Historical Dixie County 1820-1950
Early Dixie County History Tells Of White Man's First Visit To County
The following is a reprint from the March 16, 1951 edition of the Dixie County Advocate, and was a part of Linnie C. Ange's collection of memorabilia. Ms. Ange died at the age of 96, the article was provided by H.F. Jones and was submitted by Ms. Ange's nephew, Billy Chauncy.
Dixie County, comprising the area between the Steinhatchee River on the West and the Suwannee River on the East, has an interesting historical and legendary background. The descendants of the early settlers tell of Indian life, Civil War days, reconstruction, and their effects on this area.
According to legend, the first white man to enter this territory was a young fellow named George Miller who came here from North Carolina in 1820. He soon became a close friend of Suwannee and Bowlegs, sons of the Indian Chief Tigertail, the supreme chief of all the land extending from Lake Miccosukee to the Suwannee River. Chief Tigertail and his Squaw, Tallahassee, had settled in the region around Lake Miccosukee near what is now Tallahassee, Florida.
The Indians agreed to grant Miller land for settlement and Chief Tigertail sent his son, Suwannee, with Miller down to the Suwannee River to help him choose a place. Enroute they stopped with Bowlegs on the Steinhatchee River, some 30 miles west of the Suwannee River. Suwannee told Miller when he reached the Suwannee River to climb the tallest hickory tree and look North, East, South, and West, and to locate a tree in each of these directions. All of the land within the range of the trees spotted was given to Miller. The land was cleared with slave labor brought in from North Carolina and Alabama by way of the St. Marks River. They planted corn and peanuts and raised cattle and hogs. Ten years later, in 1830, Miller fell ill with malaria and sent word to Chief Tigertail who sent a brave to Brunswick, Georgia with a message to be relayed to Miller's father in North Carolina. The father arrived three days before George died. The Indians offered to give Mr. Miller all of the land formerly owned by his son if he would stay with them. Mr. Miller refused the land and chose to return to North Carolina to bury his son. The Indians, however, would not let him take his son's body home for burial because they believed his spirit could still direct them. The father returned home alone and bought a marble monument and iron fence, which was, shipped down the St. Marks River. Mr. Miller met the boat with two wagons each being drawn by four oxen. In two weeks the monument had reached the grave of George Miller at Old Town. It can be seen on the land now owned by McQueen Chaires. When Mr. Miller returned to North Carolina he took the slaves with him because the Indians did not know how to handle them.
It was during this time that General Andrew Jackson came into the picture. He met the Seminoles at Fort Fanning in what is known as the "Battle of Old Town." Bowlegs and his warriors bitterly resisted Jackson but to no avail. The defeat of the Seminoles at this battle somewhat broke their fighting spirit and power. Jackson then pursued Billy Bowlegs through the swamps and eventually met him in battle again in the cabbage swamps of Dixie County, at Bowlegs Point, now Jena. Bowlegs and his depleted forces were captured at the southern end of Big Rocky creek. This campaign ended the Indian wars in this part of Florida. The area round Big Rocky creek associated with the story that pirate gold was buried there. As far as we know, Suwannee and his Squaw continued to dwell peacefully in this section.
The population in this area, following the Seminole Wars, was quite sparse. It was comprised of a few Spanish and British setters in addition to the Indians. Families from the Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama came by way of the Old Spanish Trail before the Civil war and brought hundreds of slaves with them. The slaves cleared many acres of farmland now in use. Among these families were the Cotrells, Langs, McCartys, McQueens, and Taylors. In 1854, Mr. James McQueen bought the land at Old Town formerly owned by Miller. Mr. Tom Peter Chaires married one of James McQueen's daughters. The descendant of this family are prominent Old Town residents today.
Settlers following the Civil War included the Wards, the Butlers and the Hines. The white population from this time through the 1880's was not more than a few hundred. The immigrants settled mostly along the Suwannee River at that time the chief highway of trade. Trading posts, general stores, and post offices were established. Merchandise was brought in by steamboats plying the river. Among the boats that played a part in the commerce of Dixie County were the "City of Hawkinsville," the "City of Jacksonville," and the "Belle of the Suwannee." The remains of the "City of Hawkinsville is submerged below the Suwannee River Bridge at Old Town.
