Ellaville, FL [Madison County]

2011

[Hillman Bridge- Ellaville, FL 2011]

On the Western banks of the Suwannee River stands the collapsing skeleton of a community that used to be. The town records date to just before the Civil War period, with a Confederate Fort that once stood nearby to protect the railroad bridge. By the 1870’s, this emerging dot on Florida’s map was thriving with nearly 1,000 citizens. One of the most important being George Drew, who would become the first Governor of Florida (1877-1881) after Reconstruction. Drew built a mansion in the area in the 1860’s and named the town after his long-time African American servant, Ella.

c. 188?- Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida

[Drew Mansion- Ellaville, FL- c. 188?- Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[c. 1950 Ellaville, FL. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Drew Mansion in Deterioration- Ellaville, FL c.1950. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL c. 196?. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Drew Mansion in Deterioration- Ellaville, FL c. 196?. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

Drew opened a steam-operated sawmill with Louis Bucki of New York in 1865, which at one point was the largest of its kind in Florida, employing 500 people. The towns advantageous location at the mergence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers provided an easy way to transport logs down the river early on, until the Florida Railway was constructed through town and opened special service to the mill. The town had a train station, steamboat dock, masonic lodge, two churches, two schools and a commissary. After his term as Governor was completed, Drew sold his shares in the mill to Bucki and pursued other lumber ventures near Jacksonville Florida.

[View of Ellaville (Drew Sawmill at right) c. 1884. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[View of Ellaville (Drew Sawmill at right) c. 1884. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 18?. Store of George Franklin Drew & Lewis Bucki. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 18?. Store of George Franklin Drew & Lewis Bucki. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

Like the fate of most agricultural economies, the successes and defeats of next hundred years would depend heavily on environmental and economic factors. In 1898, the original mill burned and although it was rebuilt, the industry would quickly exhaust the yellow pine it harvested and would close for good. The early 1900’s brought flooding and of course Wars and a depression.

[School Portrait. Ellaville, FL- 1921. School was held in an abandoned church for 3 months out of the year. Teacher: Joyce Peeples. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[School Portrait. Ellaville, FL- 1921. School was held in an abandoned church for 3 months out of the year. Teacher: Joyce Peeples. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

["Uncle Charlie"  Wright & Family Ellaville, FL- 1922. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

["Uncle Charlie" Wright & Family Ellaville, FL- 1922. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Minnie Lee Greene Burnette & 2 Unidentifed Women Ellaville, FL- 1928. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Minnie Lee Greene Burnette & 2 Unidentifed Women Ellaville, FL- 1928. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Suwannee River Flood at the Hillman Bridge- 1928. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- Suwannee River Flood at the Hillman Bridge- 1928. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

Throughout these incredibly trying times, I suppose Ellaville held on to it’s relevance because of its location on the Florida Railway Mainline between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. And in present day, the bridges into Ellaville are the only epitaphs of what once was. They hold faithfully to the past even though the rest of the town has burned or crumbled to the ground. The railroad bridge has seen many reincarnations and was once reportedly deconstructed during Governor Drew’s election as carpetbaggers approached by train trying to derail his gubernatorial bid. The main traffic bridge in to town is known as the Hillman Bridge has known many forms as well.

[Ellaville, FL- Hillman Bridge 19?? Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- Hillman Bridge 19?? Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL-Suwannee River Flood at the Hillman Bridge- 1928. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL-Suwannee River Flood at the Hillman Bridge- 1928. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 1935. Group at Suwannee River Park with Hillman Bridge in the background. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 1935. Group at Suwannee River Park with Hillman Bridge in the background. Photo Courtesy State Archive of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 193? Hillman Bridge. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

[Ellaville, FL- 193? Hillman Bridge. Photo Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida]

The Hillman bridge which we can still see today is a through truss bridge and was built from a Federal Aid Project from 1925-26 and designed by RHH Blackwell Company of East Aurora, New York.

[Ellaville, FL- Hillman Bridge 2012]

[Ellaville, FL- Hillman Bridge 2012]

[Ellaville, FL- View of the Hillman Bridge from the old railroad bridge]

[Ellaville, FL- View of the Hillman Bridge from the old railroad bridge]

The trying period of the early 1900’s dealt a big blow to the economy of Ellaville. By 1942, the Post Office would be closed. In 1970, the remaining owner of the abandoned Drew Mansion burned it to the ground after years of vandalism and scrapping had taken their toll. In 1986, the Hillman Bridge was bypassed by a new highway and is no longer in use.

[Ellaville, FL- From the Hillman Bridge looking at HWY 90 which bypasses the old route]

[Ellaville, FL- From the Hillman Bridge looking at HWY 90 which bypasses the old route]

Thanks to the State Archive of Florida for generous use of all original photos seen in this post.

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10 responses to “Ellaville, FL [Madison County]”

  1. 10624abc says :

    Love the history behind the photographs…… Thank you…

    Like

  2. Sanne Collins says :

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of Ellaville. It’s a fascinating story.

    -Sanne Collins
    Rural Florida Living

    Like

  3. Saundra Dowling says :

    My grandfather would take us to look for christmas trees near the Drew mansion and we got to sit on the steps. I remember the mansion was really scarey to me but then I was looking though it as a child in the 1960s. I also remember the graveyard in the woods on the land behind the mansion. Do you know if the State relocated it?

    Like

    • Linda Felts says :

      I am related to the Drews and am interested in anyone who remembers the cemetery before it was vandalized. I’m looking for my ggggrandfather’s grave. His name was John Melvin Drew. He was George Franklin Drew’s brother, and helped build the mansion.

      Like

  4. davidbwrites2 says :

    Found your site while doing research for a story I’m working on centered around Ellaville. Spent the last hour on your site. Great work and photos…David

    Like

  5. Sue Morton Somerville Simpson says :

    In 1966, While attending NFCC in Madison fl, my boyfriend took me to see this mansion. It was old, rundown and vandalized, yet still much of its beauty intact. I remember the parquet floors. Sad that it was destroyed and not restored.

    Like

    • Kelly says :

      Thanks for your comment, Sue! I wish I had gotten to see the place when it was still standing. As local legend goes, the family decided to destroy the place because it had become such a hangout for vandals.

      Like

  6. Faye Boyles says :

    When I was in the 4th or 5th grade in Madison Elementary School, around the mid thirties, my class went to Ellaville to see the mansion. It was quite run- It’sdown but still had a cistern underneath part of the building. It’s sad that it was no preserved

    Like

    • Tim Greene says :

      My father, RA Greene and his mother Carrie Green lived in the governors mansion as caretakers in the late twenties and early thirties, I wish I could find pictures of the area around that time, Mrs Boyles you may have known my father and his siblings about that time.

      Like

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