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Federal Point Families

A Saga of the St. Johns River by E. Stuart Hubbard

Editors note--- (The basic facts of this historic story were obtained in conversations with Lizzie Taylor Brown, Becky Taylor Atkinson and LuLu Atkinson in November 1953 and from my father, Edwin S. Hubbard.)
E. Stuart Hubbard
 
 At the end of the Civil War the youths who had formed the armies and supplied the sinews of war found themselves confronted with the problems of choosing a career; of locating a home; of satisfying the desire for romance and the passing on, through a family of their own, the best of their aspirations.
 Many of the boys in the Union army had passed through the southern states and had learned to love and appreciate its climate, its land, its lakes and rivers, its people and its way of living. Many returned home to find parents and family gone or struggling to exist in the hard times that follow wars, with little opportunity for young men, untrained except as soldiers. Florida, with her resources, glimpsed, but scarcely touched, beckoned these adventurous spirits - called them to come and grow up with her. 
 And so they streamed into our state from the North, the South, the East and the West men of varying character and background - some with no special talents at all. What did they find? How were they received? What did Florida do with them and for them?  Suppose we take one of these boys and see what Mother Florida has done for him and his aspirations.
 This saga is not so much conceived with exactness of dates and details as with the pattern and the weaving of the fabric, which has become the posterity of Ephram Taylor.
 Born of parents of English ancestry at Hempstead, Long Island, Ephram ran away from his village home to the seaport of New York. Like many boys of his time, the sea seemed to offer freedom from the discipline of home and school  - the adventures of the ocean and foreign lands. He wandered along the waterfront, fascinated by the tall masts of the sailing ships, the funnels of the steamships, the smells of the tarred rigging, the rough talk of the sailors. And so, he found himself aboard a sailing ship, sails driving her steadily southward. Gruffly he was ordered to help the cook. He started at the bottom to learn to be a sailor before the mast.
 The ship proved to be a whaler. Twice he rounded the Horn. It was three years before he, again, landed in New York. Here he found the excitement of a nation engaged in a bitter war. He was quickly drafted. He served in the army until discharged when peace finally ended the bitter struggle between the North and the South.
 Returning home he found his parents dead, his three sisters scattered - no sure abiding place for him.
 While hospitalized, he was tended by a volunteer nurse, an English girl, Mary Charlotte Wright. They married.
 The lure of  "beyond the horizon" beckoned. The young couple wandered on until they reached the St. John's River. Here, F1orida in the making, took them with all her crudeness and the hardships and terrors of a wilderness. What the young couple found of the joys of youth; what they found in the beautier of this untamed stream, with its forest, its teeming wild life; what their hopes were, their strengths and their weaknesses we do not know.
 It seems that fishing offered more to Ephram than other ways of life or of earning a living. There was other work in plenty to be done - hard physical labor. There was little money to pay for such work and the most skillful were employed first. And Ephram lacked skills except for catching and selling fish. And, perhaps, the freedoms of the fisher's life held him.
 When moving up and down the river in his boat, stopping where conditions favored, living in shelters or cabins or camps in a country where housing was lacking to shelter the flood of fortune seekers who poured into the new frontier, the couple became acquainted with families up and down the river. When selling the catch; when buying supplies; when needing help with the two baby girls that were born to them, they found friends along the river. At Federal Point, Squire Tenney with his store, his leadership and his human friendliness formed an attachment for the little family. Edmund Hart and others helped them when in need.
 Finally the mother succumbed to the hardships of this rough life. Ephram was left with his two lively girls to be cared for and brought up to be all that a young father wishes his daughters to be.
 He knew a family named Merryfield who were good young people - the husband from Maine, the wife from Pennsylvania. They had, also, found shelter, when they first came to the Point, like the Taylors, in makeshift camps and former slave cabins until they could acquire land, three miles back in the woods, and build a house at what was to become Merryfield's station when the East Coast railroad was built. (The railroad changed the name to Hastings when it moved the station to the road crossing to the north).
