A Little History in Connection
Laurel Hill, Florida
Some Sections Contributed by Ferrin C. Campbell
According to legend, the first settlement where the town of Laurel Hill, Florida, is located was called 'Old California,' and was marked by a group of large red oak trees standing on ground northeast of the R.J. Hart home.
Laurel Hill was first established as a logging camp, sometime in the early eighteen-nineties; perhaps about 1891 or 1892.
The W. H. Tyner, Senior, family settled about three miles south of the present town in 1886 after selling their entire possessions near Green Bay. Alabama, and migrating to Henrietta, Texas, and returning. This site was known as Pineway and was established as a post office June 3, 1890, closed November 28, l896 prior to being moved lo Laurel Hill. W, H. Tyner, Sr, was the first postmaster and kept a small store in connection with the office.
The Yellow River RR. had not been extended even to Pineway in 1888. The old Yellow River RR. (Crestview to Florala) was begun at Crestview In 1885, and built by the W. B. Wright Land and Lumber Co., of Pensacola, Florida, as a logging road over which to haul long leaf yellow pine timber from this area to the Wright mill at Pensacola over the logging road to Crestview, L & N RR to Bayou Siding, near Milton, Florida, and then by water to the saw mill. The railroad built by extensions to reach farther into the pine timber forests, first terminated at Shacktown (located just south of the present site of Auburn community), Caledonia (which was about 200 yard' north of the Present Dorsey Service station), to Campion, (where extensive turpentine operations were carried on from about 1905 to 1912), to Pineway (where W. H. Tyner. Sr. settled with his family upon their return from Texas. A daughter, Adella, lived until her death in the same house which was moved about 60 feet west to provide right of way for Hwy 85 in 1976), to Williamson's (another turpentine stilling operation center), to Laurel Hill, to Cowan's Mill, to Svea, to Hood's Track, to Gipsonville: and, finally, in 1898, into Florala. Alabama.
Some old citizens say that the railroad reached Laurel Hill In the year 1892. In April, 1899, an 'accommodation' train was In operation, which was made up of both freight cars and a combination baggage-mail-express-passenger coach drawn by a small wood burning locomotive - The Old No. 2. The train departed Crestview about 9 o'clock a.m. and arrived at Laurel Hill about 12 o'clock noon. Three hours making about 17 miles. Stops were made to discharge and load freight mail, express, and passengers at Richbourg's Crossing. Shacktown, Green's Crossing, Campion, Tyner's and Williamson's Stills. Joe Edge was conductor; Henry Francis, engineer. J. H. (Bud) Givens was Superintendent and M. A. Miot, Master Mechanic. Captain Eric Von Axelson, later postmaster at Munson, Florida, was postmaster and Editor of the Laurel Hill Gazette, a weekly newspaper. W.W. Commander was his assistant.
Business establishments: General stores of A.D. & M. M. Morrison, managed by A. E. Campbell, K. J. Hart, J. L. Richburg, D. T. Finlayson, an immigrant from Scotland, and John F. Merrill. Hotel Walton was operated by George W. Crawford. Mrs. R.J. Hart, recently passed away, also served meals to the traveling public and lodged some. Doctor R.L. Miller owned the drug store and administered to the sick. Joe Barlow night-watched and operated a barber shop. In later years he was the community grave digger. He, perhaps, dug more graves in Almarante Cemetery than anyone else and personally knew the persons interred in same and could locate anyone in whom a stranger might be Interested-
The 'El Providor' was the only cafe in town, operated by Nick Morrisey.
Laurel Hill received its name from a large laurel tree which stood near an open well dug at A point somewhere between where the depot stood and the R.R. Fountain home. The last vestiges of the depot were removed by E.W. Campbell about 1950 after sale to him.
This spot was probably the original log camp site, Angus Ernest Campbell, commonly known in the Laurel Hill area as Ernest Campbell, came to Laurel Hill on May 1, 1898 with his family, his wife, Margaret McDavid Campbell, from McDavid, Florida, generally known as Maggie Campbell, and three children, Robert Palmer Campbell, Mabel Eleanor Campbell and Ernest Willie Campbell. After they came to Laurel Hill, there were four more children, Louise S. Campbell, Annie Maude Campbell. Murdock Newton Campbell, and Clyde Fisher Campbell, born of this marriage. Ernest Campbell came to Laurel Hill as manager of the commissary and the office of the Yellow River Railroad Company which had Its headquarters at Laurel Hill at that time.
Yellow River Railroad was owned by brothers, A. D. Morrison and Macon Morrison. The commissary of the railroad at that time was located approximately where the last depot on the north side of the railroad was located. A few years after Ernest Campbell came to Laurel Hill, the Morrison brothers sold Yellow River Railroad to L&N Railroad and at that time Ernest Campbell and A. D. Morrison went Into business together at the old Campbell Company location, under the name Campbell Company (the wooden building where Campbell Company was located at the time of the death of Ernest Campbell in 1939).
Later, Alcus Daniel Campbell commonly known as Dan Campbell, a brother of Ernest Campbell moved to Laurel Hill and he purchased the interest of A, D. Morrison in Campbell Company and thereafter Ernest Campbell and Dan Campbell operated Campbell Company as a partnership. Dan Campbell later acquired additional interest so that during the latter years, Ernest Campbell and Dan Campbell each owned one-half interest in the business.
After Ernest Campbell and Don Campbell operated the business for a few years. In the old wooden building, they opened up a dry goods store in the adjoining brick building and operated In two separate buildings for a few years and later they moved the dry goods business which was operated by Dan Campbell to the old Peoples Bank Building, where Dan Campbell continued to operate this business until he died.
