The Rise and Fall of Old St. Joseph

[Editor’s Note: Around 2003 during a visit to the Florida Museum of History I was given a folder of documents to look over on the subject of Gulf County and the founding of the State of Florida. Among those documents was the oft referred to history written by Henry A. Drake, who served as auditor for the Apalachicola Northern Railway and as Postmaster of Port St. Joe. At that time all I could do was to photograph the eleven typewritten pages. Eleven years later I’ve managed to transcribe that document from its original typed manuscript. So far as I know this is the first time this document has been published in digital form. — Ed Tiley, Editor]


The Rise and Fall of Old St. Joseph
Birthplace of Florida

My version of the history of the ancient city 1812-1854 and the ensuing dormancy of the area prior to 1910 when the new town of Port Saint Joe was established. A moderate narrative of subsequent facts and events of the new town, 1910 through 1966, is also given.

Henry A. Drake — 1967

Florida was first explored in 1512 by Ponce de Leon, a Spanish adventurer. It was ceded to Great Britain by Spain in 1763 in exchange for Cuba and reacquired by the Spaniards in 1781. It was ceded to the United States in 1821 and organized as a territory in 1822.
— Winston’s Encyclopedia

The year 1838 was an important one in Florida history. On February 2, the Territorial Council, seated at Tallahassee, selected St. Joseph over such older and larger cities in the territory, as Pensacola, St. Augustine, and Tallahassee, as a site for the drafting of a state constitution, preparatory to Florida becoming a state of the Union. According to legend St. Joseph, situated on beautiful St. Joseph Bay, had its beginning as a community about 1812 while the territory was still under Spanish rule. The united States Government established a post office at St. Joseph on December 28, 1835 and the community, then in Franklin County , was chartered as a municipality on January 11, 1836. The site is now in Gulf County.

The Convention date was set for Monday, December 3, 1838. Florida had been a territory only since 1821 when it was purchased from Spain at an average price of 14 cents an acre. At the time there were only an estimated 4,560 white persons in the territory. According to a special census just prior to the Convention, Florida had only 48,223 residents of which number 21,132 were Negro slaves and 958 were free blacks.

In a special referendum held in 1837 on statehood, only 2,214 votes were cast, and of this number 1,274 were against statehood.

The Florida Constitution Museum in Port St. Joe includes a mechanical exhibit depicting the Convention of 1838 where the constitution for the new state was drafted.

The Florida Constitution Museum in Port St. Joe includes a mechanical exhibit depicting the Convention of 1838 where the constitution for the new state was drafted.

Delegates from throughout territorial Florida began arriving at St. Joseph, by land and sea, the first weekend in December 1838. The promoters of St. Joseph had been quite successful in getting the town well established during the year 1835 and by the time of the Convention it was prospering well. Among the hotels offering excellent accommodations for the Convention were the Byron, Pickwick, Fontaine, Mansion House, Shakespeare, Railroad Cottage, and the German Ocean House. The Convention Hall had been built by E.J. Wood, one of the leaders of the St. Joseph project, a director of the Lake Wimico and St. Joseph Canal and Railroad company, and a representative of Franklin County in the Territorial Council. Painting of many famous American statesmen decorated the interior walls of the Hall. Only 46 of the 56 delegates elected were on hand when the Convention assembled at high noon December 3. The Rev. Peter W. Gautier, Sr., Methodist minister, opened the Convention with prayer.

In the selection of St. Joseph as a site for the Convention shrewd politics (then as now) played a major role. Peter W. Gautier, Jr., editor of the St. Joseph Times, and also a Franklin County representative to the Territorial Legislative Council of Florida, succeeded in getting the new county of Calhoun created from Franklin County, with St. Joseph designated as the county seat. In the same year, Gautier, a lawyer by training, received an appointment as United States Marshal for the Apalachicola District, which covered most of the present area of Northwest Florida.

The Calhoun county delegates, controlled by the promoters of St. Joseph, were William P. Duval and Richard C. Allen; considered two of the ablest men in the territory in point of prestige and ability. The Saints had hoped to get Duval named Chairman and thereby control the Convention. However, upon a count of the votes cast, Duval lost the Chairmanship to Judge Robert Raymond Reid of St. Augustine by one vote. On January 11, 1839 the constitution was ready for final passage, and when put to a vote resulted 55 for and one against. The lone dissenting vote was by Dade County delegate Richard Fitzpatrick who was still angered over the controversy regarding Territorial banks whose bonds, under law, had been guaranteed by the Territory. Agreement on this was reached, however, when the Convention voted to submit the constitution to the people for ratification.

The referendum election was held May 6, 1839 and the results were close, with a majority of only 113 votes for ratification, the vote being 2,071 for and 1,958 against. The results were not announced until Feb 10, 1841. The exact reason for the delay is not known, but Calhoun county which had lost the chairmanship upon organization of the Convention voted heavily against ratification – the vote being 275 to 73.

The constitution specified Tallahassee as the capitol for five years upon Florida becoming a state, after which a permanent capitol would be chosen. This might have been except for the desolation and destruction that had befallen St. Joseph prior to the Territory’s admission as a state in 1845, – as a consequence of the 1841 epidemic of yellow fever and the back failures throughout the country which, with the decline in cotton priced, resulted in the 1842 bankruptcy of the St. Joseph & Iola railroad built in 1836.

