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.

Glass Lantern Slides

Young women fishing with cane poles from a jetty
The old Gregory house before it was moved: Ocheesee Landing, Florida.
People walking through a forest

These hand-tinted glass lantern slides are from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Collection. The 53 slides in the collection show a variety of Florida’s natural features, including scenes of rivers and river banks, forests, nature trails, fishing, sand dunes, and swimming.

The image of the Gregory House went unidentified until it was recognized by a patron on our Florida Memory Flickr page. We were able to match the image with another in our collection and confirm that this was indeed the house in the slide.

The Gregory House, built in 1849 by Planter Jason Gregory, stood at Ochesee Landing across the river from the Torreya State Park. In 1935, the house was dismantled and moved to its present location in the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was developing the park.

The remaining 52 images have very little identifying information. However, they are a beautiful example of Florida landscapes depicted on glass lantern slides, ca. 1940s.

People on a Lakeshore

Glass lantern slide shows were popular both as home entertainment and as an accompaniment to speakers on the lecture circuit. They reached their popularity about 1900, but continued to be widely used until the 1930s when they were gradually replaced by the more convenient 35-milimeter slides.

Young women posing in swimsuits on sand dune

Related Resources

 

Which Way to Two Egg?

If your boss tells you she’s off to a meeting in Jacksonville, no one blinks an eye. A cousin heading to Key West? Maybe a bit of envy and best wishes for a pleasant suntan. But when someone says they’re off to Two Egg, Florida, there’s bound to be a either a giggle or a look of pure confusion.

1950's era map showing the location of Two Egg northeast of Marianna. Note: This map precedes the construction of Interstate 10.

1950s era map showing the location of Two Egg northeast of Marianna. Note: This map predates the construction of Interstate 10.

The bustling metropolis of Two Egg is located a few miles northeast of Marianna in Jackson County. Although it’s little more than a wide spot on a curve of State Road 69, it was a prominent crossroads in the region as early as the 18th century. Europeans and native Creeks established trails in the area heading to Neal’s Landing and Thomas Perryman’s trading post on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River. The route between Perryman’s in the east and the natural bridge over the Chipola River in the west crossed right through what we now know as Two Egg. Although the road has been slightly reshaped and much improved over the past 200 years, it still follows roughly the same path.

Department of Transportation highway map showing the Two Egg area with the location of dwellings, churches, and a school (revised 1946).

Department of Transportation highway map showing the Two Egg area with the location of dwellings, churches, and a school (revised 1946).

How the crossroads got its peculiar name is something of a debate among local historians. The area was settled shortly before the Civil War by the Michaux and Knowles families, and by 1898 it had a name, but it wasn’t Two Egg. Federal records show that when locals applied for a post office, they requested the name “Allison,” likely in honor of the family that established a sawmill and general store in the area around that time. The new office lasted only about a year, however, before it closed and the mail was transferred to nearby Dellwood.

The name “Two Egg” began appearing during the 1930s, some say as a result of a cultural phenomenon brought on by the hardships of the Great Depression. With jobs and cash hard to come by, local citizens had very little money to buy the goods they needed from the general store. As a result, they turned to the barter system, trading in a few vegetables or other farm products for whatever they needed to make it through the week. According to one legend, a local man named Will Williams decided that since he couldn’t afford to give each of his 16 children an allowance, he would instead give them each a chicken. Whenever one of the chickens laid eggs, the child who owned it could trade the eggs at the store for whatever they pleased. According to the story, a traveling salesman witnessed one of the children trading two eggs for some candy and decided to nickname the town accordingly. Other versions have one of the children or even the store owner commenting that the place would never be “more than a two-egg town.” At least a dozen different theories exist, but the majority seem to agree on the common thread of bartering with eggs. Whatever the true origin of the name may be, by 1940 it was in use on official state road department maps.

Owners of one of the general stores in Two Egg (circa 1970).

Owners of one of the general stores in Two Egg (circa 1970).

Sign explaining a two-cent charge for opening cans at a general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

Sign explaining a two-cent charge for opening cans at a general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

A sign in a general store (circa 1970).

A sign in a general store (circa 1970).

A combination of New Deal relief programs and the arrival of World War II breathed new economic life into the families living around Two Egg. Perhaps just as importantly, as more people began traveling to Florida in the postwar era, curiosity about the strangely named town led an increasing number of visitors to pass through for a quick stop at the general store. John Henry Pittman’s store was the main place to shop for a number of years, although it eventually closed, leaving the Lawrence Grocery as the sole business in town. As late as the early 2000s, the Lawrence store remained open, selling candy, cigarettes, cold drinks out of a machine, and Two Egg souvenirs.

Street view of Lawrence's grocery in Two Egg. This was the last store open in town. Note the license plate on the car reading

Street view of Lawrence’s grocery in Two Egg. This was the last store open in town. Note the license plate on the car reading “Two Egg Florida” (1985).

The Lawrence Grocery eventually closed, and the Pittman store was condemned and destroyed in 2010. The town, if it could be called that, serves more as a bedroom community for Marianna nowadays, but signs on State Road 69 still proudly mark the location of Two Egg. When the signs aren’t being stolen, that is. Locals say the signs for Two Egg are stolen more than any other place name markers in the state. Even bolting the signs to their posts hasn’t stopped the problem; the thieves simply cut the signpost off at the bottom when they cannot remove the sign itself. In a way it’s a sort of backhanded compliment to the uniqueness of this small Florida curiosity. We at Florida Memory, however, would encourage visitors to leave the signs alone and just take a picture or two.

What unusual places have you visited in Florida? Tell us about your favorite by leaving a comment below or on Facebook!