Clyde Fisher Campbell and Annie Maude Campbell operated the grocery and hardware portion of Campbell Company, in the old wooden building, after Ernest Campbell's death in 1939 through World War II and on up until this part of the business was closed. Dan Campbell, who married Christine McDonald, A teacher, operated the dry goods portion of the business up until his death.
Almost every family in that area depended on employment, either directly or indirectly with the Yellow River R.R and Its attendant logging operations for a livelihood. And the railroad operated on profits derived from the great virgin long leaf yellow pine forests in that country - saw mills and turpentine stills. A great forest was dissipated for meager returns to the whole people. A great natural resource - an inheritance - spent unwisely in a short period.
Before the L & N RR Co. purchased the Yellow River RR in 1902, Mr. Reese had succeeded in building up business to such an extent that the Yellow River RR owned heavier rails and new equipment necessary to carry on with a small common carrier railroad with profit to himself and his brother. J. Simpson Reese and the Wright heirs, actual owners of the original log road.
During these years - 1892 to 1902 - Laurel Hill was an active and growing small railroad center community. But after the L & N took over in 1902, it began the transition into a small agricultural trading center. A branch line was built from Falco Junction located approximately 1 1/2 miles south of Laurel Hill, to Wing, Alabama, in the early 1900's over which the Florida and Alabama Lumber Co. moved logs and timber to tidewater at Pensacola, Florida. This railroad was abandoned soon after the L & N bought the Yellow River RR,
The public school boasted an enrollment of 70 with two teachers. There were no grades; you were either in the 'first, second, third, fourth, fifth up to the sixth reader. The school building was located just west of where the. W. B. Fountain home now stands -- a two-room 'shack.' In the early 1900's a four-room wood structure was built about 1/2 mile south of town; about 1918-20 a brick, two-story structure consisting of five rooms downstairs with Principal's office, three rooms upstairs with an auditorium. In 1932 that building was destroyed by fire. In 1933-34 during the 'Depression,' Federal funds were made available and through the efforts of Dr. S.E. Stephens, T.R James, Mack Tyner, and T. H. Edney, these funds were allocated to build a new school house for Laurel Hill. The part of the present building containing steel windows was erected with funds from the Insurance and the remainder with the exception of the Cafetorium was built with Federal WPA funds. The building was renovated in 1954 when the Cafetorium was added, and a gymnasium made of the former auditorium. This building burned as a result of lightning in July 1971.
Good roads and automobiles were as far away as the stars in those days. The roads were maintained by every able-bodied man providing his own tools and a certain number of day labor to keep public roads in passable condition. Each person rendered his service in his own community under the direction of a Road Supervisor. Bicycles were the mode of travel for the men of the day if they had no horse.
The only telephone connection with the outside world was at the Yellow River RR Co. depot, a line used to dispatch trains. Telegraph line was installed in 1902. The first telephone conversation between Laurel Hill, Florida and Florala, Alabama, was carried on between Mallie Martin and James E. Hughes of Florala, Alabama, in the fall of 1899- The Laurel Hill community is now served by the first Rural Telephone allocation made In the United Slates under the auspices of the Florala Telephone Company.
Raul Moore Spring
Prior to the Civil War, 'Precinct' was one of the first, if not the first, school house in North Okaloosa County. It was located on an old stage coach road about two miles southwest of Laurel Hill and about 1 1/2 mile from present Almarante Cemetery. It was customary to locate the school near s good spring of water. This school being no exception, they had the use of a beautiful, blue, free-flowing spring known as Mineral Spring, later as Raul Moore Spring, which never went dry. Among the Pre-Civil War pupils attending this school were: Allen Campbell, Honest John Campbell, Doctor Richburg, Sallie Campbell, Jane, Connie, Mary and Sarah Wilkerson, John Clary.
During the English occupation of Florida, 1763-1783, Bernard Romans saw the swamps along Yellow River, then variously known as the Chester River (in honor of Governor Peter Chester), the Yellow Water, or, by its Indian name, weelanee, as potentially valuable rice lands; but the English withdrew from Florida before any effort could be made to develop them. Romans foresaw that the contour of the country would make road building difficult, and, although the Spanish trail from Pensacola to St. Augustine traversed it, crossing the Yellow River a few miles above its junction with its main tributary, Shoal River, the old trail had fallen into such disrepair by 1824, that when Congress authorized the building of a military road from Pensacola to St. Augustine, it was abandoned in favor of a less circuitous and easier route following the coast line between Pensacola and Choctawhatchee Bays. As the better lands of this region lay to the north, this section of the military road was never traveled much.
More important to the development of the area than the building of the military road was the Government Survey of Lands, now in Okaloosa County, which was made between 1825 and 1829 by Benjamin and Hosea Clements, J. W. Exum, and J. P. Love. There was a Scottish settlement on Yellow River as early as 1824 and by 1828 there were post offices at Almarante and Yellow Water which reported an annual business of $5.95 and $3.74 respectively. The post office at Almarante was established as Yellow Water on January 31, 1827 with Jeremiah Savelle appointed postmaster. The name of the office was changed to Almarante on May 5, 1828 and was closed in 1836; reopened again in 1840 and later closed 1867. The site was located somewhere in the vicinity of the present Almarante Cemetery where many Campbell descendants are buried. Clearing of the Yellow River of the log rafts which obstructed it gave the settlement water communication with Pensacola. By 1837 a flourishing agricultural community, which milled its own corn and sold its cotton and surplus food stuffs (mainly corn, potatoes, rice and peas) in Pensacola, existed on both sides of the river.