Thursday, December 22, 2011

Free Kindle Books on Florida History: Today Only

As part of a special promotion, two of my books on Florida history are available today only (December 22nd) for FREE.
The Early History of Gadsden County, Florida, which focuses on key episodes in the history of Gadsden County from prehistoric times through the Civil War. Chapters detail Spanish exploration, the War of 1812, the First and Second Seminole Wars, the building of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, early tobacco production in Gadsden County, discovery of the rare Florida Torreya tree, the seizure of the arsenal in 1861 and Gadsden County's role in the Battle of Natural Bridge. 

Please click here to download the Kindle edition today only for free:
The Early History of Gadsden County, Florida

A print edition is also available for $24.95 and can be ordered through Amazon by clicking here:
The Early History Of Gadsden County: Episodes From The History Of Florida's Fifth County

Old Parramore: The History of a Florida Ghost Town, which tells the unique story of a forgotten riverboat town on the little known Florida section of the famed Chattahoochee River. From the earliest known presence of ancient Native American hunters in the area through the town's decline prior to World War II, the book details the origins, rise and eventual disappearance of a prosperous riverboat town.

Please click here to download the Kindle edition today only for free:
Old Parramore: The History of a Florida Ghost Town

A print edition is also available for $19.95 and can be ordered by clicking here:
Old Parramore: The History of a Florida Ghost Town


I hope you enjoy the free reading!  Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30, 1817: The Scott Massacre - Bloodiest Battle of the First Seminole War

Site of the Scott Massacre of 1817
On November 30, 1817, a U.S. army boat carrying 40 soldiers, 7 women and 4 children was attacked by Creek and Seminole warriors on the Apalachicola River in Florida. Remembered today as the Scott Massacre, the battle took place 194 years ago today.
A critical event in American history, the battle took place durign the initial days of the First Seminole War. On November 21st and 23rd, Major General Edmund Pendleton Gaines had sent troops from Fort Scott in Georgia to attack the Lower Creek village of Fowltown (Tutalosi Talofa). Located atop a commanding bluff on the Flint River, the fort stood in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. Fowltown lay about 12 miles away at a site also somewhere within the limits of Decatur County.

The chief of Fowltown was Neamathla, a man who would figure prominently in the founding of Tallahassee and the early history of Florida as a U.S. Territory.  In 1817, however, he lived on land that his ancestors had claimed for as long as anyone could remember. The name Neamathla is a corruption of the Hitchiti term "Eneah Emathla" which means roughly "Fat Warrior" or "Large Warror." The chief was not a Muskogee, as many Creeks are called today, but instead spoke the Hitchiti language common among the Lower Creeks. Hitchiti is similar too, but not mutually intelligible, with Muskogee.

19th Century Drawing of the Scott Massacre
Trouble developed when Neamathla told officers at Fort Scott that he had no intention of giving up his land as required by the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson. That treaty had ended the Creek War of 1813-1814 and forced upon the Creeks the session of a vast area of territory as reparation for the expense the United States had gone through to wage the conflict. Neamathla, however, had not been a party to the treaty and therefore did not feel himself bound by it.

To overcome his "reluctance," as he termed it, General Gaines had ordered the raids on Fowltown for the purpose of bringing the chief back to Fort Scott. The raids failed to achieve that objective, but sparked two sharp battles that outraged most of the Lower Creek and Seminole warriors living along the border between North Georgia and South Florida.

While these events were underway, a large boat was making its way down and then back up the Apalachicola River under Lieutenant Richard W. Scott. An officer in the 7th U.S. Infantry, Scott had been sent down the river from Fort Scott to assist supply boats then making their way up the river. When Scott reached the supply flotilla, however, its commander took 20 of his able bodied men and then loaded Scott's boat with an equal number of sick soldiers, as well as seven women and four children. The latter individuals were family members of soldiers at Fort Scott.

Apalachicola River at Battle Site
The lieutenant then started back upriver and, despite warnings from Chief John Blunt and others at what is now Blountstown, ordered his men to continue to pull their oars. By the afternoon of November 30, 1817, they were approaching what is now Chattahoochee, just below the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers at the state line.

A strong current was flowing and Scott was forced to navigate his boat close to the east or Gadsden County shore in order to keep making headway. He was unaware, however, that several hundred Creek and Seminole warriors were hiding there. As the boat came close enough, they opened fire.

