West Florida And Its Gulf Coast
( Originally Published Mid 1930's )
We had started to follow the shore of the Gulf of Mexico and have been working back toward it. It is a matter of only forty-odd miles directly west of Gainesville to our first glimpse of the far-famed Suwannee River, which we cross at Old Town, and resume our northward trek, through the still heavily forested Gulf-border counties of Dixie and Taylor, on to Perry with its gigantic cypress mills. This part of the Gulf shore is, next to the Everglades, the wildest and least developed part of Florida. Its forests are full of big game-and we mean big game-and the lakes and innumerable swampy streams which flow southwestward into the Gulf between the Suwannee and the Apalachicola are filled with game fish.
We are heading for West Florida, but to reach it we have first to travel northward and inland to Tallahassee. The natural route for a Gulf Coast Highway would be to cut across Jeffer son County in a straight line westward from Perry to Wakulla, but the engineering difficulties of road-building over marshy ground, and the great number of streams to be spanned by bridges, dictated the postponement of that section of the planned road, spoken of locally as the "Perry cut-off." The highway, therefore, continues northwesterly from Perry to Tallahassee, the state capital, before it swings again, southward, to the shore of the Gulf.
One of the elements of Florida's charm is that she shows such a bewildering variety of faces to those who visit her. No two spots in Florida are alike. Each community, each county, each geographical section, has characteristics all its own, so that it is as impossible to generalize truthfully about any part of the state as it is about the state as a whole. Not many years ago it was sufficient description of West Florida, the horizontal strip stretching westward from the Suwannee River, to say that it was the old agricultural section of the state, far more akin to the bordering states of Georgia and Alabama than to the newer Florida of the peninsula. To a degree, that is still true. Here, in this tier of counties lying north of the Gulf of Mexico, more of the spirit of the Old South, its manners and customs and outlook on life, has been preserved than in any other part of Florida. But it is in this same section that the most striking new industrial developments in Florida are under way, and now that modern highways have made West Florida accessible to the motorist, winter visitors to Florida have begun to discover its hills and its rivers and beaches, to be charmed by the unspoiled simplicity of its countryside and intrigued by the opportunities for exploitation and development which it offers.
The nearly 200 miles of coastline running roughly east and west between Apalachicola and Pensacola was the last stretch of Florida waterfront to become accessible by motor car. The Gulf Coast Highway, a wide, paved, level road, has opened up a region which tourist visitors to the Florida peninsula are just beginning to discover. These beaches and little towns along the Gulf were inaccessible from East or West but only from the North until the new highway was finished. Georgia and Alabama knew them, and so did the inland people of this strip of Florida. For generations they have been summer resorts for the folk from the hot, upland cotton country. Now they are beginning to attract winter visitors and to grow, perhaps faster than most other parts of Florida, in their permanent year'round population.
Tallahassee, seat of the state government, always surprises the visitor from outside by the steepness of its hills. The atmosphere of Tallahassee is that of a typical southern city. It has remained almost untouched by the influences brought into eastern and southern Florida by the new population from the North and the winter influx of tourists. The state Capitol and other public buildings follow closely the general American pattern for such structures. Besides being the capital of the state Tallahassee is the trading center for a broad agricultural area extending many miles in all directions. It is, consequently, the focus from which the major highways of all of West Florida radiate.
Tallahassee is the exact east-and-west center of Florida, 213 miles from Pensacola on the West and the same distance from St. Augustine on the East. Its site was selected in 1823 by two commissioners. A Dr. Simmons set out from Pensacola, the territorial capital of West Florida, to meet a Mr. Williams, the commissioner from St. Augustine, the territorial capital of East Florida, to locate a central point between the two at which the new single capital of the Territory of Florida should be established.
