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Saturday, March 6, 2004

Flagler history never boring

NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF REPORT

While Flagler County has been around only since the early 20th century, the area’s history stretches back several hundred years.

The county today is home to growing communities and numerous leisure-time activities but, in the 1500s, the area that would become Flagler County was the scene of a gruesome chapter in history.

In 1565, a band of French Huguenots came ashore south of St. Augustine and came through what is now Flagler County, only to be slaughtered one at a time, as they crossed the Matanzas Inlet, by Spanish troops under the command of Pedro Menendez.

As a result of that incident, the inlet and several housing developments in Flagler County have the name “Matanzas,” which, roughly translated, means “bloody massacre.”

After that bloody beginning, Flagler County’s history took a more friendly note in 1812 when James Russell built a plantation know then as “Good Retreat.”

Three years later, after Russell’s death, the plantation was acquired by Charles Wilhelm Bulow.

Bulow’s son, John, inherited the plantation at the age of 17 and, by 1830, the property had become the largest sugar plantation on the east coast of Florida, covering some 6,000 acres.

The plantation was host to many famous guests over the years, including John James Audubon in the winter of 1830-31.

In 1836, the plantation was burned to the ground by the Seminole Indians. The ruins of the sugar mill are visible today at Bulow Ruins State Historic Site on Old Kings Road, south of State Road 100.

Flagler County also was involved in parts of the Seminole War.

Bulow himself, as well as other settlers, traded with the native American population. They believed it was sensible to maintain good relations because they were outnumbered by about 5,000 Indians to 75 white settlers in the area between St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach.

When President Andrew Jackson ordered all the Indians in Florida to be sent west of the Mississippi River, plantation owners were upset.

Bulow was so enraged by the order that he fired a cannon at East Florida Militia troops under the command of Major Benjamin Putnam when troops marched onto his land.

The Bulow Plantation was used as a fort until it was abandoned for the safety of St. Augustine in January 1836. Bulow was kept under house arrest at his home and later was taken to St. Augustine.

The burning of the Bulow Plantation marked the beginning of the Seminole War that lasted seven years and cost the U.S. government $19 million.

In 1838, the Seminole chief, Osceola, was camping at the headwaters of Haw Creek, in western Flagler County in what now is known as the Relay Wildlife Management Area, when he was tricked into being captured under a flag of truce at a conference at Moultrie Creek near St. Augustine.

One of the last to be captured was Halleck Tustenuggee, who led a band of 15 warriors hiding out in the Relay area.

Flagler County formally became a county in 1917 when it was created out of parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties.

It was named for millionaire Henry Flagler at the urging of his friend, Rep. I.I. Moody. Flagler died in 1913 after a career that brought him to Florida where he created luxury hotels and a railroad.

Created primarily as a farming county, the practice of speculative land dealing aided in the development of several communities in the county. These included the county seat Bunnell, St. Johns Park, Haw Creek, Korona, Dupont, Espanola and Ocean City (known today as Flagler Beach.)

Dixie Highway, once a modern thoroughfare, brought tourists through Flagler County.

The one-lane road, built in 1915, connected Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Flagler Beach.

The nine-foot wide road, built of bricks over leveled sand, was hailed as the link that completed a road from Chicago to Miami and helped put the tiny community of Espanola on the map.

A new road, built in 1926, connected St. Augustine to Bunnell, which bypassed Espanola.

Remnants of the old brick road still are visible north of Espanola, off County Road 13.

In 1952, the county’s agricultural economy was bolstered by construction of the Lehigh Portland Cement plant.

Situated just west of Flagler Beach, the cement factory was one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The plant closed in 1965 and the property is being redeveloped.

In 1970, a new chapter in Flagler County history opened.

From a deal agreed to over warmed-up coffee at the former Wadsworth sawmill in Bunnell, International Telephone and Telegraph jumped into the Florida real estate business in a big way.

ITT Community Development Corp. purchased land from one of the county’s largest landowners, Lewis Wadsworth.

With 67,000 acres in Flagler County and another 35,000 acres in St. Johns County, ITT began building the community of Palm Coast.

Projected to have a population of up to 200,000 when completed, Palm Coast became an incorporated city on Dec. 31, 1999 and is poised to surpass the 50,000 mark in population this year.

The city’s phenomenal growth propelled Flagler County’s growth rate to the highest in Florida and in the Top 10 of counties in the United States in terms of growth.

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