Hammock History

Our present-day barrier island did not actually become an island until 8 o’clock on Monday morning, May 13, 1907, when the waters of the Matanzas Bay and the Halifax River were joined

Prepared for the Hammock Community Conservation Corporation


Alma and Carole asked me to come and speak to you this evening on Hammock History. I consider myself a genealogist rather than a historian; so much of my presentation will be about the people who made our history happen.

Our present-day barrier island did not actually become an island until 8 o’clock on Monday morning, May 13, 1907, when the waters of the Matanzas Bay and the Halifax River were joined – – the medium being the Florida East Coast Canal, now known as the Intracoastal Waterway.

Anticipating the completion of the Matanzas-Halifax cut to happen that day, a large party left St Augustine in two launches, the Hustler and Kathleen to be on hand to see the finishing stroke. 

The finishing stroke which severed the last obstruction was made by the crew of the dredge boat South Carolina and they were the only ones present when this momentous event took place.

Since the St Augustine groups did not arrive at the scene until noon, they did not witness this historic event – workmen being workmen, they probably started to work early in the morning and decided to press on with the tasks at hand.    

I will talk more about the Florida East Coast Canal and its importance to our county a bit later. 

Our Early Inhabits

The Frenchmen and Spaniards who came to Florida in the 1560s found themselves in the midst of one of the great culture areas of native peoples in the southeast of the continent. Here lived people are known as Timucuan (Two-muk-juan). There are many remains of their mounds and middens in Flagler County.

The midden at Washington Gardens State Park on A1A north of the Hammock is perhaps the most accessible. The park has an interpretive museum and the park rangers are most happy to tell you about the Timucuan village located on/or near the property.

The Europeans

The Spanish, after they defeated the French who had established a settlement called Fort Caroline near Jacksonville at the mouth of the St Johns River, was in sole possession of Florida and thus this portion of real estate from 1565 until 1564.

If you recall your history, in Sep 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, led a Spanish force from St Augustine overland to attack Fort Caroline. Prior to their arrival, Jean Ribault, having similar ideas, launched his fleet south to attack St Augustine.

Menendez found Fort Caroline sparsely defended since Ribault had departed and quickly overran the fort.

Ribault’s fleet was driven southward by a hurricane, their ships stranded and broken up.

Three of the heavier ships were wrecked in the vicinity of Mosquito Inlet, near present-day Daytona Beach. The flagship was grounded intact not far from Cape Canaveral.

Two separate groups of sailors made their way north toward Fort Caroline, probably making them the first Frenchmen to set foot in our Hammock area.

The first group of sailors reached the south side of what is now called Mantanzas inlet just north of present-day Marineland, around September 29, 1865. They surrendered to the Spanish were ferried across the inlet where they were put to the knife (with the exception of the French pilot, four carpenters and caulkers and twelve non-french sailors).

The second group arrived around October 11, 1865, and the drama that played out followed much the same course as before. 

The next morning, half of the French force chose to retain their liberty and retreated southward through now Flagler County. 

Jean Ribault, together with several of his captains and seventy of his men, surrendered and were ferried across the inlet. A few of the Frenchmen were taken as captives, the remainder were killed, among them Jean Ribault

There is a plaque that tells of these events on the north side of the Claude Varn Bridge over the inlet. I will be speaking of Mr. Varn later in my presentation.

The British

Britain gained control of Florida in 1763 in exchange for Havana, Cuba. Florida was then split into two parts. Present-day Flagler County became part of British East Florida, with its capital in St. Augustine and those lands located west of the Apalachicola River were considered British West Florida, with its seat in Pensacola.

The Spanish

Spain captured Pensacola from the British in 1781 and in 1784 regained control of the rest of Florida as part of the peace treaty that ended the American Revolution. 

Spain ruled over Florida until 1821 when they formally ceded Florida to the United States and Andrew Jackson returned to establish a new territorial government.

Early Movers and Shakers

 Lieutenant Colonel John Graham

When the British appeared to have lost the Revolutionary War with their defeat at Yorktown in 1781, many loyalists from the southern colonies fled to Florida. Probably the richest and most notable Georgian who removed to East Florida and this area in 1782 was Lieutenant Colonel John Graham.

