By June of 1856, the port facilities of
Bayport where in full operation and receiving many vessels.
Bayport resident John E. Johnson was
appointed to the position and served as the Bayport Customs Officer.
As Customs Officer, Johnson assumed the responsibility of ensuring
that all customs laws were enforced and followed by all vessels at
Bayport. Johnson took his
office at the Bayport Customs House located near the wharf, where all
vessels were to be checked in accordance with the customs laws.
Johnson was also responsible for collecting any fees that may
have been imposed by the government, on the merchandise aboard the
vessels. In addition, Johnson received a stipend, from
the government, to perform the daily operation of the Bayport Customs
On July 30, 1857, the United States Treasury Offices published a
detailed report that included a report titled, "statements showing the
amount of moneys
expended at each customs house in the U.S. during the fiscal year
ending on July 30, 1857." This report outlined the money paid to
customs officers in the United States, for the operation of their
respective customs house. For the 1856-57 fiscal year, Customs
E. Johnson received $350.10 for the operations and collection of
revenue at the Bayport Customs
House. In most cases the money expended to these customs houses,
reflects the size of
the port, for example the St. Marks Port expenditures for the same year
were in excess of
$5,000. (click here
to view list of 1856-57 expenditures, including Bayport) During
the 1857-58 fiscal year a new customs officer would be appointed to the
Bayport Customs House as John E. Johnson stepped down and was replaced
by A.J. Decatur.
A.J. Decatur was a relative by marriage to the John Parsons
Family of Bayport, Decatur was the maiden name of John's wife Susan.
The relation of A.J. Decatur to the Parsons Family is unknown at
this time but is believed to be the brother-in-law to John Parsons.
On July 30, 1858 the United State Treasury Office again published
a detailed report showing expenditures of the U.S. Customs Houses.
According to the 1857-58 report titled "Expense for Collecting
Revenue for Customs", John E. Johnson received $324.73 for the
remainder of his duties and A.J. Decatur
received $291.04 as the new customs officer of the Bayport Customs
House. (click here
to view list of 1857-58 expenditures, including Bayport)
Ca. 1856-1857 there also came a need to establish a community cemetery.
Upon plotting the current location of the Bayport Cemetery as it
today, it is revealed that the cemetery was located on a portion of
property originally owned by Thomas W. Day and purchased by Thomas and
John Parsons. The first burial in the Bayport Cemetery is not
known but is believed to be a child. It is also believed that
Bayport was refuge for troops during
the Third Seminole Indian War 1855-58 since the first road built to the
area was a military road built by Col William Davenport in 1838.
Troops were likely receiving
rations through Bayport's port and possibly medical services from the
residents of Bayport. It is believed that as some of these
stricken with illness and died, they were also laid to rest in the
Bayport Cemetery. Among the soldiers believed to be buried at
Bayport was Robert Daniel Rewis who according to Rewis Family research,
died sometime in 1856
fever, while at the Cowart House in Bayport during service the
Second Seminole Indian War, however this cannot be confirmed due to
vandalism of the cemetery and lack of markers. The
erodes of time have long since crept in and
taken the Bayport Cemetery back as the area is extremely overgrown and few even know
of the cemetery's existence. While these early burials cannot be
confirmed due to lack of headstones we do know that Bayport had an
established cemetery by 1856 along with several other community
supported services. (Please see more about the Bayport Cemetery
April of 1857
also strike the pioneer Parsons Family of Bayport. According to
Family research, on April 1, 1857 pioneer resident and Bayport founder,
Thomas Henry Parsons, pictured left, died while living in Bayport.
Along with his uncle, John Parsons, Thomas settled and helped
build the small coastal port town of Bayport. In June of 1857 the
local Masonic Lodge in Brooksville published
an obituary for member Thomas H. Parsons. According to the
obituary, Thomas H. Parsons was a member of the De Soto Masonic Lodge
No. 32 in Brooksville and at the time of his death and past he was an
acting Junior Warden and had been elected Senior Warden for the year of
1856, the year prior to his death. The De Soto Masonic Lodge was
expressing their deepest sympathies by publishing the obituary.
The De Soto Lodge and the community at large substained a serious
loss with the passing of Thomas H. Parsons. Thomas Henry Parsons
was laid to rest in the Parsons-Decatur Family plot in the Green-Wood
Cemetery in New York, its likely his body was sent by boat as the
railroad had not yet reached Bayport or Hernando County. (click here
to read entire 1857 obituary article for Thomas Parsons)
By ca. 1857, as more families with children were building
their homes and settling in Bayport, a place for educating the
was needed. This was long before public education and there was
no established school board to provide teachers, books, or buildings.
