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.

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