History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County
by M. Luther King. Used with permission.
It must not be assumed here that all transportation and communication
was by land or by railway. Actually the very location of most of the Florida
panhandle towns indicated the importance that was attached to water transportation.
Let us take a moment out to review some of these strategic "by water"
locations: Milton, at the head of tidewater on Blackwater; Milligan, at
the head of tidewater on Yellow River; Molino, at the head of tidewater
on Escambia; Caryville, located on the Choctawhatchee; Holley, on navigable
water on East Bay; and so we might continue ad infinitum.
I can very well remember myself that forty odd years ago when people
from East Bay country came to Milton, their county seat, they came by
boat-sails (at least at first) or inboard power. During that period, and
before, if the sheriff needed to go to Holley or Town Point (now Gulf
Breeze) he went by boat; when the tax assessment rolls were opened the
tax assessor and tax collector both went by boat, spent the day at Town
Point, posted the assessments and collected the taxes on the same trip.
There were, at that time, some ten families in that whole area.
Upon water transportation and communication depended, on the one
hand and grew, upon the other; the great early industrial development
of this area. This development was basically dependent upon natural resources
of the area, not, as now, dependent upon the resources of an altogether
not adjacent area. The late development of the chemical industries of
this area are dependent largely upon basic chemicals extracted from the
earth hundreds of miles away. However, while that is true there is also
the pulp and paper industry of the area that is dependent basically upon
pulpwood taken from local forests.
The industries of colonial and early statehood days of Florida were basically
dependent upon the earth, forests, fields, and streams for raw materials.
One necessity was the sedimentary clay for the early brickyards (examples
being that of John Hunt at what is now known as the "Dog Farm," or Morton's
Brickyard on the Blackwater opposite Roeville) where hand molded brick
were made from the beds of sedimentary clay brought down by the early
Blackwater and fired in self-contained kilns into a very lasting brick
(examples found in the old Custom House at Milton --now Dixie Real Estate
Office, as well as at Fort Pickens, Barrancas, McRae, and many of the
buildings in Pensacola, of that period).
OLDEST BUSINESS BUILDING IN MILTON (NOW DIXIE REALTY)
The original building here was built of brick from Senator Jackson
Morton's brickyard and was used as a custom office with Milton a
"port of entry."
Another important resource was the forests from which was taken long-leaf
yellow pine (by far the most important in quantity), cypress (now called
"the wood thermal"), juniper (important in early industry here for tubs
and pails), and live oak (so important for the rib framework of the wooden
boats and ships so important in the economy of the area). Or even the
waters of the area from which was taken the fish and shellfish, also important
to the economy of the area. Although it may be said that fields of the
colonial and early statehood era here were rather of the subsistence type,
they did serve to cheapen the price necessary to pay the labor force and
did at nearly all times furnish some excess over bare subsistence which
excess served as a part of early trade or commerce.
Let us point out here too that the harvesting of the bountiful stand
of virgin long-leaf yellow pine presented a transportation problem all
its own but at the same time let us remember that this area of short streams
presented a basis for almost a "tailor-made" solution to that problem
of transportation. At that time, the only avenue of transportation seemed
to be water. So many of the early mills were built at or near to the head
of tidewater on the streams of the area, and water became the highway
and the vehicle of transportation for the long-leaf yellow pine logs -the
basic raw material of the basic industry of the area. The rivers became
the "mail-lines," the creeks the "spur-tracks" of an intricate pattern
of transportation lines. Up the creeks where streams were smaller, where
water volume was hardly sufficient, "waste-away" dams were built to afford
water for a flushing action to carry the logs on downstream. These smaller
streams (creeks) had "log-ditches" constructed alongside the creek. These
"log-ditches" were "engineered" to give a uniform grade and flow
to the water by walling and flooring the ditches --by constructing them
as "flumes" --often raised high above the surface of the valley swamp,
often resting deep into the clay or other soil material of the right-of-way.
