BAKER COUNTY YESTERDAY
The territory we call Baker County was originally inhabited by Seminole Indians who lived in the vast swamplands. Since the Indians knew little about agriculture, their main sources of food supply were hunting and fishing. Prior to the Civil War, as new people settled into the territory they lived by hunting and farming. After the Civil War, people living farther north were having a difficult time making a living, so they moved to this area where they found it easier to obtain employment. (See: Baker County 1832-1883)
In the mid 1830's, pioneer craftsman James Burnsed built Baker County's historic Burnsed Blockhouse. This single family dwelling is the oldest wood frame/log building in Florida (where wooden buildings don't last). Located 15 miles North of Sanderson, the frame, fort-type structure was built with squared timbers, an upper story jutting over the base, a detached kitchen, peepholes and openings in the walls and floor from which rifles could be fired should an attacker try to sneak up and set fire to the stronghold. Residents climbed a ladder and entered through a door in the floor. If the blockhouse was assaulted, individuals could pull up the ladder and shutter the opening. This Florida early frontier home is now recognized by the State of Florida as one of the finest examples of a hand-hewn structure in the state and by the National Register of Historic Places for its Architecture and Engineering. This national treasure was rescued from obscurity and relocated in 2001 to the Baker County Heritage Park in Macclenny.
Olustee Battlefield, a state historic site located in Baker County, is a memorial to this major Civil War battle fought in Florida. The battlefield, on U.S. 90 two miles east of Olustee, covers 270 acres. (Battle of Ocean Pond) On February 18, 1864, a Union force of approximately 5,000 met a Confederate force of roughly the same number defending positions around Ocean Pond. Union forces withdrew after sustaining an estimated 1,900 casualties. Confederate losses were 946. (Museum. Public. N.R. 1970.)
The land area we now call Baker was part of St. Johns County until December 4, 1832, at which time Columbia County was formed. The area remained part of Columbia until December 21, 1858, when it was divided into three counties: Columbia, Suwanee, and New River. On February 8, 1861, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that brought the present county into existence and Baker became the 39th county created in Florida.
Battle of Olustee and Olustee Battlefield Site and Reinactment, Ocean Pond, Florida.
Maps of Baker County - 1872-1932 by the University of South Florida.
The county was named for Honorable James McNair Baker. Judge Baker was one of Florida's two Confederate States Congress Senators at Richmond. He was also a former Judge of the Fourth Judicial District of the state of Florida, which Baker County was a part of at that time.
As the population increased small towns began to spring up in the area. Olustee, Sanderson, Glen St Mary, and Darbyville came into existence. From 1870-1885, the population had grown considerably, much of it taking place in Glen St Mary and Darbyville. The first county seat was at Sanderson. On February 22, 1886, it was decided by a vote of 243 to 220 to move it to Darbyville, which is now called Macclenny. The burning of the Sanderson courthouse and the petition for the change of the county seat instigated the move.
Most of the land in and around Macclenny was owned by a family of Darbys. When the town was first named it was related to the Darby family and called Darbyville. The Darbys were farmers and grew cotton and corn. A big timber salesman by the name of C.B. Macclenny married the daughter of the original Darbys. Mr. Macclenny bought land from the Darby family. After the older Mr. Darby died, the town was changed to Macclenny. The town of Macclenny was incorporated on April 11, 1887, and a revised map of Macclenny was recorded on March 4, 1889.
The first railroad in Macclenny was the F.A. & G.C. Railroad. The railroad was the predecessor of the present-day Seaboard Air Line Railroad. The F.A. & G.C. Company was incorporated on January 24, 1851, with the purpose in mind "to construct and operate a railroad from the St. Marys River on the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in West Florida as located by the State Engineer." It was not, however, until 1857 that actual construction of the line began direct from the company's principal office in Jacksonville. See: Baker County Railroad Depots
In the early history of the county, only the well-to-do could afford to attend school. The first school was a school for girls, built in 1885, called the St James Academy for Girls. It was built by the Reverend C.S. Snowden, an Episcopalian donator.
Things went along well for a while and then tragedy struck a blow, not only to the school but to the town of Macclenny as well. The yellow fever epidemic broke out in Jacksonville and was brought into Baker County. The Reverend Snowden, who was thought to be immune to the disease, was one of the first to be stricken. It has been said that the trains which ran from Tallahassee to Baldwin were not allowed to stop. As the train passed through Macclenny, provisions of food and supplies were thrown off. As a result of the epidemic of 1888, the school was closed, never to reopen. People were dying on after another. The Episcopal church records show that "more than 90 percent of the congregation was wipe out in the disaster."
