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History: Franklin County

Pre-1528

The Apalachees were the major tribe from the Apalachicola River to the Suwannee. The Apalachicola Indians were concentrated near the coast.

1528 - First exploration of Franklin County by Europeans

Panfildo de Narvaez visited a location near present-day Apalachicola. The journal of his expedition describes a coastal island that is believed to be Dog Island, Saint Vincent Island, or Saint George Island. DeSoto’s party in 1539 probably sighted Saint George Island as well.

1705 – First known European settlement of Franklin County

The earliest known European settlement of the area encompassed by Franklin County was a fort built at the mouth of the Apalachicola River by the Spain in 1705.

1763 - English acquired Florida.

The English acquired Florida from Spain with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. England returned Florida to Spain after the American Revolution.

1821– The U.S. acquires Florida

Spain cedes Florida to the US with the Adams-Onis treaty in 1821. It was ultimately decided that this treaty did not include approximately 1.5 million acres of the area claimed by John Forbes and Company as a result of an agreement between the company and Spain to settle debts in the early 1800’s.

1831- Beginning of Apalachicola

By the 1820’s a settlement had grown around the mouth of the Apalachicola River due to the presence of Charles Jenkins, the customs district’s collector, at that location. It was known as Cottonton in 1824 and then incorporated as West Point in 1827. The settlement was incorporated in 1829 and given the historical name Apalachicola in 1831. The town of Westpoint was incorporated into Apalachicola in 1832 and suffered major fires in 1833 and 1837.

1832– County of Franklin created and Apalachicola was declared the county seat

Franklin County was formed from parts of then Gadsden and Washington County. The county was named for Benjamin Franklin. Chattahoochee, the first town on the river, was 106 river miles north of Apalachicola. Several warehouses there were owned by Apalachicola merchants.

Apalachicola’s economic growth depended on southwest Georgia and the Chattahoochee River valley. As Indians were removed from those areas, settlers planted crops such as cotton and Apalachicola became their port of shipment.

Lighthouse
Cape St. George Lighthouse (photo taken 1950). Photo Credit: Florida Photographic Archives
1833 – Lighthouse built at West Pass

A lighthouse was built at West Pass in 1833, standing 65 feet tall. The lighthouse was moved to Cape St. George in December 1848 but was destroyed by a hurricane in 1851. That lighthouse was rebuilt in 1852 at a location further inland (now on Little St. George Island).

1835 – Apalachicola Land Company organized

The US Supreme Court ruled that the land in the Forbes Purchase was private. The now land-owning parties involved organized the Apalachicola Land Company in 1835. Because of the uncertainties surrounding land titles and taxes in the areas encompassing the Forbes Purchase, which included Apalachicola, many business investors looked to St. Joseph as a safer place to invest money and develop businesses. The lands encompassed by the Forbes Purchase, which spanned the Apalachicola River into Wakulla County, were said to be poor as they were not suitable for agriculture and they did not carry minerals. Over the next few decades, the Apalachicola Land Company had to give up much of its land to pay county taxes.

1836 - St. Joseph was incorporated.

Its citizens wanted St. Joseph to become the county seat of what was then Franklin County. However, by the summer of 1841, St. Joseph was deserted due to hurricanes in the late 1830’s and the yellow fever epidemic in 1841.

1836 - The Apalachicola Land Company (ALC) dredge the Apalachicola Harbor.

The federal government also appropriated money in the 1830s to remove obstructions from the Apalachicola River and to deepen the channel in the bay and St. George Sound.

1830 – 1850

Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics organized churches in Apalachicola from the 1830’s through the late 1840’s.

1840 – 1859

The citizens of Apalachicola suffered from repeated damaging hurricanes in 1842, 1844, 1850, 1851, and 1856. Also, the town battled major fires in 1842 and 1857.

Ice machine
Model of first ice machine displayed at the John Gorrie Museum in Apalachicola. Photo Credit: Florida Photographic Archives
Apalachicola had a number of banks as well as a local library association chartered in 1840.

