Old Bellamy Road
I have spent the past few weeks researching and photographing one very special road in Alachua County. Nearing 200 years old, this stretch of (sometimes dirt) road holds incredible tales I could only imagine. Its first path was actually laid by Native Americans who utilized a natural land bridge to cross the Santa Fe River going back hundreds of years. The arrival of Spanish settlers and expansion of missionaries from the Atlantic Coast inland toward (present-day) Tallahassee brought increased traffic of wagons that continued to bore out a more defined trail into the limestone, becoming known as the Old Mission Trail. Much of the mission traffic ended in the early 1700’s as the British led Indians into this area. The British and their Indian allies continued to use this route through the American Revolution.
[Rolling green hills make up the surrounding landscape along most of the drive]
Fast-forward to 1821 and the Spanish have just ceded Florida to the United States. In 1824, the first session of the 18th U.S. Congress decided that a road needed to be developed to connect the capitols of East and West Florida, St. Augustine and Pensacola respectively. It would become Florida’s first federal highway. Congress ordered that this new road would follow the Old Mission Road as closely as possible. The western part of the road was constructed by the U.S. Army and the larger eastern portion was contracted to a plantation owner from Monticello, FL by the name of John Bellamy and was largely built by his own slaves in under 2 years.
[A few Florida Cracker Homesteads like this one still stand along the road- c. 1900]
Early Florida settlers who came from Georgia and the Carolinas in the mid-1800’s developed small communities along the road, some of which still bare markers you can see today.
[Florida Cracker Homestead c.1895]
The growing communities of Newnansville and Traxler built homes, churches, schools and commissaries, until the railroad came through Gainesville many years later, encouraging settlers to move. These are literal ghost towns now, with Newnansville only holding on to it’s cemetery. Traxler on the other hand still shows some of its relics in the form of old Florida Cracker houses that are (barely) still standing.
As time ticked on, the western portions of the road fell in to disuse as settlers moved to other areas, however the eastern portion remained valuable to early settlers and is still functional today. The fantastic rolling hills and varying landscape almost make you forget you’re in Florida, but the wonderful drooping Spanish Moss trees will remind you again. This was designated a Florida Scenic Highway in 1980.