Jefferson County Florida Slave Canal

My friend Ed Green took me through wilderness of the famous Jefferson County Slave Canal in a small boat. I wanted to take pictures, and he knew I was worried about my camera and believed the boat would provide more stability for me than a canoe.

The canal was beautiful, breathtaking at times, but believe me, it was a kayaking or canoe trip, not a boat trip. Although Ed’s boat was small and light, it was too much for the obstacles encountered along the trail.

Slave Canal dug by slaves in 1850s to connect the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers

Slave Canal dug by slaves in 1850s to connect the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers

We slid under fallen trees, pushed over big sunken logs and made portages. Someone had done some cutting of fallen trees to open the trail, but they were obviously providing for a small canoe or Kayak not even a boat as small as ours.  I’d go back any time, but I would have to go in a kayak or a small canoe. I’ll just buy a waterproof camera so I don’t have to worry about it.

We put the boat in at Goose Pasture. The sky was brilliant blue and the clouds were mysterious snow white shapes. We had to push through heavy grass just under the surface of the water as we moved the boat along the Wacissa toward the turn to the canal. There are signs where the trail branches off, but you have to watch carefully, it would be easy to lose your way. I was thankful to be with someone who knew the turns.

Wacissa River at Goosepasture

Wacissa River at Goose Pasture

 

I started taking pictures immediately. Shots from the shore alone were worth visiting Goose Pasture landing. As we drifted along the river every scene we passed seemed to be waiting to be photographed. Thank goodness for a digital camera. I would have been sick under the constraints of film.

As we entered the actual Slave Canal Ed pointed out areas of Indian mounds explaining that in this area many of the mounds are very ancient, some even Paleolithic. It was very quiet. We began to see water birds and an occasional gator. There were two or three places where it would have been easy to take a wrong turn, but we managed to stay on the trail.

Great piles of stones, many probably two feet square line one part of the canal. These were piled along the waterway by the hands of men working in this humid, jungle-like environment in the 1850s. It is an impressive sight, worth making the trip through the canal.

We came to the Aucilla along a stretch of water bordered by banks of wildflowers then the cabins and houses of Nutall Rise came into view and we were out of the wilderness.

 

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Jefferson County, Heart of the Red Hills of Florida

Water bird flying up as we passed the Cypress stand.

Water bird flying up as we pass

 

Jefferson is the only county in the state that reaches from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico. We are Florida’s keystone. We are separated from Madison and Taylor Counties on the east by the Aucilla River – as beautiful and varied a stream any kayaker or canoeist could find.

The river wanders from cypress forests in the north through miles of live oaks and brush to a tropical paradise in Apalachee Bay. This mysterious stream slips underground for several miles near Goose Pasture to reach the surface in tiny ponds and lakes through openings in the Karst to create Aucilla Sinks.

 

On the west Jefferson County’s red hills and flatwoods border Leon County. Along Route 90 west, the Old Spanish Trail, you see miles of crepe myrtle’s offering an unmatchable show when they blossom during June and July.

Cold and clear, the Wacissa is spring fed

Cold and clear, the Wacissa is spring fed

 

A paradise for the hunter, fisherman or photographer, lower Jefferson County boasts the clear cold, spring-fed Wacissa River. Full of birds and wildlife, this pristine river includes magnificent Blue Spring and a canal dug by slaves in the 1850s.  Down in the flatwoods is the wild, hidden Pinhook River. You’ll need a guide to find it.

Before and during the Civil War there was a Salt Works along this river bank

Before and during the Civil War there was a Salt Works along this river bank

Southern Music Rising

Southern Music Rising Festival April 9, 2016

By Anne Haw HoltSouthern Music Rising

Saturday April 9th was be the ninth celebration of Monticello’s Southern Music Rising Festival. This celebration of Southern Music was presented by The Foundation for the Preservation of Historic American Music. Some say this Festival is Florida’s best kept secret. The Foundation supports and offers performances in every musical genre from Funk to Country-Western, Blues, Pop, Ragtime, Jazz, Bluegrass, Classical and everything in between. Every Festival offers a variety so you will be able to find music you love.
This year the music began at eleven in the morning, right after the Great Monticello Bike Fest. The offerings included performances by newcomers such as Chris Henry and the Hardcore Grass. These musicians were followed by old favorites such as Slim Fatz, Brian Smally and Sam Pacetti. Headlining the evening show was Atlanta’s Bill Sheffield, followed by Tallahassee’s The NMonticello Opera Houseew 76ers.
Capping off this amazing collection of performers was a gala evening of dancing to the tunes of the Allie Cats in the elegant garden of Monticello’s beautiful old Opera House. The garden is located just across the circle from the Jefferson County Courthouse.
So even if you come early there’s something to do in Monticello all day long on this special day. Bring your dancing shoes, your favorite partner and join the fun. Restaurants and stores will be open to welcome you. Monticello Bed & Breakfasts are elegant and reasonable. For more information contact Cliff Miller at 850-464-2819 or email – southernmusicrising.com.