Apalachicola is the third largest port on the Gulf Coast after New Orleans and Mobile.

Oysters begin to be harvested for commercial purposes.

John Gorrie (inventor of the ice machine) and Alvan W. Chapman (botanist) were two residents of Apalachicola with international reputations.

Apalachicola had private schools in the 1840’s. The Apalachicola Academy opened in 1848. By 1860, Franklin County had four “common schools”.

Robert Floyd purchased St. Vincent Island in 1858 from the Apalachicola Land Company. It was then acquired by Dr. Ray Pierce. Dr. Pierce developed the island into a game preserve and added sambar deer. The island remained in the Pierce estate after his death in 1914 until 1948. The island became part of the national wildlife refuge system in 1968.

Pre-Civil War Era

On the eve of the Civil War, Apalachicola was the sixth largest town in Florida with 1,906 residents. The city of Apalachicola grew rapidly because of its location at the mouth of the river. In 1860, the city’s chamber of commerce declared that “we do more business than each and every portion of the State put together.”

But while Apalachicola received 80% of the cotton produced in its river drainage in 1850 it had declined to 43% by the end of the decade. In the South, the economy was expanding with competition from Columbus, from the railroad and new textile mills. The economy of Apalachicola and Franklin County was not diversified. For example, there were only 3 farmers in the 1860 census and there was no industrial economy at all. The fishing industry had great potential but there was no export market at the time, only local.

Civil War Era

Florida’s Civil War Militia was established on February 14, 1861 and the Confederate Congress’s army on March 6, 1861.

The Union had a blockade on in the St. George area. Despite the blockade some vessels did enter and leave without Union interception.

Governor Milton called Apalachicola the first line of defense for the interior of the state and wanted more Confederate troops/supplies in 1862 since state troops were to be dissolved by March 10, 1862. When the troops left, many of the town’s population went into Georgia and Alabama.

Post-Civil War (1865 – 1870)

After the Civil War, Apalachicola was limited by few and inadequate roads, dwindling water transportation for commerce, and a total lack of railroads. Some attributed the difficulties to an unimproved port and a lack of consistent channel depth. But others believe a bigger problem was the completion of the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad to Bainbridge, Georgia. This railroad connected the heart of the Apalachicola – Flint – Chattahoochee River basin directly to Savannah, Georgia, diverting cotton that would have been bound for Apalachicola.

1870 – 1890

Beginning in 1873, hurricanes and freezing weather destroyed warehouses and local citrus trees around Apalachicola and the town began a gradual decline in prosperity.

A fire at the courthouse destroyed many of Franklin County’s land records, including any source title for St. George Island.

With no farming or industrial economy, the lumbering industry was revived in 1870. One of the first was the Pennsylvania Tie Company, which made railroad ties from cypress logs.

Demand for timber revived the drive to make Apalachicola a deep-water port. Beginning in 1882, money was spent to deepen East Pass and develop a deeper and wider channel entrance from the bay into the Apalachicola city’s wharves. A good harbor entrance from the Gulf still did not exist through West Pass.

James N. Coombs was one of the most important men in the lumber industry from the late 1870’s until 1900. He was one of the area’s wealthiest men.

St. Teresa is founded in 1875 on St. James Island by Dr. Phavious Byrd.

In the late 1870’s, intensive efforts begin to harvest the oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay. Some prominent oystering companies were John C. Messina and Company, Yent and Alexander, John Miller, and Joseph Segras.

In 1880, Franklin County’s population was 1,791 but still below the 1860 population of 1,904. There was no sewer or street lights and few people had wagons or buggies.

Horace H. Humphries buys one-third of St. George Island for $21. on August 1, 1881.

John G. Ruge and his brother establish the Ruge Brothers Canning Company in 1885. They became Florida’s first successful commercial oyster packers by using pasteurization.

C.L. Storrs and R.F. Fowler operated a sawmill at the site of present-day Carrabelle. By 1890 the town was the center of a growing naval stores industry, with many turpentine stills located between their sawmill and Apalachicola.

