Mound History on The St. Johns River (Indian Field Grove)

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 were 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.”

Indian Field
1921 Article
Map Cropped
1920 Survey Map Illustrating The Grove and Dock on The Mound

My Videos

Exploring at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Dock Pilings at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Old Indian Mound at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

 

Resources

St. Johns River Mound History

Out in The Boonies – Boonieman

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Roadside History: Lake Monroe Bridge

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.

My Video

Old Lake Monroe Bridge

Resources

Lake Monroe Bridge on Bridge Hunter

Lake Monroe on Waymarking

Lake Monroe Historical Marker

Old Pennsylvania Club Ruins at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

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.

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Pennslyvania Club 1914
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Club House Park 1914

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.

My Videos

Old Pennsylvania Club Ruins at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Exploring by Ellis Lake at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Bald Eagle Nest at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Resources

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Out In The Boonies – Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Seminole Ranch Conservation Area

Indian River Section 1914 Publication

 

Turpentine Camp at Richloam Wildlife Management Area

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.”

My Videos

Turpentine Camp at Richloam WMA (Part One)

Turpentine Camp at Richloam WMA (Part Two)

Resources

Turpentine Stills in Pasco County

Withlacoochee State Forest

Exploring Mounds at Little Big Econ State Forest

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…

My Videos

Old Indian Mound at Little Big Econ State Forest

Exploring Mounds at Little Big Econ State Forest

Resources

Little Big Econ State Forest

St. Johns River Historical Society

Jeremiah Milton Brewer Gravesite in Ocala National Forest

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This is an interesting gravesite I found in Ocala National Forest, a man name Jeremiah M. Brewer is buried here. He lived from 1844 to 1877, some of the history I found on him describes him serving in the Civil War as a Union Soldier. I find it interesting that there are both Confederate and Union Soldiers buried in this forest. As I approached the site which sits in the middle of the woods you can’t help but feel a sense of mystery here. Why was he buried here? Did he have a homestead or family nearby? So many questions come to mind. It is part of what drives me to explore the history. I try to imagine what the area looked like back then and you begin to put yourself in that moment. It is easy to get lost in the history out here but I rather enjoy it…

Here is some information I was able to find: The records indicate that he died in Paisley Florida which was established sometime in the late 1800’s. He was born in Clinton County, Ohio. He was the son of Jeremiah and Ann Matthews Brewer. Brother of Isaiah, Josiah, William B., and Mary Jane. This Jeremiah is listed in the 1870 Census in Greene Township, Clinton County, Ohio, Post Office: Sabina as a Druggist. Jeremiah served in Company D, Ohio 188th Infantry Regiment during 1865 and was mustered out in Nashville, TN on September 21, 1865. The property this grave is located on changed hands several times in the 1880’s until the United States Forest Service purchased it. Prior to 1882, the land cannot be found to have been claimed by any one person.

The grave seems to be maintained to some degree perhaps by the forest service or surviving family members could also help take care of it. I enjoy visiting the site and learning what I can about the history. It is very peaceful here in the woods and a nice resting place. Hopefully the grave remains undisturbed and can be a reminder of history for those who pass by.

My Video

Jeremiah M. Brewer Gravesite in Ocala National Forest

Resources

Burial Record

Ocala National Forest

 

Old Cattle Vats at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

 

I have always enjoyed exploring at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, located in central Florida along what is known as the Lake Wales Ridge or Mid-Florida Ridge. Over a million years ago Florida was covered by ocean except for this part of Florida, this area was once part of ancient island chain. You may not ever think that being that this is in the middle of Florida.

I have been enjoying learning about the history here as well, in the early 1900’s some areas here were used for cattle ranching. Some of the evidence from the past there are these cattle vats. The cattle would be loaded into the dipping vats which was filled with an arsenic solution to help eradicate the cattle fever tick. This method was practiced from around 1910 up until the 1950’s. It wasn’t very safe for the environment since the arsenic can contaminate the soil around the vat. Perhaps that wasn’t known at the time? Today most of these vats are covered up or removed but it is always nice to see these reminders of history. Around the area old fencing could be seen, you can get a sense of the past there and what it must have been like at one time.

My Videos

Old Cattle Vat at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Old Cattle Vat in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Resources

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest (Out in The Boonies)

 

Old Railroad Grade at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

One of the places I enjoy exploring is Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in Polk County. Some of my early days as Florida Trailblazer were spent there so it is a place I like to return to when I can. I initially learned about how the area was a chain of islands millions of years ago when the rest of Florida was covered by ocean. It is known as the Central Florida Ridge today, the ridge runs for about 150 miles through central Florida, Lake Wales Ridge standing 295 feet above sea level, is the oldest part of it. As you walk along through areas where the scrub habitat are you are literally walking on an ancient beach.. The forest has a many areas of diverse habitat though with many miles of trails and places to explore.

