By: Dale Cox
One of the most interesting accounts ever written about Jackson County is found in the journal of an early Catholic Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Portier. He entered the county in June of 1827 by way of Orange Hill in what is now Washington County and left the only known description of the site of Marianna before the founding of the city.
Biship Portier crossed over the site where Marianna would be founded just a few months later while making his way on horseback from Pensacola to St. Augustine. In his journal he wrote:
"On every side you could hear the rippling of the brooks which here and there blended their waters and developed into streams of deep and regular formation. Rocks were to be met as high as the trees themselves, and bordered around with wild flowers, while sweet-scented shrubbery decked the sides and summits of these pygmy mountains. Natural wells, underground caves, oak trees blasted by lightning or cast by the tempest across our narrow pathway like an artificial bridge – everything was present to enhance the spectacle."
Less than six months after the bishop passed across the beautiful site, Robert Beveridge and his workers began carving the modern city of Marianna from the wilderness. Portier’s description provides a good idea of why the site was considered as an excellent location for a settlement.
Pushing on across the Chipola River, the bishop spent the night at the home of William Robinson overlooking Blue Spring. Robinson had moved to the area from Georgia a few years earlier and acquired more than 3,100 acres in the area around Blue Spring. A life-long bachelor, he was described as less than an ideal host by Portier.
The bishop was impressed, however, with the spring itself. "This beautiful body of water, of perfect blue color," he wrote, "imparts the same tint to whatever it reflects, and when the sun is in the zenith the reflected images take on all the colors of the rainbow through the prismatic influence of the waters."
Portier’s description of Blue Spring provides a fascinating word picture of how it must have appeared before the creek flowing from it was dammed later in the 19th century:
"Like a small flood tired of being hampered and held up in its progress, it pours over with mighty force into a bed cut deep into the rock. This bed or vase is oval in shape and possibly a hundred feet wide at its broadest span. So clear is the water that the smallest objects are distinctly seen in it at a depth of thirty or even thirty-five feet; while all around the magnolia, laurel, cypress, and cedar are found in profusion. The wild grape-vine, after pushing its plaint branches to the very tops of these trees, hangs suspended over the stream in festoons. Fish without number find shelter in this retreat; but at the slightest sound of an inquisitive wayfarer they seek speedy refuge in the deeper places."
Bishop Portier passed on from Blue Spring after only one night and crossed the Apalachicola River in a small boat the next day. His account lives on, however, as one of the finest descriptions written of early Jackson County.
Editor’s Note: Bishop Portier’s journal is one of the early accounts of Jackson County in the new book The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One by Dale Cox. A native of the Two Egg area, Cox is a regular contributor to the Jackson County Times. You can learn more about his new book and read more of his writings at www.jacksoncountytimes.net.