History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.

WATER TRANSPORTATION

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 there.

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 that distance!

And so goes the story of how our rivers and streams have played their part in the history of our county.

 

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