Croom Ghost Town in Withlacoochee State Forest

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Old Railroad Grade at Croom

For years I have been exploring the various sections of Withlacoochee State Forest, with so many places to roam and history to experience I find myself returning time and time again. Recently I have been focusing on documenting various ghost towns around Florida and there were several located within the Withlacoochee State Forest. So I decided to do some more research and get out into the woods to find some more evidence from these past towns.

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Old Map of Croom

One of the towns I have explored there is part of the Croom Tract in Hernando County. Back in the late 1800’s the area was known as Croom. I have seen a few other names on maps in the same area as well such as Pembleton Ferry and Fitzgerald. I learned that Pembleton Ferry was a place where wagons and buggies crossed the Withlacoochee River using a ferry. In those days that was the only way across the river here. I imagine families settled, farmed the land and traded with each other helping to build a small community.

Around the 1890’s part of the Florida Southern Railroad came through here, later becoming the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Industries such as logging, mining and turpentine sprung up around the railroad and the town soon became known as Croom. Like most old Florida towns once all the resources were used up, these companies moved on and the towns would soon vanish. Today nature has reclaimed most of the area.

One of the first areas I looked for was the old railroad line, most of the activity and town would be around that area. Today some of the line is part of the Withlacoochee State Trail, a paved bicycle path. Exploring deeper into the woods there I followed the railroad line to where it crossed the Withlacoochee River. There I could see some of the old rails laying on the ground, trees have grown around some of them. You can see the raised railroad bed where it connected with a trestle that once crossed the river, the trestle is no longer there. When the water levels are down you can see part of the wood pilings. Just across the way is Hog Island where another bridge used to cross it was known as Iron Bridge.

I continued on to where the old turpentine camp used to be. It must have been a large operation, around the site I could still see remnants from the past. Bricks and old metal scattered around the area, large clearings where buildings used to be and some turpentine artifacts could be seen. I followed many of the old roads around the turpentine camp and discovered an old cistern in the ground most likely used to store water.

You can get a real sense of the history in this place, it makes you want to learn more and see what else could be there. I will continue to explore it that is for sure as I always enjoy hiking this part of the forest and seeing what still remains from the past. Deeper into the wilderness here is some of the old mining history I will cover that in another posting. This tract is very popular for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Be sure to check out the links and my videos to learn more about this place. As always I leave all artifacts where I see them and take nothing but photos and videos. When visiting this or other places like this please be respectful and leave all history as you see it, thank you and enjoy the adventure!

My Videos

Croom Ghost Town (Part One)

Croom Ghost Town (Part Two)

Resources

Withlacoochee State Forest

Croom Ghost Town

History Hikers – Croom/Oriole

Hernando County History

Hernando History FLGenWeb

Old Turpentine Camp at Tiger Bay State Forest

I really enjoy exploring at Tiger Bay State forest in Volusia County, there are many scenic areas to roam along with some interesting history to experience. Some of the history of the area includes logging and turpentine. During the early 1900’s there was a turpentine camp here operated by The Consolidated Tomoka Land Company known as Buncombe Hill/Stillman Turpentine Camp. There is a trail there today called the Buncombe trail so that is a good indicator as to where some of the camp may have been.

As I explored around throughout the wilderness I could see bricks, which may have been remains from some of the structures at the camp. Herty cups could be seen which were used to collect the pine resin for turpentine production. One of the areas I could see remains from a building. I still haven’t seen any catface markings on trees but most of the original pine trees that were used are long gone so those are harder to find here. So far I am unable to find much history on this turpentine camp or old photos. I am sure many people worked here but it seems to have been a large operation. Roaming around the woods here you can’t help but feel the history and I imagine more could be seen. It is a large area to cover so I am looking forward to more explorations here.

My Video

Old Turpentine Camp at Tiger Bay State Forest

Resources

Tiger Bay State Forest

Turpentine History in North Florida

Out in the Boonies – Tiger Bay State Forest

 

Brewster Ghost Town in Polk County

Brewster Ghost Town in Polk County

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Phosphate Towns in Polk County

In this area of Polk County many towns sprung up from the phosphate industry. It is also known as “Bone Valley” because of all the fossils that have been found throughout this part of central Florida.

