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The Way It Was: Litttle known local history, Part 1

At the end of this little offering of historical notes honoring our Bicentennial year, we trust we may editorialize a bit about our heritage, attitudes and direction.

Baker County of 1976 is an end product of a long and unique, and relatively unknown history. It is a story of poverty and paradox. We have entered the history and guide books via but two counts; the Battle of Olustee (referred to as near Lake City rather than in Baker County) and being possessed of quaintness and color (meaning moonshine manufacturing and drinking, a marriage mill, and floor-stomping frolics of olden days).

Baker County was created not out of necessity but to honor a regional politician, and she was created by a ‘nation’ rather than a state (between Florida’s secession from the U.S. and her entry into the C.S.A.).

For generations, she has been an area of extremes with hardly any middle ground. Her citizens have been mostly rich or poor, but seldom ever middle income. Until the past 30 years or so, only a handful could boast of higher education while the majority of the remainder did well to recognize their own names.

Baker County has been under martial law twice, ravaged by yellow fever and influenza epidemics, crippled by severe freezes, and had her population decimated by feuds and assassinations. Hurricanes have wreaked havoc with her buildings and roads. She has felt fire, earthquake and war, and at times, the censure of the state. But, perhaps the cruelest of all, because it was so unwarranted, were the gibes and labels given by sister counties and the news media.

In spite of it all, Baker County has quietly provided people, products and services for which she has received, and asked for no reward, recognition or thanks.

The first Floridian to assume a Presidential cabinet post graduated from the Baker County school system. Besides several other valuable members of her legislative delegation, she Provided the state with history’s most able Secretary of the Senate. A Baker Countian was the wife of a Governor of the State of Florida. That fact is perhaps not as important as is that, as a young pretty girl, she looked up at the important visitor to her school and said, “I’m going to marry that man and be First Lady one day”

Our county was honored to have one of her number appointed to head the Florida sheriffs’ state organization. One citizen received the coveted laud of the sports world in All-America football. Another citizen was bestowed the title of President Emeritus in the Florida Cattlemen’s Association for his work in helping salvage and boost the cattle industry. Baker Countians have served as presidents of the Southern Nurserymen’s Association and American Nurserymen’s organization. And, suppressing little humility in the telling, Baker County also gave a president for the nation’s oldest and one of its most prestigious state art organizations.

See next week for part 2 of this column by the late Gene Barber, republished from his 1976 column "The Way It Was."

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