The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe: The Longest Dugout Recorded in Florida

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This past Saturday we had the privilege of visiting the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture , as they were host to a wonderful lecture on local history. While there we finally got to see the infamous Apalachicola

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida.

The 50 foot long Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is made of a single cypress log and is the longest dugout on record in Florida. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Master Site File)

Traders’ Canoe. I have heard mention of it before and I have always been curious to see it. You are probably wondering why I would be so excited about a dugout canoe, right? What if I told you that it was the longest dugout canoe ever recovered, in one piece, in the state of Florida? It is over 50 feet long! 50 feet, 4 inches to be exact! Imagine trying to paddle such a beast upstream! This dugout was initially found in 2006 by two gentleman that were out bass fishing on the Apalachicola River. While they were loading their boat onto a trailer they noticed what appeared to be a board sticking out of the water. When their trailer struck it the object floated higher out of the water and they knew immediately they had come across an old dugout canoe. They attempted to pull it out of the water to load it onto their trailer, but soon realized it was too long. One of the gentleman operated a nearby sawmill, and so was able to arrange for a logging truck to transport it  to the sawmill for safe keeping. They then reported the find to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They recognized the potential significance of their find and wanted to do the right thing by reporting it to the proper authorities. The dugout quickly became a local celebrity, receiving numerous visitors wanting to witness this behemoth firsthand. A few days after the initial discovery archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research were able to visit the dugout and work with other state officials and the individuals who discovered the dugout to come up with a plan to make sure that it was properly cared for and preserved.

Archaeologists generally discourage people from removing dugouts or other wooden artifacts from water or muck. These objects are usually quite saturated and have been that way for a long time. The state usually receives calls about dugouts becoming exposed during drought events, when water levels drop and they are found sticking out of the mud.  Once they are removed they start to dry out quickly and can degrade into a pile of nothing more than saw dust quite rapidly. It takes a trained conservator to ensure that the wooden object is dried carefully and in a controlled manner so that damage is kept to a minimum. Additionally, in some cases various conservation treatments are applied to ensure that the cellular structure of the object remains stable for years to come. These treatments can be very lengthy and sometimes expensive, and until the object can be treated properly, it is best preserved in place. If you are ever in a situation where you  find a dugout canoe or any other archaeological remains, you may call the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research to report it. You can also contact your local FPAN office, as all of us work closely with the folks at the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

After the the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe was properly conserved, archaeologists could see tool marks on the boat which indicated that it was made using metal tools, but with techniques commonly used by Native Americans. The fact that metal tools were used, along with the shape of the canoe, suggest that it was manufactured sometime between 1750 and 1850. Dugout canoes had long since been used by Native Americans but the technology was adapted and modified to meet the needs of Florida’s many early European settlers. It is possible that it was made by Native American craftsmen under the direction of Americans, the British or  the Spanish.

The Apalachicola Traders' Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

The Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe is currently on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture)

Hundreds of dugout canoes have been recovered from Florida’s lakes and rivers. Some of you may remember the dugout that was recovered from Lake Munson a few years ago. During the 2000 drought event, hundreds of dugouts and dugout fragments were recorded in Newnan Lake near Gainesville. Forty  wood samples were taken from the Newnan canoes and were found to be between 3,200 and 5,000 years old. Most dugout canoes measure between 18 and 20 feet. The traders’ canoe is more than twice that length! The traders’ canoe was also manufactured from a single cypress log. The majority of dugouts that have been recorded in Florida have been carved from pine logs, although cypress dugouts are not unheard of in Florida. It is quite possible that Florida has the largest concentration of dugout canoes in the Americans, possibly the world. Our state’s unique aquatic environment, complete with anaerobic muck river and lake bottoms, lends itself to the preservation of these delicate artifacts. In an anaerobic environment, few bacteria can survive and thus, they cannot contribute to the deterioration of organic material. In other words, there are less bacteria nibbling on the wooden artifacts and so objects that might otherwise degrade are preserved and provide archaeologists and the public a unique glimpse of our past.