Later home of Elizabeth Stewart
Fort Gaines, Georgia
The lieutenant and most of his able-bodied men went down in the first fire. The warriors then waded into the river and stormed the boat, slaughtering the men, women and children on board. When the smoke cleared, 44 of the 51 people on Scott's boat were dead. Six of the soldiers escaped by leaping overboard and swimming away under water. Four of them were wounded in the process. The only other survivor was Elizabeth Stewart. She was taken prisoner by the Indians and carried away into the forests.

When news of the battle reached Washington, D.C., outraged leaders ordered Major General Andrew Jackson to Florida with an army. His orders gave him authority to invade Spanish Florida in order to punish the perpetrators of the attack and destroy the power of the Creek and Seminole alliance in what are now the Panhandle and Big Bend regions of Florida.

To read more and to learn what happened to Elizabeth Stewart, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/scottsmassacre1.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011: Some Florida Stories to Chill Your Spine

The Orman House in Apalachicola
Florida has an amazing number of stories of ghosts, monsters and strange happenings. And while many enjoy these tales for the touch of excitement they offer, fans of such stories often do not realize that they are a significant parrt of the folklore and history of Florida.
Stories of ghosts and monsters often bring the tales that surrounded tragic historical events through to the present. Here are a few that you might enjoy reading this Halloween!

Ghost of Bellamy Bridge
Is an old iron bridge on the Chipola River north of Marianna haunted by the ghost of a young woman who died in a long ago wedding night fire?  Find out by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge.

The Plowing Ghost
This fascinating story grew near Fernandina during the years after the Civil War. Learn about the ghost that came to help a local farmer at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/plowingghostofflorida.

Ghost of the Orman House
The beautiful old Orman House in Apalachicola is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former resident. Read the story at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ormanhouse.

The Russ House in Marianna
Ghosts of the Russ House
The historic Russ House in Marianna is one of the most beautiful old homes in Florida. Now home to the local chamber of commerce, it is reported that strange things take place in the house. www.exploresotuhernhistory.com/russhouseghosts.

Ghosts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse
A terrible accident claimed the lives of children during the construciton of the historic St. Augustine Lighthouse. Some say their spirits linger in the old tower. www.exploresouthernhistory.com/staugustinelighthouse.

Two-Toe Tom - Alligator Monster of Northwest Florida
Are the ponds, lakes and rivers of Holmes, Washington, Jackson and Walton Counties haunted by a red-eyed, demon-possessed, alligator monster?  www.exploresouthernhistory.com/alligator2.

The Wild Man of Ocheesee Pond
Was a Big Foot (Sasquatch or Skunk Ape) captured by citizens of Jackson County during the 19th century?  www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ocheesseewildman.

Two Egg Stump Jumper
The tiny community of Two Egg, as might be expected, has its own miniature sized monster!  Learn more at www.twoeggfla.com.

If you enjoy these stories and want to read more from other Southern states, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ghosts

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Photos of the "Ghost of Bellamy Bridge" - Marianna, Florida

Bellamy Bridge
I've added several odd new photos to my pages on the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. Set on the Chipola River north of Marianna, the story is one of Florida's best known ghost legends.
The new photos were taken in September and show some unusual anomalies on and around the old bridge structure.  Check them out at: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge.

If you aren't familiar with the tale, it surrounds the 19th century death of a young woman named Elizabeth Jane Croom Bellamy. According to the legend, she died in a tragic wedding night accident after her luxurious gown came into contact with an open flame.  She was horribly burned and died within a few days, her last words a promise to her young groom - Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy - that she would love him, "always."

Bellamy Bridge near Marianna
Bellamy buried his bride on the plantation of his brother, Dr. Edward C. Bellamy, near today's historic iron frame bridge structure. He later became an alcoholic and eventually committed suicide. The story holds that Elizabeth's restless ghost roams the swamps around the bridge at night, supposedly looking for her long lost husband.

The true story of Elizabeth Bellamy is quite a bit different from the legend, but the evolution of the tale from events surrounding a prominent early Florida couple to today's popular ghost story is a fascinating story in and of itself.

To read the complete story of the ghost, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge. Be sure to follow the link there to the In Depth version of the story.

You can also read more about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge and an array of other Northwest Florida legends in my book: Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts.

It looks at a variety of stories, including the naming of the unique little community of Two Egg, Florida; Two-Toed Tom, Northwest Florida's demon-possessed alligator monster; the Fiddling Ghost of Boynton Island; the Washington County Volcano; Liberty County's Garden of Eden; the Bible of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna, and others.