Following the referendum vote and after six years of political strife and turmoil, in which statehood as well as the proposed division of Florida into two territories (East and West) was debated throughout the territory, Congress passed an Act admitting Florida and Iowa as states.

The St. Joseph constitution became the organic law of Florida upon its admission to the Union on March 3, 1845 as the 27th state. The constitution remained in effect until Florida’s secession on January 10, 1861 requiring a new constitution which was signed April 27, 1861, although the state was not re-admitted into the Union until 1868 with the adoption of the new constitution, Meanwhile, Tallahassee remained the capitol.

Peter W. Gautier, Jr. was the editor of the St. Joseph Times and a politial force in St. Joseph leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1838 - Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Peter W. Gautier, Jr. was the editor of the St. Joseph Times and a politial force in St. Joseph leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1838 – Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Peter W. Gautier, Jr., editor of the St. Joseph Times, also a Territorial legislator and son of an English born Methodist minister, was reared in Georgia. The Gautier family, upon moving to Florida, had settled in the St. Andrew Bay area (now Bay County). Subsequently, the family moved to Marianna where young Gautier practiced law. He later lived at Apalachicola and operated a hotel there prior to acquiring the St. Joseph Telegram newspaper from R. Dinsmore Westcott who had published the newspaper from the offices of the Apalachicola Advertiser, also owned by Westcott.

In the Spring of 1836 Gautier moved his press to St. Joseph and in November changed the name of the newspaper to the St. Joseph Time, which became one of the largest daily newspapers of the South in that era. It was the most quoted sheet in Florida, chiefly because of Gautier’s wit and cleverness.

The Apalachicola Gazette, established in 1839 is regarded as having been the first daily newspaper in Florida.

During 1838 a sand road, later called Old Stage Road, was opened from Georgia through Marianna in Jackson County to St. Andrew Bay and eastward to St. Joseph and Apalachicola, along the same route generally as the present U.S. Highway No. 98. This road was originally planned to run directly from Marianna To Apalachicola, but the pen and political influence of Gautier resulted in the toad being routed through the St. Andrew Bay settlement via St. Joseph to Apalachicola. A stage line to Marianna was established in November 1838, and the St. Joseph post office received its mail service twice weekly from Marianna. The Marianna post office was established March 10, 1828.

It is plain to see that Gautier played a prominent and dominant part in the events leading to the Convention as well as the later developments in the area. Businessmen of Columbus, Georgia and Tallahassee were participants in are developments, particularly by their purchase of stock in the Lake Wimico and St. Joseph Canal and Railroad company, chartered by Act of the Territorial Legislature in January 11, 1836.

Peter W. Gautier, Jr. and his father the Rev Mr. Gautier, Sr., had become large planters in the area southeast of St. Joseph and also in the vicinity of Dalkeith, about 15 miles to the north, where slave descendants still reside on land formerly a part of the Gautier plantation. The Senior Gautier, a very pious man, founded Webbville Academy 10 miles northwest of Marianna in Jackson County. This was the first chartered educational institution in Florida, having been chartered by the Territorial Council on December 22, 1837.

During the 1830’s the area of the Chattahoochee River valley, far inland to the lower regions of Alabama and Georgia, was in a rather high state of development for that period and the Apalachicola River system was fifth, if not greater, in commercial importance among the navigable rivers of the United States. Apalachicola, situated at the mouth of the Apalachicola River 25 miles to the east of St. Joseph had been established as a port for cotton export trade, and a like amount of imports from the New England states, and European countries.

Apalachicola was an arch enemy of St. Joseph in the struggle for port supremacy. The transportation methods during this period were limited to hand-propelled barge lines, and it was with much difficulty that large quantities of freight could be transported to shipside. The only harbor available being anchorage at Carrabelle known as Dog Island Cove, 25 miles from the mouth of the Apalachicola river, across from St. George Sound. The barges were as frail and light of construction as the traffic permitted to propel the barges with poles through the deeper channels of the lower Apalachicola River.

St. Joseph Bay had been known to sailors and seamen, generally, as a deep, safe and secure anchorage in stormy weather, and many trade vessels plying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico had sought its shelter in times of storms.

Two bankers, George and Lewis Curtis of New York were engaged in the cotton trade at Apalachicola, and their knowledge of the harbor at St. Joseph induced an investigation to determine a means for transporting their cotton to this harbor. In 1830 the St. Joseph & Lake Wimico Canal Company was organized for the purpose of cutting a canal from Depot Creek to St. Joseph Bay. For unknown reasons this plan was abandoned until 1836 when the promoters decided that, instead of the canal, it would be more feasible to build a railroad from the bay to Depot Creek, a point near Lake Wimico, and eight miles distant from St. Joseph Bay. The proposed canal (Depot Creek to St. Joseph Bay) was never cut.

Although the Lake Wimico and St. Joseph Canal and Railroad Company was not chartered until January 11, 1836 actual construction of the line, St. Joseph to Depot Creek , began in October or November of 1935 with the employment of about 100 carpenters and 200 laborers. The railroad was completed by September 5, 1836 when a crowd of some 300 persons made the 8 mile trip to St. Joseph Bay in 25 minutes with a train of 12 cars, powered by a new Baldwin locomotive.