Graham must have had a large plantation in Georgia as historical records show that he brought with him two hundred slaves to clear and settle his new land here. Graham with his four sons was given the Levitt Blackburn grant of 20,000 acres along the swamp now known as Grahams’ Swamp south of Pellicer Creek.

Graham built a plantation but the exact location is not known.

Abraham Dupont

Abraham Dupont and his family came to Florida from South Carolina sometime after 1825 and he took possession of a PART of the original land grant given to the Dupont Family and settled at Matanzas. I think that this was part of the grant given to his brother Josiah, but haven’t researched these grants as of yet.

Abraham’s residence, before 1850, was in Section 14 of present Flagler County, just south of Pellicer Creek.

He brought slaves, operated several farms, built houses for his sons, and maintained the lifestyle of a typical plantation owner.

In doing research at the St Augustine Historical Society for this presentation I found a copy of a story that appeared in the Charleston (South Carolina) Mercury on May 18, 1836, concerning Mr. Dupont.

The article stated that it was known that a party of Indians,150 in number, were prowling over the county south of St Augustine destroying property and killing any white person that fell into their hands.

It reported that Abraham DuPont who was cultivating his land, and endeavoring to make a crop, came into St Augustine at daylight, with his two little sons, bringing news that the Indians had surrounded his house, killed a Mr. Long, who was spending the night with him, carried off his negroes, and destroyed his buildings—thus having swept the only plantation left unburnt South of St. Augustine.  

I think this Mr. Long was the Joseph Long for whom Long’s Creek is probably named.  He is buried the Eatman Cemetery near the new Matanzas High School.

Abraham, in addition to his home on the plantation just south of Pellicer Creek, he maintained a summer home in the Hammock and a residence in St Augustine. In his will, he left his son Benjamin his plantation on the east side of the Matanzas River.

In the St Augustine Library, I found mention of this plantation in a letter from Jessie Harrison (Butron) Collette to her daughter, dated April 1960. She said:

A little south of where Marineland is located was the Dupont family home. Old Mr. Dupont was Uncle Ben to most of us children. He would bring us pomegranates about once a week and was a very aristocratic and intellectual gentleman.

About a mile south of the Dupont’s was the Washington place. I have heard that Mrs. Owen D Young now owns it and that it is called Washington Oaks. I can just remember the older Mr. Washington, who was a great-nephew of George Washington, much “removed,” and I do recall going there to play with his little grandchildren. It seems to me that there were two little girls. Their father was some kind of government official sent to Cuba from Washington, and the mother was Spanish.

The tombstone of Abraham Dupont in the Dupont Cemetery south of present-day Marineland is rather large and set into coquina stone. 

Joseph Marion Hernandez

On May 26, 1788, Joseph Marion Hernandez who later had some major developments in present-day Flagler County was born in the Spanish Colony of St. Augustine. On February 25, 1814, he married Ana Marie Hill, the widow of Samuel Williams who had an extensive plantation on the Halifax River in now present-day Daytona Beach. 

He began to acquire land in present-day Flagler County around 1815. On September 28, 1815, he acquired 375 acres by a grant bestowed by Governor Estrada.

On March 8, 1816, he received a grant for 800 more acres from Governor Coppinger. This land originally went to Josiah Dupont in 1792. Josiah abandoned the grant, and it then went to Michael Crosby in 1804.  This is where Hernandez established his sugar plantation which he called “St. Joseph.” This plantation was located north of Palm Coast Parkway on Florida Park Drive.

Hernandez eventually received 2, 265 acres from the Spanish government and by the time the United States gained possession of Florida, had established two more plantations, Bella Vista (present-day Washington Gardens State Park) and Mala Compra (present-day Bing’s Landing County Park). When the Spanish left Florida in 1821, he transferred his allegiance to the United States. 

Upon the formation of the Florida Territory, he was elected as a Delegate to the Seventeenth Congress and served from September 30, 1822, to March 3, 1823. The Flagler County Historical Society has on display in their annex, four pieces of china from a 100-piece place setting General Hernandez had made in Paris for his use in entertaining in Washington, DC.

On Christmas, 1831, the Hernandez family entertained a visitor at Mala Compra who later became a world-famous personality – – John James Audubon, the wildlife artist.

Audubon stayed at Mala Compra for about ten days before moving south to the Halifax River area. 

Joseph was a member and presiding officer of the Territorial House of Representatives and appointed Brigadier General of Volunteers in the war against the Florida Indians.

He entered the United States service and served from 1835 to 1838 and commanded the expedition in 1837 that captured the Indian leader Osceola. He was appointed brigadier-general of Mounted Volunteers in July 1837. 

Toward the end of the Indian War, St Joseph’s, his sugar plantation and Mala Compra, his cotton plantation were destroyed by Indians after being occupied by Federal Troops 

In 1839, General Hernandez filed a claim against the US Government for approximately $100,000 for damages for the destruction of his buildings and personal property in East Florida by the Seminole Indians. He was paid a little over $34,000.

In 1844, Hernandez went back to Congress to ask for the balance of his $100,000 claim – – his request was denied. 

General Hernandez an unsuccessful candidate of the Whig Party for the United States Senate in 1845. He later moved to Cuba and engaged as a planter in the District of Coliseo, near Matanzas

It was also in 1845, that General Hernandez gave his newly married daughter Louisa Caroline and his son-in-law George Lawrence Washington his Bella Vista plantation. George was educated at Yale and had come to St Augustine about 1844 as a widower with two small children. George and Louisa were married in  St Augustine on 07 Jan 1845

The couple moved to Bella Vista and built a large two-story house there. They planted an orange grove and shipped fruit to St Augustine by boat. The two artesian wells at Bella Vista were among the earliest ever drilled in this area.

Louisa died in 1859 and George returned to his native state of North Carolina. He returned to Bella Vista in 1886 and continued to live there, off and on until his death in January 1894.

More about Bella Vista when I speak on the later movers and shakers of the Hammock.           


 At this point in time, perhaps we should look at the transportation infrastructure in now present-day Flagler County in the late 1700s.

There was one major north-south road constructed by the British. Around 1766, they constructed a road from St Augustine to the Georgia border to help travel between the colonies and by 1776 had extended this road southward to the New Smyrna Colony.

The Hammock Island was not yet an island, it was a peninsula with Matanzas Inlet on the north and Mosquito Inlet on the south. Actually, in 1775 there was a smaller inlet between two or three miles south of Matanzas called Penon – it’s no longer there, however, if you have driven by Summer Haven lately, you will see a new inlet in the making.

There was no Intracoastal Waterway. You could sail south from the Matanzas Inlet on the Matanzas River to Pellicer Creek. Some 12 miles further south you came to Hernandez Creek which heads into Graham Swamp where you could, by small draft boat, sail on to what we now call Long’s Landing just to the east of the Palm Coast Yacht Club.

There were no railroads. The railroad did not come to present-day Flagler County until 1886. St Johns and Halifax Railroad ran from Rolleston on the St Johns River near Palatka, through Hastings, Espanola, what is now called Bunnell, and then on to the Tomoka River near Ormond.

Utley White was the owner of this narrow-gage railroad which he sold to Henry Morrison Flagler about 1890. 

From Daytona, you could navigate up the Halifax River to Smith Creek and then north by small draft vessel to the marsh.


Florida’s part in our present-day intercoastal waterways began in 1824 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed a survey for a coastal road linking St Augustine and Biscayne Bay. They later undertook dozens of surveys for future Florida waterway projects.

In 1831, the Florida Territorial Council incorporated the Planters and Citizens’ Canal Company to construct “a canal to connect the waters of the Matanzas and the Halifax rivers in the counties of St. Johns and Mosquito…” I have not been able to this day to find any record of this group ever doing anything in this regard.

However, in May of 1881, St Augustine four St Augustine businessmen, formed the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company, the first company in Florida to successfully dredge what was to become the Intracoastal Waterway.

The legislature initially authorized the private canal company to dredge canals between the Matanzas and Halifax rivers and between the Mosquito and Indian rivers “for the improvement of the inland navigation of the eastern coast for steamers or other watercraft drawing three feet of water or less.”