Florida had been ceded to the United States two years before, in 1821; but while it was a single territory its people had attempted to administer its affairs from two separate capi tals. The country of the lower peninsula, unsettled and uninhabited except by Seminole Indians, runaway slaves and fugitives from justice, did not figure in their calculations. It was agreed that Dr. Simmons and Mr. Williams should start, each of them at the same hour of the morning of the same day, and travel along the Indian trail on horseback until they met, and the place of their meeting should be the location of the new capital. It was a rough-and-ready but practical way, and much less costly than a scientific survey would have been, to find the east-and-west center of the Territory. Each took twenty-three days on the journey, and when they arrived at a little Indian settlement in the hills each had travelled approximately the same distance, 213 miles.
The Indians called their hill town Tallahassee, meaning "place consecrated to the Sun Gods," and the territorial government at its first legislative council, held in a log cabin on a corner of the present State House grounds, on November 8, 1824, decided to retain that name for the new capital.
The designation by the Indians of Tallahassee as "place consecrated to the Sun Gods," is supposed to refer to a Spanish mission which had been founded at this spot in 1704 and where the Franciscan fathers first preached Christianity to the Indians of inland Florida. Even though their conversions did not last, the sanctity of their mission and its high purpose was apparently recognized and respected by the savages. The mission was guarded by a fortified stockade called Fort San Luis, but both were abandoned early in the 18th century after frequent raids by English settlers and their Indian allies from the North, and the only traces found of this earliest settlement at Tallahassee were a cannon and some iron implements half buried along the road to St. Augustine.
In pre-Civil War days Tallahassee was the chief center of fashionable and cultural life in Florida. The present Capitol building was begun in 1839 and completed in 1845, the year when Florida was admitted to statehood.
Apart from the state government departments and buildings, the most important and interesting institution in Tallahassee is the Florida State College for Women, beautifully housed in a Tudor-Gothic group of vine-covered buildings which in themselves surround the school with an atmosphere of learning. The resemblance to some of the ancient schools of England has been frequently commented upon, although the college only dates from 1912. More than 2,000 students are enrolled in the college of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, the School of Home Economics and the School of Music. It was the first State College for Women to be admitted to membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and also the first State Women's College in the South to gain a place on the approved and accredited list of universities of the Association of American Universities, the highest accrediting authority in America's educational field.
Another important educational institution in Tallahassee is the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes, situated on a 350-acre tract and equipped with fine buildings and dormitories. It operates on a system which makes it available in one way or another to every young Negro in the state seeking and qualified for higher education. There is a Summer school, with five short courses for those who can give no more time to schooling; a School of Agriculture, Home Economics, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Mechanical Arts, and Nurses Training School. The attendance is about 700 young colored men and women annually.
An interesting historical point off the main highways, south of Tallahassee on a long arm of Apalachee Say, is the old settlement of St. Marks. It was long a military center of border warfare. The English built a fort there in 1718 as a protection for the commerce of their little port against the Apalachee Indians. In 1798, after Florida had come back under the Spanish flag and England had lost all of its colonies to the northward, General William Bowles, a fire-eating royalist, attempted to regain Florida for the British crown. He enlisted the Creek Indians, and with their cooperation seized the Fort of St. Marks. He did not hold it long. General Jackson occupied it in 1818 on his march to Pensacola Bay. In 1836 the first railroad line in Florida was built from Tallahassee to St. Marks. During the Civil War the Confederates won a victory here in the historical battle of Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge is a level tract of ground under which the St. Marks River dives, to reappear at the surface farther on.
A few miles south of Tallahassee on the way to Apalachicola one passes one of the most pleasing natural beauty spots in all Florida. This is Wakulla Spring, only lately becoming widely known, attracting an increasing number of visitors. A mile and a half off the main highway, reached by a winding drive through thick forests, Wakulla Spring has a wild beauty and charm which has not been spoiled by artificial attempts to prettify its surroundings. The spring itself rises from a cavern deep in the lime-stone rocks, 200 feet or more below the surface of the broad, crystal-clear lake which its waters form. Great shoals of fish, fantastic grottos in the rock and curious forms of under-water vegetation make the trip around the lake in the glass-bottomed boats seem like peeking through a crack in a door opening on a strange and unknown world. An amusing spectacle for tourists is the curious antics of "Henry, the pole-vaulting fish," who performs on command at the bottom of the spring. The waters flow out of the spring at the rate of more than 150,000 gallons a minute, forming a river which furnishes a unique opportunity to observe much of the typical wild life of Florida at close range without discomfort. Almost every variety of wild fowl, especially cranes, herons and ducks of many kinds, nests and feeds along the wooded shores, while many kinds of reptilian life, turtles, alligators and serpents, are to be seen swimming in the waters or basking on the banks, with a keen-eyed guide in the boat to quickly point out and identify these and the luxuriant vines and trees along the banks.
