History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.




A glance at the map tells much about the natural setting of Santa Rosa County. Also much of the contiguous territory is so tied up in the story of Milton and Santa Rosa County that it will need to be given much consideration.

Let us assume that the physical setting for this story about Santa Rosa County to be roughly a right-angled triangle with one angle anchored at, or near, to the mouth of Mobile Bay, that angle being, roughly about 500; thence up along the Alabama-Coosa River (the hypotenuse line of the triangle) to the point nearest the Chattahoochee River, forming there with the Chattahoochee an angle of about 400; thence down the Chattahoochee to the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Apalachicola Bay; finally, turning here an angle of about 900 for the final angle of the triangle as the line returns to the point of beginning.

This triangular area embraces roughly an area of approximately 6,000 square miles - a sort of triangular basin with a slope that tends slightly southwestward. This basin has a high ridge along both the Alabama and the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola sides of its perimeter - very near to the bordering streams. These high outside ridges preclude any likely possibility of tributaries, of any major size, from within the triangular basin. Thus this basin is drained by short rivers comprising four basins or systems: the Choctawhatchee-Pea, the most easterly, then the much shorter Shoal-Yellow-Blackwater, the Conecuh-Escambia, the longest, and finally the Perdido, the most westerly and shortest.

There are many peculiarities of land-forms other than the ones already mentioned, as well as of soils and climate, that give to this area a personality of its own. Soils tend from heavy clay and limestone base soils farthest inland, through clays and clay-loams, then sands to dune sands along the coast. The curving outline of this coast fronting, as it does, a generally prevailing southeast wind tends to give this area the second highest average annual rainfall in the United States (the highest being in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest). The rainfall shades lighter toward northern limits of the region.

Long-leaf yellow pine, juniper (white cedar), live oak, and wiregrass is peculiarly characteristic natural growth. There is of course growths of most of the trees, shrubs, and grasses characteristic of the woodlands farther north in Alabama and Georgia.

Wildlife (fowl, and four-footed animals) is abundant. The shallow coastal waters and pure, clear streams abound in edible fish and shellfish.

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The geologist knows Florida as the "Floridian Plateau" and as the projection of the North American continent that separates the deep water of the Atlantic Ocean from the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. When the geologist thus defines Florida, he includes much more than the now visible (above water) peninsula that we know as Florida. He includes within that definition the offshore regions out to a point of fifty fathoms (300 feet) deep. That extension is close along the East (Atlantic) coast of the peninsula, is very close along the Atlantic coast about Palm Beach, is very close on the south about Key West, is very far on the west (Gulf of Mexico) coast opposite Tampa, and is fairly close on the south (Gulf of Mexico) coast directly south of Pensacola.

The geologist would say that the evidence seems to indicate that the Plateau has been invaded by the sea at successive times and that these invasions have left shelves, benches or terraces at the beach line. He would identify these by name and by height above present mean sea level, as:

Brandywine Terrace

270 feet

Coharie Terrace

215 feet

Sunderland Terrace

170 feet

Wicomico Terrace

100 feet

Penholoway Terrace

70 feet

Talbot Terrace

42 feet

Pamlico Terrace

25 feet

 As you perhaps already know, these terraces and plateaus give their names to what are called formations - the peculiar rock depositions or formations of that period; therefore, we have a formation, a series of rock or other deposition peculiar to that time and/or area. You may know also that these formations were named for places (as they often are named) where they were noted to appear as a surface formation or exposure. Thus the Brandywine formation was named for a creek or stream nearby a village by the same name in Prince George County, Maryland. Likewise the Coharie formation, was named for the Great Coharie Creek, a tributary of the Black River in North Carolina where the formation has been exposed to the surface. Then the Sunderland formation was named for a small village or hamlet in Calvert County, Maryland for the same reason. The Wicomico formation was named for the Wicomico River in St. Marys and Charles Counties in Maryland. Then the Penholoway formation was named for a creek in Wayne County, Georgia. The Talbot formation was named for Talbot County, Maryland. You may have guessed, from historical references, that the Pamlico formation was named for Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

Although it is of no direct concern here, but simply to illustrate how names of formations come into use, the name Tuscaloosa formation, so commonly used in reference to the oil discovery wells in the Pollard oil field, is named for Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, where the formation was first noted exposed to the surface.

As you perhaps know, the age, that is the geologic age, of an area is determined and named from the exposed rock formations. The rock underlying Florida may, hypothetically, be said to range from a pre-Cambrian core which has not as yet been exposed, to very recent deposits that are still accumulating. Indeed, anything as old as pre-Cambrian may not be found since no drilling has yet exposed such underlying Florida. The oldest formation exposed at the surface in Florida is Avon Park limestone, middle Eocene, which has been noted in Citrus and Levy Counties, near the West Gulf Coast.

It is to be presumed, and it is only a presumption, that if one were to drill deeply enough one might find something to compare with the complex folded masses of gneisses, schists, and perhaps marbles comparable to those found underneath the Piedmont areas of Georgia which are contemporary to the ancient continent of Appalachia which existed here before the present continent that we now know as North America. However, we are not too concerned here with conjectural possibilities, but rather with those conclusions which, in the face of visible evidence, can be definitely established. The beaches of the marine terraces, previously referred to, can in certain places in Santa Rosa County be traced by visual evidence. It is a rather interesting project.

