History of Santa Rosa County


An act passed by the territorial legislature in its twenty-first session , 15 February 1842 created Santa Rosa County. Three years later, in March of 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union as a state.

Santa Rosa County is bounded on the north by the state of Alabama and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico. Her neighboring county to the West is is her parent county Escambia and since 1912 has been bounded on the east by Okaloosa County. The natural setting of Santa Rosa County is long- leaf yellow pine, juniper, live oak and wiregrass where wildlife is still abundant with shallow coastal waters and pure, clear streams. The entire county is approximately 6,000 square miles.

The county seat for Santa Rosa is Milton. It existed as a trading center for many years, and a brisk import-export business was thriving many years before Santa Rosa county was formed.

During the Territorial and Early Statehood Periods, industry rather than agriculture provided the economic base for Santa Rosa County. The first known record of the lumber industry in West Florida was of two masts of yellow pine being shipped from Pensacola to Havana by a Spanish schooner in 1743.

After the transfer of Florida to the United States in 1821, a number of sawmills began operating around the bays and streams adjacent to Pensacola. Most of them continued operations until the Civil War.

The 1st years of the Civil war brought prosperity to Bagdad, but in March 1862 Confederate troops withdrew from Pensacola and moved rapidly across Santa Rosa County. Bagdad industries were torched by the 1st Regular Florida Volunteers to prevent them from falling into Union hands. The wanton destruction ruined the industrial base of the county.

By 1867 production had resumed and with world wide demand for yellow pine a new prosperity had been sparked for Bagdad. All the prominant men in Santa Rosa County made their fortunes directly from the Lumber industry.

Bagdad had the greatest concentration of large mills. The west bank of the Blackwater River was occupied by the Simpson Mill. The East side of the Blackwater had a mill operated by John Hunt, referred to as the Dog Farm. The mill at Bagdad was burned during the Civil war and the Miller mill at East Bay as well. These are to name a few.

The third railway in Florida, and one of the only two at the time was the Arcadia and Blackwater Railway in what is now Santa Rosa County. This railway was built to haul sawn timber and lumber from the sawmill of Forsyth and Simpson at Arcadia (later this was the Bagdad Land and Lumber Co.

For over a hundred years, the logging industry furnished jobs for thousands of people but by 1939 the area was soon depleted of trees forcing the mills out of business.

In 1997 areas will still transport you back in time to a calm, untouched countryside or to beautiful white sandy beaches in the Florida Panhandle.

Land area (rank): 1,024 square miles (16)
Population 1993 (rank): 90,259 (33)
Population density 1993 (rank): 88 persons per square mile (34)
Growth 1980-1990 (rank): 45.8% (19)

Physical Characteristics

Santa Rosa County is in northwest Florida and is bordered by Alabama and the Gulf of Mexico, and by Escambia and Okaloosa counties. The county has 120 square miles of water. The average January temperature is 53.8 degrees F, and the average August temperature is 80.5 degrees F. The average annual rainfall is 58.85 inches.

Population

The majority of the county's acreage is in timber. In 1993, 85% of the county's population was in unincorporated areas. The incorporated place with the greatest population is Milton, with a 1993 population of 7,451, followed by Gulf Breeze, with a 1993 population of 5,802. Gulf Breeze has developed from an area of less than 1,000 in 1960. The unincorporated area with the greatest population in 1990 was Pace with a population of 6,277. The U.S. Bureau of the Census has designated Santa Rosa County (with Escambia County) as the Pensacola Metropolitan Statistical Area. In 1993, 94% of Santa Rosa County's population was white and 6% was nonwhite. In 1990, 1.5% of the population was Hispanic. Of the population increase between 1980 and 1990, 74.2% was due to net migration. The 1992 birth rate was 15.0 live births per 1,000 persons and the 1992 death rate was 6.2 deaths per 1,000 persons. In 1992 the infant mortality rate was 9.2 per 1,000. The leading causes of death in 1993 were heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Education

Of all 1992 high school graduates, 75.4% planned to continue their education. The 1992 high school dropout rate was 2.8%. In 1990, 78.5% of persons in the county were high school graduates, and 18.6% had completed four or more years of college. Colleges and universities. Served by Pensacola Junior College (Escambia County).

Economy

The per capita income in Santa Rosa County for 1993 was $15,944 (33rd highest in the state). The median household income in 1989 was $24,584. In 1989, 11.5% of families had incomes below the poverty level. In 1990, 19.0% of personal income in Santa Rosa County was derived from transfer payments. In 1992 the greatest numbers of persons in Santa Rosa County were employed in the government, retail trade, and services sectors. Whiting Field Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base are major federal government employers. Employers of the greatest numbers of persons in the retail trade sector were eating and drinking establishments and food stores. In the services sector employers of the greatest numbers of persons were medical and other health services and business services. Major employers in the manufacturing sector are a large lumber mill in Bagdad and several chemical plants. In 1992 there were 430 farms in Santa Rosa County, totalling 79,270 acres (12% of land in the county). In 1991, 18,278 thousand board feet of softwood logs, 116,547 cords of softwood for pulp, and 8,255 cords of hardwood for pulp were produced. In 1991, 1,365,291 pounds of fish and 211,978 pounds of shellfish were landed in Santa Rosa County.

Median value of a single-family home 1990: $65,900
Median monthly rent 1990: $285
Mobile homes as a % of total housing: 19.7
Housing starts 1992: 1,390
Housing starts 1993: 1,469

In 1992 the price level index for Santa Rosa County was 91.60 (56th highest in the state).

Local Government

In 1993, the ad valorem millage rate was 6.9720, and the total taxable value of property was $2,263,661,785. Taxable sales totalled $363.70 million in 1992 and $391.60 million in 1993. Lottery sales totalled $11,005 thousand in 1992-93. In 1990-91 Santa Rosa County's revenues totalled $48,861 thousand ($582.1 per capita) and its expenditures $44,871 thousand ($534.6 per capita). Of those 18 years of age and older, 85.0% were registered to vote in 1992. Of these, 58.8% were registered Democrat and 36.3% were registered Republican. In the 1992 presidential election 52.9% of the votes were cast for Bush, 26.8% for Perot, and 20.0% for Clinton.

Events and Places of Interest

Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Gulf Breeze; Thomas Creek Archaeological District, East of Chumuckla; Scratch Ankle Festival, Milton, March.

  • "History of Santa Rosa County - A Kings Country" by M. Luther King

  • "Pioneering in the Panhandle" by William James Wells
  • "We Remember Bagdad- An Architectural History"-by Elaine C. Willis, Peggy W. Toifel and Dr. Lea Wolfe
  • "WorldWideWeb version of Florida County Atlas & Municipal Fact Book

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