Ocala National Forest has a rich history, it is a beautiful and vast place to explore. One of my favorite places there is along the Ocklawaha River where an old steamboat landing existed in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The area today is known as Historical Davenport Landing it was just one of many stops along this river back in those times.
In those days there weren’t many other ways for people to get from town to town so traveling by steamboat was a main form of transportation. Along this river were lots of small towns. Lumber and various goods were also traded and transported along the river. It was vital to the economy and livelihood in these places.
Long before this time dating back thousands of years Native American Indians inhabited these areas along the Ocklawaha River. Evidence of that can be seen at the landing where an ancient burial mound is located, it dates back to 500-1200 years. There is a fence around the site today helping to keep it protected, a lot of the mound was excavated during the 1800’s. Digging into the mound and removing artifacts is prohibited and illegal so please be respectful of the history here when visiting. It is best to observe the mound from outside of the barrier, there is a nice kiosk there describing some the history of the mound and the landing.
There are a couple of short trails from the parking area leading to the landing area and it’s a scenic place in this forest with amazing views of the river. It is a place of beauty and history that hopefully can be cherished by generations to come.
Exploring in the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve near Cow House Creek I followed what appears to be an old railroad grade or logging tram. It is listed on a map from 1934 as “Gordon Grade” and it crossed over Cow House Creek. I could see part of the grade still elevated by one of the trails there in the woods so I followed it as far as I could to the creek where some of the pilings still remain from a bridge that once crossed there. I am not sure what the grade was used for, perhaps for logging at one time. It does seem to connect all the way up to the Morris Bridge area where the Hillsborough River is and there was an old road that was used during the 1800’s in that section. I did find some aerial photos from the 1930’s that show it there and back then the area was mostly ranches and orange groves.
Exploring the tram was really nice because nature has reclaimed much of the area today and leads you along some really beautiful cypress swamps. I have visited the area a couple of times now and just enjoy being down there by the creek, you can get a real sense of the history there. It is a wild and beautiful place that still remains in an area that is constantly under threat of development. I could see remains from some of the old ranches in the area as I made my way towards the grade. Down by the creek I observed several wood pilings from a bridge that once crossed there, though the bridge is long gone it is still neat to see these remains. Along the way I could see some railroad ties embedded into the ground near the grade as well. Eventually I would like to explore the wilderness on the other side of the grade across the creek.
Below I posted some photos, a video and old maps of the area. I will post more on these areas as I explore more of the wilderness here in time.
This is an interesting site I explored in Alachua County known as Caraway Cemetery. It is most likely that this cemetery belonged to the family long ago dating back to the early to mid-1900’s. They would’ve had a homestead near the cemetery as most families did back in those times. Today the area is part of Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area and is popular for hunting, fishing and hiking.
Roaming around the site I could see an old path in the woods that goes by the cemetery it was once an old road that was used to reach the cemetery and possibly the homestead as well. It is a very scenic and peaceful place and you can get a sense of the history as you explore these woods. Nearby on Lochloosa Lake the family had a fish camp from what I know.
Around the cemetery is part of an old fence that was once stood but most of that is gone but there was some caution tape around the perimeter of the site so it’s possible that a new fence is being installed but am not sure. It would be nice to see that and maybe some maintenance on the tombstones as well. The more we can preserve and save these places of history the better so that future generations could experience and learn about these places. In total I count about five headstones but there could be more folks buried here just not sure. Below I put a link to the burial records, my video and some photos as well. If you do visit this and any other site like it please be respectful and leave these places undisturbed.
This is known as the Thomas C. Fillyaw gravesite in Ocala National Forest. He was a Confederate Soldier and lived near and managed a steamboat landing here after the Civil War. (Thomas C. Fillyaw, CPL 10th Btn GA Inf CSA May 1830-Dec. 8, 1873 Buried here by his son T.T. Fillyaw).
After posting some photos and videos I got a letter from one of the family members regarding some of the history here. It turns out that some of the relatives make a trip out here when possible to help keep the site maintained. I am sure the forestry service helps out as well. The cemetery is nestled in the woods along the banks of the Ocklawaha River. It is a very peaceful and scenic resting place, and a reminder of some of the fascinating history here. I imagine the area hasn’t changed all that much since the time of his death. I hope the site remains undisturbed so that many more generations in the future can learn about the history here as well and that he will always be remembered in time.
This is some information that was sent to me from one of the relatives:
“My father placed the barrier around the grave to keep the dirt bikes off of it. My family has visited for many years and I have many fond memories of the project my dad undertook in building and installing the barrier. The story I was told is that Thomas was wounded in the war and never fully recovered. His wife was an Indian from some non local tribe and she was killed by local indians for being from the wrong tribe. Not sure how true the story is as I have found no way to confirm but that is what my family always said. His teenage son and young daughter buried him there where his grave is… I can’t remember now if that’s all the kids there was or not, but the teenage son was the oldest of ’em and after they buried their father, they took off on foot and walked all the way to somewhere in Georgia to live with an Aunt & Uncle they had there.”
