Good Day to all! Did you know sawmills were so important in the area’s early history that one of the first came all the way from Kentucky? William Huckeby was born around 1840 in Cloverport, Kentucky, just down the Ohio River from Louisville. During the Civil War, at an early age, he served as chief engineer on a stern wheeler plying the Mississippi River.
At war’s end, William returned to Cloverport, purchasing a farm and establishing a sawmill operation. He married, but his first wife died early so he then married Nancy Jane Pate. At the time, he also cosigned on a note for a friend’s farm, Clayton Jared, who was unable to make the payments. Unfortunately, that eventually cost both men their land in 1879. However, luckily, Huckeby’s sawmill was not located on either farm and survived the ordeal.
Remaining friends and intent on starting over on Florida’s frontier, they headed south with two mules and a wagon, reaching Pine Level just north of Arcadia, then the Manatee County seat, in 54 days. Huckeby had left his family and sawmill in the care of relatives. After two years of living in the settlement of Charlotte Harbor and working at whatever endeavor earned him cash money, William had saved enough to bring his wife and two sons, and importantly his sawmill, to Florida, not an insignificant undertaking at the time.
The mill, consisting of an enormous flywheel six feet in diameter, boiler, steam engine, saw blade, and log carriage, first made its way by barge down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The machinery was then shipped by rail to Cedar Key, just north of Tampa, at the time Florida’s southernmost railroad terminus. Thence by schooner to the Caloosahatchee River where it was offloaded on a barge and transported to a stand of timber on Billy Creek, just east of Fort Myers. The timber took about a year to cut out, after which, once again by barge, William moved his sawmill down the Caloosahatchee, then up Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River to Shell Creek, arriving in the fall of 1882, almost two years before Isaac Trabue purchased land that would become Punta Gorda.
Over the next 20 years, located just north of Punta Gorda, William operated one of the area’s most successful sawmills, usually 10 hours a day, 6 days a week to keep up, cutting timber from tracts in Grove City and Cleveland to meet the needs of the booming frontier communities. In 1902, shortly after the mill suffered a fire which damaged a significant amount of lumber, Huckeby sold his sawmill. He died the next year, 64 years old. William Huckeby’s descendants proudly reside in Charlotte County to this day.
You can view Huckeby family photographs by visiting Charlotte County Libraries and History “on-line”. Click on “Physical Items”, then “Archive Search” and enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line.
Check out History Services’ yearlong project, “Telling Your Stories: History in the Parks”. It began in January 2021 with placement of the first interpretive sign “Charlotte Harbor Spa” at South County Regional Park. The last was dedicated December 15, 2021 at Centennial Park featuring Florida postcards. All dedicated signs can be viewed at online library resources. Select “Programs and Services”, then “History Services” and “Virtual Programs”. Visit the same site and select “History Exhibits” to find out what history related programs and videos are available.
“Did You Know” appears, typically, every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Society. The Society’s mission is to advocate and support local history through education, initiatives, and projects in Charlotte County. We are also always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members. If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please visit Charlotte County Historical Center Society on-line, or call (941) 769-1270 for more information.
May 24 column