The book is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle by clicking here: Kindle Version: Two Egg, Florida.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two-Toed Tom - The Alligator Monster of the Florida Panhandle?

Florida Alligator
In the stateline counties of Holmes, Walton, Washington and Jackson in the Florida Panhandle, residents tell stories of a pseudo-mythical beast. They call him Two-Toed Tom and he is said to be the red-eyed, demon-possessed alligator monster of the Florida Panhandle.

The story of Two-Toed Tom actually originated near the stateline community of Florala, Alabama, and was first recorded by folklorist Carl Carmer in the 1930s.  On a visit to the area, he was told of a "red-eyed hell demon" in alligator form that had been eating cows and mules and even assaulting local women. An encounter with a steel trap had left him with only two toes on one foot, hence his unusual name. Dynamite failed to killed him and before finally leaving the area on his own, he was blamed not only for killing livestock, but for murdering humans as well.

16th Century Indians battle a Gator
The monster gator was last seen crossing the stateline into the Panhandle of Florida and it was not long before stories of him began to surface from the swamps around Sand Hammock Lake, a shallow body of water between the Holmes County towns of Esto and Noma. Residents of the area reported encounters with him and estimated him to be as long as 24-feet. One eyewitness even noted how she had seen him standing, dinosaur-like, on his hind legs.

From Esto and Noma the monster seems to have drifted down nearby Holmes Creek to the Choctawhatchee River, where giant alligator prints were found in the 1980s. The tracks, discovered on Boynton Island on the border between Washington and Walton Counties, were unique in that one of the feet had only two toes.

Residents of the region continue to report sightings of the monster and he is popular fare for Panhandle story tellers. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/alligator2.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Apalachicola Arsenal - Chattahoochee, Florida

Officer's Quarters of the Apalachicola Arsenal
One of Florida's more unexpected military landmarks can be found not in a park or battlefield, but on the grounds of the state's mental hospital.

Built in 1834-1839, the Apalachicola Arsenal is today neither in Apalachicola nor is it an arsenal. The surviving buildings of the complex now form part of the Florida State Hospital in the charming Gadsden County town of Chattahoochee. The grounds are open to the public daily, but photography is not allowed.

Built at a time when Florida was not yet a state but still a new U.S. territory, the arsenal was designed to provide a place for storing and manufacturing military supplies. Built of bricks manufactured on the site, with roofing slate brought in by boat, the original complex consisted of a series of substantial buildings arranged around a parade ground that covered four square acres. These were connected by a solid brick wall that was 9 feet high and 30 inches thick. Gates entered the compound near the center of its east and west walls.

Officer's Quarters (left) & Guard Room
In addition, there were two external magazines (one of which survives). Built of brick with vaulted chambers for storing gunpowder, these were located outside the main compound for safety reasons.

The arsenal was completed just six years before the outbreak of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and served an important role in that conflict. Not only did the facility serve as a storehouse for arms and factory for repairing weapons, building artillery carriages and manufacturing bullets, its walls also provided protection to local citizens several times when war parties attacked homes and farms just south of Chattahoochee.

The Arsenal in the 1840s
The arsenal was the scene of the first military action of the Civil War in Florida. On January 6, 1861, acting under orders from Governor Madison Perry, the Quincy Young Guards seized the facility from its caretaker force without firing a shot. The arsenal then served the state and the Confederacy for the next four years. The 6th Florida Infantry was organized there and late in the war a company from the 1st Florida Reserves and a section of field artillery were housed at the facility.

The U.S. Army reoccupied the facility after the war and used it temporarily as a prison for Southern citizens accused of opposing Reconstruction efforts. It was eventually turned over to the State of Florida for use as a prison. It proved unsuited for this purpose, however, and after only a few years was converted into an "asylum for the insane." It provided the core for today's Florida State Hospital and the old officer's quarters are used today as the Administration Building for the facility.

To learn more about the Apalachicola Arsenal, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Bigfoot Capture in 19th Century Florida??! - Story of the Ocheesee Pond "Wild Man"

Swamps of Ocheesee Pond
One of the most overlooked yet potentially most important Bigfoot related stories in American history took place in 1884 at Ocheesee Pond, a vast swamp in Jackson County, Florida.
The story of the Ocheesee Pond Wild Man, a strange hair-covered creature captured by a local search party in August of 1884 is one of the most bizarre in the long history of American sightings of the monster that most today call Bigfoot, Sasquatch of - in Florida - the Skunk Ape.

