“A Ghost Town along the Suwannee River”
By Kevin McCarthy
1 A red arrow indicated the location of Columbus.
2 The former town is at the junction of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers.
3 Confederate earthworks at Columbus
4 A remnant of an old sawmill there
5 The cemetery at Columbus
6 A bridge over the Suwannee at Columbus
Ghost towns have always interested me. To think that the abandoned place in front of you was once a thriving village/town with lots of residents, all of whom had high hopes for their futures. And then, for some unexpected reason, the people moved away, the railroad bypassed the town, steamboats went elsewhere, or flood/disease/storm made it an undesirable place to live.
We have lots of such towns in Florida, especially in the interior. One such town is Columbus, which is on the Suwannee River in the Suwannee River State Park near Live Oak.
In the mid-1800s, Columbus had about 500 inhabitants. Its sister city across the Suwannee was Ellaville, where George Drew, the first governor of Florida elected after Reconstruction, had a house and lumber mill. The location was ideal for commerce, since nearby is the junction of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers. Steamboats used to be able to go up that far, and would transport up to three thousand bales of cotton in a year. An 1843 newspaper description of the town, mentioned a beautiful boiling spring, and rich fertile lands in the vicinity.
During the Civil War, Columbus had an earth-works facility from which Confederate soldiers could guard the old railroad bridge from Union attack. A stagecoach stop there, and a ferry, also provided a means of income to the inhabitants, as did a saw mill. The nearby bridge was important for the transportation of cattle, salt, and sugar from Florida to Confederate troops during the war. The site was so important to the Confederate war effort, that Union troops from Jacksonville headed west in February 1864, to destroy that bridge and shorten the war. Confederate troops met and stopped the Union soldiers at the Battle of Ocean Pond at Olustee in Baker County, the largest Civil War battle in Florida.
Columbus used to be the terminus for a twice-a-month mail service by steamboat from Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. That boat service connected the little settlement of Columbus, to the rest of the world, for example New Orleans and Key West. By the 1870s, the town began to decline in importance as the steamboats stopped calling, and settlers found other, more desirable places to raise crops.
Today the site of the old Columbus is totally abandoned inside the Suwannee River State Park. Among the few remains of the town is the cemetery, which is one of the oldest in the state. So, if you want to see a true Florida ghost town along the beautiful Suwannee, head over to Columbus.
Kevin McCarthy, the author of North Florida Waterways (2013 – available at amazon.com), can be reached at [email protected]