- Chapter X,
- From North to South,
- pg. 125-131
Not long after I was in my own home in Oshkosh on a visit
to my family, in May, 1874, when my father-in-law came to me
and asked me to ride with him to the city. On the way he told
me about a project he was considering.
It seemed that some parties had appeared in Oshkosh having
for sale some seventy-five thousand acres of railroad pine lands
in Florida and some local persons lacking the capital necessary
for the purchase, had asked Mr. Hubbard to join them. He said
that these men had been down and examined the lands, that the
young man who was book-keeper at the Wakefield flour mill had
gone with them to learn what he could, pledging to give Mr.
Hubbard a correct account of things in Florida as he should
find them; that he had returned and made his report. To insure
the full interest of this young man, my father-in-law had told
him that if he saw any good bargains in that state, that he
would join him in their purchase. The book-keeper brought the
report that he had secured a saw-mill plant and six thousand
acres of land for $26,000, paying $1,000 down and agreeing to
pay $10,000 more in thirty days. Then my father-in-law went
on to say that he was getting to be an old man, was troubled
with rheumatism, that he wished to go to a milder climate, that
he wished to put his nephew into a business which would give
him something to do, and that he also thought it might suit
me to go to Florida and engage in the lumber business so he
thought he would invest. I replied, "Mr. Hubbard, I have been
influenced in the past by the advice of others, but in the future
I mean to act only upon my own judgment in matters of business.
I cannot tell what I would like to do, until I have examined
this proposition myself and formed my own conclusions." He replied
that he wished I would go and see the property and tell him
what I thought about it. I suggested that this would cost considerable
in both time and money. He appeared to be quite anxious for
me to go, however, and said if I should see fit to enter the
project that he would furnish the money to run the business
in good shape. We interviewed Mr. Johnson, the book-keeper referred
to, and he was very optimistic about the affair, saying that
there was "Thousands in it."
It was consequently arranged that in ten days' time I should
meet Mr. Johnson in Chicago and that we would proceed to Pensacola
and together examine the property for which he had bargained.
I had some sales of fire engine-hose in the western part of
Wisconsin also in St. Paul and Minneapolis that I wished to
close up and I had some collections to make in the same territory.
After completing these affairs, I met Mr. Johnson in Chicago
as planned. He brought me from Mr. Hubbard $10,000 in New York
Exchange payable to my order, with instructions that if, in
my opinion the property was worth the sum agreed upon, that
I should buy it. We left the north in May, for the "Land of
I had some relatives living in Florida who had been there since
"befo 'de-wah." The husband of a cousin was in the lumber business
at a place called Bagdad, Florida. Soon after arriving in Pensacola
I learned that a steamer was going to this place with a party
of people who were to attend an entertainment for the benefit
of a local church. I was invited to join the excursion, and
did so. We arrived after dark. I had not seen my cousin for
twenty years, but was invited to her home and was hospitably
received. Their house was a fine old mansion surrounded by live
oaks and other handsome trees. It was a very pleasing home.
Every one had a good time, and after the entertainment, which
had been held in the church, the steamer returned to Pensacola
with its passengers.
In deciding, about the business venture, my chief desire was
of course to see the pine lands. I knew that a sawmill was valueless
without saw-logs, and I wished to learn if the forests would
yield a supply of logs for a good many years. The agent of the
railroad offering this land for sale, was a Mr. Peter Knowles,
a long time resident of Florida, in fact since before the "late
unpleasantness." He was a very genial gentleman, liked good
things to eat and drink and a good time generally. He procured
a two-seated covered wagon, for our journey, in which he placed
provisions for our comfort. This was propelled by a pair of
mules and a negro driver. We crossed the river at Ferry Pass,
an arm of Escambia Bay, and landed on' terra firma' at Florida
Town where we struck the pine lands which I wished to see. We
rode from Florida Town nearly northward, traversing the highest
These pine woods were different from any forests
I had ever seen. The ground was covered with a fine green grass
which looked like a gentleman's lawn. The trees were very stately
and handsome, most of them forty or fifty feet to the limbs,
tree tops covered with green pine needles which grew in clusters.
There was no underbrush and no obstruction except where some
tree had been burned or blown down, and lay with its long trunk
on the ground. One could drive in any direction in these woods.
All that was necessary to know was the points of the compass.
It seemed like sacrilege for man to come and cut down these
magnificent trees. I wished often, in the years to come, that
I need not do this.
We traveled that day about twenty-five miles through this beautiful
forest. In later years it was my fortune to own most of these
lands and at one time I could ride thirty miles in a northerly
direction and be upon my own land all the time.
