Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Annual Spring Pilgrimage in Eufaula, Alabama

The 44th Annual Pilgrimage will take place in Eufaula, Alabama, this weekend.

One of the premier annual events in the South, the Pilgrimage begins on Friday at 9 a.m. with the ribbon cutting ceremonies at the historic Shorter Mansion on North Eufaula Avenue (U.S. 431) and the firing of the cannon at the Petry-Honan Home on Cherry Street.

Tours of Homes will be available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, featuring some of the most beautiful antebellum and Victorian homes in the South and an amazing array of events will take place throughout the weekend.

Eufaula, located atop a high bluff overlooking Lake Eufaula, is one of the best preserved and most beautiful historic communities in the South. Noted for its magnificent old homes and tree-lined streets, the city was founded during the 1830s and has a rich and colorful history.

To learn more about Eufaula, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eufaula. Just follow the "Spring Pilgrimage" link there to learn more about this weekend's events.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Battle of Roanoke, Georgia

Beneath the waters of the Walter F. George Reservoir (called Lake Eufaula in Alabama and Walter F. George Lake in Georgia) is the site of Roanoke, an important Chattahoochee River town that was utterly destroyed during the Creek War of 1836.

The Creeks held a serious grudge against Roanoke because it had been established on their former fields overlooking the Chattahoochee River. The land was traditionally part of the Creek Nation, but it was lost to the whites in a treaty signing that was done by a few leaders over the wishes of most of the Creeks.

When the Creek War of 1836, also called the Second Creek War, erupted during the spring of 1836, Roanoke was an immediate target. Throughout early May of 1836, Yuchi and Hitchiti warriors watched the town, waiting for a chance to strike.

Concerned about the spreading war, the men of Roanoke evacuated their wives and children to the safety of the larger nearby community of Lumpkin. Then, on May 14th, many of the men went to visit their families, leaving only 20 defenders behind to protect the town. It was the opportunity the Creeks needed.

At around 2 a.m. on the morning of March 15, 1836, they struck Roanoke with overwhelming forces. Twelve of the 20 white defenders died in the battle and the town was burned to the ground.

To learn more about the Battle of Roanoke and the destruction of the town, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/roanoke.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Landmark Park - Dothan, Alabama

Landmark Park, located on U.S. 431 North in Dothan, is the home of Alabama's official Museum of Agriculture and is a fascinating heritage destination.

The park preserves a wide array of historic structures gathered from around the Wiregrass region of Southeast Alabama, Northwest Florida and Southwest Georgia (so named because wiregrass, a tough natural plant, grows in the area). Among these are a century old drugstore with a working soda fountain, a general store, one-room school, church, pioneer log cabin and a living history farm centered around the historic Waddell house.

Beautifully maintained, the park offers visitors the chance to experience life in the region as it was more than 100 years ago. Park employees and volunteers operate the farm just as it would have been before the days of tractors and electricity, growing native crops such as peanuts, corn and collards.

Landmark Park also features a planetarium, nature preserve, walking trails, boardwalks and exhibits on the turpentine and timber industries, as well as a large scale playground and more. It is also located near the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens discussed in yesterday's post.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dothan Area Botanical Gardens - Dothan, Alabama

There is nothing so Southern as the sight of azaleas and dogwoods in bloom and right now is a wonderful time to see them at the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens in Dothan, Alabama.

Located on Headland Highway off U.S. 431 North in Dothan, these gardens may well be the finest botanical gardens in a small city in the United States. Covering more than fifty acres, they feature fifteen different gardens that range from the Azalea Garden to a Rose Garden featuring more than 200 rose bushes.

The Azalea Garden is now at full bloom and presents a spectacular variety of varieties and colors.
Fans of Southern history will also enjoy the Southern Heritage Garden, which is dedicated to preserving seeds and plants of traditional Southern varieties, many of which have nearly vanished. Samples were brought in from across the Southeast with varieties being collected from historic home sites, roadsides and traditional family gardens.