Subsequent legislation permitted the firm to dredge canals all the way to Biscayne Bay and ultimately to Key West…..the company was granted 3,840 acres of state land for every mile of canal constructed and was given the right to collect tolls.

Now I must digress a bit…

By the end of 1890, Henry Morrison Flagler had extended his railway to Rockledge and was considering projecting his railway further south. What gave him reason to pause though, was the lack of available state lands in the southern peninsula for further railway construction – – the state had reserved most, if not all of the available land for the canal company and was not able to grant Flagler additional land in the southern peninsula for continued construction below Rockledge.

What’s a man to do?  Invest in the Florida East Coast Canal, of course. 

In 1892, Henry Flagler invested $100,000 in the firm. Flagler became president in 1893 and served as such to Apr 1896 when he resigned.  

Two years later, Flagler accepted canal company lands in Southern Dade County at the rate of $6 an acre in exchange for the land baron’s remaining interest in the company.

By 1903, the canal company had finished dredging the waterway between Ormond on the Halifax and Miami.

Dredges continued to work on the Matanzas-Halifax canal. This part of the waterway would be 14 miles long and involve the excavation of “1.6 million cubic yards of material.”  And, as I stated in my opening remarks, the Matanzas-Halifax waterway was connected in May 1907 with the final cut in our Hammock area.

I do not know when the canal became fully operational but I do know that sometime in 1912, the State of Florida would make its last land grant to the canal company. 

At the meeting of the state improvement fund trustees on December 12. 1913, the canal company submitted a schedule of tolls for approval by the trustees. By 1921 they maintained chains across the canal between Jacksonville and Biscayne Bay to collect tolls from marine traffic plying the waterway at six different points.

The toll chain in our area according to company records was “three miles north of Mt Oswald in Smith’s or Halifax Creek. 

The Inside Route Pilot, New York to Key West, published by the Department of Commerce in 1922 is a bit more specific – “ a highway drawbridge crosses the canal 6 ½ miles north of Halifax River. Ocean City, a beach resort can be seen to the eastward. There is a toll chain at the bridge 4 ½ miles southward.” This would locate the toll chain at what we now call High Bridge south of present-day Flagler Beach.

Although the toll collections never amounted to much, the land grants did. In fact, for dredging 268 miles of waterways, the canal company earned more than a million acres of Florida public land. – One million, thirty thousand, one hundred twenty-eight acres to be exact.

Florida legislators created the Florida Inland Navigation District in 1927 to purchase the Florida East Coast Canal for turnover to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for improvements and future maintenance.

On Monday, August 29, 1927, an impressive array of importation east coast newspaper publishers, real estate developers, hotel operators, yacht club commodores and state senators assembled for the first formal meeting of the board of commissioners of the Florida Inland Navigation District at Eau Gallie.

Numbered among the commissioners was Flagler Beach’s own Dana Fellows Fuquay. Mr. Fuquay was a prominent real estate developer in both Flagler and Volusia counties.

He was involved with Claude Varn and Ed Johnson whom I will speak about next, in the ocean shore boulevard project. He also built the Flagler Beach Hotel and at one time owned one out of every five feet of Intracoastal land in Flagler and Volusia counties.

His Flagler Beach home, which he completed in 1926, is now known to you as the Topez Motel and the Blue Restaurant. 

By 1935, with the Army engineers’ completion of the last inland waterway improvements, the old privately-owned Florida East Coast Canal had become the southernmost link in the modern-day Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway extending from Trenton, New Jersey to Miami.

1881 Incorporated at St. Augustine by Dr. John Westcott, Henry Gaillard, James M. Hollowes, and James L. Colee to dredge canals between the Matanzas and Halifax rivers and between the Mosquito and Indian Rivers

1882 Construction begins on their bucket-type dredge for work south of St. Augustine

1883 A 4-mile canal, 36 feet wide from Matanzas River to Mala Compra Creek is completed – What lay south was a savanna 3/4-mile long, followed by 1/2-mile of the hammock and 2 miles of sand flats, coquina rock, cabbage palms, and palmettos before reaching the marshes of Smith’s Creek

1891 The divide between the Matanzas and Halifax rivers – the most difficult dredging of the entire waterway – still not opened

1907 The cut between the Matanzas and Halifax rivers made in present-day Flagler County

1921 The canal company has six toll chains in operation between Jacksonville and Biscayne Bay. Toll Chain No 2 was located at present-day High Bridge south of Flagler Beach

1927 State of Florida creates the Florida Inland Navigation District. Dana Fuquay of Flagler Beach is on the district’s board of commissioners

1928 Navigation District purchases the Florida Coast Line Canal

1929 United States government takes over operation and maintenance of canal and opens it to the public. The name was changed to the “Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville, Florida to Miami, Florida.”

