Lee E. Bigelow, The St John s Bar and the River from Jacksonville to the Sea 1

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1 Lee E. Bigelow, The St John s Bar and the River from Jacksonville to the Sea 1 One of the earliest records or the depth of water on the St. John s Bar is contained in this extract from the Jacksonville Courier of August 6th, l836,(copied from T. Frederick Davis History or Jacksonville,1925 edition) reading as follows: Mr. Editor, Sir- I send you a communication from Capt, Wightman, the head pilot at the mouth of the river, stating some facts relating to the bar, the publishing of which, I have no doubt, will be of considerable service to vessels bound to this port. For the gratification of merchants, underwriters and mariners I would inform them that the pilotage is now better attended to, and is in better hands than it has been for many years. Capt. Wightman and Capt. Kimmy are both good seamen and persevering men; they have both sailed vessels from this port for many years, and they were considered good pilots before their appointment, but since that time they have taken great trouble to obtain every information possible concerning the state of the Bar. We have the assurance that vessels arriving off the Bar will not now be obliged to lay off and on for days, showing a signal for a pilot, and even being obliged to send in for one, as has been frequently the case within two years. 1 Bigelow s typescript is in the Dyle R. Johnson Collection of the Beaches Museum and History Park, Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Readers will quickly note that Bigelow was not very concerned with breaking this work into paragraphs with topic sentences, punctuation or consistent spelling. Most of this work is from Thomas Frederick Davis, History of Jacksonville, Florida, and vicinity, 1513 to 1924 (Jacksonville: Florida Historical Society, 1925), pp Most of the material on Dr. A. S. Baldwin came from Paul S. Brown's Book of Jacksonville (Jacksonville, 1895) pp Chief of Engineers. United States Army, Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War for the Year 1894, Part 2 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1894) can be obtained for free from Google Books. There is a short section on the building of the St. Johns River jetties. 1

2 (Signed) W.R. The Bar of the St Johns River, at this time, is, at the Northeast part of the entrance, and affords from 12 to l5 feet at high water, as the state of the tide may be, whether spring or neap tides. 'Vessels bound in to the St. Johns River wishing a pi1ot should keep the lighthouse bearing from SSW to WSW, and run into 4,5 or 6 fathoms or water, as the weather maybe; in running in for the Light-House in the night, bring it to bear as above, and anchor in 6 or 7 fathoms, if moderate and smooth. Masters of vessels may always know that their signal for a Pilot is seen by the Pilots on shore, by its being answered by a signal from the Light-House. The Pilots pledge themselves to give prompt attention to all vessels coming to this bar and River. St; Johns Bar, July, 1835 (Signed) Timothy Wightman, Branch Pilot. The following is copied from the Tropical Plant published at Jacksonville, Fla, Saturday Nov. 30, Mr. Davis did not know at the time he wrote his book that there was a copy of this paper extant, or undoubtedly he would have included the following in his book. However there is such a copy now in the possession of the writer, and incidentally I would remark that I do not know of 2

3 any other. (L.E.B.) Tropical Plant, November 30,

4 (Not in the original typescript) Source: Book of Jacksonville, p. 148 Dr. A. S. Baldwin, of Jacksonville, was the first to advance a theory and the first to become active for bar improvement. His theory was that by closing Fort George Inlet. Less sand would collect at St. Johns bar, and the currents of the river would develop and force a channel there. A public meeting of citizens was called to take action upon his views, with the result that in 1852 he was sent to Washington to ask an appropriation of Congress to carry out this idea. In this he was successful, and Congress appropriated $10,000, a considerable sum for that time. Soon afterward, Lieut. H. G. Wright was sent here by the Government to investigate and make a survey; this was in Lieut. Wright made a report that the difficulties at the bar could be largely overcome by the construction of a single pier or jetty on the north side of the main channel, across the bar. The appropriation never became available and the recommendation of Lieut. Wright was never acted upon, as it is said that parties having powerful influence at Washington, who were at that time interested in the harbor at Fernandina, 4