Ocheesee Pond is a vast wetland in the southeast corner of Jackson County. Measuring more than 3 miles long and nearly that distance wide, the shallow pond fills a huge basin just south of the towns of Grand Ridge and Sneads and about an hour west of Tallahassee. Although there is some open water near its southern end, for the most part Ocheesee is a vast cypress swamp. It is noted for its prime fishing and beautiful scenery, but also was once the home of what locals called a "Wild Man."

The following is excerpted from my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Reconstruction & The Jackson County War, due out in September:

Sightings of the Wild Man were nothing new in the 19th century South. Indians told early settlers of a strange man-like creature that roamed remote swamps and woods. Covered with hair and much taller than normal humans, the monster was considered dangerous and most who encountered him would not approach him.

As the frontiers spread westward and the population of the Southern states grew, so too did the numbers of reports of encounters with the Wild Man. In Arkansas, settlers told of a Wild Man that chased cattle and left footprints more than 17-inches long. Similar stories were told in North Georgia, where a Wild Man was spotted at Snodgrass Hill on the Chickamauga Battlefield and chased along the ridges of Lookout Mountain. Another supposedly even killed a man in Fannin County, Georgia, during the years after the Civil War.

Ocheesee Pond in Jackson County
These and other similar stories long predated the first accounts of the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest and from their volume and detail indicate that Bigfoot was a fixture of life in the South many years before people began finding giant footprints or taking grainy film in the mountains of Washington and Oregon. It was therefore not considered huge news when people began spotting a Wild Man in the thick cypress swamps of Ocheesee Pond in 1883.

The following year a major effort was launched by local citizens to capture the Wild Man and, surprisingly, they succeeded. A human-like creature described as "emaciated" and "covered with a phenomenal growth of hair" was seized by search parties that penetrated the depths of the swamp.

The Wild Man, it was thought, had been living on berries and other natural edibles. He was sent to Tallahassee, but there disappears from the record. What was he and what happened to him? The answers to those questions could solve a historical mystery and add considerable new evidence in the effort to determine whether Bigfoot really exists.

Read the entire story by visiting: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ocheeseewildman

Friday, July 15, 2011

Whales of the Florida & Georgia Coast

North Atlantic Right Whale
Photo: NOAA
For longer than man has walked the beaches of the Atlantic coast of Florida and Georgia, the North Atlantic Right Whale has spawned in the waters offshore.

A magnificent whale that is one of the rarest marine mammals on the face of the earth, the right whale grows to an average length of 50 feet and can weigh as much as 140,000 pounds. The name comes from the fact that it was once considered the "right" whale for hunting by whaling ships, as its blubber produced high quality whale oil.

Before kerosene was developed from coal in 1846 and the refining of petroleum products began on a large scale in the decades after the Civil War, whale oil was one of the most important fuels used in America. Not only was it used to fuel lamps, but it was also a primary ingredient for making candle wax. It was also used in paint, margarine and other products.

Atlantic Coast of Florida
In fact, the demand for whale oil ignited the massive whaling industry of the 1800s and led to the over-hunting of the species, which in turn led to their decline. As the whale population dwindled, America experienced its first great energy crisis. Prices soared and hunting became so lucrative that species like the North Atlantic Right Whale were almost driven into extinction.

Somewhat ironically, considering the today's global warming debate, it was the introduction of petroleum-based fuels that saved the whales from completely disappearing. Fossil fuels provided a new and cheap source of energy that eliminated America's hunger for whale oil.

Informational Sign on Whales in Florida
Today, only 300-400 North Atlantic Right Whales remain on the face of the earth. They come each December to a small section of ocean along the Florida & Georgia coast to give birth to their young. Thanks to the protection of these spawning grounds and cooperative efforts between marine biologists, shipping companies, fishermen and others to protect the whales from accidental injury or death during their annual migrations, the species is slowly showing signs of recovery.

The number of whales born each year in the waters that stretch from St. Simons Island, Georgia, south to Cape Canaveral, Florida, is growing and there is hope that somewhere in the distant future, the North Atlantic Right Whale will again become a thriving species.

