Shell Bluff Park History
Not having any personal or family knowledge of the settlement of Shell Bluff I have had to rely on census information and old newspapers for historical information on this community.
However, before we talk of Shell Bluff, a bit of history about our early transportation infrastructure is in order.
In the early 1880s, while there were Indian Trails one could travel – – there was only one north-south road – the King’s Road – constructed by the British in the 1770s and improved by the United States in 1827. The second major highway did not come to Flagler County until 1917 in the form of the Dixie Highway which ran from St Augustine through Hastings and Espanola on to Bunnell. It was replaced in 1926 by present-day US 1 which bypassed Hastings and Espanola, and also that same year, construction was begun on our present-day A-1-A Ocean Highway. Construction on Interstate 95 began in the late 1950s.
Our Intracoastal waterway on the east side of our county did not exist – you could come south on the Matanzas River about as far as Mala Compra Plantation or you could come north on the Halifax River then run into Smith Creek and go about as far as present-day High Bridge south of Flagler Beach. The final cut on the Intracoastal, joining the Matanzas and Halifax rivers was not made until 1907 and it was made in our Hammock area.
However, in the early 1880s on the western side of our county, commerce was well underway north and south via the St Johns River and east to where we are meeting today, via Dunn’s Creek to Crescent Lake.
Crescent Lake is about 2 miles wide and 6 miles long. In 1885, there were two lines of steamers running between Crescent City on the other side of the lake and Jacksonville with two leaving in the morning and two arriving in the evening.
The railroad, which was really put in this county on the map, came to the area in the late 1880s with Utley White’s St Johns and Halifax Railroad, primarily a logging and lumber railroad. Utley sold out to Henry Flagler in 1889.
At the time of the 1900 Federal census, there were seven white families living at Shell Bluff and 23 black families.
Twenty-one men listed their occupations as “chipping boxes,” 6 said they were “dipping turpentine;” there was 1 cooper, 1 turpentine laborer, 1 woodsman, 1 turpentine still foreman and 2 manufacturers of turpentine so we know a large turpentine still was in operation.
There were also some farming going on as the 1900 census shows eight individuals who listed their occupation as a farm laborer or day laborer. However, none listed their occupation as farmer or farm owner so we can assume that the farm owners did not live at Shell Bluff.
Mr. Allison V. Driver, owner/operator of the still, and his family were residents of Shell Bluff at the time of the 1900 census. An article in Crescent City’s The Crescent Journal in 1901 states that “Mr. A. V. Driver has acquired the electric launch Helen to use to convey him to and from his home in Crescent City and the turpentine camp at Shell Bluff,” so the family undoubtedly had moved to Crescent City shortly after the 1900 census was taken.
The 1910 Census of St Johns County contains, I am sure, information on Shell Bluff but I am unable to locate the settlement in the census. Most of what is now Flagler County is listed under Precinct Number 7 of St Johns County – no towns are listed. Everyone living here is simply listed in Precinct 7, so unless you know where a particular family was living at the time, you cannot determine if they were living in Espanola, Bunnell or the other settlements in this area at the time.
From the occupations listed in the January 1920 census, we know that Shell Bluff had a sawmill, a hotel, and four farms – there were eleven white families and 5 black families residing at the bluff at this time. Also residing in Shell Bluff were 19 black and 9 white living singly. I did not find any turpentine industry-related occupations listed in the Shell Bluff section which I found strange.
From postal records, I found that a post office was established at Shell Bluff on 18 Apr 1919 with the name changed to Andalusia on 01 May 1925. Mail delivery here was discontinued on 31 Oct 1932 with the mail being sent to San Mateo.
An article in the Flagler Tribune of July 7, 1921, tells of a Fourth of July celebration here with a barbecue, ‘under the direction of Mr. Bohannon, who has the reputation of being one of the best barbecue directors in the country.’ He was assisted by Mr. Lichleitner and Mr. McLeod. The Rev. Paul Kinnard of Haw Creek gave the invocation before the meal of barbecued pork, beef and mutton and a table laden with many delicious dishes was served. A baseball game was played in the afternoon between Shell Bluff and Bunnell, with Byrd and Barber pitching for Bunnell and Wilkinson pitching for Shell Bluff, who won the game. Many from Haw Creek attended.
The January 29, 1925 issue of the Flagler Tribune carried the following article “Monday, Mr. Karl W. Zimmerschield, purchaser of the Southern Farms Company’s holdings in and around Shell Bluff, accompanied by Mr. J. W. Campbell, appeared before the board of county commissioners and stated that the money is ready for payment of all taxes; that extensive improvements along Crescent Lake front are to be commenced at once and to be followed by the development of the back agricultural lands. In view of these plans, Mr. Zimmerschied requested the commissioners to have some minor repairs made on the roads in that locality which request was granted and work ordered done.
