History of Carrabelle and Franklin County, Florida

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                   Local History

People first reached Florida at least 12,000 years ago. The Paleo-Indian lived in a Florida twice the size it is today. At the time they lived, sea level was 60-100 m lower, exposing vast expanses of the present continental shelf. Present-day coasts were inland, even upland, areas. The late Pleistocene shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico were located as much as 120 to 150 km seaward of their present locations. It is not difficult to see why Paleo-Indian period coastal sites have yet to be discovered in Florida, they are submerged beneath fathoms of ocean water, many kilometers offshore. The rich variety of environments in prehistoric Florida supported a large number of plants and animals. Carrabelle has a site known as 8FR2 which contains Deptford (2,500 BC to 100 AD) archaeological remains. There are other sites near Carrabelle that have not been investigated. The Apalachee were the most politically and socially complex of Florida's natives. They were located in the panhandle of the state, from the Aucilla River westward. Because the land they held was the most conducive to agriculture, they were able to support a larger population, in larger and more numerous villages. Their principal towns were: Ivitachuco, Calahuchi, Iniahica, Aute and Ochete. Other chiefdoms further west that are linked to them (through custom and a shared Muskogean language) were: Pensacola, Chatot, Apalachicola, Amacano, Chine, Pacara and Sawokli. There is much evidence of their habitation of the area. There are Indian mounds, small pieces of pottery and arrowheads to be found. Pre-Columbian pottery shards, old bottles and other items of interest wash up on the beaches.

There has been a human presence in Franklin County for thousands of years

Carrabelle, Florida is located about 20 miles east of Apalachicola on St. James Island, in Franklin County. Here the mouth of the Carrabelle River flows into the Gulf of Mexico by way of St. George Sound. Carrabelle is surrounded by the Carrabelle River, Crooked River, Ochlockonee River and the Gulf of Mexico. To the south across St. George Sound is Dog Island and to the northwest, the infamous Tate's Hell Swamp.

1528 The first recorded Spanish expedition passes through the area. The ill fated expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez. They recorded stopping at an Indian Village that may have been Tahiti Beach on St. Vincent's Island. The expedition had started from the Tampa Bay area and moved overland to an Indian village near present day St. Marks enroute to the Rio Grande in Texas. Here they decided to build boats in an effort to reach Mexico. Their situation was desperate, swords and armor were forged into saws and nails for the construction of their small boats. The details are sketchy as only four survived, one of them, de Vaca wrote the account of their eight year struggle to reach Mexico. Another survivor, a Moorish servant, started the fable of the "Seven Cities of Gold".

1683 On a map attributed to Alonso Solana, two Indian villages are located on the east bank of what appears to be the Carrabelle River. On his map he calls it Rio Chachave. The villages area assumed to be Tocobagas, who relocated here after a war with the Calosas in the Tampa Bay area.

1686 Juan Jordon de Reina mentions passing the mouths of three rivers before reaching the Apalachicola River. He was traveling from St. Marks to Pensacola.

1701 Father Antonio de Jesus of Pensacola landed on one of the islands off Carrabelle to take shelter from a storm. He was an investigator for the Inquisition.

During this period of time, mariners and travelers avoided the area. Spanish Slavers raided the coast for Indian slaves to replace those in Cuba who had died from disease and overwork. It is believed that pirates and smugglers were well aware of the area and the protection offered in St. Georges Sound. Dog Island and St. George Island were excellent staging areas for raids on the local ports. Pirates successfully raided San Marcos in 1677 and 1682, burning the fort, taking ships, and ransoming prisoners. The number of ships lost in this area will probably never be known. Pieces of old vessels continue to be found. Little is recorded of the Carrabelle River and the exploits of visitors to the area.

