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26 May 2013

Florida’s Franklin County’s Secret Coast, Carrabelle and St. George’s Island (part two)

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May 26, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: by R. Gordon & Hernan Duenas


By Renée S. Gordon, 


“Won my heart and hand forever, with a call for you and me. When I saw the Florida sunset sinking o’er the Florida sea.”  

 –William Popham


Franklin County, as many early settlements, began as a fort on the Apalachicola River manned by the Spanish in 1705 and fifty-eight years later the Spanish ceded Florida to the English as part of the Treaty of Paris. Their loss in the American Revolution caused them to return it to Spain. In 1821 the Adams-Onis treaty granted Florida, with the exemption of 1.5 million acres owned by John Forbes and Company, to the United States. Forbes had acquired land from the Creek and Seminole Indians as repayment of debts. Franklin County was created from portions of two existing counties and named in honor of Benjamin Franklin in 1832.


Carrabelle is situated on St. James Island where the Carrabelle River meets the Gulf of Mexico. This quaint community is located in the best of all possible locations for boating and fishing and a host of other outdoor activities. In addition to the Carrabelle River and Gulf of Mexico, the Crooked and Ochlockonee Rivers surround it and the Carrabelle River is the sole deepwater port access to the Intercoastal Waterway in Franklin County.


Carrabelle dates from 1855 but it was not until 1877 that Joseph Kelley purchased nearly 2000-acres of land and named it after his niece, Carrie Hall, the “belle” of the community. It was incorporated in 1893. Today the city has a series of unique historic sites in addition to its working waterfront and recreational opportunities.


The most photographed location in Carrabelle is the “World’s Smallest Police Station.” The city’s police telephone was once inside a call box located on a building on Highway 98. Unauthorized people made calls from the phone so it was relocated to no avail. When the telephone company updated their booth the decision was made to place the telephone inside. On March 10, 1963 the booth was moved to its current location. You must have your picture taken here!


Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum is a site on the Florida World War II Heritage Trail. The story of Gordon Johnson as an amphibious training camp during WWII is related through photographs, dioramas and displays. Highlights of a tour of the 5,000-ft. museum are uniforms and a replicated barracks room. The complex includes displays of WWII vehicles in exterior bays.


Tate’s Hell State Forest is 202,000-acres of relict dunes, pine flatwoods, swamps and scrub plants. It is home to numerous plant and wildlife species including many that are endangered, the bald eagle, black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker and the Dwarf Cypress. The 4 mile High Dunes Trail affords stunning views of the town and the gulf as you traverse the dunes.


The park is named after Cebe Tate who legend has it, was lost in the swamp for a week and was bitten by a snake in 1875. He emerged near Carrabelle and had just enough strength left before dying to whisper, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!”


The 100-ft., skeletal, Crooked River Lighthouse was constructed in 1895 as a mainland replacement for one on Dog Island. It guided water traffic through the pass between Dog and St. George’s islands. The Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse 100 years later and it is currently maintained by local citizens along with the Keeper’s House and museum. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and was officially relit on December 8, 2007.


Pam Lycett and her husband own and operate The Fisherman’s Wife, a seafood lover’s dream eatery. They serve up local seafood including Gulf shrimp caught by fishermen aboard their own boats. Don’t pass up this experience.


Fort Gadsden is located slightly off the beaten path but it is a significant site in American history. The British built a fort along the Apalachicola River on Prospect Bluff during the War of 1812. They left the fort in 1815, leaving it to approximately 30 Choctaw and Seminole Indians and 330 free and fugitive blacks who had served as allies. The fort became known as the “Negro Fort” and a settlement of fugitives was established around it. The U.S. viewed the fort as a danger to nearby slaveholders and General Andrew Jackson, commander of the area, demanded that the Spanish wipe out the fort and return all slaves to their owners. A U.S. force, including Creek Indians, moved against the fort and in July of 1816 the fort was taken, nearly 300 men died and the rest were taken by the Creeks, who received a $50 per person bounty, and given to southern slaveholders. Two years later Jackson had Fort Gadsden erected on the site. Visitors can walk a one-mile interpreted trail.


St. George Island was part of the land given to John Forbes in 1803 by Native Americans in payment of a debt. In the early 20th-century William Popham purchased the island for purposes of developing it even though it could only be reached by boat. In 1922 Internal Revenue prosecuted him for back taxes and he was sent to jail for 4 years. Shortly after his release he was arrested for mail fraud and having no money he paid for his legal defense by giving the island to his attorney. Today the 4 mile Bryant Patton Bridge spans the distance between the island and mainland Florida.


The 28 mile island is as close to a perfect travel destination as one can get. The white-sand beaches are considered some of the best in the country and offer some of the best shelling on the coast. Building codes prohibit the construction of structures that exceed a height of 35-ft measured from the fist habitable floor so that views of the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Apalachicola Bay on the other are largely unobstructed. One-of-a-kind shops, boutiques and galleries provide unique shopping choices and local restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to small, eclectic, eateries.


St. George Island State Park is 1,883 miles of “Original Natural Florida,” has 9 miles of pristine coastline and offers visitors a 4-mile nature trail walk on the beautiful side. The first inhabitants were the Creek Indians who traded from there. When Europeans came in the 18th-century the natives, led by Pirate Captain William Bowles, attempted to defend their territory. Local lore says that prior to Bowles death he buried treasure that remains undiscovered.


The barrier island park was completed in 1980 on the eastern end of the island to spotlight the dunes, salt marshes, forest, wildlife and bird migrations in the spring and fall from the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and has been voted one of the “Top 10 Beaches in America.” Fully equipped picnic areas are located within the park.


Cape St. George Lighthouse is part of a complex that includes the St. George Island Visitors Center and 2-story Lighthouse Keeper’s House Museum and it is the ideal place to learn the island’s seafaring history and purchase unique souvenirs and gifts. This lighthouse replaces three earlier ones, the first of which was built in 1833. The 1852 lighthouse was deactivated in 1994 and collapsed entirely on October 21, 2005.


Local volunteers salvaged and cleaned 22,000 bricks and used the original design from National Archives in D.C.  Rebuilding efforts began in 2007 and were completed in December 2008. The bricks line the inside of the lighthouse and a 92 step spiral, pine staircase with each step being a different size, accesses the top. The light functions six months a year so as not to disturb the turtles during nesting season. Both the Crooked River and St. George Lighthouse have scheduled full moon climbs, a unique experience.


Local rental agencies enhance your Franklin County experience by assisting you in finding accommodations that fit your family size, vacation needs and personal itinerary. The hundreds of homes offered range from cozy cottages to multi-level, multi-room, mansions, all fully equipped, many with elevators, Jacuzzis, pools, private beach entrances and state-of-the-art electronics. Rental contracts vary in length. Collins Realty Inc. ( and Resort Vacation Properties of St. George Island, Inc. ( are agencies of long-standing and excellent reputations.


There are myriad reasons to visit Franklin County. You can research them all at


I wish you smooth travels!


Travel Tips:


Heart & Soul Piano/Art Project returns to Clark Park, 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue, on June 6th at 3 PM until June 16th. Four pianos decorated by artist Joe Burochow will be temporarily installed in the park and invite the public to share impromptu performances. The Thursday Clark Park Farmers’ Market will also open on June 6th. The market is open each Thursday from 3-7 PM.


“Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster”
opens at the Penn Museum on June 2, 2013 and runs until March 2, 2014. This is a rare opportunity to view this unique collection.


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