5 caused the abandonment of the contemplated improvements at the mouth of the St. Johns River. The war came on, and the chaotic conditions afterward prevented the revival of the question of bar improvement until late in the 1870 s. About 1877, Dr. Baldwin again became active in the matter of deeper water at the bar. Early in 1878, he went to New Orleans to confer with Capt. James B. Eads, who was then building the Mississippi River jetties- An agreement was made with Capt. Eads to come to Jacksonville, make a survey and report for a fee of $1000. Dr. Baldwin returned to Jacksonville and soon raised the money by popular subscription. Jacksonville was generous in her responses to appeals for public welfare in those days. Capt. Eads arrived in March, 1878, and on the 29 th, submitted a report that there was no doubt of the success of a system of jetties; that by the construction of two converging jetties, from the mainland across the bar to deep water, a permanent channel of 20 feet, at average flood, could be secured, and that the total cost of the work would be about $1,700,000. He recommended high jetties, i.e., above high water level. Capt. Eads arrived here in 1878 and on March 28th he was entertained at a banquet in the Florida Yacht Club's New Club House on the mast side of the foot of Market Street. On the 29th he submitted a report that there was no doubt or the success of a system or jetties; that by the construction of two jetties from the mainland across the bar to deep water, a permanent channel of 20ft of water at average flood water could be obtained. His estimate of the total cost was about $1, and he recommended high jetties, above high water level. This report was made to Hon. W. Stokes Boyd, Mayor of Jacksonville and to Thos. A. Wilson, President or the Citizens Meeting of Jacksonville, and was published in full in the weekly Sun & Press of this City, April 4th, Capt. Ead's report was approved by the citizens of Jacksonville and a memorial was sent to congress requesting the appropriation. The memorial was effective for late in Capt. George Daubigny under the direction of Gen. Q. A. Gilmore came here and made an exhaustive survey of the bar and the mouth or the St. Johns River. On his report, Gen. Gilmore recommended a system or jetties but he recommended the low or submerged system. Money to start the work was not appropriated to start the work until June of Contracts were secured by Capt. R. G. Ross and Maj. J. H. Durkee, both well-known citizens and prominent here in Jacksonville. Capt. H. G, Ross in his reminiscences states that in 1880 at low tide there was between six and eight feet of water on the St. Johns bar. It will be remembered that the earlier reports of the bar pilots and Capt. Willey only gave 12 ft. at high tide, so there had evidently been no material 5

6 improvement in all the intervening years. Work was steadily continued with succeeding appropriations for a number of years. At first Northern stone was used being brought down here by schooners who carried yellow pine lumber back to the North. Sometimes owing to weather conditions a regular fleet or they would arrive at once and that made the contractors hustle to get them unloaded and avoid expensive demurrage. About 1855 Capt. Ross states litigation as to the type or log mattress he was using in the construction of jetties forced him to design a new type or mattress composed of fascines of brush and smal1sticks and this proved so much better than the other type that it was thence used exclusively on this job and soon became into universal use. The next change came when stone from around Ocala, Fla was adopted for use. This came by rail to Jacksonville and its being towed down the river on big barges or lighters as they were generally called here, was a frequent [site] on the river. The work was pressed to final completion and the south jetty was about 2½miles long; the north jetty about 3 miles; distance between them at the outer end 1600 feet. Since then the government has made many more improvements on the jetties finally raising and capping the North Jetty as it is today. As soon as the current in the river increased the scouring process began and the channel commenced deepening, but with the increased current trouble started up the river. Both at St. John's Bluff and at New Berlin (Old Yellow Bluff) erosion [was serious]. Some protection was given these points by revetments and river Jetties but not until much damage had been done. As late as October the 8 th,l895 it was considered noteworthy when a schooner crossed the bar drawing 17½ ft. of water and the Evening Telegram of that date published the following on its front page: "Crossed the Bar Safely, The schooner Ritter went out drawing 17ft. 3 in. The schooner Harry B. Hitter crossed the St. Johns Bar Monday drawing seventeen feet three inches or water. This is the deepest draught vessel that has ever crossed St. Johns Bar, and she crossed without touching although a swell was coming in. The Ritter is the vessel which was wrecked near Key West, and purchased by Capt. R. G. Ross. She was brought here and put in thorough repair. It was estimated that the vessel would rise three inches when at sea because of the heavier density of the sea water. 6