1776  The brigantine Tiger (Le Tigre) shipwrecked off of Dog Island during a winter storm on February 16th. Survivors eventually reached the swamp on the mainland near present day Carrabelle and began their trek slowly eastward toward Fort St. Marks. A best-selling narrative by survivor Pierre Viaud-Naufrage et Aventures de M. Pierre Viaud-shocked European audiences with its tales of disaster at sea, betrayal, death, murder, native savages, wild animals, cannibalism, and eventually, being rescued by the British soldiers garrisoned at St. Marks.

Click here to read an eyewitness account of the wreck of Le Tigre

August 17-18, 1779  Apalachicola and the eastern Gulf of Mexico: The Spanish War Fleet, with 64 ships and 4000 men, under the command of Admiral Solano, set sail from Havana to attack the British base at Pensacola in an attempt to drive England out of the Gulf Coast. An intense hurricane crossed the Gulf directly into their path, destroying many of the ships and dispersing the others. The attack was canceled.

1799  H.M.S. Fox set sail from Nassau to the Apalachee region of Florida on September 4th, 1799. Caught in a storm very near its destination, the Fox ran aground in between St. George and Dog Islands, losing most of its cargo of supplies and munitions.

Early 1800's  There were roving bands of Indians and sea captains avoided the uninhabited coasts, landing only when they had no other choice. Most people of the time had heard stories of the North Florida Wilderness that was full of bears, wolves, wildcats, deer and alligators. This became an area to be avoided. Sportsmen began coming from St. Marks to fish in the nearby New River and to hunt big game in the area that became known as Tates Hell Swamp. There was an old road that ran along the coast from St. Marks to the Apalachicola River.

1819, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty. The actual transfer did not occur until 1821.

October 18th 1823 , During his trip from Pensacola to St. Marks, Pensacola attorney John L. Williams encountered a hurricane. He and his party took shelter near the mouth of the Crooked River until the storm had passed. He met with Dr. William H. Simmons at St. Marks. Acting on authority from William P. Duval, the Florida Territory Governor, they selected the old Indian settlement at Tallahassee to be the territory capital.

1830's Dr. Alval W. Chapman settled in Apalachicola. He was a physician but his interest was botany and he earned a vast reputation for his work until his death in 1899. 

1828 to 1831 Piled high with cargo (cotton bales), there were well over a hundred steamships on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Apalachicola developed an extensive inland trade. 

1837 The last Indians are removed from the Carrabelle area and Dog Island to be "moved" to Oklahoma. A large segment of St. George Island was breached by extreme surge/wave action. The "New Inlet" remained open until sediments closed it in the early 1900's.

1837 to 1850 The Port of Apalachicola is the third largest on the Gulf Coast after New Orleans and Mobile. Cotton was king and trade flourished. The waterfront in Apalachicola is a busy place with ships departing to points around the globe. Most ships took cotton to Europe.  

1838 Dog Island Light was built on the western tip of Dog Island to mark the "middle entrance to St. George's Sound." The lighthouse was first lit in February 1839. This marked the first known permanent human habitation on the island.

1840 Apalachicola has a population of 1,562. 

1842, October, a hurricane destroyed keeper Latham Babcock's dwelling and a portion of the Dog Island lighthouse. A temporary wooden tower was used until the brick tower could be repaired.

1845 Florida becomes a State.

1850 Apalachicola has a population of over 1,900. 

1850 to 1860 the Port of Apalachicola declined in use. Many factors contributed to the decline in commerce. River conditions and railroads being the primary reasons. 

1851  All of the coast south of Tallahassee was flooded with up to a 12 foot storm surge. The fort at St. Marks was completely destroyed as were three lighthouses nearby in Apalachicola. Dr. John Gorrie's ice machine was issued patent no. 8,080. 

1852 A hurricane washed away railroad tracks and flooded much of what is now Wakulla, Franklin, and Gulf Counties.

1855 Early settlers near Carrabelle were carving small homesteads out of the virgin forests. Among the first was a family headed by McCagor Pickett.

1861 With the election of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans, Florida is the third (3rd) State to secede.  

