Jewels, Treasures and Economic Development


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.


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Florida’s Last Frontier: It’s Not Far


by Jack Carswell, Guest Blogger

            For those of us who live in Jefferson County, there is a place, whenever we want, before it all happened.  It is a place not far.  It is a place before stop signs or stop lights, before I-75 orDisneyworld, before Andrew Jackson or the Spanish or the Miccosukee Indians.

It is a natural place.  It exists now as it was five hundred years ago and long before.  It is both exhilarating and soothing.  It is fundamental and real.  It is a place called the Pinhook.  Charlie Ward took us there.

The Pinhook is a small primeval tidal and fresh water creek that rises in the deep woods south of Highway 98 in JeffersonCounty.  It runs out to the Gulf west of and parallel to the largerAucillaRiver.

Charlie picked us up inMonticello before daylight.  We were on the water early.  We started out at first light on the crest of a high tide.  We had put in aMandalayon the Aucilla.  The sky was pale, everything else was in silhouette.  We were in Charlie’s 18’ boat.  Dr. Ann Holt was with us.  Ann has a Ph.D. inFlorida history and is a talented and accomplished photographer.

The entrance to the Pinhook is treacherous and difficult.  Just under the water’s surface lurks a complex profusion of sharp limestone and flint rocks and oyster bars.  Without a well-remembered fund of knowledge and much experience it is near impossible to approach or enter the Pinhook. You can do serious harm to a boat.  The creek is not different

After about an hour of slowly picking our way down the Aucilla and through the west pass, we entered the creek.  A huge gator fell in beside us.  He was within a few feet the length of our boat.  We watched him and he watched us.  After a while, our companion let us go and slowly sank into the depths of the creek

The sun was up now.  The day had started to warm.  At the banks of the creek, the flat-top saw grass ran off in every direction, interrupted here and there by beautiful cabbage palm islands, long used by the Indians and others as hunting camps.  Suddenly a large school of mullet appeared, churning the still water, ricocheting off of one bank and then another, chasing bait fish.  There was a primal thrill at witnessing such abundance.

We moved slowly toward the tree line.  The creek began to narrow and turn.  Ann spotted four American bald eagles high in a great cypress.  We had already seen several of their huge nests.  We could see them clearly against what had now become a bright blue sky.  A few minutes later, we came across a flock of wood storks in another clutch of tall cypress.  As we passed one stood and spread its enormous black-tipped wings.  The display was astonishing.  Charlie told us wood storks have an eight foot wing span.

At the tree line, the creek closed around us on all sides and overhead.  Now the water turned fresh.  It was dark, clear and clean.  The creek began to turn and bend.  We went slower now.  Charlie was more careful.  He used the electric trolling motor to pull us up the creek.  We had entered a strange and profoundly beautiful world of woods, light and reflection.  It was a place deeply soothing and enveloping. In the woods and on the banks were all manner of subtropical flora making a living on thin patches of topsoil that clung to the limestone shelf through which the small creek had cut its way through to the Gulf.

Charlie used the electric motor to pull us over a log in the creek.  Ann was busy with her cameras.  I was seated at the rear of the boat.  I was trying not to miss anything.  The creek is a stunning and unique place, but I realized that it is also something else.  It is the dim world of several species of deadly poisonous snakes, of huge gators and steely panthers.  It is the deep sanctuary of black bears and massive wild hogs.  More, it is the home of an infinite variety of all that crawls, flies, stings and bites.

Finally, we were as far up the creek as we could take the boat.  We reluctantly turned and retraced our path.  By about one o’clock in the afternoon, we were in the western pass. It had grown hot and sultry. There was a towering bank of dark and boiling thunderheads moving in from the Gulf.  We were thankful that we had come out of the creek when we did.

That afternoon I sat on my back porch and thought about our trip. To go to the Pinhook is like a visit to your great grandmother’s attic, where in the dusty light you can sit with the things of her life long ago.  The experience distorts time.  It brings the past into the present.  It tells you something about your own life.  It braces and centers you.  The Pinhook, like the attic, speaks to you, not in words, but in some more fundamental language.  It tells you what and who you are.

