Thursday, May 12, 2016

Apalachicola and A Lucky Dog

Karen and I made overnight trip to Apalachicola with Dr. Brian Rucker and his wife, Amy.  Brian is a professor of Florida History at Pensacola State College and teaches adjunct courses at UWF.  We recently sat in on his Panhandle History Class and are now hopelessly curious about all the places and the history that happened there.

So -- On MONDAY we made our way from Milton, FL to Apalachicola. I like Brian's routing which took us to Crestview by I-10 and then down near Fort Walton and then EAST on Florida Hwy 20. THAT took out a LOT of the traffic issues or loss of "color" by using I-10 or by using the often crowded US Hwy 98 near the beaches.  We stopped for a few pictures at Econfina Creek and in or near Wewahichka. That is where the Dead Lakes are located. It is a popular fresh water fishing haven.  It is also a famous area for the production of Tupelo Honey ! A movie about a local character and his "Tupelo Gold" is told in the movie "Ulee's Gold" with Peter Fonda . It was filmed there in the late 1990's. the gold is Tupelo Honey.

About 1830, enterprising investors built a railroad across the swamp here - to Port St. Joe - where they hoped to use the deep water port to compete with Apalachicola - to transport cotton out of the lower Alabama farmland.
rail pilings in Chipola river

The advantage to the port of Apalachicola of course was the VAST watershed area of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers that fed the port out of both Georgia and Alabama. The drawback to Apalachicola - which became one of the busiest ports in America was its shallow depth.

While good for oysters - it was not good for deep-water ships. "Lighter" ships (actually called "lighters") conveyed the cotton bales out of the bay to oceangoing ships anchored in the gulf, beyond St. George Island.

Alas, Port St. Joe had a Yellow Fever epidemic and nearly everybody died.  The railroad died. the port died. Port St. Joe, near Cape San Blas is in revival now. Even has a functioning port facility. It is a beautiful area to visit. Meanwhile, at the Chipola River bridge crossing the Dead Lakes - you can still see the remains of the pilings for the old railroad that failed.

It was a stress free route and soon we were wandering around Apalachicola - but not after checking into the GIBSON INN and taking a 30 minute nap.

We have been often to Apalachicola. It is one of our favorite "Old Florida" towns. It has become a little bit trendy of late and prices are geared to the beach condo crowd on St. George Island. Regardless, the average upland Cracker with worn shoes or bare feet can still find good prices.  The Gibson Inn was a new experience for us and it will not be the last. It is for sale just now for $3.5 Million Dollars, U.S.  I expect the new owners will keep the ambiance.

You will see some of the hotel in my included photo

I missed the last "R" month for oysters but risked a few for an appetizer anyway. These were

sprinkled with caviar, shallots and lime or lemon juice and some other fancy orange colored garnish. Oh man. They were great. We all went with the special for the day - A grouper dish.

Brian and I left the ladies to rest after dinner and went for a brief tour of the waterfront again - at night - to observe some of their
"Forgotten Coast"  celebrations with Plein Air Music and Artists. Even so it was a quiet waterfront and zero activity in the town.

 Back on the hotel porch, I met a man who does web work for the region and who has a dog he found abandoned - named -   "Lucky" .  . We talked some about his passion for the region and also about the dog. ALUCKYDOGG (find on facebook)

A Lucky Dog
After a comfortable breakfast at the Hotel we began a tour route to include East Bay - where most of the Oyster boats work from -- and then up the EAST side of the Apalachicola River to  TATE's HELL.  You never want to get lost in Tate's Hell. It killed Tate.   His last words were, "I'm Cebe Tate, and I have been to Hell !"  

It was impressive. One part of Hell we saw was the Dwarf Cypress Forest.
Dwarf Cypress at Tate's Hell
Even trees over 300 years old will only grow to about 15 feet. Something to do with the limestone layer underneath. We stopped for an observation tower at Sand Beach. on the North side of the Bay.

Amy and Brian Rucker
The Next historical interlude on our return from hell, was FORT GADSDEN on the Apalachicola River. It was a fort with a lot of owners. Spain, Britain, USA, Confederates. The river was a gateway and it was at a strategic location to block transportation. At one point, In 1815 under weak Spanish ownership and recently abandoned by British administration, it became a way-point for escaped slaves out of the the United States.

One thing led to another and eventually the "Negro Fort" was under siege by Jackson's troops who attacked the hostile Fort, fired , a lucky "hot shot" into the fort's magazine.  It subsequently blew up
We sneaked in
and killed most of the defenders.  This was a time of continued sensitivities toward the slaves and Indians (at this fort) who had been allied with the British in the war 1812 -( recently concluded at New Orleans). The Indians shot the Freedman black leader and the other free blacks were sent back to plantations in the USA -- North of Spanish Florida.

The "White Stick" Creek alliance with the Americans in this battle increased tensions with the Seminoles and led to the " First Seminole War".  Bear in mind, the Seminoles were largely composed of disaffected and hostile Creeks known as the "Red Sticks" who had sided with the British in the war of 1812.  This brings to mind an old saying-- "You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose -- but you can't pick your friend's nose".  They were messy times. It is much nicer now --- well, around here anyway.

While the greater part of my heritage comes from European stock, it turns out that tracing my grandma's family tree back, brings us to a Creek Indian woman, my 4th Great Grandma - Winnie Muscogee. Winnie and Thomas homesteaded near Marianna, Nancy Muscogee Gay is the daughter in my lineage. But one or more of Nancy's brothers were "Creek Indian Troops" in some of the Seminole Wars. They enlisted in groups and their units were separate fighting units. William Gay - a 4th Great Uncle was in the Florida Militia Indians. Some names in the regiment include "Spanish John" and "Big Davy".

We were unable to get close to the fort because we did not want to be captured and sent to jail since the sign said "CLOSED - DO NOT ENTER".  Dr. Rucker showed me a recent Laser based space photograph of the fort area that clearly shows the older fort and the newer one and the modifications that took place over time.  This cannot be seen by casual observation.

Karen can count
Our return trip took us BACK THROUGH Blountstown, FL on the West side of the Apalachicola River and back into the Central Time Zone.  We visited the  Pioneer Museum there.  Sometimes I feel really old when I go to places like that becuase in some of the houses, I can say --- My grandma had that ! Or -- I visited friends whose houses were just like that. OF course, by the 1950's those features from homes in the late 1800's were already rare but .... still.... we were living that history then!

While in Blountstown we learned Amy Rucker's great grandfather was the architect for the
Amy's GGrandpa was the Archetect
courthouse there. We took her picture in front of it. They don't make them like that anymore!  We ate lunch at the Parramore Too Restaurant - where the locals eat.

I do not know what happened after that. I fell asleep and by some magic I was home and asleep by 9pm.

The entire ALBUM OF PHOTOS is HERE (enjoy)

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