1861-1865 Throughout the Civil War the Port of Apalachicola was blockaded by Union Warships. The blockade was largely ineffective at first, but with the arrival of shallow draft steamers, the blockade tightened. Capturing a blockade runner was not only their duty, it was profitable. The ship that captured the blockade runner sold the ship and cargo.  The profits were divided among the crew. The Confederates and most of the population evacuated the town of Apalachicola leaving it open to Union occupation. The Confederate artillery was moved up river to Ricco's Bluff. The citizens of Apalachicola declined to take the a loyalty oath when offered by the Union Commander.  The town was occupied by Union forces for about 36 hours.  The town had been captured and abandoned at the same time. With Apalachicola neutralized, military action shifted upriver.  During the Civil War the Crooked River area was defended by C. S. A. Captain H. T. Blocker of the Beauregard Rangers. Their Headquarters was located several miles away at Camp Gladden. The U.S. Gunboat Sagamore made several references to the location. The Gunboat was on Blockade Duty. There were two plantations two miles up the Crooked River. On May 20th a Union Cutter brought troops to the area. Captain Blocker had seen the Union Cutter and waited in ambush on Carr's Hill (now Coombs Hill). When they attacked, the Yankees jumped into the river, fled into the swamp or swam along side the cutter for protection. The Confederates killed or wounded 17 of the 21 men. Although the Yankees returned fire from their vessel, no one on the Confederate side was injured. The Confederates burned the stairway and damaged the lens in the Dog Island lighthouse to prevent its use as a lighthouse or lookout tower. Dog Island and St. Vincent Island were of strategic importance to the Union Navy during the Civil War, and they were used as staging points for the blockade of the Port of Apalachicola. On 20 February 1864, Union Forces were defeated by the Confederates at the Battle of Ocean Pond (called Olustee by the Union) near Lake City. Tallahassee was the only state capital not occupied by Union forces during the war. 

1865 to 1866 Apalachicola was a broken and decaying town by the end of the war. Franklin County was occupied by Union Forces from Pensacola.  The Eighty Second Colored Infantry was stationed in Apalachicola.  The city made an easy transition to peacetime and began to prosper. In 1866 the city was again shipping cotton.

1868 St. Vincent Island was sold at public auction for $3,000 to George Hatch. 

1869 The brief post war economic boom in Apalachicola is over. It is a time of hard work and little money for most of Franklin County.

1870 The beginning of the area's timber industry starts with several small lumber mills. The supply of timber seemed endless and the industry began to grow. The timber industry would be the mainstay of the area's economy for many decades.

1872 The Dog Island Lighthouse is destroyed by a hurricane. The United States Government did not replace it as there was no commerce in the area. The remains of the lighthouse should lie about 100 meters off the island.

1876 Geographic explorer Nathaniel H. Bishop navigated the Crooked River through a low pine savanna country to the Ochlockonee River. To him the entire region  appeared destitute of the habitation of man.

1877 Oliver Hudson Kelly, from Massachusetts, came ashore with a few others. He founded the town and named it "Rio Carrabelle". There are many stories and legends about the exact source of the name Carrabelle. Kelly purchased 920 acres from Benjamin Curtis who also owned Dog Island.

1878  The first U.S. Post office is established and it's address was Rio Carrabelle.

February 1881, A steamboat is being built in Carrabelle to run a regular mail route between Carrabelle, St. Marks and Apalachicola. Her speed will be such that the trip from Carrabelle to Apalachicola should take a mere three hours.

September 1881 there are between 500 and 600 people in Carrabelle

1882, the town of Carrabelle is five years old and no longer called "The place at the mouth of the Carrabelle River."  Plans are being made by the railroad to build a rail line to Carrabelle. The nearest saloon is in Apalachicola.

September 8th 1882 , The new town of Carrabelle experienced it's first hurricane. No lives were lost and no homes were destroyed. Most of the damage was to the two sawmills and about 1 million feet of  lumber was strewn along the waterfront for some two miles.