Edward Ball, brother-in-law of the late Alfred I. Dupont and manager of his estate, has spent half a million dollars in the development of Wakulla Spring.
Apalachicola, at the mouth of the river of the same name, was a seaport before the white men came to Florida. Up and down the Apalachicola River, which is still navigable for small craft and cargo barges clear across Florida and well up into Georgia, the Indians from the interior were paddling their canoes to trade with those along the shore of the Gulf, when Hernando DeSoto first landed here to repair his ships in the natural harbor and establish a base of operations for his expedition to discover the fabulous riches of the hinterland. The King of Spain had commissioned him Adelantado or GovernorGeneral of Florida, with authority to raise the flag of Spain and the Holy Cross of Mother Church over all the land he might discover, and to keep for himself half of the treasure he might find or take from the heathen natives.
So great was the excitement in Spain over the discoveries in Peru, whence Pizzaro had returned with his ships filled with the golden treasure of the Incas, that the mere announcement that DeSoto, who had been one of Pizzaro's lieutenants, was fitting out an expedition to Florida and offering shares in the venture to whomsoever desired to contribute and to go along, that instead of four ships it took seven to carry the volunteers. Wealthy men of Spain and Portugal stripped themselves of their entire estates in order to raise money to fit out a ship to sail with DeSoto.
The tragic story of that bootless march from the Apalachicola River northwesterly across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi until, from the heights where the city of Memphis now stands, white men first saw the Father of Waters, has been told and re-told so often that it is familiar to every school-boy. There was no treasure. The few and scattering bands of natives had no wealth but lived miserably in squalid huts. There was almost no food except an occasional deer and the rabbits which the Spanish adventurers could not catch until the friendly savages taught them how to snare them. Through 400 miles of wilderness they drove a herd of pigs, whose flesh, however, was reserved for the table of DeSoto and his captains. The first reaction of the rest of the members of the expedition, when they learned that DeSoto had died on the bank of the Mississippi, was: "Now we can have some pork to eat."
From that herd of swine, many of whom strayed away into the forest, have descended the Southern "razor back" wild hogs which one encounters throughout the southeastern states and who, coming out of the woods onto highways at night, constitute a far more serious menace to the motorist than do the bulkier and more visible range cattle, which also frequently stray into the rays of the headlights. And the hunter who tries to penetrate, unwarned and unprepared, into some of the dense forest fastnesses, may find himself confronting the most dangerous of all the wild beasts in these woods where bears and panthers live, the four-tusked wild boar of the old DeSoto strain, whose curved, six-inch fangs of razor-like sharpness can inflict a death wound at one lightning-like stroke.
Apalachicola today still has the fine, key-protected natural harbor which DeSoto found there. It still has, also, the great oyster beds which were an important food source for the na tives before DeSoto's day. The small, but delicious and distinctively flavored Apalachicola oysters have been highly esteemed as a delicacy by Floridians for generations. Now their fame is spreading and their distribution likewise until one may find them on hotel menus as far north as Norfolk, Virginia, at whose very back door some of the best and most famous oysters in the world are grown.
So important has become the Apalachicola oyster industry that the United States Fish Commission, collaborating with the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, Massachu setts, has established a laboratory here in the effort to find ways of exterminating the conchs, a marine mollusk which destroys these oysters of the Gulf as effectively as the star-fish formerly decimated the oyster beds of northern waters before the same institution of biological research found ways to get rid of them.