The gardens also feature winding paths, water features, a Demonstration Garden where visitors can see fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs grown by some of the finest gardeners in the South, a Wedding Garden and more. The Dothan Area Botanical Gardens are open 7-7 this time of year (7-5 during the winter) and are free to visit, although donations are encouraged.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Natural Falls State Park - West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma

When most people think of Oklahoma, towering waterfalls are probably not the first things to come to mind. A visit to Natural Falls State Park in West Siloam Springs, however, might change that impression.

The park, located just across the state line from the growing Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area, is home to a remarkable 77-foot waterfall. A section of the Ozarks stretches across the border into Oklahoma, giving the eastern part of the state beautiful mountains and rolling hills. Natural Falls State Park is located in this area and offers visitors the chance to explore some of the most scenic county in the state.

Originally called Dripping Springs by local residents, the waterfall has been an object of admiration for many years. If it looks familiar to you, one possible reason is that it was a featured backdrop in the popular movie, Where the Red Fern Grows. The 1974 film tells the story of a young boy growing up in Oklahoma during the days of the Great Depression and is considered by many to be an American classic.

The park also features camping and picnicking areas, hiking trails and other amenities. A paved walkway leads to the upper platform overlooking the falls, while a second trail leads down a steep set of steps to an observation deck at the bottom.

To learn more about Natural Falls State Park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/naturalfalls.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Maclay Gardens State Park - Tallahassee, Florida

If you are interested in seeing one of the most beautiful places in the South, now is the time!

The spectacular and historic ornamental gardens at Maclay Gardens State Park are moving into full bloom. Long recognized as one of the most beautiful spring destinations in the country, the gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Located on land that has was used for farming first by Native Americans and then by early settlers through the 19th century, the gardens were planted by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred B. Maclay between 1923 and 1944. They grew from a single blooming tree to become what has been called a "masterpiece of floral architecture."

Mr. Maclay died in 1944 and his "Killearn Gardens," as they were known then, were donated to the people of Florida in his memory by the Maclay family. They now form the centerpiece of a more than 1,000 acre state park named in Mr. Maclay's memory.

The entrance to the park is just one-half mile north of Interstate 10 on U.S. Highway 319 in Tallahassee. The admission fee to the park is $4 and it costs another $4 to enter the gardens themselves. To learn more, visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/maclaygardens1.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Updated Pages Now Online

Eureka Springs, a beautiful Victorian town in the Ozarks of Arkansas, is one of the most popular Spring destinations in the South.

To mark the beginning of Spring, we've updated our Eureka Springs pages and added quite a bit of new information.

Founded and named in 1879 as a resort area for visitors who made their way to the beautiful mountain setting to enjoy the mineral springs that flowed from the Ozarks into a charming valley, Eureka Springs retains much of its original appearance and flavor. The community has earned a reputation as the per capita Wedding Capital of the United States. More people come to Eureka each year to get married than actually live there!

Historic hotels, bed and breakfast inns, cabins, restaurants, wedding chapels, entertainment venues and a wide variety of other attractions are available in Eureka Springs, which may well be the crown jewel of the Ozarks.

Our updated pages include details on the historic Crescent Hotel (America's Most Haunted Hotel), Blue Spring Heritage Center, the Christ of the Ozarks, the Downtown Historic District, ES&NA Railway, the town's historic springs, Pivot Rock Park, Thorncrown Chapel and a new page providing information on getting married in Eureka Springs. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eurekaindex.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Former John Wilkes Booth Monument in Alabama

I recently became curious about the story of a monument to John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, that was erected in 1906 by a citizen of Troy, Alabama. It was removed in 1921, but I was surprised to find that the stone shaft actually still exists.

Joseph Pinkney "Pink" Parker commissioned the carving of the monument in hopes of placing it in front of the courthouse in Troy. A police officer, teacher, Baptist church member and Confederate veteran, Parker absolutely hated Abraham Lincoln. He had returned home from the war in 1865 to find that his family had been brutally treated by Federal soldiers and Unionists and never forgave nor forgot.
Even before he commissioned his monument to Booth, he would observe the anniversary of Lincoln's death each year by dressing in his finest clothes and holding a one man celebration.