The Pinhook is certainly part of what makes Jefferson County a very special place.  It is one of our priceless heirlooms.  My hope is that our policy makers and our civic leaders and we as citizens will find a way to transmit it and the rest of our county into the future much as it is.  We don’t have a greater gift to give to our children, our grandchildren or great grandchildren or our state or in fact our country than what we have here been made stewards of in our life time.

Jack Carswell is a semi-retired investment advisor who returned home to his Jefferson County roots by way of California.

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Cash Back: Revitalizing the Local Economy

by Jack Carswell

This much-talked-about column by Jack Carswell originally appeared in the Monticello News and is published here with permission.  My friend, Jack, has a fertile business mind, and we’ve spent hours talking about what’s happened to our local economy and how we can revitalize it.  This column takes a nostalgic look at what’s happened.  And that’s the first step to finding a solution.   –Hines Boyd

Our truck didn’t have a top on the cab.  It was a blessing. The fresh air felt good.  We were hauling a flatbed load of squash up toThomasville.  On the return trip, we would haul a little cash back toJeffersonCounty, maybe more than a little if our squash brought a good price.  Tomorrow was Saturday, and we’d spread some of that cash downtown.

In those days, we either took or sent our products out of the county and imported cash as payment for what we produced here.  It was already the end of May.  It wouldn’t be long before lines of box cars with their doors open backed up on the rail sidings at Lloyd, New Monticello, and Aucilla.

It was hot—hot as Hades!  Several weeks before the 4th of July the box cars would be filled withJeffersonCounty watermelons to ship north.  The melon brokers inSt. Louis,Chicago, andNew York would send cash back here when the melons were sold.

Once the melons were on their way, we went back to our regular work.  Everybody worked—white men, black men, boys, girls, mothers–everybody.  The box cars on the rail sidings were replaced by flatbed cars for hauling pulpwood.  They were soon loaded and left headed to the paper mills along the gulf coast,Florida,Alabama, and points west.  The mills sent cash back toJeffersonCounty.

Farming—there was always farming.  You could get cash for hogs and cows at regional livestock markets inMonticello,Madison, andThomasville. JeffersonCountygrew, processed, and shipped tung oil, turpentine, and forest products.  Cash came back.  There was a large sawmill in downtownMonticello.  Every one of our villages had a sawmill as well.

People had some money—not a lot—but some, enough to meet their basic needs.  And they spent it locally. Tallahassee? You didn’t go there much.  Money was spent and circulated locally.  You could go intoMonticellowhere the stores had almost anything you really needed.  You could even buy a new Ford or Chevrolet car or truck.  Cash from our products flowed into the county and circulated among locally owned businesses and people.  It stayed here where it created jobs and wealth.

All this reminds me of the ‘70’s song by Don McLean.  “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry.”  We could add a few line of our own.  “Did you hear?  Barbara closed Milady’s, and the hardware store is empty.  Downtown’s a mess.  I see the Rare Door burned, nowJackson’s Drugstore has collapsed.  My, my, this is our county seat?”

What happened?  Farming changed, markets shifted, national retailers with fancy store fronts and slick displays spread into rural communities.  A revolution in transportation, distribution, and communications exploded. TallahasseeandThomasvillemoved closer.  People went to work outside the county, spending their money where they worked rather than bringing it home to circulate in the local economy.

The retail merchants in our villages quickly went out of business.  The local stores in Lloyd, Waukeenah, and Aucilla closed and settled quietly into our memories. Wacissa may soon follow.  Despite the competition from national retailers who ship their money out of the county as fast as we spend it with them,Monticellohung on as best it could—until recently.

Is the sky falling?  No.  Not at all.  Things have changed in our county, and they have been changing for quite a while.

We’ve become predominately an exporter of our cash.  With a few exceptions, we’ve ceased to be a provider of goods and services that are produced here but sold outside of our county.  We find ourselves with only a remaining handful of locally owned retail and service businesses.

Most of the money we spend locally—at Winn-Dixie, CVS, Fred’s, Family Dollar, Dollar General, O’Reilly Auto Parts, etc.—is exported out of the county that very night or the next day, leaving behind just a few low-wage jobs. Of course, we’re glad to have the convenience of these businesses, but without locally owned enterprises that keep our cash circulating at home, our local economy is imperiled.