7 With the deepening or the channel over the Bar still another question came to the foreground. The flats around New Berlin and Dames Point in the river still gave vessels trouble. Some could come over the Bar and still could not get to the Jacksonville docks. Again Dr. A. S.Baldwin came on the scene. Working through the Jacksonville Board of Trade of which he was an honored and influential officer together with the cooperation or of many other citizens or the City and County; Duval County, after a spirited campaign with many hot arguments for and against, bonded herself for $300,000 for River Improvement. This was the first time this County had floated bonds since the days of the Civil War. After the usual preliminaries the bonds were sold at a premium and work began under a commission composed of a number of leading citizens. My father, Eugene Bigelow, was a member or the commission for a number of months until failing in health compelled his resignation. The Government sent Maj. J. H. Bacon, a Government Engineer, here to superintend the work. The River work was commenced in June of 1892 and completed two years later Even this did not satisfy Jacksonville and her growing commerce. Application was made to congress which finally after a number of years agitation resulted in a contract for a 24ft. dredged channel from Jacksonville to the sea; then another of 30ft was made. Dredging was continued on the Bar and work in the River until today a vessel drawing 35ft may come and go from here. It is interesting to note in connection with all this improvement work on the channel another piece of information culled from an old newspaper, the weekly Sun & Press, published here by N. K. Sawyer & Son, states under date of March 14, 1878 the following: The First Sailing vessel Built here" The first sailing vessel built at Jacksonville was the bark, American Eagle, in Her dimensions were as follows: Length of keel 1l8ft., breadth of beam, 30ft 6 inches. depth of hold 11ft. 6 inches, tonnage 315. She was last surveyed in July 1877 and rates l l/2. She is still a good vessel and stands high with the insurance companies G. H. Squires & Co. of New York are her owners. The American Eagle sailed from New York for Rio [de] Janeiro last august. In the same issue there appears that account of the launching of the Jacksonville built schooner, Gen. Francis E.5. Spinner, /100 tons burden. 7

8 After her launching she was towed to the rigging dock by the well known tug of those days, the R. L. Mabey. According to information from Capt. J. W. Floyd, former master or the R. L. Mabey, the Spinner was not a success, being too heavily built. All this work on the Bur had its effect on the names of a number or streets in this City. When J. Francis LeBaron was laying out the tract now called Old Riverside he named a number of streets in that subdivision after engineer officers he had been associated with while an assistant engineer on the jetty work. Gilmore St. was named for Gen. A. Q. Gilmore, Chief Engineer, in charge or the work; Post St. for Maj. J. C. Post; Fisk St. for Lieutenant J. G. Fisk; Rossell St. for Capt. W. T. Rossell; these three officers all being assistants to Gen. Gilmore. Lomax St. was named for Gen. Lindsay Lomax, an Ex-Confederate officer who was Inspector of jetty work. May St s original name was Mayport Ave., but [somehow] it lost the "port", while Oak St's original name was Eads Ave. If LeBaron had been allowed to have his way undisturbed he would have probably named all the streets in the subdivision after officers engaged in the work on St. Johns Bar. Today we have no light houses at the St. Johns Bar but their places are taken by a light-ship and lighted as well, as bell and whistling buoys, improved methods of a later date and times. I say light houses for the reason that there have been three light houses at the Bar and one up the River on the Flats, this latter however a small one was built on iron piles. The first light house was built by the U. S. Government in 1830 near the present location of the South Jetty. Three years later it was taken down on account or being threatened by the sea; and a second one built about a mile further up the River in l835. This too became threatened by the wash of the River and the shifting sands and 1859 on the completion of the last light house, it was abandoned. I saw the old ruins of the second one when I was a boy. Today the old light house (the last one) is a tearoom or roadside refreshment stand. Before closing this article, which has already grown far beyond its original intended length it would not be right not to pay a tribute to the man whose efforts originally started the work of securing deep water and whose efforts and persistence were the great force that finally brought about the deep water that is so much benefit and profit to this City. 8

