HOLMES COUNTY, FLORIDA

PONCE de LEON COMMUNITY

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 By Anna Paget Wells (used with permission of publisher Sue Cronkite) from the book "Heart and History of Holmes County". This book is chock full of pictures and what has been used within this web site is only a small amount of the book.  It can still be ordered from Sue Cronkite or from the Holmes County Advertiser, 112 E Virginia Avenue, Bonifay FL 32425; phone 850-547-2270; fax 850-547-9200

Ponce de Leon has the oldest existing post office in Holmes County. There were two post offices established before Ponce de Leon, Cerro Gordo and Smith Home Springs, but neither of those post offices exists today. Daniel Jackson Brownell, who was later killed in a duel while he was Sheriff of Holmes County, was the first postmaster at Ponce de Leon. The office was established on Aug 24, 1853.

Anthony Brownell built a hotel in Ponce de Leon before the Civil War. It was doing good business until the war wrecked the economy of the South.

Ponce de Leon is located on the west side of the Choctawhatchee River. The town was named for the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, who searched for the fabled "Fountain of Youth."

In 1885, Ponce de Leon had a population of 300. It had a wagon master and an orange grove. At this time, Ponce de Leon had as many people as Cerro Gordo, the county seat. The present county seat, Bonifay, had only 150 people.

Some familiar family names in or near Ponce de Leon before the Civil War were: Andrews, Mayo, Morrison, Moore, Neel, Padgett, and Sutton.

Updeen Miller, a writer of Ponce de Leon news for the Holmes County Advertiser, did for Ponce de Leon what Purl G Adams did for Westville. She takes us back to the first decades of this century:

"Ponce de Leon was an active and prosperous town in the years from 1910 – 1920. The Green brothers owned and operated a livery stable which faced the railroad tracks somewhere near the Presbyterian Church in Old Town.

"To obtain horses and mules for this stable, the brothers made a yearly trip to Tennessee, where they purchased at least a railroad carload of animals. There was always much excitement and interest when the new livestock arrived in Ponce de Leon.

"Local boys were urged to ride and tame the new stock. Many were thrown but no one was every seriously hurt. Henry Miller remembers the rides he and other lads had. He lived only a short distance from the stable and, to this day, has fond memories of sitting on the corral fence and watching the action.

"Bill Grice and Bill Bryant were employed as stable hands to care for the livestock.

"Buggies, horses and mules were not only sold or traded, but folks could also rent them single or as a pair. A buggy and a pair of horses rented for $5, whereas one horse and buggy was 43, and a single horse was $1 per day. A young man could take a five dollar bill, do business with the stable, and light mighty impressive with a fine-stepping team when he carried his best girl friend to Sunday meeting.

"Mr Miller remembers buying a mule for $200 around 1941. James Padgett recalls his father, Isom Padgett, purchasing a mule from the stable.

"The Green brothers had a fondness for new automobiles. At one time, they and Dan and Lance Hughes were perhaps the only ones in the are to own cars. (Hurdis Green brought the first car this writer had ever seem to Leonia in 1909. I would have been six years old when I saw my very first automobile. – Annie Paget Wells). It is fairly safe to say this automobile was purchased from the Hughes’, who had an automobile franchise that covered Holmes, Walton, Jackson and Bay counties. Lance Hughes was the second car dealer in this area of Florida. The first was the Lutter Music Co of Pensacola. This car boasted a brass radiator and a windshield that could be let down. The top and the windshield were considered luxuries and were bought extra. The car had carbide or gas lights, which worked very well unless they got wet or out of adjustment.

"During the town’s early years, there were at least two blacksmith shops in operation. One was located between the homes of Mr Cutts and the Garr family. Warren was the blacksmith.

"The other shop was located in front of the home of Dr G Ballard Simmons, who served as Dean of Education at the University of Florida. (The Simmons home is now owned by the Joe Sutton family.) In the front part of this blacksmith shop was a barber shop. The owner, Mr Masters, was a handy sort of person who could shave and cut a gentleman’s hair and also take care of his mount. Now that’s real service! Mr Masters is remember as a picturesque character, a strong and powerful man with a long handlebar mustache.

"Two drug stores were in operation. One was owned by Dr Stephens and the other by the Paul family.

"Several general stores were in business. Some of them offered a wide variety of goods, others being more like a commissary-type store. According to some commissary records, the grocery list was much smaller than the typical ones of today. The typical order then might have consisted of shorts (for the hogs), a sack of flour, coffee, beans, and make a little salt pork. Eggs and other farm products were traded back to the store for credit on the customer’s account.

"If a fellow was really in high spirits, he could "set up" everyone in the store for perhaps 29 cents worth of chocolates.

"One of the general stores was built about the same time the railroad was being constructed. In fact, the train depot wasn’t finished, so the storekeeper, Dan Hughes, set up teletype service in his store for the railroad. He learned to operate it until the depot could be finished.

"The city also had a bottling plant. Back then drinks were referred to as "soda water". From all accounts there were some soda in the formula because from trying to drink one you would receive a spray in your nose and eyes. The most common flavors were strawberry and orange. No cola was used at that time. The bottle looked something like an Orange Crush bottle. The most interesting process in bottling the soda water was the use of a foot lever to cap the bottle. Young lads were used to wash the drink bottles in a long trough and according to A B Terry, a penny was what you received for washing 24 bottles. The drinks sold for 5 cents each.

"Ponce de Leon is not the same bustling town it once was. But its citizens can take pride in the countless folks who had their beginnings there and went on to make their mark in important positions throughout the United States." (Nov 11, 1976).

Ponce de Leon has had some set-backs. When US 90 was rebuilt and widened, it was routed to bypass the business district, which promptly moved out to the highway. This move left the old business district with its empty buildings as a sort of "ghost town". When I-10 was built, another adjusting took place. Any town with so many natural assets and so much to offer is bound to bounce back and become better known than ever. "The "Collard Festival" drew much attention to Ponce de Leon.

 


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This page was lasted updated on 17 June, 2002 08:42 PM