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.
Similar Radar Base in North Carolina
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.
Radar Hill Area
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.
“The Valley” in Withlacoochee State Forest
How Radar Hill Got It’s Name
Withlacoochee State Forest
Modern Aerial View
Aerial View 1960’s-1970’s
View of Area
View of Area
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.
Chinsegut Preserve and Old Bridge
Hike to Bridge
Chinsegut Preserve and Nature Center
Chinsegut Preserve and State Route 5 Bridge
Chinsegut Preserve and Nature Center
S.R. 5 Bridge Sign
Old S.R. 5 (Hiking Tril)
Old State Route 5
Although known more for hunting this area along the Suwannee River in Levy County known as Andrews Wildlife Management Area is a really nice place to explore. Some of the trails lead you along the river where you can experience some amazing views, other trails lead you throughout the woods in the preserve. There are also many forest roads and off trails.
Along with the beautiful scenery there is some interesting history to be experienced as well. Awhile back I was exploring here in the wilderness when I came across a lone gravesite. Sadly most of the tombstone is gone and the site is surrounded by a wooden fence. It made me wonder about the history of the area, who was buried there and for how long now. Perhaps there was a homestead nearby at one time. I took some photos and recorded some video footage there but left without knowing much about the site but was happy to have discovered it as I was inspired to learn more.
Here is some of the history on the area that I could find “Back to the 1800’s when the nearby Suwannee River was used as a steamboat route for hauling lumber. By the early 1900’s the area was used for cattle grazing, logging, hunting and fishing as well. In the 1945 the Andrews family purchased the land. They managed the land for outdoor recreation and were careful to protect natural resources. The state purchased the land in 1985.” You can read more about the history at this link.
Well about a year later I was able to finally find some sort of record on the site and went back out to look at it again. I find that it is important to check back upon these sites from time to time… The record I found indicates that this is the infant grave of Walter Miller Owens from 1889. If this record is accurate then it is a good start to uncovering some of the history here. More often than not finding these sites leads to more what you originally set out to find and learn about. That to me is very rewarding and all apart of the adventure.
If you visit this area be sure to check the hunting dates, enjoy!
Lone Gravesite at Andrews Wildlife Management Area
Andrews WMA History
Andrews Suwannee River Management District
Woods at Andrews WMA
Trail to Gravesite
Old Highway 90 Bridge
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.
Highway 90 Bridge Construction 1920’s
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.
Abandoned Highway 90 Bridge
Bridge Hunter – Hillman Bridge
Ellaville Ghost Town
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…
Old Windmill at Charles H. Bronson State Forest
Charles H. Bronson State Forest
Out in The Boonies – Charles H. Bronson State Forest
Charles H. Bronson Wildlife Management Area
Aermotor Windmill Company
Trail in the Pastures
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.”
1920 Survey Map Illustrating The Grove and Dock on The Mound
Exploring at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area
Old Dock Pilings at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area
Old Indian Mound at Seminole Ranch Conservation Area
St. Johns River Mound History
Out in The Boonies – Boonieman
Seminole Ranch Conservation Area
Old Dock Pilings
View of Mound
Old Dock Pilings
View from Old Dock
Oak Tree on Mound
Old Window Frame
Grapefruit on Mound
Orange Tree on Mound
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.”
Dupree Gardens Historic Site in Pasco County
Historic Dupree Gardens
History of Ehren