It is difficult for us to envision this North Florida area totally overgrown with tall pine trees and large hardwoods which had never been cut.
There were very few fields as we know today where you would see acres and acres of cleared land. The soil in this area has always been prime soil for pine tree growth. Jackson County’s virgin forests were just waiting to be “picked”. One big problem was quite evident, however. How do you move large pine trees from the forest to a place where they can be used to build homes, businesses and ships, a great distance from their growth source? Obviously, they could be floated down the rivers and creeks, which many were, but one had to get them to that water source with absolutely no adequate roads and equipment.
Steamships began to make regular runs between Apalachicola and Columbus, Georgia. However, the traffic depended on the depth of the water and weather conditions. Mail, passengers and products were moving from one area to another, stopping regularly at several ports along the river bank. Port Jackson was a very busy port as was Neal’s Landing. Several of the larger plantations also had docks that could receive the steam ships plying the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers. (Remember that the Flint River begins as groundwater seepage near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, joined by tributaries down its 212 mile length, joining the Chattahoochee River which begins as teardrops seeping out of rocks on the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, getting larger and larger as streams, tributaries and creeks empty into the southbound waterway as it flows to the point where Florida and Georgia join at the present Jim Woodruff Dam and the two form the Apalachicola River which flows to the Gulf of Mexico near Apalachicola.)
In Dale Cox’s The History of Jackson County, Volume One, he tells that by 1830 steamboats were carrying 5,000 bales of cotton per year down the Apalachicola for shipment to New England, Europe and the world. Wealthy speculators came from the north, and large plantations sprang up throughout the area. Vast fields of cotton appeared in the rich basins of the rivers. For the next twenty or so years the rivers were the normal way of moving people and products from one point to another. Steamships ran the distance on a very regular basis.
Then, along came the railroad! As the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad, after years of negotiations and very difficult construction conditions, finally had trains running from Pensacola to Sampson’s Landing near Sneads in February 1883. This entire North Florida area was opened up to railroad accessibility to the Apalachicola River, where, when conditions were favorable, the products could be gotten across the river to River Junction near Chattahoochee and transported to points in all directions by the rail service that was present there. Gradually the railroads were completed to the west, making rail service available to New Orleans.
This photo demonstrates the difficulty the railroad companies and the road building people had to deal with when building railroads and highways in this area.
In Shofner’s Jackson County, Florida-A History, he reports that in 1883 Sneads was the only booming community in the county. Sneads Memories tells us that in 1899, Gabriel Smith dug a well and put a public pump near the Old Spanish Trail which ran through the town. The old pump, under a shed now, still remains. Smith’s desire was that all who drank from the well would always want to return to Sneads.
Cotton production was being supplemented by lumbering and watermelons. As transportation became more available with the rail system, some side tracks to other communities were added. Lumbering and turpentine production was beginning to be a major money crop and many communities were established around the saw mills and the turpentine stills in the area. Cypress, Grand Ridge, Aberdeen, Alliance, Bascom, Dellwood, Parramore, Paront, and several other small communities were mostly planted there as locations of sawmills, turpentine stills and commissaries where supplies were sold to the workers. These stores were necessary to meet the needs of the workers who were generally paid very irregularly. They would shop in the commissary stores and charge their purchases, having their commissary bills deducted from their salaries on payday.
This type of turpentine wagon and like wagons loaded with pine tree logs totally destroyed the dirt roads in the areas where they were cutting the pine trees to sell, making travel for the public very difficult. The photo was in downtown Marianna in the early 1920’s with the old Chipola Hotel in the background. We can count 14 oxen pulling this heavy load and can only imagine the actual weight the load of turpentine might have been. Rosin was the product left over after the turpentine had been distilled.
Sneads continued to prosper with the naval industry producing turpentine. Some operations were the largest naval companies in the South. When they had collected the turpentine for the appropriate period of time, the trees were cut and shipped out of the area. Millions of board feet of lumber and saw logs and thousands of barrels of turpentine had been shipped from Jackson County by 1920, but there were still enough raw products available to last for many years.
This pine tree has been prepared to bleed the turpentine into the cup at the bottom of the cut. This was an example of the turpentine industry and what was being widely done in this area of Florida during the late 1800’s and to early to mid-1900. By then the large paper mills began to work with the trees and pulpwood and extracted the turpentine at the mills.
In 1907 the Bank of Sneads was organized. There were a number of mercantile stores, a livery stable, a drugstore, a naval stores depot and a cotton gin. Cotton, corn, peanuts (mostly for hogs), sugar cane and watermelons were the main crops. Hogs and cows added income, as did the “moonshine business” between 1915 and the 1920’s. C.C. Liddon’s General Merchandise Store was in business from 1897 until 1972 when it was leased by Big Bend Industries, a garment factory, planning to supply 200 badly needed jobs. (Note: This is the company expansion which brought the Sid Riley Family to the area. Sid was the manager of this operation.) Earlier, Sneads also had two doctors, a barrel shop, and a barber shop, known as “The Up-To-Now Tonsorial Artist.”
An agricultural inventory of Jackson County in 1924 revealed: 50 tobacco farms with 700 acres, 2,000 acres of watermelons, 100 acres of cucumbers, 100 acres of cantaloupes, 2 strawberry farms, 25 bee apiaries, 7 Satsuma groves, the largest sugar plantation in the state (in Grand Ridge), 2 peach orchards, 25 acres of blueberries, 3 large dairies, 2,500 pullets, and 4,200 hogs, in addition to thousands of acres of peanuts and cotton. There were 15 turpentine stills, 15 saw mills, a veneer mill, a barrel mill, and a hardwood mill. In spite of the Depression Jackson County produced 19,000 bales of cotton, while the rest of the state produced 39,000.
The Victory Bridge replaced the ferry across the Apalachicola River in 1922. U.S. 90 was completed from Tallahassee to Pensacola, and its paving in 1926 was considered as a great turning point for Jackson County.
Note: The three publications mentioned in this article are invaluable resources to writing these articles. Deepest appreciation is expressed to all who contributed the information in these very important and informative publications.