 The Merryfields took the two young girls into their family while Ephram adjusted himself to his loss. Squire Tenney agreed to take Lizzie, the older daughter, into his family to help with the care of his young son, Frank, and to become his ward. Then Ephram resumed his fishing way up the river above Lake Monroe on Tick Island.  Here he built a palmetto-thatched camp for himself and little six-year-old Becky.  Only one other family lived on this lonely island, which was inhabited by rattlesnakes, moccasins, alligators, bears, panthers and the wildest of wild life. The settlers and tourists who swarmed into Sanford and Enterprise, the terminal of river navigation for the Steamer Dictator, provided ready market for his catch. And the water fairly boiled with the finest trout and mullet.
 But living on the island was tedious and hard for little Becky; left alone while her Father was off fishing. One day she went to the river shore to wait for her father's return. She sat on the ground, then lay down in the shade of a live oak and fell asleep.  As Ephram approached the landing, facing forward fisherman fashion pushing his oars, he was horrified to see a great alligator walking up the bank, body high off the ground on short, stiff legs It had almost reached the sleeping Becky.  Frantically rowing and shouting he frightened the gator so that it swung around in mad haste to reach the river, striking the awakened Becky with its long, scaley tail, inflicting a wound the scars of which she has always carried as a mute witness to the dangers of the wilderness.
 Not long after this frightful experience Ephram found a big cottonmouth moccasin sprawled under Becky's bed. He decided that this was no place for his little girl, much as he loved to have her with him. She must not continue to live alone with Ephram along the river shore, nor could she be expected to endure the torture of mosquitoes, sand flies, red bugs, ticks, scorpions, fleas and deer flies and the hazards of wild animals and reptiles and malaria which endangered the lives of children in a fisherman's camp.
 At Cartersville near DeLand lived a thrifty Scotch family, the McBrides.  They were almost self-sufficient with their farming, hunting and fishing. The McBrides agreed to take Becky into their family. She lived with them for a while. But little Becky longed for her sister, Lizzie. So, one day Ephram and Becky came up the Merrifield's path----????------ Ephram arranged with Squire Tenney to take Becky also. This he was able to do. And so Lizzie and Becky Taylor grew up in the family of J. F. Tenney by the dock and store at Federal Point. Here they could see all the activities of trading at the store; the bringing of letters to the post office in the morning before mailboat time; the coming for mail in the evening; the landing of the Dictator and other riverboats. Here they could go to Sunday School and church, attend school and meet all the people who came to and lived at Federal Point. And so they grew to be healthy, handsome young ladies with the culture of a Yankee village in a Southern state.
 Ephram returned to his Lake Monroe fishing. He had made many friends who were solicitous for the future of his daughters. They induced him to homestead a section of fine land. He filed his claim, built his cabin and lived the required time on his land. When he finally applied for the title to his 640 acres he was told that title had already been given to another homesteader who, unknown to him, had filed claim to this section and had been living on the other side of the tract. His friends rallied to his rescue, raised several thousand dollars and helped him contest the claim, without success.
 As time passed, the fame of the virgin forests in Florida spread across the nation. It reached a family of mill men in Missouri. One of these, Charles W. Brown, came to find opportunity in his profession of lumbering.  The progressive settlement at the Point pleased him. He bought a location on the Cove between the Dorr and Walter Hart groves. Here he built a sawmill on a wharf, which extended out over the river, borrowing from Edmund Hart to buy a steam boiler. He also built a steamboat wharf, which ran out to deep water in the Cove. He planted an orange grove.
 Romance drew Charles and Lizzie together. They were married and lived the happy, busy life of a young couple.
 Charles prospected the woods and found fine pine and cypress timber up Deep Creek near the Minorcan settlement of Moccasin Branch. He bargained with families such as the Turners, Masters and Yelvertons to cut this timber, raft it and tow it down Deep Creek and around Federal Point to his mill in the Cove beyond the Point.
 Charles scaled each log; Lizzie recorded the tally as to the owner of the log and its board feet. These tallies were given to Squire Tenney who paid the loggers in merchandize from his country store.
 Now the boat landing near the mouth of Deep Creek was at the north end of Commercial Avenue, a mile or more from Tenney's dock and store. Squire Tenney was accustomed to hitch up his horse to his farm wagon and cart the combined purchase of the shoppers, from up to the boat landing.