Besides its oyster beds, Apalachicola is an important shipping point for fresh and cured fish. The fishing fleets provide a livelihood for a high percentage of the little city's population. Apalachicola's smoked mullet goes into all the world markets, and refrigerator cars daily take iced cargoes of fresh red snapper into the North. A natural concomitant of its fishing activities is boat and ship building and repairing. Apalachicola boat builders have more than a local reputation for the design and staunchness of the craft launched from their yards. The fame of Apalachicola is spreading by the increasing popularity of its honey, distributed widely under the "Tupelo" brand.
East of the city is the Apalachicola National Forest of 300,000 acres, lying in Liberty and Franklin counties, along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. This forest was established to stabilize a decadant community, which had depended almost entircly upon the virgin timber resources, and those had become exhausted. Purchase by the Federal government of the cut-over timber lands was authorized in 1933 and the area was proclaimed a National Forest in the Spring of 1936. The Forest lies between the Ocklocknee River on the East and the Apalachicola on the West. When it came under the control of the Forest Service it was one of the last backwoods areas of North Florida and was virtually inaccessible. Its development was made a C. C. C. program, and under intensive effort a network of graded roads now reaches within two miles of every point in the Forest. Six fire look-out towers and sixty miles of telephone lines, under the operation of an efficient fire-detection and control organization, have held fire losses to a minimum so that pine reproduction is rapidly becoming established.
There is no expectation that timber operations in the Apalachicola Forest can be re-established on a profitable basis before 1945, but the Forest Service is confident that eventually this area will come back as an important timber producing region. The new paper mill at Port St. Joe, within easy truckhaul of the Forest, is expected to provide an important nearby market for slash pine pulpwood. An interesting experiment in reforestation is being conducted on the savannahs, the low wet grassy plains along the Apalachicola River. Slash pine seedlings are planted on ridges between drainage furrows to determine whether this fast-growing timber can be cultivated on otherwise waste land.
Because of botanical and horticultural interest in much of the vegetation occurring along the banks of the Apalachicola River in this vicinity, the state of Florida has established Torreya State Park just north of the Apalachicola National Forest. The name is that of the tree known locally as "stinking cedar," which is said to be identical with the gopher wood of which Noah traditionally built the Ark, and which grows nowhere else in the world except in Asia Minor. Here, also, grows the rare Florida yew tree, as well as many trees which are native to lands much farther north but which have grown here from seeds brought down by the river in the spring floods.
Westward from Apalachicola the Gulf Coast Highway skirts the shore, separated from the wide beach by high dunes of almost snow-white sand. No heavy surf breaks over these Gulf beaches, for lying seaward, from one to four or five miles, is an almost continuous row of narrow sandy keys, most of them treeless but some of them fertile islands upon which fisher folk dwell.
A few miles west from Apalachicola is another fishing port, a town which once held an important place in tlue life of West Florida, which dwindled to a hamlet of five or six hundred people but which, in 1937, came to life and started to grow into new importance with the construction here of a great paper mill. The influx of workmen for the construction of the mill more than doubled Port St. Joe's population and put such pressure on its housing facilities that for miles along the highway on both sides the road was lined with trailers and hastily built wooden shacks in which, in the comfortable Florida climate, their occupants experienced the pleasures of pioneering with few of its hardships.
The Port St. Joe paper mill is the second to be completed of the six units of this new industry which were built, under construction or projected, in Florida in 1937. They are stretched from East to West in a row, from Pensacola to Fernandina. The location of a paper mill is determined by its accessibility to the pine forests on the one hand and to water transportation for its product on the other hand. The mill at Port St. Joe is owned jointly by the George H. Mead Paper Company and the estate of the late Alfred I. DuPont, who had lived in Florida for many years before his death in 1936.
