Florida’s Lost County

Florida started out its territorial existence with only two counties–Escambia and St. Johns–established by provisional governor Andrew Jackson right after the Spanish relinquished control in 1821. The Suwannee River served as the boundary line separating these two massive divisions. As more people arrived and established communities in the territory, the legislature created more counties to make local government more accessible and responsive to their needs. As of 1925, when Florida’s most recent county (Gilchrist) was established, the total number of counties was up to 67, where it remains today. That number could easily have been different, thanks to a multitude of attempts over the years to divide or change existing counties. There’s only one case, however, in which an existing county was completely wiped off the map, never to return. That’s the quirky case of Fayette County in the Florida Panhandle.

Map showing Florida's two original counties as they appeared in 1822. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map.

Map showing Florida’s two original counties as they appeared in 1822. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map.

Fayette County was established by an act of Florida’s territorial legislative council on February 9, 1832. It was carved entirely out of territory belonging to Jackson County, consisting of all the land between the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers, with the Florida-Alabama line as its northern boundary. The process began on January 23 when Thomas Baltzell, who represented Jackson County in the legislative council, submitted a petition from several citizens of the county asking that it be divided. The petition has not survived, so we don’t know exactly what reasons they gave, but the request had enough merit for the legislative council to refer it to a select committee appointed to decide whether the division should take place.

Portrait of Thomas Baltzell after he became Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court (ca. 1846).

Portrait of Thomas Baltzell after he became Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court (ca. 1846).

The select committee reported favorably on the petition and drafted a bill to divide Jackson County and create a new one called Fayette. It was controversial from the start, however. As the final vote approached, representative John P. Booth presented multiple petitions from other Jackson County citizens asking that the county not be divided. When the bill moved forward anyway, Booth attempted to mitigate its effect by proposing an amendment to change the boundaries. None of this stopped the act from passing the legislative council, but when it landed on the desk of Acting Governor James D. Westcott for a signature, it gave him pause. He wrote a message back to the legislative council rejecting the bill, saying he wasn’t satisfied that a “decided and sufficient majority” of the people of Jackson County actually wanted this division. “There is no tyranny so severe as the tyranny of a small majority,” Westcott wrote, and he explained that from the looks of things, it appeared that sectional interests of planters on the eastern side of the county might be driving this move. There was certainly evidence to back up Westcott’s observation–at the same time that the legislative council was voting on whether to establish Fayette County there were already bills lined up for incorporating a new town at Ochesee and granting a franchise for a ferry across the nearby Apalachicola River. The new law would have also given Fayette County its own representative on the legislative council instead of having it share two representatives with the voters of Jackson County. All three of these moves favored the citizens of the new county while conferring little or no benefit on the people left in Jackson.

After receiving Westcott’s message, the legislative council amended the bill to address his objections, particularly the part giving Fayette County its own legislator. Upon receiving the revised bill, Westcott wrote back that he still had objections to the law, but not enough to reject it a second time. With his signature on February 9, Fayette County became a reality.

Excerpt of a map from the 1830s showing the newly created Fayette County. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map. Image courtesy of the University of South Florida Libraries.

Excerpt of a map from the 1830s showing the newly created Fayette County. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map. Image courtesy of the University of South Florida Libraries.

The odd circumstances under which the new county had been established became even more obvious once its officers attempted to actually govern. Many of the planters drawn into the new county, especially in the northern part around present-day Greenwood and Bascom, protested that they never had any desire to be separated from Jackson County. Some even continued to pay taxes and vote as citizens of that county rather than Fayette. In July 1832, James W. Exum of Marianna wrote to Governor William Pope DuVal that there was even a justice of the peace appointed for Fayette County that counted himself a citizen of Jackson instead. To make matters worse, Exum explained, the new law didn’t properly specify an eastern boundary for the new county. It was clear enough that the northern boundary was the Alabama line and that the western boundary ran down the middle of Big Spring Creek to the Chipola River and then down to the Washington County line. The law said nothing, however, about how the boundary got back to the point of beginning on the eastern side. That being the case, was the county even legally a county, or was it just a line? Exum told the governor he had pointed out this discrepancy in a roomful of men from Jackson and Fayette counties, and that it had stirred a considerable amount of debate “and probably some warm words.”

