Sue Tindel and Robert Earl Standland of the office of Jackson County Clerk of Courts Dale Guthrie, Pat Crisp of the Chipola Historical Trust and Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park, the facts can now be brought to light.

Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park points out
old cross-ties in the bed of the Penn-Jarratt Railroad
Lumber was a hot commodity in the United States during the first years of the 20th century. The red cypress and other hardwood trees growing along the upper Chipola River were of enormous value and great profits stood to be made by the company that could fell them and bring them out of the swamps.

A 640 acre tract in Marianna was home to multiple sawmills and lumber operations, among them the Jarratt Lumber Corporation. This firm had come into existence in 1910 when it purchased the assets of clearly related Jarratt Brothers Lumber Company. By 1920 it had merged with another timber interest to become Penn-Jarratt Lumber.

The bed of the railroad cuts through limestone at
Florida Caverns State Park.
The firm leased timber rights to thousands of acres along the Chipola River and employed then revolutionary technologies in its harvesting and milling techniques. Steam-powered skidders were used to drag massive logs of cypress, gum, oak and other hardwoods from the floodplain swamps. These machines replaced the ox carts and manual labor of previous times.

To move the logs to its mills at Marianna, the firm operated a 20-mile long railroad that extended from the L&N (today's CSX) all the way up to the Alabama state line.

Logging railroads were not uncommon in Northwest Florida, but the Jarratt line was unique in that it employed the use of full-size trains instead of the smaller locomotives often used on such lines.

Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
One of its locomotives, for example, was a massive steam-powered Baldwin 4-4-0 purchased from the Alabama, Florida & Gulf  (AF&G) railroad in 1917. That line operated passenger and freight trains that ran from the Dothan vicinity south to Malone and eventually Greenwood.

Jarratt found itself in considerable legal difficulty when the company decided to run its tracks along the rights-of-way of public roads in places.  A court case decided in 1917 that railroads could be held liable for using public roadways and for damage to adjacent properties.

The trains ran on the Jarratt line until around 1932 when the last of the old growth timber had been cleared from the upper Chipola River. The mills closed and the company's property holdings were sold for taxes, a common practice employed by lumber companies in those days to dispose of land once they no longer had use for it.

Section of the railroad bed.
Sections of the old railroad bed are still visible at Florida Caverns State Park and on the adjacent lands of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

The tracks connected with the L&N where Orange Avenue crosses the CSX tracks in Marianna today. From there they ran to the west of the old Marianna High School Campus and followed Carters Mill Road and Fish Hatchery Road into Florida Caverns State Park. A deep section of railroad bed can be seen near Blue Hole Spring adjacent to the equestrian trails in the park.

The tracks crossed through the parking area for the
Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail on Highway 162.
From Florida Caverns, the railroad continued up the west side of the Chipola, crossing Waddell's Mill Creek on a trestle and passing through what is now the parking area for the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail at Highway 162.

The tracks ran from there up the west side of the river and Forks of the Creek all the way to Alabama. Although the rails were removed after the railroad ceased operation, some of the cross-ties can still be seen.

The long forgotten railroad of the Penn-Jarratt Lumber Company is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#66 Marianna's historic L&N Train Station (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

The Vintage Depot now occupies the historic train station.
Marianna's beautiful old train station is #66 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

A symbol of the elegance and style that once symbolized travel by train in America, the historic L&N train station in Marianna has been beautifully restored and today is home to the unique Vintage Depot. It is located on South Caledonia street across from Chipola Apartments and just up the hill from its original location by the tracks.

Unique items for sale fill the interior today.
Despite its antebellum prosperity, Marianna had to wait until after the War Between the States (or Civil War) for the railroad to arrive and connect it to points east and west. There had been many promises and speculations over the years. In 1881, however, Col. W.D. Chipley and Frederick R. De Funiak joined with others to found the P&A Railroad, so named because it would connect Pensacola on the west with the Apalachicola River on the east. The line was incorporated by the Florida Legislature on March 4, 1881.

Unique counter in the depot.
Actual construction of the railroad began on June 1, 1881, by which time most of its stock was owned by the L&N. Twenty-two months later, trains were rolling all the way from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River where the line connected with another railroad built west from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, Quincy and Chattahoochee.

Passenger and freight service from Pensacola to Tallahassee began in May 1883. Along the way, the railroad built platforms and passenger stations for the convenience of its customers. It could carry travelers from Marianna to Pensacola in about 5 hours, a trip that just two years earlier had taken days.

