OLD ST. JOE

Old St. Joe (accurately, St. Joseph) was in Gulf County on the present site of Port St. Joe, Florida.

According to Everton's "Handy Book for Genealogists" St. Joseph was in Calhoun county from 1838 until 1925 when Gulf County was formed from Calhoun. Below are the counties involved, date created and the parent county they were created from:

County                 Date created                             Parent County/Territory
Gulf                       1925                                        Calhoun
Calhoun                 1838                                        Franklin, Washington, Jackson
Franklin                 1832                                         Jackson
Washington            1825                                         Jackson, Walton
Jackson                 1822                                         Escambia
Walton                  1824                                         Jackson
Escambia               1822                                         One of two original counties (St. Johns was the other one)

Hope this is helpful. Betty Norem BNOREM@aol.com


I have a pretty good set of maps showing county boundaries over the years. This is my take on St. Joe and Apalachicola (or to be more precise, the locations where those towns presently exist).
St. Joe
Escambia Co. 21 JUN 1821 - 12 AUG 1822
Jackson Co. 12 AUG 1822 - 9 DEC 1825
Washington Co. 9 DEC 1825 - 8 FEB 1832
Franklin Co. 8 FEB 1832 - 26 JAN 1838
Calhoun Co. 26 JAN 1838 - 7 JUL 1925
Gulf Co. 7 JUL 1925  -   today

Apalachicola
Escambia Co. 21 JUN 1821 - 12 AUG 1822
Jackson Co. 12 AUG 1822 - 9 DEC 1825
Washington Co. 9 DEC 1825 - 8 FEB 1832
Franklin Co. 8 FEB 1832  -  today  
Duke Vickrey SGVICK@aol.com


(Go to bottom of page to see responses from: Glen Nobles, Dale Cox and Beverly Mount-Douds, President of the Port St Joe Genealogical Society.)

During the history of the world thousands of cities have risen and fallen and have left only a few old ruins to mark the site of a once famous city, or traditions and old stories, or perhaps a few words on the pages of history to tell of a city built on sand.

 

It is with wonder and awe that we read about such cities; the rise and fall of Jerusalem; the wonderful stories of the castles on the Rhine, little thinking that the United States , too, has had such a city almost forgotten and unknown even to her own people, but yet one that is marked with a history as startling as that of Tyre or Athens, and with stories and traditions as strange and as wonderful as those of the old Feudal States.

On the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, near the mouth of the Apalachicola River, there lies a few old ruins now covered by creeping vines and surrounded by palmetto and myrtle bushes, which today serve as the only monument of the one-time pearl of the South, Old St. Joe, the worthy rival of Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans during the ten years between 1832 and 1842.

 

Old St. Joe was settled in the early thirties by men "with unbounded ambition and lust for gold, the peer of the strenuous businessmen of today; builded as strongly and solidly as could be done with cement, brick and timber, a city here that drew to its portals many a prominent merchant and traveler of the world of eighty years ago".  The splendid location, harbor, and ever-cooling breezes from over the gulf, attracted traders from all parts of the world, and in a short time Old St. Joe was a thriving city of several thousand inhabitants.  The seashore was early dotted by long wharves extending as far as three-fourths of a mile into the sea and with large warehouses and a shipyard.  Farther inland were built fine stores, hotels, magnificent churches, public buildings and commodious offices; while still farther in beyond these, and apart from the busy turmoil of the city, were built the elegant homes of the business and professional men of Old St. Joe, as well as a large number of magnificent homes of the wealthy southern planters, the Aristocrats of the South.  Along with the great progress of the city in these times there were built fine hotels, a large racing track, and the third railroad to be built in America.  This railroad was built by the business men of Old St. Joe in the early thirties, and so well was it built that many of the old ties still remain.  The road was between St Joe and Iola.  Before the building of this road the Large cotton crops of Georgia and Alabama were transported down the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and then were laboriously moved to tidewater down the Apalachicola River, whence the crops were forwarded to New England or English ports.  On account of this railroad the great trade of Georgia and Alabama was turned from other cities to Old St. Joe and with this great increase in trade St. Joe rivaled Charleston and New Orleans both in attractiveness.