He took his tribute to Booth to a whole new level in 1906 when he paid for the carving of a monument in his honor. Community leaders declined to allow the placement of the monument at the courthouse, so Parker erected it facing the street in his front yard in Troy. It stood there for 16 years, despite a growing national media frenzy over its existence.

To learn more and see what became of the monument, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/boothmonument.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

America's Most Haunted Hotel - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Whether you believe in such things or not, there is no doubt that most Southerners enjoy a good ghost story.

One of the best places to hear some unique ones is at the beautiful and historic Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Built in 1886 to cater to a rich and elite clientel that came to the mineral water spas for which the city was once famous, the Crescent featured beautifully landscaped grounds, elegant dining, carriage rides and even "tea dances."

As America's fascination with the supposedly curative powers of spring water faded, however, the hotel fell on hard times. By the late 1930s, it was in the hands of "Dr." Norman Baker, a radio station owner and former manager of a "mind reading show." Baker came to Eureka Springs to convert the Crescent into an elegant medical facility where he performed a variety of unusual procedures on patients who came to willingly pay for an alleged "cancer cure" that he promoted far and wide. It was, of course, a fraud.

Indicted on Federal mail fraud charges, Baker was sentenced to prison at Leavenworth. During his trial it was revealed that, despite the fact that it operated during the darkest days of the Great Depression, he cleared an estimated $4,000,000 at his pseudo-medical facility.

Once again a beautiful and romantic hotel that overlooks the charming Victorian city, the Crescent Hotel is a focal point for ghost stories, many of which revolve around the structure's association with "Dr." Baker. Some have proclaimed it as "America's Most Haunted Hotel." To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/crescenthotel.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

William Weatherford's Grave - Baldwin County, Alabama

The resting place of a noted figure in Southern and Native American history an be found in a quiet park in Baldwin County, Alabama.

William Weatherford, often called "Red Eagle" since his death in 1826, was a Creek warrior associated with some of the most significant events in Southern history. The son of a white trader and a Creek woman and the nephew of the famed Creek leader Alexander McGillivray, Weatherford lived on a plantation in South Alabama and was a noted horse breeder.

In 1803, he was part of the party that seized the notorious pirate and adventurer William Augustus Bowles and turned him over to the Spanish due to Bowles' attempt to rest control of the Creek Nation from its hereditary leaders. Ten years later, however, Weatherford himself became involved in a violent attempt to seize control of the nation.

The story of how William Weatherford, a mixed race warrior who lived in a largely white lifestyle, became involved in a religious movement designed to return the Creek Nation to its traditional roots is both complicated and confusing. One story holds that he was forced to join by a Red Stick prophet who threated his safety and that of his family, but his relative Samuel Moniac, who was present at the alleged incident, did not mention Weatherford's presence.

The second story is that Weatherford joined the Red Stick movement voluntarily through the influence of relatives such as Josiah Francis, the primary Red Stick prophet.

A third story, however, emerges in the letters of the U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins who reported in 1813 that "Bill Weatherford" was a member of the Mississippi Territorial Militia that engaged a Red Stick supply train at Burnt Corn Creek, Alabama. According to Hawkins, Weatherford was taken prisoner in the battle. Not long after, he emerged as one of the leaders of the Red Stick attack on Fort Mims, Alabama, in which hundreds of men, women and children were killed.

To learn more about William Weatherford and see photos of his burial place, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/weatherford.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge - Early County, Georgia

The Southernmost original covered bridge in the United States spans a small creek not far from the Chattahoochee River in Early County, Georgia.

The only one of Georgia's 17 original covered bridges that is located south of Macon and Columbus, the Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge has been a Southern landmark since 1891.

Built at the McDonald Ford of Coheelee Creek in 1891 for a total cost of $491, the Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge was restored as a community effort in 1984. Although it suffers some from graffiti vandalism, the structure itself remains in very good condition.