9 I refer.to none other than Dr. A. Seymour Baldwin. He was the man who truly deserves the title, The Father of Deep water for Jacksonvi1le. If any one deserves a monument here it is Dr. Baldwin far more than the early adventurers who came here as explorers, hoping to secure enough wealth to return home with the wealth of the Indies and live off the profits of exploitation of this part of America. Let me give you a little sketch of Dr. Baldwin gleaned from several biographical sketches it has been my good fortune to read. Dr. A Seymour Baldwin. (Extracts from a biographical sketch in Paul S. Brown's Book of Jacksonville. Published here in [See page ]) Dr. A. S. Baldwin, the Father of Deep Water from Jacksonville to the Sea, was born in Oswego County, N. Y., March 19, 1811, coming from an old family which originally had emigrated from England in 1638, settling at New Milford, Conn., from which place they spread over the United States, Canada, and the West Indies. Young Baldwin graduated from Hobart College in 1834, then studied medicine and received his medical degree early in In June of 1838 he was married to Miss Eliza Scott, the daughter or an influential Geneva family. Dr. Baldwin s history here begins with his arrival in Jacksonville Dec. 2, l838, a young man of twenty seven, and Jacksonville a village of about a thousand inhabitants. He immediately commenced the practice or his profession which soon became extensive but very [laborious because he was the only physician for] an area of thirty miles around this City. It was during his professional visits up and down the river that he began to observe the tides and currents. After giving them considerable attention and careful thought he reached the conclusion that by closing up Ft. George Inlet, the river would have a better discharge to the sea, which would force a clearer, deeper and more permanent channel over the Bar for vessels entering this port. At a special meeting of the citizens called for that purpose he was sent to Washington as previously related earlier in this article and was successful in securing an appropriation. However it was never expended (as has also been related) due to the intervening circumstances. While absent on this errand to Washington, he was elected to the lower house of the Legislature, where he secured the charter for the rail road from Jacksonville to Pensacola known as The Florida-Central Rail Road; and later became president of the company 9

10 organized to build the road. After letting the contracts for construction, Dr. Baldwin retired from the presidency to devote himself to other objects for the benefit of his City and State. Dr. Baldwin was promoted from the lower house to the senate in 1858, and was a member when the War broke out. While personally opposing Secession, he loyally followed his State, when she went out, like the honest patriot he was; and offered his services to the Confederacy. He was commissioned and served as Chief Surgeon of the hospitals in Florida where his services were invaluable, throughout the War. When he returned to Jacksonville after the War he found that his property had all been confiscated, but after a few years he recovered it. He built an extensive block of stores on the North side of Bay St., between what is now Main St. (then Pine) and Laura. The Baldwin Block was a landmark for a great many years; and there is a building on this site today bearing his name. [In the yellow fever epidemic of 1857, Dr. Baldwin lost his first wife. He had one son by this marriage, Dr. Wm. L. Baldwin, who died likewise of yellow fever in the epidemic of In 1868 Dr. Baldwin married Mrs. Mary A. Dell and their daughter, Miss Edna Seymour Baldwin, when a young lady here was remarkable for her beauty and attractiveness. She married Mr. Sam P. Holmes, a member of an old and prominent family here. I have told you of Dr. Baldwin s deep interest and activity for the deep water on the St. Johns Bar and on the river; Time and space forbid me from even mentioning all his activities for the benefit of this City and its inhabitants. Briefly speaking of a very few; he organized the first medical society in Duval County; he was active in securing the organization of the State Medical Society; he was a lifelong member and officer of St. Johns Church; he was Chairman of the Committee handling the first sanitary bonds or t[h]is City, He was voluntary weather observer here for a number of years and the Smithsonian Institute stated they never received better reports and records. A great many more-of his activities must be omitted In the early Nineties he built a handsome mansion on the N.E. corner of Laura and Adams Sts. but after his daughter's marriage he disposed of it to the B.P.O.E, who were using it as a club house at the time the fire of 1901 destroyed it. Again I say: Surely Dr. A. Seymour Baldwin deserves a warm spot in the hearts of the citizens of Jacksonville, and I believe it could do nothing better to commemorate his memory than by erection of some form of a public institution and naming it after him. It should bear not only his name but his statue as well. 10

11 Prepared and Written by L. E. Bigelow Bar pilots meet on a regular basis. Today, there is the St. Johns Bar Pilot Association. Visit Here is a clipping from Source: Michelle Parker Cooke, Mayport Where I Come From. Facebook, January 23,

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