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Historical Background of St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve Quick Topics

Native Americans once inhabited the St. Joseph Peninsula and gathered shellfish from the bay during both the Weeden Island period (200 - 1000 AD) and Mississippian culture (1000 - 1500 AD).

The French erected Fort Crevecouer west of Port St. Joe in 1718. The Spanish governor of Florida in Pensacola protested the French incursion into Spanish territory, but rather than let the Spanish take over the fort, the French burned it before fleeing.

Simmons Bayou in St. Joseph Bay

The marshes of St. Joseph Bay helped provided food to Native Americans settling along the bay.

Historically called St. Joseph, the present Port St. Joe was founded in 1835. Two railroads connected the city to the Apalachicola River for trade. By 1837, St. Joseph was the largest town in the Territory of Florida with 6,000 residents. In 1838, the town hosted the first Constitutional Convention for Florida, and was called the "Constitutional City".

In 1839, a lighthouse was built at the tip of the spit to guide shipping. The town served as a seaport until 1841 when the town was hit by yellow fever from one of the ships. Over 75% of the town died of the disease and the rest fled, abandoning the town. In 1843, a hurricane destroyed the abandoned city and in 1851, the lighthouse was leveled by another hurricane. The only remnants of old St. Joseph are tombstones in the Old St. Joseph Cemetery.

In the early 20th century, Port St. Joe was founded about two miles north of old St. Joseph. The town's revival was directly tied to the arrival of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad in 1909. This allowed the development of deep-water ports in the bay as well as a lumbering industry. The train also brought Sunday day-trippers to the bay for swimming, picnicking, crabbing, scalloping, fishing and other recreational activities. In 1925, Gulf County was created and Port St. Joe serves as the county seat.

The U.S. Army used the peninsula for training during World War II. From 1962 to 1963, the U.S. Army Reserve took over the remaining military lands for training exercises. As a result of local interest, the site was dedicated as the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in 1967. On October 21, 1969, the Governor and Cabinet adopted by resolution 18 water bodies to become aquatic preserves, including St. Joseph Bay.

Over the years, Gulf County has experienced slow growth accompanied by a minimal tourism base. The county's economy was dominated by the paper mill until it was closed in 1998. Since then, the economy has shifted from paper production-related industry to tourism, resulting in a steady increase in the number of tourists. This has also led to a demand for homes. Coastal development is primarily related to beach vacation homes that are used as rental property.


Last updated: April 06, 2015

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