This has always been a beautiful and resilient community.  We will survive and thrive.  But in the future, our economic complexion is going to be different.  It can even be better than it was.  But the transformation will require leadership, vision, and action.  We are going to have to find and build a covey of entrepreneurs to revitalize our local economy.  They may not even know it yet, but they are here.  We just have to find and develop them.

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Anarchy on the Courthouse Circle: The Monticello Roundabout

I’ve always been fascinated by the traffic roundabout in the middle of Monticello.   The Courthouse Circle seems such a clever idea for controlling traffic at a busy intersection.  It’s the reason Jefferson is the only county in Florida with no stoplights. I often wondered why traffic circles and roundabouts aren’t more common on our streets and roads.

A few years ago, my wife, Janegale, and I visited Scotland, the home of my ancestors. During the week-long visit, we traveled much of the country.  In Great Britain and many European countries, single-lane roundabouts and multi-lane traffic circles are everywhere—in cities, on country roads, even occasionally on their equivalent of interstate highways.

Since I was the appointed driver, it was my job to master Scottish traffic which, of course, travels on the left side of the road.  I admit that approaching a multi-lane traffic circle surrounded by dozens of fast moving vehicles was intimidating. Already I was driving on the “wrong” side of the road and entering a traffic circle going the “wrong” way (clockwise).  More than once, we drove around the circle several times looking for the right exit.  Thankfully, Scottish drivers were patient and courteous—no honks, no gestures, just an occasional paternal smile and wave.

Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer, wouldn’t be surprised at the patience of those Scottish drivers.  Neither, would he be surprised to hear that the apparent pandemonium of a large traffic circle rarely results in more than a minor “fender-bender’’—and few of those.  Why?  Because drivers perceive the potential anarchy.  They respond by slowing down and by paying close attention to their own driving behavior and the behavior of other drivers.  When drivers enter this “Shared Space,” as Monderman calls it, they become more socially responsible.

You might call Monderman a traffic libertarian.  He was often quoted saying, “Treat people like idiots, and they will act like idiots.”

Monderman observed that traffic efficiency and safety improved when people were forced to negotiate their movement with others—much as we do when we walk through a large crowd at an event like a festival, a football game, or a fair.  Instead of depending on written rules or laws, people who must negotiate their own movement depend on socially responsible behavior and common courtesy.  So Monderman’s Shared Space designs call for the removal of most signs, lights, lane markings, and curbs.  He replaces intersections with roundabouts.

Before he died a few years ago, at age 62, Hans Monderman put in place over 100 “Shared Space” schemes in his native Holland. These shared spaces depended largely on roundabouts and traffic circles.  They accommodated not only cars, but bicycles and pedestrians, as well.  Monderman’s ideas are beginning to transform the way many European (and a few U.S.) planners think about traffic—but I see them already working here in Monticello.

My office is on the Courthouse Circle.  Outside my window, there’s a steady movement of traffic and people.  As I watch this constant interaction of cars and pedestrians, I confess a couple of “pet peeves” that slow traffic flow.   I wonder why some people seem to treat the yield sign like a stop sign, backing up cars as they refuse to move if they see another car anywhere inside the circle.  On the other hand, I’m sure there are some who think drivers like me merge too tightly, violating their “space.”  So I apologize now.

When I see a 40-ton semi truck brake to give a casually ambling pedestrian the right-of-way he’s legally due, I wonder why that pedestrian didn’t wait on the curb for five seconds to let the semi pass around the circle.   Yet, when I wait on the curb for cars to pass, I find that drivers will frequently stop and wave me across.  Even my waving the driver on doesn’t work for some.  They insist that I go first.

Reading about Hans Monderman helped me understand these interactions in our own “shared space” we call the Courthouse Circle.   We don’t all approach that space with the same perspective, but we’re forever cautious.  We constantly negotiate.  Usually, we’re courteous and patient.  And we’re socially responsible.

There are many in our county who dread the day we get our first traffic light.  Hans Monderman’s signature town is Drachten, Holland, with nearly 50,000 people.  The traffic circle in the center of the town handles over 20,000 cars per day.  Drachten has replaced all but three of its traffic lights with roundabouts.  The three remaining lights are due to be eliminated in the next two years.

If Drachten can exist without traffic lights, I have great hope that Jefferson County, as it grows, can do the same.

