Santa Rosa Press Gazette
City to meet with DEP over mill site
February 15, 2008 - 12:35PM
The City of Milton has been ordered by the Department of Environmental Protection to cease work on portions of the Locklin Lake dam, after workers unearthed the historic remains of an old saw mill dating back to 1830, credited with the founding of Milton.
After an inspection of the site by the DEP, the agency that issued the city’s permit, initial findings indicate the city has not met the permit conditions—which require in the event historic artifacts are found, activity in the immediate vicinity cease and the proper agencies contacted.
A warning letter from the DEP is forthcoming to city officials requesting a meeting be scheduled so the city can explain its actions, says Sally Cooey, DEP spokesperson. It has not yet been determined whether or not official violations will be levied.
City officials decided Wednesday they will contract with the University of West Florida Archeology Institute, allowing archeologists time to assess the mill and determine the best way to proceed with preserving and documenting the site, which has been damaged by the construction.
This decision came as the result of a meeting attended by city officials, and representatives from the University of West Florida, the Santa Rosa Historical Society, and the Locklin Lake Homeowners Association, who own the lake and dam.
“It’s basically a management study,” says John Phillips, a UWF archeologist. “It’s not an archeological excavation to discover how the mill worked, it’s an assessment of the archeological deposits and where we go from here. Once we get started we’ll have an idea of what we’re up against and as to how long it will take.”
He says his intention is to keep the lines of communication open between all parties involved and make sure everyone is on the same page.
“We’ll be the eyes and ears of the city, the State Historic Preservation Office, DEP, and the homeowners too,” Phillips says.
In 1990, Phillips was part of the effort to update the Florida Master Site File, an archive of historic places, which included the old Jernigan Mill located at Locklin Lake, designating it as a recognized archeological site. It was not known at that time if anything remained of the mill below the surface.
A site assessment survey was requested by the State of Florida, Division of Historic Resources in February 2007, seven months before the DEP permit was issued.
“If a site assessment survey had been done, I am sure it would have revealed what has been discovered,” City Manager Donna Adams says.
The request for the survey was later rescinded after the city’s engineering firm, Baskerville-Donovan, wrote a letter in response, claiming any remaining wood structures and supports for the mill had been removed to construct the present dam.
Bakerville-Donovan declined to comment on the matter, referring all questions to the City of Milton, however, the question remains: where did the firm obtain its information?
“I wonder that myself and I do not know,” Phillips says. “I don’t know where that information came from, it did not come from me or our department. Our immediate response to any site that is covered up by something more recent is: it’s possible that the remains of the old site are there.”
Phillips admits a site survey may not have revealed the full extent of the remains, but says he would have arranged a representative to be on site to monitor construction if anything was discovered.
President of the Santa Rosa Historical Society, Nathan Woolsey, says he was never contacted about the mill’s history either, prior to construction, which began shortly after Christmas.
“I think that everyone connected to the issue has been ill-served by the site’s destruction,” Woolsey says, “the City of Milton, the homeowner’s association, the historical community, and even the contractor, who had been given a green light to proceed by a seriously flawed engineering report.”
Foremost in Woolsey’s concern was the “general lack of oversight on the project,” which he finds to be, “all pervasive.”
“None of this needed to happen —period,” Woolsey observes. “It’s a great shame.”
History of Jernigan Mill
Special to the Press Gazette
A notice in the Pensacola Gazette on April 24, 1847 announced the death of Benjamin Jernigan, proclaimed as “one of the oldest inhabitants of the state.”
Jernigan had, in fact, settled in the area some 30 years before the Civil War and more than 15 years before Florida officially became part of the Union.
His name has appeared in print again recently on the pages of this very newspaper after workers uncovered the remains of a water-powered sawmill Jernigan built between 1828-1830, at what is now Locklin Lake.
The mill is notable in the eyes of history as the one credited with giving Milton its name—appearing on early maps simply as “Jernigan’s Landing,” then later “Mill-town,” and eventually, Milton.
Jernigan built the first dam at the site to impound water for his power source. The wooden toe-walls built as part of the original dam to stop the water, are among some of the features currently visible at the site and damaged by construction.
In the antebellum period, the sawmill was sold to Lawrence N. Amos and in turn to William J. Keyser.
With the advent of new technologies, such as steam power, mill operations changed. By the 1850’s the Milton mill was moved down its mill creek to the Blackwater River, much like the Arcadia Mill to the west was moved down Pond Creek to Bagdad.
The upstream mill was then converted into a gristmill that continued to grind corn for the Amos plantation - located where Milton High School is today.
Later, during the Civil War, many of the areas mills and shipyards were burned in Union raids or by retreating Confederates to keep them from falling into Union hands. Some believe the gristmill up the creek might have been spared.
Historian and genealogist, Sharon Marsh, believes the original Jernigan Mill was most likely destroyed during “Beard’s Raid” of March 11, 1862. It has been noted that other mills were burned that day. However, since the Jernigan mill was at a slightly more remote location than the others, historians wonder if could have survived.
Nathan Woolsey, President of the Santa Rosa Historical Society says after an initial inspection of the timbers unearthed at the Locklin Lake construction site, none seem to bear the signs of having ever been burned.
In the decades after the war, the water-powered gristmill was rebuilt, and successfully operated by Spencer H. Collins of Milton, while the water-powered sawmill component was reconstructed on the lake as well, and run by Joseph F. Beal of Milton.
Competition in the 1880’s resulted in a steady decline in the mill’s operations and after seventy years, the milling operations up on the lake were at an end.
Evidence suggests that the original structure - above the level of the dam - was eventually dismantled and sold, most likely by 1910.
In 1935, Milton builder and contractor, R.J. Allen had developed “Yupon Park” on the old mill premises, as a picnic and pleasure ground, complete with miniature golf on the banks of the forty acre “Allen Lake.”
Thereafter, Allen replaced the original “sand dam” with a concrete dam in 1944 - or at least covered the existing dam with a shell of concrete.
It was this concrete dam the City of Milton was trying to replace when they happened upon the remnants of the Jernigan/Allen/Collins mill.
Allen sold the park to Burton L. Locklin, Sr. in the early 1950’s, it was closed in the early 1980’s.
Special Thanks to Nathan Woolsey and Dr. Brian Rucker for the history.