The setting of the bridge is especially unique because not only is Coheelee the southernmost covered bridge in the country, but also because the creek that passes beneath it flows over a small waterfall within sight of the bridge. Waterfalls are extremely rare in South Georgia.

To learn more about Coheelee Creek and the other covered bridges of Georgia, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/coheelee1.

Battle of Holy Ground, Alabama

On December 23, 1813, an army led by General Ferdinand L. Claiborne attacked the Creek town of Holy Ground, Alabama, in a key action of the Creek War of 1813-1814.

The Battle of Holy Ground was fought for control of the religious center of the Red Stick faction of the Creek Nation. Led by the Prophet Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo), who based his operations on a high bluff overlooking the Alabama River, the Red Sticks were followers of a religious movement originated by the Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa.

From his base at Holy Ground, Francis and his subsidiary prophets taught their followers that the Creeks should return to traditional ways and give up all aspects of white culture. These teachings brought the Red Sticks, so named because they displayed red war clubs in their towns, into conflict with the Big Warrior, hereditary leader of the Creek Nation. A civil war erupted in the nation, but spread over to involve the whites when the Mississippi Territorial Militia attacked a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Creek, Alabama, during the summer of 1813.

The Red Sticks responded by attacking Fort Mims in South Alabama in August, killing hundreds of men, women and children. By December, three U.S. armies had converged on the Creek Nation. As Andrew Jackson fought his way south from Tennessee and John Floyd fought his way west from Georgia, a third army led by General Ferdinand Claiborne advanced on Holy Ground.

Believing that they would be protected by the Spirit of Life and over confident from their successes at Burnt Corn Creek and Fort Mims, the Red Sticks were overwhelmed by Claiborne's army. Using fallen trees for breastworks, William Weatherford and other warriors delayed Claiborne's advance while Francis evacuated the women and children across the river. It is said that Weatherford later escaped by leaping on horseback from the top of the bluff into the Alabama River.

The site is now Holy Ground Battlefield Park near the community of White Hall, Alabama. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/holyground1.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve - Bristol, Florida

Some of the most beautiful as well as historically and ecologically important land in the South can be found in the Nature Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve near Bristol, Florida.

The preserve contains more than 6,000 acres and protects beautiful bluffs and steephead ravines along the Apalachicola River where some of the rarest plants in the world can be found. Among these are the Florida Torreya, which local legend holds is the "gopher wood" from which Noah built the ark, and the Florida yew, a similar but even rarer tree.

A Bristol writer, E.E. Callaway, once advanced the theory that the Alum Bluff portion of the preserve was the Biblical Garden of Eden. To commemorate this theory, the Nature Conservancy now maintains the more than three mile long Garden of Eden Trail that provides public access to Alum Bluff and the site where Callaway believed the Garden of Eden once stood.

While most Biblical scholars place the Garden of Eden in the Middle East, Callaway's theory is still popular locally. Whether or not Alum Bluff was the site of Eden, it was the site of numerous significant events in Southern history. Andrew Jackson camped atop the bluff on March 13, 1818, during the First Seminole War. Confederate troops built fortifications here and lined the top of the bluff with heavy cannon during the Civil War as part of a defensive effort to guard the Apalachicola River against Union attack. Traces of the Civil War earthworks can still be seen.

The hike to Alum Bluff is strenuous, but leads to one of the most beautiful views in Florida. The towering bluff rises 135 feet above the river and offers a scenic panorama of Northwest Florida.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas

On December 28, 1862, thousands of Union troops stormed out of the icy Boston Mountains to attack the important river port of Van Buren, Arkansas.

The Battle of Van Buren was one of the more unusual of the Civil War. After an initial encounter at Dripping Springs north of town, the battling forces arrived in Van Buren so quickly that there was no time to warn the people of the community. As a result, citizens were going about their daily business along the main street when battling cavalry suddenly came charging down the avenue in their midst. Union soldiers later described seeing the astonished faces of civilians as they rode past at full speed.

