Dunlawton Sugar Plantation

Have you ever looked at a Florida landmark and thought about all the things it could tell you if it could speak? Some, admittedly, might have been far enough out of the way that they would have very little to say. Others, like the ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation near Port Orange in Volusia County, might be a little more chatty.

Ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation at Port Orange (circa 1920s).

Ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation at Port Orange (circa 1920s).

The Dunlawton Sugar Plantation and its mill have been around since the final years of Spain’s ownership of Florida. Local historians identify the mill’s original owner as Patrick Dean, who may have received the land as part of a grant from the Spanish Crown. Dean reputedly died during an Indian attack, whereupon his land passed to his sister Cecily, wife of local planter John Bunch. The Bunch family had also obtained land from the Spanish, and were prominent citizens in the area.

A map from the Spanish Land Grant documents of John Bunch, who acquired the Dunlawton mill and plantation after the death of its original owner (1818).

A map from the Spanish Land Grant documents of John Bunch, who acquired the Dunlawton mill and plantation after the death of its original owner (1818).

The land changed hands twice more, eventually entering the possession of Charles Lawton of South Carolina. Lawton named the plantation and mill “Dunlawton,” combining his mother’s maiden name with his own name. Lawton sold the property in 1832 to the Anderson family, who were operating the mill at the start of the Second Seminole War in 1835.

The mill was the scene of an early battle between the Florida militia and the Seminoles in January 1836. Major Benjamin Putnam of the Florida Volunteers led two militia companies to Dunlawton to recapture supplies that had been taken by Seminole raiders. The soldiers happened upon a couple of Seminoles, fired, and soon after found themselves under attack. During the course of the battle, about 120 Seminoles and escaped African-American slaves were involved. The militiamen had been young and inexperienced, and likely underestimated the strength of their adversaries. As Seminole War historian John K. Mahon explains, the Dunlawton skirmish “wakened many volunteers to the fact that they were playing with death.”

Excerpt of an 1836 map showing areas affected by the Second Seminole War. The Battle of Dunlawton is indicated with the note "Battle Jany 18."

Excerpt of an 1836 map showing areas affected by the Second Seminole War. The Battle of Dunlawton is indicated with the note “Battle Jany 18.”

The mill was partially destroyed, but it was rebuilt after the war by a John J. Marshall. The property changed hands several times in the ensuing years, and was used for varying purposes. During the Civil War, several of the kettles used for boiling cane juice were re-purposed by the Confederates for saltmaking. The buildings on the property also sheltered Confederate patrols when the weather became rough.

The Dunlawton property changed hands several more times before being purchased by J. Saxton Lloyd, who had the grounds landscaped and turned into a historic park. He retained the ruins of the sugar processing equipment and surrounded them with flowering shrubbery and other plants.

Postcard of Dunlawton Plantation with machinery and interpretive signage (circa 1940s).

Postcard of Dunlawton Plantation with machinery and interpretive signage (circa 1940s).

Dunlawton had one more major transition in its future. In 1952, J. Saxton Lloyd leased the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens to Dr. Perry Sperber, who envisioned a whole new attraction to draw visitors to the property. He built a train that would carry tourists through the gardens past a series of life-size statues of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. Sperber called the renovated park “Bongoland.” The dinosaurs were popular both as scenery and for photo opportunities!

Children perched atop a concrete Stegosaurus dinosaur at Bongoland (1959).

Children perched atop a concrete Stegosaurus dinosaur at Bongoland (1959).

J. Saxton Lloyd donated the mill ruins and the Dunlawton property to Volusia County in 1963. Since 1988, the gardens have been open to the public and maintained by a non-profit organization called the Botanical Gardens of Volusia, Inc.

Is there a building in your Florida community that has witnessed a lot of historic changes? Tell us about it by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook page. Also, search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have photos of it on Florida Memory!

