Seminole War
The American army at Natural Bridge & Lake Jackson in northern Walton County (Seminole War 200th)

The army marched along Natural Bridge Road in what is now northern Walton County, Florida.

The U.S. Army continued to march west 200 years ago today, passing such Walton County landmarks as Natural Bridge and Lake Jackson.

This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.

It is an interesting footnote of Andrew Jackson’s 1818 campaign that he passed through two different areas of Florida that are known today for landmarks called Natural Bridge and Lake Jackson. One area, of course, is Tallahassee, where Natural Bridge Battlefield is found to the south while the Lake Jackson Mounds are found on the north side of the city. The other is northern Walton County, where two different landmarks bear the names Lake Jackson and Natural Bridge.

A longleaf pine forest along Jackson’s route in northern Walton County.

The march resumed 200 years ago on the outskirts of Gaskin, a community where Highway 83 North and County Road 181 West intersect in the northern edge of Walton County. From a campsite on Limestone Creek about one mile west of Gaskin, the soldiers followed the Pensacola-St. Augustine Road which ran along the general route of today’s County Road 181 West.

Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, described the terrain as similar to that crossed on the day before (please see Jackson’s army marches west through Holmes & Walton). The first two miles west of Limestone Creek were “over a wide ridge, with small pines” while the next mile was more level. The fourth mile was rolling with a “bad branch.”

This is very descriptive of the land between Gaskin and Natural Bridge Creek, a stream that takes its name from a unique geological formation just south of the Alabama state line. The Pensacola-St. Augustine Road passed over the natural bridge and part of Jackson’s army used it to get across.

Natural Bridge Creek sinks into the ground at Natural Bridge in Walton County, Florida.

Capt. Young’s description of a “bad branch” or creek is accurate, however, because the army was marching in a three column formation with forward and rear guards. The main column followed the road but the right and left columns marched through the woods to each side. This formation allowed the entire army to swing into line of battle quickly and Jackson used it in all of his Florida operations. The soldiers left not one but three parallel paths as they marched.

In other words, while the soldiers of the center column might have crossed Natural Bridge Creek on dry ground, but the men on the right and left did not.

After crossing Natural Bridge, the army left the Pensacola-St. Augustine Road again and followed another trail westward for three miles to a branch and then passed just north of and likely within sight of Britton Hill, the highest point in Florida. Young did not mention this landmark other than to note that the terrain was similar to the hill country crossed on the previous day. He also did not mention leaving the historic road again, although in fairness to the topographer it was, by this time, little more than a faded path no different from the many other paths crossed during the march.

Britton Hill at Lakewood Park is the highest point in Florida at 345 feet above sea level.

Britton Hill rises to 345 feet, which might not sound like much to residents of other states but is pretty impressive for Floridians. It is, in fact, the “lowest” high point of any of the 50 states. A monument and interpretive signs are found in Lakewood Park on its crest.

About two miles directly ahead as the army passed Britton Hill was Lake Jackson, an impressive natural lake that spans the Florida-Alabama border at Paxton and Florala. In fact, at 500 acres it is the largest natural lake in Alabama. It is definitely noticeable and would have been a curiosity to the soldiers of the army, but Capt. Young’s made no mention of it. This is especially surprising as the Alabama Historical Commission even has a marker on the west end of the lake noting that Andrew Jackson camped there in May 1818.

Young was meticulous in noting every branch, creek, river and pond seen by the army. Why then, would he not have described a 500 acre lake?

The army likely followed today’s Clear Springs Road around the southern edge of Lake Jackson on the Florida-Alabama border.

The only logical answer is that he never saw it, even though there is no doubt that the army passed very close by. Early land survey plats suggest that the road followed by the army curved around the southern or Florida side of the lake along the route of today’s Clear Springs Road. This road runs west from US 331 at Paxton to State Highway 85 at the west end of the lake and follows a trail that mapmaker Joseph Purcell labeled the “path to Yellow Water” in 1778.

Clear Springs Road passes within one-half mile of the southern side of Lake Jackson but its sparking waters are hidden from view by a natural ridge. Even though pastures and fields line the road today, it is still impossible to see the lake. Capt. Young, in other words, literally marched right by without ever seeing it.

Young does mention crossing two branches in the tenth mile of marching on May 17, 1818. These are consistent with two branches just east and west of Paxton. In the thirteenth mile the army crossed another branch – Pond Creek – as the march continued from Clear Springs Road along today’s 1 Bridge Road and then Varnum Roads. The soldiers crossed a final branch – Fleming Creek – in the fourteenth mile.

Lake Jackson is a natural body of water that covers 500 acres on the Florida-Alabama border.

The army picked up a better trail in the Fleming Creek vicinity and followed it for two miles to an unnamed branch just northeast of today’s town of Laurel Hill in northern Walton County. The soldiers camped there for the night, having covered around 16 miles that day.

This series will continue.

The map at the bottom of this page will help you follow the approximate route taken by Jackson’s army 200 years ago as it passed through the Paxton and Florala area. The drive is quite scenic and includes stops at the Natural Bridge, Lakewood Park, Lake Jackson RV Park, {a state park in Florala) and Florala itself. Picnic sites are available at both Lakewood Park and Lake Jackson. The latter place features an RV park and campground, beach, boat launches, boardwalks and more. In addition, Florala offers restaurants and accommodations if you would like to enjoy an overnight stop.

To learn more about Florala, please visit Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

To learn more about Florida’s highest point, enjoy this short “tongue in cheek” video from Two Egg TV:

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