Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of Apalachicola
By Tom Scherberger
Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of Apalachicola, Fla.? There’s an app for that.
With this app you can learn, at your own pace and on your own schedule, what some of Florida’s most unique towns and cities have to offer.
Here’s an overview of what you can experience via the Apalachicola app:
Where: North side of E Avenue, Apalachicola
Number of stops: 12
Total time: 75 minutes
Author: Historian Pam Richardson
Start: Holy Family Senior Center
Apalachicola is best known today as Oyster City but its history dates back to antebellum days, when cotton was king.
The walking tour focuses on the often-neglected African-American history of a city that was established in the 1820s and 1830s by wealthy merchants from New York and New England. Many of them were slave owners. In 1860, 65 Apalachicola white men owned 520 slaves.
The town’s historic black community lies on the north side of Avenue E, a once-thriving center of local African-American businesses, schools, churches and homes, with gardens full of vegetables, flowers and chickens. After the Civil War, jobs in the growing lumber and seafood industries drew African-American workers. Franklin Square is the heart of the neighborhood, which is comprised of modest Gulf Coast and Victorian cottages, Craftsman bungalows and shotgun houses.
The Holy Family Senior Center, the first stop on the tour, is the historic hub of the African-American community on the Hill. The building began its life in 1929 as the Holy Family Mission School, giving Apalachicola’s African-American children a first-rate education from 1920 to 1968. Renovated and reopened as a senior center after years of neglect, it is once again a focal point for the community with weddings, graduation parties, talent shows, and a polling place for elections.
The Clara Abner House is modest but its history is not: The 1860 sale of the lot may be the only documented case of an African American slave, Clara Butts Abner, purchasing property, in this case from her slave owner, in pre-Civil War Apalachicola.
David Bell’s Barbershop is the tiny house next to the Bell family home, a gathering place for neighborhood to catch up on gossip and swap stories. The four millworkers cottages are three -room shotgun houses, rented out primarily to men who worked long hours at local saw mills on the riverfront, and in later years at seafood canneries.
Apalachicola was once called Cottonton, even though cotton didn’t grow well around the town. But the Apalachicola River carried cotton from farm to the north, turning the city into the third-largest cotton port on the Gulf of Mexico.
Things to do
While the local oyster industry is struggling to survive, you can still find plenty of oyster bars such as Up the Creek Raw Bar or Boss Oyster along the Apalachicola River and the quaint downtown, though you are more likely to get Louisiana or Texas oysters.
The city’s nickname inspired the Oyster City Brewing Company, where you can try a brown ale made with local tupelo honey. Within easy range of Apalachicola, you will find miles of pristine beaches on St. George Island and acres of national and state forests to explore.