Iola’s Old Post Office
By: Beverly Mount Douds of St. Joe/ Tom Wynn of Wewa
Iola, Florida was a very busy town near the little city of Wewahitchka. It has been said by old-timers that Iola was a much larger city than Wewa in its hey-day. It lay on the shores of the Apalachicola River’s West bank. With it’s Ole’ River Stream Paddle boats traveling up and down the ancient river carrying passengers and supplies to and fro from cities and towns of North Florida, the place was teaming with people of all walks of life. A rich southern favor was present throughout the area.
The air was filled with sound from the wagons, horses and the smoke of fireplaces of so many log cabins and homemade cedar board houses within the city and along the banks of the river. Its history is important to Gulf County because it was a large part of who we are.
The Florida Times Union of February 11, 1962 carried a story about Iola's old post office, which was still standing at that time. Neal Lumber Company of Blountstown, now owners of this area, allowed the Florida State Game and Fresh Water Commission a perpetual easement on three acres of land on which to build a boat ramp. In order to locate the land it was necessary to find the old roadbed of the St. Joseph and Iola Railroad of 1839. This they did, and the old roadbed was clearly discernible, "about 20 feet in width, with furrows on each side from which the dirt was obtained."
According to this 1962 story, the old post office was about all that remained of the old town, which was established in 1835, about the same time that Old St. Joseph was established. The post office dates back from October 16, 1838, with James Hudson as postmaster. The building was dilapidated, but with a newly painted sign saying, "Iola Post Office." Part of the building had been restored, but the plates were hewn and had pegs instead of nails and were probably as old as the old railroad.
Mrs. Rosenia Kilbourn, a resident of Wewahitchka, (in her 90’s at present) as a little girl, used to go to the Iola Hotel owned by Mr. Claude Rish. Mr. Rish would come to Wewa and get the mail to and from the Wewa Post Office and go back to the Iola Hotel. The Hotel would be full of folks from Georgia and Alabama down for the great fishing in the area. Little Miss Rosenia Meriweather, the daughter of Doctor Thomas Meriweather of Wewahitchka (came from Bainbridge Ga.) loved to go on the boat with Erin Rish to Iola via the Jehu boat landing. Erin was the cousin of James Rish Jr., a local Beekeeper. Rosenia’s father would tell her, “don’t eat the green oranges or you will get a stomach ache,” talking about Orange groves in Iola.
Mrs. Rosenia came to Wewahitchka in 1917 on board one of the Callahan Steam Paddle boats. She came in at the Magnolia Landing, where the Steam Paddle boats docked for pickup and delivery of passengers and or supplies. The landing was where the Bozeman and Walburn properties are today in Lands Landing near Wewa.
The site of the old Iola town is still listed on maps as late as 1958. One map published by the State Department of Agriculture clearly shows it. Most of Iola’s town folk are all dead and the town is now a ghost town with very little evidence of ever being there. But the people and the town still remain in the hearts of the locals and in the history books of Gulf County and Florida.