 

The Page-Ladson site in Jefferson County Florida

 

 Aucilla River

Located on the southern edge of Florida’s Red Hills, the Page-Ladson archaeological dig has attracted exploration by scientists since the 1960s. In the January 2015 issue of National Geographic Magazine an article includes Page-Ladson as one of only ten sites important for studying early human settlement in the Western Hemisphere.

Recognition of the possibilities of this site was slow in coming. S. David Webb and James Dunbar were early investigators. Michael Waters of the Center for the First Americans at Texas A&M University and others have continued studying into 2014. Several remarkable finds in the 1980s and 1990s kept scholarly interest high. An artifact found in 2013 is 14,400 years old. Subsequent discoveries verify these discoveries.

In 2012 a gathering of scientists and scholars met to discuss the meaning and possibilities of the site in the First Floridian First American Conference in Monticello, Florida. Pre-Clovis artifacts were displayed and studied increasing lay and scholarly interest in the Red Hills Region.

Inspired by the First Floridian Conference, several scientists who were speakers in the conference and  Monticello/Jefferson County community leaders formed a committee to create a local institute to support scholarly study of the Aucilla Basin.Upper Aucilla

The new Aucilla Research Institute (ARI) provides logistical and research support for visiting scientists. ARI founders expect the Institute’s work to gradually spark an economic resurgence in the area. With grant funding support, the institute is involved in several explorations of the Aucilla and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

ARI participated in planning the Second First Floridians First Americans Conference held in Monticello on October 1, 2, 3, 2015.  A book of scholarly papers rising from this conference is in the process of publication by the Florida Press. A third conference, First Floridians First Americans III is planned for fall of 2018. Because of the stature of the Page-Ladson site, speakers will include some of the foremost Paleolithic scholars in the World.

 

 Jefferson County’s Rivers: Florida’s Frontier

We drove to Mandalay at dawn, sliding an open boat into the Aucilla. Charlie Ward handled the tiller with Jack Carswell beside him. I rode amidships to take pictures.

Charlie picked out his route along the curved riverbanks. “Sharp rocks hide under the surface of this water. One of them can rip this boat to pieces.”

We entered a maze of channels between curving stretches of marsh grasses dotted with palms, twisted cedars and willows. At Apalachee Bay Charlie pointed out Saint Marks Lighthouse and the almost hidden mouth of the Pinhook.

Charlie said the Pinhook is mostly limestone under the reeds and grass. Trees rooted directly into slabs of moss-covered limestone hang over the water, closing out the sun.

The river narrowed and banks came closer until our boat stopped, the keel caught on a tree fallen across the water. Grabbing a nearby limb in one hand, Charlie yanked on the side of the boat and gunned the motor, sliding us across.

We finally turned to head back through the tunnel of trees. When we came out in the open the sky was dark. As soon as we ran clear of the narrow part of the river we sped up, ignoring the danger of hidden rocks. We were unsure whether to head back to the Aucilla or make for Saint Marks by open water where we would be safe.

We ran into a storm on Apalachee Bay just as we left the Pinhook River

We ran into a storm on Apalachee Bay just as we left the Pinhook River

The sky turned purple and black, and a strong wind picked up. After a few miles of wind blowing in our faces the clouds moved on to our west. The sun came back out.

As we turned north back into the Aucilla, we saw a gathering of Wood Storks resting on the limbs of a dead tree. One turned his back and spread his wings to show his eight-foot wing span.

Overhanging tree limbs cast intricate patterns on the water. We turned left at Ward Island where Charlie stopped at a floating dock. Pointing to a path up the hill he said, “Climb up there and you’ll see a real family fishing cabin. Those folks hauled every stick of lumber in here on a boat.”

The weathered structure looked shabby but sturdy. A covered porch protected a line of chairs backed up to the wall. I could picture a family enjoying the solitude–adults resting on the porch and children yelling as they played in the woods nearby.

Fishing Shack on Ward Island on the lower Aucilla

Fishing Shack on Ward Island on the lower Aucilla

Leaving the river, we followed the same route back to Monticello. Soon Charlie turned onto a narrow lane to show us the headwaters of the Wacissa River.

The Wacissa is pristine—as clear as the springs that feed it. Narrow and twisted, it is land-bound and finally disappears into the earth. Its waters connect with the Aucilla through a “Slave Canal,” cut by hand in antebellum times.

A large part of Jefferson County is like these rivers, still unchanged in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Much of the route we covered on this trip is a land and waterscape untouched and undamaged, rare and beautiful.

Cold and clear, the Wacissa is  spring fed

Cold and clear, the Wacissa is spring fed