Marianna's historic L&N Depot was one of only two major stations built along the line between Pensacola and the Apalachicola River. The other was in Milton, where the West Florida Railroad Museum is located today.

Inside the depot today.
Built in 1881-1882, the historic station was ready for service by the time the railroad reached Marianna. It was originally located just west of where Caledonia Street intersected with the tracks and was attached to a larger warehouse/storage facility. It served passengers for all of the decades that passenger trains stopped in Marianna.

Cars and planes eventually replaced the trains as a means of public transportation in Northwest Florida and the depot lost much of its original grandeur. In 1979 it was targeted by an arsonist and severely damaged, but thankfully not destroyed.

Two years later the late Floye Brewton purchased the gutted shell of the main depot structure and moved it up the hill to a lot adjacent to today's Wells Fargo Bank. He carefully restored the structure and it has since provided office space for a number of businesses and individuals, including U.S. Rep. Pete Peterson (D, Marianna).

Unique displays in the depot.
The historic L&N train station is now home to the Vintage Depot, a boutique operated by Rhonda Dykes.  Open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, it is preserved in its beautifully restored state.  The shop features vintage and vintage inspired (new) home decor and gift items as well as lines of chalk & clay paint and milkpaint for transforming furniture and other items into artistic decor.

Rhonda also teaches painting workshops to help those with an interest in restoring and transforming furniture and other items using the products from the store. She welcomes visitors who would like to see the beautiful old building and learn more about its history.

The Vintage Depot also carries the complete list of my books.

Visit them online at

Friday, August 8, 2014

#67 A Spanish knight in Jackson County (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Flag of Spain flies over San Marcos de Apalache
St. Marks, Florida
The little known story of a Spanish knight and his exploration of our area is #67 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala was a Knight of the Order of Santiago and newly appointed Governor of Florida when he was ordered to cross the Panhandle  and explore the territory between Pensacola and Mobile Bays. He carried out that exploration 321 years ago in 1693.

If Torres y Ayala's name seems familiar, it may be because he is the featured villain in the video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala
Courtesy Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Entry into the Order of Santiago, which bore the Spanish name for St. James, was highly restricted. A candidate had to prove that he, his parents and his grandparents were of noble blood. Jews, Muslims, converts to Christianity, attorneys, moneylenders, notaries public, retail merchants and those without the wealth to support themselves were barred from membership.

In anticipation of the planting of a new settlement on Pensacola Bay, the King of Spain on June 26, 1692, ordered an exploration of the lands between that point and Mobile Bay. His orders were delivered to Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala in Mexico City on January 12, 1693, by the Viceroy of New Spain.

Sailing aboard a frigate from Havana, Cuba, on May 2, 1693, the governor reached Florida at San Marcos de Apalache (present-day St. Marks) thirteen days later. After making proper arrangements for supply by sea, he marched west from Mission San Luis (present-day Tallahassee) on June 8, 1693. Following him was a force of more than 100 Spanish soldiers and priests.

New Interpretive Station at site of Mission San Carlos
Sneads, Florida
The expedition reached the Apalachicola River at present-day Chattahoochee on the evening of June 9th. Torres y Ayala crossed over that same day with the priests and a small escort. They landed on the Jackson County shore and followed the trail up the hill to Mission San Carlos.

Then the westernmost Spanish outpost in all of Florida, the mission stood on the site of today's Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook at Sneads. Its location is Tour Stop #3 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail and is marked by an interpretive kiosk.

Torres y Ayala remained at Mission San Carlos for two nights as he waited for the rest of his command to cross the river and bring up the horses. He was able to secure the services of five Chacato Indian guides that seemed to have some familiarity with the way to Pensacola Bay.

The governor described his departure from San Carlos in his detailed journal:

Blue Springs in Jackson County, Florida
On the 11th I started northwest, and, after traveling five leagues, pitched camp by an excellent spring which, they told me, flows into the Apalachicola river. These five leagues from the Chacato village to this spring, called Calistobe, are through pine groves, except for some woods around small ponds. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal Entry for June 11, 1693.