A member of the famous manufacturing family of DuPonts of Wilmington, Delaware, and a large stockholder in the DuPont Corporation, Alfred DuPont had a keen interest in industrial developments, particularly those based upon chemical research. For many years, ever since the invention and application of processes of making paper from wood fiber, it had been assumed as an axiom that only the pitch-free conifers of the North, spruce, fir and hemlock, could be used for paper manufacture. In the late 1920's Dr. Charles H. Herty, a former president of the American Chemical Society, enlisted the cooperation of the Chemical Foundation in establishing a laboratory at Savannah to investigate the possibility of utilizing the fast-growing low-grade "slash" pine of the southwestern states as a source of pulpwood.
The northern forests are being depleted of pulpwood timber, and it takes 30 years or longer for newly-planted spruce and fir to grow to pulpwood size. Here in the South are literally hundreds of millions of acres of pine which grows from seed to seven inches diameter in seven years; a perpetual, self-replenishing source of paper-pulp provided means could be found to utilize this lumber for that purpose.
Dr. Herty found the way, a simple, inexpensive way, which made the slash pine resources of Georgia, Alabama and Florida and the states farther west, even into Texas, available for paper manufacture. Northern paper mills were paying from eight dollars up to as high as fifteen dollars a cord for pulpwood; slash pine pulp logs could be cut and delivered as far as fifty miles by truck, 200 miles by rail, at a cost to the mill of five dollars or six dollars a cord. Moreover, the greatest demand for paper, a world demand which is steadily growing with no limit in sight, was and is for the kind of paper most readily made from the pine pulp. This is the tough wrapping paper known by the trade name of "kraft," which requires little bleaching and is made on exactly the same kind of machines that are used for newsprint and other ordinary white papers; the only difference between kraft and other papers is in the treatment of the pulp. Kraft pulp is chipped wood boiled in a sulphate of soda solution; newsprint is made of a mixture of ground wood and sodium sulphite pulp.
The requisites for a kraft paper mill are, first, a nearby supply of pulpwood; second, an adequate supply of fresh water, for a five-hundred ton pulp paper mill uses as much water in a day as a city of 100,000 people consumes; third, low-cost fuel and power; fourth, supplies of sodium sulphate, or of salt and sulphur within low-rate transportation distance; fifth, transportation facilities for distribution of the product at a low freight rate.
All of these elements are found in North Florida. Railroads, highways and canals tap the pine forests for hundreds of miles inland and lead directly to Florida seaports, where the essential low-rate water transportation outbound combines with low-cost water-borne fuel oil, sulphur and salt from the Louisiana and Texas mines, cheap oil-generated electric power, and unlimited supplies of fresh water obtained by the simple process of drilling artesian wells.
Alfred I. DuPont was one of the first large investors in Florida to realize the potential future value of its pine forests. He quietly acquired more than half a million acres of pine land and the site at the almost forgotten town of Port St. Joe for his paper mill. He did not begin to build the mill, however, until others had done the pioneer work. The first paper mill in Florida was built in 1935 by the Southern Kraft Corporation, a subsidiary of the International Paper Company, at Panama City, only a few miles from Port St. Joe to the westward. Its success was sufficient warranty for others to go ahead in the same line and the building of the DuPont mill was begun early in 1937, shortly after Mr. DuPont's death. Simultaneously construction was begun by the Container Corporation of America, manufacturers of corrugated board packing cases, of a similar mill at Fernandina. The Continental Container Corporation, in the Spring of 1937, let contracts for another kraft mill in Jacksonville. Before the end of 1937 a second mill at Fernandina was begun, and negotiations were under way for the building of the sixth Florida paper mill in Pensacola.
The scheduled initial output of the Mead-DuPont mill at Port St. Joe is 200 tons of kraft paper a day, with a market value at the beginning of 1938 of about $115 a ton, giving employment in the mill and the pulpwood yards to more than 750 men, a greater number than the total population of the little town before work on the mill began.