The track gauge was 30 inches and he rails were wooden stringers, about 6×8 dimensions, laid lengthwise over the ties or sills and carrying a crown of strap iron one-half by one and on-half inches in size. The locomotives were of the walking-beam type, with a single cylinder and a vertical boiler, and were capable of hauling ten to fifteen tons of freight. The rail line had2 locomotives. In the old road-bed, a few ties and stringers have been found so rich in resinous material that they defied the elements for three quarters of a century.

The Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Canal & Railroad Company was the first steam railroad in Florida. Its operation, however, proved unsuccessful because the shallow waters of Lake Wimico permitted river steamers to run aground in their passage from the Apalachicola River to the landing wharves at Depot Creek at the edge of the lake. Facing this problem, the promoters then decided to build a railroad to the already established landing at Tennessee Bluff (later Iola) on the Apalachicola river, a few miles east of Wewahitchka. Some of the old trestle piling across Chipola River still stands. [Correction added later: (First steam road in US was Charleston-Hamburg SC, in 1833) ]

The new railroad to Iola, about 30 miles in length, was completed in 1839 and was called the St. Joseph & Iola Railroad. It is thought by some persons to have been a second railroad, but it appears to have been merely an extension from a point on the previously built St. Joseph to Depot Creek railway. Construction to the new line to Iola began in 1838 and was completed in the following year at a cost of $300,000. This was one of the earliest railroads in the United States, – probably the second one. Steel for its construction was shipped from England.

The railway trestle span across the Chipola River, near Iola, was considered an engineering marvel of achievement for that period. Hundreds of slaves were used as laborers in bridging the river. The railway to Iola proved a distinct advantage over the earlier one to Depot Creek. In addition to eliminating the problem of steamers running aground in Lake Wimico, the new line shortened the transportation route from Alabama and Georgia by about 50 miles. The St. Joseph Times of December 23, 1839 stated that the cotton shipments through St. Joseph for that year would equal or exceed 50,000 bales.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

1836 map of St. Joseph courtesy State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

At St. Joseph an ordinance was passed July 18, 1839 prohibiting a locomotive steam engine to pass into any part of the corporate limits of the city, west of Cherry Street, because of the fire hazard by the locomotives. To comply with the ordinance, the railroad cars were cut loose from the locomotives at the city limits and pulled to the bay-shore railway terminus by teams of mules driven by slaves. The time of two and one-half hours was required for the trip St. Joseph to Iola. Passengers were not allowed to take a seat on the train until they had paid their fare and had their names entered on the waybill, or train manifest.

An earlier city ordinance adopted on January 5, 1839 provided it to be unlawful for any white person to bathe in front of the city, within certain boundary limits between the hours of sunrise in the morning and 8 o’clock in the evening, under penalty of $5 fine. The ordinance provided it to be the duty of the marshal to punish all slaves in violation of the ordinance with 19 lashes for the first and 20 for each succeeding offense.

The railway connection with the Apalachicola River at Iola was of much benefit to producers in the valley who used the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and their tributaries to reach the Gulf Coast. The wharves and warehouses at both Iola and St. Joseph were large and commodious. The cotton warehouse at St. Joseph was of brick construction, as were many of the other business establishments.

In its heyday, St. Joseph was quite metropolitan in possessing a daily newspaper, two or more banks, churches, several hotels, a seminary, shipyard, cotton press, brickyard, grist mill, a board of trade, race track, and many business and professional people. The city promised soon to rival Charleston, Savannah, or New Orleans, both in grace and charm. It had the distinction of being the Gulf terminus of one of the first railways in the United States, and that alone gave it prominence equal to many Atlantic ports without such means of transportation.

Advertisers in the St. Joseph Times during January 1840 included the name of Crawford Sproul, listed as a proprietor of track and stables. Presumably, this refers to the Calhoun Race Track which, with 35 stalls and a grandstand, was located 2 miles east of St. Joseph. This attracted the sporting element of distant places, and with the excellent public accommodations, including some gaming houses where liquors were imbibed in some quantities, it appeared the town was taking on the atmosphere of a pleasure resort. St. Joseph soon became known as a fast town! Some referred to it as the “wickedest place in the United States” – asserting it was without churches or any form of religious worship. However, there were Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic churches, perhaps others – some of the well know clergymen being Reverends Richard, Love, Haskew, Gautier Sr., Mercer, and Lockey.

It is generally believed that the yellow fever epidemic in the Summer of 1841 was an instant death blow to St. Joseph, but this may not have been entirely true. The fever had plagued other areas of the lower south, particularly along the Gulf Coast as early as in 1840 and there were known cases of the fever at St. Joseph in September of that year. Also, the panic of 1837, while slow in affecting St. Joseph because of its strong financial backers, had greatly disturbed the country’s economy elsewhere. With the drop in cotton prices, the operation of the St. Joseph and Iola Railroad, simultaneously, proved disastrous to its promoters and, after a hard struggle during which time the railroad operated intermittently, its operation was finally abandoned in 1840, about one year before the epidemic. These were definite factors in the decline of St. Joseph, with or without consideration of the 1841 fever epidemic.

