Historic Byway Overview

Historic Byway Overview

See Also: Who are the Historians?, Historic Travel Guide

From the Land Nobody Wanted to the Land of Many Uses

On November 24, 1908, when President Teddy Roosevelt declared the Ocala area a National Forest in 1908, many people referred to it as “the land nobody wanted.” The land in this area was indeed a harsh, unforgiving place for humans to live.

Roosevelt  designated 202,000 acres of scrub as the Ocala National Forest, creating the first National Forest east of the Mississippi River, and the second National Forest within the continental United States. Today, people enjoy the “many uses” of this lush area, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, camping, and touring historical areas. The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway shows new generations the route into the heart of wild florida.

An Ancient Human History

In spite of the hardships engendered by settling in this challenging land, the human legacy of the corridor runs deep. Shell middens (mounds of freshwater shelfish remains discarded along river banks by Florida’s prehistoric people) mark village sites of the Timucua, an ancient culture of farmers and hunters that inhabited the region for nearly 10,000 years. These middens would be excavated in the 1890s by archaeologists. They were found to contain some of the earliest pottery and artifacts in North America. Local road builders used the shell to pave early roads, unaware of the significance of middens. Today some remnants of ancient people  remain throughout the region, with burial mounds and middens shaded by ancient live oaks.

Natural Beauty Extolled to the World

In 1765 and again in 1774, botanist William Bartram plied the waters of the St. Johns River and explored the nooks and crannies afforded by its many spring-fed tributaries. Samuel Taylor Coleridge based his epic poem Kubla Khan on the romantic description Bartram gave to Salt Springs, an “amazing crystal fountain…which meanders six miles through green meadows, pouring its limpid waters into the great Lake George,” where within the spring, “white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters.”

Pioneer Settlements

European and American pioneers and traders such as James Spalding created small settlements along the St. Johns and other rivers in the late 1700s. Homesteading in the more fertile lands around the Big Scrub began after the Third Seminole War ended in 1858, and influxes of settlers increased again after the Civil War. By the 1870s, a circuit-riding preacher traversed the trails by horseback, preaching in the communities of Salt Springs, Pat’s Island, Astor, and Paisley. Settlers traveled between these hardscrabble communities by water and horse and wagon.

Pioneer Legacy inspires Pulitzer-Prize Winning Novel and Academy Award winning Film The Yearling

In the fall of 1876, Reuben and Sara Jane Long established a homestead on Pat’s Island, a high and dry island of longleaf pine in the Big Scrub. When the government offered to buy their land, the settlers of Pat’s Island moved, but the Long family cemetery remains – as does the legacy of their young son Melvin, who raised a fawn, inspiring Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling. An academy award winning film adaptation soon followed.Today, the stories of the pioneers are told through interpretive exhibits, original buildings, and artifacts at Silver River State Park and Museum, and at the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts in Barberville.