Any historical narrative concerning the development of this
part of the state must be pegged to Bagdad, for reasons that are obvious.
For more than one hundred years the name was synonymous with the progress
and development of a larger region. Here during that time was, at times,
the largest lumber manufacturing plants in the entire country.
The name Bagdad is one that conjures up fascinating pictures:
that famous city of the Middle East, the queen city of Mesopotamia, the
city between the two great rivers.
The location of our Bagdad between the two larger rivers of
the region probably accounts for the name. It is located at the mouth of
Pond Creek on a grassy, pine-covered peninsula between Escambia and Blackwater
Rivers. As Blackwater spreads out into a tidal estuary here it is very appropriately
named the Bahia Santa Maria de Galvez.
Bagdad is located at the mouth of Pond Creek on a peninsula between
Blackwater and Escambia River. (Note square - Bagdad's location.)
At a time, about 1825, a young man got into rather serious
trouble with some of the excitable Latin bloods in New Orleans. When the
score was posted he found he had killed a man under such circumstances that
would be hard to explain to officials of justice there. That young man became
a fugitive from justice. He made his escape in a pirogue, bateau, or more
prosaically perhaps, in a dugout canoe. He travelled along the coast, finally
stopping at the brickyard of John Hunt near Bagdad. Here he hired out as
a laborer and proved to be a good worker, frugal and conservative. Living
then under a system of free enterprise, he soon accumulated enough to cast
around for an opportunity to go into business for himself.
Certain records seem to indicate that in 1817 the King of
Spain, through His Majesty's agents in Pensacola, made a cession of land
to one of His Majesty's subjects, Juan de la Rua. The consideration of such
concession was that there be delivered to His Majesty's agents at stated
times and at stated places specific amounts of yellow pine lumber. This
concession of land was about three miles upstream on Pond Creek above Bagdad
at Arcadia. The construction of a mill was begun. By 1828, however, la Rua
had become discouraged; labor troubles were not the least of his disappointments
since unfriendly Indians would not allow him to keep dependable labor in
any sufficient numbers. So in that year the title to Juan de la Rua concession
passed to Joseph Forsyth.
It must not be thought that the concession made to Juan de
la Rua was at all an isolated sort of thing for there are recorded at about
the same period approximately forty others - some of them under similar
conditions and others under vastly different conditions. Some of the recipients
were subjects of the Spanish King who wished compensation or who wished
estate holdings in America under the impending change in title to Florida.
Others were migrants from nearby states of the United States. Some of these
were answering the migratory urge of the pioneer spirit and no doubt some
were, or would shortly be, finding it uncomfortable in the old locality.
Titles to these concessions were confirmed under special orders of special
sessions of United States courts sitting for that particular purpose. The
most of such confirmations were completed before Florida became a state
of the United States.
Joseph Forsyth began immediately the construction of a waterpowered
sawmill on the tract of land. Power was to be supplied by a dam constructed
across Pond Creek at that place.
Mr. Forsyth was dogged by the same labor trouble as had been
his predecessor. He knew the answer to the labor problem but he lacked sufficient
capital to make the necessary investment. Just at this time, fortunately
for Forsyth, two North Carolina gentlemen, who-had some capital and who
had been attracted by the stories of satisfactory investment possibilities
in Florida, arrived here. So we find that in 1830 Andres P. Simpson and
Ezekiel E. Simpson jointly became partners of Joseph Forsyth in the firm
of Forsyth and Simpson. The labor problem was solved by the purchase of
a large number of slaves.
An examination of the railway records of Florida reveals that
in the year 1838 there were three railways in the state, but only two were
in operation - these two having a total mileage of twenty-one miles. One
of these railways is listed as the Arcadia & Blackwater Railway which
had a mileage of three miles and was in Escambia County. This railway, of
course, is the one that was constructed by Forsyth and Simpson to carry
lumber from their mill at Arcadia on Pond Creek to shipside at the confluence
of that stream with Blackwater River. New Orleans, being the best market
in this region for yellow pine lumber at that time, made this a very satisfactory
arrangement for them. That railway, like all railways of the time, was none
too satisfactory with rails simply faced with iron, rather than being made
solidly of iron, and having a motive power of mules.
