History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.



Our story about Allentown includes how and why the community came to be as well as why it came to be called Allentown.

As you know East and West Florida became territories of the United States in July 1821. Andrew Jackson formally received the territory of West Florida for the United States from Spain in a "change of flags" ceremony in Plaza Ferdinand at Pensacola on July 17th of that year. Andrew Jackson was the first territorial governor and since the others states, with one exception, were constituted of minor civil divisions called counties, he likewise decreed that Florida should have counties. There ' were two at first: the territory west of "the river" (the Apalachicola River) and the territory east of that river. The territory to the west was to be known as Escambia (an Indian name) from the river by that name which emptied into the Gulf of Mexico at Pensacola (then the seat of government for the territory as well as the new county). The territory east of that river of the geographical extent of the new territory he designated as St. John's County from the Spanish name for the great contrariwise flowing river in the extreme northeastern portion of the new territory.

For a short time this continued to be the total official designation of the county organization of the territory. Even the first territorial assembly met at Pensacola, and it was thought, however, that it would be best to have such assemblies alternate between the two county locations.

Time passed rather rapidly, even though seeming slow for the new settlers anxious for statehood. It was thought that the creation of other counties would hasten the formation and admission of the territory as a state, political aspirations of the new-settlers-to-be being one of the determining factors in the consideration for the creation of new counties.

In 1842, Santa Rosa County was created from Walton and Escambia Counties. Santa Rosa took the name of the patron saint for Viturbo, a small Italian city about twenty-five miles northwest of Rome, and too a saint of flowers (roses) and beautiful women. Likewise, the island forming the barrier to the south of the county and the sound between the island and mainland were so named. Having been created territorial county, Santa Rosa's first sheriff was an appointive one, appointed by the territorial governor.

Some few years previous to the time of the creation of the territorial county of Santa Rosa, some settlers from the older, perhaps the Atlantic seaboard states migrated to Florida by way of Alabama, spending a year (perhaps more) i Alabama enroute to Florida. To stop over for a year (a crop year) in Georgia 0 Alabama and sometimes in both was quite a common practice in those early days. This was almost a necessity since often the trek stretched out for near a thousand miles, and ten miles was a good, not average, day's travel. No team could carry enough food or feed to make the trip straight through. So, what else to do but stop for a year or so to make a crop or two to accumulate food and feed-stuff to continue the journey. Sometimes they never moved on. Sometimes they moved on but failed to find anything to their liking and returned to the Alabama or Georgia stop-over to make their permanent home. These settlers in question, however, came on to Florida, liked what they found, and have remained here.

One of these settlers in question was Jesse Carter Allen and his interest in his new home, his good reputation for honesty and integrity, his ability for leadership (his executive ability) resulted in his being appointed as territorial sheriff of the new county (its first sheriff).

Mr. Allen lived at Floridatown, the first county seat, until the outbreak of yellow fever made it necessary to change the location of the seat of government to Milton.

Thus Jesse Carter Allen came to leave the new county seat and to homestead in a new location in what is now the Allentown community --named for him.

Other people whose names are now remembered in the history of Santa Rosa County came to make their homes in that community. Ben Jernigan, ancestor by name of many now living in this county, operated a sawmill about a mile above the Clear Creek bridge on the present Highway No. 87. Billy Mitchell was associated with him in that and in other pioneering ventures of the new community and was also ancestor by name of many descendants now living in the county. So many of the names now well-known in Santa Rosa County history lived in the early, the pioneer, community of Allentown.

Among many others identified with the early history of this county was John Botts, who in the early days of the community homesteaded the land, a part of which is now known as the Joe Dozier farm. When Mr. Botts found it necessary to travel all the way to Tallahassee for the filing on that land for homestead, he made the trip on horseback. The round trip required two full weeks to the day, although he told his family that he spent only two or three hours in that city. There were no bridges, and ferries were the exception rather than the rule.

Still another of the early settlers in that pioneer community was Mr. "Will" (W.W.) Harrison, who, and whose name borne by his descendants, has had much to do with the social, economic, and political development of the county. Mr. Harrison was one of the very first Republicans of the county joining at the formation of the party. Other members of the family were to add their names to the roster of that party.