 

It is surprising to know how much business this railroad of eighty years ago carried on in such a thinly settled country.  The St. Joseph Times stated that up to December 23, 1839, the cotton shipments alone would exceed 50,000 bales, though the road was opened for business in the same year 1839.  the promoters of this road in order to further increase their business interests, applied for and were granted a charter to construct a canal between St. Joe and Lake Wimico; however, this canal was never completed.

 

The fine hotels and excellent climate throughout the entire year drew thousands of visitors from all parts of the world to St. Joseph.  The most famous of these famous hotels, the Tontine, the Shakespeare, the Byron and the Railroad Cottage were kept busy throughout the year.  Along with the progress of St. Joe the streets were beautifully laid out, extending from the business districts out to the residences of the town.  The main streets of this busy city were the Bay, the Columbus, the Commerce, the Magnolia, the Palmetto and the Washington Streets.  Great banking houses, brick yards, mills, wholesale houses were established in the early years of St. Joe, but unfortunately the banking houses existed in the wildcat banking days and were the means of causing many a Southern planters to suffer.

 

In an educational line Old St. Joe progressed equally well as she did in commercial lines.  Schools, a seminary and an excellent newspaper were established.  The St. Joseph Times name of the newspaper, was established in 1836, and was printed on an excellent grade of paper with clear type. Unlike the papers of today which devote one-half of their space to scare-heads and the remaining half to scandal and mudslinging, the Times, as did most papers In that time, told the news in short paragraphs, while the main part of the paper was devoted to stories, copies of old poems, literature of the olden days and other such useful purposes.

 

As the years passed by Old St. Joe prospered more and more. It seemed indeed as if she was allowed many days of prosperity in order to make her fall all the greater. St. Joseph reached her zenith in about 1839.  At this time an important body of men assembled in Old St. Joe for the purpose of formulating a State Constitution.  The Florida historian, Fairbanks, in his history, says,  "it was by all odds the ablest body of men that ever assembled in Florida".  And it is not say­ing too much to state that St. Joe would have been undoubtedly the capital of Florida had it not been destroyed.

Along with the great growth of wealth of Old St. Joe, there came hand-in-hand wickedness.  "The St. Joseph Times of May 5th 1840, speaks of St. Joseph as a summer resort in glowing  terms."  It tells of pleasant rides, fish of all varieties, sail­ing parties, pretty women, romantic islands, and an occasional opportunity of taking an ice cream or drinking a glass of hock or ice burgundy." Finally, on account of its growth in meanness St. Joseph received the well-deserved  reputation of being the wickedest city in America.

 

But amidst the laughter of pretty women and the loud shouts from the race tracks and the clinking of glasses there came a visitor, death.  In the summer of 1841, there sailed a ship from some southern point bringing to Old St. Joe, the then dreaded disease of yellow fever. At this time the marshy lagoons and swamps around St. Joseph were filled with luke warm water which served as breeding places for millions of mosquitoes.  And in a short time the disease, which then meant certain death, spread to such an extent that graves could scarcely be dug rapidly enough. Now all business ceased, the racing tracks, the gambling and take drinking were given up, the ships would quietly slip out of the harbor at night.  The only noise now to be heard were late the clinking glasses sounded was the noise of wagons as they busily carried away the dead.

 

Families were broken up, only to be gathered in a short while in death.  Many fled to the country only to die a horrible death beneath the shelter of some friendly tree.  Avery few escaped the city and fever, but almost every one died in a short while in the swamps or forests in that thinly populated section of Florida.  The survivors of the proud city of a month before were a few Negroes who are peculiarly exempt from any such tropical fevers.  These, however, fled as soon as possible, leaving in truth a deserted village of the once queen city.

 

Old St. Joe never recovered from the terrible scourge. For two or three years the palatial homes, fine public buildings, and full warehouses, awaited their owners never to return.  Only a few venturesome fishermen attracted by the stories of great treasures, dared to come near the city.  In 1844 a great hurricane followed by a tidal wave, swept over the deserted homes. For three days and nights the fierce winds as if maddened by their lost prey raged through Old St. Joe. Brick and marble were swept miles inland or carried into the sea by the same receding tidal wave.  At the end of the third day the storm abated, but only after there was no more damage it could do to Old St. Joe.  Only a few scattered blocks of marble or a brick every now and then, and the graveyard, three miles inland, were left where lately stood the splendid homes and public buildings.  Even today, there are no homes within miles of the old town which might have been the capital of Florida, which was the Queen City of the South.