Madison, now known as Madison, Florida, was the chief trade center of the area comprising all of the present Dixie, Lafayette, and Madison counties and part of Taylor county. The settlers went by oxcart once a year over the Old Salt Road to get supplies. This road, which is still used, led from Madisonville to Horseshoe Beach in lower Dixie County. People went to Horseshoe and boiled salt from the gulf water nearby. It took about two weeks to make a gallon of salt. Remains of the old salt furnaces may still be seen. Another trail from Horseshoe Beach to Fort Fannin was blazed by Andrew Jackson. Three miles east of Horseshoe Beach on the Old Jackson Trail is the place where Jackson watered his horses. It was used as a wagon road later by Dan Butler and his family and others who traveled the route for supplies and equipment.
The leading industries at that time were commercial fishing, the cutting and sale of cedar to be exported, and a little farming and stock raising.
As in all frontier settlements, the social affairs were logrolling, quilting parties, community picnics, and on special occasions, excursions by steamboat down the Suwannee River. It was about this time that a Mr. Ward and his companion did missionary work in this area.
Cross City, at that time, went by the name of Cross Roads, because it was the place where the Old Spanish Trail from Pensacola to St. Augustine crossed the Old Salt Road from Madisonville to Horseshoe Beach. The first store was operated by George Martin, a Baptist minister. Mr. Key from Branford and Mr. Hurst later opened stores at the Cross Roads. The first Post Office was at Hitchcock, the present Eugene, named for the man who was Postmaster General at that time. Mail was brought in weekly by horse and buggy from Branford. The post office was set up in 1908 and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Mathis in their general store.
What was called the "Singing House" was perhaps the first building at Cross Roads. John Edwards, an early doctor, who practiced gratis, was the leader of the popular singing school. A tuning fork was used to obtain the pitch.
Schoolteachers in the 1890's were paid by the patrons and boarded from house to house dividing the term of three to five months. There were no grade classifications of the students. Progress was often estimated by the number of words a student could spell in the "Blue Back Speller." One of the first teachers in this area was Zack Jones. Around 1898, William Cullen Edwards was teaching south of Old Town. For several years school was held in any vacant building that was at all suitable. The first school taught in Cross City, still called Cross Roads, was a one-teacher school established in 1907 and taught by Mrs. Susie Lee Edwards. This school was on the site of one of Mr. Will Chavous' houses. Another early school was at Sand Hill. Indian relics may still be found there.
In 1910, Lafayette County was separated from Madison County. About 1912, a bond issue was floated and several one-teacher schools were built. These buildings were white with a green trim. The main duty of the Superintendent of Schools was the visiting of schools. The first consolidated school in this area was at Old Town in 1915. Work in the first ten grades was covered. Most of the students came from Old Town and the section known as the First District. Soon after 1915 Bowlegs school was consolidated with Jena.
Early church services were held in the homes but according to the testimony of the old settlers, Mr. Tom Webb formally held church service sin the Cross Roads School building in 1908.
In 1912, Dixie County separated from Lafayette County and Cross Roads became the county seat. The name Cross Roads as recorded in the old documents, was then officially changed to Cross City.
Early Dixie County History About Schools, Logging, Lumber and Nature-based Attractions
Mr. W.R. Fletcher, who had served eight years as Superintendent of Lafayette County Schools, became the first Superintendent of Public Instruction at a salary of $100.00 per month. Salaries for teachers averaged about $500.00 per year. Schools existing at the organization of the county were Old Town, with two teachers and the following one-teacher schools: Jena, Summerville, Eugene, Hill, Hines, Pine Hill, Rock Sink, Butler, Fletcher, Shirred Island, Demory Hill, Futch, Fayetteville, and Cross City. The Cross City School was considered one of the most modern schools in this section. It was the only building with glass windows except the railroad section houses. Cross City School also had wall maps and the students sat at double desks.
Following W.R. Fletcher as county Superintendent came W. D. Finlayson, W.F. Hill, Ollie Williams, and again W.F. Hill, the present incumbent.
In 1925 the School Board constructed a temporary wooden building for a high school in Cross City. Professor Fulford Morgan was the first high school principal. The program of studies covered twelve grades. The present Dixie County High School building was erected in 1928 with J.P. Maynard as principal. The succession of principals since that time has been as follows: C.J. Bowman, W.B. Feagle, Sam H. Moorer, J.M Davies, Leamon Wood, E.A. Davis and A.M Simpson.
From 1941 to 1944, consolidation of elementary schools took place on a large scale in Dixie County. The first to be consolidated were: Butler, Eugene, Rock Sink, Pine Hill, and Hill Schools, and the Negro schools of Old Town, Eugene, Camp 36 and 21, Mallory Camp, and Stockade. In 1949 Hines Negro school was the last to be closed by consolidation. The seventh and eighth grades from Old Town were brought to Cross City in 1949. Feeder schools to Dixie County High School now are Jena with eight grades; Old Town with six grades; Demory Hill with five grades; and the Cross City Elementary School with six grades.
