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.
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.
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I explored some areas at Econfina Creek Water Management Area located in Washington County. There are many scenic places along with some interesting history as well. One of the areas I visited was a spring located off of Econfina Creek known as Williford Spring. The entrance is just off of a forest road there with a parking area and boardwalk trails that lead to the spring. You can also check out the creek and a trail that leads to nearby Pitt Spring.
Along the boardwalk are some nice interpretive signs describing about the spring and the history of the area ~ “During the 1800’s William Gainer and his family moved from Augusta, Georgia to this area near the spring. He first visited this spring in 1818 when he was a scout for Andrew Jackson who lead an army of 1,100 men through this area on their way to capture Pensacola from the Spanish. Gainer was a mathematician and surveyor and eventually moved here around 1824. His family used the spring as a source of drinking water and for cold storage for their food. William Gainer died in 1870 but left a lasting legacy here as he helped start the local public school system and served the county as a surveyor. The largest spring on the creek known as Gainer Spring is named after him.”
There is a place off the beaten path in Withlacoochee State Forest known to many locals as “Radar Hill” and when I first learned of that name I wanted to find out more about the history behind it. I have hiked around the area and this part of the forest reminds me of a scenic valley because of the rolling hills and karst formations. This section of the forest is located in Citrus County along the Brooksville Ridge. “The Brooksville Ridge is a linear, positive-relief topographic feature extending from northern Citrus County, through Hernando County, and into southern Pasco County.” These areas of the florida have a lot of hilly and karst terrain.
During the Cold War years starting around 1958 to 1970, there was a radar facility located atop the one of the hills in the area. It was known as the “Inverness Gap-Filler Annex,” the radar facility was operated by the U.S. Air Force as part of a nationwide network of air-defense early-warning surveillance radars. The intension of the base was to watch the skies for attacking Soviet bombers and thanks in part to this radar network all across the country no attack ever came. Due to the curvature of the earth, as well as hills, river valleys, and other obstacles, gaps existed at lower elevations where the long-range radars could not detect targets so these radar sites were a vital defense network.
The reason this site was chose is because “Radar Hill” itself was one of the highest points in the Withlacoochee State Forest, and offered a clear line of sight for many miles. Placing the radar on top of the limestone hills plugged the holes.
I am not sure of the exact timeframe but sometime after the site was used by the military it then became the location of a limestone mining operation. The land was mined and the hills were excavated. The radar and any evidence from the base were removed or destroyed during that time. The mining operations ceased eventually and the area became part of Withlacoochee State Forest. New trees were planted and slowly nature has been reclaiming the land here. The former mine now appears as open valleys through the forest which makes for a scenic experience. I myself have nicknamed the area “The Valley”. Check the link below on How Radar Hill got it’s name for more photos and information.
The site is public land now although there are no marked hiking trails here so it can be accessed from some of the old roads and paths around the area. Be cautious if you explore around and some areas within this section have been fenced off with no trespassing signs.
There are some nice trails and interesting history at Chinsegut Preserve located in Hernando County. One of the interesting layers of history in this area is that one of the hiking trails used to be a main route through this section of the county.
It was known as State Route 5 and dates back to at least the 1920’s. You may not even know it hiking on the trail as nature has reclaimed much of the old highway. It was a two lane road and part of it went over a small bridge which is located in the preserve. It crosses over a creek and has a sign posted on it indicating that it was the S.R. 5 Bridge in the 1920’s. It is made of concrete and people still cross over today just not in cars but on foot.
The highway was eventually replaced with the modern U.S. Highway/Route 41 that is adjacent to the property. As I hiked around the area I could get a sense of old Florida here and seeing this bridge a nice reminder of that. Hopefully for a long time to come more people will be able to see it and learn some of the history on this area.
There is a lot more history to be experienced in this area such as the Chinsegut Manor, an old cemetery and so much more! Check out the links to below to get more information and be sure to take a hike around the preserve and check out the bridge site. Also be on the look out for catface trees which were from the turpentine industry here at one time.
Long ago Florida was covered with ancient and giant cypress trees dating back thousands of years. Cypress has natural built in preservatives or oils that make cypress long lasting and resistant to water and insect damage. So these trees can stand the test of time, which is also what makes them so valuable. In just a matter of a hundred years or more many of these ancient trees were cut down by the logging industry.
Luckily some of these trees still remain and can be seen throughout the state, though not nearly as what there once was. Some of the oldest and largest cypress trees I have seen in central Florida at Spring Hammock Preserve. Exploring around in the swamps there I came across some giants, one of them may be around 2,000 years old. As I roamed throughout the wilderness I was amazed to see some of them still standing after all this time. It is a great experience to see and touch them, I imagined how many others over the years have stood in the same place I was and admiring them.
Just across the way from the preserve in Big Tree Park used to be another cypress tree known as The Senator. It was the biggest and oldest bald cypress tree in the world at 3,500 years old. Sadly it burnt down several years ago…
It was a great adventure finding these beautiful trees in the swamps here and I am glad that we still have them to appreciate. Hopefully they will remain for many more years to come.
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.