Naturally Spooky

How might a nature-loving Floridian celebrate Halloween?  With a naturally spooky visit to Dead Lakes Recreation Area, of course!

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Dead Lakes, 1955.

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.

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Fishermen at Dead Lakes, 1947.

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.

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Detail of Iola and Dead Lakes from Rand McNally’s Florida, 1892.

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.

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Cover of the pamphlet In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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Page one of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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.

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Pages two and three of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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.


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Pages four and five of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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Dock and lake, Wewahitchka.

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:


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Testimony of Dr. E. D. Pitman regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, pages 5-6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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Chipola River from porch, 1880s.

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:

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Testimony of George W. Truitt regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, page 6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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:

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Testimony of W. W. Turner regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 12, 1891. In Paradise, page 8, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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Bass fishing at Dead Lakes, 1960.

Furthermore, tourist A. P. Jones praised the climate and people of Florida in his testimony:

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Testimony of A. P. Jones regarding his stay at the Lake View Hotel, December 18, 1891. In Paradise, page 9, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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.

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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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

 

British Intrigue and the Events at Prospect Bluff

Although not part of the United States during the War of 1812, Florida witnessed its share of fighting between Spanish, British, American, African and Native American belligerents involved in the protracted conflict.

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