The most satisfactory solution for that problem, of course,
would have been to move the sawmill to the waterfront. This solution, however,
made it necessary to consider the problem of water supply for the motive
power at the waterfront would have to be steam and without the deep wells
or the water-treatment facilities of today, it would be impossible to use
the brackish water of the waterfront in the boilers. The solution to the
water problem was a very ingenious one. A small stream about a mile above
the new mill site was dammed to create a working head of water and the water
was conducted through pipes to the mill site. The most ingenious part of
it all was the piping which was two inch holes longitudinally through the
center of pine timbers with couplings of handforged and heat shrunken iron
ferrules. These couplings are, in some instances, in good condition, even
The removal of the sawmill from Arcadia to the waterfront
meant the abandonment of the power facilities at Arcadia unless some other
use could be found for them. A quotation from the Pensacola Gazette under
the dateline of February 14, 1841, is of interest in that connection: "Some
gentlemen, we learn, are about to establish a cotton factory at, or near,
Arcadia in this county." Quite confusing it is then to find in the Ancient
City, also published in Pensacola, under the date line of January 15, 1841,
this quotation: "The cotton factory on Blackwater River twenty miles from
Pensacola is worked entirely by white overseers and Negro operators." Quite
reassuring, then, is the quotation from the Pensacola Gazette under a date
line of April 8, 1848: "Arcadia Cotton Factory rough 24 looms and turns
out 100 yards of cloth per day. Work by slave labor alone."
Substantiating the statements from the press are these excerpts
from the Acts of the Legislature: Chapter 65, 1845 that hereafter the name
of the Escambia Manufacturing Company shall be the Arcadia Manufacturing
Company and the capital stock of the said company shall be divided into
shares of $100 each, any thing in the original act of incorporation notwithstanding."
It is to be presumed that the cotton mill started its operation about 1840,
that it was under the supervision of two ladies, Misses Dennison who came
here from New York State for that purpose. This cotton mill probably continued
in operation until 1852 when both ladies succumbed to yellow fever. During
this interval, however, they had become the wives of James Creary and E.
In 1855 Joseph Forsyth died and was buried in the peaceful
little cemetery atop the hill overlooking the millsite that had meant so
much to him.
The years following 1855 were troublous ones. The "Company",
by then known as Simpson and Company, showed rare foresight in the moves
of the next few years. Realizing that a civil conflict was imminent and
that their financial affairs handled by a New York concern would likely
come under confiscation orders, they sent R. M. Bushnell, a firm member
to that city to take care of that matter for them, which he was successful
in doing. James Creary, another firm member, was left at Bagdad to care
for their interests and property there. Most of the other firm members then
took themselves and their families away from the coastal counties into the
interior where they spent the whole period of the war. Following the war
all members of the firm returned to their places in Bagdad to find, that
for the most part, it had been destroyed by fire, in part by the Confederates
to keep it from failing into the hands of the Federals, and in part by the
Federals to keep it from being of any use to the Confederates. One landmark
still remains of those ante-bellum days - the Old Thompson house which now
stands on the corner of Forsyth and Thompson streets, directly across Thompson
Street from the post office.
THOMPSON HOUSE (BAGDAD)
This home is an excellent example of the Ante-bellum homes of
the area. It was built near and facing the bay but was reversed
and moved to face Forsyth Street. It has remained the home of
the same family throughout the years.
James Creary, who had been left in charge of operations at
Bagdad, was returned from Cuba where he had been taken by the Federals after
his arrest at Bagdad during a raid. The firm members started on a period
of progressive expansion in the days just following the war that was to
continue throughout the years until the final closing of the mill in 1939.
BAGDAD, SITE OF BAGDAD MILL
Here was the site of the Bagdad Mill; which was in continuous operation
for 111 years until it was closed down in 1939. The Forsyth and Simpson
mill was moved to here from Arcadia.
The mill had been rebuilt at the waterfront with one special
end in view; in addition to the ease of handling the finished product, that
one special end in view had been a greater ease in obtaining the raw material
- logs - from a more widespread territory. Another practice grew out of
this new policy of the "company," that of supplying of the trade with LONG
dimension timber. In order to facilitate the handling of this long "stuff,"
both raw and finished, an extra mill was built, especially for that material,
on an island in the stream directly opposite the original mill on the mainland.
