Sunday, November 22, 2015

Old Bellamy Road, Part 1: Alachua County

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. 

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The sign reads as follows:
1824 - The Bellamy Road - 1952
The construction of this road was authorized by the 18th Congress and approved February 28, 1824. The section from Tallahassee to St. Augustine was built by John Bellamy and followed the old Spanish road. Gainesville Chapter, Daughters of American Revolution

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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.

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A note of caution for those interested in checking out the Old Bellamy Road, whether in Alachua or other counties: There were once numerous old structures along the roadway; however, both time and trespassers have taken their toll. The St. Mary's Church (fourth picture from the top) was one such example. I stopped to photograph what was left of it (from the road), and the property owner was there in less than a minute. He was a very nice man, and we had a lovely chat. He told me that when he bought the property, the church was standing, but that over the years he caught numerous people trespassing, many of whom were taking souvenirs. He blamed such souvenir-taking on the building's eventual collapse. I photographed the final two buildings above from the roadway as well, as the properties are clearly marked as private, no trespassing. Despite not leaving the road, their owner was out to see what I was up to quite quickly as well, and seemed to be dealing with the same problem. As corny as it sounds, the quote which I've seen at numerous state and national parks, 'take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints' seems achingly appropriate here. Enjoy looking at these structures, whether here online or in real life, but be respectful of the properties and their owners.


  1. Love these photos ♥

  2. I live about 5 minutes from the St. Mary's church. As kids me and my friends would go and stand next to the fence and swear we would see ghost inside. But we would never dare to go across the fence because being too scared. I think it was about 4or 5 years ago when it collapsed. It is still weird passing by it and realizing its not standing anymore. It was after a tropical storm or a hurricane when it fell.

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