Among others of the early settlers of this pioneer community was the Bowers family who had a homestead just northwest of the head of Clear Creek.

Many, many others were to come later and to add luster to the community by adding their worthy names to those already mentioned. There came too the Wiggins family, the Ware family, the Manning family, for whom Manning Creek emptying into Coldwater Creek just about the Highway No. 87 crossing of Coldwater was named, the Wolfe, and the Campbell families. One would be remiss not to mention the West family whose family and name have been prominent not only in county history but in state history as well.

The economic development of Allentown community followed, in general, the pattern of the county and the area at that time. Lumbering was supplemented by grazing, and sheep as well as cattle were very important. The Allen family identified themselves with the sheep grazing industry as did the Mitchell family. The Jernigan family was more likely associated with the cattle grazing phase of the pioneer pattern of development.

Much of the land came into ownership of large absentee landowners. This came about in this manner: the Federal Government offered to the state the Federal lands in the state that could be certified as "swamp and overflow lands," as was mentioned in an earlier chapter. The state then sold much of this land to large holders as The Simpson Company, The Bay Point Mill Company, The Robinson Point Mill interests and other such holding and exploitation companies.

However, not all attempts at an extractive industry were by, nor in behalf, of a big company. Neither were all of the possibilities of industrial development ever exploited fully. It seems that in the 1880's an Italian immigrant coming into this country by way of the Southwest (Mexico perhaps) having had some experience in the old country found satisfactory clay in Allentown and manufactured, on a small scale, some very fine durable pottery. This resource was further exploited in the early 1920's (1923 to be exact) when certain citizens working cooperatively made brick enough to build the original consolidated school building at Allentown. This building is still a part of the present Allentown School.

Allentown and Allentown School brings to my mind many pleasant memories. I called Allentown my home for more than twenty years and I did not attend any other accredited high school.

Allentown School was the first of the Special Tax Districts made possible by legislation which allowed the voting freeholders of an area to petition for an election to tax themselves to create a special tax district, issue building bonds, build buildings and do ail the other things necessary to operate a school.

As early as 1921 sentiment began to be fixed for the creation of a Special Tax School District in the Allentown area. A mass meeting with all the "trimmings" was held at the Hammock Pond School Building during the administration of J.D. Smith, Jr. as county Superintendent of Public Instruction, where a good many speeches were made favoring such. a move. Movies were shown (quite a novelty in the rural areas at that time), and a good meal was served just before dark on a pleasant autumn evening. J. Lee Smith, so long identified with the Agricultural Extension Service of this area, was one of the principal speakers. The movie shown was one of the so-called "commercial" type films released by Ford Motor Company and had no connection with the theme of the meeting except to entertain the crowd.

There was considerable opposition to the move to create the new school district and it was to be several months before the next legal move was to be made. During that period of waiting the old Allentown School was divided and a North Allentown School was conducted in the building which is now the home of Mr. A.T. Crutchfield. Roads were very bad at times and especially during the rainy winter of 1921-22; which did some to help crystallize the thinking toward the creation of a new school district with a building away from the "mud." One would have to know the "mud" of Allentown along what is now Highway No. 87 to appreciate how that same "mud" could so change public opinion.

However, during the year 1922, that opinion became so persistent towards a "showdown" that it was felt that the time was "ripe." Many people were working toward the same ultimate goal. Accordingly, a petition was circulated and the legal number of required signatures were secured. (My father covered most of the territory on horseback to secure the needed signatures).

The Board of Public Instruction ordered an election, the ballots were prepared, and elections were held at each of three polling places: Allentown School Building, which was located in the open field just beyond the home of Mrs. Thomas Allen, Sr.; North Allentown School Building; and Hammock Pond School Building, where the original mass meeting was held, just east of where Mr. Gholson Harrison built his home.