To learn more about these remarkable creatures, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/whale.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paynes Prairie - The Lake that became a Prairie

Paynes Prairie
As drivers head south from Gainesville on I-75 or U.S. 441, they come down off a hill and pass over a wide and open expanse of grassland called Paynes Prairie. Because the prairie is so vast and flat, with a little imagine it is easy to conceive that this was once a heavily-traveled lake.

This area was left an uninhabited wilderness after the original Indian tribes were all but wiped out in the brutal English led raids on the Florida missions and villages during the early 1700s. By the middle of that century, the first small groups of Creeks began to drift down from what is now Alabama and Georgia. They found the prairie rich in wildlife and the surrounding lands good for farming. Others followed and before the time of the American Revolution, what would become the Alachua band of the Seminole Nation had begun to form.

The Alachua gave their name to today's Alachua County, Florida, and the prairie was originally called the Alachua Savannah as well. For many decades it appeared much as it does today, although with much more natural wildlife.  After the Civil War, however, this changed dramatically.

Paynes Prairie
Central Florida experienced several abnormally rainy years and the result was that the groundwater table rose and the vast basin of Paynes Prairie (the name comes from King Payne, an early 19th century Seminole chief) filled with water.

Between 1871 and 1873, Paynes Prairie became a huge lake. And even when the rainy years ended, the lake remained. Steamboats and other vessels navigated its waters, carrying passengers and cargo. It seemed that the landscape had been forever changed.

But then in 1891, the Alachua Sink in the bottom of the prairie reopened and almost instantly the lake was gone! Its waters flowed away into underground passages and once again Paynes Prairie returned to being what it is today, a vast and beautiful grassland.

To learn more about this historic state preserve, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/paynesprairie.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cedar Key's Little Known Civil War Battlefield

S.R. 24 Bridge at Number Four
Tens of thousands of visitors make their way to the charming island community of Cedar Key on Florida's Gulf Coast each year, but few realize they are passing over a noteworthy Civil War battlefield as the bridge comes into view.

An important port community and the Gulf terminal of Florida's only Atlantic to Gulf railroad, the Cedar Keys were first held by the Confederates when the Civil War erupted in 1861. By 1862, however, they had withdrawn from the cluster of islands and before long Union forces occupied Seahorse and Depot Keys. The latter is now the site of the main town of Cedar Key.

View of Battlefield from Fishing Pier
One of the few significant Civil War battles along this stretch of the Florida Gulf Coast took place where Florida Highway 24 approaches the bridge over Number Four Channel as it nears Cedar Key. This is the first long bridge you come to as you reach the coast and is just a short distance from historic downtown Cedar Key.

In 1864, this was the site of Station Four on the railroad. In February of that year, a large Union raiding force led by Major Edmund Weeks of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and made up of 386 soldiers from his own regiment as well as the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops. The Federals marched inland as far as Levyville between today's towns of Bronson and Chiefland, while a second column marched on Clay's Landing on the Suwannee River.


Capt. J.J. Dickson, C.S.A.
 Weeks and his men gathered supplies, cattle and liberated around 50 slaves before turning back for the coast. In the process, however, the aroused a hornet's nest in the form of the cavalry of Captain J.J. Dickson, the famed "Swamp Fox of Florida."  Dickison began to pursue the Union troops as they withdrew back up the railroad, skirmishing with the rear of their column.

At 7 a.m. on February 13, 1864, the "Swamp Fox" caught up with the main body of the Union raiding force at Station Four overlooking Number Four Channel. A fierce battle developed and the two sides surged back and forth. Both commanders ultimately declared victory, with Dickison falling back a short distance from the battlefield and holding a position there, while Weeks and his men withdrew across the railroad trestle to Cedar Key.

To learn more about the Battle of Station Four (also called the Battle of Number Four), please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stationfour.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Death of Florida's Princess, 1867

The Princess Murat
Madame Catherine Daingerfield Willis Murat, the French Princess who was also a great-grandniece of President George Washington, lived for much of her life near Tallahassee.

Her passing during the summer of 1867 was covered with great sadness in the state's leading newspapers

The following appeared in the Tallahassee Sentinel of August 8, 1867:

A SAD ANNOUNCEMENT. – Madame C.D. MURAT, relict of Prince Achille Murat, died at her Jefferson county plantation, on Tuesday morning last, after an illness of several months’ duration. Sad as this announcement is, it is not altogether unexpected to our readers. Few indulged the hope, latterly, that a vigorous constitution would survive the ravages of the terrible typhoid fever that has so long threatened to remove from the scene of her usefulness, in this community, the noble victim of the destroying angel. At an advanced age of sixty years, and over, one of the rarest gems that ever ornamented the society of the South – one of the purest minded and most unselfish of her sex – a blessing and an honor to the age in which she lived – has gone to reap the reward of her fervent piety and her wide-spread benevolence.