Outnumbered Confederate troops boarded steamboats and a ferry on the Van Buren riverfront in an effort to escape across to the Fort Smith side of the Arkansas River. Despite cannon fire from the Union forces, the ferry made it across with most of the men. Two other steamboats, however, were forced to surrender.

For the rest of the day, the fighting raged between two armies separated by the wide Arkansas River. The Confederates planted a battery on the south bank of the river and began shelling the Union troops in Van Buren, inflicting both military and civilian casualties. Federal gunners replied with rifled cannon planted on a rise in the city's Fairview Cemetery. It was later estimated that as many as 100 shells crashed into the buildings and streets of Van Buren as civilians ran for cover.

The site of the battle is now (as it was then) a part of downtown Van Buren, a picturesque city overlooking the Arkansas River. To learn more, please visit our new pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.

Devil's Den State Park - West Fork, Arkansas

Located in the Boston Mountains, a rugged and picturesque area of the Ozarks south of the Arkansas city of Fayetteville, Devil's Den State Park preserves an array of historic sites and natural wonders.

Built by C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers during the Great Depression, the park includes the largest sandstone crevice area in the United States. Accessible via a 1 1/2 mile nature trail, the area includes fracture caves, bluffs, rock formations and wet weather waterfalls. One of the caves, Devil's Den Cave, is more than 500 feet long and is one of the largest fracture caves in the United States.

The park also preserves a section of the historic Butterfield Stage Line route that connected St. Louis with San Francisco from 1858 to 1861. Stagecoaches once ran along the old road, which is now followed by a nature trail, carrying mail and passengers on the more than 2,000 mile journey to California.

Union and Confederate forces marched along the same road during the Civil War and guerrilla bands hid out in the surrounding mountains throughout the brutal war and Reconstruction years.

Considered one of the best preserved C.C.C. projects in the nation, Devil's Den State Park also offers cabins, picnic areas, hiking trails, overlooks, a visitor center, mountain lake, waterfalls, butterfly garden, swimming pool and numerous other features. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ardevils1.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fort Hawkins - Macon, Georgia

Established in 18o6 by order of President Thomas Jefferson, historic Fort Hawkins stood on a high hill overlooking the historic Ocmulgee Old Fields and the site of what is now downtown Macon, Georgia.

Extremely well-built for a frontier outpost of the era, the fort consisted of blockhouses on diagonal corners connected by a rectangular stockade. Inside the stockade were various structures including barracks, an officers' quarters, etc.

Named for Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent to the Creek Nation, the fort served as a key post during the War of 1812 and the Creek War of 1813-1814. General Andrew Jackson visited the fort in February of 1818 as he led troops south to invade Florida during the First Seminole War.

Although it was not regularly garrisoned after 1819, Fort Hawkins remained an important landmark in the Macon area for many decades to come. One of the blockhouses was still standing at the site as late as the 1870s. The present blockhouse at the site is a reconstruction placed there during the 1930s and based on photographs and drawings of the original.

The site is now publicly owned and there are plans to develop it as a park. The reconstructed blockhouse can be seen on U.S. Highway 80 near the entrance to Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon. For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/forthawkins.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ocmulgee National Monument - Macon, Georgia

Ocmulgee National Monument preserves a major archaeological site of the Mississippian era located in what is now the eastern edge of the city of Macon, Georgia.

The Ocmulgee mounds, also called the "Ocmulgee Old Fields," are among the most impressive in the Deep South. The Great Temple Mound at the site is 55 feet high and overlooks a site that includes an array of other mounds and other unique Native American structures.

Established in around 900 A.D., the site was a major ceremonial and political center for an important chiefdom that flourished in the Macon area. At one time home to an estimated 1,000 people, the Ocmulgee site declined in importance in around 1100 A.D. and eventually was abandoned.