If you want to check out the Apalachicola Traders’ Canoe for yourself, and I encourage you to do so, it is on display at the Apalachicola Center for History, Art and Culture! Their hours of operation are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 noon to 5 PM.  It is located on the corner of Avenue E and Water Street in one of the beautifully restored cotton warehouses on the Apalachicola River.  You can make a day trip out of it and continue your forays into the local maritime culture by visiting the Apalachicola Maritime Museum as well!

Florida Seminole Wars Heritage Trail Booklets Now Available

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The cover of the Florida Seminole War Heritage Trail booklet.

The cover of the Florida Seminole War Heritage Trail booklet.

We are so excited about the most recently published Heritage Trail booklet, Florida Seminole Wars Heritage Trail. This booklet is the most recent one in a long line of booklets. The Florida Department of State began publishing this series of booklets in 1991, and has since continued to add to the collection of titles. I have always liked the way these booklets are designed. They lend themselves well to heritage tourism. I actually keep a copy of a few in my car so that as I am traveling around the state I can look to see what is in the area. This has led me on quite a few impromptu little road trips and detours. Each volume lists historical sites throughout Florida, arranged by region, that are open to the public. The illustrations are always beautiful as well. They are great educational and travel resources! One thing that I have always enjoyed about the heritage trail booklets is the way they are organized because it makes for easy referencing when looking for a specific site or specific information.

For decades the Seminoles have shaped the history of Florida. The Seminole Wars are a very significant period in history, not just in Florida, but for the entire nation. Most historians agree that there were three Seminole Wars, but for the Seminoles it was seen as a 40 year continual struggle to fight for the right to stay in their homeland. This heritage trail booklet provides a well-balanced perspective on this time in Florida’s history. Not only does it have a comprehensive listing of locations that are associated with The Seminole Wars, but it also provides the reader with a background essay on the history of the Seminole Wars in Florida, information on who the Seminoles are,  a timeline, and some great sidebars on related topics and significant individuals. The sites listed include battlefields, monuments, museum exhibits, historic markers and sites.

This booklet was produced by the Seminole Wars Foundation, Inc., withe the support of a historic preservation grant provided by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources. To view or download your copy of this booklet you can visit the website. Next time you are at a festival or FPAN event look for our booth to pick up a hard copy of this and other heritage trail booklets (when available).  Don’t forget to use your heritage trail booklets to learn about new places you can visit to learn more about Florida’s history!

 

 

 

Florida Businesses and Tourist Destinations Invited to Submit Stories to Viva Florida 500 Facebook Timeline

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To honor Florida’s 500 years as the world’s destination of choice, VIVA Florida 500 is combining historical events in Florida’s history with  your shared memories to create an interactive story!  Businesses and tourist destinations  in Florida are encouraged to submit their own stories that highlight key events from your destination or business. Selected events will be added to the timeline’s editorial calendar and shared throughout the year at Facebook.com/VISITFLORIDA beginning in January of 2013.

You can submit up to three events or stories. Each event should contain a description of fewer than 50 words, photo(s) and a URL for more information/reference. Photos should help to tell the story and complement the event description and include photo credits when necessary. All events that are posted will be reviewed for relevance and quality. Events that are selected will be added to the Timeline’s editorial calendar at an optimal posting date which will be determined by VIVIA Florida 500. Submissions will be accepted through November 30, 2012.

In November 2012 VIVA Florida will begin to introduce the Timeline by highlighting the first Thanksgiving that occurred in St. Augustine in 1565. The official launch will be in January 2013. People can participate further beginning in January by joining the conversation on VISIT FLORIDA’s Facebook page and can continue to share your Florida stories and memories. You can contact Dorothy Thames, Digital Marketing Specialist, at dthames@VISITFLORIDA.org with any questions regarding the VIVA Florida 500 Timeline.  For more information about VIVA Florida 500 you can visit the website at vivaflorida.org.

Suwannee Springs: A Surviving Example of Early Florida Tourism

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Last week I was contacted by a newly formed group, Friends of Suwannee Springs (you can find them on Facebook!). They were formed to preserve and protect this little known historic site. I say little known, perhaps because I

Look for this sign off of Hwy 129, right before you cross over the Suwannee River. It will be on your right.

was previously unaware of its existence. However, after meeting with them, I have come to find out that many people were previously unaware of its existence besides the locals. To the local population however, it has been a popular gathering place for generations and many of the people I spoke with grew up learning how to swim in this spring! I decided that in order to work with them, I needed to become familiar with this site, so a road trip was in order! The site is located approximately 7 miles north of Live Oak and a few miles north of I-10 off of Highway 129, and thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Suwannee Springs, the Florida Department of Transportation has recently posted a road sign pointing the way!  The property is currently owned and maintained by the Suwannee River Water Management District. They have created a nice picnic area and a walkway overlooking the spring. There is a hiking trail and a swimming area on the Suwannee River as well. The area is open from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM every day. No overnight camping is allowed, but the area is open to swimming, biking, hiking and fishing.

Historic ad for Suwannee Springs.

The history of Suwannee Springs goes back quite a ways, but in the mid- to late-1800s it was a popular notion that sulfur and mineral springs had unique healing qualities. It became popular for resorts and sanitariums to be constructed on or next to these springs. Often times the water was also bottled and sold. Suwannee Springs, thus, became a popular destination for tourists to the area. The water from the spring was also bottled and sold and was available for sale by druggists.  A wall was constructed out of local limestone around the spring in the mid-to late-1800s. A hotel and approximately 18 private cottages were eventually also constructed at the site. It is important to note that the site passed through many owners’ hands and that several hotels were constructed at various times throughout its history. In all, three hotels were built at the site. Unfortunately, the reason so many hotels were constructed is because there were multiple structural fires that destroyed some of these buildings. The last hotel burned down in 1925 and up until sometime in the 1970s visitors would spend their summers in one of the private cottages near the spring.

Suwannee Springs was so popular as a vacation and convalescing destination that old advertisements for the resort can be found in newspapers from around the country. Many of these newspapers

Visitors can still enjoy the refreshing spring water today!

advertise the spring as a location with amusements, pleasant evenings, bathing, freedom from malaria and other ailments, and of course, the healing virtues of the spring water itself! It was

Old postcard of cottages at Suwannee Springs.

marketed as a sure cure for rheumatism and blood diseases, appetite loss and insomnia (among other ailments). The spring was also listed by the railroads as one of the best summer resorts.  It could be reached via the Savannah Florida and Western Railway, Georgia Southern and Florida Railway and the Florida Central and Peninsular Railway.

Today all that remains of the site are the ruins of the spring wall and two dilapidated cottages. Apparently some of the other remaining cottages are held in private

Current condition of two remaining cottages.

ownership and have been restored, but only two remain on public lands. I was amazed at the beauty, even in its current ruinous shape, which this site possesses. Looking at it I can picture children in the early 1900s jumping off the sturdy limestone wall into the spring! It was as if I could almost hear the people laughing and splashing! People still visit the site to take a quick dip, either in the spring or the Suwannee River. In fact, a family was there swimming during my visit. This site is reminiscent of a unique period in Florida’s history. This site is a surviving example of the birth of Florida tourism as we know it today. Our fancy, high-end resorts, as they exist today, look quite different from the resorts and sanitariums of the late 1800s and early 1900s! You have to wonder though, did the early spring resorts lay the foundation for Florida as a resort destination?

So, the next time you are passing through Live Oak, take a detour to the Suwannee Springs to check it out yourself. I am sure you will fall in love with this unique piece of Florida history just as I recently have. Just remember, these sites are fragile and deserving of respect. Hopefully, one day, this site will be returned to its previous state, but as of now, it demands a certain amount of caution to prevent it from further destruction. Let us do what we can to ensure that future generations can enjoy this site just as people have for over 100 years. Pack a picnic, bring your swim suits and enjoy the beauty that Florida’s unique history has to offer!

Photo shows the fragile state of the wall surrounding the spring.