I did some exploring and hiking at Econfina Creek Wildlife Management Area which is in Washington County in northern Florida. This area of the state to me still has that “old Florida” feel to it and there is a lot of wilderness areas to experience and naturally with that I wanted to see what history I could discover along the way.
Well one of the areas I found was an old cemetery dating back to the 1800’s called Gainer Cemetery. The cemetery is in decent condition though some of the tombstones are damaged, overall it is a very peaceful and beautiful place in the woods there. I found it off a forest road and learned that there was a homestead nearby at one time as well. It belonged to the Gainer family who had settled here back in those days. There is a fence around the cemetery and it seems to be kept up from time to time. There were some newer tombstones as well which suggests it is still an active cemetery most likely used by descendants of the Gainer family. I truly enjoyed visiting the site and it inspired me to learn as much history as possible on the area.
Here is some interesting history on the area “William Gainer, a surveyor and mathematician, came to the Econfina area in 1824 or 1825 and established his homestead and a large ranch on the west side of Econfina Creek. Gainer had served as a scout and surveyor in the U.S. Army during Andrew Jackson’s 1818 invasion of Florida. It was during his time of service in the U.S. Army in West Florida that Gainer surveyed the Econfina area and determined that he would eventually bring his family back to the area to settle. The Gainer homestead reportedly served as a church and school until both were established within the Econfina community south of the Gainer home place. The Gainer place also served as the area “post office” until the U.S. post office was established in Econfina in 1855. William Gainer patented several tracts of land in the Econfina area beginning in 1837 and is reported to have lived at or near the original Gainer homestead until his death at age 84, in 1870. William Gainer’s son, Thomas Henry, also died in 1870, possibly from long-term complications resulting from wounds received during his service in the Confederate army at the battle of Jonesboro, Georgia, in 1864. The homestead was abandoned soon thereafter. The Gainer Family Cemetery is where William Gainer (1786-1870); his first wife Jane Watts Gainer (1792-1837); his sons William Augustus Gainer (1824-1912), Thomas H. Gainer (1834-1870), and Walter R. Gainer (1836-1920); and Eugenia O. Gainer (1848-1941) were laid to rest.”
This is a neat place to visit at Lake Harney Wilderness Area, where up until the mid-1900’s was the site of Osceola a former sawmill town. There is a historical marker at the parking area that describes the history of the area. I followed some of the trails around to see what I may be able to find and part of one takes you onto the old railroad grade, I followed that to the end where an old bridge once was. Along the way was a kiosk with photos and descriptions about the history of the area. Just down the way from the trailhead along the road is the old vault remains from a town building once there.
In 1916 the Osceola Cypress Company and built a huge sawmill and a complete town in Seminole County known as Osceola. It was near the St. Johns River where part of the Florida East Coast Railway went through and crossed the river. Osceola was around 350 acres with homes, a doctors office, commissary store, school, company office building, boarding house, post office, barber shop, railroad, sawmill and lumber yard. The railroad hauled cypress logs to the mill. In the late 1930’s the Osceola Cypress Company started moving its operations to Port Everglades. In 1940 the last residents of Osceola moved out. During the second Seminole war, in 1837, this was the site of King Philip’s town, a Seminole camp. After the Civil War the area was known as “Cooks Ferry” until the Florida East Coast Railroad Company bridged the river in 1911.
It is a nice preserve to explore where you can take in some of the history and scenic wilderness along the St. Johns River. One of the trails leads to a nice observation tower where you can experience stunning views of the St. Johns River Floodplain. Check out some of the photos, video and links for more information.
Located in Hernando County was once the boom town of Centralia during the early 1900’s. The town was mainly based around the logging industry and had one of the largest sawmills in the south at the time. Many towns were established from the logging and turpentine industries which were very big during this time. This area was surrounded by old and large Cypress trees that were very valuable to the logging industry so nearly all of them were cut down and that is when the town began to vanish. In fact many of these towns would disappear after these resources were used up.
The town had a population of around 2,000 people. There was a boarding house, a hotel, restaurant, drug store, church, school and even a movie house. A railroad line went into town for hauling lumber and delivering supplies. The town existed from around 1910 through 1922 and today only traces of the town remain. Nature is reclaiming the site and is now protected and part of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. Check out my videos, photos and links below for more historical information.
I explored some areas at Econfina Creek Water Management Area located in Washington County. There are many scenic places along with some interesting history as well. One of the areas I visited was a spring located off of Econfina Creek known as Williford Spring. The entrance is just off of a forest road there with a parking area and boardwalk trails that lead to the spring. You can also check out the creek and a trail that leads to nearby Pitt Spring.
Along the boardwalk are some nice interpretive signs describing about the spring and the history of the area ~ “During the 1800’s William Gainer and his family moved from Augusta, Georgia to this area near the spring. He first visited this spring in 1818 when he was a scout for Andrew Jackson who lead an army of 1,100 men through this area on their way to capture Pensacola from the Spanish. Gainer was a mathematician and surveyor and eventually moved here around 1824. His family used the spring as a source of drinking water and for cold storage for their food. William Gainer died in 1870 but left a lasting legacy here as he helped start the local public school system and served the county as a surveyor. The largest spring on the creek known as Gainer Spring is named after him.”