SECRET TREASURES IN JEFFERSON COUNTY FLORIDA
by Anne Haw Holt
Monticello is our county seat. Eight miles away, give or take a few steps, you find Lloyd, Wacissa, Waukeenah, Lamont, Aucilla and a couple of villages that are only a place name today, such as Ashville and Fanlew. The eight mile distance is easily explained. A horse or mule and wagon with a farmer and his family sitting atop produce or perhaps simply riding along could easily make a sixteen-mile round trip to the county seat on Saturday or Court day. Early Indian scares required an active militia, men who easily made the eight-mile trip by horseback on Thursday afternoons to drill under the Meeting Oak that still shades the south porch of our beautiful courthouse.
Jefferson County is about the 12th or 13th Florida county created in 1827, but settled earlier. A Mr. Robeson or Robertson kept a trading post here from the early 1820s. Some think a Spanish mission was located on this site. The town that grew up around the trading post was called Robeson’s Corners. The town’s name was changed to Monticello in 1827 and as with the county name, honored Thomas Jefferson.
Our treasures are simple, and easily overlooked until you stop and study a while. High ground, hammock to wetland, our land rolls sweetly and is covered in as many shades of green as the fields of western Ireland. This was the favored land of the Apalachees, rich farmland where they grew their sustaining crops.
The Apalachee’s farming practices included burning to keep the fields clear. From the time the United States acquired the territory in 1819 these rich open fields were called “Old Fields” and avidly sought by settlers for their plantations. Men came to the area ahead of their families to select and stake out patents that included cleared and rich “old fields” that would allow them to plant a crop immediately. The first-comers didn’t have to spend a year or more clearing away thick stands of pine and oak before plowing.
Jefferson County forests are still thick and dark green, full of shadows, formidably dense. The extensive flatwoods of the south part of the county are secret to all but hunters and timber men seeking stands of towering cypress—formidable and forbidding forests. Tales abound of bears, panthers and other wildlife lurking in the scrub.
There is an ancient legend of a volcano told and re-told by Native Americans and area settlers. Parties searching for the volcano tell of finding a strangely shaped hill deep in the flat woods. Huge stones are scattered about the hill. Some speculate that this hill may be the site of a peat burn or an underground gas fire. Then again, searchers may not yet have found the true site of the volcano.