Richard Keith Call Collection Now Online at Florida Memory

Florida Memory is excited to announce that the papers of Florida’s third and fifth territorial governor Richard Keith Call are now online and accessible for viewing. The collection was made available for digitization with the assistance of the Florida Historical Society, which holds the original documents.

Call was twice the territorial governor of Florida (1836-1839, 1841-1844), as well as a general in the state militia, a state legislator, and a Congressional delegate for Florida prior to statehood. The documents in this collection illuminate several aspects of our state’s territorial and early statehood history, including territorial politics, the challenges of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), and the emergence of Florida as a state. Moreover, the collection provides intriguing portraits of Call and his family, whose personalities and contributions make this a most useful addition to the State Library and Archives’ Florida Memory website for researchers and Florida history enthusiasts.

Governor Richard Keith Call, 1792-1862

Governor Richard Keith Call, 1792-1862

Although Call is most often remembered for his service as a military commander and governor, his Florida journey began much sooner, before the territory was a United States possession. Call accompanied General Andrew Jackson on his controversial invasion of Spanish Florida (1818) during the First Seminole War, and defended the general against the criticism that followed. Although the Spanish government protested Jackson’s intrusion, it was at that time in no position to force a showdown over the matter. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819, and following ratification of the transaction in 1821 President James Monroe appointed Jackson to become the state’s provisional governor. At Jackson’s request, Call went to Pensacola to prepare for the general’s arrival. Call and Jackson both had hoped that President Monroe would appoint Call as the Secretary of West Florida, but Monroe chose instead to appoint George Walton, II of Georgia to that post, citing the fact that he had already granted Call the favor of a commission as captain in the Army at a time when the military was downsizing.

A miniature painting of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call (circa 1830-1840).

A miniature painting of Florida territorial governor Richard Keith Call (circa 1830-1840).

Despite this setback, Call served the young territory in a number of other ways. He represented Pensacola in the legislative sessions of 1822 and 1823, with broad support from his constituents. In 1823, Call was elected as Florida’s delegate to Congress. Although as a territorial representative he was unable to vote, Call worked diligently on behalf of Florida’s interests. He persuaded Congress to provide a quarter section of land for the territorial capital that would eventually be built at Tallahassee, and he argued for bills excluding foreign commercial fishermen from Florida waters and authorizing the layout of new public roads in the territory.

Letter to Brigadier General Richard Keith Call from a Special Committee of the Municipal Council of Pensacola, describing the committee's confidence in his abilities as he prepared to represent Pensacola in the territorial legislature (April 18, 1823).

Letter to Brigadier General Richard Keith Call from a Special Committee of the Municipal Council of Pensacola, describing the committee’s confidence in his abilities as he prepared to represent Pensacola in the territorial legislature (April 18, 1823).

Extract from Richard Keith Call's diary describing his entering St. Augustine for the first time (1823).

Extract from Richard Keith Call’s diary describing his entering St. Augustine for the first time (1823).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Andrew Stewart, House of Representatives regarding the prospect of building roads and canals in Florida (February 19, 1825).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Andrew Stewart, House of Representatives regarding the prospect of building roads and canals in Florida (February 19, 1825).

Following a period of indecision over whether to run again for Congressional delegate, Call left Washington and returned to Florida in 1825 as the receiver of public monies for the government land office in Tallahassee. He also pursued a lucrative law practice, and used the proceeds from both of his positions to buy up public lands in the fertile Middle Florida region, especially in Jefferson and Leon counties.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John G. Gamble, a Jefferson County planter, regarding Call’s interest in a Florida canal (August 7, 1828).