 

The city, now almost forgotten to the world, is seldom ever seen, and then only by strangers who visit it, cast a sign and forget it, or by fishermen or an adventurer who are either attracted there on account of its fishing facilities or by the stories of hidden treasures around the lost city.

 

Among the inhabitants near Old St. Joe there are many myths or stories told about Old St. Joe. Numbers of the settlers firmly believe that, like Sodom or Gomorrah, St. Joseph was destroyed on account of its wickedness--certainly it is that Old St. Joe was not found wanting in meanness.  But more frequently at the fireside, after the hours of work, when imagination runs the world, various rumors are told in a whisper concerning vast treasures hidden by the wealthy men of  St. Joe during the wildcat banking days, and during the time of the yellow fever, when all were preparing to flee from the yellow death.  Even to this day men quietly slip into the harbor of St. Joseph and search for gold. One of the most notable features of the old city today is the heap of earth which shows clearly that some venturesome man has been seeking the hidden treasures.  Also, there are frequent rumors of some men, who, after having visited the ruins, immediately went North where they began spending money - all gold, freely.

 

During late years, since the building of the Panama Canal a tide of thought is again turned to the advantageous location of St. Joe.  Even now a railroad is being extended from Apalachicola, Florida. to go to the place where eighty years ago the third railroad of America was built.  Besides many Northern capitalists, seeing the wisdom of such a move, are considering the project of rebuilding a city to be called the White City where now the myrtle bushes bloom and the creeping vines cling to the wasted ruins of the Pearl of the Gulf.

                                                                                                                             - - -- Langston

(The data for this piece was obtained chiefly from an intimate acquaintance  of  the settlers around St. Joseph; from copies of the St. Joseph Times and contemporary papers, and from the Panama City Pilot)

 

(Sent to me by Wayne N Carpenter)
(Typed by Betty J Smith)


From: pioneer@phonl.com  (Glen Nobles)

Betty this is one of my last articles for the Jackson County Floridan (Glen)


To read other articles Glen Nobles wrote visit his web pages at "The Pioneer"

TRANSPORT ON OUR RIVERS GETS IN GEAR IN 1830's

Trade up and down the local rivers got into full swing in the 1830's in spite of the hazards involved with the steamboats' boilers that provided the steam using fat lightard, much of it provided from the swamps along the Chattahoochee, with this steam turning the screws that propelled the boat. Pulling upstream required a lot of power that was being generated by pilling on the wood, which was a very inexact science. This in turn was hazardous because when overheated the boiler could blow up. Those living along the various rivers being run by the steamboats could cut wood and rack it and the steamboats would stop and pick it up along with the name of persons the wood belonged to and payment would be made and sent to them. The steamboat pilots knew the river so well that they claimed that if awakened in the night they could tell where they were. They must have had some nightmares of snags and running aground on sandbars, since this was common occurance, and that's why some historians today called river travel a "Perilous Journey".

In 1835 speculators attempted turning steamboat traffic to St. Joseph by building a canal and a railroad from Iola, which was 75 river miles from Apalachicola, but only 30 railroad miles to St. Joseph. The land was bought and a town was platted out with lots of various sizes right down to the waters edge.

"In mid-June, 1835, Niles Register reported that "...the citizens (of Apalachicola) have all, without a single exception, resolved to abandon it en masse, and remove to St. Joseph's which, as respect (to) its harbor, local situation and salubrity, is regarded as much more eligible site...The harbor of St. Joseph's is described as being excellent, and it is announced that Apalachicola will have to bow to it in silent submission." 1 Register was printing this quote in the Apalachicola Advertiser.