Later Movers and Shakers

Claude Grady Varn

Claude Grady Varn was born in 1890 in Fort Meade, FL. He first married Marjorie Boor of Sandusky, OH and they had six children, Marjorie dying in childbirth in 1929. Claude then married Mary Belle Barber of Flagler Beach. He died in 1979 and she died in 1986. They are all buried in Espanola Cemetery

After graduation from high school in Ft Meade, Claude matriculated at Stetson University in DeLand from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree in the class of 1914. That same year he was admitted to the state bar and became associated with the law firm of Landis, Fish, and Hull in DeLand. He continued with this firm for three years removing to Bunnell in 1917. He soon became the local attorney for the Florida East Coast Railroad and was the first attorney for the City of Bunnell. He also served as county attorney and president of the Bunnell State Bank.

Our A1A Ocean Shore Scenic Highway was pretty much of a dream in the early 1920s. There was nothing here but sand dunes. 

And how all this came about is quite a story.

Claude was one of the prime movers in getting the road started. He backed a bill in the Legislature which created a special road and bridge district, part in Flagler and part in Volusia counties.

He then made a special trip to Tallahassee on Jun 5, 1923, to get the Governor’s signature on this bill creating the special district which would construct a 30-mile hard surface road subject to a referendum election and bond issue.

When the road finally was opened to traffic about five years later, on March 20, 1927, it ran for 41 miles, from the north Flagler County line to Ponce de Leon Inlet.

A lot happened in between

First of all, once the bill had been signed into law, an election had to be conducted among the freeholders who were qualified electors in the affected district.

Opposition to the project reared its head in Volusia County, but Flagler County rallied behind the roadway.

A full-scale advertising campaign was carried out, including several full-page ads in the Flagler Tribune.

When the election results were in from the July 10th  election, the issue had carried by the narrow margin of eight votes. It lost in Volusia County by five votes but received a unanimous vote in Ocean City.

Bond trustees elected from Flagler County were William Edgar (Ed) Johnson (more about him later since he later lived in the Hammock) and Lawrence Owen Upson.

These were the so-called “boom” days in Florida real estate, and as today, the action didn’t always follow too swiftly from when voters approved something until it happened.

On Jan. 15, 1925, a contract was awarded to C. M. Rogers of Daytona Beach to do preliminary engineering work on the proposed project.

In May of 1925, the 1923 act was modified to extend the highway to the north Flagler County line and in July, a bond issue of $750,000 was advertised. 

Meanwhile, in St Johns CO, work started in late October 1925 on the Matanzas Inlet Bridge, at the southern end of Anastasia Island, the permit for which was held by the St. Johns County Bridge Company of which Claude G. Varn of Bunnell was president – surprise – surprise. The private toll bridge was completed in 1926 and was acquired by the state some ten years later

It was March 25, 1926, when Fred Willis Hooper of Bunnell (later a multi-millionaire and owner of Hoop Jr who won the 1945 Kentucky Derby with Eddie Arcaro on his back) and George Moody (the developer of Flagler Beach) got a contract to build a road from the Matanzas Bridge south to the Flagler to the County line, a distance of a little more than two miles.

Ocean Shore Boulevard was opened to traffic on March 20, 1927, with all the attendant hoopla suitable for the occasion, with the newly reorganized Flagler County Chamber of Commerce taking a prominent part in the planning of the proceedings.

 William Edgar (Ed) Johnson

In April 1948, the ground was cleared here in the Hammock, for construction of a community church which was to be named the Ed Johnson Memorial Church in honor of William Edgar Johnson. Mrs. Lillian Williams Johnson gave the property on which it was to be erected and the material for building (the old chapel is still here and sits next to the new chapel which was constructed around 2006). 