Whether or not Exum was the catalyst, the legislative council took action at its next meeting in 1833. A new act was passed to clarify the boundaries of Fayette County, this time setting the northern boundary of Township 4 North between the Chipola and Chattahoochee rivers as the county’s northern extent. The land between that line and the Alabama line–the part that had been such a bone of contention with the planters before–was returned to Jackson County.

Excerpt of a map showing the new shape of Fayette County after the legislative council reunited the northern half with Jackson County in 1833. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map.

Excerpt of a map showing the new shape of Fayette County after the legislative council reunited the northern half with Jackson County in 1833. Click or tap the image to view a complete, zoomable version of the map.

The northern planters must have been satisfied, but the remaining Fayette County voters were not. In 1834, they sent a petition to the legislative council, asking the members to either return their county to its former shape or dissolve it entirely. The boundary changes of the previous year had left them with fewer than a hundred voters, they claimed, leaving them unable to hold court or even build a courthouse and jail. Half the population, half the territory and two thirds of the wealth had gone back to Jackson County. “The evils complained of by your humble petitioners are not visionary,” they wrote. “To the contrary, they have been too seriously felt by many of them.”

Petition from citizens of Fayette County asking for the county to either be dissolved or its boundaries modified, January 8, 1834, in Box 4, Folder 7, Records of the Territorial Legislative Council (Series S876), State Archives of Florida.

Petition from citizens of Fayette County asking for the county to either be dissolved or its boundaries modified, January 8, 1834, in Box 4, Folder 7, Records of the Territorial Legislative Council (Series S876), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the entire document along with a transcript.

The legislative council ended the entire sordid affair by terminating Fayette County’s existence in 1834 and returning the territory to Jackson County where it had been previously. Since then, a few Florida counties have changed names, such as when Hernando County became Benton briefly and then switched back, or when New River County was renamed Bradford. Not since the Fayette County debacle, however, has a county been completely legislated out of existence. Here’s a map from the State Library’s Florida Map Collection that shows the history of Florida’s county additions and changes:

Map explaining the creation and reshaping of Florida's 67 counties between 1821 and 1936. Click or tap the image to view a complete zoomable version of the map.

Map explaining the creation and reshaping of Florida’s 67 counties between 1821 and 1936. Click or tap the image to view a complete zoomable version of the map.

Florida’s First Steam-Powered Railway

On September 5, 1836, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad ran its first train from the Apalachicola River to St. Joseph. It took about 25 minutes to move the eight cars and 300 passengers along the eight-mile stretch of track. An enthusiastic crowd met the train at its destination, delighted in both the local and statewide implications of this short voyage. In addition to boosting the local economy, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad had the honor of being the first steam-powered railroad to operate in Florida.

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Lanark-by-the-Sea

If you’re looking for a scenic route to get you through the Florida Panhandle, there’s no substitute for U.S. Highway 98, which follows the Gulf coast all the way from Pensacola to Perry. You’re probably familiar with some of the larger waypoints along this road – Panama City, Destin, Apalachicola. The smaller communities, however, have a charm all their own, and a rich history in most cases. This is in part because many of these smaller communities weren’t always so small. Lanark Village in Franklin County is a prime example.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida's Gulf coast.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida’s Gulf coast.