The 36 miles of railway property, representing a total cost of almost $500,000 was sold through bankruptcy proceedings on August 11, 1842 to William and John D. Gray, brothers, of Georgia for the unbelievably low sum of $17,970.00. Peter W. Gautier, Jr., Unites States marshal and owner of the defunct St. Joseph Times, auctioned off the railway property. The rails and equipment consisting of 2 locomotives, freight cars and miscellaneous property were removed to Augusta, Georgia to become a part of the old Georgia Railroad.

The exact population of St. Joseph at the time of the epidemic in 1841 is not known. It has been estimated as high as 10,000 but, based upon the known events of its flourishing existence, a more accurate estimate would seem to be between four and six thousand persons.

Although the 1841 yellow fever epidemic appears to have been most disastrous for St. Joseph, it seems clear that the Schooner Herald of Boston, while returning from a last port of call in the West Indies, actually brought the first known cases of the fever when it sailed into St. Joseph harbor on Sept. 21, 1840 to bury the vessel’s Captain Kupfer, who had died at sea of the malady two days earlier. After burial of the captain and leaving some of its ailing crew members behind for treatment, the schooner sailed for Boston on September 24, 1840. The epidemic of 1841 broke out in July. It is said that the fever was brought to the old city by a sailor off a ship that had tied up at the docks, but the ship’s identification is unknown. Throughout the Summer and Fall of 1841 there were more or less cases of the fever all through the South.

St. Joseph was hit hard and Apalachicola suffered equally as high a mortality but in no other town had so many eminent persons been stricken. The wife of former territorial Governor Duval, while on a visit with her daughter at St. Joseph succumbed July 14, 1841. The other Convention delegate from Calhoun County, Richard C. Allen and the wife and sister of Leon County delegate George T. Ward passed away. Joseph B. Webb, owner and publisher of the Florida Journal which had succeeded the Apalachicola Gazette, was stricken in St. Joseph and died before he reached home.

Families were broken up by flight only to be reunited in death. The heretofore prosperous city was doomed, the decline of its feeder railway being its first major disaster. The city might have overcome and survived the fever epidemic, except for the railway loss which had provided transportation in world commerce through the port of St. Joseph. But the city could not sustain itself under these adverse circumstances. Its plight was downward until its complete abandonment about 1854.

In the Fall of 1842 a Spanish freight vessel made the harbor out of a severe storm then prevailing in the Gulf of Mexico. The Captain upon being detained on account of the stormy weather, offered a great quantity of decaying cargo to the town inhabitants and Thomas Scott became seriously ill. A physician examined him with great seriousness and upon completion of the examination left abruptly without stating his conclusions. This caused great anxiety among the inhabitants who concluded the dreaded yellow fever was again upon them, and began a frantic scramble to secure means of transportation. Every possible conveyance was quickly pressed into service by the terrified people. Nevertheless, at least 4 persons died.

The St. Joseph Times, as did the Florida Journal of Apalachicola, suspended publication during the 1841 epidemic. A severe storm on Sept. 14, 1841 destroyed a part of the wharf at St. Joseph Bay and later in the Fall a portion of the old city was ravished by fire. There were no vessels in the harbor at the time of the storm on September 14 on account of the epidemic. The storm that virtually swept the place out of existence is reported to have occurred on September 8, 1844. Great damage was also done at Apalachicola as was reported in the Commercial-Gazette of that city, of which the following is a quote: “The tin roofs of the brick stores torn in pieces were flying in the air like scraps of paper. Boards, bricks and everything with the wind could reach were flying in every direction.”

This was one of the tropical hurricanes that the north Gulf Coast is occasionally subject to in the Fall of the Year. These happenings, along with the passing of the railroad, plus the many business failures had by 1843 reduced St. Joseph to little more than a fishing village.

The buildings which housed the population of St. Joseph fell into a natural and gradual decay, but many of them remained until the Civil War. During that war a Confederate salt works was located at St. Joseph Bay near the old town site, using the waters of the bay for making salt. The salt works was destroyed by a Federal gun boat, along with many of the remaining buildings of old St. Joseph. some of the most cultured people of the lower South had lived at St. Joseph, but after the final tragedy real estate values collapsed. The inhabitants could not meet their financial obligations, and the banks were compelled to foreclose mortgages, although the mortgages were practically worthless. Following the decline of old St. Joseph in the 1840’s the county seat was moved to Abe Springs in the southwest part of Calhoun County, where it burned. It was then located briefly at Neal’s Landing before being moved to Blountstown in 1921. Blountstown was incorporated in 1903.

Neighboring Apalachicola was a much older place. Before 1706 there were several nations of Indian living on the banks of the river. The first white settlement was a Spanish fort built in 1705 at the mouth of the river. British occupation of the area ended in 1783 when Spain took possession a second time. In 1821 the United States purchased Florida from Spain and made it a territory. It became a state in 1845.

Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of the ice machine, was also a mayor of Apalachicola and a leader of Trinity Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy  Florida State Parks

Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of the ice machine, was also a mayor of Apalachicola and a leader of Trinity Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy Florida State Parks

It was in 1836 that Dr. John F. Gorrie was recruited and brought to Apalachicola by promoters of the Apalachicola Land Co., for the purpose of drafting a sanitary code for the elimination of the mosquito infested marshes surrounding the city. He recommended that the marshes be drained. On account of the Summer fevers he experimented with cooling devices to relieve his patients. This resulted in his invention of the ice machine, patented in 1850, and won for him national fame. A museum in his memory has been established at Apalachicola. Incidentally, the first commercial ice factory in Florida began operation at Jacksonville in December 1878.

