Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Old Bellamy Road - 19th Century Roadway in Florida

Section of the Old Bellamy Road
When the United States took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821, the only roads in most of the territory were old pathways once used by Spanish missionaries and the narrow trails worn down over the centuries by the footsteps of Indians.
Tallahasse did not then exist and the Spanish had treated the territory as two separate colonies, East Florida and West Florida. The capital of East Florida was, of course, St. Augustine. The capital of West Florida was Pensacola. The only trail connecting the two was a long, dangerous, winding path.

With the decision to establish a new capital, Tallahassee, roughly equi-distant between the two cities also came a strong realization that a good road was needed to connect the three communities. Since Florida was a U.S. Territory, the approval and funding of this new road fell to the U.S. Congress. An appropriation was made and work began during the winter of 1824-1825.

In the section of Florida west of the Apalachicola River, work on this new Federal road was carried out by the U.S. Army. East of the river, however, it was decided to accept bids from private contractors. The winning bid was received from John Bellamy, who began work on the segment of road from the Ochlockonee River west of Tallahassee to the St. Johns River near St. Augustine. He could do the work, he promised, for $13,500.

Surviving trace of the Old Bellamy Road.
Bellamy completed his road in just one year, but it was far removed from the super highways of today. A winding dirt path, Bellamy's laborers (many of them slaves) simply cut down trees low enough for wagons to pass over, leaving the stumps in the ground. Trees that were too big to cut were bypassed.

Since he had supervised its construction, the section of the road between the St. Johns and the Ochlockonee was unofficially named in Bellamy's honor. Surviving sections of it are known as the Old Bellamy Road to this day.

The road provided an important route between St. Augustine and Tallahassee for early settlers. By the time of the Civil War it had been bypassed by newer roads in many areas, but sections in East Florida remained in use. As a result the road was used by Confederate troops, including those of Florida's famous "Swamp Fox," Captain J.J. Dickison.

One of the best places to see an original section of the Bellamy Road is River Rise Preserve State Park in High Springs. Adjacent to O'Leno State Park, the preserve offers numerous hiking and equestrian trails. One of these follows a section of the Old Bellamy Road.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamyroad.

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