 The spring that early Spanish explorers called Calistobe or Calistoble was today's Blue Springs. They believed it was the head of the Chipola River, which they knew flowed into the Apalachicola near the Gulf. It is Tour Stop #1 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The road that the expedition followed from Mission San Carlos to the spring was the original Old Spanish Trail. It followed today's Reddoch Road from State Highway 69 to Blue Springs.A section of the original pathway can still be seen just inside the entrance to Blue Springs Recreational Area and is Tour Stop #2 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail. Free guidebooks to the new 150-mile tour are available at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center in Marianna.  Interpretive kiosks mark each of the stops.

Cross of the Knights of Santiago
The Knight of Santiago and his followers camped at Blue Springs on the night of June 11, 1693. The next morning the resumed their march, following the trail to the northwest and the Natural Bridge of the Chipola in today's Florida Caverns State Park. Torres y Ayala's description indicates that water was high and the Natural Bridge muddy when he arrived:

...In a short distance we ran into considerable difficulty in getting both the horses and the men on foot through because of the many bogs, creeks, and woods; the horses became mired to their cinch straps, and the men on foot to their waists. However, our determination caused bridges and brush roads to be built so that we could keep moving forward on foot, with the unloaded horses falling and getting up again. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The men eventually made it through the mud and bogs, emerging from the swamp near Blue Hole Spring. Because of the use of the Natural Bridge by early explorers, Florida Caverns State Park is Tour Stop #9 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

A Cave in Jackson County
Continuing forward on the Old Spanish Trail, they soon reached a large cave where the lost Spanish mission of San Nicolas de Tolentino had stood 19 years earlier:

...I pitched camp in a cave, a very pleasant spot called San Nicolas, where there was formerly a Chacato village. This cave is formed of calcareous stone and has a very large spring of water; there our entire pack train took shelter after we had traveled five leagues this day. - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entry for June 12, 1693.

The cave where the San Nicolas stood and the governor's command spent the night of June 12, 1693, has never been positively identified. It was likely one of several large caves about three miles northwest of Marianna on private property. An interpretive kiosk stands at the intersection of State Highway 73 and Union Road, which has been designated Tour Stop #10 on the Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail.

The cave where Torres y Ayala camped?
Being a knight of royal blood had its privileges.  Exhausted from the difficult journey, Torres y Ayala decided to rest at the cave for an extra day while sending part of his force ahead under Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda to open a better road.  The Franciscan friar set out on the 13th with 25 men to while the governor remained behind to enjoy cold water and cool temperatures of the cave.

Leaving the San Nicolas cave on the 14th after his day of rest, Torres y Ayala followed the trail blazed by Barreda:

...Then I went four leagues west-northwest through beautiful woods of laurel, live oak, chestnut, oak, sassafras and pine. I spent the night at the same spot where the very reverend father, Friar Rodrigo, and his band has been the night before. On June 15 I continued northwest through a league of pine groves, and then crossed a deep creek.... - Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, Journal entries for June 14-15, 1693.

Pensacola Bay
A Spanish league of that day was a little under three miles. The deep creek that the governor described crossing on June 15, 1693, was Holmes Creek. The exact site where he crossed it and left Jackson County is not known, but based on the direction of his march it may have been the old Marianna ford near today's Tri-County Airport south of Graceville.

Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala eventually reached Pensacola Bay. In doing so he completed the first known crossing of the Florida Panhandle by a European explorer. His march was the last known crossing of Jackson County by a Spanish military force. Mission San Carlos at Sneads was destroyed three years later in an attack by Creek Indians and was never rebuilt.

The real march of this long-forgotten Spanish knight and video game villain more than 300 years ago is #67 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#68 Alamo Cave (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Looking up to the entrance of Alamo Cave
Alamo Cave, now part of Hinson Conservation & Recreation Area in Marianna, is #68 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

When most people think of publicly accessible caves in Jackson County, they rightfully think of Florida Caverns State Park. The development of Hinson Conservation & Recreation area, however, has created another great opportunity to see a beautiful Jackson County cave that is preserved in its natural state.

Entrance to Alamo Cave
Accessible by way of the nature trails that lead north along the Chipola River from the parking area, the cave is large and airy.  Two main entrances provide good lighting for explorers, but flashlights are recommended.

Alamo Cave takes its name from a nearby archaeological site that produced numerous points and other artifacts in the years when the land was still in private hands.  The mass of arrowheads and points found in the field near the cave created a legend that a group of prehistoric American Indians had found themselves trapped in there by their enemies, Alamo style.

