Florida’s Gulf Coast

The scheduled initial output of the Mead-DuPont mill at Port St. Joe is 200 tons of kraft paper a day, with a market value at the beginning of 1938 of about $115 a ton, giving employment in the mill and the pulpwood yards to more than 750 men, a greater number than the total population of the little town before work on the mill began.

Port St. Joe is on its way to coming back toward the place of importance which it held a century ago, when the convention which drafted the first Constitution for the new state of Florida was held here in December, 1838, an event commemorated by a monument near the town. Those were the “boom” days of this thriving community. It had several banks, a race track, good hotels and many large business houses. In 1839 a railroad was built from Port St. Joe to Iola. In that year 50,000 bales of cotton were shipped through this port. Then, in July, 1841, a sailing ship came in with yellow fever aboard. Mosquitoes bred in the swampy lowlands quickly infected the whole town with the deadly plague.

There were not enough men to dig graves for all who died. Their number was never counted, but within a few weeks Port St. Joe was a deserted town. Now, after almost a century, it has come back.

Visitors to Panama City are practically unanimous in agreeing that its land-locked harbor, St. Andrews Bay, is the most beautiful expanse of salt water in Florida. Shipping men are in complete agreement that there are few, if any, harbors in the world so easy of access and at the same time so perfectly safe in any weather. The high banks which rise to fifty or sixty feet above the surface of St. Andrews Bay descend so steeply that sea-going cargo ships can tie up directly against the bank at many points. The area enclosed within its 600 miles and more of shoreline is large enough to provide a harbor for the entire United States Navy without crowding.

The strategic position of St. Andrews Bay as a location for a naval base was recognized by Germany before the World War began. No complete disclosure has ever been made, and none will ever be made, in all probability, of the secret plans of Germany against the United States. But a German-owned firm built and operated a large saw-mill on the shore of St. Andrews Bay before the war, shipping lumber, some of it in German ships, to different parts of the world. When the United States entered the World War in the Spring of 1917 it immediately seized all German-owned property in this country, including the saw-mill on St. Andrews Bay. When the Alien Property Custodian’s representative went down there to take possession he discovered, built into the foundations of the mill and concealed by a false floor, a gun emplacement upon which it would have been a simple matter to mount a long-range rifled cannon which would command the single narrow entrance to the harbor. That is a matter of official record at Washington. Nobody knows any more about it than that. It seems to be evident that the Germans recognized the strategic value of St. Andrews Bay, if for no other purpose than as a port of refuge for German craft which might be pursued in Gulf of Mexico waters by an enemy warship. Presumptively there was no more sinister purpose than that of affording protection for its own nationals under such circumstances, in this affair of the gun emplacement in the saw-mill; for when that was built it is hardly probable that Germany could have anticipated being at war with the United States.

Panama City is a lively, bustling industrial town of 15,000 inhabitants, which has grown since 1925 from a scattering, quiet village of 2,500, chiefly because of the establishment here in 1930 of the first and largest of Florida’s paper mills, the plant of the Southern Kraft Corporation. Producing 600 tons a day of kraft paper of the type used in the manufacture of packing boxes and containers, the mill operates twenty-four hours a day, employing 1,200 workers in four six-hour shifts, and distributing a weekly payroll of more than $35,000.

One result of this has been to bring Panama City into new importance as a seaport, and to attract manufacturers in other lines to take advantage of the shipping facilities of the port. The Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railroad, running north to Dothan, Alabama, and connecting with the Atlantic Coast Line and Louisville & Nashville, provides rail connections with all parts of the country, while the deep harbor is equipped with docks and piers which can accommodate seagoing craft of any tonnage. The product of the paper mill is shipped almost entirely by water, an ocean freighter being loaded almost every day. The bulk of the pulpwood consumed by the paper mill comes in by rail, but along all the highways converging on Panama City one encounters motor trucks loaded with cordwood destined for the mill. Within a radius of 50 miles, motor transportation of pulpwood is said to be economical.

Panama City is becoming one of the most important oildistributing centers in the South. Several of the large oil companies have built huge storage tanks here, where supplies are delivered in tankers and from which they are easily distributed by rail and tank trucks.

