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.
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.”
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.
There 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.”
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.
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.
Jennings State Forest is located in Clay County and is a great place to enjoy nature and experience some history as well. Going back to the 1800’s many families had homesteads out here, farms and schools dotted the landscape as well. Turpentine was one of the main industries in this area and the forest provided plenty of resources and places for turpentine camps.
Many of the families also had cemeteries here and one of them was known as “Dunn Cemetery”. It is a lost cemetery and sadly no tombstones remain but the people buried there have a story and once lived on the land nearby. The cemetery was overgrown on my visit, there is a front gate and parts of the wooden fencing can still be seen around the perimeter. Flag markers now indicate the places where people have been laid to rest and at the center of the cemetery is a memorial listing the names of the people here, a few are unknown.
According to some records I found this was the property of a man named Mr. Dunn and he was the first laid to rest here back in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. He may have had a farm and homestead nearby. In fact if you look at the trail maps for the forest you can find a Dunn’s Farm Trail. Other names listed here are also common throughout the other cemeteries in the forest.
As I explored around this place I felt a sense of peace and it is such a nice resting place in the forest. I imagined what life must’ve been like here and how the area looked. I could see some of the old roads that they may have used. I wish that the cemetery could be better maintained but hopefully in time that will change. I hope to learn more about this place and the people here and I feel that is one way of preserving the history, by helping to give it life again. Check out my some of my photos below and a video for a tour around the site. If you visit this cemetery or others like it please be respectful of the sites and do not disturb them.
This is a fascinating historical site you can see along the Blue Star Memorial Highway near the town of Quincy in Gadsden County. It is known as the Joshua Davis House. Here is some of the history about the house: “In the 1820’s, settlers from Georgia, South Carolina and other states came to the new United States Territory of Florida in search of land to homestead. One such frontiersman was Thomas Dawsey, who by 1824 was residing in the Gadsden County area. In 1827 Dawsey purchased the 160 acres upon which this house stands from the United States Public Land Office, a common practice for homesteaders. Another pioneer in the region was Joshua Davis, who brought his family from Laurens County, South Carolina to a farm two miles west of Quincy ca. 1828. He soon moved to the North Mosquito Creek community located about a mile northeast of this site. Between 1830 and 1849, Joshua Davis acquired the Dawsey property and moved with his wife and five children into what would be their permanent home. By 1830, a road had been built through this area from Quincy to the Apalachicola River crossing at Chattahoochee. Stage-coaches carrying mail and passengers through this fertile and well-populated farming region traveled over what was known as “the upper road.” Some evidence suggests the Joshua Davis House served as a stage-coach stop and perhaps as a horse-changing station.
This house was the focal point of a cotton, tobacco, and corn plantation which by 1859 consisted of 1440 acres of land on which Joshua Davis had as many as 33 slaves, 6 horses, and 135 cattle. A map of 1857 designated this general locality as “Davis.” After the death of Joshua Davis in 1859 and of his wife Esther in 1876, the house was occupied by their grand-daughter Esther and her husband Lieut. Mortimer B. Bates, C.S.A. This house has been used as a frontier home, tenant house, and storage facility. It was originally built as a one room, 18′ by 27′ dressed timber structure with a front porch and a heating-cooking fireplace at the west end. Early alterations included a rear porch, attic sleeping loft, and east room. Joshua Davis enclosed the rear porch into shed rooms opening onto a breezeway, refurbished the interior and exterior with hand-beaded siding, and is thought to have added a separated kitchen in the rear. The additions include several architectural elements not commonly found in Florida. This house, which was still the property of descendants of Joshua Davis at the time of its restoration in 1974, is included on the National Register of Historic Places.”
There is a historical marker at the location which describes this history. It originally stood right on the highway but they moved it during the restoration. It now sits back a little ways from the highway on a hunting preserve. Events are hosted at the house from time to time. This is just one of the amazing historical sites you can see in this part of Florida. Check out the links below for more information on this place and how to find it.
Near the old community of Ehren in Pasco County was a thriving park during the 1940’s known as Dupree Gardens. It was developed by J. William Dupree who was an Attorney. After sustaining an accident and not being able to continue on in his profession he developed the gardens and opened them to the public. The remains of the old gatehouse can still be seen from Ehren Cutoff Road and there is a historical marker at the site describing the history.
The historical marker reads as follows: “Developed by Tampa Attorney J. Wm. Dupree, t he gardens opened to the public on December 1, 1940. The attraction consisted of 900 acres of flowering trees and plants and included a lodge and a tearoom with gift shop. It also featured electric powered glass-bottomed boats on Dupree Lake. Even though gasoline rationing had caused the facility to be “Closed For The Duration” in 1943, a New York City auction of Dupree Gardens’ camellia blooms netted $250,000.00 for the War Bond effort in 1944. Dupree Gardens, still a beautiful garden spot, briefly reopened in 1946 for some civic events.The tearoom burned in 1995. The lodge (converted to a home by the Hendrix family), the gatehouse (now in ruins) and some scattered plantings are all that remains of this early Florida theme park. Beginning in 2003, Beazer Homes developed 468 acres as Dupree Lakes.”
This is an old Cypress Tree I saw while exploring in this area of The Green Swamp close to the Withlacoochee River. I am not sure how old this is but it seems to have been here for a very long time. The inside of the tree is hollowed out and I was able to crawl inside and stand up for an interesting perspective. Why is it hollowed out? Well, the outer part of the tree is compromised, and the heart wood rots upward from the water level. If you notice the darker shading around the base of the tree that is where the water levels get up to in this part of the swamp.
This wilderness used to have a lot of these ancient trees and they were much larger and older than this one. Over a hundred a years ago many of them were cut down during the logging boom. I was fortunate to see this one still standing, but who knows how many more could be out there. Many of these old Cypress Trees were left by loggers cause they were determined not to be of any value.
Located in the old community of Ehren in Pasco County is a historical site known as the Mount Carmel Church and Cemetery. The Mount Carmel African methodist Episcopal Church was a wooden structure and the cemetery was nearby. One of the early pastors was Reverend Christopher C. Marshall, followed in later years by Reverend Byrel Dawkins. Sometime after the Great Depression the congregation folded and members joined other local churches.
The cemetery may have up to forty unmarked graves, the date of the first burial is unknown. This cemetery could possibly date back to the mid-1800’s, the first marked grave is 1903 and the latest marked grave is 1954. A few of the tombstones still remain but aren’t in good condition however the site does seem to be maintained. In 2006, the Pasco County Black Caucus, in corporation with the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners and other concerned individuals, initiated efforts to provide recognition and perpetual care of this site.
The Ehren Pine Company sawmill employed a large number of local African Americans. Many of them lived in company housing, others worked in agriculture and for the railroad. After the sawmill burned in 1920, many residents moved away. Some residents remained and worked in Drexel and Odessa and other nearby communities.