One of my favorite places to explore is Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area. It is a vast and scenic wilderness with many layers of history throughout. The preserve borders the St. Johns River which has a rich Native American Indian history and many Indian Mounds were documented around the area. In later times during the early 1900’s it was part of a hunting game preserve purchased by several families.
It was during this time period when the cabin was built by the Bumby family along with the Kincaids and Edward Fishbacks. The area was known as Tosohatchee Camp or the (Bumby Camp) and the families were very generous about letting Boy Scouts, church and civic organizations use the camp for picnics. It was a place where many memories were made over the years. Where folks hunted and fished while taking in the serene surroundings of the woods.
Eventually in the late 1900’s the land was sold to the State of Florida and the original shareholders of the Tosohatchee Game Preserve were happy because the state would preserve and protect this pristine wilderness. Today the area is known as Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area and is enjoyed by the public. It is a popular place for many recreational activities including hiking, hunting and fishing.
As far as the old cabin only the chimney remains and some other remnants scattered about but it is nice reminder of the history here. It is my hope that this history will remain undisturbed for generations to come so that others can learn about it and take in the past along with the beautiful nature that this place has to offer.
Check out the videos and photos posted below for a look around and the links as well to learn more about this amazing place.
One of my favorite areas at Goethe State Forest is where an old cypress tree still stands known as Goethe Giant. There is a trail and boardwalk that leads you to this majestic tree that is estimated to be over 900 years old.
During the 1800’s and early 1900’s many of these cypress trees were cut down during the logging booms because this type of wood is so valuable and for its durability. The Florida wilderness was once covered with these old trees, many dating back 1,000’s of years. Some still remain today but can be difficult to find, but others like this one are nicely preserved along a trail where you can visit and experience this beautiful tree.
Check out my video and photos below to get a glimpse of this tree, the forestry website link posted also has a map indicating where the tree is along the Big Cypress Boardwalk Trail. There is a forest road you can access there which takes you to the trailhead.
I explored this area recently known as Devils Hammock Wildlife Management Area located in Levy County. I had been here several years ago but never got the chance to really look around like I wanted to. So I took my video camera and geared up for a hike in this preserve to check it out again to see what I could find.
I am really glad that I did because this time I found one of the most interesting trees I’ve ever seen while exploring the wilderness. It is a very large and old oak tree located in the woods here off one of the trails. In fact there is a sign at one of the trailheads indicating that there is a champion tree here. I can’t say for sure how old it is but from the looks of it this majestic tree has been here for a long time and has stood the test of time.
The trunk and base of the tree are very large, especially when you stand up next to it you get a true sense of it’s size. I imagine that the tree could be several hundred years old, though not sure exactly what kind of oak it is. The area is surrounded by swamps and hardwood hammocks and the forest has an ancient feel to it. It is a very scenic wilderness with lots of different wildlife and habitats.
I would say the best time to visit this place would be in the cooler and drier months you just have to check the hunting dates since it is a very popular destination for hunting. While making this video it was a challenge because it was during the summer when there was more water in the swamps and lots of mosquitos following me the entire hike. Although over the years of exploring I have learned to endure these types of challenges in the wilderness but it isn’t for everyone.
It is a rare treat to see these old trees still standing in Florida’s wilderness since many were cut down and logged out long ago. So when I do find one I truly value the experience. Check out my video and photos below to see this beautiful tree. I also posted links to where you can find more information on this preserve. To find this tree you’ll need to enter at the Parker Field entrance but there are plenty of other areas to explore here as well.
This is an old African-American cemetery that I explored in the backwoods of Alachua County. Many of these cemeteries around the state are becoming lost to time and neglect so I am trying to explore and document them as I can. This particular one may be kept up from time to time from the looks of it and there was even a newer tombstone at one of the plots which dates to the 1970’s. The cemetery itself dates back to the early 1900’s. Back then the area looked very different than it does today.
There was once a town here called Coleman at one time. It was a town founded right after the Civil War by recently freed slaves. The town had a church, stores and houses in the small community but it did not survive as later generations moved away.
Though not much remains of the town other than just this cemetery from what I could see, this site is a still a nice reminder of times gone by and the people who lived here. It is important that we remember them and their history. It is my hope that future generations will learn about these places, visit them and also help keep the history alive.
Over the years I have been exploring the woods of Goethe State Forest located in Levy County. There is a rich history here along with a scenic wilderness to roam. I always seem to find something new there when I visit, everything from old homestead sites, to railroad history and even an old gravesite. Recently I have been discovering a lot of turpentine history here.