Belleview, Home of a Princess
The poor will sadly miss the charitable assistance of one of their “ministering angels” – the rich will search in vain for another such exemplar – whilst all classes will sincerely lament a death which, at her ripe age, seems untimely.


We leave to some abler pen the mournfully pleasant task of paying proper tribute to the memory of one whose whole life has been a blessing, and whose death is now mourned as a public calamity.

Princess Murat's home, Belleview, still stands. A beautifully restored part of the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science, it provides a unique look into the life of a real princess. The home is open daily for self-guided tours daily. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/belleview.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Legacy of Dr. John Gorrie remembered in Apalachicola

Statue of Gorrie in U.S. Capitol
The hottest months of summer are a great time to remember the legacy of one of the most ingenius Floridians of them all: Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of the ice machine.

A native of South Carolina, Dr. Gorrie moved to Florida in the early 1830s, settling first at what is now Sneads in Jackson County and then moving on down to Apalachicola in 1833. The city was then one of the boomtowns of the Gulf Coast, as the development of steamboat travel brought cotton bales and other products pouring down the Apalachicola River to Apalachicola, where it was offloaded onto ocean-going schooners and ships for export to ports far and wide.

It was a time when a young man could move to a new city and become one of the leaders of society in short order. That is exactly what Dr. John Gorrie accomplished in Apalachicola. He served as a city councilman, treasurer, postmaster and eventually mayor of the thriving port.

Replica of the Ice Machine
Outbreaks of yellow fever and malaria, however, swept across the Gulf Coast during the 1830s and 1840s, killing untold numbers of people. Trained as a physician, Gorrie tried to do what he could to fight the sickness. Like many of his day, he believed that the fevers were caused by bad air that rose up from the marshes and swamps during the warm months. Unlike others, however, he noted that those sick with fever improved dramatically when there were sudden drops of the temperature.

Gorrie Grave & Museum
It was an observation that sparked genius and Dr. John Gorrie began working on a way to cool the rooms in which his patients suffered. By blowing air over ice, he created a primitive form of air conditioning. Obtaining ice in Apalachicola in the summer was difficult and expensive, so to solve the problem, Gorrie invented a machine that made ice!

So revolutionary was his invention that Southern investors did not believe it could possibly work, even after he demonstrated the machine in Apalachicola. Northern speculators, in turn, tried to kill off Gorrie's invention because it threatened their monopoly on the ice trade. Despite his groundbreaking invention, Dr. Gorrie died a disappointed man. In the end, his process was even stolen by another inventor who eventually adapted it into the refrigeration systems we use today.

Gorrie is now memorialized in statue form in the U.S. Capitol and his work is featured at the John Gorrie Museum State Park in Apalachicola.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/gorriemuseum.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Record Number of Threatened Birds spotted nesting in Collier County

Least Tern at Lake Jackson
Photo by Tim Ross
NAPLES – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) today announced a record number of least terns, a threatened species, nesting on an isolated sandbar near Marco Island in Collier County.


Each spring, migratory least terns (Sterna antillarum) scout local coastal areas and select a location that best meets the nesting needs of the colonial birds returning from wintering grounds in Central or South America. Over the past few years, tides and currents have been suitable for the re-formation of an emergent sandbar within DEP’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. This sandbar, also known as “Second Chance,” now serves as habitat for the largest beach-nesting least tern colony in south Florida.

“At least 300 nests (with eggs) and about 100 more pairs with chicks are using the ‘Second Chance’ sandbar,” said FWC regional biologist Ricardo Zambrano. “About 800 birds (400 breeding pairs) is roughly the same number of birds that had used the sandbar the last time it was this large, nearly a decade ago."

Least terns lay their well-camouflaged eggs directly on the sand, and young are mobile within a few hours of hatching. Parent birds are the eggs’ and young’s only protection against the elements and predators.

A few acres in size, the elevated sandbar is located at the western edge of the Ten Thousand Islands. It has low vegetation to provide some shade for chicks and is free of land-based predators. The sand bar is monitored weekly by Reserve staff and volunteers and staff has posted with signs and string alerting boaters of the birds’ presence.