Besides the enjoying the amazing wilderness here I have been learning a lot about the history as well. Some of it can still be seen today if you know where to look. One of the areas I found was an abandoned railroad grade, in fact some of the trails cross over it but today it just appears as another forest road so you may not know that it was a railroad line at one time. Once I found it I hiked along the grade for a few miles until I reached a creek where a bridge once was. The bridge is mostly gone except for the wood pilings that supported it. It was neat to see this reminder of history out here though. I learned that the railroad was built around 1944 to connect Avon Park Air Force Range with the existing railline in Frostproof. This line was discontinued in not to long after in 1948 and was dismantled. I would like to explore more in the area to see what else may be there that could be associated with the railroad.

My Video

Old Railroad Grade at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Resources

Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Out in The Boonies – Arbuckle Tract

Railroad Bridge

Railroad Grade

 

Roadside History: Gravesite of Ellis Mize in Alachua County

One of the most interesting gravesites I have visited was this one in Alachua County. It is the gravesite of Ellis Mize. The Mize family operated a turpentine still up until 1950. Ellis Mize lived from 1862 until 1967. Because of his love for the pine tree industry, Mize had his granite tombstone carved to resemble a “working face” pine tree. There is a historical marker outside of the cemetery describing the history: “From 1909 until 1923, Florida led the nation in pine gum production. In 1909, the peak year in the U.S.A. gum yielded 750,000 barrels of turpentine and 2.5 million barrels of rosin. The 1910 census listed 27,2ll men and 3l6 women, mostly blacks, working in the industry with 65 percent in Florida. Fairbanks, Florida was a turpentine still town with the Mize family operation processing ten 50-gallon barrels of crude gum at a time. This still required six crops of 10,000 faces (an area where streaks of bark are removed) and each crop covered 400 acres. As recently as 1951, 105 fire stills operated around Gainesville. The Mize family operated the Fairbanks still until 1950. Many of the buildings (the cooper’s shed, machine shop and worker homes) still stand. Ellis Mize (1882-1967) donated land with a lake bearing his name to the University of Florida’s forestry education program. In 1948, they deeded this private cemetery on that property to the Fairbanks Baptist Church. Because of his love for the pine tree industry, Mize had his granite tombstone carved to resemble a “working face” pine tree. This marker is dedicated to all who toiled to provide an income for families and communities and resinous products worldwide.”

My Video

Ellis Mize Gravesite

Resources

Fairbanks Cemetery

Ellis Mize Historical Marker

 

Exploring Indian Lake Cemetery at Indian Lake State Forest

A very scenic place to explore in Marion County is Indian Lake State Forest. I began hiking there a few years ago and have also enjoyed learning about the history of the area as well. I visited an old cemetery out there known as Indian Lake Cemetery. It is a peaceful place in the middle of the forest and a reminder of the past. Near the gate is kiosk with a map and some history behind the cemetery. I really liked seeing that, this way others that visit this place will have a better sense of the history here.

“Before Ocala and Silver Springs were developed, there were Indians that lived in this area. The Indians loved the lake and the area around it. They held their Pow-wows near the lake and their children loved to swim in the warm waters of Indian Lake. The Indians held sacred rites for their dead and buried them in sacred areas throughout the forest. Later American settlers moved into the area and forced out the Indians. The settlers, who like the Indians, loved Indian lake and the surrounding area. Around 1845 the settlers built a small whitewashed church near the lake and around 1851 they established this small cemetery. This cemetery includes some veterans from the war of 1812 and Civil War as well as some of the first settlers in the area.”

I explored around the cemetery looking at all the tombstones some were harder to read than others. It was nice to see the place maintained though despite some of the tombstones not being in the best of condition. Most of the dates are in the 1800’s and it makes you wonder what this place was like back then. The area may have looked completely different. The church that once existed by Indian Lake burnt down but at least we still have this cemetery as a reminder of history.

My Video

Indian Lake Cemetery

Resources

Indian Lake State Forest

Burial Records

Oriole Ghost Town in Withlacoochee State Forest

dsc05148There was an old town called Oriole located in Hernando County back in the late 1800’s. Today the site is a ghost town and part of the Withlacoochee State Forest, the area has always intrigued me. I have been exploring the site for years now documenting what I can. Initially when I found the area and begun learning about it I was inspired to uncover other places like this across Florida. I first discovered the cemetery in the woods there but overtime have found other remains from the town though not much is left like there was once was. That said, some reminders of the past can still be seen throughout the area and hopefully it will remain for generations to come for others to learn about.

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.”

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1888 County Map Showing Oriole

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 Ghost Town (Part One)

Oriole Ghost Town (Featured on Out There)

Oriole Cemetery in Withlacoochee State Forest

Oriole Mill Ruins in Withlacoochee State Forest

Old Windmill in Withlacoochee State Forest

Resources

Giddens/Oriole Homestead Cemetery

Withlacoochee State Forest

Unveiling the Layers of Oriole Ghost Town

Oriole Ghost Town – History Hikers

Hernando Epitaphs

 

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