The results of the election were overwhelmingly in favor of the creation of the "New" Special Tax School District and the levying of the maximum millage under that law. Mr. D.B. McLaughlin, Mr. T.M. Spurlock, and Rev. J.B. Ward were declared elected as Trustees of the new district. (By way of explanation those Special Tax School District Trustees performed many of the functions now considered the prerogative of the Board of Public Instruction. They selected their principal; they selected their teachers; they prepared their budget and authorized its spending; and they had the responsibility for the building and maintenance of buildings and grounds).

The next steps in the legal processes to be attempted by those Trustees was the issuance and sale of building bonds. Those bonds were authorized by the County Board of Public Instruction and were completely validated by the well-known Santa Rosa County jurist, Judge Thomas F. West.

The bonds were sold at a premium and more could have been sold then at that premium price. May it be said in that connection that through the succeeding years (after many other Special Tax School Districts had been created) when the going got a little hard, nearly all those districts defaulted on the interest and principal payments of such bonds but Allentown was never in default nor even in arrears.

Several years later it was my privilege to accompany our County Superintendent at that time on a bond marketing tour of bond buyer's places. They, none of them, wanted the issue he was trying to market but almost invariably they said, "We'd be glad to pay you a premium price on some Allentown bonds, but we'd rather not buy these." Those Allentown bonds were good enough to be used as a yardstick over the state, the whole area in fact, by which to measure Special Tax School District Bonds "as good, or not as good, as Allentown bonds. "

An architect was employed and plans for a building were drawn and accepted. Mr. W.M. Welch of Pensacola was the architect.

The Board of Public Instruction advertised for bids for the building, but the bids received were much beyond the money that had been received from the sale of the bonds.

One should not get the idea though that people with the spirit of pioneering, already exhibited by the people of Allentown, were stymied. They decided to build the building themselves with what we usually term "day labor." (Some of these people who actually did the labor will tell you even today that it was not merely "day" labor but that it often meant working day and night.)

Those people were not to be denied the school they had planned. Too, they wanted a brick building. Clay samples were taken at various places near the chosen site for the new building and sent to the state laboratories for comparative testings. (I have seen the tabulations of those testings and their comparative worth was good.) The samples selected were taken from a site about 300 yards west of Highway No. 87 and about halfway down the west fork of Coldwater Creek hill on the south side of the creek.

Mr. Murphy, a brick maker who had operated his own brickyard about Glendale in Walton County, was secured as a supervisor of brickmaking and somewhere near 250,000 bricks were made at the site of the clay deposit. Power for the machinery was a Fordson tractor and crossties from an abandoned logging railway was the fuel for the kilns. Farm teams were the transportation and farm boys and their fathers the labor source. The hoist for raising the materials up to the working levels of the two-story building was a farm mule.

Eventually the money seemed to be "running out" even with this greatest of economy. The remedy for that condition was found in securing the necessary signers for another petition, another election, and another bond sale. This second incorporation made the Special Tax School District to include the then Botts School District.

Persistence finally paid off. The building was finally near enough complete to begin its use. First, only a part of it was used and a flat-bed truck transported some of the fartherest pupils.

Finally, it seemed they would soon be ready for a "regular" school opening, except for transportation. Three Model T Ford truck chassis were purchased and enclosed wood bodies were built locally for the first public school transportation units in Santa Rosa County -among the very first motorized ones in Florida and the Southeast.

Students and/or teacher drivers were used. (I could describe minutely those school buses. I could for I was one-half the crew that built those three bus bodies. My father was the other one-half of that construction crew.)

School bus routes were set up (no pupil within 1 1/2 miles of school was considered as eligible for transportation); principal and teachers were employed; and the school was readied for the opening of its first term. On September 3, 1923 the first term of the new school began, not as Allentown High School but rather as Santa Rosa Agricultural High School.

Professor Austin E. Arthur, graduate of Auburn and the University of Missouri was the principal, science teacher, and teacher of the first Smith-Hughes Vocational Agricultural unit in Santa Rosa County.

Miss Lerlie Robinson (now Mrs. W.A. Whitmire) was teacher of English, mathematics and history.

Those two were the entire high school staff. There was no need for work beyond the tenth grade so the school was at that time fully accredited by the State Department Accrediting representative, Mr. R.M. Geiger, as a ten grade high school. Even at that time, however, it was actually an eleven grade school because a year of preparation was required before beginning the regular first grade work.

