Florida’s Historic City on the Bay
Apalachicola is one of the most historic, charming and beautiful cities in the United States.
Located where the Apalachicola River meets Apalachicola Bay, the Florida city is a noted destination for heritage, beach and ecotourism.
The area surrounding Apalachicola was an important vortex of history long before the founding of the modern city. The bays, rivers and islands were the haunts of William Augustus Bowles, the famed adventurer and pirate who tried to establish an empire among the Florida Indians during the late 1700s.
Bowles based his “Navy” (i.e. pirate ships) upriver at Prospect Bluff and later at Estiffanulga. His vessels battled Spanish coast guard ships around Apalachicola Bay and local legend includes many stories of pirates and hidden treasures.
British troops arrived here in 1814 during the final year of the War of 1812. After first pitching camp on St. Vincent Island, they moved up the lower Apalachicola River to Prospect Bluff where they built a large fort. Known first as the British Post on the Apalachicola, this establishment was located at today’s Fort Gadsden Historic Site in the Apalachicola National Forest and is a National Historic Landmark.
The British trained a large force of Red Stick Creek, Seminole and Choctaw Indians at the fort, also using it as a base for a battalion of African American and Caribbean Colonial Marines. Then the war ended and the British left in 1815, there was not room on their transports for one company of their Colonial Marines and the men were ordered to stay behind with their families to guard the fort.
U.S. officials began calling the establishment the “Negro Fort” and in 1816 sent an expedition to destroy it, even though the post was in Spanish territory. A heated cannonball from a U.S. Navy gunboat struck the powder magazine and blew the fort to bits, killing 270 of the men, women and children sheltered within its walls. It was the deadliest cannon shot in American history.
The scene is preserved today at Fort Gadsden Historic Site in the Apalachicola National Forest. It is about 15 miles north of Apalachicola. Please click her to learn more.
The U.S. Army, led by Major General Andrew Jackson later established Fort Gadsden on the British post site and also had a hospital camp where Apalachicola can be found today. The remains of a number of American soldiers are buried somewhere beneath the city, but the location of the graves has been lost to time.
A customs office was opened at West Point, the original name of the point of land on which Apalchicola stands, in 1821. The city of Apalachicola was first incorporated as West Point in 1827, but the name was changed to Apalachicola in 1831. The new port soon became the third busiest on the entire Gulf Coast.
Apalachicola was a natural export point for hundreds of thousands of bales of cotton coming down from upriver farms and plantations. Paddlewheel steamboats brought the cotton to warehouses in Apalachicola, from where it was shipped to textile factories in New England, Europe and beyond. In 1860 alone it is estimated hat $10,000,000 in cotton was shipped through Apalachicola.
Timber, fish, turtles, turpentine and other commodities also arrived on river steamers, which then carried passengers and incoming cargoes back upriver to plantations and cities throughout a vast region of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Apalachicola’s social status grew with its commercial success. Such luminaries as Dr. John Gorrie,the inventor of a mechanical refrigeration unit that also made ice, and Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapman, a world-renowned botanist and author, made their homes there. Both are buried in the city.
The War Between the States (or Civil War) brought commerce in Apalachicola to a screeching halt. Confederate troops held the city for one year and built fortifications to protect it. Cannon were mounted at the Battery and on St. Vincent Island to prevent the ships of the Union navy from entering the mouth of the Apalachicola River.
The Confederates withdrew from the city in 1862, however, and it was left “between the lines” until the end of the war. The conflict destroyed the commerce of Apalachicola, but the lifting of the U.S. blockade in 1865 brought a return of business. Union General Alexander Asboth reported shortly after the end of the Civil War that citizens were returning from “rebeldom” to bring the city back to life.
The riverboats returned and Apalachicola rebounded, but the arrival of railroads and highways brought an end to the days of the “floating palaces.” Steamboat commerce vanished by the 1940s.
Apalachicola adapted to changing times and turned to the bay for its survival. Apalachicola oysters soon became famed around the world for their special flavor created by the perfect combination of freshwater and saltwater in the bay.
Humans have harvested oysters from Apalachicola Bay for thousands of years and the culture is a special part of American history. Over the last several decades, unfortunately, the industry has been hard hit hard by Atlanta’s demands for more and more water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River system.
Oysters need the right amount of freshwater to survive. With Atlanta taking so much water from th system, the oysters have been disappearing from the bay and the ranks of the oystermen with them. The “river war” goes on in the courts today and the last of the bay’s famed oyster boats continue to operate as the men and women who operate them try to cling to their unique culture and special way of life.
Apalachicola thrives today as a center for tourism and fishing. It boasts numerous historic homes museums and other attractions and its location is one of the most beautiful in Florida. Historically and ecologically unique, the area around the old city is a paradise for lovers of history and the outdoors.
From quaint restaurants offering world famous Apalachicola oysters, shrimp and other seafood to beautiful inns and historic landmarks, the city is a stunning destination. Its Seafood Festival, held each fall, is the oldest coastal celebration in Florida and St. George Island, just across the bay, is known for its stunning white sand beaches.
Please click here to visit the city’s official tourism site for more information. Scroll down for a map of historic Apalachicola and to enjoy a quick video tour of the city, just click the play button below: