Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida Panhandle – Blountstown and Port St. Joe

Continuing south from Mariana down through the center of Florida’s panhandle to the coast on the Gulf of Mexico, we quickly passed through a couple additional towns on our way to our next overnight stop.

This beautiful structure is the old Calhoun County Courthouse in Blountstown Florida.  This is 1 of only 2 Romanesque Revival courthouses still standing in the state.  From what I can determine, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Department now occupies the first floor of this building.  It used to serve as the county jail.  It is allegedly haunted.  A former sheriff reported that staff would continuously hear moans and screams emanating from a series of cells during the night shift.

Following the Civil War, a growing number of steamboats plied the waters of the Apalachicola River, busily transporting passengers, agricultural products and manufactured goods between the Gulf of Mexico and upstream locations in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. A river port had been established and a 26-block area was mapped out for the new community of Blountstown, named for the Seminole chief who had ruled much of the nearby territory during the early 19th Century.


·       Blountstown is named for John Blount, a Creek Indian Chief who served as a guide for General Andrew Jackson during his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.  This invasion resulted in the United States’ purchase of Florida from Spain in 1821. 

While old photos lead me to believe that the original main entrance to the old courthouse was featured in the first photo, my better half pointed out that this side of the building appears to be the current entry. 


·       Apalachicola Creek Indians permanently settled Calhoun County in 1815.  Wars had forced them out of Alabama.  A new Tribal Town was built by Chief Tuskie Hajo Corakko (Horse) between Old River and Noble Lake.  The 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek recognized Cochranetown with its 100 families as part of the Blunt-Tuskie Hajo Reservation.  It is now called Blountstown.

The St. Joseph Catholic Mission Church, built in 1925, is the oldest remaining church in Port St. Joe Florida.  Before this church was built a visiting priest from Apalachicola would drive over in a Cadillac automobile mounted onto the railroad and hold religious services in a home.  In 1918, lots were purchased for a church, but there wasn’t enough money to build the structure.  Until this church was built visiting priests held religious services in the local Old Port Inn, a large log building Community House used by both the Woman's Club and the Methodist denomination.

The church remained in use until 1959, when a new church was built.  The pine pews and a white marble altar were moved to the new church.  The building was vacant for 9 years until the Port St. Joe Garden Club purchased it. 

In 1836, town promoters built Florida's first steam railroad connecting St. Joseph with the Apalachicola River.  This provided transportation for cotton growers in Georgia and Alabama and set them in competition with the town of Apalachicola.  The population of St. Joseph grew to somewhere between 5,000 - 10,000 by 1838!  St. Joseph was selected as the site for the state's first Constitutional Convention, a crucial step in the process of gaining statehood.

However, a series of disasters put an end to this prosperous community, pretty much rendering it a ghost town.  In 1840-1841, yellow fever killed approximately 2,500 of the residents.  Then a hurricane hit the community in September 1844.  What little remained was left virtually uninhabited until the early 20th century.

The Port Theatre in scenic downtown Port St. Joe was built in the Art Deco Style in 1938.  The theatre was severely damaged by hurricanes in 1985 and again in 1995.  Reportedly, the acoustics in the 3-story auditorium space is exceptional.  A spoken voice at the south or stage end of the auditorium can be clearly heard at the north end at the rear.  Between 1938 and 1953 the theatre hosted movies, plays, concerts, traveling vaudeville, and other events.  The first and only theatre in the city, the Port has in many ways served as a community center.

On June 20, 1938, the Port Theatre opened at 3 p.m. for its first movie. Admission was 10 cents and 25 cents for the lower floor, and 10 cents and 15 cents for balcony seats. The first movie shown starred Rudy Vallee and Rosemary Lane in "Gold Diggers in Paris."  The theater closed in 1967 with the last movie shown being James Bond in “Thunderball”.  From what I was able to learn on-line, the community has dedicated itself to refurbishing and reopening this landmark.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to check out what we’ve been doing!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful photos of these lovely buildings, Dave! And thank you so much for sharing the history. Great post!