This mill was called the "Island Mill" and continued in operation until
Another "Company" policy which came into common practice at
about this time had a rather peculiar genesis. During the days of the reconstruction,
the "carpetbagger", and the "scalawag", Florida like all sister southern
states had accumulated a state debt all out of proportion to her ability
to pay. Worse still, there was absolutely nothing to show for this debt.
This new policy grew out of the dire need of the state for operating and
indebtedness funds. In order to assist the state in securing these funds
the Federal government offered to render to the state those lands within
the state classified as "swamp and overflow" lands. The sale of those lands
was to be expedited by the state for the purposes of paying the indebtedness
into a current condition, encouraging the building of railways and other
internal improvements, and the education of the youth of the state.
Before any of these lands could be cleared as swamp and overflow
lands, they had to be surveyed and an affidavit signed by responsible parties
attesting to the fact that they had ridden over the said lands in a boat.
Numerous subterfuges were practiced to get these lands classified as "swamp
and overflow" lands, but the most common one was to have the witnesses drawn
over the lands in question in a boat - the boat mounted on a wagon drawn
by oxen. Much of this land was resold by the state at prices ranging from
twelve and one-half cents to one dollar per acre. At about the turn of the
present century the holdings of the "company" amounted to nearly two- hundred
thousand acres, much of which was located near to waters of the Blackwater
and Yellow Rivers and was easily accessible to the mill under its new policy
of cutting. The cutting policy maintained at this time was a highly "selective"
one. Most of the logs were floated to the mill, and since only well-grown
trees of high quality would float satisfactorily, the immature and defective
trees were left growing in the Woods.
The hearing of the figures and the achievements of this "company"
might lead one into thinking that this was almost a monopoly business. Such
thinking would be far from the truth. While this was the largest and most
continuous single operation, there were many other operators, some in identical,
and others in merely similar, undertakings.
About 1903, after a number of deaths among the partners of
this "company," it was decided to sell the entire holdings if a buyer could
be found. A Chicago firm, Fentress & Baker, undertook and successfully
completed the organization of a company to buy these holdings. Thus after
seventy-five years of operation as a partnership (Forsyth & Simpson
or Simpson & Company) the "company" became a corporation, Stearns &
Culver Lumber Company.
The new company introduced new methods of logging. For the
slow laborious method of floating logs, a logging railroad with a system
of "spur" tracks was substituted and at time this railway made one-way trips
that totaled nearly fifty miles. Even so, the cutting was still somewhat
slow and to a certain extent "selective". In 1912 the Stearns & Culver
Lumber Co. was succeeded in Bagdad by the Bagdad Land & Lumber Co.,
an Illinois corporation operating under an Illinois charter. As the name
suggests it had as a part of its policy the converting of large tracts of
the more desirable cutover tracts into farm communities. However even this
company had no SUSTAINED YIELD program or policy for their holdings. This
company however did some very fine pioneer work in establishing purebred
livestock on the farms of Santa Rosa County. It was under the policies of
this company, for instance, that the Florida Livestock Agricultural Farms,
Inc. was chartered and began its career as a sort of forward looking experimental
farming operation that was to have great influence upon the livestock and
agricultural practices of the whole county. Many of the "crackers" were
slow to follow some of the practices of the "Munson Farm" but it was surprising
how many farmers bought registered Duroc gilts and boars from the herds
of that farm.
Within this townsite was grown the very first "Papershell"
pecans and they were exhibited the World Fair in Paris. Mr. C. M. Munson,
for whom the town of Munson was named and who is still remembered for his
civic services to the county, was at one time the General Manager for the
Bagdad Land and Lumber Company.
In 1922 the Illinois corporation was succeeded by a Florida
corporation operating under the laws of Florida. The principal stockholders
of this corporation were southern lumbermen. They continued the operation
of the company until its closing in 1939.
This area, such as many other such areas, has gone through
widely different stages of development. Roughly these stages of development
may be grouped under three headings:
The purely pioneer stage when the "squatters"
on the land may constitute a labor force but there is likely no fixed
The secondary stage when the making
of a home becomes the primary object and the working at "public work"
becomes secondary and very often seasonal.