Every few miles through these woods could be found a "squatter."
These men would cut down a few trees, build a log house, clear
up a few acres upon which to raise cotton, corn and sweet potatoes.
His pigs, sheep and cattle would find their own living in the
woods, and all the squatter had to do, to secure the ownership,
was to brand them while they were young. The names of these
settlers would indicate that the majority of them were of Scotch
extraction. These were the original Florida "crackers." There
were no schools among them, during the days of slavery; and
a great many of them were unable to read or write their own
names. They prided themselves that a white man would not steal.
This fact in their estimation, raised them far above the negroes,
for whom they had great contempt; per contra; the negroes entertained
a very low opinion of the poor whites, while they cherished
a deep veneration for their own masters. We stayed all night
with a squatter who entertained us hospitably at his house not
far from the Alabama line. I certainly enjoyed those woods and
my admiration for them has never lessened.
In the morning we started on our return, but by another road,
so we traveled through new forests all the time. At night we
arrived at a sawmill not far from the Escambia, River, and were
hospitably entertained by the owner, Mr. R. D. Byrne who invited
us to spend the night at his house. I recollect that we passed
the evening around the fireplace, although it was in the month
of June, and that the fire felt very comfortable. We conversed
about the country's possibilities, and of the forests, meanwhile
smoking our cigars. The next day we returned to Florida Town,
and visited the mill that was involved in the purchase. This,
I think, was naturally one of the most beautiful spots I have
ever seen in Florida. The mill was situated on Escambia Bay
at a point where it was about two miles wide, and directly under
a bluff that towered about eighty feet above the water, and
which gradually sloped to the water's edge. This incline was
covered with a thick forest, consisting mostly of live oak trees,
from whose limbs hung festoons of grey Florida moss, reminding
one of Santa Claus with his grey hair and whiskers. On the top
of this bluff was the residence of the mill. owner, in a clearing
of ten acres. The house was surrounded with crepe myrtles twenty-five
feet high, and now in full bloom. In the front yard were two
gigantic live oaks, quite shapely and beautiful. On each side
of the front porch were two fine Japanese plum trees, the largest
that I have ever seen of this variety. In the rear of the house
were two very large magnolias, and other trees; sycamore, mulberry
and black oak. In the yard were several large arbors of scuppernong
grapes. In the garden were peach trees in full bearing. It seemed
as if a man with a contented mind might find here: "Paradise
From the mill we returned to Pensacola and stopped at what
was called the Santa Rosa Hotel. Whether this was built before
or since the war I am unable to tell. It was three stories in
height while most of the buildings of the town were but one.
A Mrs. Hickey was boarding at this hotel and she had a mocking
bird which she had educated as a songster. In the morning we
were awakened by the most rapturous singing to which I had ever
listened. The bird appeared to be in a very ecstasy of excitement
and it made so much noise that it was impossible for one to
go to sleep again. I had never before heard a mocking bird,
and was charmed as I listened, so much so that I obtained a
young one and took it with me to Oshkosh. I imagine however,
that it needed the training of other birds. After a lingering
and uneventful existence it died.
At this time there were two private banking houses in Pensacola:
Hyer Brothers and C. L Le Baron. In making out the papers for
the purchase, I had the mill and lands deeded to Mr. Hubbard,
rather than have them deeded to the new firm and they give a
mortgage to him. I knew this would make Mr. Hubbard safe, regardless
of what might happen to the rest of us. I also, agreed to take
the stock of goods in the store at a fair valuation. After this
business was finished, I returned to Oshkosh, leaving Mr. Johnson
to inventory the stock and have the care and custody of the
property. When I arrived at Oshkosh, Mr. Hubbard refused to
give a note to secure the balance due on the property, but was
willing to give a mortgage on it to secure the note of the new
firm. To this the sellers consented, and the purchase of the
property was consummated in that way.
The cost of the mill and lands was $26,000. The inventory of
the goods in the store, as made by Mr. Johnson, showed a value
of $3,000. While the foregoing settlement was in progress, Mr.
Hubbard one morning called me into his room and said: Mr. Skinner,
I am sick of that investment of yours in Florida; I want you
to go to Pensacola and get what you can of that $10,000 and
let the trade go." I replied, "Mr. Hubbard, I do not see how
I can do this. If the parties thought we were sick of the trade
they would not return any of the money; if I went down there
and made a settlement of the trade which involved a loss to
you, you would always blame me, unless I made good the loss
to you, so I am not willing to do as you request. I believe
the property is a bargain at the price which we paid for it."
After this interview, my father-in-law never referred to the