First published as a Community Column in the Monticello News.

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Country Roads: A Disappearing Treasure?

Recently, local history buff Jack Carswell and I were taking a quick tour of some of the historically interesting points in northeastern Jefferson County, FL. As we drove down Bippus Road near the beautiful antebellum home at Lyndhurst Plantation, Jack remarked on the ten-foot-high banks along parts of this old dirt road.

Jack’s active mind is always full of interesting tidbits. The high banks reminded him of a theory about the origin of the term “highway.” It seems that the high, tree-covered banks along these low roads where once good hiding places for bandits. The thieves would pounce on unsuspecting travelers, sometimes jumping onto their wagons from above. These early travelers soon learned to take the high roads or “high ways,” newer roads without the banks and brush where robbers could hide.


Jack Carswell views Jefferson County’s history and culture from a unique perspective. His ancestors were some of the county’s original settlers, and he was born here. As a young man, he moved away looking for expanded opportunities—which he found. Nevertheless, as he “matured” (Jack just celebrated his seventieth birthday) he was lured back to his roots. Now he has become an active proponent of maintaining our county’s unique and historical rural culture. For example, the idea for Monticello’s annual Southern Music Rising Festival originated in Jack’s fertile mind.

As we wound our way through these beautiful, peaceful country lanes, Jack and I both agreed that we need to rethink our attitude about dirt roads. “Progress” is not paving them all—or never building any more of them. And losing our oldest dirt roads means losing an important part of our history.

A few years ago, the county scheduled Clark Road (northeast of the Monticello city limits and off of the Ashville Highway) for paving. After hearing objections from a few of its residents, the county decided to survey those who lived on the road. The majority of those residents said, “No Thanks! We like our road the way it is.” These citizens appreciated the privacy and the ambiance of their road. They were willing to tolerate a few bumps and a little dust and mud occasionally. As long as the county kept the road graded—which was much less expensive than paving it—they were happy.

Jefferson County should review its policies on paving both public and private roads.  Not every dirt road needs paving. Where traffic counts are low (say less than 500 trips per day) we should seriously question the need for paving. The paving of public dirt roads should take into account the wishes of a majority of the people living on the road and the historical nature of the road.

Though private roads cannot and should not be paved with public funds, public policies can affect such roads.  Jefferson County currently requires private roads in new rural subdivisions to meet certain specifications, but paving is optional.  A  requirement for paving would make little economic sense in areas, such as five acre country subdivisions, where traffic counts will rarely exceed a few dozen trips per day. A road paving requirement can drive up the cost of land in these areas by $5,000 to $8,000 per acre, destroying not only the subdivision’s financial feasibility but the rural character of the area.

Developers of large-acreage rural subdivisions, however, should be required to meet minimum standards to insure that internal dirt roads will be easy and inexpensive to maintain. They should also be required to set up homeowners associations with adequate funding to maintain these private roads.   But the county is right to let the market, not county government, be the ultimate decider of whether or not these rural subdivision roads get paved.

There are good alternatives to paving country roads.  For example, the Jefferson County Road Department has recently been experimenting with a dirt road stabilization process that involves laying asphalt millings over a 6 inch base of crushed limerock.  This treatment, which is much cheaper than paving, greatly improves driveability and significantly reduces maintenance requirements and costs.  Yet the road is still pervious to rainwater and maintains its quaint dirt road character.

Our “natural” (unpaved) country roads are an important part of Jefferson County’s history and charm. They provide environmental benefits by reducing impervious surface areas and by providing nighttime corridors favored by wildlife. Some of us think they’re fun to drive, and everyone loves their peacefulness and solitude. We need to protect and preserve these natural treasures.

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Jefferson County: From Big to Little. Now Where?

People are usually astonished when you tell them that Jefferson County has less people today than 100 years ago.   “Why?” they ask.  “Your countryside is beautiful, the people are warm and friendly, your town is charming, you’re 30 minutes from a vibrant metropolitan center.   Why aren’t there more people?” 