The three early Pleistocene shore lines (the Brandywine, Coharie, and Sunderland) are, being the highest, rather close together in Santa Rosa County and are, of course, in the extreme northern part of the county. The Brandywine Terrace may be traced on the Jay Quadrangle of the Topographic map published by the United States Geological Survey in 1944 as extending from near the Alabama line one mile north of Mount Carmel eastward to the county line - the plateau embracing an area as much as seven miles broad in some places and sixteen miles long. The edge of this plateau, the terrace, is at 270 feet above mean sea level.

The Coharie Terrace, shore line, at 215 feet above mean sea level lies about midway between the two adjacent terraces (shore line), Brandywine and Sunderland, and, for the most part, can be located on the Harold quadrangle of the before mentioned map of the United States Geological Survey. This plateau includes only a few square miles of territory within Santa Rosa County - that plateau for the most part includes a narrow strip averaging less than five miles in width, following as mentioned above the general contour of the two adjacent terraces.

The Sunderland Terrace, likewise, follows similar contours to the contours of Brandywine and Coharie, and its plateau includes only a few more square miles of territory than does the Coharie plateau. Both the Sunderland and Coharie terraces make more allowances for the contours of the Yellow River Valley than does the Brandywine terrace but about the same allowance for the Conecuh-Escambia, indicating that the Conecuh-Escambia might be the older stream bed. (There are some other rather indefinite indications that there might be a major fault along the Conecuh-Escambia River valley -- for instance, artesian water is less frequently found along the eastern side of this valley.)

(I have heard a layman's opinion expressed that there was definitely an interruption of the Tuscaloosa formation at the Conecuh-Escambia and that such was the reason that none of the attempts to find oil in Santa Rosa County had been successful.)

The Wicomico Terrace in Santa Rosa County is very near to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and at some points is coincidental to the Sunderland Terrace, but at no point is there a broad plateau. The Wicomico follows along the 100 foot contour and, of course, down in the peninsular portion of the state there is a broad plateau between it and the Sunderland Terrace. Sand is the principal constituent of the Wicomico Plateau; whereas some clay deposits are found on the Sunderland Plateau. The Wicomico Plateau has a steep approach in Santa Rosa County and is wanting in the usual dissection.

The Penholoway Terrace follows the 70 foot contour and like the Wicomico in Santa Rosa County lies very close to the present beach. Although in any of the other area there is a distinct demarcation between Wicomico and Penholoway, at other times the conformity is so close that there is no distinction. The fact is apparently that the sea bottom was exposed on the withdrawal of the Wicomico so that there is no deposition between the two periods.

The Talbot Terrace (the Talbot Shore and the Post-Talbot Shore were 100 feet apart in elevation above mean sea level) follows the 42 foot contour (the Post-Talbot Shore is defined as the 60 foot contour). Except in some of the bays, bayous, and estuaries, the Talbot Formation consists of fine sand. It thus becomes quite evident that the Talbot Plateau will be very narrow or even non-existent in Santa Rosa County.

The entire area south of East Bay and the East Bay Swamp appears to have been a sand-bar or a sandy shoal. The mainland shore which lay near to the 40 foot contour line is too steep to show the terraces plainly on the map of the Holley Quadrangle.

The Pamlico Terrace follows the 25 foot contour and lies unconformably upon everything below it, because it was deposited largely during a period of submergence following a much lower stand of the sea. During Pamlico time the peninsula of Florida was much shorter than it now is and stopped above (north of) Lake Okeechobee. The Saint Johns River was a long wide lagoon. The entire coast line was indented by wide deep bays that had been eroded by one recession of the sea that preceded the Pamlico time and were flooded in the Pamlico time by the sea which reached a level 25 feet higher than the present sea level. Blackwater Bay reached several miles above Milton -- perhaps even above the present junction with Coldwater Creek. Yellow River might have been non-existent, the Choctawhatchee Bay reached above (north of) the present bridge at Caryville, perhaps, and the Apalachicola Bay no doubt reached above the present bridge at Blountstown. There is evidence that the Escambia Bay reached to a point somewhere about McDavid. Turkey Bluff, near Bagdad, is one terminal of that terrace in Santa Rosa County; whereas the other is over by the present Escambia Bay Chemical Plant near Floridatown and is plainly noticeable on the United States Geological Survey map of the Milton Quadrangle.

There is one older (Pliocene) which underlies much of the Pleistocene formations which we have been describing that holds much interest for us, for it seems to be the principle source of much of the ground water supply for this whole area. This Citronelle formation lies unconformably on older formations and is overlaid unconformably by more recent formations (those recent formations described in the earlier pages here). The Citronelle formation reaches from peninsular Florida westward into Louisiana and Texas and was so named by Matson in 1916 but had previously been named the Lafayette. The Citronelle Formation was named for a small town in Mobile County, Alabama, about 35 miles northwest of the Florida-Alabama line at the Perdido River.

This Citronelle Formation is made up largely of sand, gravel, and clay. Most of the sands are red or orange in color as well as the gravel; whereas, some of the purer clays are nearly white. Most of the formation west of Florida is sand with sand predominating near the stream beds and near the landward margins. Although there is not too much knowledge now available concerning the depth or thickness, its thickness may well be said to range from 250- 350 feet. Thus it will be noticed that most of the supply of ground water of Santa Rosa County will be found in this formation.

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