Over a hundred years ago there were turpentine operations in this area. It was once Florida’s largest industry and was a driving force behind the development of many towns and cities in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Turpentine was a ubiquitous ingredient in American household products including paints, medicines, soaps, lamp oil, ink, lubricants, hair spray, and cosmetics, just to name a few. Pine trees would be tapped for sap and resin which was used in the production of making turpentine. The camps were known as Naval stores and were typically near pine plantations.
Some of the evidence I have seen in this forest has been remains of Herty cups which were used to collect the resin and would be attached to the Pine trees with a metal gutter system. I could see many of these trees scattered throughout the wilderness here still standing with markings known as catfaces and the metal gutters attached. The term “catface” refers specifically to the scars left behind by the extraction of sap or resin from pine trees.
I will continue to explore this forest for more turpentine and other history as it one of my favorite places, it is like being transported back to another time when you can see history like this, many know it as the old Florida. As always I leave all artifacts as they are for future generations to explore and learn about, but it is also prohibited and illegal to remove artifacts from public and state lands in Florida. So please be respectful and take nothing but photos and videos when finding such sites. Remember once it’s gone, it is gone forever. Check out the photos, videos and links below to learn more, enjoy!
This paved trail in Hillsborough County known as the Upper Tampa Bay Trail was once a railroad line. Today it is used for recreational purposes and is a rails-to-trail. In fact it is one of my favorite places to go for runs from time to time. Many use this trail daily and it extends for many miles throughout the county, but I often wonder how many know the history behind the trail. One of the great things is near this section of the trail is an interpretive sign that describes some of the history.
W.P. Lutz, a railroad engineer and Odessa sawmill owner, engineered the Tampa Gulf Coast Railway which connected Odessa to the Tampa Northern Railroad in 1909. Sawmills began laying narrow-gauge tracks throughout the region in 1910 to have access to virgin timber. In 1913, a spur was built to Tarpon Junction, located at present day Wilsky Boulevard and Linebaugh Avenue where the Rocky Creek portion of the trail is today.
There was a railroad trestle that crossed over Rocky Creek at this location and since has been modified for the recreational trail. So the remains of it are still there but a boardwalk crosses over it now but if you look down by the creek under the bridge you can see the original supports still there that were used for the trestle.
This was a really neat exploration I did in Citrus County where some of the old phosphate mining took place back in the 1800’s. Phosphate was and still is a big industry throughout Florida and is used for many purposes. This particular mine was located near the towns of Dunnellon and Hernando, it was near an old railroad line which linked many of these mines long ago. Today the railroad is part of the Withlacoochee State Trail.
A subdivision surrounds the old mine today and nature has reclaimed the area but some traces of the past could still be seen as I roamed around there. Some of this history I found on the area: In 1889 the Dunnellon Phosphate Company purchased 70,000 acres in Marion, Citrus, and Hernando Counties. Mining Operations began early the next year, By 1909 there were 34 mines in operation in Citrus County. Mining operations ceased around the time of World War I in the early 1900’s.
Over the years I have been researching some of the fascinating history within the Ocala National Forest. Besides the vast scenic wilderness and trails that you can enjoy there, the forest has a rich historical past. Everything from turpentine camps, to old homestead sites, cemeteries, Civil War history and Native American History as well.
One of my main goals recently has been to track down as many Native American Indian Mounds there as possible. It is challenging because for the most part the majority of them aren’t generally accessible to the public as far hiking to them and some are only reachable by boat. Although there are a few I have visited located along trails and forest roads that are very interesting to see such as Davenport Mound and Tishler Mound.
One of them I managed to reach was near the Ocklawaha River tucked away deep in the woods there so hiking to it was a bit of a challenge since no trail really leads to it. Maps I have studied show an old jeep trail in the area but today is overgrown and very hard to see. Most of the way I had to bushwhack and navigate my way through thick vegetation to reach the site. After a few miles I ended up at the mound which I believe to be an old burial mound. There could’ve been a village site here at one time as well. The area opens up at the site and you can see the slope of the mound and large it must’ve been at one time but a lot of it is covered up by vegetation today. The mound is right along the shoreline where the natives typically lived and hunted. The history of native cultures here date back 12,000 years. I am not sure how old this mound is but it may be at least 500 years old.
As always I left the site undisturbed and took only photos and videos, it is amazing to be in the presence of such history and you can get a sense of how life must have been back then. Check out my video below for a tour of the site.
*When visiting sites such as these please remember it is prohibited and unlawful to dig into the mounds and or remove artifacts. Leave them as you see them for future generations to discover and learn about, thank you!