Dixie County today comprises an area of 454,000 acres. 400,000 acres are year-around or part time marshes with 354,000 acres being forest covered. Eighty-five per cent of all the land in Dixie County is owned by large landowners or corporations, and only fifteen per cent owned by individuals. The taxable wealth of the county is estimated at $3,200.000. The population according to the 1950 census is 3,911. Throughout the county are the numerous settlements, the largest of these being Cross City and Old Town. The smaller settlements include Horseshoe Beach, Jena, Hines, Suwannee, Shamrock, Eugene, and Summerville. The principal industries today are commercial fishing, farming, logging, raising cattle, moss gathering, lumbering, and the manufacturer of turpentine by-products.
At present, Cross City has a population of about 1600. It is the trading center for most of the county. Affecting the trade of the community are payrolls from various concerns. These include: Shamrock Properties, Shamrock Lumber Company, Florida Forest Service, a wholesale fish house, the Civil Aeronautics Administration Station, Southern Chemical Company, a moss factory, Perpetual Forest, Inc., logging, and cross-tie industries.
Shamrock Lumber Company employs thirty workers with a weekly payroll of about $900.00. Lumber is sold both wholesale and retail. Many more workers are required to bring the logs from the forest to the mill. Shamrock Properties and Shamrock Lumber Company occupy the original site of the Putnam Lumber Company. At the time of peak operation, the Putnam Lumber Company was the largest cypress mill in the world.
Florida Forestry Service maintains and operates a forestry station west of Shamrock for the purpose of protecting forestlands of this county and adjoining counties. There are 482,055 acres of land under the protection of this station. Thirty-five men are employed.
A wholesale fish house handles thousands of pounds of salt-water fish and other seafood weekly.
The C.A.A. Station situated east of Cross City, employees six people and operates on a twenty-four hour schedule. This station clears the air lanes for travel at an altitude up to 30,000 feet. Weather reports are made every hour. The nighttime range for air clearance is 1,000 miles; the daytime range is 150 miles. As many as six planes may be cleared at once to prevent planes form colliding on the main air route form Tallahassee to Tampa. This station was an advanced fighter base during World War II.
Dixie County logging operations are undertaken by private concerns. The moss factory where green moss is prepared for shipment is an industry formed by a small group of Cross City businessmen. Turpentine by-products are extracted from pine stumps by the rosin mill at Shamrock, which employs from ten to fifteen men. Perpetual Forests, Inc., is operated for the purpose of reseeding the forestlands and allowing trees to grow to commercial size.
The farmlands of the county are mostly around Old Town and in the First District. Peanuts and tobacco are the principal crops. The cattle industry is fast coming to the front in Dixie County.
Horseshoe, Suwannee, and Jena are coastal fishing communities. Hines is a private community owned and operated by the P.C. Crapps Corporation, whose business is logging crosstie cutting, pulp wood production, and cattle raising.
Some of the interesting attractions in Dixie County are the Suwannee River Jungle Drive East of Old Town and the Suwannee Gables dwelling, which was an early landmark. Each year many hunters and fishermen are attracted to Dixie County because of the ample supply of wildlife, which abounds in the hammocks in the area known as Billy bowlegs Garden, and in the numerous lakes and rivers of the county.
US Highway, No. 19 passes through Cross City and is a direct route from Chicago to South Florida. A radio communications station operated by the Florida Highway Patrol is located directly opposite the Dixie County High School Building.
The many churches in Cross City afford an opportunity for almost every citizen to enter into spiritual fellowship according to the dictates of his own conscience.
Civic organizations in the community include a Lions Club, a Rotary Club, a Chamber of Commerce, and a Woman's Club. Fraternal orders include the Masonic order and the Order of the Eastern Star.
The citizens of Dixie County take an active part in the Suwannee River Valley Development Association. According to the plans of this association, Dixie County has a bright and progressive future. There is an active America Legion Post and an alert P-TA that is ever aware of the problems concerning pupil welfare.
The center of activity for the younger people is the Dixie County High School where activities are planned with the purpose of improving the use of leisure time as well as for mental, physical, and moral development. The high school has an enrollment of 310 students and a modern curriculum, including social studies, English, mathematics, science, art, commercial training, physical education, agricultural training and music.