1893 – Town of Carrabelle incorporated

The settlement of Carrabelle actually began in 1855. The mouth of the Carrabelle River had excellent fishing, so hunters and fishermen used the river’s east bank for their outings. By 1855, a few decided to make their residency permanent. Oliver Kelley was the man chiefly responsible for Carrabelle’s growth. Kelley moved to the area in the late 1870’s and recognized its potential for a harbor. In 1877, Kelley bought 1,920 acres of land near there. His niece was Carrie Hall, and she was considered the “belle” of the local community, so Kelley named the new town Rio Carrabelle. Carrabelle became a center for lumber and the emerging seafood industry, reaching a population of 923 in 1900.

1895- The Crooked River lighthouse, originally authorized in 1889, is completed.

1895- Height of the sponge industry in Apalachicola
Sponge trade
Apalachicola sponge exchange, ca. 1895. Photo Credit: Florida Photographic Archives


The local sponge trade was third in the state in 1895. Apalachicola had two sponge warehouses and approximately 100 men were employed in this industry.

1898- Eastpoint established as an experimental colony by the Brown family.

Eastpoint was founded by a group of families from Nebraska that set up a cooperative colony with all profits being shared. They were engaged in farming, seafood, lumber, and manufacturing.

1900– Fire destroys Apalachicola business district

On May 25, 1900, a fire broke out in a kitchen in Apalachicola. Spreading quickly, the fire burned 71 buildings, including almost all of the business section of Apalachicola. Many of these businesses could not rebuild. Some believe it was this fire that forced a change in the industry focus in Apalachicola from lumbering to oysters, shrimping, and associated seafood processing. Today, Franklin County’s economy continues to be heavily dependent on those same industries, although second homes and vacation rentals are playing increasingly important roles in the Franklin County economy as well.

1900 – 1920
Gibson Inn
The Gibson Inn in Apalachicola (photo taken in 1940's). Photo Credit: Florida Photographic Archives


Electricity comes to Apalachicola on August 22, 1900

The Central and Franklin Hotels were opened in 1907 in Apalachicola. (The Franklin Hotel was renamed as the Gibson Inn in 1923 after being purchased by Annie Gibson Hayes and Mary Ellen Gibson and is still in operation today).

There is a large increase in timber traffic, rising from $2 million in 1898 to over $13 million by 1903, a 700% increase.

The Apalachicola Northern Railroad was chartered in 1903 and steamed into AP on April 30, 1907.

The Lanark Village area is promoted by the Georgia, Florida, and Alabama Railroad as a fashionable resort for Georgians. A number bought lots by 1905. By the early 20th century, the oyster was an important part of the county’s economy. In 1914, the fishing and oystering industries ranked second in Franklin only to lumbering, and the county was the state’s leading producer of oysters.

The first movie theater in Apalachicola, the Dreamland, opened in 1910.

The St. George Island Company is formed by George W. Saxon from Tallahassee. He was a successful businessman/banker who believed in the possibilities of Franklin County. He founded the Capital City Bank in 1895 in Tallahassee and established a Capital City Bank branch in Apalachicola as well. A bayside wharf was built and in 1911 a small hotel called the Club House was built on St. George Island. Some lots on the island sold for $250 but very few cottages were built at this time. See little progress, Saxon decides to sell St. George Island in 1916.

The Dixie Theatre opened in April 1913.

Apalachicola establishes the city commission form of government in 1914.

The winter Mardi Gras of 1915 had the first appearance of King Retsyo for Oyster Day, as well as the first airplane takeoff and landing in AP’s history.

William L. Popham, a Baptist preacher, lecturer, and author, first appears in Apalachicola in January 1917 to preach at a local Methodist church. He dominated events at St. George Island and Apalachicola through the 1930’s. He started several organizations to promote real estate and oysters in Franklin County and is one of the most controversial man in Franklin County history.

1920 – 1940

By the 1920’s, shrimpers had shifted their primary base of operation from Fernandina Beach to Apalachicola and Franklin County. The industry was founded by a Sicilian immigrant around 1900.

