The Flatwoods of Jefferson County Florida

The Flatwoods of Jefferson County Florida

The Flat Woods are a world out of time. This remote and mysterious area is almost impenetrable and unknown except by a few hunters, fishermen, and scientists. The Flat Woods are located in South-central Florida, at the edge of the Apalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

These remote tangled woods and swamps are bordered on the east by the Suwanee River and on the west by the Wakulla River. The area is split by the mysterious, disappearing Aucilla River and graced by the spring-fed Wacissa and the lost Pinhook.

Searching the Flatwoods

Hiking the Flatwoods

These woods and swamps boast as diverse a collection of botanical specimens as any place in the world not a rain forest. Sinkholes pierce the porous limestone underlying the jungle-like growth of oak, pine and palm, adding to the ancient mystery.

The treasures of this vast crescent, reaching almost 100,000 acres, lie deep. They are hidden from all but scientists, trained divers and special equipment. The knowledge hidden here is covered by a blanket of rotted plant life to a remarkable depth; a covering that provides anaerobic security for the remains of humans and animals waiting through centuries to tell the story of the settlement of North America.

This area has been of great interest to anthropologists, archaeologists and other scientists for many years. The evidence they have gathered through several “digs” suggests eons of settlement by humans, possibly some of the earliest settlement in North America.

The pressing question developing as evidence accumulates is whether or not the first settlers in North America came from the east or from the northwest. Could the first North American settlers have come across the ice from Europe? The answer lies waiting in the Flat Woods and its rivers, under a deep blanket of plant waste, protected by a lack of oxygen and waiting to be uncovered.

 

 

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Paddling the Wacissa

Paddling the Wacissa

Paddling the Wacissa

The Wacissa River in Jefferson County Florida is fed by freshwater springs, forming a pristine playground for people, birds and wildlife. A short drive south of the City of Monticello, the cold flowing water is bluer than the sky and unbelieveably clear. Access is from Monticello west on Route 90 to Route 59 South and Tallahassee east on Route 90 to Route 59 south. Drive straight south on 59 to the headwaters of the river.

The park at the headwaters of the Wacissa is attractive, well-equipped and beautifully kept. Managed by Jefferson County as a public park, there is provision for picnicing, swimming and launching small watercraft. Rental watercraft are available near the park including kayaks, canoes, gunnoes and skiffs. Most craft are paddled, rowed or powered by electricity so not to frighten off the wildlife.

Paddle the Wacissa

Paddle the Wacissa

Many visitors take the short “Paddle” from the park to Blue Spring about one mile downriver. Watercraft are assisted by the current on the way downriver but paddling offers a mild workout on the return trip.  Blue Spring is something worth seeing. The flow of the distinctive blue water from this first magnitude spring into the river is spectacular.

The quiet river is filled with wildlife. It is often possible to see four or five water birds at a time. Take your camera. Some birds will hold their ground until you get close to their feeding area. They will then give you a show as they fly just out of your reach and settle down to feeding again. It’s nothing to see several Great Egrets, a Bittern and various ducks and small waterfowl.

Ambitious Kayakers or Canoeists traveling with an experienced guide follow the river past Blue Spring to take the “Slave Canal” connecting the Wacissa to the lower Aucilla River which gives access to the Gulf. This canal is said to have been begun by Native Americans many years ago and re-opened by slave labor in the 1850s. It was expected to serve as a barge canal to move bales of cotton to the Appalachee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico where they could be loaded on ships and sent to market. The canal was hardly finished when a railroad was built that took its place.

Water bird flying up as we passed.

Water bird flying up as we passed.

 

 

 

The Road to Monticello, Florida

THE ROAD TO MONTICELLO, FLORIDA

By Anne Haw Holt

Fred Mahan Drive links historic districts in Monticello and Tallahassee, Florida. This road started as a tribal path—became known as the Old Spanish Trail and is now Route 90, once the main east-west route across the state.

Wild woods on west Rt 90 near Lake Miccosuki

Wild woods on west Rt 90 near Lake Miccosuki

In 1935 Mahan’s Nursery of Monticello, one of the largest nurseries in the Southeast, donated thousands of shrubs and trees to beautify the right-of-way along this drive. Jefferson County employed thirty-five men at 30 cents an hour to plant the shrubs, providing desperately needed jobs at a fair rate of pay for the height of the great depression.

