Rivers are great and all for boating, swimming, and fishing; however, they pose an obstacle for anyone lacking either wings or a bridge. Long before European settlers came to the ‘new world,’ the native peoples of what is now Florida had to find ways to traverse the state’s many rivers. One river, however, provided an easy path. The Santa Fe River, which runs for approximately 75 miles across north Florida before merging with the larger Suwannee River, goes completely underground only to emerge from the earth three miles to the south. This, in effect, provided the native peoples of the state a natural bridge across an otherwise difficult to traverse waterway, and the route connecting what is now Alachua and Columbia counties became a well-trod track. After the Spanish settled the territory, they too took advantage of this natural bridge, creating a roadway of sorts linking the Spanish city of St. Augustine to what is now Pensacola. This ‘road’ crossed the natural bridge over the Santa Fe, and for a time a Spanish mission, Santa Fé de Toloca, was located there (and from whence the river received its modern name).
In the 1820s, Florida became a US territory, and the new American leadership began focusing on development of the Floridian economy and infrastructure. In 1824, Congress approved funding for the first federal highway in Florida: a road to be built from St. Augustine to Pensacola, following the route of the old Spanish road. A plantation owner named John Bellamy was contracted to build the St. Augustine to Tallahassee portion, and from him that portion of the road received its name: Bellamy Road. Like its predecessor, the Bellamy Road crossed the natural bridge over the Santa Fe River. You can read a really interesting article about the construction of the road here.
As time passed, other routes across north Florida became more popular and the Bellamy Road fell into disuse; however, stretches of the road – some paved, some dirt – still remain, scattered throughout the northeastern part of the state. Below are some images from the sections of the road in Alachua County.
1824 - The Bellamy Road - 1952
All that remains of the St. Mary's Church, an African-American church once located at the intersections of Old Providence Road and Old Bellamy Road.