A History of Limestone and Civil War – Suwanee River, FL
So, we’ve made it to the very corner of the FL Panhandle, a spot on the Northwestern edge of the State that combines sand, water, forest and history. We’re camping in the deep forest of Suwanee River State Park and the last 3 days have been foggy and chilly which rather match the atmosphere of the place. It’s the perfect time to hunker down, drink hot chocolate and enjoy long, lonely walks on the trail absorbing the secrets of the place. No-one else is venturing out, which makes it all the more eerie and interesting for us.
And there’s quite a few hidden gems around here. The original earth below our feet is ~20 million years old. It’s limestone rock which has slowly eroded over millenia to reveal sink holes, draw out underground caves, and carve the 266 mile-long Suwanee River. Both the caves and the river are big local attractions for kayaking, swimming and (believe it or not) even scuba-diving. The surrounding vegetation is a mix of long-leaf pine, saw palmetto, oak and wild holly strewn with spanish moss. It’s not quite forest, not quite swamp, but rather an interesting mix and it hides an even more interesting history.
The panhandle was originally a lonely place. In the 1800’s it was sparsely populated, the biggest town being Columbus which housed a saw-mill, and served the steamboats (and later the railroad) which ran the river. In the Civil War this strategic river crossing was defended by the Confederate Army and in Feb 1864 the Union troops were held and defeated at the Battle of Olustee, just 50 miles north of current-day Suwanee River State Park. It was the largest battle in the history of Florida and saved the railroad crossing and the supply lines to the South.
The local area has kept momento’s of all this history. The banks are lined with limestone rock, the trails hide pieces of the old sawmill and the Columbus Cemetery, and the Battle of Olustee is re-enacted every year around 20th Feb (we’re just going to miss it, darn it!). As an interesting little side-note Florida’s official State Song, rather presciently called “Old Folks at Home” (also known as “Way Down Upon the Suwanee River”) was written by Stephen Foster in 1851 in honor of the river. Unlike yours truly and all the old folks who actually come here, however, Foster never visited the state.
All rather interesting stuff, eh? Well, it’s back to my chocolate and (very soon) wine. The weatherman tells us the sun will be out tomorrow so it’ll be another day of discovery for us old folks on the trail. See you then…