History of Santa Rosa
County, A King's County
by M. Luther King. Used with
The ancestry, the genesis, if you please, of Milton is a
rather difficult thing trace. Conceived as it was in a rather
illegitimate manner; like all other illegitimates its parentage
is something of a cloud -unknown to a degree at least.
According to Allen Morris in the 1963-64 edition of The
Florida Handbook, there is some uncertainty as to how Milton
got its final name. "Some say it is a contraction of an earlier
Milltown; others that it was Milton Amos, a pioneer and
ancestor of the present Amos family; still others that it was
John Milton -- not the English poet but the Civil War governor
Milton had existed as a trading post, a trading center for
many years before that time and a brisk import-export business
was already going on here when "Santa Rosa County was created.
Milton's location at the tidewater terminus of -an old Indian
and trading trail had given it an early importance in the trade
of a large frontier region. During the last Spanish regime in
Florida the Spanish had tried to recapture and/or to hold this
trade for Pensacola, since it was the seat of government for
the Spanish Dons but even then there was a great deal of
trading going on through the town here even though some of it
might be termed in the parlance of today as "smuggling". The
chicanery and intrigues that were participated in by the
governing officials of that "Spanish" city of Pensacola and its
great licensed trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Company to
get and to hold the trade of the region makes pages of history.
Even so, a lively and healthy trade went on during those years
through Milton, often in those days spoken of as "Scratch
Ankle" since many of the surreptious landings made here were at
points where the briars came down to the water's edge. It was
also referred to as "Hard Scrabble" since often these landings
were made at the bluffs on the basins town where indeed it was
a hard scrabble to get from the boat on the water to the top of
the bluff. (From Senator Jackson Morton's brickyard ,operated
on the upstream side of Milton came another name,
There was, in addition to its location on the crossing of
these two trails and their conjunction with tidewater at this
point, some other factors contributing to the location of
Milton. Its location places it in almost the exact center of
one of the finest forested areas of long leaf yellow pine ever
found anywhere. So yellow pine and naval stores early became
high on the export lists of this tidewater town and the needs
of people who work with these woodlands became the commerce
flowing the other way.
Geographically Milton had another set of peculiar location
factors: it is Iocated near the center of the base of a right
angled triangle (the Gulf Coast); the hypotenuse of which is
the Coosa-Alabama River Valley and the altitude of which is the
Chattahoochee-Apalachicola River Valley. This triangular area
is one of short rivers and rather frequent and navigable bays
and bayous. This location and the nearness to plentiful timber
supply made of Milton a rather important and necessary
ship-building and ship-repair center. (This was in the days of
"wooden ships and iron men" rather than "iron ships and wooden
men.") There were at various times in the history of this
little town no less than five shipyards and fully as many
sawmills in the immediate vicinity.
In 1840, the Territorial Assembly granted to Milton a
charter of incorporation. The boundaries of that town were set
forth in that charter thus: "Be it ordained that the metes-and
bounds of the corporation, that is to say . . . commencing at
the N.E. corner of the Southwest Quarter of Section 34 of
Township 2 of Range 28 north and west, thence on a line due
west to the east line of Section 33 and along the east line of
Section 4 Township 1 Range 28 north and west to a branch known
as Higgin Branch where the same crosses the section line
dividing Sections 3 and 4 in Township 1 Range 28 west thence
down said branch to the Blackwater River and across same to a
point I chain distant due East of said River, thence in a
northerly direction with the meanderings of said river at a
chain distant from the same to the Township line dividing
Sections I and 2 in Range 28 north and West thence in a
Northwest direction to the point of beginning."
It is interesting to note how important to these "old
timers" the Blackwater River was. The citizens were very
careful to include a margin of the river bank one chain in
width on the east side of the river. Milton was at that time a
river town and they would no more have considered stopping
their town at the river's edge than would a town of today
exclude the highways passing through. Truly speaking, the river
was the highway: not only did the goods of commerce move along
the river and bay but the people, too, moved along the same
waterways. Even in my own memory, I know that most of the goods
coming into Milton came by boat and that many of the residents
of the rural portions of the county "came to town" on Saturday
by boat. In those days of my earliest memories of this county,
county officials traveled by boat to transact a lot of county
Freight coming into Milton by water was
hauled inland during the 1800s by ox-cart, like the one
shown above. This view, on the souh side of the present
court house square shows the store of J. C. Gainer and Sons.
[We were unable to locate the picture of this
ox-cart, however, a similar one at Penton Grocery in Pace
can be seen here.]