The answer usually begins with a history lesson.  When Florida became a US territory in the 1820’s, farmers and planters poured in from states to our north.  Most of Florida was too sandy to grow the cotton and other crops they wanted to produce.  An exception was an area with fertile sandy loam soils in the Florida panhandle, near the Georgia and Alabama borders.  Towns like Monticello, Tallahassee, Quincy, and Marianna sprung up to support the developing agricultural economy.  By the 1850’s Monticello and the area around it comprised one of Florida’s largest population centers.  It’s agriculturally based economy was still strong in the early 1900’s.  But the railroads by-passed the community as they carried people to central and south Florida where Florida’s 20th century growth has been concentrated.

Agricultural depressions in the 1920’s and 1930’s forced many farmers to sell out to wealthy northern investors who bought up much of the best farmland in the county for large hunting plantations.  Many of those hunting plantations still exist today.  Those plantations require little labor and stimulate only minor economic activity in the community.  There was no significant replacement industry, and that’s probably a major reason for the county’s population decline between 1920 and 1970.  

By 1970, Jefferson County had about half the population it had in 1910. But in the 70’s the county began to grow again.  Many residents discovered there were decent government and other jobs in nearby Tallahassee and began commuting there to work.  No doubt, some Tallahassee workers, looking for a place in the country, moved to Jefferson County. 

The data in the table below also suggests a rapid spurt of grow that began around 2005 as generally affluent retirees from central and south Florida began to discover rural Jefferson County.  The new internet economy also made it possible for business people and professionals, like Landscape Architect Winston Lee, to live and work from here while quickly delivering their work products anywhere in the world.  

The internet economy changes the game for places like Jefferson County.  Retirees can enjoy our rural setting while maintaining connectivity with family, friends, and former work associates.  Workers who do their jobs primarily on a computer can reap those same benefits of country living while producing their work in rural surroundings.   Such new residents create local economic activity with minimal demands on government services.  It’s ideal growth for a community like Jefferson County.

A growth rate like the county experienced between 2005 and 2007 exceeded anything we’ve experienced in the last 100 years and could double the county’s size in two decades.  Will we see such growth in the future?  Probably not for the next couple of years, but there’s a strong likelihood it will return.  The current economic and housing slumps have given us a growth “breather”—a time to plan and prepare.  Let’s take advantage of that break!










































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Jefferson County 4-H: A Family Historical Perspective

 This post is a draft of an article written by Hines Boyd for a recently published history of Florida 4-H.  It reflects Jefferson County’s twentieth century rural heritage–and its changing attitudes.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Jefferson County was one of Florida’s larger counties and had a thriving agricultural economy. It was a natural incubator for the 4-H Club programs which the new agricultural extension service began to promote in the early 1900’s.

In Jefferson County, and throughout the nation, the goal of the early agricultural extension pioneers was to disseminate new agricultural production technology gleaned from the research efforts of the land grant colleges. Farmers often resisted these new ideas. Extension leaders felt that one way to reach resistant farmers (and their wives) was through the children of farm families. So they began organizing “Project Clubs” through which they could educate and train young people. Not only might the new ideas spill over to their parents, but many of these young people would become the farmers and homemakers of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, most of the archives and records of Jefferson County’s 4-H early programs and activities have been lost. To reconstruct parts of the history, we have depended heavily on the recollections of an agricultural family that first settled in Jefferson County in the 1830’s. The Finlayson-Boyd family still farms in Jefferson County today and has been close to 4-H since its early days. Below are some snapshots of Jefferson County 4-H history as seen through the eyes of three generations of this family.

John Finlayson was a young boy in the early 1930’s depression era when his father, Ed Finlayson, served as County Extension Agent. Though John was too young to have his own “projects” he remembers the involvement of his older brother, Ed, in a Corn Club and a Pig Club. Pigs were popular because most farm families did not feel they could devote a beef animal to a “kid’s project” during the hard times of the depression.

While 4-H Club activities were usually segregated by sex and race during this period, John recalls some distinct exceptions. John’s brother, Ed, partnered with a young black neighbor friend, “Shot” Gee, in a corn project. When they were dividing the money from the sale of their corn, Ed and Shot, had a nickel left over with no way to divide it. So they gave it to John for his help. Shot’s project was supervised by Miles Groover, the extension agent for black farm families. John recalls him as a “very smart man.”

Though pigs and corn were usually the domain of the boys, a neighboring girl soon insisted on joining the pig club so that she could “sell” her project, too. Her pig club membership was an exception. The girls of that period usually worked sewing, canning, and gardening projects.