[Editor’s Note: Other sources date Gorrie’s arrival in Apalachicola at 1833. U.S. Patent 8080 was granted to Gorrie in 1851. Hillsborough County has an elementary school in Tampa named John B. Gorrie, and no other references to Gorrie’s middle initial can be found.]

Some dismantling of old St. Joseph occurred in 1843. Residents of Apalachicola bought a number of the deserted houses through mortgage foreclosure and otherwise, tore them down, shipped them by barge to Apalachicola, and re-erected them. Some are still in use. The newspaper Commercial Advertiser, in its issue of August 12, 1843 reported that the schooner Phrenologist arrived from St. Joseph the previous week, bringing part of a large house to be erected on the corner of Commerce and Center Streets. This probably was one of the hotels formerly at St. Joseph. Many of the brick from the ruins of the old cotton warehouse and other buildings at St. Joseph were used in the paving of Palifox Street in Pensacola.

By the end of 1843 there were perhaps not more than 50 inhabitants at St. Joseph. A big storm on Sept. 8, 1844 did much damage to the city and further reduced the population through the exodus of many persons to other places for occupational reasons, if no other. Promoter Peter W. Gautier, Jr. and his father migrated to Texas and homesteaded a piece of land some 50 miles from the present day city of Houston.

The United States post office which had been established at territorial St. Joseph on December 28, 1835 was discontinued March 28, 1854. This discontinuance would indicate the approximate time old St. Joseph was really and completely abandoned. It is interesting to note that the post office was established before postage stamps came into general use! The Government did not adopt the postage stamp until 1847 and its use was optional until 1855, when the prepayment of postage was made compulsory. Previously, the pieces of mail were ‘rated’ and the postage collected upon delivery to the addressee.

Following the demise of old St. Joseph, that part of Florida adjacent to and lying west of the Apalachicola River was without much potential until the turn of the century when, with the navigable Apalachicola River as a means of transportation, timber and naval stores operations became the leading industries. The citrus industry in the Wewahitchka area seems to have pre-dated, by several decades, its development in Central and South Florida. Orange groves were numerous and there were several packing sheds in the area. The oranges were packed in hand-made boxes and shipped via river steamers to distant places. Several winter freezes at the turn of the century were fatal to the citrus industry in the Wewahitchka area. The famed Tupelo honey is produced almost exclusively in the Wewahitchka area of the Apalachicola River Valley. The honey is non-granulating and never becomes rancid. It is said to be the finest honey produced anywhere in the world. Honey production in the area has been a long-time industry.

Andrew Jackson was the first territorial Governor of Florida after its purchase from Spain by the United States in 1821. Upon admission to the Union in 1845, William D. Moseley was chosen the first Governor of the state and served 1845 to 1849. Florida’s first General Assembly, which convened at Tallahassee Monday, June 23, 1845 ; in establishing four executive departments during the session , fixed the Governor’s salary at $1,500.

The St. Joseph Point lighthouse located at Beacon Hill (formerly Yellow Bluff), near the entrance to St. Joseph Bay and about 8 miles northwest of Port Saint Joe, was first established in the year 1839 as a protection to shipping during the days of old St. Joseph. However, in 1847 following the yellow fever epidemic in 1841 and the abandonment of the St. Joseph & Iola Railroad, which had transported the shipping in those days, the lighthouse was discontinued and, instead a new station was built at Cape San Blas, some 15 or more miles to the southeast on the Gulf side of the area. But, during the year 1902 the St. Joseph Point lighthouse was rebuilt, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Lupton became the keepers, upon a transfer from the Cape San Blas station, to which they had been transferred on November 28, 1895 from the Cedar Key, Florida lighthouse station.

The Government had, in 1847, established the Cape San Blas lighthouse, about 10 miles southeast of old St. Joseph. The tower was destroyed by a terrific gale August 30, 1856 which some believed to have been a tidal wave, but this has not been established. The tower was rebuilt, but during the Civil War, the Confederate forces knocked out the tower and prevented its use until the end of the war in 1865. A gale again badly damaged the station in 1894, washing away much of the Cape and leaving the tower standing in water. After a Government survey, the station was moved to Black’s Island in St. Joseph Bay, some 4 or 5 miles westward. In 1897 it was determined that the light on Black’s Island would not serve the purpose and it was relocated at the south point of Cape San Blas, where it still stands.

In the early 1900’s and during the steamboat days on the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers, hunting and fishing in the Dead Lakes area by Alabama and Georgia sportsmen, produced sufficient income for the profitable operation of at least 3 hotels, private lodges, trailer and permanent homes, etc. and the hunting and fishing in the area remains good, but with the construction of excellent highways throughout the region, the steamboats are no longer in operation.