As evidence of their presence, however, the inhabitants of the site left behind a striking series of mounds and earthworks. One of the more fascinating structures was an earth lodge discovered by archaeologists as they began to investigate the mounds. Now reconstructed, the lodge was used for important council meetings and possibly religious ceremonies. Excavations revealed that special sets for 47 important leaders lined the circular wall of the structure, while an elevated platform built in the shape of a giant bird held three additional seats, undoubtedly used by the most important leaders of the town. Visitors can now enter the reconstructed lodge to see these original features.

To learn more about this important national park, please visit our new Ocmulgee pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ocmulgeemounds1.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Historic Southern Gardens Approach Blooming Season!

Some of the most beautiful and historic gardens in the South will be moving into full bloom over the next 4-5 weeks. Depending on the location, azaleas, dogwoods and a wide variety of other blooming plants provide explosions of color beginning in mid-March and continuing until nearly the end of April.

Here are links to some of my favorites:

One of the premier spring events in the South, the annual Muskogee Azalea Festival attracts thousands of visitors each year. Although they have been hampered by winter ice storms that have damaged trees and shrubs for two years in a row now, the hardworking folks in Muskogee will be ready for the crowds beginning on April 1st. The main day of festivities is scheduled for April 18th this year and will feature a parade and numerous other events. The Festival takes place at historic Honor Heights Park in Muskogee and features thousands of blooms covering 40 acres of grounds.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, Maclay Gardens began as a private winter home and has evolved into one of the most beautiful places in the South. Planted by Alfred B. and Louise Maclay beginning in 1923, the gardens have been called a "masterpiece of floral architecture." Absolutely breathtaking by the last week of March each year, the gardens feature winding pathways, beautiful water features and stunning cascades of azaleas, dogwoods and a wide variety of other flowering plants, even including mountain laurel. I have visited many locations over the years, but this very well may be the prettiest in the South at full bloom.
Blue Spring Heritage Center - Eureka Springs, Arkansas
This magnificent historic site and preserve is located just six miles northwest of downtown Eureka Springs, one of the finest destinations in the South. Once called Eureka Gardens, the beautifully landscaped gardens and natural settings surround Blue Spring, one of the deepest springs in Arkansas. Once a campsite on the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the location of the oldest known human habitation site in Arkansas, the heritage center is absolutely stunning in the spring. The blooms usually reach their peak during the first two weeks of April. With its beautiful blue water, natural rock formations and beautiful array of planted gardens, Blue Spring is one of the prettiest places in the nation.

An easy drive from the sparkling white sand beaches of Panama City, Destin and Fort Walton Beach in Northwest Florida, Eden Gardens State Park is the location of magnificent gardens that move into full bloom even as Spring Break books along the Emerald Coast. Surrounding the historic Wesley or Eden Mansion, the gardens were created by Lois Genevieve Maxon during the 1960s and donated by her to the people of Florida in memory of her parents. Beautiful year-round, Eden Gardens turns into a dramatic display of azaleas and other blooming plants during the last two weeks of March each year.

There are many other locations around the South that are stunning this time of year and I will be taking a look at some of the others over coming weeks, but these are some of my favorites to get you started.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blue Spring Heritage Center - Eureka Springs, Arkansas

One of the most beautiful spots in the South is a deep, clear, blue spring just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Now the focal point of the Blue Spring Heritage Center and once known as Eureka Gardens, Blue Spring is nestled in a charming and historic setting. One of the deepest springs in Arkansas, Blue Spring is known to be over 500 feet deep.

Surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, the spring is particularly beautiful in spring and will open for the season on Sunday, March 15. The admission price is $7.25 for adults, $4 for students ages 10-17. Children under 10 are admitted free.

Blue Spring has been a point of interest for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of the oldest known human habitation in Arkansas beneath a rock shelter overlooking the spring. Hundreds of Cherokee camped there on the Trail of Tears during the 1830s and both soldiers and guerrilla raiders drank water from the spring during the Civil War.

To learn more about this beautiful park and heritage center near Eureka Springs in Northwest Arkansas, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eureka3.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Battle of Natural Bridge Commemoration - Florida

The 144th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge was observed this weekend at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.

