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.
*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!
I explored at Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area located in Osceola County by the small town of Holopaw. It is a large area with around 16,000 acres of property that has many trails to hike and places to roam.
The area has a lot of history as well, the area was part of the last large open range in the United States. At the beginning of the twentieth century Florida south of Orlando was the only place east of the Mississippi where the population density was less than two persons per square mile.
Open range ranching continued in Florida until 1949, when the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring all cattle to be fenced. The central Florida palmetto prairie was home to the Florida cow, a small, bony, long-horned descendant of Spanish cattle that was able to survive heat, bugs, and poor forage.
If you do explore this area I would suggest it in the dry cooler months of winter as it can get very wet and hot there during the summer. Though there are many shaded hammocks and scenic trails, a lot of the area is also open pine scrub habitat.
For sometime now I have been wanting to climb this abandoned fire tower located in the Withlacoochee State Forest at the Richloam Tract. It was always something that was a bit intimidating for me but I finally got the courage to climb it. The tower is open to the public but visitors must climb it at their own risk as posted on the sign by the stairs.
The tower dates back to the around the 1930’s and 40’s and was used to monitor wild fires. Another interesting fact, this tower was used to monitor mustard gas tests that went on in this section of the forest during WWII.
Check out my video below to get an idea of the experience and to see some amazing views from high above the surrounding forest.
I have always enjoyed the scenic wilderness along this part of the Suwannee River at Andrews Wildlife Management Area. There are many trails and recreational opportunities here. Some of the history includes logging and agricultural uses going back to the 1800’s, the land was purchased by the Andrews family in 1945, they managed the land for outdoor recreation. The state bought the land in 1985.
One of the interesting sites I found there while exploring was a lone gravesite, the tombstone is mostly gone now so I couldn’t see who was buried here and when. There is a wooden fence surrounding the grave so it seems to be maintained from time to time.
After some further research I was able to track down some information on the site. It is the grave of an infant child that died around 1898 his name was Walter Miller Owens, the father was a man named Randall Owens. So far that is all the history I could uncover on the area, they also may have had a homestead nearby.
It is amazing seeing these areas today and imagining how they once were and who lived there. You can’t help but get a sense of the history in places like this and this gravesite is a reminder from a time long gone.
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.
On this hike I set out to find and explore more Indian Mounds along the Withlacoochee River. I had been studying some history on the Cove of The Withlacoochee and has since inspired me to uncover as much as I can in the area. On a previous trip I had found a burial mound that could date back to the 1500’s when the Hernando DeSoto and the Spanish were exploring these areas. In a way I have been tracing their steps.
On this quest I attempted to explore further up river where some shell middens are and I managed to track them down. These mounds were built up over many years from natives discarding shells, bones, pottery and other debris. I would imagine they were places of higher ground along the swamps as well. Many would have villages nearby so there are a lot of layers of history behind these places.
Exploring the mounds I could see the shells embedded and even some pottery fragments scattered in some areas. Of course leaving everything as I see it… I noticed the various shapes and sizes of these mounds. Surely they were much larger at one time but it is still amazing to see how big some of them still are today. Overall it is just rewarding to be in the presence of such history.
After roaming around and seeing what mounds I could on this trip I left with more enthusiasm to see what else I can uncover in these places. So I am looking forward to the adventure! Check out my video links below to get a glimpse of the history.
This is a video I put together from an area known as the Watermelon Pond Tract in Levy County. It is actually a section of Goethe State Forest but just not connected to the main part. There is a trailhead that can be found near the town of Archer known as Bailey Mine Trailhead.
If you study old maps of this area there is actually a mine here known as Bailey Mine. It was used for phosphate mining in the early 1900’s. On this adventure I set out to find the mine and see what else I could discover along the way. There was also turpentine operations in the area as well so I thought I may see some evidence from that.
There is a railroad line that was used back then, today it is abandoned and mostly overgrown. I figured if I could find that I could navigate my way towards Bailey Mine since the railroad went right to it.
I found the railroad line along one of the hiking trails and followed that for several miles, checking out some of the scenery and areas along the way. I did find some Herty cup fragments from the turpentine industry and took some time to explore that history as well.
I managed to follow the railroad line to where it ends at Bailey Mine. This mine is filled in with water so who knows how deep it really goes. The other mines I found in the area were dry so you could get a really good view of how much digging was going on and how deep they were. Back then you would’ve seen machinery all around these places. As I explored Bailey Mine I went along the bottom of it and circled around the entire mine.
I really enjoyed this adventure I had explored this area a few years before but wanted to return to see what else I may be able to uncover. The beauty and history of these places always keep you coming back for more. Check out my video to see my adventure, thanks!
Ocala National Forest is a scenic place to explore but also a place of rich history. Dating back around 11,000 years ago and through the first European colonization of the New World, several waves of cultures lived along the St. Johns River and along the lakes in is what is now the Ocala National Forest. The word “Ocala” is most likely derived from the Creek “ue-kiwv,” meaning “springs.” The Ocala National Forest is the land of many springs.
One of the fascinating historical sites in the forest is known as Tishler Mound, an ancient burial mound dating back to the St John’s culture built between 500 BC and 800 AD. Pottery fragments found at the site indicated that it dates back around 1200 to 2500 years.
Over the years unfortunately the mound has been disturbed but is now a protected site today in the forest. There is a wooden fence around the site where the mound can still be viewed and a nice a kiosk there describing the history. It is amazing to still be able experience these places this many years later and hopefully it will be the same for future generations.
There is some interesting history in this part of Tiger Bay State Forest located in Volusia County known as the old Pershing Highway. It was a brick road constructed in the early 1900’s and was the first highway to connect DeLand to Daytona Beach. The road was abandoned in the late 1940’s once the modern Highway 92 was completed. The road was named after the famous Word War I General John J. Pershing. It was part of the Pershing Triangle which connected Daytona, DeLand, and New Smyrna Beach.
I wrote a previous blog post about another section of this road still visible in other parts of this forest but isn’t as nice as this one in my opinion. There is no vehicle traffic is allowed on this particular section of the road. This brick road today is part of an interpretive trail where you can take a walk into the past, learn about some history of the area and see a piece of old Florida.
The “trail” or brick road here is only about a mile or so not to long of a hike. Although there are some other nice areas to explore and hike not far from here in different parts of the forest. So if you are in the area it is worth the visit for sure. Please be respectful of the history that remains, do not remove any bricks. Thank you and check out my video, photos and links below for more information.
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.