Jackson County, Florida
OTIS A. ROSBOROUGH JR.
In passing through Compass Lake the other day, I had someone else driving, so I suggested that we go through the old town part of Compass Lake where we had lived some time back. It brought back some old memories and I began to reminisce as to who lived here and who lived there. Then I thought, since most of the "old timers" were gone, and the new generation moving in might just wonder how Compass Lake was named, and some of its earlier history.
The original shape of Compass Lake was almost perfectly round, which someone said " round like a compass", hence its name. (There was already a Round Lake a few miles to the north.) Sometime in the early 1900's a gristmill was put in using the waters of the lake, which is spring fed, to power the mill. This mill dammed up the lake and created the north part of the lake. Originally there was a road around the north part of the original lake, and the land north of it was a huge cypress swamp.
Prior to World War I, there were heavy growths of pines throughout the area, and at that time the majority of the land was owned by The German American Lumber Company, which during the war, our government confiscated the land. Most of the timber was then cut. During the twenties and early thirties, two men by the names of Keith & McKenzie were in control of these lands. Satsuma Orange groves were planted throughout the area, and two Packing Houses were build, one at Compass Lake, the other at Ridgetop, which was between Compass Lake and Round Lake.
Ridgetop was at one time the highest point in Florida. One foot higher than BokTower. Later in the 60s another survey turned up a point in Walton County to be higher.
In the mid to late 30's, Aldoph Gortemoller took options of some of the cut-over land from McKenzie, and started the Tung Oil Industry. The original Tung Grove owners were all absentee owners. The first Tung Oil Groves were planted in 1938, just off of the ClubHouse Road. The Club House was built by the Satsuma growers, but by 1938 had burned down. There was only one active Satsuma Grove, just across the Bay Line Railroad at Ridgetop.
Three or four organizations "spun off" as the Tung Oil Industry expanded.
Compass Lake Growers Association, a cooperative, composed of mostly absentee landowners, started operation in 1941, just before the outbreak of World War II. The packinghouse at Ridgetop was purchased and became their headquarters. The first few crops of the Tung Oil Nuts were trucked to either Cairo Georgia, or Florala, Alabama, each place had a Tung Oil Mill.
As Tung Oil was a strategic item for defense use, the government aided the growers helping then produce more and better trees. All the Tung Oil produced during the war, was designated by the government to go only into products that were necessary. All ammunition was "coated, and all ships were painted by products using Tung Oil. That was the incentive to expand the industry. Government Support Programs were available, and the government also helped foreign plantings in South America, particularly Argentina. Tung Oil originated in China, and since there was an embargo of China Tung Oil, at this time, the domestic produced oil was profitable.
In 1948 a Tung Oil Mill was built at Ridgetop, shipping the 1948 crop. Twenty years later in 1968, they shipped the last crop. Since the USDA support program continued, its formulation did not keep up with the "cost of living" and, since the Argentina Tung Oil was now available, they would sell their oil just under the support prices. The US producers were not able to produce the Tung Oil at that price, hence were operating at a loss. Also late cold damage from late spring freezes kept the production down.
By this time the industry had expanded from Florida, Georgia, & Alabama, to Mississippi, Louisiana, & Texas. Mississippi was the largest producing state, so when hurricane Camille struck in Mississippi in 1968, that cut the production by over half. Since those growers were eligible for disaster compensation from the government, they took it and went out of the Tung Oil production to other agricultural production. The rest of the areas just "shut down".
Gradually the equipment was sold off; The State took the Ridgetop property for the four lanes of 231.
Since Sunny Hills in Washington County had recently been developed, members of Compass Lake Growers pooled their lands and began contacting someone to develop a project like Sunny Hills. The lands were sold a couple of times. First to a developer from Cairo, Georgia. Then to developer from Arkansas, then to a developer from Texas, and finally along with other tracts of land to the Miami based. Nortek Inc. Thus Compass Lake In The Hills was started. They had the land plated, roads started, and began operations about 1970. As is customary with developments, it changed hands a couple of time, each time improvements resulted until they were able to sell off the biggest majority of the lots, and turn over the operation to the How Owners Association.
In the March 31, 2000 issue of The Jackson County Floridan, an article appeared "Life on the Lake" which was about Compass Lake. I read it with interest, found it to be factual as near as I could tell. It surprised me that only 11 families were permanent residents now living on the Lake. This I presume meant "water front homes". There were a lot more than that when I lived there. The Schulz. Rosborough Sr. Rosborough Jr. Kirkpatrick, Harris, Park, Davis, Beall. Culpepper, Bartons Fred Smith, B. Smith, Frank Smith, Bader, Cannon, Henry, Lashleys, just to name some of them. Of course we always thought that those that lived on 0ld 231 were just as much a part of the citizens.
We had a Compass Lake Sportsmens Club, which was very active cooperating with the Florida Game & Fish Department. It owned their own club house where we met frequently, had community events, was the polling place, started the Compass Lake Fellowship Church in it which later built the present Compass Lake Methodist Church.
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Betty James Smith
29 July 2000
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