Port St. Joe is on its way to coming back toward the place of importance which it held a century ago, when the convention which drafted the first Constitution for the new state of Florida was held here in December, 1838, an event commemorated by a monument near the town. Those were the "boom" days of this thriving community. It had several banks, a race track, good hotels and many large business houses. In 1839 a railroad was built from Port St. Joe to Iola. In that year 50,000 bales of cotton were shipped through this port. Then, in July, 1841, a sailing ship came in with yellow fever aboard. Mosquitoes bred in the swampy lowlands quickly infected the whole town with the deadly plague.
There were not enough men to dig graves for all who died. Their number was never counted, but within a few weeks Port St. Joe was a deserted town. Now, after almost a century, it has come back.
Visitors to Panama City are practically unanimous in agreeing that its land-locked harbor, St. Andrews Bay, is the most beautiful expanse of salt water in Florida. Shipping men are in complete agreement that there are few, if any, harbors in the world so easy of access and at the same time so perfectly safe in any weather. The high banks which rise to fifty or sixty feet above the surface of St. Andrews Bay descend so steeply that sea-going cargo ships can tie up directly against the bank at many points. The area enclosed within its 600 miles and more of shoreline is large enough to provide a harbor for the entire United States Navy without crowding.
The strategic position of St. Andrews Bay as a location for a naval base was recognized by Germany before the World War began. No complete disclosure has ever been made, and none will ever be made, in all probability, of the secret plans of Germany against the United States. But a German-owned firm built and operated a large saw-mill on the shore of St. Andrews Bay before the war, shipping lumber, some of it in German ships, to different parts of the world. When the United States entered the World War in the Spring of 1917 it immediately seized all German-owned property in this country, including the saw-mill on St. Andrews Bay. When the Alien Property Custodian's representative went down there to take possession he discovered, built into the foundations of the mill and concealed by a false floor, a gun emplacement upon which it would have been a simple matter to mount a long-range rifled cannon which would command the single narrow entrance to the harbor. That is a matter of official record at Washington. Nobody knows any more about it than that. It seems to be evident that the Germans recognized the strategic value of St. Andrews Bay, if for no other purpose than as a port of refuge for German craft which might be pursued in Gulf of Mexico waters by an enemy warship. Presumptively there was no more sinister purpose than that of affording protection for its own nationals under such circumstances, in this affair of the gun emplacement in the saw-mill; for when that was built it is hardly probable that Germany could have anticipated being at war with the United States.
Panama City is a lively, bustling industrial town of 15,000 inhabitants, which has grown since 1925 from a scattering, quiet village of 2,500, chiefly because of the establishment here in 1930 of the first and largest of Florida's paper mills, the plant of the Southern Kraft Corporation. Producing 600 tons a day of kraft paper of the type used in the manufacture of packing boxes and containers, the mill operates twenty-four hours a day, employing 1,200 workers in four six-hour shifts, and distributing a weekly payroll of more than $35,000.
One result of this has been to bring Panama City into new importance as a seaport, and to attract manufacturers in other lines to take advantage of the shipping facilities of the port. The Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railroad, running north to Dothan, Alabama, and connecting with the Atlantic Coast Line and Louisville & Nashville, provides rail connections with all parts of the country, while the deep harbor is equipped with docks and piers which can accommodate seagoing craft of any tonnage. The product of the paper mill is shipped almost entirely by water, an ocean freighter being loaded almost every day. The bulk of the pulpwood consumed by the paper mill comes in by rail, but along all the highways converging on Panama City one encounters motor trucks loaded with cordwood destined for the mill. Within a radius of 50 miles, motor transportation of pulpwood is said to be economical.
Panama City is becoming one of the most important oildistributing centers in the South. Several of the large oil companies have built huge storage tanks here, where supplies are delivered in tankers and from which they are easily distributed by rail and tank trucks.
The year-'round climate of Panama City has made it for years a popular resort, both Winter and Summer, for visitors seeking restful seclusion and an opportunity to enjoy the facili ties which St. Andrews Bay provides for boating and fishing. Particularly in Summer, the Gulf beach, nine miles from the town, is an increasingly popular cooling-off place for the people of inland Florida and Alabama. Nearly 50,000 motored to Panama City to spend the 4th of July week-end of 1937 at the beach. The estimated number of summer visitors between April 15 and September 15 exceeds 150,000.
