Apalachicola, Florida: Historic City on the Bay

Apalachicola is a charming and historic city on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Apalachicola is one of the most historic cities in the United States. Located where the Apalachicola River meets Apalachicola Bay, the Florida city is a noted destination for eco- and heritage tourism.

Humans first arrived in this area thousands of years ago. They fished for oysters and other seafood, hunted in the wetlands of the Apalachicola delta and built ceremonial and burial mounds where Apalachicola stands today. The Apalachicola Bay fishing industry began with these prehistoric Native Americans and still exists today.

The waters surrounding Apalachicola became a focal point for history long before the founding of the modern city. The bays, rivers and islands were the haunts of William Augustus Bowles, a famed adventurer and pirate who tried to establish an empire among the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Indians during the late 1700s.

A marker on St. George Island tells part of the story of William Augustus Bowles.

His “navy” – really a flotilla of pirate ships – sailed out of the Apalachicola River to raid commerce on the Gulf of Mexico. Spain retaliated by sending a military expedition to Apalachicola Bay in 1800. They destroyed his fortified port at Prospect Bluff and captured some of his personal effects but Bowles escaped. He retaliated by besieging and capturing the fort of San Marcos de Apalache a short time later.

Bowles moved his base further upriver to Estiffanulga Bluff and continued to raid shipping in the Gulf until he was captured a few years later. Legend holds that some of his treasures remain hidden in the area. Many people have searched, but none have found them.

Great Britain arrived at Apalachicola Bay in 1814. The War of 1812 was underway and they came to open a new front in the conflict. After building temporary warehouses on St. Vincent Island, they moved up to Prospect Bluff where they built the British Post on the Apalachicola as a base for operations against the United States.

The site of the British Post or “Negro Fort” is now a historic site in the Apalachicola National Forest.

The British evacuated the region in May 1815, leaving their fort and its cannon and supplies in the hands of their Native American and maroon (escaped slave) allies.  U.S. officials called it the “Negro Fort” and sent a joint army and navy expedition to destroy it. The battle lasted seven days before a headed cannon ball from Gunboat No. 154 struck the powder magazine and blew the fort to bits. The best estimates are that 270 of the 320 men, women and children within its walls were killed. Another 50 people were captured but half of them died of their wounds. A few survived to be returned to slavery. Most of them were from Spanish Florida.

The site of the British Post or “Negro Fort” is preserved today at Prospect Bluff Historic Sites (formerly Fort Gadsden Historic Site) in the Apalachicola National Forest. It is not far north of Apalachicola and also includes the ruins of Fort Gadsden, a Seminole War fort garrisoned from 1818 to 1821. Please click here for more information.

The U.S. Army maintained a hospital cap at West Point, the site of present-day Apalachicola, in 1818 to 1821. The remains of a number of American soldiers rest somewhere beneath or near the city but the location of the graves has been lost to time.

The historic Orman House was built in 1838 by an Apalachicola cotton merchant and businessman. It is now a historic state park.

A customs office was opened at West Point in 1821 and and the community that grew around it used that name when it was incorporated in 1827. Residents renamed their city Apalachicola in 1831 and it soon became the third busiest port on the entire Gulf Coast.

The point of land on which Apalachicola was built was the natural export point for hundreds of thousands of bales of cotton bound from upriver farms and plantations to the textile factories of Europe and New England. In 1860 alone an estimated $10,000,000 in cotton was shipped through Apalachicola. The giant bales arrived on beautiful paddlewheel steamboats, as did cargoes of timber, fish, turtles, naval stores and other commodities. The boats also carried passengers in beautifully appointed staterooms and moved incoming cargoes up to the plantations and communities along the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint and Chipola Rivers.

A great place to learn more about the maritime history of the city is the Apalachicola Maritime Museum. The facility is at 103 Water Street and features great exhibits, restored and reconstructed vessels, kayak rentals, paddling tours and guided boat cruises.



The Apalachicola Martitime Museum is a great place to learn about the steamboats and ocean vessels that once served Apalachicola. They can also help you with boat cruises and nature tours!Apalachicola’s social status grew with its commercial success and such luminaries as Dr. John Gorrie and Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapmen soon flooded to the city. Gorrie invented mechanical refrigeration and the ice machine. Chapman was a world renowned botanist and author.Dr. Gorrie’s research and inventions provide the focus of the John Gorrie Museum State Park on 6th Street. Chapman is remembered at the beautiful Chapman Botanical Garden on North Market Street.

The War Between the States (or Civil War) brought commerce in Apalachicola to a screeching halt. Confederate troops held the city for one year, building fortifications and mounting cannon. Warships of the Union Navy blockaded the port and several small encounters took place in and around Apalachicola Bay. The Confederates withdrew from the city in 1862 and it was left “between the lines” until the end of the war.

The lifting of the blockade in 1865 brought Apalachicola back to life. Union general Alexander Asboth noted in one report that citizens were returning from “rebeldom” to restore the commerce of the port.

Sunrise over Apalachicola Bay as seen from the waterfront.

The riverboats returned and Apalachicola rebounded. The steamboats continued to operate into the 1930s but they were eventually replaced by railroads and modern highways. Apalachicola adapted to changing times and turned to the bay for its survival. The city’s oysters are world famous. They gain their special flavor from 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. The industrywas hit hard by Atlanta’s demands for more and more water from the river system. Oysters need the right amount of freshwater to survive and Florida, Alabama and Georgia engaged in a “water war” that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The final results remain to be determined.

Apalachicola thrives today as a center for tourism and fishing. It boasts numerous historic homes 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.

The city is also the gateway to the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Preserve, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge and the beach playground of St. George Island.

To learn more about Apalachicola’s attractions, accommodations, places to eat and things to do, we recommend Florida’s Forgotten Coast and the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce.

To see more Apalachicola scenery, enjoy this free video from our sister channel TwoEgg.TV: