At least as late as 1956, a simple stone marker stood near the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and Bruce Creek, inscribed with the words “Sam Story, Cheif [sic] of the Euchees 1832.” The Euchees (or Yuchis) are not well documented in history, but some segment or segments of the tribe appear to have arrived in the Florida Panhandle by the end of the 18th century. John L. McKinnon’s History of Walton County, originally published in 1911, provides the most detailed account of the Euchee Indians and Sam Story available. It’s based on information the author learned from his father, who was one of the original pioneers of Walton County and may have met Sam Story. Read more
An Iowa man once came to Florida after buying a plot of land and, after having seen what he had purchased, said “I have bought land by the acre, and I have bought land by the foot; but, by God, I have never before bought land by the gallon.”
He was one of many who bought land in South Florida at the turn of the 20th century during one of Florida’s biggest land booms. Spurred on by the expansion of the railroad and ambitious plans to drain the Everglades for development, land speculators bought up thousands of acres of swampland and prepared to sell it to investors and settlers from the Midwest and Northeast. Some historians refer to this feverish period of land speculation as the “swamp boom,” and the folks involved as “swamp boomers.” Read more
Yellow fever, also known as the “yellow plague” or the “yellow jack,” was one of the most dangerous and dreaded diseases prevalent in Florida during the 1800s. The disease is viral, spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but this knowledge was not widely known until the 20th century. In the meantime, epidemics often broke out in Florida during the summer months, especially in cities. Read more
This is the second installment of a two-part series on border disputes in Florida history. If you missed reading the first blog, click here to read it.
Last week, we looked at John Houston McIntosh, a borderland Floridian whose life reflected the tensions that sometimes cropped up along the Florida-Georgia border before Florida was a United States possession. Today, we look at an even more profound border conflict in Florida history, one that took almost a century to settle completely. Read more
Situated as it is between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, you wouldn’t immediately think of Florida as having had many boundary disputes. During the Spanish colonial era, however, the Florida-Georgia border was the setting for a number of dramatic quarrels between the Spanish and their neighbors to the north. These events are reflected in the lives of the people who lived near the border, especially when they had business dealings on both sides. Read more
Sometimes the best genealogical information comes from truly unexpected sources. The State Archives of Florida holds records from a wide variety of state agencies, many of which have had direct contact with the state’s citizens over the years. As a result, many of the records document the specific locations of specific individuals at specific times, which can be a big help for folks tracing their family trees. Read more
Passing through Punta Rassa on the way to or from Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf coast, you just don’t see many cows these days. It’s mostly condos, marinas, and businesses. That’s a big leap from how things used to be, as anyone familiar with the history of Florida’s cattle industry can tell you. For a good portion of the 19th century, Punta Rassa was a favored port for shipping cattle to Cuba. Read more
“Big Oak is really big.”
Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park. Read more
One curious aspect of Florida history is the recurring theme of booms and busts the state has experienced over the decades. We hear often about booms and busts in land sales, but commercial enterprises have had their own business cycles. One lesser known industry that was critical to Florida’s economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the mining of phosphates. Read more
In the early 20th century, visitors to Lake City in Columbia County were often encouraged to visit the local gardens owned by an African-American woman known as “Aunt Aggie.” The plants were nice enough: calycanthus, oleander, crepe myrtle, spirea, wild azaleas, and at least eight varieties of roses. But that’s not what made the garden unique.
What made Aunt Aggie’s garden such a popular place to visit were the thousands of creatively arranged animal bones that decorated the space. For years, Aggie Jones and her husband Jenkins collected the bones of various animals, allowed them to dry and bleach out in the sun, and then arranged them into trellises, gateways, arches, flower bed borders, and other structures. Skulls topped many of these unusual features.
Aggie and Jenkins Jones had both been born into slavery. Aggie came to Florida in 1844 with her owner, Elijah Mattox, who built a plantation near present-day Rose Creek in Columbia County. After Aggie was emancipated following the end of the Civil War, she continued to work for the Mattox family until she moved to Lake City. She bought property from one of her employers, Louise Cathey, in Lake City in 1883. It was on this property that Aunt Aggie began constructing her gardens.
So why the bones? There’s no clear answer, really. Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer; maybe this was part of Aggie’s motivation. Maybe it was just a bit of creative flair. At any rate, the “bone garden” became a popular tourist spot for travelers passing through Lake City by railroad or automobile. A pamphlet describing the garden says it was also a popular “lovers’ retreat.” Visitors would sometimes write their names and addresses on the bones – perhaps one of Florida’s most unusual guest books. Plants and fresh vegetables were almost always available for sale.
Time changes all things, and with Aunt Aggie’s garden it was no different. Aggie Jones died in 1918, and her garden and home were subsequently demolished to make way for a school. All that remains now are a handful of postcards and photographs, plus a few recollections written down by various visitors to Aunt Aggie’s mysterious creation.
What is the most unusual tourist attraction you’ve ever seen? Let us know by commenting below, or commenting on our Facebook page!