Schools were privately
funded and were supported entirely by the community and the families of
those children attending. The salary of the teacher was also paid
the community and the parents of the students. The residents of
together, provided property and constructed a house for education,
which became known as
the Bayport School. The Bayport School was built and situated
along the street that John Parsons had already named School Street.
The Bayport School was situated in what was now downtown Bayport
and likely a simple one-room building, large enough to accommodate the
town's children. No official school
records from the Bayport School exist but we know the school was in
operation prior to the Civil War as it is documented through detailed
military reports and other records. Through family
records we know children who were of school age and living in
Bayport at this time included John P. Johnson, Greenlief Johnson, Isaac
Nathan Jewett Garrison and others. The Bayport School was one of
the two or three private school operating in Hernando County at the
In November of 1858 Bayport would receive yet another family and resident to add to
the all ready well diversity and self supported community of Bayport.
On November 6, 1858 Hernando County resident Rufus Hoyt purchased
40 acres of property from the State of Florida located near North Bayport. Hoyt's property
is further described as the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter
of section 29, township 22, range 17. Rufus Hoyt, from Vermont, had settled and
homesteaded property in Hernando County in 1848 under the Armed
Occupation Act and was a neighbor to Cyprian Jenkins and David Hope.
Furthermore, Rufus Hoyt worked the well desired occupation of a
teacher in Hernando County and according to the 1850 census
Hoyt was working as a teacher in the neighborhood where he had settled in the Annutuligua Hammock, just south of Brooksville.
This school like Bayport's was also a private school and Hoyt
taught students such as Samuel Hope who went on to succeed as a
Representative in the Florida House in the 1870's. It is believed
that after Rufus Hoyt purchased his Bayport property in 1858, he
constructed a second home and assumed a position as teacher of the
On January 4, 1859 Bayport would receive another addition to the port
facilities and commerce of Bayport, which would also assist in promoting
and providing safety to the port. According to the House Journal
at the direction of the Florida House of Representatives, Governor
Madison S. Perry established and nominated a Commission of Pilotage at
Bay Port. Governor Perry nominated Hernando County residents
Thomas C. Ellis, Cyprian T. Jenkins, James R. Nicks and Charles Parsons
as the Commissioners of Pilotage at Bay Port. While 4 men were
nominated for positions, only 3 were actually appointed and took
office, those 3 being Thomas C. Ellis, Cyprian T. Jenkins and Charles
Parsons; Charles Parsons was brother
of the late Bayport founder Thomas Henry Parsons and nephew to John
Parsons. The Bayport
of Pilotage was responsible for the safety of vessels during their
navigation of entering and leaving the Port of Bayport, including the
safety and continuing protection of vessels, crew and cargo. The
Bayport Commission of Pilotage was also responsible for the enhancement
of commerce and navigation of the channel at Bayport. It is
that the Bayport Commission of Pilotage assisted in improving the
Bayport Lighthouse and channel stakes , which helped safely guided
vessels to port. The light beacon and channel stakes had to be
maintained on a regular basis and were a vital part of the operation of
the port, otherwise vessels could run
aground loosing thousands of dollars of cargo. It is also
believed that the Bayport Commission of
Pilotage operated a series of smaller boats that were used as guide
boats to guide the incoming vessels to port.
In June of 1859 the Town of Bayport would be struck with tragedy and
the loss of two residents from the pioneer Johnson Family. On
June 3, 1859 former Bayport Customs Officer John E. Johnson and his six
year old son, John P. Johnson, would pass from this life. Johnson
and his young six year old son both drowned in the waters of Bayport.
It is believed that John E. Johnson drowned in the process trying
to save his six year old son from drowning but the exact circumstances
surround their deaths is unknown. The interments of the Bayport
Cemetery would be increased yet once again as the Johnson Family and
friends gathered at the graveside services and John P and John E.
Johnson were laid to rest in a plot located at the Bayport Cemetery.
A marker was placed on the Johnson's plot, which read:
|John E. Johnson, born Rye, New Hampshire, March 21, 1823; John P. Johnson, son
of above, born January 28, 1853, drowned at Bayport June 3, 1859. "A widowed
mother and her son mourn their loss."
Unfortunately the John E. and John P. Johnson's headstone is no longer
located in the Bayport Cemetery and we fortunately know the epitaph
through a recording in 1951. John's wife, Hannah, and his 10 year
old son, Greenlief, continued to live at Bayport in the home built by
husband and father John E. Johnson. Subsequently both Hannah and
Greenlief would both eventually be buried in what would become the
Johnson Family Plot located in the Bayport Cemetery. Greenlief
Johnson went on to become a clerk in the town store in 1870 and a
sailor according to the 1880 census, this would be the last census that
Johnson would appear as he died on August 17, 1880, Hannah Johnson died
July 24, 1899
out living all of her family. It is believed that Greenlief may
have died on the water of Bayport as it seemed to the fate of many
Bayport residents. (See Hannah and Greenlief headstone
photos below) One week after the internment of John E. and John
P. Johnson another burial would be conducted in the Bayport Cemetery.
On March 28, 1859 William D. Underwood of Bayport was laid to
rest in a plot at the Bayport Cemetery; no other information is known
about Wm. D. Underwood (see photo of headstone below)
Between March and July of 1860, John and Susan Decatur Parsons would
significantly increase their property around Bayport. During these
months the John Parsons/ David Yulee partnership would become large
land holders of the areas along the Mud and Weeki Wachee Rivers.
The Parsons/ Yulee partnership purchased approximately 170 acres
from the State of Florida over the five month period between March and
July of 1860. These properties are further described as the west
half of the southwest quarter and southeast quarter of the southeast
quarter of section 29, township 22, range 17; south half of the
southeast quarter of section 30, township 22, range 17; and lot number
one of section 31, township 22, range 17. This lot number 1 is
not to be confused with Lot #1 of the Town of Bayport as they are not
the same. These property were located where the Mud and Weeki
Wachee Rivers come together and the property running along the north
side of the Weeki Wachee River at the same location, containing
approximately 170 acres of property in all. This was a prime
location to operate a merchant store outside of downtown Bayport as
well as prime location for defenses as many residents had fears of the
Civil War on their minds.
In addition to the larger purchase of property by the Parsons/ Yulee
partnership, there was also a large purchase of property between March
and July of 1860 by Susan Decatur Parsons, wife of John Parsons.
This property was deeded to Susan Decatur Parsons only.
Susan Decatur Parsons made here purchase of property from the
State of Florida over the five month period between March and July of
1860. Susan Decatur's property was situated just north of the
property owned by her husband and Yulee in section 29, township 22,
range 17 and totaled approximately 170 acres. In addition Susan
Decatur Parsons also purchased the majority of the property situated
south of the Weeki Wachee River from the above mentioned property, this
property was located in section 32, township 22, range 17. At
this point John and Susan Decatur Parsons owned the majority of Bayport
and the property situated along the Weeki Wachee and Mud Rivers just
upstream from the Port of Bayport.
While Bayport had grown and increased in size since 1854, activities
around the port would nearly stop during the Civil War. During
the Civil War Bayport, like many ports, participated
and played a major role in the Civil War History of Florida and
Hernando County. As
the residents of Bayport began to prepare for the war, many
joined one of the five companies formed in Hernando County during the
Civil War. Among the five companies formed in Hernando County
Parsons' Independent Company formed at Bayport by resident John
Parsons. Through all of
the Civil War history, there is no history for the Parsons' Independent
Company and this companies participation in the Civil War is unknown.
As Bayport prepared for the Civil War, rifle pits and an artillery
battery were dug in and around the commerce district of Bayport for
protection of the port facilities.
The small points of land across from Bayport were also fortified
and rifle pits were dug. It is believed that these fortifications
were made by Parsons' Independent Company and Capt. Leroy
Lesley's Home guard. With the fortifications in place it was
business as usual for Bayport. Bayport was shipping several types
of goods and food such as cotton and corn that were grown on the
plantations throughout Hernando County.
As the activities around Bayport and other ports along the west coast
increased the U.S. Navy answered by forming the East Gulf Blockade
Squadron. This fleet of vessels were formed for the purpose of
blockading the numerous vessels along the west coast to prevent goods
and food from reaching the Confederates. (Please click here
to read a detailed history of Bayport's roll during the Civil War)
Bayport After the Civil War
After the Civil War the Town of Bayport had to be rebuilt. Many
of the town's commodities such as the school, wharf, cotton storage house, post office and
customs house were all destroyed during the many Federal operations
carried out against Bayport. After the
Civil War the Town of Bayport was a changed community and operation
were not the same as the many years prior. With no customs house
it is believed that the import of goods to Bayport were limited,
however exports are believed to have increased by the residents of
After the Civil War John Parsons continued to promote the small town of
Bayport, which he had helped to build from nothing and where he and his
family made their residence. With the soldiers returning home
attention was turned to the production of crops that would feed and
provide for the residents of Hernando County. With the port
facilities of Bayport destroyed the process of exporting these crops
shifted up stream from Bayport to a location that was also owned by
Susan Parsons. This new location and property was known to
Hernando County residents Blue Springs and was the head of the Weeki
Wachee River. Here John Parsons also built a few
small storage buildings along several skiffs and scouls, the buildings
were used to store crops while the skiffs carried the crops to Bayport
down stream. Eventually the wharf's and large
store-houses at Bayport would be rebuilt connecting the head
spring to the town of Bayport downstream. This allowed residents
to easily transport items downstream via the Weeki Wachee River.