Beautiful spring weather with blue skies and temperatures in the 80s brought out a huge crowd that numbered into the thousands. Events included a memorial service at 1 p.m. followed by the annual reenactment of the battle that preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not taken by Union troops during the Civil War.

The event was made even more special this year by the recent announcement that the State of Florida had completed the acquisition of 55 more acres of key battlefield land at the site. The Natural Bridge battlefield was ranked as one of the ten most endangered Civil War battlefields in the country by the Civil War Preservation Trust, but the new land purchase means that the critical core of the scene of the fighting will now be preserved.

The announcement of the new land purchase during today's Memorial Ceremony and Annual Pilgrimage by Barry Burch, Park Manager, brought wild cheering and applause from the crowd.

The ceremonies, which were sponsored by the Anna Jackson Chapter 224 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were followed by a presentation by a reenactor portraying the Abolition leader and statesman Frederick Douglass.

The Douglass presentation was followed by the main battle reenactment itself. This year's event featured barrages of cannon fire from both sides of the river along with pyrotechics that simulated the explosions of shells, infantry attacks and volleys of musket fire.

The actual Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865, when a Union force landed at the St. Marks Lighthouse south of Tallahassee and began a march on both Florida's capital city and the nearby city of Thomasville, Georgia. Commanded by General John Newton, who had fought at Gettysburg and during the Atlanta Campaign, the Federal troops were turned back in an attempt to get across the St. Marks River at nearby Newport, so they turned north along the east bank of the river hoping to force a crossing at the Natural Bridge.

Major General Samuel Jones rushed Confederate troops to the threatened point and the key battle of the campaign took place along the banks of the river as Union forces launched 8 distinct assaults on the Southern lines, each one ending in failure.

The battle ended in a bloody debacle for Newton's command. He lost 150 men in the fighting along the St. Marks River, compared to only 50 Confederate losses. To learn more about this fascinating battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Threatened Florida State Parks will likely remain open!

Outstanding news from Tallahassee today on the future of nineteen Florida State Parks that have been facing threatened closure. Governor Charlie Crist has included funds to keep all of the parks operating in his annual budget proposal.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection had proposed temporarily or permanently closing a number of parks and historic sites due to budget problems, despite the fact that Florida has more than doubled its state budget in just the last ten years.

Among the parks and historic sites being considered for closure were:

The announcement that operating funds for keeping the parks open had been included in Governor Crist's new budget is a major step forward in saving the facilities, which include some of the most signficant historic sites in Florida. A spokesperson for the governor indicated that the public outpouring of support for the parks had much to do with the recommendation.

The final decision remains, but the news was a major breakthrough for lovers of Florida's historic sites and state parks.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida

Today is the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. Fought on March 6, 1865, the battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union forces during the Civil War.

One of the last significant Confederate victories of the war, the battle took place along the banks of the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee. Blocked from using a bridge downstream nearer the coast, Union General John Newton marched up the east bank of the river to the Natural Bridge, hoping to cross the St. Marks and strike the railroad line between Tallahassee and St. Marks.

Despite his later denials, his plan was to break the railroad and then advance on Tallahassee, taking Florida's capital, before pushing on to Thomasville, Georgia, where he believed thousands of Union prisoners of war were held. There had been a prison in Thomasville, but Newton did not know it had been evacuated by the time of his expedition.

The Federal troops were blocked at the Natural Bridge by a large Confederate force made up of the 1st Florida Reserves, the 1st Florida Militia, the Milton and Kilcrease Light Artillery batteries, the Cadets from the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University) and companies from both the 2nd and 5th Florida Cavalries. A detachment of sailors from the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray and another detachment of men from Campbell's Siege Artillery also served as infantrymen during the battle.

The Union force consisted of the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Infantries, a dismounted battalion from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, and a detachment of sailors that manned the Federal artillery during the battle.

