Bagdad Lumber Mill
In 1829, Joseph Forsyth saw economic potential in the vast pine forest of North Florida. Old growth yellow pine was one of the world's most prized building materials and the deepwater juncture of Pond Creek and the Blackwater River was an open door to the world market. By the early 1830s, Forsyth and his partner Ezekiel Simpson produced 250,000 feet of lumber yearly at Arcadia Mill on Pond Creek. The lumber was moved by flatboat down to the Blackwater River, loaded on larger vessels and shipped to buyers. In 1835 the Florida territorial legislature granted a charter to the Arcadia partners for Florida's third railroad, The Pond Creek and Blackwater River Canal Company. The railway used mule-drawn carts on iron-covered wood rails to transport lumber from Arcadia to the Bagdad Mill here. A steam-powered sawmill installed at Bagdad in the early 1840s expanded production. Eventually Bagdad's shipping market reached beyond the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean to North and South Atlantic ports and to Western European, Mediterranean, and Scandinavian countries. When the mill closed in 1939, trade journals recalled the Bagdad Mill as home to one of the most successful lumber organizations in the Western Hemisphere.
A Florida Heritage Site
The deepwater channel and abundant forests along the Blackwater River
made this area ideal for building wooden ships. During the Revolutionary
War, Welsh brothers Jonas and Evan Jones repaired British warships in the vicinity. A shipyard was established near Bagdad by Captain John
Gardner in 1833. William Ollinger and Martin Bruce built a repair facility and marine railway at Bagdad's Shipyard Point in 1858, which operated for 60 years. In 1861 Confederate President Jefferson Davis awarded a contract to Ollinger & Bruce for construction of a 110-foot gunboat for the coast and river defense of Florida. On March 11, 1862 facing Union invasion and racing to demolish anything of use to the federal troops,
Confederate forces set fire to industrial facilities in Santa Rosa County, destroying the shipyard, the completed gunboat and lumber mills at Bagdad. The shipwrights saved their pine-built 500-ton floating dry dock by sinking it in the river. After the war, the dry dock was lifted, used for decades, and then resubmerged. Later it was raised again and found to be in remarkably good condition whereupon it was towed to Pensacola and used continuously and successfully for many years.
A Florida Heritage Site