Bone Valley is a window to Florida’s prehistoric past, when massive sharks and whales inhabited the waters, along with land animals like the three-toed horse and giant sloth millions of years ago. Florida’s phosphate rock reserves likely formed when dissolved phosphorous solidified and combined with sea life remains.

Phosphate became and still is a very big industry in Florida. The largest phosphate deposits are found in the Bone Valley in Central Florida.  These deposits formed 10 to 15 million years ago during the late Miocene or Pliocene ages. Florida has an estimated 80 percent of the United States’ phosphate deposits.  In the late 1800s, the state experienced a phosphate rush similar to California’s gold rush.

Phosphate is used for fertilizer, it is also an ingredient in many other everyday products such as soft drinks, food preservatives, household cleaning products, toothpaste and animal feed.

One of the early phosphate towns was known as Brewster, today driving through the area you may never know that it existed as most of it is gone. The tall small stack can still be seen from a distance, it was part of the power plant and was one of the first buildings constructed there. It was largely a company town that was established around 1910 and was closed down in the early 1960’s. The town had its own schools, movie theatre, medical clinic, and post office. A railroad line went through the town as well.

Today the land is owned by The Mosaic Company and where the town once stood is mostly open fields except for the smoke stack and power plant ruins. Relics from the past that still remain as a reminder of history and is just one of the industries that many of the old Florida towns thrived on.

If you visit the area be sure to stop by at the Mulberry Phosphate Museum.

Old Photos

 

Photos

 

My Video

Brewster Ghost Town in Polk County

Resources

Mulberry Phosphate Museum

Brewster Ghost Town by Mike Woodfin

Phosphate and How Florida Was Formed

About Bone Valley

Fossils in Florida

Bone Valley Wikipedia

Florida State Archives

 

Markham Ghost Town in Seminole County

Markham Ghost Town in Seminole County

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Old Logging Tram

I’ve been exploring sections of this area known as Markham Woods in Seminole County where the old town of Markham was. Markham was founded around 1875 by William Markhamand it was a turpentine and sawmill town. Many small towns in Florida during this time were based around these industries. In some places I could see old bricks left from structures once there and also some Herty cups and catface trees from the turpentine industry.  I saw part of a metal structure as well but may be from a later time after the town, there are many layers of history here. There is a historical marker at the trailhead that describes the history:

“The pine flat woods that dominated the landscape provided economic activity of the residents of the Markham area. The land was purchased by William Markham in 1875 and a vibrant African-American community developed the lumber, turpentine and agricultural activities here in the 1880’s and early 1900’s after construction of the Sanford and Lake Eustis Railway. Lumber activities operating in theMarkham area over the years included the Overstreet Turpentine Company, the Spencer Sawmill, the Zachary Lumber Company and Wilson Cypress Company. The planks and timbers used to build the first bridge over the Wekiva River were milled at Markham, while the Wekiva’s basswood trees were cut to make cigar boxes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church was the center of this African-American community and the hub of religious, educational, political and community activities. The church provided a safe place to assemble freely to worship, discuss, learn and socialize. The church was also used for the school where members educated their children with ideals and values. The Pinnie Ridge (Grove) Cemetery, commonly called the “Piney Woods Cemetery” was next to the church. The wooden grave markers have disappeared. The Markham people build railroads, produced lumber and turpentine, grew citrus and worked the land. Markham and its surrounding area attracted not only a labor pool, but also permanent settlers who bought their own land, built homes and farmed. They worked hard, educated their children, and survived many hardships with dignity.”

Exploring here you can find the old logging roads that were once used and the railroad line as well. Although much may not remain at some of these places just being there can take you back to another time. Much of the area has been reclaimed by nature but you can imagine how it once was. I am looking forward to my next exploration here to see what else may be there.