Although Call was generally popular, he was known for having a terrible temper at times, and he was not entirely without enemies in Florida.  Call’s political opponents often made thinly veiled jabs at the cluster of officials close to him at the government land office, referring to them as “the land office circle” or “the Nucleus.” Perhaps Call’s most ardent enemy was Colonel Joseph M. White, who had replaced him as Florida’s Congressional delegate in 1825. Call and White had been on the outs for years, but the politics surrounding that election made matters much worse. The two politicians traded insults that ultimately drove them to the brink of a duel, which they avoided only through careful negotiations and the assistance of several intermediaries.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Daniel E. Burch regarding a dispute between Call and Colonel Joseph M. White (April 19, 1826).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Daniel E. Burch regarding a dispute between Call and Colonel Joseph M. White (April 19, 1826).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Joseph M. White (April 12, 1833).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Joseph M. White (April 12, 1833).

Andrew Jackson, who had been elected President of the United States in 1828 and again in 1832, appointed Call territorial governor of Florida in March 1836, elevating him to the highest political post of his career. Call’s first administration was dominated by the difficulties of the Second Seminole War that had begun in 1835. As an increasing number of settlers moved into Florida, they came into conflict with the resident Seminole Indians, who still occupied much of the territory. The federal government struggled to resolve the problem diplomatically, but ultimately tensions broke out into open conflict. The United States Army entered Florida and attempted to pacify and expel the natives, but they refused to go quietly.

This engraving from the Florida Photographic Collection depicts the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War.  This battle, which took place in late April 1842 in a hammock near Lake Apopka, was the last major military effort of the war.

This image from the Florida Photographic Collection depicts the Battle of Palaklaklaha during the Second Seminole War. This battle, which took place in late April 1842 in a hammock near Lake Apopka, was the last major military effort of the war.

The conventionally trained Army and its commanders were ill-equipped to deal with the situation, and months passed with little progress to show for their efforts. Governor Call fumed over the delays in bringing the war to a close. He called the Army’s performance disgraceful, and complained that the Navy had done little to stop maritime trade between the Seminoles and foreign powers.  Firmly believing that he could do what the regular generals had thus far failed to do, Call wrote directly to President Jackson outlining a plan for victory. In June 1836, the governor got his chance. Secretary of War Lewis Cass informed him that he would have command of the militia and enlisted forces in Florida. It was, of course, an unusual situation for a sitting governor to take the field as commander in such a broad operation, but Call set himself to the task with enthusiasm, calling for supplies and reinforcements from other states as he prepared to march.

For all his confidence, Call’s performance as a commander was mixed, and following a series of questionable moves in central Florida, President Jackson and Benjamin F. Butler, Jackson’s acting Secretary of War, elected to relieve the governor of his command. Call was hurt by the episode, especially since he believed his friend Jackson had made his decision without having heard all the facts of the case. The two were never as close afterward.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Acting Secretary of War Benjamin F. Butler, responding to Call's allegations that his removal from command in Florida was based on erroneous information (January 14, 1837).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Acting Secretary of War Benjamin F. Butler, responding to Call’s allegations that his removal from command in Florida was based on erroneous information (January 14, 1837).

Call’s political fortunes also began to sour around this time.  Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson to the presidency of the United States in 1837, which left Call without one of his most powerful allies in Washington. Furthermore, the governor made something of a nuisance of himself with continued critiques of the federal government’s efforts to end the Seminole War in Florida.  The changing political landscape of the times played a role as well, as the lines between parties became firmer and Call and Van Buren found themselves on opposites of the developing political spectrum. In 1839, the President appointed Robert Raymond Reid to succeed Call as territorial governor of Florida. Call felt snubbed, but he understood that party politics had been to blame.

Call campaigned on behalf of William Henry Harrison, who succeeded Van Buren to the presidency in 1841, and Harrison promptly restored Call to the territorial governorship of Florida. The problems of Call’s second term were mostly economic, as the territory’s banks had gotten themselves into serious debt through irresponsible speculation and poor management. Foreign bondholders were putting increasing pressure on the territorial government for some kind of solution. Call worked with the legislature to hammer out a way of resolving these debts without bankrupting the government or tarnishing the credit of the territory.  As the end of Call’s term approached, he began hearing rumors that President John Tyler would not reappoint him. These reports turned out to be true, and in August 1844 John Branch succeeded him as territorial governor.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Charles Downing, reporting that he had seen President William Henry Harrison (

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Colonel Charles Downing, reporting that he had seen President William Henry Harrison (“Old Tip”), and Harrison had said he would appoint Call as territorial governor of Florida. “Old Tip” is a reference to Harrison’s nickname “Old Tippecanoe,” which he earned in 1811 after defeating a band of Shawnee Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in what was then the Indiana Territory. The letter is dated March 8, 1841.

