Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Old Bellamy Road - 19th Century Roadway in Florida

Section of the Old Bellamy Road
When the United States took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821, the only roads in most of the territory were old pathways once used by Spanish missionaries and the narrow trails worn down over the centuries by the footsteps of Indians.
Tallahasse did not then exist and the Spanish had treated the territory as two separate colonies, East Florida and West Florida. The capital of East Florida was, of course, St. Augustine. The capital of West Florida was Pensacola. The only trail connecting the two was a long, dangerous, winding path.

With the decision to establish a new capital, Tallahassee, roughly equi-distant between the two cities also came a strong realization that a good road was needed to connect the three communities. Since Florida was a U.S. Territory, the approval and funding of this new road fell to the U.S. Congress. An appropriation was made and work began during the winter of 1824-1825.

In the section of Florida west of the Apalachicola River, work on this new Federal road was carried out by the U.S. Army. East of the river, however, it was decided to accept bids from private contractors. The winning bid was received from John Bellamy, who began work on the segment of road from the Ochlockonee River west of Tallahassee to the St. Johns River near St. Augustine. He could do the work, he promised, for $13,500.

Surviving trace of the Old Bellamy Road.
Bellamy completed his road in just one year, but it was far removed from the super highways of today. A winding dirt path, Bellamy's laborers (many of them slaves) simply cut down trees low enough for wagons to pass over, leaving the stumps in the ground. Trees that were too big to cut were bypassed.

Since he had supervised its construction, the section of the road between the St. Johns and the Ochlockonee was unofficially named in Bellamy's honor. Surviving sections of it are known as the Old Bellamy Road to this day.

The road provided an important route between St. Augustine and Tallahassee for early settlers. By the time of the Civil War it had been bypassed by newer roads in many areas, but sections in East Florida remained in use. As a result the road was used by Confederate troops, including those of Florida's famous "Swamp Fox," Captain J.J. Dickison.

One of the best places to see an original section of the Bellamy Road is River Rise Preserve State Park in High Springs. Adjacent to O'Leno State Park, the preserve offers numerous hiking and equestrian trails. One of these follows a section of the Old Bellamy Road.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamyroad.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

O'Leno State Park - High Springs, Florida

Historical Marker at O'Leno State Park
O'Leno State Park is located along the Santa Fe River near High Springs and is a great place to explore the remains of a Civil War era Florida ghost town.
The Town of Leno, originally called Keno, was established just above the "sink" and natural bridge of the Santa Fe during the 1840s. Stone dams in the river powered two mills and eventually up to six cotton gins. This source of power gave the little town its existence and helped survive through the years of the Civil War.

Old Mill Dam at O'Leno State Park
Keno, as gamblers know, is a bingo-like lottery game. It was under this name that the community was known during the Civil War years, but the name was changed a decade or so later after the postal service refused to approve a post office for a town with a name associated with gambling!  The name was subsequently changed to Leno. After the village was bypassed by the railroad and faded away, it became known as Old Leno. The name was eventually contracted to O'Leno, the name of today's state park.

Suspensioin Bridge at O'Leno State Park
The park offers an excellent open air pavilion with artifacts from and displays about Keno (or Leno). There are grindstones from the old mills, photographs and informational panels. The picnic area with its unique C.C.C. built structures is now located on the town site.

The Santa Fe River also ripples over the remains of the two stone mill dams.

In addition, O'Leno State Park is a place of extraordinary beauty and is known for its beloved swinging or suspension bridge. Built by the C.C.C. during the Great Depression to carry hikers across the river, the old bridge is still in excellent condition.

To learn more about O'Leno State Park and its history and unqiue geology, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oleno.