“Florida Trailblazer” Featured in Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel Magazines in Pasco County, Florida

Florida Trailblazer in Lutz MagazineI am honored and extremely grateful to be featured in the September 2019 issues of Wesley Chapel, Lutz and Land O’ Lakes Magazines distributed in Pasco County, Florida.

Pasco County is a local stomping ground for me where there are many wilderness areas and historical sites to see and learn about. So over the years I have always strived to help educate people around these areas about some of these places through my various videos and other projects. So when I was presented with the opportunity to be featured in these magazines I was really excited! Although it is much more than about sharing about the history and wilderness in these regions but all over Florida as well.

I am so glad that I am able to inspire so many people through my adventures and really grateful for the opportunity to share about them. I appreciate your support thank you very much! I hope you enjoy this article see the link below. Special thanks to Sandy Parrish and KEM Media Group for the feature.

Magazine Article “Into The Woods” by Sandy Parrish

Thanks to Jae Patrick (Cover Photo Credit)

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St. Francis Trail in Ocala National Forest (St. Francis Ghost Town)

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Old Cypress Tree at St. Francis

I enjoy exploring the St. Francis Trail in Ocala National Forest it leads you through a scenic wilderness and to a historical ghost town site. There is a kiosk at the trailhead that describes some of the history on the town. Today the town is long gone and nature has reclaimed the area. Walking through this lush wilderness you’d never think that there was once a booming town out here.

St. Francis was once called Old Town, it was a river town that served the steam boat traffic on the St. Johns River in 1888. They had a post office from March 15th, 1888 to Oct. 15th 1909. When the train line came out of Jacksonville in 1886 it began taking the business from the steamboats. Steamboats worked their way from Jacksonville upriver along the St. Johns to Sanford. Here they would stop to exchange household goods for citrus and timber. The town faded away after river traffic vanished in the wake of railroads for commerce.

As I explored along the trails and surrounding woods I could see some old Cypress stumps and even some old logging trams. One of them I found a large Cypress tree still standing with some cut marks on the side of it from loggers.

I enjoy the views by the river here and the different habitats you experience along the way. I followed the trail towards the townsite, there you can see the old wagon road and follow that back to the where the trail loops back to the trailhead. That direction leads to an old railroad line as well. On this adventure I spent some time by the St. Johns and St. Francis Dead River areas. You can see the old townsite on maps but it always has been difficult for me to find the exact location. If you look closely by the shoreline you can see some old dock pilings. You can see an old dock there in photos from the 1870’s where the packing house once was. It is quite amazing to be standing there in modern times and being able to reflect back upon the past. There is something about being in these places that takes you back to another time.

There were several homesteads scattered throughout the property and by one of them I found an artesian well. The wells furnished the residents with an abundant supply of water. Typically these are capped off now and days but this one is still flowing out of a pipe there. I wondered if there was a homestead nearby. Everything is very overgrown so it’s hard to really know the layout of the town but some maps available give you the general idea. I always enjoy the adventure of exploring these areas and learning about the past.

MY VIDEO 

St. Francis Trail in Ocala National Forest (St. Francis Ghost Town)

RESOURCES

St. Francis Trail in Ocala National Forest

St. Francis Ghost Town (Florida Ghost Towns)

Historical St. Francis Photos on Florida Memory

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Coleman Church Cemetery in Alachua County

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Coleman Cemetery

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.

My Video

Coleman Church Cemetery

Resources

Burial Records

Orleans Ghost Town in Citrus County

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Citrus County Map 1890’s

Orleans was one of the many ghost towns that existed in Citrus County back in the late 1800’s. It was a small community with maybe a population of around 100 or so. It was settled in 1885 but didn’t last very much longer after that. The town may have began to fade after the great freezes of 1894-95 which wiped out many of the crops. Another thing to consider is back in those days influenza was an epidemic in some other small towns like this and could’ve had an impact there as well.

One of the main sites that still remains from the town is the cemetery, I had visited it awhile back and that inspired me to see what else could be out there. I studied old county maps trying to narrow down the townsite to the best of my ability and then began exploring the woods there to see what I could find.

Along the way I could see Herty cup pieces which are remnants from the turpentine industry here. It was also a large industry in this area back in those times, farmers would even get into the business when crops weren’t doing as good to help supplement income.

Further into the woods I found what appears to be a large cistern in the ground, they were used to collect and store water. It is possible there was a homestead nearby but couldn’t see any direct evidence on this trip. I could see old paths throughout the area which were used as roads back during the time of the town. Exploring down one of those I saw remains of a well and that was really neat to see. I could see bricks, pieces of metal and other remnants left from the town.

There are some many areas to roam out here and who knows what else could remain with so many layers of history. I am looking forward to exploring more in the future and it’s always a nice place to take in the nature as well.

My Video

Orleans Ghost Town

Resources

Ghost Towns of Florida – Orleans

Withlacoochee State Forest

Alto Ghost Town in Sumter County

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Alto on 1890 Sumter County Map

Exploring in the wilderness of Half Moon Wildlife Management Area you may not know but at one there was a small community out here in the late 1800’s known as Alto. The preserve is located in Sumter County and has many layers of history. Initially I learned about Alto Cemetery and that lead to me to learning about the old town it was a small community and had a one room school house. The town of Alto formed in the 1880’s when several families moved into the area. You can see it on some old maps. Many of the forest roads are named after these families who had homesteads nearby. Steamboats ran on the Withlacoochee River at that time and Alto Landing refers to a former ferry boat crossing.

Many settlers came here from the Carolinas after the Seminole wars and they established homesteads in the area using federal land grants as compensation for their voluntary service. In exchange for the land they were required to reside and cultivate crops for five years while bearing arms. The settlers raised horses and cattle and cultivated food crops such as peanuts, corn, sugarcane, oats, sweet potatoes and peas.

I am not sure how long the actual long the actual community lasted many of the people buried in the cemetery are those of infants and small children. A reminder of the harsh life experienced by these early Florida pioneers. One of the early homesteads was the McKinney cattle ranch it was inhabited from 1916 to around 1945. After World War II the McKinney family sold the land. Nearby in the swamps and uplands logging operations were taking place. A railroad was built by Cummer Sons Cypress Company and ran alongside the Withlacoochee River.

The land was used by the Carlton family in the 1960’s and 70’s for cattle ranching and during the 1980’s the land was leased to a hunt club. In 1989 the land was purchased by the state in an effort to help preserve the water quality of the Withlacoochee River and its tributaries. Today it is part of the Southwest Water Management District with many miles of trails and scenic areas to roam. But you can’t help but get a sense of the history when exploring the area and that is one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

My Videos

Alto Cemetery and Logging Tram

Alto Ghost Town

Old Logging Tram

Old Cattle Ramp

Resources

Half Moon WMA History

Half Moon Wildlife Management Area

 

 

Osceola Ghost Town in Seminole County

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Exploring by St. Johns River

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.

 

My Video

Osceola Ghost Town in Seminole County

Resources

Memories of Osceola

Osceola on Ghost Towns of Florida 

Lake Harney Wilderness Area

 

Centralia Ghost Town in Hernando County

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Sawmill Ruins at Centralia

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.

MY VIDEOS

Centralia (Florida) Ghost Town

Ghost Town of Centralia 

Old Railroad Grade in Centralia

RESOURCES

History of Centralia

Centralia on Ghost Towns of Florida

Short-Lived Logging Town of Centralia

Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area

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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 Pemberton Ferry and Fitzgerald. I learned that Pemberton 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

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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

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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