The site today is preserved as the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. Located near the town of Woodville south of Tallahassee, the park includes monuments, preserved earthworks, a picnic area and beautiful views of the St. Marks River. The park hosts its annual memorial services and battle reenactment over the weekend, with events set for both Saturday and Sunday. The main events will take place on Sunday with a memorial service at 1 p.m. (Eastern), followed by the main battle reenactment.

To learn more about the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park - Ponce de Leon, Florida

One of the most beautiful spots in Northwest Florida can be found in the small town of Ponce de Leon. The Holmes County community is located along Interstate 10 between Marianna and Pensacola and is the home of Ponce de Leon Springs State Park.

The park surrounds a beautiful Florida spring that pours out 14 million gallons of water each day. Rising from two underground flows, the spring maintains a constant temperature of 68 degrees year round. During the winter, the water actually feels quite warm, while during the summer it feels ice cold.

Ponce de Leon Springs has been a popular spot for recreation since at least the 1840s. A log hotel operated there during the years leading up to the Civil War, but was destroyed by Union troops in 1864.

The springs remained a popular place for swimming and picnicking on into the 20th century and became a state park in 1970. The park now features swimming in the spring, picnicking, nature trails and more.

To learn more about Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, please visit our new page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/poncedeleonsprings.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

This weekend will mark the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, this Civil War engagement was fought on March 7-8, 1862, over thousands of acres of land in the far northwest corner of Arkansas. The site is now preserved as the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

The battle was one of the largest engagements of the Civil War in the West and involved over 26,000 men. An estimated 3,000 were killed, wounded or captured.

Pea Ridge was of critical importance because it halted a Confederate drive to invade Missouri early in the war, preserving that state for the Union. Had General Earl Van Dorn achieved victory in the battle, his plan was to march as far north as St. Louis. Everything seemed in his favor as the fighting started. He had more men, more cannon and managed to steal a march around the right flank of General Samuel Curtis's Union army and attack it from behind.

It was not to be. Van Dorn lost complete control of his army during the fighting and to make matters worse had left vital supplies behind as he marched north out of the Boston Mountains. By the end of the first day's fighting, his army was battered, exhausted and running out of supplies.

Van Dorn's failures allowed General Curtis to achieve one of the great victories of the war. Even though he had been surprised by a rear attack, hard fighting by a small portion of his army allowed him to turn his entire force in time to drive the Confederates from the field in the second day of the battle.

Pea Ridge National Military Park now preserves more than 4,000 acres of critical battlefield and offers a visitor center, driving tour, walking trails, cannon, monuments and the restored Elkhorn Tavern. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eden Gardens State Park - Point Washington, Florida

Located just off the beautiful white sand beaches of Northwest Florida's Emerald Coast in Point Washington, Eden Gardens State Park is a scenic treasure.

Surrounding a historic home built by lumberman William Henry Wesley in 1895, the gardens were established by wealthy publisher Lois Genevieve Maxon during the 1960s. She bought the home, which was once the center of a large sawmill community, in 1963 and turned it into a Gulf Coast showplace.

Just five years after acquiring the home, Maxon donated it to the people of Florida for use as a state park. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens of flowering plants, trees, fountains, reflecting pools, roses and statuary that she completed during her five years of ownership.

Maxon's generosity provided Northwest Florida with a spectacular state park that is beautiful year round, but particularly during late March when the gardens are in full bloom. Eden is located in Point Washington, just one mile off U.S. Highway 98 between Panama City and Destin.

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

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Alabama Snow - March 1, 2009

Residents of virtually the entire state of Alabama awaked to a rare sight this morning. Snow fell from the Tennessee line south almost to the Florida line.

Measurable snow fell across most of the state, from a dusting in the Dothan area to several inches in the north. Cheaha State Park and other areas in the mountains reported a significant snowfall, while 1-2 inches was forecast for both Birmingham in Montgomery.

Some light traffic problems were reported, but the warm ground temperatures and the fact that the snow came on a Sunday kept driving issues to a minimum.

Such events are historic in Alabama because a snow that falls across virtually the entire state is rare.

To see photos of the snowfall in Birmingham, please click here.