The twenty-first county, Santa Rosa, was formally founded in
1842 from parts, of Escambia (one of the first of the original
two counties) and Walton Counties. It included its present
territory as well as one-half of what is now Okaloosa County.
Milton became the county seat in 1843. One of the first, if not
the very first, official acts of the new town was to make an
application for "Port of Entry" for the town of Milton.
The year 1845 was a busy one --Florida became a state of the
United States on March 3 of that year, one of the last acts of
President John Tyler before he left the office of president on
March 4, 1845. He signed a bill admitting Florida, a slave
state, and Iowa, a free state, into the Union on the day before
he left office.
Honorable W. W. Harrison became the first sheriff of the new
county of the new state. He took his office in the wooden
building used as a courthouse which stood on the lot where
Berryhill School now stands.
We should note here that Florida came very near to being
admitted as a state with its northern, western, and southern
boundaries as they are, but with its eastern boundaries at the
Suwannee River. The bill creating the state as it is now passed
by a vote of 123 to 77.
In 1846 Neil McMillan was elected state senator from Santa
Milton and Santa Rosa County endorsed and supported Zachary
Taylor for president in 1848.
In 1850 Neil McMillan was again elected state senator and
Isiah Cobb was elected sheriff.
Joseph Forsyth was elected state senator in 1852.
"Shades of the Old West!" A vigilante committee was formed
in Milton on June 24, 1854. The year 1854 seems to have been
another of those "marked" years. Dating back perhaps to the
burning of William J. Keyser's store in 1850, there seems to
have been generated quite a bit of feeling during a period of
several months over the arson, illegal entry, mayhem, and even
murders that were becoming too commonplace. Like many another
frontier community, there was a demand for some direct action.
A meeting was held in the auditorium of the Methodist Church
which was, at that time, the only general assembly hall in the
town large enough to hold a town meeting. The "Intendent" (a
carryover from Spanish government forms) for this meeting was
Joseph Mitchell and the secretary was John Chain. We find a
notice of this meeting as it appeared in the Pensacola Gazette
of July 1, 1854 -being the transcript of the minutes of a mass
meeting held in Milton on the evening of the 24th of June,
1854: . .. "A committee of five was appointed by the chairman,
to draft suitable resolutions for the considerations of the
meeting . . .
"The committee . . . returned with the following preamble
and resolutions, which were read and adopted as follows, to
"We, the citizens of Milton, Florida, in primary meeting
assembled, feeling that persons and property are rendered
insecure from the vicious and depraved; and while the smoke
from the incendiary's torch has ascended on high, bearing the
sad story that the homes and industry of some of our good
citizens have been reduced to ashes, it at the same time,
admonishes us to be more watchful and vigilant; ... to
investigate all suspicious circumstances in relation to the
cause of the sad fire which occurred last night ...
"Resolved second, that a committee of five be appointed by
the chairman, whose duties shall be to look up and hunt out all
subjects of vagrancy . . .
"Resolved third, that a standing committee of five be
appointed by the chairman, which shall be nominative, 'The
Committee of Vigilance' whose duty it shall be, to aid and
assist the public authorities in hunting out and locking up all
violators of the laws of the state, and of the ordinances,
rules and regulations of the corporation of the Town of Milton.
. . .
"Resolved four: That the Intendent and Board of Wardens of
the Town of Milton, be, and they are respectfully requested to
create the office of nightwatch for the Town, and to employ a
suitable person to fill said office.
"Joseph Mitchell Chairman"
William L. Crigler (lately an alien refugee from Germany
-the Baron William L. von Crigler) was next elected as state
senator, and James C. McArthur was elected as sheriff. It was
during this same year that Benjamin Marshall was franchised to
operate a toll wharf for the Town of Milton with the rates set
no higher than those in other places.
A "Torrens Rectangular Survey System" (township and range by
section) of the lands of the whole state of Florida was begun
in 1831-32 but was not considered as nearly complete until
1853. Then in 1855 a United States Land Office was established
The survey listed some of the property owners within the
town as follows: that area of Milton as we now know it lying
east of Canal Street to the river up to Berryhill Street was
listed under the ownership of Ben Jernigan; that area north of
Berryhill Street from Canal Street to Stewart Street was listed
under the ownership of John Hunt; the same corresponding area
south of Berryhill Street (that is west of Canal Street) was
listed under the ownership of F. A. Ball and George Walker.
(Walker was a member of the first Territorial Senate for which
he was treasurer in 1843-44). The land in the general area of
what we now call "Allen's Dam" was listed under the ownership
of Joseph Keyser who had a sawmill at that site. Adjoining the
sawmill property were lands claimed by James R. Riley and Ben
Jernigan, and the lands directly south of the sawmill were
listed under the names of C. W. Stokes and A. G. McArdle.
