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

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

 

Oriole Ghost Town in Withlacoochee State Forest

Oriole Ghost Town in Withlacoochee State Forest

dsc05148One of the first ghost towns I began exploring was called Oriole located in Hernando County. Today the site is apart of the Withlacoochee State Forest and it has always intrigued me. Finding it inspired me to uncover other places like this across Florida and so far I have been on an amazing journey of history. Initially I discovered the cemetery in the woods there but overtime have found other remains from the town though not much is left. That said, some reminders of the past can still be seen throughout the area.

The first post office in Oriole was established in 1884, records indicated that it was founded by J.A. Clarkson Jr. Before the town was established families had been settling in the area during the 1800’s. They built farms and had orange groves and traded amongst each other. Over time a small community began to grow and people used to take a ferry across the Withlacoochee River to reach the area before the railroad came through. Around the time the town was established the railroad line reached the town bringing more growth to the area. Phosphate mining was a booming industry, the Oriole mining company received a permit around 1890 and operated up until around 1912-1915.

Most of the settlers were from Maine to Georgia and were part of the original families who had settled the land there before the town. The town had a cemetery which today is known as Oriole Cemetery, but is also known as the Giddens Homestead Cemetery. One of the first families who lived in the area was known as Giddens and they had a homestead nearby. It is the third oldest cemetery in Hernando County.

“The original deed to the cemetery reads: Between Charles Giddens and Sally Giddens, his wife and Seth H. Middens, Issac N. Talley, J. Frank Hall, Isaac Giddens and Mason Noble the lot hereto be used for burial purposes, lying southward from my house and more particulary described as follows, to wit-to be held in trust by  said parties of the second part, and their successors, as a burial  ground and for purposes of burial only.– the said parties of the second part having authority, in case of the death or resignation of any one of their number–such choice, the said parties of the second party to hold and exercise all  rights usually belonging to trustees,-fence and care for said lot, to grant permission for burial therein, to assign place and  location for such burial, etc.etc. containing one acre.  To have and to hold said land and premises, with the appurtenances, to said parties of the second part and their successors forever. Signed on the 6th day of October 1890.”

The town was small with only around 100 people or so, Florida had many small towns like this. During 1894-1895 the great freezes happened wiping out many of the crops that these small towns depended on. Oriole most likely was effected but another problem was influenza. That also may have had large impact on the survival of the town and explains why so many died young in those days. Around 1898 the post office closed down and the town soon after was abandoned.

In the early 1900’s another small town called Croom existed just north of Oriole along the railroad line which had a turpentine still, another thriving industry in the area. There was of a sugar mill on this railroad at one time which also may have been associated with Oriole. The railroad line was once part of the Henry Plant System, Florida Southern Railroad and then eventually became the Atlantic Coast Line in the early 1900’s.

Later into the 1900’s much of the land was used for ranching and in the woods there I found remains of an old windmill, another reminder of the history. Oriole is a place that I will continue to explore, these places always stay with you once you discover them. I cherish what is left of the history and I hope that what does remain will do so for a long time to come so that future generations can experience that as well.

My Videos

Oriole Cemetery in Withlacoochee State Forest

Oriole Sugar Mill Ruins in Withlacoochee State Forest

Old Windmill in Withlacoochee State Forest

Oriole Ghost Town

Resources

Giddens/Oriole Homestead Cemetery

Withlacoochee State Forest

Exploring Alto Cemetery in Half Moon Wildlife Management Area

Exploring Alto Cemetery in Half Moon Wildlife Management Area

This old cemetery is located at Half Moon Wildlife Management Area in Sumter County. Known as Alto Cemetery it was part of a lost town called Alto in the late 1800’s. The people buried here were early settlers in the area. They raised horses and cattle and cultivated food crops such as peanuts, corn, sugarcane, oats, sweet potatoes and peas.

I learned that some of the roads are named for families who homesteaded here, such as Old Oxford Road in 1888 and Alto Landing which was a ferry boat crossing along the Withlacoochee River at that time.

My explorations around this wilderness has lead me to some intriguing history such as this cemetery. I enjoy visiting this place it so peaceful. I have been learning about the history here as much as possible. Finding records on this town has been challenging and is like so many other Florida ghost towns that seemed to have been lost in time. Thankfully today the cemetery still remains and the people here will always be a reminder of the history.

My Video

Exploring Alto Cemetery in Half Moon Wildlife Management Area 

Resources

Half Moon WMA History

Half Moon WMA

Burial Records

Roadside History: Historic Dupree Gardens in Pasco County

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Old Gatehouse

Near the old community of Ehren in Pasco County was a thriving park during the 1940’s known as Dupree Gardens. It was developed by J. William Dupree who was an Attorney. After sustaining an accident and not being able to continue on in his profession he developed the gardens and opened them to the public. The remains of the old gatehouse can still be seen from Ehren Cutoff Road and there is a historical marker at the site describing the history.

 

The historical marker reads as follows: “Developed by Tampa Attorney J. Wm. Dupree, t he gardens opened to the public on December 1, 1940. The attraction consisted of 900 acres of flowering trees and plants and included a lodge and a tearoom with gift shop. It also featured electric powered glass-bottomed boats on Dupree Lake. Even though gasoline rationing had caused the facility to be “Closed For The Duration” in 1943, a New York City auction of Dupree Gardens’ camellia blooms netted $250,000.00 for the War Bond effort in 1944. Dupree Gardens, still a beautiful garden spot, briefly reopened in 1946 for some civic events.The tearoom burned in 1995. The lodge (converted to a home by the Hendrix family), the gatehouse (now in ruins) and some scattered plantings are all that remains of this early Florida theme park. Beginning in 2003, Beazer Homes developed 468 acres as Dupree Lakes.”

My Video

Dupree Gardens Historic Site in Pasco County

Resources

Historic Dupree Gardens

History of Ehren

 

Mount Carmel Church and Cemetery in Pasco County

DSC04961Located in the old community of Ehren in Pasco County is a historical site known as the Mount Carmel Church and Cemetery. The Mount Carmel African methodist Episcopal Church was a wooden structure and the cemetery was nearby. One of the early pastors was Reverend Christopher C. Marshall, followed in later years by Reverend Byrel Dawkins. Sometime after the Great Depression the congregation folded and members joined other local churches.

The cemetery may have up to forty unmarked graves, the date of the first burial is unknown. This cemetery could possibly date back to the mid-1800’s, the first marked grave is 1903 and the latest marked grave is 1954. A few of the tombstones still remain but aren’t in good condition however the site does seem to be maintained. In 2006, the Pasco County Black Caucus, in corporation with the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners and other concerned individuals, initiated efforts to provide recognition and perpetual care of this site.

The Ehren Pine Company sawmill employed a large number of local African Americans. Many of them lived in company housing, others worked in agriculture and for the railroad. After the sawmill burned in 1920, many residents moved away. Some residents remained and worked in Drexel and Odessa and other nearby communities.

My Video

Mount Carmel Church and Cemetery in Pasco County

Resources

Mount Carmel Cemetery

Among The Headstones of Mount Carmel Cemetery

History of Ehren

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Mount Carmel Cemetery

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Mount Carmel Cemetery

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Mount Carmel Cemetery

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Mount Carmel Cemetery