The renewal of substantial activities in the Shell Bluff Country is very gratifying to all of Flagler County. Quite a large acreage is beautifully located along the east shore of Crescent Lake which consists of elegant home sites for hundreds of buildings. Such locations are rapidly being taken up all over Florida.
The backcountry has thousands of acres of the finest of farmlands, which when fully developed, will be second to none in the production of early Irish potatoes, general farm products, livestock and dairy products.
Welcome Mr. Zimmerschield, Good cheer, and good luck!”
An article found in the August 13, 1925 issue of the Flagler Tribune at the height of the famous Florida Boom stated: “Shell Bluff, belonging to K. W. Zimmerschied and John W. Campbell, of Palatka, was sold Tuesday for $1,800,000 to a group of northern capitalists who put up as a binder a certified check for $50,000.
The tract contains 30,000 acres and lies partly in Putnam and Flagler counties, about fifteen miles from Palatka. The land is slightly undulating and is well-drained by canals and laterals; in fact, it is considered one of the best-drained projects in the state. It has a frontage on beautiful Lake Crescent for a distance of nearly six miles which gives it excellent shipping facilities and a direct water connection with Palatka by the Clyde Lines. The Florida East Coast railroad passes through part of the property as does the Shell Bluff road, for which the contract has been let by the road trustees. Other routes give hard-surfaced roads through the entire tract.
Some fifteen miles from Palatka, and about the same distance from Bunnell lies the townsite of Andalusia, which has a twenty room hotel, and is surrounded by about 600 acres of cleared land divided into twelve farms.”
In my cousin’s Mary Ketus Deen Holland’s Book, Unto This Land, which she published in 1987, she said that James F Hall, who lived at Shell Bluff in the early ’30s, told her that the area boasted a population of nearly two hundred about the time of World War I.
He said that there was a bond issue to dig canals and drainage ditches covering this whole area as far as Roy. The drainage company known as Florida Drainage and Construction Company was owned by John W. Campbell of Palatka. The bonds were eventually at default and Mr. Campbell was able to obtain several thousand acres of land here. A large dock on Crescent Lake was used to ship seed potatoes and fertilizer in for the farmers and to ship the potatoes at harvest time. Some of these boats were the City of Sanford, the City of Leesburg, and the City of Palatka.
He also said that before Crescent Lake was closed to commercial fishing about 1928 or 29, several families living at Shell Bluff were commercial fishermen and that a shell bluff about a quarter of a mile north of the dock on the lake provided the material to surface many of the roads in the area.
In the 1930 census, I found that there were 36 households at Shell Bluff composed of 121 people; 70 were Black and 51 were white. As far as occupations, 27 were working in naval stores, there were 9 general farmers with 4 farmhands, 3 servants, 1 caretaker of an estate and the postmistress.
According to Mr. Hall, “the dock at Shell Bluff was rebuilt in 1932 by Mr. Campbell but the changes in times and transportation made it fruitless. The hotel was owned by Mr. Campbell and operated by Mr. Cross at this time but most of the guests were hunters and fishermen. Sometime after 1933, it burned.”
In the May 25, 1967 issue of the Flagler Tribune, under the letters to the editor column, is a letter from Mrs. Emma S. McLeod, of Jacksonville, Fla. portions of which I now quote, “over 40 years ago, my husband, Mr. McLeod and his associates bought up 30,000 acres of virgin land in Shell Bluff, and developed it, building a hotel, homes, a large dock on Crescent Lake, etc, which we tried to sell, advertising all through the United States. Somehow I became very attached to this location, but unfortunately, when the depression came along, we could dispose of nothing and after sinking over a million dollars in developing, etc we lost the entire 30,000 acres for $35,000 taxes.”
In 1988 and again in 2002, Flagler County voters approved an additional property tax to set aside money to purchase environmentally sensitive land. The 63 acre Shell Bluff addition is the first parcel to be purchased under the 2002 voter-approved funding. The park adds the first piece of lakefront property on Crescent Lake to the county’s list of preserved land. To date, approximately 3000 acres have been set aside with these funds.
Shell Bluff is a most wonderful place and we, the citizens of Flagler County, who continue to tax ourselves to preserve our environmentally sensitive lands, deserve a big pat on the back.
Shell Bluff Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony – 14 May 2010
In attendance from The Flagler County Historical Society were: President Mary Ann Clark, Judge Sharon Atack, Gloria and Sisco Deen, Flagler Beach Commissioner Jane Mealy and Pat and Bill Ryan.
Members of the Flagler County Commission and the county’s Land Acquisition Committee dedicated the purchase back in August 2005. We were there today to dedicate the lovely picnic shelters (2), bathrooms, children’s playground, benches, picnic tables and roads and fences that were constructed in the house (with state grant money) by our wonderful county workers. – It is a most beautiful place – at the tip of the historical hat to General Service Director Heidi Petito and Public Works Director Benji Cauley and their staff for a job well done.