Inside Alamo Cave
In reality, the adjacent site is a large Archaic settlement and manufacturing site that dates back to before the time of Christ. Prehistoric people made tools, points and other artifacts there.  Archaeologists from the University of West Florida explored and documented the site this summer, with special permission from the state and City of Marianna.

The archaeological team also found evidence of a small Weeden Island settlement or campsite near the cave. This second site dated back perhaps 1,500 years and was from the Woodland era when prehistoric people made pottery, pursued organized religion and became very aware of astronomy and the movement of the sun and stars.

Chipola River near Alamo Cave
The archaeological sites are protected by law and digging is prohibited!  Please help preserve them for future generations.  Interpretive signs to help visitors learn more are under discussion.

The rear entrance of Alamo Cave opens onto a high bluff overlooking the Chipola River.  The scenery is spectacular and below is a second cave system, the Ovens, which is accessible only by water. The nature trail leads up across the bluff and down to tiny but beautiful Lily Spring on the other side. Click here to learn more about Lily Spring.

Lily Spring at Hinson Conservation & Recreation Area
To see Alamo Cave and some of the most spectacular views anywhere along the Chipola River, stop by Hinson Park & Recreation Area.  The entrance is located on State Highway 73 on the south side of Marianna. From the courthouse, travel south past WTYS Radio and start looking for the sign on your left. If you are using GPS, enter Gator Hole Lane, Marianna, Florida.

The park is open daily and is under the management of the City of Marianna. Among its beautiful features is Alamo Cave, which ranks as #68 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

#69 The Natural Bridge of the Chipola River (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Natural Bridge of the Chipola at Florida Caverns State Park
The fascinating Natural Bridge of the Chipola River is #69 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

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

A prominent but often overlooked geological feature of Florida Caverns State Park, the Natural Bridge of the Chipola is the largest such feature in Jackson County and possibly even all of Northwest Florida. It has served as a place for humans to cross the Chipola River for thousands of years.

The Natural Bridge is created by a deep sink that causes the river's water to swirl down into a series of underground passages. The swift currents and darkness of the natural sink has prevented divers from exploring it to any great extent. It remains as mysterious as it is remarkable.

Another view of the Natural Bridge
After plunging into the sink and flowing through a myriad of underground passages, the river emerges again about 1/4 mile downstream to continue its passage south through Jackson County.

The large number of prehistoric American Indian sites on each side of the Chipola within the park indicates that early human beings likely used the Natural Bridge as a place for crossing over the river. Artifacts found at Florida Caverns by archaeologists demonstrate that the first humans to enter the vicinity were ancient Paleo hunters who came thousands of years ago in pursuit of large animals such as mastodons (giant prehistoric elephant-like creatures).

Every major phase of human occupancy from that time to our own time is represented in the park and each has made use of the Natural Bridge.

Andrew Jackson marker at the Natural Bridge
The first recorded crossings were made by the Spanish, who passed over the bridge in 1674, 1675, 1677 and 1693.  The U.S. army of Major General Andrew Jackson crossed the Natural Bridge during the First Seminole War, its topographer mistakenly describing nearby Blue Hole Spring as the rise of the river from its underground channel.

Early settlers used the old trail over the Natural Bridge to reach the Chipola Settlement communities around Webbville and Baker Creek. The bridge tended to flood during heavy Spring rains, however, so by the mid-1820s the crossing point had been rerouted upstream a short distance to Christoff's Ferry. After Marianna was founded in 1827, the primary road was moved again and a ferry established near the site of today's U.S. 90 bridge.

Canal cut across the bridge during the 1800s.
From around 1820 until after the War Between the States (or Civil War), the Natural Bridge of the Chipola was an important port facility for the farmers and planters in a large area of Jackson County.  Wooden pole boats were used to float cargoes of cotton, timber and other commodities down the Upper Chipola to the bridge.  A warehouse there stored these cargoes until they could be loaded onto barges on the south side of the Natural Bridge for the journey on down the Chipola to the port cities of St. Joseph (today's Port St. Joe) and Apalachicola.

A ditch or canal was cut across the bridge during the 1800s to allow timber to be floated past the natural obstacle. Water continues to flow swiftly through this cut today.

Many visitors to Florida Caverns State Park cross over the Natural Bridge without ever noticing it. The road to Blue Hole Spring passes over it. Just look for the canoe launch area on your right and you will know you are there.  A marker erected by the state stands adjacent to the bridge and details the passage of Andrew Jackson's army.

The Natural Bridge of the Chipola is #69 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.