 1885    A tale that has been told for many years recounts how Tate's Hell Swamp got its name. Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, "My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!". Ever since, the area has been known as Tate's Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.

1887  Elizabeth Hatch, widow of George Hatch, sold St. Vincent Island to the former Confederate General Edward Alexander.  First Carrabelle city map is drawn. 

1890 United States Census reports that Carrabelle has 482 residents.

1891 The C. T.&G. Railroad was projected along a route extending from Carrabelle through Tallahassee north to the Florida-Georgia line. The railroad was incorporated on 5 January, 1891 with a capital stock of $1,000,000 and a land-grant of 206,370 acres. The company had 3 locomotives and 50 assorted cars. It was later sold and the name changed to the Georgia, Florida and Alabama Railroad.

1893, 11 May, Carrabelle becomes a city.

1895 The Crooked River Lighthouse was built to replace the Dog Island Lighthouse destroyed by a hurricane in 1872. The tower, two dwellings, oil house and other outbuildings cost $40,000 to build. The 103-foot tall square skeleton tower sits on the mainland at the mouth of the Crooked River in St. George Sound.

1898 A Post Office is opened in Eastpoint.

August 1, 1899 , A hurricane destroyed most of the homes in Carrabelle and claimed several lives. Only nine homes remained standing. Two hundred destitute families were left without shelter. The storm blew the C.T.&G. passenger train, near Lanark, more than a hundred yards from it's tracks. The docks and wharves in Carrabelle containing about 400,000 feet of lumber and 50,000 barrels of rosin were all swept away. 15 vessels were tossed high and dry on St. George and Dog Islands. Mast's from the wrecked vessels washed ashore all along the coast for years. A total of 40 cargo ships and sailing vessels in the area were destroyed by the hurricane. With telegraph lines down, a man was dispatched by horseback to Tallahassee with the news of the devastation of Carrabelle. The center of town was moved to it's present location.

1907 The Franklin Hotel was built. 

1923 The sisters Annie Gibson Hayes and Mary Ellen "Sunshine" Gibson purchased the Franklin Hotel and changed the name to the Gibson Inn. 

September 30 1929, A storm with 75 mph winds struck Carrabelle. No other reports available.

1930's The depression of the 1930's brought even leaner years for the city of Carrabelle. Money was in short supply. During this period Mrs. Cliff Miller, also known as Miss Tilly, moved to Carrabelle from Louisiana. She brought with her much-needed medical skills and a generosity to match. The Bridge over the Carrabelle River was named the Tilly Miller Bridge in her honor.

1933  The Crooked River Lighthouse is converted to an electric light.

1935 The John Gorrie Bridge is opened. The bridge linked Apalachicola and Eastpoint. 

1939 A storm crossed the northern half of the Florida peninsula and briefly emerged in the NE Gulf of Mexico, just long enough to intensify into a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore SW of Tallahassee, near Carrabelle.

1940 The new courthouse in Apalachicola opens. The seafood industry begins to flourish.

World War II  German U Boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico near Franklin County in the early days of the war. Carrabelle was an important port for shipping of oil.  The oil was shipped from Texas through the Intercoastal Waterway to Carrabelle and then through a pipeline to Jacksonville where it was loaded on ships for Europe.  The pipeline began at what is now know as Three Rivers. Nearby Camp Carrabelle was renamed Camp Johnston in January of 1943 and trained thousands of soldiers for amphibious assaults. The history of Camp Gordon Johnston is a subject all it's own. Suffice to say it brought money and construction to Carrabelle which had been devastated by the depression of the 1930's.

2002 Like many cities along the Gulf Coast of Florida, Carrabelle is growing past the description of "a small fishing community"  Progress is to be seen everywhere.  As the population increases so does the demand for goods and services. The Southern charm is still found here along with the friendly smile. The Carrabelle River is still home to the Shrimping and Fishing industries. One can only hope that the pains of growth will not be felt worst by the industry that has kept Carrabelle alive for so many years!


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