The beginning of the 20th Century found things much different than when Macclenny was formed. The main businesses at the beginning of the 20th Century were cattle raising, turpentining, lumbering, and farming. The Osceola Forest played an important role in the economy of the county. Main farm crops were cotton and corn. An abundance of sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and a variety of leafy vegetables were also grown. When the boll weevil destroyed the cotton, corn became the main crop. This corn was marketed most often in jugs and bottles (moonshine). Later, tobacco became a main cash crop.
The nursery business developed and became the county's most important agricultural enterprise. Blair Nurseries, Glen St. Mary Nurseries Co., Ray's Nursery, Inc. and Southern States Nurseries, Inc., are recognized as some of the most important nurseries in this part of the nation. Other nurseries in the county were Carter's, Ponsell's Farms, Inc. and a host of smaller nurseries. More>>>Glen Nursery
The County State Bank was established in 1907, and later changed to the Citizens Bank. A man named Scheffield played an imporant part in the transaction. Irwin R. Rhoden was the banker. He also ran a merchandising store, a livery stable, and dealt in cotton. As a result of these and other things, he helped develop Macclenny.
The old Baker County Courthouse, a landmark you'll see in downtown Macclenny today, now the home of Emily Taber Public Library, was built in 1908. Located at 14 W. McIver St., it is the oldest public building in the county. It was one of the first buildings ever to use reinforced concrete construction. Four corner tower like appendages are attached to the main square base in the center making this building unique. The eaves are patterned rolled, galvanized sheet metal. The brick has colored mortar and corner joints are angled. See: Old Courthouse
Architect Edward C. Hosford designed a two-story, red brick, pyramidal roof surmounted by a cupola with four clocks. The courthouse was built during the time the county's agriculture became commercially valuable and prosperity had increased. (Public. N.R. 1986.) See: The Old Courthouse Clock
See: Baker County Area Churches Sanderson Congregational Holiness Church (left), Pastor Jimmy and Joyce Dobbs. First Baptist Church of Macclenny (center), was built in 1883. Church of God, Cuyer, 1918.
The Old Baker County Jail (right) was built in 1910 on filled in marsh land. Locally made bricks were used on the original section. The cellblock was added in 1938. Sheriffs' families lived here and helped prepare food for inmates. The Old Baker County Jail is now the home of the Baker County Historical Society.
Everything went well for Macclenny until the beginning of The Great Depression. People ran out of money and turned to moonshining, as was common in other areas. Moonshine stills could be found almost anywhere. Farming became secondary and people began to export whiskey in order to make a living. At the height of the depression, Macclenny was known as the moonshine capital of the south. It was reported that even law enforcement officers took part in the sale of illegal whiskey. The Federal authorities tried vigorously to combat this dilema. It was not until the early 1950's that any success was made. See: Baker County Law Enforcement
Baker County boasts the slogan, "The Small County With Big Ideas...Atop the Florida Crown Crossroads." Its big ideas secured the Anchor Savings Bank, Baker Correctional Institution, Baker County Chamber of Commerce, Baker County Federal Credit Union, Baker County Historical Society, Baker Manor Apartments, Baker Square Shopping Center, Barwood Shopping Center, Cedarwood Shopping Center, Citizens Bank, Ed Fraser Memorial Hospital, Federal Housing, Northeast Florida State Hospital, Northwood Apartments, Thomas Apartments and other apartments, Thomas Office Complex, US 90 West Shopping Center, Village Square Shopping Center, W. Frank Wells Nursing Home, Wiremil, Inc. and other businesses and establishments.
Source and Credits:
Baker County FLGenWeb Project - Additional information on this county,
including queries, lookup volunteers, mailing lists, and other research assistance.
Baker County Historical Society
Cyndi's List - Baker County, Florida
Olustee Battle - Site photos of Olustee Battlefield from CivilWarAlbum.com
Barber, Gene, RootsWeb.com
FloridaHeritage.com, Florida's History Through Its Places
NationalRegister.com, National Register of Historic Places, Florida, Baker County
Smallwood, LaViece, Executive Director, Baker County Heritage Park
Southern Historical News, Hiram, Georigia
Baker County Chamber of Commerce and Baker County Historical Society,
Florida's History Through Its Places
MyFlorida.com Office of Cultural and Historical Programs
Maps 1873-1932 Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers,
produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida © 2004