Carrabelle's History

The history of Dog Island and Carrabelle Florida includes a wonderful mix of Indians, shipping, bootlegging, logging and war.  Florida’s first people lived in this area for thousands of years before explorers came from the old world to “discover” our area.  They found a bountiful land and a rich human culture. 

Rio Carrabella was the name of the fishing village recognized by the first post office and was said to mean "beautiful river".  Early settlers in the area, both Indians and early Europeans, hunted the bountiful game for food and furs, which were then shipped out of St. Marks.

There was a brief skirmish during the Civil War when sailors from the blockade ship from East Pass, the Sagamore, came up river and encountered the Carrabelle Irregulars under the command of Captain Blocker of the Beauregard Rangers.

Carrabelle's first boom time came after the Civil War when lumber and naval stores were the most important commodities. Its natural deep water port gave it an edge.  In 1875 the first lumber mill was established - cutting pine and cypress from up river and in swamps, and shipping it to the north and overseas. Ships, mainly schooners, would come through and pass and drop anchor behind Dog Island in Ballast Cove, so named because the ships would drop their ballast before sailing into Carrabelle to pick up their cargo. You may to this day, find ballast rock in the cove.  Then they would come up the river and tie up at the docks to load.

Franklin County Lumber Company, Carrabelle Harbor, FL
Franklin County Lumber Company, Carrabelle Harbor, FL

By 1893 there were many lumber and saw mills along the Carrabelle River and the downtown area was established around Coombs Mill, close to the mouth of the river. The town was incorporated in May, 1893 and during this time, the area flourished - docks were stacked high with lumber and turpentine.

There was a railroad station from which trains carried salted down mullet and other goods to points north, as well as bringing in needed supplies for the residents. The railroad also brought tourists from Tallahassee to stay at the Lanark Springs Hotel, a luxurious resort hotel.  The other side of the station was the steamboat depot.  Here people could catch the daily boat to Apalachicola and St. Marks or the weekly steamships to St. Andrew’s, Pensacola and points beyond. 

A disastrous hurricane hit the town head on at the turn of the century and it was at this time that the downtown area was moved to its present location. The town was rebuilt, and many of today's larger buildings were built during the early part of the 1900's.

This was a banner time for Carrabelle. Lumber and turpentine were king. During a short period, Greek sailors came and began a flourishing sponge industry.

Between World War I and World War II, Carrabelle went into a severe economic slump. Fishing became the principal industry and along with the entire country, Carrabelle slipped into the depression.

Vintage Carrabelle Fire Truck, Carrabelle, FL
Carrabelle Fire Truck, Carrabelle, FL

During the Prohibition much business was done by barter and there was a brief period in which smugglers from the Caribbean unloaded their contraband near Alligator Point and hid in the nearby woods.

In 1942, with the entry of the United States into WW II, Camp Gordon Johnston was built and thousands of men were trained at the camp. For many it was the last stopover for those going to the Pacific or European theaters.

Carrabelle was also an important port for shipping oil. The oil was shipped from Texas, through the Intercoastal Waterway to Carrabelle and then on to Jacksonville through a pipeline, where it was loaded on ships for delivery to Europe. The pipeline began at what is now known as Three Rivers.

Since WW II, Carrabelle has been known as a commercial fishing port.  Throughout Carrabelle history recreational fishing has remained a primary attraction. 

Today living on the edge of Tate’s Hell, surrounded by national and state forests, Carrabelle has become a mecca for ecotourism of all sorts.  Bears, wildflowers, birds and butterflies are annual visitors.  Hiking, kayak and paddling trails from the Gulf and up through the forest give visitors a chance to see amazing places.  There are many attractions in addition to some of the most family friendly beaches in the world.  The Crooked River Lighthouse and Keeper’s House Museum, the Camp Gordon Johnston WW II Museum and the Carrabelle History Museum are a great draw for history lovers.