Ed, and his family moved to Bunnell in early 1913 from Tennessee. He was not only engaged in many business ventures but was well known in the politics of the county – serving as a councilman in June 1913 when Bunnell was incorporated and elected president by the council; he served as Superintendent of Public Instruction for Flagler County from Dec 1918 until Jan 1921; as Tax Assessor for a term;  and as a County Commissioner from 1929 to 1939, two terms of which he was Chairman of the Board. He was chairman of the Flagler County Selective Service Board from its inception in Oct 1940 until his death in 1944. 

In 1917, Mr. Johnson bought several tracts of land in the northeast section of Flagler County and eventually owned a great portion of the land known as the Hernandez Grant. He built a home on the east side of the canal, named his home-place Bon Terra Estates and moved his family there. At the time, there was no road on the ocean side of the canal. The only road at that time was a dirt road up the west side of the canal. 

In May 1924, he added 2,200 acres to his extensive holdings in Flagler CO, FL and adjoining his property at the beach. He already owned 1,500 acres on the canal. 

He was a moving factor in the creation of the Ocean Shore Improvement District which as I previously told you, was created to build the present A1A highway from St. Augustine to Daytona Beach. Ed served as chairman of the trustees of the district for 10 years. 

After moving to the Hammock he was engaged in extensive truck farming. He also had a dairy. He eventually sold parcels of this land and the Hammock began to grow and by the time of the Florida Land Boom, it was some of the most valuable lands in the county.

Bon Terra was the only residence in the hammock area in the early years to have a telephone. The property was maintained with the help of about 10 artesian wells – the house well was run on electricity by a turbine which also provided electricity to the 17 room house which stood on the property until it was purchased by ITT in the 1970s.

In Jan 1930, workmen on the Bon Terra Estates were digging a ditch adjacent to the Florida East Coast Canal and were not more than 2 feet below the surface when they discovered some elephant bones. There were two teeth, each of which was approximately four by five inches in diameter and weighing bout 12 pounds, several sections of vertebrae and two ball and socket joints. The bones were similar to those discovered on this same tract of land earlier and identified by the Smithsonian Institute as those of a mastodon.

In the 11 Feb 1932 issue of The Flagler Tribune, was it noted that bones of prehistoric animals had been found in quantities at Bon Terra Estates and that Ed Johnson had made arrangements with Rollins College to make extensive excavations of the site.

Johnson and Varn

When I was speaking of General Hernandez earlier, I told you that I would say a little more about his Bella Vista Plantation a little later in the program. Well, it’s a little later and it’s about time to close.

Between 1923 and 1936, Washington Oaks very nearly became a subdivision.

Charles Washington, the youngest son of George Lawrence, acquired sole ownership of Washington Oaks from his father’s other heirs in 1914. Charles sold the property in 1923 to Ed and Lillian Johnson.

The Johnson’s rather quickly sold a five-sixteenths interest in the property to L. F. Galloway of Seminole County and another 5/16 to Claude Varn. These investors expected and contributed to the transportation routes serving the area as they were the movers behind the Ocean Shore Boulevard.

 In 1926, the Johnson’s and their associates of the Coastal Holding Company transferred title to Section 39 and Section 40 – Bella Vista and most of the old Mala Compra plantation – to the Hernandez Estates Corporation of which Ed Johnson was president. 

The land was subdivided and a plat of Hernandez Estates with Flagler County preparatory to selling tracts to the public.

These events were occurring just as the Florida real estate boom began to collapse. 

In 1927, Hernandez Estates failed to pay the property taxes on Sections 39 and 40 and all plans for development there came to a halt.

For the next ten years or so, these properties fell into many hands with the selling and buying of tax deeds. On April 7, 1936, Louise P Clark of Westchester County, NY, the future Mrs. Owen D Young, purchased Washington Oaks. In 1965, the Young’s donated most of the property to the State of Florida who turned it into Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.


It has been a pleasure to speak to you tonight – I love to speak of our heritage, especially to people who want to preserve it. 

Author: Sisco Deen