How might a nature-loving Floridian celebrate Halloween? With a naturally spooky visit to Dead Lakes Recreation Area, of course!
Located slightly northwest of Wewahitchka and straddling the Calhoun-Gulf County line is Dead Lakes–a 6,700-acre body of water composed of swampland, lakes, the Chipola River and pristine wilderness. This unique environment was formed long ago when the Apalachicola River shaped a sandbar that partially impeded flow from the mouth of the Chipola River and flooded 12,000 acres of river swamp. The overflow killed thousands of trees and left behind an eerie stretch of cypress stumps amidst serene tannic waters, giving the area its creepy character and name. But don’t let the name fool you. Dead Lakes is quite biodiverse and has hosted a variety of Florida’s commercial industries over the years. The area was once utilized as a fish hatchery by the Game Commission; a harvest zone for turpentine, cedar shake and moss; and an apiary for tupelo honey–which is still a big business throughout the river valley.
In addition to its commercial appeal, Dead Lakes holds a long tradition of catering to nature lovers and pleasure seekers alike. In the late 1890s, vacationers traveled by steamer down the Apalachicola River then disembarked at the now unincorporated ghost town of Iola to journey by carriage to Dead Lakes.
The State Library’s Florida Collection holds a pamphlet called In Paradise which promotes all the amenities for steamer trips to Dead Lakes accompanied by lodging at the Lake View Hotel.
Travelers could begin their voyage in Columbus, Georgia, and journey down the Chattahoochee River while stopping in various towns in Georgia and Alabama. As the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converged, steamers would continue down the Apalachicola River into Florida. Notable Florida destinations along the route included Neal’s Landing, Chattahoochee, Ochesee, Blountstown, Bristol and Rico’s Bluff. In addition to bountiful fishing, pine forests and orange groves, visitors were enticed by area attractions such as Florida syrup making, a duo of oaks that presided over several acres of land and the state asylum.
In Iola, passengers would disembark and proceed one and half miles on horseback to the hotel. Once at the Lake View, all needs were furnished–including ammunition and tobacco–at the lowest market prices. A two-week stay at the modest resort also included a trip to Apalachicola Bay. From the bay, tourists could view international ships, oyster and fish packing houses, and great lumber mills. One could relax, enjoy a variety of natural diversions and still investigate future investments in Florida’s resources.
In addition to providing an eloquently quaint description of the trip agenda and locales, In Paradise also offers the testimonies of satisfied vacationers from previous excursions. Accounts from a doctor, a Civil War veteran and other ailing tourists afford a glimpse into the turn-of-the-century “cure-all” reputation of Old Florida. Dr. E. D. Pitman of LaGrange noted the cleanliness of the resort and recommended a Dead Lakes vacation to all the invalids he knew:
Satisfied sojourner and possible patient of Dr. Pitman, farmer George W. Truitt, remarked that he first journeyed to Dead Lakes for his health but returned for pleasure:
Civil War veteran W. W. Turner traveled to the Dead Lakes for relief from lung illnesses he had suffered since his time in the service:
Furthermore, tourist A. P. Jones praised the climate and people of Florida in his testimony:
Like Truitt, Jones and Turner, folks still traverse the Dead Lakes for rejuvenation and merriment. Whether you enjoy fishing, kayaking or just imagining the steam punk mystique of Florida’s past, their ghostly beauty holds both outdoor adventure and creepy curiosity for any daring explorer. This Halloween, if haunted houses and costume parties aren’t your thing, perhaps a trip to the mysterious Dead Lakes will quell both your nature-loving side and your desire for some uncanny fun.