History and Culture
The prehistory of the Forest begins about 12,000 B.C. when the first peoples made their mark on the land. These peoples were primarily hunter-gatherers, who preferred fresh water sources, such as rivers, lakes, springs and sinkholes. Around 8,000 B.C. the environment began changing, forests became denser, and pines began filling in unforested areas. This change in the environment also marks a change to the Archaic Period. This tradition which continued to 1,000 B.C. is defined by a more sedentary way of life, wandering is more seasonal allowing people to use a wider variety of natural resources. The latter part of this era saw the introduction of ceramics.
The Woodland Tradition (1000 B.C.- A.D. 700), brought with it farming subsistence practices, more-refined pottery, and earthworks and burial mounds. These cultures were based mainly on the coast, and used the forest for hunting and gathering traditions. They were known for complicated designed ceramics, grave goods and veneration of the dead, and more complex societies. The Weeden Island Phase (A.D. 700-1000) is known for dependence on agriculture, increased use of burial mounds and less finely made lithic tools, an indicator that hunting was not as paramount as in earlier phases.
By the time of European contact, the Apalachee Indians were occupying the territory, which later became the Apalachicola National Forest. These Apalachee Indians belonged to the latter stage of the Mississippian Tradition (1000-1550 A.D.), a culture that is defined by its large flat topped burial mounds, ceramics with more complex shapes and decorative designs, large towns and ceremonial centers, and distinct social classes. The Mississippian Tradition, extended through the entire Southeastern United States, west to the Mississippi River, and North up through Ohio.
According to historical documents, when the Spanish arrived in the Forest area in the early 1500s, the Native Americans they encountered were the Apalachee. Their territory extended from the Apalachicola River east to the Aucilla River and north to southern Georgia. Although we know from historic records that Spaniards traveled between the Tallahassee area and the coast, no Spanish era sites (European occupation) have been found in the Apalachicola National Forest. After the Spanish came the British occupation of Florida (1763-1783). There are a few British era sites located within the Forest. The Second Spanish period (1783-1821) followed and later Florida became an American territory.
Documentation of the early 1800's until the Civil War is sketchy within the Forest area. There are a few sites which hold Native American ceramics from the Spanish periods and historic British period ceramics. Parts of the Forest were occupied by settlers during the Civil War. The Langston House home was settled before this time and occupied for over 100 years. There are other sites which were used during this time that have yet to be excavated. There are several cemeteries within the Forest in which Civil War veterans are buried.
The Apalachicola National Forest was proclaimed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 13, 1936. This was land west of the Ochlocknee River. Also during this time, land was being acquired by the Resettlement Administration and called the Wakulla Agricultural Demonstration Project.; Lands which were not primarily suitable for cultivation were acquired, and the families that owned them were resettled on other more arable property. In addition, large tracts of clear-cut land were acquired by the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in Wakulla County.; The Apalachicola National Forest was expanded to the east side of the Ochlocknee River by Presidential Proclamation on June 21, 1938. This transferred all SCS land to Forest Service administration. The east side of the Forest was originally divided into two districts, the Leon and Wakulla. They were later combined into one Wakulla District.
Over the last nearly 30 years of archeology conducted on the Apalachicola National Forest there have been many interesting sites located. The Forest holds sites from different cultural periods dating to over 10,000 years ago. A site is considered historic if it is at least 50 years old. The types of sites include campsites, home sites, turpentine and logging camps, fire towers, cemeteries, cattle dip troughs, sawmills, resorts, towns, sawdust piles, historic roadways, trams, bridges, and historic refuse/trash piles.
Some of the prehistoric sites in the Forest have been investigated by archeologists since the late 1970s. These sites include habitation areas occupied by Native Americans from the Late Archaic/Norwood period, the Weeden Island period, and the Mississippian. These sites are located over the entire Forest area. Archeologists feel that the Forest was used by Native Americans much as it is used today.
There are many home sites located in the Forest area which are evidenced on the set of 1937 aerial photographs done for the Forest Service. These structures are also present on early maps of which the Forest Service is custodian. The Langston House was located in the community of Smith Creek, parts of which are on Forest Service land.
The Gopher, Frog, and Alligator (Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) railroad runs through a very large portion of the Apalachicola National Forest. The original line ran from Carrabelle, Florida up into Georgia operating from the early 1880s through the late 1940s. Currently the Forest Service is working with Florida Department of Transportation to create a Rail-to-Trail hiking path on a portion in Leon County. This trail will include interpretive signs for helping visitors understand the early railroad systems in Florida as well as the Helen Logging Camp and town of Springhill located in Leon County just north of the Wakulla county line.
Other important historic sites in the forest include structures built by the CCC. This program was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The Corps created jobs for millions of Americans during the Depression. The Forest Service benefited greatly from the Corps. They planted trees in the nations' timbered forests, including the Apalachicola National Forest. They also built roads and bridges in the Forests. There are several CCC era structures still standing in the Forest, however they are in Leon and Liberty counties.
During World War II the Apalachicola National Forest was used as a training ground for the Army Air Corps. In 1990, a crashed training plane was excavated in the Forest on the southeast side of Cow Swamp. Archeology students from Florida State University assisted Forest archeologists in uncovering the serial number plate for the plane. This plate was needed to access any historical records about the plane. The plate was located and the Air Force was contacted. Publicity of the investigation revealed a story about the plane. This plane was crashed on a prior training mission and completely destroyed. In order to obtain parts for any plane during the war, the plane had to be commissioned. Army Air Corp mechanics used the serial number from the crashed plane to order enough parts to build a new plane. The rebuilt plane found its final resting place in the Forest on March 29, 1943. Everett R. Edwards, the pilot, even though he ejected from the aircraft, died that day in the Apalachicola National Forest.
The Apalachicola National Forest is a Mecca for those who love the outdoors. The Forest and other state and federal lands comprise nearly 60% of Wakulla County. There are many interesting places both natural and cultural within the Forest that draw visitors. There are three wilderness areas where motorized conveyances and tools are prohibited. There are unique natural environments including savannahs, sand hills, hammocks, sink holes, swamps, streams, and rivers. There are rare and endangered species both flora and fauna. There are many hunt camps and recreation areas where visitors stay and from which they can explore the Forest.