There is no community in Florida which has grown faster or on a more substantial foundation than Panama City; few which combine such a beautiful natural background and re creational opportunities with a firm-based economic structure. This seacoast through which the Gulf Coast Highway runs is a country of old fishing villages and cotton-shipping ports, many of which are just beginning to come under the influence of modern progress. Back from the Gulf a few miles, on beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay, is the town of Valparaiso, developed since 1925 as a year-'round residential resort by Chicago sportsmen, around the nucleus of an ancient fishing community, into one of the most charming resorts in all Florida. It is also the home of the Shalimar winery, where James P. Plew makes a highly-palatable wine from Satsuma oranges.
Fort Walton, through which one drives on the way westward to Pensacola is another ancient settlement stirring with new life since it became more accessible.
In 1936 the Federal government established an Army airport at White Point on the north shore of Choctawhatchee Bay, with an eight-way landing field. This is used for gunnery practice by the Army Air Corps and for training of National Guard flying units.
Stretching along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay, in Walton, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties, is the Choctawhatchee National Forest, encompassing 368,000 acres. It offers no such developed recreational facilities as does the Ocala Forest, but there are twelve areas within its boundaries which have been set apart as public camp grounds, and numerous passable highways, including the old military road built by General Jackson's army in 1818, traverse the Forest. The Choctawhatchee Game Refuge, of more than 100,000 acres, partly outside of the Forest itself, is under state control by co-operative agreement with the Forest Service. It supports large herds of deer and considerable flocks of wild turkeys, quail, and other wild life. Campers and visitors in the Choctawhatchee Forest have opportunity for both fresh-water and salt-water fishing.
In natural scenery, the Choctawhatchee is the most diversified of Florida's four National Forests. Its hilly surface varies in elevation from sea-level to 298 feet at Sandy Mountain Tower in the Northeast corner. Rolling sandhills are interspersed with numerous abrupt heavily wooded "draws" and "washes," which are drained by clear, cool, spring-fed creeks.
The technical interest of the Forest Service in Choctawhatchee centers in the long-leaf yellow pine, which produces the highest grade of pine lumber in the South. Under scien tific logging and reforestation methods the original stand of this valuable timber in the Forest has been materially increased since its establishment as a National Forest in 1908, while maintaining an increasing and large output of saw timber.
The northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico is the habitat of a culinary delicacy peculiarly Floridian, which the general run of tourists never hear of, much less taste. That is the hush-puppy. The etymology of the name is somewhat obscure, but in almost any of the eating houses in these fishing towns, where fried fish is naturally the chef d'oeuvre, the dusky servitor often asks, when one orders fried snapper or pompano: "Does yo' wants some hush-puppies, too?"
The hush-puppy is served only as an accompaniment to fried fish; and fried fish in Florida means fried, immersed in a deep kettle of boiling fat, not merely sauted in a frying pan. While the fish is frying the colored cook makes the hushpuppies. Their composition is as simple as that of a hoe-cake and using the same ingredients with one addition. White cornmeal, salt and water are mixed into a paste and folded around a liberal measure of finely-chopped raw onion. Molded into potato-shaped patties, the mixture is dropped into the boiling kettle with the fish. It fries quickly to a deep golden brown and emerges as hush-puppies, to be served on the plate with the fish.
Along the westerly part of its route the Gulf Coast Highway skirts Santa Rosa Sound, the hundred-mile channel which separates Santa Rosa Island from the mainland. In deed, for a few miles the highway leaves the mainland and traverses the easterly end of Santa Rosa Island. Approaching Pensacola the road passes through the old United States Navy live-oak timber reserve and across Pensacola Bay over a fivemile concrete bridge, to enter the historic, picturesque and altogether charming city, the western gateway of Florida.
Provided by: Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration. - 1938