Miss Ruby Brown, Jefferson County’s Home Demonstration Agent during the 1930’s, worked especially hard on gardening and canning project for “her girls.” The products that they canned became the food supply for the summer 4-H camping program during those tough days of the Depression.

Since the 1920’s, camping programs have been an important part of 4-H life. Camp Timpoochee on Choctahatchee Bay near current-day Destin was Florida’s first 4-H camp and one of the first in the nation. Jefferson County camped there before Camp Cherry Lake was opened in the late 1930’s.

Finlayson recalls a harrowing experience for Jefferson County 4-H’ers while they were at Camp Timpoochee during the summer of 1936. On August 1, a hurricane with 90-100 mph winds took aim directly at the camp. The camp staff included Billy Mathews and Wilmer Bassett. (Mathews was later to become a long-time US Congressman. Bassett moved on to be a well-known Jefferson County dairymen and major 4-H benefactor. Both men are members of the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame.)

Because there wasn’t enough warning to evacuate the camp, Mathews and Bassett loaded the campers and leaders in the school buses that had brought them there. They parked the buses in the large field in the center of the camp, away from trees and facing the wind. As the eye of the storm move through, they reoriented the buses. The plan worked–for everyone except the camp cook who refused to get on the buses. After the storm passed, the staff found the cook in the camp kitchen in his oven. Though a few cabins were blown off their foundations, everyone was safe, including the cook.

By the 1950’s, 4-H had evolved from “project clubs” to mostly school-based clubs. Albert Odom, the County Agent, aggressively organized these school clubs. The “projects” not only included crops and livestock, but items like electricity and farm safety. Albert Odom emphasized social and leadership development skills, which included public speaking, judging teams, and leadership councils. He spent long hours exposing his “farm boys” to training and trips that expanded their horizons, recalls Hines Boyd, one of the beneficiaries of Odom’s tireless efforts and constant affirmation.

Since Odom was the only agricultural agent in the county (though Mary McCloud and, later, Fern Nix acted as Home Demonstration Agents), there was grumbling about the amount of time he spent with 4-H programs. The complaints led one county commissioner to take aim at his job. But Albert Odom had many young allies. Boyd remembers going to see several commissioners to be sure they understood the benefits of Odom’s work. The campaign was a success. Albert Odom kept his job and his influence on the youth he served, one of whom was US Congressman Allen Boyd.

The integration of the public schools in the late l960’s and the urbanization of Florida dramatically changed the face of 4-H. Clubs were moved from the schools to community clubs dependent on volunteer adult leaders. Programs were modified to also benefit youth who were not from agricultural families.

Beth, Hines Boyd’s daughter, recalls beginning her 4-H career at age 9 when she enrolled in a summer sewing class taught by Home Demonstration Agent Phyllis Kennedy. She liked the class so well, that she participated in a microwave cooking and bread making class the next summer. It was 1988, and long time 4-H agent John Lilly had just arrived in Jefferson County.

Soon, with the encouragement of Lilly and some 4-H camping friends, Beth attended 4-H Legislature, a hands-on youth civics training program that began in the l970’s. Beth became increasing involved in leadership programs, winning the state 4-H public speaking contest and later a position as a State 4-H Council officer. During her 4-H years she never missed a summer at Camp Cherry Lake. By the age of 16 she was a camp staff intern and was soon offered a summer-long position on the camp staff, her first paid job. She ended her 4-H career at age 20 as the camp program coordinator, where she supervised 5 workers—her first supervisory experience.

Looking back 10 years later, Beth Boyd Nunnally, now the mother of two girls and a regional director of a large health care company, credits much of her success to her 4-H experience and the encouragement of 4-H leaders, like John Lilly.

Beth’s experience illustrates the transformation that 4-H has made in the last four decades, from an organization focused mostly on agricultural projects to a rural/urban youth development organization–one no longer segregated by race and sex. Today Jefferson County still has its Ag-Adventure club with emphasis on agricultural projects and judging teams. In other clubs, young people learn useful life skills like cooking, sewing, gardening, and landscaping, skills that are no longer taught in schools. And there are plenty of opportunities for developing social and leadership skills.


Filed under Jefferson County & Monticello, FL, Life and History