The lands lying between Milton and Bagdad for the most part
were listed in the name of Ben Jernigan, while that same
gentleman and Joseph Forsyth were listed as the owners of what
we now know as Bagdad (proper).
It was not too strange a thing, for this period, that G. and
P. Railway (Georgia and Pensacola Railway) was listed as the
largest land owner of the time in this area. Neither is it any
stranger that this land was donated by the federal and state
governments as an inducement to the railway company to build a
railway here, and it is no stranger either that the railway
company was never completed. (As time moved along, this railway
became the Milton-Ft. Gaines Railway.) Much of the contract
work on this railway was let and a large amount of work done. I
have seen grades that were completed, even trestles that were
built but for some unknown reason the Milton-Ft. Gaines Railway
was never completed to Milton.
The year 1848 was likely the greatest "boom" year in all of
Milton's history. As we read newspaper accounts of that time it
seems rather clear to us now that the people of Milton and
Pensacola were fairly certain the railway would be built to
Milton. An article in the April 1, 1848 edition of the
Pensacola Gazette says, "Milton is the most convenient point
for this steamboat navigation from New Orleans . . . ." The
article was envisioning the terminus of rail traffic of the Ft.
Gaines, Georgia Railway (The G. & P. Railway Co.). The
account continued, . . . "it is impossible to calculate the
advantages which such cities as Charleston and Savannah on the
one hand and New Orleans on the other will derive from this
intimate relationship with Milton . . . Those persons in
Pensacola who are so desirous of disposing of their real estate
in that city in order to invest on Blackwater are acting
hastily. Indeed it is the general opinion here that the
property will not fall in the good old Spanish city. Pensacola
is a healthy city and a very delightful summer residence, and
contiguous as she will be to a large business community,
doubtless many of our businessmen will seek retirement from the
hum and din of a large bustling city (Milton) to a quiet,
little one (Pensacola) during the warm season to enjoy the
delights of sea bathing and to drink of the water from the pure
springs." (Even at that date Pensacola was boasting of its pure
One who travels over the site of the old road bed of that
proposed railway and allows himself to dream can but wonder
what jugglings of finance and political chicanery caused it to
be abandoned when it was so nearly and practically complete.
(Maybe "payola" is simply a new name --not a new practice
--maybe, too, the answer to this question may be found in the
"lost" effects of some of the businessmen and politicians of
that day. They were facing political and financial ruin. Who
knows the answer?)
A note of the year 1858 is that Milton is becoming a cotton
market for the whole area -from as far away as Geneva, Sparta,
and Montezuma (now Andalusia) in Alabama, as well as from other
The darkening war-clouded years that lay ahead found: John
Chain elected to the state senate in 1859 and Isiah Cobb
elected as sheriff. In 1861, James M. Amos was elected sheriff,
and he was followed in that position by John L. McClellan in
1863. (Mr. McClellan is of the family for whom the postoffice
and community in the northeastern part of the county was
named.) A. B. Dickson became sheriff in 1865, which was during
the post-war period but the area didn't settle down to an "as
usual" basis until about 1872.
The fact that many of the substantial citizens of the
county, as well as of Milton, were not of the radical type in
their thinking, and that there were many independent craftsmen
making their livelihood here, plus the fact that there were few
slaves in proportion to the white population, made for a
somewhat quicker recovery from the evils of the reconstruction
period. However, Florida was one of those states which found it
hardest to make her political readjustments. (This was in part
due, no doubt, to the fact that the Northern Florida counties
-Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden, and Jackson -dominated as
they were by slave-owning plantation-type farmers, also tried,
and did, dominate the Florida political scene. However by 1868,
Milton seemed to be going about business as usual, when it
chartered the sidewheeler steamer "Reindeer" for regular trips
to New Orleans by way of Pensacola and Warrington. She was
listed as a combination passenger and packet-freight steamer of
steel sides and bottom.
Politics in Milton seemed to be as "usual" by 1870. This
account appeared in the Pensacola-Sentinel on September 10,
1870: "Last Saturday the Republicans of Milton held a meeting
to nominate a candidate for legislature. The meeting was called
in the interest of A. Holley who expected to be a candidate
without opposition as J. W. Butler was absent at the
Gainesville (Republican State) convention; but unfortunately
for Holley, Butler arrived home the day previous to the meeting
and put in his claim, altering the program considerably. At the
meeting Holley received only three votes and Butler was chosen
as the candidate for Santa Rosa County."
"Sheriff Butler has made the most efficient officer Santa
Rosa County has had for a long time and men of all shades speak
of him in that county as an officer prompt, energetic, and
honest in his official duties."