The first class there in Vocational Agriculture included about as many girls as boys. Those girls are to be found now in many walks of life; but wherever they are found, they are considered as leaders in their field. The very first livestock judging team ever to go to a State Fair from Santa Rosa County went that year from Allentown (Santa Rosa Agricultural High School). They, three young men and their teacher, made the trip (a two-day trip each way) by automobile, Model T. Paved or hard-surfaced roads were a rarity in this Florida panhandle in those days, but there was a little hard-surface in some of the towns. There were six miles just east of Milton and sixty-two miles just completed west of Jacksonville (where the State Fair was held at that time).

The second principal of that school was Miss Robinson (Mrs. Whitmire) with Mr. E.M. Creel, the second teacher of Vocational Agriculture.

Mr. A.D. McCall succeeded Miss Robinson as principal; with Mr. A.L. Gillman the next regular principal.

Most people in Allentown will remember Mr. C.F. Morris as Mr. Gillman's successor and Dr. E.L. Matthews as Mr. Creel's successor.

Such were the early days and they were "good old days." Those were the days so well remembered by so many.

It is sometimes pleasant now, if not pleasing at the time, to recall some of the anecdotes of those school days of yesteryear; --On one occasion in the class in Early European History the teacher asked a young fellow in the class, "What does the abbreviation B.C. mean?" The young fellow to whom the question was addressed answered without hesitation (and apparently without thought) "Baptist Church." Be it said we were never able to figure out the reason for his arriving at his answer since neither he, his family, nor his teacher had ever been in any way affiliated with the Baptist Church.

On another occasion when Algebra I was embroiled in the study of the process of "extracting the square root of arithmetical numbers," a young fellow was greeted by his math teacher, "Well, did you get through with your home-work in extracting square roots?" He very promptly replied, "No'm but I shore got them 'tater roots extracted." You'd have to know conditions under which those boys attended school and filled a "man's" place on the farm at the same time to appreciate that. He had probably spent all of his night hours "digging sweet potatoes."

Still another incident, not so nice but just as true, where a young fellow appeared at school on a damp, chilly Monday morning quite the most smoked-up little fellow one could have found anywhere. He looked as smoked-up as if he had been around a lightwood-knot camp fire all the past week; he literally looked like the proverbial " smoked herring" (mullet in this country). His teacher wondered about it and asked, "How did you get so smoked-up looking?" The boy replied, "Helping Pa at the still."

On still another occasion: There was a young fellow, a red-head, typically Irish even to his name Patrick and whose sister was one of the teachers in the elementary grades. Patrick was continually in trouble because of being caught smoking on the school grounds. That was strictly a violation in those days and the penalty was to take out one (or more) pine stumps which were thick over the whole area. This boy kept some stumps smoking at all times. Finally, when caught for the "umpteenth time," he told the principal "I believe I'll take the 'other' punishment this time." The principal started marching him upstairs to the agricultural classroom and then took his broad leather belt, "All right Patrick, lie down across that table." Needless. to say, Patrick's reply was, "if you please, I'll go back to the 'stumps'."

Here's a salute to Allentown, the first in so many things in Santa Rosa County: the first county sheriff, as well as three other of the later county sheriffs; a supreme court justice; one of the first sawmills, being antedated perhaps by only the one at Arcadia; the first realization of sheep and cattle as a profitable industry; the earliest profitable general farming, being the first area where farming graduated from a purely subsistence type to that where a portion of the farm products was offered for sale and sold; the first Special Tax Bonded District under the new school law; the first consolidated rural school; the first Smith-Hughes vocational agriculture department; the first motorized school bus for transportation of school pupils; the first brick school building outside of Milton; the first school to provide a teacherage built for that purpose; and the first school unit to visit across the state.

Many people who have gone out from Allentown to "make their way in the world" have done very well indeed. Wherever and whenever they have gone on to higher education, they have done better than the average. There is no reason why they should not continue to do as well as in the past and there are many good reasons why they should do better now than ever before.


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