Videos

Markham Ghost Town

Turpentine History at Markham

Old Truck in Markham Woods

Resources

Markham Historical Marker

Markham Woods Tract

Catface Trees and Turpentine Industry

Saga of The Turpentiners

 

Old Windmill at Charles H. Bronson State Forest

Old Windmill at Charles H. Bronson State Forest

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Windmill

One of my favorite places to roam in Florida is at Charles H. Bronson State Forest. I always get that “old Florida” feel when I am exploring there.  The area was once used for ranching and some of that history can still be seen throughout the area. It is a large forest with many trails, wooded areas and open pasture areas. It is also near the St. Johns River and the floodplains. It is a place of beauty with many layers of history.

A really neat relic from the past here is an old windmill that even still works. It is amazing to see it in action as the winds blow through the pasture lands. It pumps water from underground into a vat that cattle still use today for drinking water. The windmill was made by the Aermotor Windmill Company and it may date back to the early or mid-1900’s.

There are more windmills out here but this is the only intact one that I have found, I hope that it can remain that way for a long time to come. I can imagine future generations seeing it here still working, a reminder of old Florida…

My Video

Old Windmill at Charles H. Bronson State Forest

Resources

Charles H. Bronson State Forest

Out in The Boonies – Charles H. Bronson State Forest

Charles H. Bronson Wildlife Management Area

Aermotor Windmill Company

Mound History on The St. Johns River (Indian Field Grove)

Mound History on The St. Johns River (Indian Field Grove)

I have been exploring some Native American Indian Mounds along the St. Johns River, most of them have been Shell Midden Mounds. The journey has been great and I continue to be amazed at some of the history that I am learning. The Timucuan Indians inhabited the areas going back at least 500 years, but natives long before that so it can be a very complex history to learn about. The shell middens were built up by discarded shells, bones, pottery and other debris left behind over long periods of time. It is truly fascinating to still see evidence from the past at these places and walk in the footsteps of these ancient people.  After them these were mounds were continued to be used by land owners, because of the higher ground they would build homesteads on them.

One mound in particular that I explored near the St. Johns River had an old orchard and ruins from some structures on it including remains from an old boat dock. I learned more about the history of the place and Samuel J. Norton use to own the land here in the early 1900’s. An old newspaper article published in 1921 describes the place. Here is part of it, I will post a photo of the original article below.

“ Mr. Norton’s country place is rare among the estates in the South for combining magnificent orange, fig and banana culture with exhilarating sports afforded by a well stocked game preserve, and the numerous lakes and sloughs of the St. John River which lie close at hand and which offer a Paradise for the hunter and fisher. Its desirability either for pleasure or profit or both is unquestioned, and the beauty of its orange palms and live groves, its sparking waters and wonderful Indian mound, present a picture in the mind of the beholder that will never be forgotten.”

Indian Field

1921 Article

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1920 Survey Map Illustrating The Grove and Dock on The Mound

My Videos

Exploring at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Dock Pilings at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Indian Mound at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

 

Resources

St. Johns River Mound History

Out in The Boonies – Boonieman

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Pennsylvania Club Ruins at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Pennsylvania Club Ruins at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Exploring at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area I discovered some interesting ruins that were once part of the Pennsylvania Club in the early 1900’s. It was an old hotel and clubhouse that is all I know so far from a publication that I found from 1914. Near Ellis Lake behind the site was a park known as clubhouse park, the path lead to a dock. Many of the old roads that were used are overgrown paths today and it is neat to wander around them and imagine the past. I came across some foundations, mostly concrete pillars and many of them. These were used to support the structure, it was a large building so there were a lot of pillars to support the structure. I could see where the fireplace used to be and some old bricks as well. The building is gone but these foundations are a reminder of the history here. I enjoyed seeing them and learning what I can about the place. I liked following the paths down towards Ellis Lake it is very scenic throughout the area. I looked for the pilings from the old dock down there but didn’t see them this time.

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Pennslyvania Club 1914

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Club House Park 1914

Another bonus was seeing a Bald Eagle nest on one of the trails, it has been there for generations. I could hear a lot of wildlife in the forest and the wilderness is alive here and it was an amazing experience to explore it. I look forward to returning for more adventures in the future.

My Videos

Old Pennsylvania Club Ruins at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Exploring by Ellis Lake at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Bald Eagle Nest at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Resources

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Out In The Boonies – Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Indian River Section 1914 Publication