Then in 1872, judge McClellan was nominated to the assembly
by the Democrats. In that same year, Milton and Pensacola were
connected for the first time by telegraph.
In 1874, John W. Butler was reelected sheriff for a four
year term. It was during this term of his office, in the year
1875, that the wooden courthouse was destroyed by a fire of
peculiar and undetermined origin, and with it were destroyed
most of the pertinent county records. The destruction of those
records in this, one of the older counties of the state, has
made the assembling of historical data concerning this whole
region more difficult than is usual. It has served time and
again to point out the advisability of having records stored in
fireproof buildings and vaults. It has also served to point out
how destructive unconstrained political strife may be.
In 1877, the new courthouse was dedicated. It was located on
northeast corner of what is now courthouse square. A. C. Benbow
was the first sheriff to occupy the new building.
One of the incidents told of Milton, connected with the
Spanish-American War, (1898) is of sufficient "local color"
interest to retell here: It seems that General Leonard B. Wood
and his "side kick" Colonel Theodore Roosevelt had organized
their "now nearly immortal" regiment of cavalry made up of far
western cavalry which they somewhat boastfully named "The Rough
Riders." They were accepted for Federal service and mustered
in. When they were ordered to war debarkation areas, they left
San Antonio, Texas for Tampa, Florida, by train. (Their cavalry
mounts were pulled along in horse cars by the same train.)
This train's occupants (troops) gave everybody (brass,
railway officials, and especially trackside residents) no end
of trouble. At every stop they restocked on bottled alcoholic
liquor. They emptied bottle after bottle. They never bothered
to open the glass windows to throw out their bottles until
glass in windows was the exception rather than the rule. Women,
young and old, all nationalities and all colors, were the
victims of a lot of indignities, to say the least, at New
Orleans, Mobile, and Pensacola--not only in those cities but
also in small towns --wherever the mood struck them.
City police had no control, in fact, no one seemed to be
able to face them down.
Finally, somewhat in desperation, after they had passed
through Gait City, the conductor announced in each car: "The
next town is Milton. The men there are proud of their town and
their women. They actively resent any, real or implied, insult
to either. I, myself, have seen men hanged to the cross arms of
the telegraph poles there and then riddled with shot. I have
had them take a train from me to search for one man. They would
have no qualms about burning your horse cars and contents.
Please for your own sake, go through quietly!"
That was one of the best behaved groups of passengers ever
to pass through Milton.
One of their number returned here following the war, made
his home here, and lived a long useful life. He died here.
Before his death, he told me this story.
A Washington dispatch on August 13, 1880 stated, "Population
Milton -1,056; Santa Rosa County -6,652."
There was a time when Santa Rosa County claimed 1% of the
population of the state; while the state could claim 1% of the
population of the nation. The late great population growth of
both county and state may substantially change this.
Milton has been and continues to be a rather cosmopolitan
community. It has had, and has much less of the influence of
the "Deep South" than many of the nearby areas -even in
Florida. Many of the early settlers were Europeans or "Yankee"
rather than "Plantation South" which accounts for its
still-remaining ability to assimilate newcomers from a great
variety of points of origin.
This Oak Street
Scene shows the home of George Creary which was
located in the block now occupied by Mrs. D. R. Read's
and Mrs. A. H. Smith's residences. [On the back of
this photo is this notation: Oak Street - shortly
after 1912. Note wagon tracks and power lines, of
Milton's new city power plant]
Store on Courthouse Square.
below] The old Waldorf Hotel located on the corner
of Grace (Highway 90) and Elmira, where Johnson and
Johnson law offices are now . . The bottom picture is
a side view.
Willings Street scene where
Licille's Beauty Shop, and the Leader Shoe Sotre
are presently located. This shows the stores of Mr.
Wiley Williams, Jr. and his brother D. T.
Site of former
Fisher and Hamilton Hardware southeast corner
of Willings Street and Highway
[Above and below] 1916
Milton Marci Gras scenes. The car above was driven in
1916 by S. G. Collins with Mrs. Collins also riding in
the front. In the rear are Irene, Alto, and Gladys,
one of whom is the Mardi Gras Queen.
R. S. Robertson's
confectionary store and the Chaffin Bank on North
Willings Street where Christian & Frame
Jewelers are presently located.
1917 Mardi Gras float
of W. G. Collins, standing on Berryhill Street,
opposite present homes of Mrs. Eloise Stewart
(left) and Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Lynn
The John Collins'
home (Pine Street across from former Canal Street
School), later belonging to Mrs. Irene