ECB Publishing, Inc.
Before it was a quiet little retirement area not far from the little beach town of Carrabelle, it had quite a storied past as a genteel turn-of-the-century seaside resort known as Lanark-On-The-Gulf, complete with a grand hotel that was the center of the community, and later, as a training camp for WWII soldiers learning the emerging art of amphibious assault tactics. Keith Roberts spoke about some of that history at a recent Kiwanis meeting, beginning with the year 1883, nearly 40 years after Florida became a state. That was the year the state legislature chartered a railroad that was to run from Thomasville to Tallahassee and on to Carrabelle in an almost straight north-to-south line, where it would facilitate travel to and from the Gulf Coast make the Panhandle region, still sparsely populated and covered with large tracts of virgin timber, more attractive to investors. However, the first attempt to build the railroad ran out of money; the enterprise was reorganized and re-chartered, but the second attempt floundered as well. Constructing the bridge across the Ochlocknee River was providing a bit of technical difficulty. Enter wealthy Scottish entrepreneur and textile magnate William Clark, of Coats & Clark fame. About this same time, Isaac Singer had just perfected the home sewing machine, and demand for Coats & Clark’s wooden spools of cotton thread skyrocketed. Clark needed wood for the spools to handle the increased demand, and purchased nearly 200,000 heavily forested acres in Panhandle Florida from Carrabelle to the Ochlocknee. He also bought the existing railroad, such as it was, and had the necessary assets to finally finish it – he hired the same engineering company that had built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and had them put in the bridge over the Ochlocknee. Additionally, around the turn of the century, he received a state grant of 206,370 acres for getting the trains to Florida. The wealthy Scotsman had plans for this part of Florida, partnering with colleagues in Scotland as well as New York to begin developing that part of Northwest Florida. As the railroad progressed toward Carrabelle, the workers built stations and laid out communities along the way, among them Arran, Sopchoppy, Curtisville and McIntyre. Soon, Clark’s enterprise controlled transportation from Tallahassee to Apalachicola. Just east of Carrabelle, the company laid out a little town named after Clark’s Scottish hometown of Lanarkshire – Lanark-On-The-Gulf. The company also built a fine hotel in the center of town, the Lanark Inn, which opened for business on July 4, 1894. With wide verandas and rocking chairs, a 500-foot boardwalk that connected the Inn to a dance pavilion over nearby Lanark Spring, private bathhouses over the spring and ample opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing, the Lanark Inn proved quite popular. It was advertised all over the country as a healthful and luxurious Florida resort for Northerners escaping the urban madness and wealthy Tallahassee residents drawn by the natural beauty, and the ample opportunities for boating, fishing and swimming. Families would pack up everything, servants and all, and come down to stay at Lanark Inn for the entire season. Things went along swimmingly until the hurricane of August of 1899. Carrabelle was wiped out, everything swept away except for a couple of huts. A fishing party camped out at Dog Island disappeared in the storm, becoming the Lost Fishing Party of 1899, never to be heard from again. McIntyre and Curtisville were destroyed. Carrabelle as it stands today was rebuilt after 1900. The Lanark Inn was rebuilt as well, and the second incarnation survived until WWII. Meanwhile, the times they were a-changing. In 1926, a paved highway from Tallahassee to Carrabelle began competing with the railroad, and shortly afterward came the Great Depression of the 30s. However, it was World War II that would bring the biggest change of all, when the Lanark Inn became the headquarters for Camp Gordon Johnston. The Clark enterprise leased much of its vast landholdings in the area to the military (only about 70 parcels remained in the hands of private owners), who used the beaches, inlets and wetlands, including Dog Island and St. George Island (both of which were still unpopulated at the time) to train entire divisions of soldiers in amphibious warfare techniques, including the use of amphibious vehicles. Evenings changed radically for remaining residents. 7 p.m. began the mandatory blackout period, when lights must either be turned off or hidden behind blackout drapes at all windows. Noise of any kind was forbidden, so there were no radios or live music played after that hour, meaning no more evening dances at the pavilion. Instead, the residents became accustomed to watching the amphibious landing craft and soldiers on night maneuvers as they practiced and drilled along the shoreline. Conditions at Camp Gordon Johnston were pretty tough, with mosquitoes and stifling heat in the summer and cold winters with inadequate heat for the thin-walled buildings; the barracks had been thrown together so quickly, many didn’t even have floors; cots and chairs and tiny camp heaters stood directly on the sand. When the camp first opened, there was no mess hall, so recruits ate outdoors using their mess kits. During this time, over 250,000 soldiers trained at Camp Gordon Johnston, many of them going on to participate in the D-Day invasion of 1944. After the war, much of the land was sold off as government surplus, and some of the military camp buildings fell into disrepair, but its next phase of existence was still to come. By 1955 Lanark Estates, Inc., began laying out a new subdivision: Lanark Village, a retirement community. Many small communities in Florida have similar stories; like Lanark Village, they evolved over time shaped by historic events and circumstances, especially during WWII, with only a few traces of visible history remaining for those who know where to look. The State Library and Archives of Florida have a wide variety of print and manuscript materials concerning many of Florida’s small communities and their varied and colorful local history. For more information about the Library’s resources, visit info.florida.gov.