The division of the population into
two groups: one following the land and the other following "Public work".
When this area or any other reaches this third state there
is likely to be social conflict. The impact of these conflicts upon the
region may be, and often is, terrific. In this case of Bagdad and Santa
Rosa County the conflict of those who followed the land and those who were
the "company" became the vehicle for taxation, constantly increasing, and
largely AD VALOREM with the value determined more and more, by officials
who were elected by the "other side". The tax indeed became burdensome.
There was, it seemed, (at least in this case) but one way "to cut the GORDIAN
KNOT". The company chose that way. "Cut out and get out". "Clean Sweep".
We can easily observe now at least how much more sensible
it would have been to have adopted some sensible taxation system. How nice
it would be if we still had a "company" and a lot of "piney woods".
Naturally these developments of the great sawmill at Bagdad
did not go on alone, since there is always a parallel development of like
industries under a system of free enterprise. None of those parallel developments
of lumber manufacturing establishments quite equalled the one at Bagdad
in size but their output at times was rather large. The J. A. Chaffin &
Co. plant at Milton continued operation for a number of years just at the
turn of the century. In part, at least, it was supplied from timbered lands
acquired from the older company at Bagdad as they rounded out their holdings.
The Robinson Point Lumber Co. under the management of the Tomasellos, followed
the pattern of the older company at Bagdad. This plant, a rather sizable
one as plants go nowadays, had no rail connections, but depended entirely
upon waterways for transportation of both its raw materials and its finished
products. Its trade, of course, was to a large extent export.
Another large mill was the one at Bay Point, The Bay Point
Mill Co., efficiently managed by the Piaggos and Rosascos and the only one
mentioned up to this point that still maintains regular offices and does
business under its original name, The Bay Point Mill Co. The mill itself
ceased operation but the company still has rather large, though scattered,
holdings over this county. One of the interesting facts about this latter
mill was that its management over a period of years was of Italian extraction
and it did a large business in catering to the lumber needs of certain Italian
ports. This business assumed such sizable proportions that a commonly used
and spoken of grade for certain types and of lumber was GENOA PINE.
A rather latecomer into the field was the Escambia Land &
Manufacturing " (The Pace Co.). As was the case of a number of other companies,
their holdings were acquired in part as the "company" at Bagdad rounded
out its vast holding; the last such acquisition dating in the years just
after World War I. One distinction that sets this company apart from some
of the others mentioned is the fact that under another name and to a certain
extent in another line of business this company continues operation. It
will no doubt profit by the engineering work in methods, management, and
other adjustments of the earlier companies in the field.
Other companies acquiring a part of the holdings of the older
company at Bagdad that might be mentioned would be: The Alger-Sullivan Lumber,
Century, Florida; The T. R. Miller Mill Co., Brewton, Alabama; The Jackson
Lumber Co., Florala, (Lockhart) Alabama; The Horseshoe Lumber Co., River
Falls, Alabama; and The Pollard Mill Co., Pollard, Alabama.
Another and closely allied line of business that developed
along with the mills located along the Blackwater was the shipbuilding industry.
At one time there were ways (timbers on which a ship is built and launched)
in operation in at least six different yards along Blackwater. Some of the
greatest names in shipping and shipbuilding along the Gulf coast had their
beginnings in the field here. Taken together with those other names the
roster reads like a -"Who's Who": Adams, Anderson, Bushnell, Bruce, Bonifay,
Cater, Chaffin, Cross, Creary, Davis, Dennison, Dorr, Ellis, Forsyth, Hall,
Hoodless, Jernigan, Lewis, Marquis, Munson, Ollinger, Overman, Roberts,
Robinson, Rosasco, Sindorf, Simpson, Stewart, Stevens, Thompson, Tomasello,
Wright, and many others. These are all a part of the great pioneering spirit
of that little village on the Blackwater. Isn't it a wonderful heritage
to hand down to posterity?
BAGDAD POST OFFICE
This somewhat tiny wooden building has served the needs of the
people of this community as a post office for nearly 100 years.
Postmaster General James A. Farley visited here in person and
presented a citation to the postmistress, Emma Joyner, upon her
The Bagdad Inn (during early 1900s)
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