This greatly improved the commerce of Bayport.
In addition to the new improvements made by John and Susan Parsons, in
1866 Bayport would receive yet another new property owner. In
March of 1866 Eberhard Faber, owner of the Eberhard Faber Pencil
Company, purchased 40 acres of property from the State of Florida.
The Eberhard Faber property is further described as being the
north-west quarter of the north-west quarter of section 16 in township
22 south of range 17 east. The Eberhard Pencil Company's main
office was located in New York but they also had a large and profitable
factory located in Cedar Key where they made cedar pencil from cedar
trees of the area.
During this time John Parsons had also assumed the position
of agent for the Eberhard and Faber Pencil Company.
It was at this time that the many cedar trees of Hernando County
were sought after for the Eberhard Pencil Company. This allowed
the residents of Hernando County more means of making money after the
Civil War. According to Hernando County and Bayport resident,
Thomas Benton Ellis, "men
cut and hew the cedar on our hammock land and hauled it to a large Blue
Spring, being the source of the Wicawatchie River which flowed to the
Gulf at Bay Port. Through this river the cedar was floated to Bay
Port, and there sold to John Parsons, Agent for Eberhard, Faber at
$1.50 per cubic foot. With the proceeds of the cedar and sale of
the crops, we realized about $2500 in gold." John Parsons had
control of both Bayport and the head waters of the Weeki Wachee
River where he continued to promote the commerce of Bayport.
Residents would cut, gather and haul cedar trees from their
property located in the Hernando County hammocks to the head water of
the Weeki Wachee River. From there they would deposit their load
of cedar into the water and then float these cut trees to Bayport.
As agent for the pencil factory in Cedar Key, John Parsons would
purchase the cedar from residents and in turn ship it to Cedar Key,
this proved to be profitable for many residents. Aside from cedar
became known for a crop of its own, oranges.
By 1867 the Bayport Post Office had been rebuilt and re-established,
this was the second post office to be established for Bayport.
Resident John Sylvester petitioned the Post Master General's
Office in Washington, D.C. to establish and call his post office
Bayport. Sylvester's was the first post office in Bayport after
the Civil War. Subsequently post offices were applied for in
Bayport in 1881, 1897, 1905 and the last in 1942. This means
throughout Bayport's History the small town had at least six known post
offices, all established at different points in time by different
people. (Original Post Office Application of Sylvester to soon be
On July 4, 1874 the East Florida Banner
published a column titled "Oranges". In this article the
cultivation of oranges throughout the State of Florida is outlined.
"The oldest and most extensive groves (and some of them are very
old) are located at Bayport and Hommossasa" and many of these groves were twelve years or older.
Bayport after the Civil War was slowly returning to the small port town. With the operations of
commerce somewhat returning, Bayport residents once again had a means to live
and make money. While some residents turned to rebuilding their
plantations there were
others who decided to sell their large portions of property while
retaining a small portion to live from. In the years after the Civil
many of the state's newspaper carried ads for Hernando County property
as people were attempting to liquidate their only valued possessions.
Among the main sales draw to Hernando County property was the good soil
for production of large crops. (Click here
to read a typical 1860's newspaper ad for land in Hernando County)
Looking down the Weeki
Wachee River from the headwaters and the big Blue Spring. This
picture is taken from the approximate location of today's Mermaid
Theater at Weeki Wachee Springs Park.
courtesy of Florida State Archives)
The population of Bayport
had grown very little since the close of the Civil War and by 1870 many
Bayport residents had turned to farming and planting orange groves to
support their families. In 1870 Bayport residents families
consisted of those who had been here many years prior such as the
Jenkins, Peterson, Parsons, Johnson and Garrison Families.
Along with the growth of Bayport came some new businesses and
commerce, however in 1870 Bayport still had a general store. According to
the 1870 Federal Census Bayport resident Greenlief Johnson, son of the late John E. Johnson, was working
in the town's general store as a clerk.