 One day he was alone at the store with no one to drive the horse and wagon or to wait on store should he make the delivery. A new arrival from the Cotton Country of South Carolina, Mrs. Walter Atkinson, was standing near. So the Squire said, "LuLu, can you drive a horse?" She answered eagerly, "Why yes, of course I can if it's hitched." So the Squire found a way to deliver his groceries and the young Atkinson couple were paid for the service with much needed supplies.
 Then came wind and hurricane. A raft scaling $24OO.OO worth of logs had just been received from Turner's Landing up Deep Creek when the '94 hurricane struck. The river rose way up over its banks. The raft broke up. The logs were scattered along the shore, up on the high land and through the swamp, which adjoined the mill yard. The roof of the mill was demolished. The loss was staggering. Then, before the damage from the hurricane had been cleaned up, a second great wind came from another direction and blew down the repaired sawmill shed. Then the freezes in '94 and '95 froze their young orange grove with its crop of oranges. These losses were too great for the young couple to repair. They gave up sawing. Charlie Brown tended the beacons off Orange Mills, Federal Point and Nine Mile Point for many years.  He did carpenter and other mechanical work. He acquired land, cleared it and raised potatoes. He was civic-minded and became active in local community activities.
 The year 1892 found ~~he country in the midst of a depression. In South Carolina the price of cotton dropped to four cents a pound, cottonseed to one Cent. Yet, in Florida the orange industry was prosperous and expanding. There was work to be done. There was money to be had for hard work.
 And so a tall ambitious, energetic young cotton farmer left the family plantation to work for William Dorr in his orange grove. He bought a small grove and house next to the Ingalls near Deep Creek. He brought his wife to this new country. They were Walter and LuLu Atkinson.
 Before the Civil War the Atkinsons were prosperous planters on a large plantation in South Carolina. The war caused them grievous loss.
 When work in the grove was caught. up Walter asked Squire Tenney if there was any work he could do. The Squire said, "I don't know of any you would want to do. I do have an acre of land that I want grubbed. But that is mighty hard work." Walter said, "Where are the tools? I'll grub the land for you." Doubtingly, the Squire gave him axe and grub hoe. Much sooner than the Squire expected Walter came for his pay. The field was finished. So Walter was given other work. 
 One day the Governor Safford landed Dwight Wheeler and his wife, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, on the dock. Dwight looked at the pile of luggage and asked Squire Tenney how he could get it carried to his home halfway down Commercial Avenue Walter Atkinson being near, heard, stepped forward and said "I will be glad to take it for you, Mr. Wheeler."
 From this meeting sprang a strong and lasting friendship. Walter acquired large acreage, a good home and became the leading potato planter on the Point. Walter and LuLu were blessed with one son, Ralph.
 Two years after Walter Atkinson came to the Point his younger brother, John, appeared seeking his fortune and recovery from illness in the warm winter climate so enthusiastically praised by his brother. He worked and saved.
 John V. Atkinson and Becky Taylor soon met, fell in love and were married. They secured the Lieurent place opposite the Boyntons on Commercial Avenue. They put all their savings in their cherished home and young orange grove.
 And then the big freeze of '99 killed their orange trees to the ground. They had no money, no heart to rebuild it. The only source of money to be found in the stricken community was in Hodge's logging camp and for garden produce.
 So Johnnie worked all the week in Deep Creek swamp for seventy-five cents a day returning home for the week-end, while Becky planted strawberries and other saleable garden crops, worked them, picked and prepared them and wheeled them the mile to the dock in a wheelbarrow where she sold them locally or shipped them to Palatka on the mail boat for sale or trade.
 As the potato industry grew and largely replaced the orange crop, Johnnie became the expert cooper on the Point, setting up the barrels for many of the potato farmers. This industry, thrift and hard work finally made possible the purchase of the fine house and the beautiful riverfront of the Walter Hart place.
 What of the next generation of the Taylor posterity? Charles and Lizzie Brown were blessed with seven sons and twin daughters. To John and Becky came five daughters. And the third and fourth generations of descendents of Ephram and Mary Taylor are contributing to the good citizenship of Federal Point and are bringing to communities near and far vigor, intelligence, industry, culture and spiritual strength. These qualities have been woven into the personalities of the posterity of Ephram and Mary Taylor thanks to the humanity and friendship of the people of Federal Point and the youth, vigor and varied inheritance and talents of their sons-in-law.