Author and Local NW Florida Historian
Oak Grove, FL: The Community That Time Forgot is a detailed history of the place and the people who inhabited this settlement on the banks of the Yellow River. Earliest settlers arrived before Florida officially became a territory of the United States. They made their homes in the wilderness of the Florida panhandle and slowly created a farming community with a diversity of inhabitants.
In 1840, the Yellow River Baptist Church was started by a handful of residents and the first membership list taken a few months later showed 57 members with 10 of them being black. During the same year, a community cemetery was started with the burial of Joab Horne, a Revolutionary War veteran. The War for Southern Independence provides a glimpse into the economy and lifestyle of the community. Many of the men from the area fought for the Union in the 1st Florida Union Cavalry stationed in Pensacola, FL.
After the war, the community struggled but persevered, with both white and black residents owning land, and most earning incomes with farming and bootlegging. The Church grew, a Masonic lodge was started, stores and a post office were there for a time and the families intermarried. By the 20th century, the community was struggling again. World War I and the Depression took men from the area and created hard times for the small farmers. A family moved in and purchased a lot of the land and that further stifled the community. Following rapidly on that migration was a mass migration of blacks out of the community, ran off because they were black and competition in the community's best product: moonshine.
Like many small communities in the south, the aftermath of World War II saw major changes in lifestyles. Younger members of the families moved to find jobs and live in areas that provided more amenities. Today, it can be hard to find this beautiful area of the Florida panhandle. While the southern area of Oak Grove encompasses part of Highway 2, the majority of what was once the heart of Oak Grove is up Yellow River Church Rd, deep in the woods. The church, now 177 years old, is still there and still providing services every Sunday. And their homecomings every June still bring descendants of the early families back to worship together.
This book is an effort to pull all of the documentation together on this community, and the surrounding areas from the river west to Blackman and south to what was once Peadentown, and bring it to life for anyone descended from the families that made it home and for those interested in the rich history of the Florida panhandle. The book will hopefully be available by December of 2019. Come back often to check progress.
I've been busy extracting records for the area around Oak Grove from the early 20th century censuses and trying to track the various schools that were in the area, both black and white. I am also beginning to create a list of people from the 19th-century censuses to research in the Santa Rosa Co. land records to locate these families geographically. Newspapers from the area have yielded some materials but I would love there to be more. Still hoping to publish by the end of next year.
Research has been slow, but steady. I've been spending a fair amount of my writing time on the Yellow River Baptist Church records project but thankfully the two projects aren't mutually exclusive. I have moved the publishing date to the end of 2018 to give me a bit more time to research before I start writing.
The extraction of records continues and I've begun to write the early chapters on the areas original settlement by whites from America. Also beginning to line-up some folks to interview that grew up in the area before it became mostly pine forests for harvesting.
A friend of mine in Texas likes to say that life is what occurs while we are busy planning. Or, the "best-laid plans..." I am into the writing phase but reason tells me I won't be finished with the first draft and editing by the end of the year. This has been another year of surprises that turn the to-do list to scribbles on the page. But I am moving along at this point. Publishing is now 2019, hopefully, mid-year.
The research and writing are moving along. It continues to prove interesting and sometimes surprising. I wish it wasn't taking so long but I do get into the research and at some point have to have a conversation with myself about cutting it off and finishing my writing. Transcribing records so I can analyze them is the time-consuming part. I'm still hoping for the first draft being completed this year. Follow me at my blog where I will occasionally talk about some of my findings.