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.
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.
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”.
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.
This is an old cemetery I found in an interesting location, it is called Holder Cemetery. Located at the intersection of County Road 491 and U.S. Route 41 in Citrus County. This is also the location of the small community known as Holder.
The cemetery is small and only has seven people listed on the burial records. When I explored around the site I could only find three tombstones though. I would like to learn more history on this area, if I come across more information I will post an update. If you have any information please feel free to contact me as well. It would be nice to see a sign placed at the cemetery describing the history. I am sure many pass by it and don’t even know it’s there…
In the Withlacoochee State Forest I found an old ghost town called “Etna”. It was a turpentine camp from 1898 to 1915 and it has long since vanished. When I arrived at the site the area was heavily wooded with many overgrown trails. I imagine these trails were once old roads for the town.
I explored around the site extensively finding scattered remains. Some bricks, Herty cups and other evidence from turpentine activity. During it’s peak the town had 50 buildings and a population of around 200 people.
I learned that the site was initially discovered back in the early 1990’s when they surveyed the area for a pipeline. Many of the local historians didn’t know of the site either at the time of it’s discovery. Now that the site is known we now have a window into the past.