The year-’round climate of Panama City has made it for years a popular resort, both Winter and Summer, for visitors seeking restful seclusion and an opportunity to enjoy the facili ties which St. Andrews Bay provides for boating and fishing. Particularly in Summer, the Gulf beach, nine miles from the town, is an increasingly popular cooling-off place for the people of inland Florida and Alabama. Nearly 50,000 motored to Panama City to spend the 4th of July week-end of 1937 at the beach. The estimated number of summer visitors between April 15 and September 15 exceeds 150,000.

There is no community in Florida which has grown faster or on a more substantial foundation than Panama City; few which combine such a beautiful natural background and re creational opportunities with a firm-based economic structure. This seacoast through which the Gulf Coast Highway runs is a country of old fishing villages and cotton-shipping ports, many of which are just beginning to come under the influence of modern progress. Back from the Gulf a few miles, on beautiful Choctawhatchee Bay, is the town of Valparaiso, developed since 1925 as a year-’round residential resort by Chicago sportsmen, around the nucleus of an ancient fishing community, into one of the most charming resorts in all Florida. It is also the home of the Shalimar winery, where James P. Plew makes a highly-palatable wine from Satsuma oranges.

Fort Walton, through which one drives on the way westward to Pensacola is another ancient settlement stirring with new life since it became more accessible.

In 1936 the Federal government established an Army airport at White Point on the north shore of Choctawhatchee Bay, with an eight-way landing field. This is used for gunnery practice by the Army Air Corps and for training of National Guard flying units.

Stretching along the shores of Choctawhatchee Bay, in Walton, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa Counties, is the Choctawhatchee National Forest, encompassing 368,000 acres. It offers no such developed recreational facilities as does the Ocala Forest, but there are twelve areas within its boundaries which have been set apart as public camp grounds, and numerous passable highways, including the old military road built by General Jackson’s army in 1818, traverse the Forest. The Choctawhatchee Game Refuge, of more than 100,000 acres, partly outside of the Forest itself, is under state control by co-operative agreement with the Forest Service. It supports large herds of deer and considerable flocks of wild turkeys, quail, and other wild life. Campers and visitors in the Choctawhatchee Forest have opportunity for both fresh-water and salt-water fishing.

In natural scenery, the Choctawhatchee is the most diversified of Florida’s four National Forests. Its hilly surface varies in elevation from sea-level to 298 feet at Sandy Mountain Tower in the Northeast corner. Rolling sandhills are interspersed with numerous abrupt heavily wooded “draws” and “washes,” which are drained by clear, cool, spring-fed creeks.

The technical interest of the Forest Service in Choctawhatchee centers in the long-leaf yellow pine, which produces the highest grade of pine lumber in the South. Under scien tific logging and reforestation methods the original stand of this valuable timber in the Forest has been materially increased since its establishment as a National Forest in 1908, while maintaining an increasing and large output of saw timber.

The northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico is the habitat of a culinary delicacy peculiarly Floridian, which the general run of tourists never hear of, much less taste. That is the hush-puppy. The etymology of the name is somewhat obscure, but in almost any of the eating houses in these fishing towns, where fried fish is naturally the chef d’oeuvre, the dusky servitor often asks, when one orders fried snapper or pompano: “Does yo’ wants some hush-puppies, too?”

The hush-puppy is served only as an accompaniment to fried fish; and fried fish in Florida means fried, immersed in a deep kettle of boiling fat, not merely sauted in a frying pan. While the fish is frying the colored cook makes the hushpuppies. Their composition is as simple as that of a hoe-cake and using the same ingredients with one addition. White cornmeal, salt and water are mixed into a paste and folded around a liberal measure of finely-chopped raw onion. Molded into potato-shaped patties, the mixture is dropped into the boiling kettle with the fish. It fries quickly to a deep golden brown and emerges as hush-puppies, to be served on the plate with the fish.

Along the westerly part of its route the Gulf Coast Highway skirts Santa Rosa Sound, the hundred-mile channel which separates Santa Rosa Island from the mainland. In deed, for a few miles the highway leaves the mainland and traverses the easterly end of Santa Rosa Island. Approaching Pensacola the road passes through the old United States Navy live-oak timber reserve and across Pensacola Bay over a fivemile concrete bridge, to enter the historic, picturesque and altogether charming city, the western gateway of Florida.