Terrell H. Stone, a pioneer settler of Port Saint Joe moved to the area in 1904 from Iola, near Wewahitchka, and started a turpentine operation with private labor. The location at the time was a wilderness area, but now is in the heart of the present modern city of Port Saint Joe. Being without rail transportation during the first few years of the operation, Stone transported his naval stores products to Pensacola in his privately owned boat powered by a marine engine. Meanwhile, he sold his large holdings in the area, acquired from his father, to some St. Louis businessmen who built the Apalachicola Northern Railroad from River Junction, Florida to Apalachicola in 1907, and extended the line to Port Saint Joe in 1909. This opened up an entirely new territory with a heavy growth of long leaf yellow pine timber, suitable for the manufacture of high grades of export lumber and, in addition, heavy production of naval stores products. Upon the completion of the 100 miles of railroad in 1909, the owners of the railroad and affiliated companies set about to develop the large area extending from the southern boundaries of Alabama and Georgia along the Apalachicola River valley to St. Joseph Bay, where both domestic and foreign shipping facilities were being provided.

Trains load vessels on the docks that extended into St. Joseph Bay in the early 20th century.

Trains load vessels on the docks that extended into St. Joseph Bay in the early 20th century.

In 1909 work was begun on the 2,500 foot railroad pier into St. Joseph Bay, complete with wharf facilities. By 1911 there were 13 saw mills with a total daily output of some 540,000 board feet, operating along the rail line. All were engaged in manufacturing export lumber. World export shipments of lumber, naval stores, and cotton began in April 1910 with the sailing of the Swedish barke “Henrietta” followed by the English steamers “Birchwood” and “Cycle.” The port traffic has continued active to the present time.

After a townsite survey, the sale of lots, homes built, etc. The new City of Port Saint Joe was incorporated in the year 1913. The new town is located about 2 miles north of the site of old St. Joseph. At the outset the town was provided with schools, churches, macadamized streets, sidewalks, parks, recreation center and a 35-room (Port Inn) overlooking St. Joseph Bay. The Port Inn burned on October 25, 1944. During 1911 the railroad shops and general offices were moved from Apalachicola to Port Saint Joe and an ice-factory, electric plant, and water system that included an artesian well, 700 ft. in depth, all were completed in that year.
From 1910 the railroad operated regularly scheduled summer Sunday excursions to Port Saint Joe, bringing passengers from all intermediate points on the railroad and from points in Alabama and Georgia beyond the River Junction terminal, which is now called Chattahoochee. The first train excursion made three trips from Apalachicola to Port Saint Joe on April 30, 1910. In addition to the many fine baseball games usually scheduled, special attractions included boat trips across the bay to Eagle Harbor, Black’s Island and the Gulf Beach at St. Joseph Point where seashell hunting was a favorite pastime. Also chartered boats were available for deep sea fishing, and sail-boating in the bay waters was a popular outing. The bathing pier on the bay shore from the Port Inn was a great attraction with its spring-boards, high chutes, slides, trapeze rings, shower stalls and concession stands, etc. Adjoining was the hotel park consisting of about 4 acres and which included a band-stand, benches, etc. amid a setting of palm trees, pines, roses, flowering shrubs, etc.

In Monument Park stands the marble monument erected by the state in 1922 on the site where the Constitutional Convention Hall stood in 1938. A four day Centennial Celebration, sponsored jointly by the City of Port Saint Joe and the state, was held at the site December 7 to 10, 1938. The celebration included elaborate fireworks, displays, spectacular parade of illuminated historical and allegorical floats, band concerts, free circus, carnival and other entertainment. Thousands attended and the celebration is considered to have been a very important occasion in Florida history.

In the old St. Joseph cemetery, which has long been a point of interest to visitors and residents alike, a number of grave stones and brick-tombs still stand dating back to the days when St, Joseph was a hustling, bustling seaport and reputed to have been the largest city in Florida during that period. Among the stones still standing is the one marking the grave of the Schooner Herald’s Captain Geo. L.L. Kupfer, who died at sea of yellow fever on September 18, 1840. This was nearly a year prior to the epidemic at St. Joseph in 1841. The Centennial building erected in 1938 and situated in Monument Park at the eastern city limits of Port Saint Joe is on ground formerly occupied by the long dead city of St. Joseph.

At the site of old St. Joseph there have been found many pieces of pottery, silverware and other articles used by the former residents of the old city. In some cases boxes or kegs of valuable metals, gold, etc. have been found, but few instances of any definite data. The Federal Government, upon research and statistical surveys, has stated that in the area of Apalachicola, Indian Pass and the surrounding territory, there is buried more pirate treasure than in any other section of the United States. There have been several known instances of machinery excavations in the Money Bayou area, along U. S. Highway No. 98 in search of the treasure, but nothing conclusive has been reported.

The Museum at the State Constitution Historic Memorial at Port Saint Joe contains interpretive exhibits of the 1828 historic event and contemporary history. Included in the exhibits is a replica of one of the locomotives used on the St. Joseph & Iola Railroad in 1836.

In the 1913-1916 period just prior to World War I, the Calhoun Timber Company constructed at Port Saint Joe one of the largest saw mills in Florida. It became involved in litigation and lasted but a few years, being succeeded by the Parkwood Lumber company which operated successfully for several years, but was unable to secure the additional timber supply needed in its continued operation. The erection of a draw-bridge for crossing the intracoastal canal to reach a new supply was necessary. Owners of the adjacent timber were most reluctant in granting such leases and this operation ceased during the Depression period in the 1930’s. In 1938 the St. Joe Lumber & Export Company acquired the property and operated for about 15 years, until the timber supply under lease became exhausted.