On Oct.1, 1920, William Popham established the Oyster Growers’ Co-Operative Association, to plant, harvest, handle, and process oysters. He quickly sold 1000 shares in the business and tied the future of the association to acquiring St. George Island. By late summer of 1921 the association was capitalized at $425,000 and Popham bought SGI for $27,224.50 total.

Popham is elected mayor of Apalachicola in November of 1923.

Gorrie Bridge
John Gorrie Bridge. Photo Credit: Florida Photographic Archives
Popham and his associates were indicted on 8 counts of mail fraud in 1824 and convicted on January 21, 1925. He was paroled after serving less than two years of his four-year sentence.

The seafood industry remained the primary industry in Franklin. In 1927-28, Apalachicola had 16 seafood and packing plants operating at full force.

The Intracoastal Waterways were opened in 1930.

The Cultivated Oyster Farms Cooperation, one of Popham’s many new companies after his release from jail, acquired St. George Island in October 1932 for an estimated $10,000.

The John Gorrie Bridge opened in November 1935, connecting Apalachicola with Eastpoint. The bridge was 6.5 miles long and replaced a ferry service between the two towns.

A extreme drought in the Apalachicola River basin in 1935 created a shortage of fresh water flow into the bay. The increased salinity decimated several big oyster bars. By 1937, only six seafood processing plants were operating in Apalachicola.

Popham was indicted again for mail fraud in 1936 but acquitted in January 1937. Ownership of St. George Island passed to William H. Wilson, the brother-in-law of W.C. Hodges, a state senator that helped defend Popham during a second trail in April 1940

World War II

Apalachicola residents’ response to the war was overwhelming. Franklin County was one of three counties in the US whose volunteer enlistments exceeded its quota in the first two drafts.

Originally named Camp Carabelle, Camp Gordon Johnston was established in Franklin County and was home to 30,000 military personnel, training an estimated 250,000 troops for D-Day. The camp stretched from Alligator Point to Carrabelle and included the villages and Lanark and St. Teresa, Dog Island, and St. George Island. It was the second largest military installation in Florida. By 1948, most of the buildings had been demolished and the lands transferred back to private ownership. The former officers’ family quarters are in the Lanark Village Retirement Community.

In 1942, the US Government took control of St. George Island for the duration of the war, using it for gunnery practice and amphibious warfare.

Post World War II

The western third of St. George was called Little Saint George and was divided by a passage (New Inlet or West Gap) maintained by hurricanes. In 1957, the Army Corps made it permanent with Bob Sikes Cut, about 3 miles east of New Inlet.

By 1970, the St. George Island and Apalachicola area had become center of struggle between those wanting to preserve the area in its natural state (e.g., environmentalists, people associated with the seafood industry) and those wanting to have more human amenities in the area (e.g., developers, travel-related businesses such as restaurants and motels).

The new Bryant Patton (St. George Island) Bridge is built and opened on February 16, 2004. The bridge is the third longest in Florida and the longest in north Florida.

On October 21, 2005, the 153-year old lighthouse on Little St. George Island fell into the surf and broke apart.

Miscellaneous Historic Items of Interest

Between 1828 and 1861, 64 steamboats listed Apalachicola (AP) as their home port and over twice that number were active on the river system. Over 80% were side-wheelers because they were more powerful and had greater maneuverability.

The Trinity Episcopal Church at 6th Ave. and Ave. D was built in New York. It was cut into pieces sailed around the Florida Keys before being erected on its present site in 1836.

REFERENCES

Chapel, George L, n.d., Apalachicola Historical Society, Accessible on the WWW at: http://www.visitfranklincounty.com/bibliography.htm

Florida Historical Markers Program, Florida Division of Historical Resources, accessible on the WWW at: http://dhr.dos.state.fl.us/bhp/markers/markers.cfm?ID=Franklin

Rogers, William W., 1986. Outposts on the Gulf: Saint George Island and Apalachicola from Early Exploration to World War II. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville, FL 297 pp.

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This page was last modified on : 08/17/2007

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