“The sandbar provides ideal nesting conditions for least terns,” said Gary Lytton, Rookery Bay Reserve manager. “Acting like a magnet, it is attracting birds from other locations and providing the greatest chance for nesting success in the region.”

Because it is isolated from the mainland the sandbar receives minimal human disturbance, which is crucial for the success of this species. Nesting least terns are easily disturbed by people (on foot or aboard approaching vessels) as well as dogs and other animals that may be perceived as predators. Boaters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts are urged to avoid accessing, or even approaching, this important habitat until nesting season comes to a close, around mid-August.

Whenever you visit the beach, and especially during summer nesting season, do your part to share the shore with wildlife:

o Keep your distance from resting birds
o Use a high-powered spotting scope to get the best view from a reasonable distance
o Do not force birds to fly
o Respect posted areas
o Keep pets on a leash, on your boat, or leave them at home
o Don’t leave any litter behind
o Never deploy fireworks at or near an active nesting beach

Designated over 30 years ago, DEP’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is located in Naples on the Southwest coast of Florida. The Reserve manages 110,000 acres and is engaged in education, research, training, and stewardship. The Environmental Learning Center serves as a regional education, research and training center with a 150-seat auditorium, classrooms, research labs and state-of-the-art visitor center with aquaria and interactive exhibits. For more information on Reserve, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/rookery/.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reminders of War at Torreya State Park - Liberty County, Florida

Civil War Earthworks at Torreya State Park
Torreya State Park, located on the Apalachicola River in Liberty County, is best known for its stunning natural scenery and extremely rare trees and plants, but for those interested in Florida's Civil War history, it also holds a hidden treasure.

Located along the trail that leads down the slope from the beautifully restored antebellum Gregory House in the park can be found the earthwork remains of a Confederate fortification. Built to defend the river against invasion attempts by the Union Navy, the battery was one of a series of such fortifications along the river. It is, however, by far the best preserved.

150 years ago the Apalachicola River was a vital avenue of transportation. Paddlewheel steamboats churned up and down the river from Apalachicola, carrying cargo and people as far upriver as the cities of Columbus and Albany,Georgia, located far up its tributaries, the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.  Apalachicola at the beginning of the Civil War was one of the most important port cities on the Gulf Coast and the river itself provided access to some of the most successful plantations and farms in the South.

Gun Emplacement at Torreya State Park
When Apalachicola was evacuated by the Confederates in 1862, army engineers began to design a series of fortifications to stop Union warships from coming up the river to devastate inland cities and farming districts.

The battery at Torreya State Park once mounted an array of heavy guns and featured artillery emplacements, rifle pits and heavily reinforced magazines. Despite (and possibly because of) the reclamation of the site by the forest in the years after the Civil War, the earthworks remain in remarkable condition today and provide a rare opportunity to step back in time to the days when Florida desperately tried to defend itself from Northern invasion.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/torreyabattery.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kingsley Plantation - Fort George Island, Florida

Kingsley Plantation House
This is part two of a Black History Month series on key African American heritage sites in Florida

 Hidden on coastal island almost within site of the skyline of Jacksonville, the historic Kingsley Plantation holds tremendous significance in American History.

With a main house that was built using slave labor in 1798, the plantation was established during the days of when Florida was still a Spanish colony. In 1814 it was purchased by Zephania Kingsley and his African wife, Anta (Anna) Madgigine Jai. He had first come to Florida in 1803 and purchased her as a slave in Cuba in 1806. The two fell in love, however, and Kingsley set Anta and her children free in 1811. They were married and Zephaniah Kingsley, even though he continued to own slaves, became a major proponent for the rights of free blacks in America.

Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States in 1821 and the Kingsleys found themselves facing major changes in the laws affecting African Americans. Restriction after restriction was handed down and Zephaniah railed against these and debated lawmakers on the subject of the rights of free blacks. He also wrote a major treatise on the subject that was read and discussed both North and South.

By 1830, however, Kingsley realized he was fighting a lost cause. Deciding that there was no immediate hope of changing laws in the United States, he freed 50 of his slaves and took them to Haiti where he established a free settlement. He died in 1843, but Anta (Anna) lived until the 1870s and eventually returned to Florida to live out her days.

To learn more about their fascinating home and its many unique features, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/kingsley.