by Jack Carswell, Guest Blogger
In eight years, my family will have been inJeffersonCountyfor two hundred years. My uncle, Jim Gadsden, who is ninety-seven, lives in Lloyd. He is named after Colonel James Gadsden, Andrew Jackson’s Aide-de-Camp during the invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818. I have long carried with me a profound sense of heritage and a mind’s eye picture of what seemed to me as a boy, a land of boundless woods, fields and streams.
I confess a great and deep love for this place. Returning home several years ago, after having spent the major part of my adult life in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I was privileged to see this area with renewed appreciation, perhaps not shared by those who have lived here most of their lives. What I found was extraordinary. Jefferson County was every bit, and more, the romantic notions I had nurtured in my mind during the long years away.
Jefferson County and Monticello is an ecological and cultural jewel, as well as a regional and national treasure. The condition of our environment is stunning; our skies are clear and clean; our streams, rivers and coastal lands are pristine; and our drinking water is pure and sweet. Our wild life is abundant in species and quantity. Our woodlands are thick, vigorous and healthy.
This place is also astonishing in its cultural roots. Here there are probably more direct descendants ofAmerica’s earliest settlers and Founding Fathers, signers of the Declaration of Independence, framers of the Constitution and veterans of the Revolutionary War per capita than there are inBoston,Massachusetts. There are also representatives of the oldest African-American families inAmericaliving here. These descendents are the product of those sturdy, powerful and patient people who helped carve our communities and villages out of a dense, forbidding and dangerous landscape.
Today, in Monticello and JeffersonCounty, there are ample and easily accessible examples of all I have talked about above. The evidence is in our woodlands, pastures, rivers and lakes; the swimming hole at the head of theWacissaRiver; a walking tour of Lloyd or a visit to theLetchworthIndianMoundsStateArcheologicalPark and a hike along its nature trails. One can enjoy a canoe trip on Snead’s Smokehouse Lake and the primeval Aucilla River; take a bike ride along the Old St. Augustine Road that once linked Spanish Missions and Indian villages, or stand on the crest of the Cody Scarp, once the coastal shoreline thousands of years ago, and view the panorama stretching to the gulf thirty miles away. You can take a pleasant walking of Antebellum Monticello, its gardens and grand old homes and its friendly 1890’s business district. You will meet people who still know how to cure a ham, make sausage, their own whiskey, prepare wild game, build a crab trap, make wonderful split white oak baskets, who can plant and raise all manner of produce and foods. You will find that many of these same people are likely just back from Europe, have recently published a book, teach at Florida State University, have lived in New York or Los Angeles, and are actors and artists.
This, at long last, brings me to my point. Preserving this Florida Treasure is vital. Communities like ours across America are our nation’s touchstones, our reference points, our beacons to the future..
There is a great need here for economic development. It is my hope that we will find a development that will have a minimal environmental impact. It seems to me that one such avenue is ecological and cultural tourism. It is the natural and least intrusive path toward developing our economy.
Tourism is not powerful enough alone to take us where we want to go. What tourism does, however, is bring visitors to our area, some of whom will return, bringing their resources, buy land, build a house, use our services and create new services. Our community presents a unique opportunity for those successful people who, on retirement, are looking for an active, meaningful and diverse second half to life’s journey. For Jefferson County and Monticello, moderate population growth is one of the real answers to economic health. Economic development doesn’t always mean new factories or large businesses. In our case, it means new people—people like us who appreciate the real jewels and treasure of our community.
Jack Carswell is a semi-retired investment advisor who returned home to his Jefferson County roots by way of California.