In the 1880s, most of the Panhandle was still forested with virgin timber. The population was small, and most inhabitants had only small farms. The South was beginning to emerge from the economic malaise that followed the Civil War, and investors were beginning to take interest in Florida’s plentiful land and agreeable climate. William Clark, a Scotsman who had made his fortune in the textile industry, partnered with several of his colleagues in Scotland and New York to begin developing the area just east of the Apalachicola River. The Clark Syndicate, as it came to be called, eventually controlled a whole constellation of companies, including the Scottish Land & Improvement Company, the Georgia & Florida Investment Company, the Gulf Terminal & Navigation Company, and the Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Company.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

These projects were cleverly integrated. The railroad company captivated the interests of prospective bondholders by pointing out all the timber the company would have access to once it had penetrated south from Tallahassee to the Gulf. As the railroad progressed, the syndicate built stations and laid out communities along the way, so that workers could begin tapping the natural resources of the area to repay the bondholders and turn a profit. Arran, McIntyre, and Sopchoppy were founded in this way.

The railroad executives had special plans for the Gulf. Just east of Carrabelle, where the Carrabelle, Tallahassee, and Georgia line passed quite close to the coast, the company laid out a town and named it after William Clark’s home county of Lanarkshire. The original plan called for a street grid with 118 city blocks. The streets running north and south were named for various trees, while the avenues running east and west were named for board members of the Clark Syndicate. One broad street entering town from the north was to be called Bloxham Road, a nod to Governor William D. Bloxham.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

The Clark Syndicate planned to advertise Lanark-by-the-Sea as a healthful and luxurious Florida resort, and sell town lots to wealthy Northerners who craved a little rest from the crowded cities and chilly weather. To get them to stick around for a bit while they fell in love with the place, the Scottish Land & Improvement Company built a fine hotel at the center of town. The establishment opened July 4, 1894. Water was drawn from nearby Lanark Spring into a 20,000 gallon water tank, where it could be used for the hotel, nearby town lot owners, or for fire protection. The coastline around Lanark doesn’t normally lend itself to white sandy beaches, but the developers were undaunted. According to one of the company’s annual reports, workers managed to fill in a section of shoreline with sand and invent a beach for guests to enjoy. The hotel also featured a wide veranda with rocking chairs, and a 500-foot boardwalk connecting the main building with a dancing pavilion near Lanark Spring. Parts of the spring were covered with a bath house, including private dressing rooms for men and women.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.


Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

The Lanark Inn, as it was called, became a popular getaway spot, not only for tourists, but also for wealthier locals from nearby Tallahassee. The railroad company offered special excursion ticket prices to entice visitors. In 1896, company executives reported offering $1.00 tickets from any point on the railroad to Lanark each Sunday during the summer. In addition, the steamer “Crescent City” brought more guests over from nearby Apalachicola.

The hotel was the center of the community. After the train arrived each day, it was common for all of the cottage owners from around town to gather in the lobby to chat and receive their mail. Saturday nights were spent dancing in the hotel ballroom, and bridge games were popular during the day. The dock that extended out over the Gulf in front of the main building was a popular place to gather after supper for swimming, dancing, and reminiscing.

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Over time, the fortunes of the Clark Syndicate began to decline. By 1926, a hard-surface highway between Tallahassee and Carrabelle was complete, which rendered the passenger railroad increasingly unnecessary. Timber was getting more scarce, and the Clark companies eventually began selling off parts of their former North Florida empire. The hotel suffered severe damage during a hurricane in 1929, and a fire destroyed the old hotel in the 1930s. It was rebuilt, but like most sequels, it never recaptured the vibrancy of the original.

Lanark was changing, but it had glory days yet to come. During World War II, the new hotel building served as the headquarters for a training base called Camp Gordon Johnston. Entire divisions of soldiers were trained in amphibious warfare techniques on the beaches here, including the use of amphibious vehicles. A number of the soldiers who trained here participated in the D-Day invasion of 1944.

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

After the war, the camp buildings fell into disrepair, but developers began planning for an entirely new settlement at Lanark. In 1955, Lanark Estates, Inc. filed a plat laying out a new subdivision where the Lanark Inn had once been a social center. The new community was called Lanark Village, and it is still visible today as you drive through on U.S. 98.

Florida is covered with small communities having stories like that of Lanark-by-the-Sea. The State Library and Archives of Florida have a wide variety of print and manuscript materials to help you uncover these gems of local history. Visit info.florida.gov to learn more about our resources!