Gulf County was created in 1925 from a part of Calhoun County and contains a large portion of the famous Dead Lakes. Presently, Wewahitchka is the county seat, but in a referendum held in 1954 the county seat was lost to Port Saint Joe, where a new court house now under construction is expected to be completed later in this year of 1967.

Prior to the abolition in 1923 of the Florida convict lease system, many timber and naval stores operators contracted with the state for prison labor in their operations, and there were prison camps of the kind in areas of Gulf and Calhoun Counties. After abolishment of the system the prison labor was assigned to county public work camps and the State Road Department, which already was using some of such labor in its road building programs.

Port Saint Joe’s earliest newspaper, the “Port St. Joe News” was started in June 1926, Its officers were R. L. Howell, Pres., D. H, Bynum, Vice-President, and C. b. McCranie, Secy-Treas., while O. M. Morton, Sr. was Editor. The weekly lasted only a few months.

During the year 1937 two weekly newspapers were established at Port Saint Joe. “The Port Saint Joe Sentinel” began publication in April, while the “Star” gave the area its second newspaper in October. Both were dedicated to the progress of the community. The Sentinel has since discontinued.

St. Joseph Bay is a beautiful body of water situated on the upper-west Gulf Coast, about 20 miles west of the mouth of the Apalachicola River and directly south of the dividing line between Alabama and Georgia. The bay represents some points of formation which differentiates it from all other bays or harbors of the United States, particularly on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The bay is deep and completely landlocked, with the entrance at the north end, which gives it special protections from storms that usually originate in the southeast. The bay is widely known as a safe harbor and its accessibility and the ease with which a vessel may enter makes it frequently sought by ships plying gulf waters of the area in rough weather.

The United States Government recognizes the safety of the harbor. During April 1914 the entire flotilla of the Atlantic Fleet, accompanied by the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla, the cruiser “Birmingham,” the tender “Dixie,” and the fuel ship “Anathusa” spent 15 days on St. Joseph Bay in joint exercises of target practice, maneuvering, and naval review.

In 1929 the Navy chose St. Joseph Bay, on account of the quiet water in the landlocked harbor, as a base of operation for the dirigible “Los Angeles” and its mooring ship “Patoka” during a cruise to several Southern states. Large crowds came to witness the maneuvers.

The U. S. Frigate CONSTITUTION, known as “Old Ironsides” visited Port Saint Joe for 3 days in March 1932 on a cruise of Atlantic and Gulf coast ports, giving an educational opportunity for school children to view the famous old vessel, built in 1797, before its being placed in ‘moth-balls’ at the Boston Navy Yard. The CONSTITUTION was accompanied on the tour by its tender, the “U.S.S. Grebe.” The only other scheduled stop in Florida on the tour was St. Petersburg. Thousands of adults and school children from areas of North Florida, Alabama and Georgia came by school busses, private autos, train, and boat excursions to see the old ship.

During the 1920’s the Menhaden Company operated a fleet of seine equipped fishing boats in waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, catching menhaden fish for processing at the Port Saint Joe plant for obtaining oil used in manufacture of paints, perfumes, soaps, etc. The scrap, shipped to fertilizer plants in the Southeast, was manufactured into fertilizer and also used in the mixing of feeds for poultry, swine and cattle. The daily catch of the menhaden averaged more than 500 barrels. There are approximately 303 menhaden fish to the barrel. This operation moved to the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts in later years.

Col. Harry Buzzett, the primary speaker at the dedication of the Three Servicemen South statue in July 2008.

Col. Harry Buzzett, the primary speaker at the dedication of the Three Servicemen South statue in July 2008.

In July 1942, during World War II, a German submarine sank a large British tanker in the Gulf of Mexico about 15 miles off Cape San Blas. Survivors of the vessel were rescued by crews of fishing boats in the area and taken to Apalachicola for transfer to U.S. Immigration officials at Pensacola. According to a story in the Apalachicola Times, in June 1947 First Lieut. Harry A. Buzzett of that city had just returned from Germany and reported that while in Berlin he ran into the captain that sank the tanker. Buzzett while riding down Potsdamer Strasse two hours prior to leaving Berlin, had stopped to inquire of a German where Kaiserallee was located. The German answered in English and when asked where he had learned to speak English replied, “In a prison camp in America.” Further conversation revealed that, during the war, the German was a submarine commander and operated in the gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. When asked if he had any knowledge of Apalachicola, the German took Buzzett into a bookstore and pinpointed its location on a globe map. He described the British tanker by name, class, weight, number and its exact location, including the date he sank the vessel. He also stated that after the sinking he proceeded up near the six-mile bridge across the Apalachicola River and submerged for 2 days and took frequent observations of Apalachicola through his periscope, describing the city water tower, church steeples, and other visible features of the city. Apalachicola Bay is rather shallow for this type of maneuvering and, instead of being at the six-mile bridge, it is quite likely that the submarine may have been submerged in the Gulf near the bay-entrance, but still within periscopic viewing range of both the bridge and the city.