The plantings included pyracanth, arbor vitae, crape myrtle, ligustrum and some palm trees. Recent plantings of smaller crape myrtles, from the intersection of I-10 and US 90 east of Tallahassee, to the edge of Monticello, present a spectacular range of brilliant colors throughout the summer months. For most of the year the shrubs are lush and green. In winter their bare cinnamon branches seem a work of art.

Crepe Myrtles in Blossom

Crepe Myrtles in Blossom

By late April and into May each year crape myrtles are covered in deep green leaves. In May the shrubs begin to produce large clumps of conical white flowers followed by old-fashioned “watermelon pinks” and later the gorgeous dark reds. When the crape myrtles are blossoming this two-lane road running east from Tallahassee to the historic City of Monticello, Florida is a never-to-be-forgotten treat, easily the most beautiful drive in Florida.

Local people love this highway. Once a road crew, apparently tired of mowing around bushes, started to use a huge chipping machine to “clear” the shrubbery from both sides of Rt. 90 east of Tallahassee. Late on a Friday afternoon after they cut down and chewed up a few crape myrtles, the men cut the machine off and left for the weekend.

Luckily, a reporter saw the machine devouring the crape myrtles and submitted a story to the local paper. The public outcry was unbelievable. Telephone lines seemed to catch fire from Monticello to Tallahassee to Washington, DC. Angry people called to demand help from their elected representatives to stop the destruction of the crepe myrtles.

Sometime Saturday or Sunday evening, someone cut the hydraulic lines, rendering the valuable machine useless. This action and subsequent news stories plus the frantic, angry telephone calls stopped the destruction and saved this beauty for us.

Please slow down a little and enjoy the show. You will see an occasional sturdy-looking palm tree tucked in behind the crape myrtles. You will even see a few overgrown and badly misshapen arbor vitae, but not a single pyracanth.

A New Kind of County Fair

A New kind of County Fair

by Anne Haw Holt

The Jefferson County Fair and BBQ Cook-Off is coming to Lloyd, Florida on November 7. It’s a new and different fair from the County Fairs I attended in Louisa County, Virginia many years ago, but if we all go and have lots of fun I’ll bet this one will grow into a bigger, more familiar event.
The BBQ contest with $2000 in prizes (sponsored by our own FMB) sounds right. There’ll be judging of the many different kinds of BBQ. That should be fun for the adults. We all have a favorite sort of BBQ now, but we might learn to like a new one.

Old Railroad Station in Lloyd, FL. Beautifully re-purposed as Lloyd post office.

Old Railroad Station in Lloyd, FL. Beautifully re-purposed as Lloyd post office.

I certainly remember pie and cake contests and lots of vendors – some were a little strange—that was one of the best things. Children will enjoy bouncy houses and we all love hay rides. Teens will win the Corn Hole tournament and chase the greased pig to win prizes.

I’ll miss some of the rides in the old midway. Remember the Carousel and the Whip? Who could forget the Ferris Wheel? Can we have one next year? Louisa’s fair always had a Demolition Derby on Friday night—it was fun and scary, but everyone sat on hard wooden benches and loved every minute of it.

Mama entered the quilting contest and usually brought home a ribbon. Daddy took me with him to see the 4-H boys and girls showing great Hereford and Angus bulls they raised to be cuddly pets. I especially loved the tractors and other big machines. Daddy always got me a hot dog and some cotton candy and ordered me not to get sick – ‘cause Mama would fuss.

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LaFitte Store in Lloyd, Fl. Saved by Lloyd History Assoc. so we can know how we lived in a quieter, more peaceful time. 

I remember that County Fair in this poem—see you in Lloyd on November 7.

County Fair
We walked in the evening to our old town,
out of the quiet shimmering haze.
We threaded our way there, round and round,
through the moving, seething maze.
Voices clashed and hummed and screamed.
Red and yellow flashings beamed.
Hurdy-Gurdy carousel,
sickening, pickish, sweetening smell.
Hurry the path in darkness found,
home from the fair in Mineral town.