The Secret Treasures of Jefferson County Florida

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 Courthouse, Florida

Jefferson County Courthouse, Florida

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.

Old Bellamy Road and fields off Avalon Road in Jefferson County, Florida

Old Bellamy Road and fields off Avalon Road in Jefferson County, Florida

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.

Jefferson County's Flatwoods search for the Florida Volcano

Jefferson County’s Flatwoods search for the Florida Volcano

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.

A Hometown Hero

By Anne Haw Holt

Monticello News like most newspapers, publishes stories about heroes. These stories are often on the front page above the fold to attract attention. They recently published the story of a great, talented baseball player from Perry, Florida who helped win the World Series.

In the same issue, the News told the story of Marine “Boots” Thomas, a Monticello/Jefferson County Florida “hometown” hero who helped raise the first American flag on the far-off island of Iwo Jima. Thomas later died fighting the enemy on that battlefield. The story explained the re-dedication of Thomas’ remembrance plaque and the tribute to his heroism by the Fifth Division of the United States Marines. Along with explaining the dedication activities the newspaper quoted comments made in the ceremony by Boots Thomas’ friend and a special kind of hero who lives right here in Monticello.

Thomas' Dedication Ceremony - Roseland Cemetery, Monticello, FL.

Thomas’ Dedication Ceremony – Roseland Cemetery, Monticello, FL.

Dr. Sledge has enjoyed a productive life and made a contribution to society as many will, but his long life is different. He has told Boot’s Thomas’ story at every opportunity for more than seventy years. His lifetime of steadfast determination to make sure his friend and his friend’s story are remembered is not only exemplary but extraordinary. It is heroic.

Sledge is heroic in the quiet way many people are, without fanfare or notice. The way a father brings home his paycheck every week for a lifetime without complaint, although he may well be completely bored with his job. The way a mother, no matter how tired she may be, makes sure her children are safely asleep before she closes her eyes. It is a heroism that is woven into his everyday life.

Dr. Sledge telling about his boyhood friend

Dr. Sledge telling about his boyhood friend

I have lots of lovely friends, and I’m sure you do also. We even have some truly close friends. I am certain they will, at times, remember us fondly—(maybe fondly). Will one of them – could one of them — remember and make sure others remember you or me and our lives for more than seventy years?

We should all hope for one friend such as Dr. Jim Sledge. He is a true home-town hero.