The very next year the Apalachicola Gazette, new paper, new editor, Cosam Emir Bartlett, criticised St. Joseph. "Rumor that the (Apalachicola)merchants were moving to St. Joseph's Bay is without foundation. That place exists only in nameand in the mind of a small band of speculators, who would build a city at the public expense, could they dupe the people by their arts and untiring zeal. ...if the planters and merchants on the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers are disposed to incur an unnecessary expense in the transportation of produce and goods on a railroad for the sake of going thirty miles farther to market, and aiding a few speculators in building a town where nature has said there shall be none we have no objection, but we hope they will just take the trouble to examine the pleasures and advantages that artificial channels afford over the natural channel of Apalachicola...where steamboat and ship meet and exchange their cargoes."2

1 & 2 ... Perilous Journeys: A History of Steamboating on the Chattahoochee, Apalachicola, and Flint Rivers, 1828-1928 by Edward A. Mueller


From: JaxDAC@aol.com (Dale Cox)
Betty,
Old St. Joe (accurately, St. Joseph) was in Gulf County on the present site of Port St. Joe, Florida.

A great deal of the history of the town is memorialized at the Florida Constitution Convention State Museum in Port St. Joe. Basically, St. Joseph was founded as a port city to compete with Apalachicola for the export of cotton and other products from the interior plantations. Since Apalachicola sat at the mouth of the Apalachicola River itself, the developers of St. Joseph attempted to divert commerce bound for the Gulf by constructing one of Florida's first railroads to link their community with the Apalachicola River at Lake Wimico. The museum in Port St. Joe contains a full-size replica of this train, as well as exhibits on the history and archaeology of the "lost" town. The town was ravaged by Yellow Fever epidemics and eventually was all but destroyed in a huge tidal wave.

A fictionalized account of St. Joseph's rise and destruction is told in the novel "The Great Tide," which is set in both St Joseph and Jackson County. The community had strong ties to Marianna and the plantation belt in Jackson and Gadsden Counties.

Best,
Dale Cox  


From: bmdouds@digitalexp.com (Beverly Mount Douds)

My name is Beverly Mount-Douds, and I am the President of the Port St Joe Genealogical Society. I am also a member of the Cemetery commitee) St. Joesph Historical Society.

If I can be of any help in Gulf Co, Please ask away, be glad to help, we should also be finish with the Gulf County cemeteries by the end of this year. I have them here at home and also indexed. .......Beverly


From: SRbrow@aol.com

Thanks for all the info on St. Joe. It meant lots to me as my grandparents used to live there when they got old to be near their youngest son and family. I have visited there many times and going swimming in the Bay at the end of the street where they lived. But my great great grandfather was one of the signers of the Fla. Constitution and his name is on the marker there and info in the little Museum or was 35+ years ago. It has been at least that long since I was there.

During an anniversary of the signing of the Constitution the town of Port St. Joe had a big celebration and we were invited. I met quite a number of those who had made lots of money owning some of the old railroads.

So you see your article had a lot of meaning to me and THANKS Sarah Roche Browder -great great granddaughter of Stephen J ROCHE


From: velliger@digitalexp.com (David L. Cole)

Hi Betty,
That was very intresting. I noticed one thing in her's she said that the town is setting in the same place. I have lived in Apalachicola and I have also read the Great Tide and I was always told that either the Title Wave tore down everything . And that the originial Old St Joseph is out in the bay. The new St Joe is in a new place. I guess I am going to get the Great Tide and read it again. I maybe wrong.

Apalachicola, has quite a history also. THE ISLAND LIGHT book is about it. It was quite a Cotton Port in its time. The Historical Society is helping to refurbish a lot of the OLD HOMES HERE and every May they have a tour of all the old homes. There are quite a few. 5 of them have been made into Bed&Breakfast Inn's. They stay quite full.

THANKS, SUSAN COLE
ps. We have our SEAFOOD FESTIVAL the 1st weekend of Nov of each year.


From: Keithflk@aol.com

Copies of "The Great Tide" by Rubylea Hall can be purchased from the "Apalachicola Times" P O Box 820, Apalachicola, FL 32320. They have a website but I don't know the address.

As I remember the book one of her most poignant comments was in the order of :

It was not what people did that was wrong, it was what other people thought they were doing that was wrong.


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web page by: Betty James Smith