In 1949-1941 just prior to U. S. entry into World War II, a pipeline was laid Port Saint Joe to Chattanooga Tennessee, and intermediate points, to provide quick distribution of petroleum products from the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana to the eastern part of the United States. Gasoline was transported in large tankers and barges to Port Saint Joe, where huge storage tanks were utilized prior to the gasoline being pumped into the line. After some large cross-country pipe lines were constructed to the Atlantic seaboard, use of the 8-inch line from Port Saint Joe was discontinued as far as Bainbridge, GA.

The Wall Street crash in 1929 caused a sudden and sharp decline in foreign and domestic shipping. The Great Depression that followed in the 1930’s was one of the worst in American history. These events greatly affected he area served by the Apalachicola Northern Railroad and four affiliated companies.

After a loan application filed by the railroad with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation at Washington had been denied by the ICC in 1932, upon a further search for financial aid the owners, through the efforts of B. W. Eells, Sr., Vice-Pres & Gen Mgr., came in contact with offices of Alfred I. du Pont, Inc., formerly of Wilmington, Delaware, but located at Jacksonville since 1926, seeking desirable investments within the state. This contact led to du Pont’s acquisition of the distressed properties which, with 200,000 acres of timber lands included, provided for the organization in 1936 of the St. Joe Paper Company, now holding extensive investments throughout the state of Florida. du Pont died in 1935.

The St. Joe Company paper mill as it appeared in June of 2000.

The St. Joe Company paper mill as it appeared in June of 2000.

All of the properties acquired have proved good investments and helped the state economy, particularly in the upper western portion. In 1937 the world’s most modern paper mill, under du Pont control, was erected at Port Saint Joe and commenced operation in April 1938. Meanwhile, according to files of the U.S. Army Engineer Office, shipping has continued through the port from its beginning in 1910 to the present time.

The new St. Joe Paper Company docks completed in February 1938 were made of the latest type of sheet piling driven into the bay bottom. The docks and wharves are capable of loading and unloading, simultaneously, five of the largest ocean-going boats in the Gulf of Mexico trade and still have room for a similar handling of two or more smaller and lighter draft vessels. The “Tropic Star” a 9,400 ton steamer was the first sea-going vessel to tie up at the new docks. Its cargo consisted of salt-cake from Chile, South America for use by the St. Joe Paper Company. The modern facilities at the docks are said by masters of vessels putting in at the port to equal or excel just about anything seen by them in their travels around the globe.

Three chemical companies using by-products of the paper mill have added to the area’s industrial expansion and with many other commercial types of business, Port Saint Joe can boast of probably the highest per capita earnings in Northwest Florida. Upon reorganization of the properties acquired by du Pont, the St. Joe Paper Company has emerged as a financial giant among the du Pont interests in Florida.

The population of Port Saint Joe had dropped considerably within the decade and at the time of du Pont’s entry was hardly more than 1,000, but is now estimated at more than 6,000 exclusive of the beach areas. For many years the population of the nearby Gulf beaches has provided local and tourist dollars to the trade-area. However, recent developments of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, with a 21 mile combined bay and gulf beach front, indicates far greater benefits from this source may be expected after the Park is officially opened to the public – probably late in this year of 1967.


And that is my story! No effort was made to change the area history. The story is simply my effort to condense and re-arrange in a rather concise summary form, the many stories written in the past about old St. Joseph and vicinity, plus my account of the area subsequent to the days of the old town including the establishment in 1910 of the new town of Port Saint Joe and its growth to date. I do not plan to make story public. It is for friends only. (The 2 original copies did not include the lines next above)

Henry A. Drake
Atlanta, Georgia
March 1967

Memo: ( I was a resident of Port Saint Joe for more than 30 years, during which time I served as General Auditor of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad Company and its affiliated companies, and many years as Postmaster) … H.A.D.


According to some notes published on by Beverly Mount-Douds of the Gulf Co, Genealogical Society, of Port St. Joe and author of several historical works, Mr. Drake was born October 11, 1894. Employed as reputedly the youngest bank cashier in Georgia at the age of 16, Henry moved from Iron City, GA to Port St. Joe. It is said that his skills as a baseball pitcher were perhaps as important as his proficiency in numerology in securing his initial employment in the accounting department of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad. He rose through the department, however, and was appointed auditor of the railroad and associated companies in 1926. In 1936 he resigned to become the Postmaster, a position he held until 1951, assisted by his wife, Minnie.




The Rise and Fall of Old St. Joseph — 4 Comments

  1. My grandfather was Terrill Higdon Stone. He was the early Pioneer who moved from Iola to what is now Port St. Joe in 1904. He is regarded as the first settler of Port St. Joe. This information is in one of the above paragraphs. My uncle, Nobie Higdon Stone was the first child to be born there in 1907. My mother, Maybel Stone (Swatts) was the first girl born there. She and her friend, Elizabeth Jones (Tomlinson) were honored to be asked to unveil the Florida Constitutional Monument in 1922.

  2. Was a bunker built at Indian Pass during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
    During World War Two, did Germans leave their submarine and shop at local stores?

    • Never heard either of those stories. I would think a German in PSJ would have stuck out like a sore thumb especially in those days when SJC ruled and everybody in town knew everybody else.


      Where do they keep the nuclear Wessels? – Pavel Chekov in Star Trek IV

  3. A neat find on my ancestors’ (Thomas Nicholas Gautier b. 1764 in Bristol, England) brother (Peter Wlliam Gautier Sr.) and his nephew. Thank you!

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