This paved trail in Hillsborough County known as the Upper Tampa Bay Trail was once a railroad line. Today it is used for recreational purposes and is a rails-to-trail. In fact it is one of my favorite places to go for runs from time to time. Many use this trail daily and it extends for many miles throughout the county, but I often wonder how many know the history behind the trail. One of the great things is near this section of the trail is an interpretive sign that describes some of the history.
W.P. Lutz, a railroad engineer and Odessa sawmill owner, engineered the Tampa Gulf Coast Railway which connected Odessa to the Tampa Northern Railroad in 1909. Sawmills began laying narrow-gauge tracks throughout the region in 1910 to have access to virgin timber. In 1913, a spur was built to Tarpon Junction, located at present day Wilsky Boulevard and Linebaugh Avenue where the Rocky Creek portion of the trail is today.
There was a railroad trestle that crossed over Rocky Creek at this location and since has been modified for the recreational trail. So the remains of it are still there but a boardwalk crosses over it now but if you look down by the creek under the bridge you can see the original supports still there that were used for the trestle.
This was a really neat exploration I did in Citrus County where some of the old phosphate mining took place back in the 1800’s. Phosphate was and still is a big industry throughout Florida and is used for many purposes. This particular mine was located near the towns of Dunnellon and Hernando, it was near an old railroad line which linked many of these mines long ago. Today the railroad is part of the Withlacoochee State Trail.
A subdivision surrounds the old mine today and nature has reclaimed the area but some traces of the past could still be seen as I roamed around there. Some of this history I found on the area: In 1889 the Dunnellon Phosphate Company purchased 70,000 acres in Marion, Citrus, and Hernando Counties. Mining Operations began early the next year, By 1909 there were 34 mines in operation in Citrus County. Mining operations ceased around the time of World War I in the early 1900’s.
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.
As always I left the site undisturbed and took only photos and videos, it is amazing to be in the presence of such history and you can get a sense of how life must have been back then. Check out my video below for a tour of the site.
*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.