When logs had been assembled in the "waste-away" pond; the pond gate
to the flume was opened and the men walking alongside with "pike-poles"
(often called by them "spike-poles") guided the logs to their destination
(usually the sawmill).
Where the sawmill was located at the head of tidewater; the barges or
ships took over from there. However there were sawmills in some instances,
located far above tidewater and where such was true, there was the further
problem of getting the "timber" to tidewater or shipside. "Rafting" of
this timber (usually 8 inches by 12 inches and larger, sometimes much
larger, even twice that size) downstream with the current was the answer
Two of the more important mills of the type located on headwaters of
streams that come to my mind were the "Milligan" mill on West Coidwater
Creek and the "Monroe" Mill on East Coldwater Creek.
Some of the creeks that had log ditches constructed alongside them and
which can still be traced to this day were Pond Creek, West Coldwater
Creek, Manning Creek, East Coldwater Creek, Juniper Creek, Sweetwater
Creek, and Blackwater River (upper).
The process of logging by floating the logs downstream on these creeks
resulted in a highly "selective" type of logging for only the best logs
were cut (the others wouldn't float in that manner anyway). Defective
trees, extremely "sappy" trees, or those with "pitchy butts" were left
on the stump in the woods.
Even at best a lot of those that did start downstream sank and became
"dead heads." Many thousands of such logs have in recent years been raised
to the surface by pontoon arrangements, carried to sawmills and made into
marketable lumber, and many of them had been lying at the bottom of streams
for more than a century.
The "canal craze" that took the spotlight of public opinion over much
of the state, especially over the northeast and central part of the state
never affected the "panhandle" to any extent. The short Gulfward flowing
streams, the protected inshore channels such as Santa Rosa Sound obviated
any real necessity or desire for a system of canals.
However those same Gulfward flowing streams helped to complete another
system of transportation as interesting as the log ditches --both as direct
carrier such as the tremendous "rafts" or sawn, or even hewn, timber and
as the indirect carriers --the "way" for many river steamers that saw
their "heyday" in the panhandle as elsewhere.
I, myself, have seen the entire surface of the Conecuh River just above
the state line covered with rafts of timber for a matter of miles. The
entire western boundary of Santa Rosa County is formed by the Escambia
River. Thousands of rafts of timber all passed from the mouth of Escambia
Creek at Flomaton down the Escambia River along the western boundary of
Santa Rosa County. I have heard those old "River Men" "spin" their yarns
of "rafting down the river" --very interesting yarns and a part of the
growing of the country. During a period of that time $15.00 was the price
for rafting down the river below the mouth of Patsilagia Creek --or the
"falls" at "River Falls." The timber was discharged at Ferry Pass, the
broker from Pensacola (downtown) paid the river men, took their receipts
and in turn gave them his receipts for the timber. He also gave them rail
transportation home -the railway provided a special type car for their
use in which they could carry the tools of their peculiar trade: ax, augur,
peavey, some rope, and their "grub box."
Some wild tales have come down to us as the aftermath of some of those
trips on the "Riverman's Special." There was gambling. There was drinking
for there always seemed to be a convenient "dispenser of beverages" either
at the timber discharge point --Ferry Pass, or at the most convenient
railway depot: Goulding, Brent, or Olive. However, they were usually tired
and the chance to rest and sleep was a most welcome one.
They usually rode the train by way of Flomaton, Brewton, Castleberry,
Evergreen, where some would often leave (or even Owassa or Garland) or
on to Georgiana thence south on the F & A division of the L &
N to Red Level, River Falls or Andalusia. Their transportation would usually
be paid by the timber broker to either one of these towns of their own
choosing. Then, when once home again they were ready for the next trip.
The usual single round trip averaged from five to ten days. The usual
raft of average square timber (12" x 12" x 20') contained some 200 "sticks"
(close to 10,000 feet board measure) or about an average freight car load
of timber. Think how cheaply such a quantity of timber was moved over
And so goes the story of how our rivers and streams have played their
part in the history of our county.