One of my favorite places to explore in Florida is along the Suwannee River with many wilderness areas and historical sites to experience there. The area just has that “old Florida” feel to it. On this visit I went to check out an abandoned bridge that crosses over the river. It was part of the old Highway 90 at one time and the bridge was built around 1925. I read that it was also known as the Hillman Bridge or Ellaville Bridge over the years. The bridge is nearly a thousand feet across and as you walk out onto the bridge you experience amazing views of the Suwannee River.
The area was once part of the ghost town of Ellaville back in the 1800’s. There is a park next to the bridge with a historical marker describing some of the history about the town. Behind the parking lot and down under the bridge you can find some trails to hike with more scenic views and even more history that can be discovered if you look good enough. The Hillman Bridge was abandoned sometime in the 1980’s when the modern Route 90 bridge was built next to it. Today this old bridge still stands as a relic and reminder of history, hopefully it will remain there for many years to come.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
I spent a few months focusing my explorations near the St. Johns River area. Not only are their numerous wilderness areas to explore along the river but there is a lot of fascinating history as well. In fact many layers of history and some of the earliest history is that of the Native American Indians that lived and hunted along these areas over 500 years ago. The history can be quite complex from what I am learning but as far as I know the Timucua and Mayaca Indians settled in these places. They would build large shell mounds over time and villages along the river.
These early Floridians ate countless tons of such shellfish as oysters, snails, crabs, clams, and mussels. They piled the debris in middens. These are trash heaps that contain shells, bones, broken pottery, etc. Some of mounds are massive, and there were lots of them. Middens used to blanket parts of Florida’s East Coast, from Cape Canaveral northward. During the 1800s, in fact, Americans couldn’t believe their eyes. They couldn’t comprehend that human activity had created so many mounds. Unfortunately these mounds are not as large as they once were and many are gone all together. Although some can still be seen and that is where this adventure leads me…
I began this exploration at Charles H. Bronson State forest and was able to hike out to the St. Johns River area where several mounds could be seen. I really enjoyed finding them and the views there on the river floodplain are spectacular. It was dry and cooler so these areas weren’t as challenging to access as they normally can be. As I stood there on the mounds I could imagine how the natives must’ve enjoyed it there. You can’t help but feel the history here. On the mounds I could see some remnants from the past like old pottery fragments and shells.
I have been enjoying learning about the history doing the explorations and tracking down the sites. I still have more to see, the adventure really just has begun.
*Do not remove or disturb artifacts it is prohibited and illegal in this forest, thank you.
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 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.”
Passing over Lake Monroe where it meets the St. Johns River you can see the old Lake Monroe Bridge. Just off of Hwy 17 there is a park called Wayside Park in Seminole County. It is a popular place for fishing and boating. The bridge was Florida’s first electrically operated swing bridge and was built in 1933. It was part of the original Hwy 17, today the swing span is preserved as fishing pier. There is a historical there that describes the history.
“The Lake Monroe Bridge was the first electrically operated swing bridge in Florida. In 1932-1933 the State used federal assistance to build this bridge, which replaced a wooden toll bridge that was manually operated. The construction of the bridge provided economic relief for an area hurt by the economic collapse of the Depression era. The bridge was fabricated by Ingall’s Iron Works of Birmingham, Alabama. The swing machinery manufactured by Earle Gear and Machine Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was erected by W. W. White Steel Construction of St. Petersburg, Florida. Kreis Contracting Company of Knoxville, Tennessee was the general contractor for the Florida Department of Transportation. The Florida Department of Transportation and Seminole County cooperated in preserving the swing span as a fishing pier when the new Benedict Bridge was completed in 1994.
The Lake Monroe Bridge had historic impact on the communities of the area, but also is of historical value as an example of a branch of bridge engineering.
The Lake Monroe bridge was 627 feet, and included a 235 foot swing span. It carried the main route linking Daytona Beach and Tampa, via Deland, Sanford, Orlando, and Lakeland. It could pivot 360 degrees on its curved rack and two spur pinions.
The Warren-type through truss construction had a central panel section peaked to accommodate the drive machinery. The Warren-type truss is considered the most economical construction for continuous spans. It is characterized by diagonals that alternate in direction. The first diagonal beam starts at base level and goes up to the top. The next diagonal starts at the top and goes down to the base level. The diagonals are in tension and compression in alternate panels. To meet the heavy stresses of the swing span operation the bridge arms were heavily reinforced and had riveted connections at all stress points. The harbor for Lake Monroe Park in Volusia County was created by fill taken for the approaches to the Lake Monroe Bridge.”
Visit the links below to see my video, photos and for more information.
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.
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.
Exploring in this area of Withlacoochee State Forest near Lacoochee I may have found remains from an old turpentine camp. Around the area were herty cups both clay and metal ones. Along with some bricks, barrel rings and other evidence from the past. This site may have been associated with The Dutton Still. During the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s turpentine was a big industry here along with the sawmills.
This is some of the history I found on the area, more can be read at the link posted below: “Jim Dutton moved his family from Statesboro, Bullock County, Georgia, to Lacoochee, and began operating a turpentine still east of town near the Withlacoochee River and the community of Clay Sink. In the early 1900’s the pioneers who operated these abundant turpentine stills and small sawmills throughout the county owned or leased thousands of acres of forest land. The resinous sap of the pine tree was extracted by chipping a strip of bark from the tree. Then a ceramic or tin cup was placed underneath to catch the life blood of the tree as it dripped from the wound. Crews of men were hired to make daily rounds of the woods to empty the sap into barrels. Wooden sleighs or wagons pulled by four-mule teams would transport the barrels from the woods to the still. Here the sap was poured into a vat and boiled to make turpentine which was used in paint and other products.”
I have been exploring some of the mounds near the St. Johns River at Little Big Econ State Forest. The Timuca Indians lived and hunted here and evidence can still be seen from their activities. They would use these mounds to discard shells, pottery and bones. Over long periods of time the mounds would build up. They also used the mounds for look out points and for higher ground if needed along the river and floodplains. The Timucua were a Native American people who lived in Northeast and North Central Florida and southeast Georgia.
Over the centuries the mounds have eroded and in many cases have been dug up but traces of them can still be seen. A lot of the shells in the mounds were used to help build roads throughout Florida. As you walk through this forest or many other areas if you look down in the dirt chances are you may see some shells.
I can’t help but imagine what life was like out here back then, you get a real sense of the history on the mounds. I enjoy that part of exploring very much…