Saturday, January 3, 2015

#55 Original Weeki Wachee was in Jackson County? (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs in 1969
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
When the words Weeki Wachee are mentioned, images usually come to mind of crystal clear waters and Florida mermaids. Weeki Wachee Springs is now a state park in Hernando County and the attraction's famed mermaid shows remain popular with visitors.

You might not know, however, that the first documented use of the words Weeki Wachee in Florida applied not to the South Florida park, but to the creek that now forms part of the western border of Jackson County. Now known as Holmes Creek, the original Weeki Wachee is #55 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Rising just north of the Alabama line, Holmes Creek flows in a southwesterly direction from its source until it merges with the Choctawhatchee River in Washington County. Its upper course forms the dividing line between Jackson and Holmes Counties.

The stream has been there for thousands of years and provided a route of transportation and source of food for early American Indians. The Chacato Indians lived in the area delineated by the Chipola River to the east and Holmes Creek to the west when Spanish explorers first reached the area in 1674. They fished in the creek and hunted for food along its banks.

Holmes Creek
The oldest known mention of Holmes Creek appears in the account of Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda, a Franciscan missionary who passed through Jackson County more than 300 years ago in 1693. Writing of the expedition of Spanish Governor Don Laureano de Torres y Ayala, on which he took part, Barreda described his arrival at the creek:

...On the 14th [i.e. June 1693] I resumed the march northwest, and, after traveling a little more than a league through pine woods, I came to a creek. To facilitate crossing this stream, it was necessary to break down a good deal of underbrush.... 

A reading of Barreda's full journal reveals that this unnamed creek could only have been the stream we know today as Holmes Creek.

Section of Purcell-Stuart Map of 1778
"Weekaywee Hatchee" is in the right 1/3 of the image.
The next detailed document mentioning the creek was written 85 years later during the American Revolution. The colonies of East and West Florida, then possessed by Great Britain, had remained loyal to King George III despite the rebellion staged by the 13 colonies to the north. American Patriots invaded East Florida in 1778 hoping to capture St. Augustine. Military commanders there called for reinforcements from Pensacola an expedition set out from the latter city.

The British crossed into Jackson County along the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road, a trading path that followed the general route of today's State Road 2. Mapmaker and surveyor Joseph Purcell accompanied the expedition, preparing a detailed map of the road and keeping an itinerary as the party advanced.

Reaching the northwestern corner of what is now Jackson County, Purcell related that the party forded a stream that he called the "Weekaywee Hatchee" or "Spring Creek." His map and itinerary make clear that this was today's Holmes Creek.

Holmes or "Week-hay-wee" Creek on the Vignoles map of 1823.
Purcell was correct in his translation as Weekaywee (or wekiwa) means "spring" or "springs" in the Hitchiti language of the Lower Creeks. Hatchee means "creek" or "river" in the same language. The modern name Weeki Wachee is a corruption of this old Hitchiti term and when the words Weekaywee Hatchee are pronounced aloud the resemblance is easy to hear.

Although the lower end of the creek was sometimes called the Okchoyee ("Little Okchoy") in those days, the upper part bordering was still called Wekiwa Hatchee (or "Weeki Wachi") as late as 1822 when Jackson County was formed by the Florida Territorial Legislative Council. The Vignoles map drawn the following year shows it as the "Week-kay-wee."

Holmes Creek
The name Holmes Creek came into use at around that time as documents from the mid- and late 1820s use the modern name. The origin of the present name is subject to debate. Old tradition in Washington County holds that it honors the Red Stick Creek chief Holms who battled Andrew Jackson during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. This is certainly possible, although documents from the mid-1820s note that a "Dr. Holmes" was living near the creek at that time and could also have been the namesake for the stream.

The memory of Florida's original Weeki Wachee has long since faded away, but the name lives on at Hernando County's beautiful and fun playground of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

To see more from my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida, please visit:

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