Friday, January 27, 2017

Howell's Mills: 1829 mill site on the Chipola River

The Chipola River flows past the site of Howell's Mills.
Joseph H. Howell owned the west or right bank of the river
at this point. Richard Keith Call owned the east or left bank.
The year 1829 was a significant one in the history of Jackson County, Florida.

Marianna was founded that year by Robert and Anna Maria Beveridge, igniting an almost instant political war with nearby Webbville over which town would emerge as the permanent county seat. Webbville in turn announced a sale of town lots to fund the construction of Jackson County's first public school. Dr. H.B. Crews of Webbville fought the first recorded duel in county history against Mr. J.O. Sewall at the Alabama line near present-day Campbellton on July 30, 1829. Please see: A Duel near Campbellton in 1829.

The Florida Territorial Council, meeting in Tallahassee on November 10, approved the construction of a water mill south of Marianna on the Chipola River by Mr. Joseph H. Howell:

Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, That Joseph H. Howell, be, and he is hereby authorised and vested with all the rights and privileges of building a set of mills, gins, or any other machine on the Chipola river in Jackson County, where the same runs thro' section twenty three, in Township four, range ten, north and west, and to use the waters of said river for the use of said mills, or machine, in any way he may think proper. Provided he shall in no case, obstruct the passage and free navigation of said river.

The measure was passed and became effective on November 10, 1829. It was signed by Gov. William P. Duval a short time later.

Paddlers stop to climb a tree at the site of Howell's Mills.
The site selected by Howell for his mills was on the west bank of the river immediately below the mouth of Spring Creek. Thousands of people paddle, boat or tube pass this point annually now, enjoying the scenery and cool water along a particularly beautiful stretch of the Chipola River. Few if any realize that they are passing an important industrial site from Florida's Territorial era.

It is not known how long it took for Joseph Howell to get his mills into operation following the receipt of approval from the Territorial Council. He clearly had activity underway on the site by the end of 1830 when he obtained a patent for 79.68 acres from the Tallahassee Land Office in a cash entry purchase. The parcel made up the West 1/2 of the Southeast 1/4 of Section 23, Township 4 North, Range 10 West.

The other half of the quarter section was claimed on the same date by Richard Keith Call, a noted associate of President Andrew Jackson and future governor of Florida. He was also involved in the simultaneous development of Marianna and his acquisition of land directly across the river from Howell's Mills is a clear indication that he expected them to become a landmark on the Chipola.

Section 23, the site of Howell's Mills, as shown on an 1826
survey plat. Spring Creek enters the Chipola River at upper
right. Bridge Creek flows in at lower right. The mills stood on
the left side of the river near the bottom of Section 23.
The 1830 U.S. Census for Jackson County shows that Joseph Howell was prosperous at the time he developed his mills. His household included four occupants, all over the age of 20, as well as 10 slaves, three of whom were under the age of 10.

The mills probably included a grist mill, sawmill and cotton gin. Timber and cotton were among the county's earliest exports, with Florida newspapers reporting the arrival of cargoes of each from up the Chipola on barges and pole boats. Most Chipola River commerce went to Apalachicola (then called West Point), but some was portaged over from the river into Bear Creek and St. Andrew Bay for transport via the small port that had developed near the site of today's Deer Point Dam.

The Chipola River would continue to be used as a way of moving commerce for more than 100 years, proving the wisdom of the Legislative Council's requirement that Howell's operation not "obstruct the passage and free navigation of said river."

The author paddles down crystal clear Spring Creek on the way
to see the site of Howell's Mills in Jackson County, Florida.
Additional research will be required to learn more about the commercial success and durability of Howell's Mills. Joseph Howell himself never saw his dream realized. The 65-year-old businessman died shortly after receiving title to the land on which the mills stood. The property passed to his son, also named Joseph H. Howell, who by 1841 was living in today's Hillsborough County, Florida. He remained in Hillsborough County for the rest of his life, dying at Plant City in 1862.

The mills no longer stand. A few cut limestone blocks can still be seen beneath the water at the site when the river is clear, silent reminders to one of Jackson County's earliest industries.

To learn more about the early history of Jackson County, please consider my book: The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.

Dale Cox
January 27, 2017

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