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Benjamin A. Putnam, congratulating him on his reappointment as territorial governor of Florida.  He describes the reaction in St. Augustine, which included

Letter to Richard Keith Call from Benjamin A. Putnam, congratulating him on his reappointment as territorial governor of Florida. He describes the reaction in St. Augustine, which included “a glorious salute of about 50 rounds, continued at intervals through the night, with hearty cheers from a large party of good fellows whose spirits were made bouyant at the prostration of a corrupt dynasty.” Letter dated March 26, 1841.

Meanwhile, Florida’s territorial delegate David Levy and his political allies had convinced Congress to elevate Florida to statehood. On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state in the Union, necessitating an election for a new state governor and legislature. Call had already determined not to run for the office of governor, but a group of petitioners urged him to stand for election, and he did.  The Democratic party, whose national leaders had been at odds with Call for some time, held the political high ground in Florida at the time, and Call was defeated in favor of William Dunn Moseley, who took office June 25, 1845.

Relieved of political office, Call turned his attention to his law practice and the cultivation of his land. By this time he had purchased a second plantation, Orchard Pond, located north of Tallahassee, where he began conducting agricultural experiments in order to find an alternative to hemp fiber that could be raised in Florida. One of his most promising leads came from a species of yucca called “bear grass,” which he promoted.

Letter from Richard Keith Call to Florida Governor William D. Moseley, describing the possibilities for cultivating

Letter from Richard Keith Call to Florida Governor William D. Moseley, describing the possibilities for cultivating “Florida Hemp” as a cash crop.

Call’s final major contribution to Florida politics occurred in connection with the secession crisis that preceded the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, Democrats across the South began gathering in state conventions to discuss the possibility of leaving the Union rather than stay and face the chance that slavery might be undermined. Call, while a staunchly conservative slaveowner, considered secession a dangerous path for Florida to take. Although he was not selected to represent Leon County in Florida’s secession convention, he took to the press with an appeal calling for calm and cautious action rather than a hasty or rash response to the national situation. Call’s suggestion went unheeded, and the convention voted on January 10, 1861 for Florida to secede from the United States.  Ellen Call Long wrote in her book Florida Breezes that upon being told by some of the delegates what they had done, Governor Call raised his cane above his head and said, “And what have you done?  You have opened the gates of hell, from which shall flow the curses of the damned, which shall sink you to perdition.”

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John L. Crawford of Georgia in response to Call's pamphlet regarding the secession crisis (December 31, 1860).

Letter to Richard Keith Call from John L. Crawford of Georgia in response to Call’s pamphlet regarding the secession crisis (December 31, 1860).

Governor Call died September 14, 1862 at The Grove, his first plantation, located in Tallahassee. This house, later owned by Governor LeRoy Collins and his wife Mary Call Collins, a descendant of Governor Call, is now owned by the State of Florida and operated by the Division of Historical Resources in the Florida Department of State. Once opened to the public in fall 2014, The Grove will feature educational exhibits on all three of its meticulously restored floors, as well as the surrounding grounds.

View of the front of the Call-Collins house, the main edifice of

View of the front of the Call-Collins house, the main edifice of “The Grove,” Governor Richard Keith Call’s home in Tallahassee. The house was originally constructed between 1825 and 1832. In 1972, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo dated 2011.

In addition to the topics discussed here, Governor Call’s papers contain a number of materials relating to his eldest daughter, Ellen Call Long, who was an avid writer and historian of Florida, as well as other members of his family. Click here to access the full collection.