John Parsons was still the proprietor and owner of the Bayport
General Store and being a Johnson Family friend employed the young
Greenlief as his store clerk. Resident Isaac Nevitt Garrison, son
of the former Isaac Garrison, worked as the Bayport
mail carrier in 1870 and had the responsibilities of getting the
residents their mail after it would arrive at Bayport. Garrison
was also employed by John Parsons as he now operated the post office,
likely from the Bayport General Store.
Bayport would lose another of its founding residents as Susan Decatur
Parsons passed away while living at Bayport with her husband John Parsons.
Susan Decatur Parsons died on March 20, 1873 at the age of 53
years, Susan was not buried in the Bayport Cemetery but was instead
Parson/Decatur Family plot in the Historic Green-Wood Cemetery in New
York along with members of both families. Upon the death of Susan
Parsons and in accordance with law to settle any debts and expenses of
her estate there was portion of that estate sold
at public auction by Hernando County. John J. Hale, acting as administrator for the Susan Parsons estate, petitioned
the Hernando County Courts on January 3, 1874 to have certain
properties of Susan Parsons sold at public auction. Announcement
of these public auctions were required to be published in newspapers
throughout the area, these auctions were always
held on the steps of the county courthouse. On April 6, 1874 at
public auction, John Parsons purchased and paid $3,500 for 578
acres formerly owned by his wife Susan Decatur Parsons. Since the
property was sold at auction the deed conveying the 578 acres of
property was from County Commissioner T.S. Coogler to John Parsons.
view 1874 deed to John Parsons) With the death of Susan Decatur
Parson in 1873, Bayport's pioneer resident and founder John Parsons was
now the individual and largest single property owner in Bayport.
Following the passing of Susan Decatur Parsons, John Parsons
continued to live at the large family home in Bayport.
While John Parsons remained in Bayport he also continued to promote the
commerce and growth of the town after his wife's death.
In 1876 Bayport was visited by a popular sportsman and settlers
magazine/ handbook of the time called "Florida, A Handbook For
Sportsmen and Settlers". The writers of this handbook had the
task of visiting places throughout the United States and then to write
about them in the most descriptive manor. In this particular
handbook the writers were boating along the coast and through the
rivers of Florida. Below is and excerpt taken from the handbook
and pertaining to their adventuresome trip to Bayport,
|Excerpt from "Florida, A Handbook for Sportsmen and Settlers", 1876
In steering a course for Bayport,
at the mouth of the Wiccawatchee, we kept the mainland for two or three
miles to our starboard, finding from four to five feet of water.
In running along this section of coast, it is essential that
tourist should keep a good lookout for "Negro-heads." Bayport is
easily recognized by a large storehouse and a pile of cedar logs.
We reached the dock at three P.M., and went in search of soda
crackers, and at the store laid in an addition to our stock. The
storekeeper assured us that "his oranges were the best on the coast."
Upon his recommendation we purchased a supply, and regret to say
we found them very inferior. The present population number about
twenty. Before the war large quantities of cedar timber were
shipped from this point, but of late years the trade has almost ceased.
Standing on the dock we noticed a large otter on the opposite
side of the river, and tried the effect of a Winchester cartridge.
It proved to be a line shot, but the elevation was too great, and
the ball passed about one inch above his head. Ascertaining that
the spring of the Wiccawatchee resembled those of the streams farther
north, we deemed it best to forgo the pleasure of ascending the river.
From such data as we were enabled to collect, we have reason to believe
that the country back of Bayport is well stocked with bear and deer,
and feel assured that the sportsman may secure some excellent sport.
The section referred to can be reached by land, by taking stage
from Gainesville, or by leaving Ocklawaha steamers at Silver Springs;
conveyance to Ocala and stage from Ocala to Brooksville. At the
latter place a vehicle of some description could be obtained, by which
Bayport, distant thirty miles, could be reached. The tourist will
find the neighborhood of Burkville an interesting locality. The
immediate neighborhood is hilly, some of the highest points attaining
an altitude of over four hundred feet. The land is superior
quality, water first class, and the climate during the summer months
By the 1880's Bayport had been rebuilt and had regained its popularity
among settlers and travelers. One thing to never change
throughout Bayport's history was the fact that John Parsons still
called Bayport his home in the 1880's and had seen his dream of a town
come to life. While widower John Parsons was growing old he still
continued to hold his Bayport interest and welcomed anyone who wanted
to visit. Activities at Bayport and along the Weeki Wachee River
seemed to stir once again and this must have been pleasing for John
Parsons. At the Big Blue Spring and the headwaters of the Weeki
Wachee River a large storage house and store had been built and was
actively used. John Parsons continued to operate his general
store in Bayport and welcomed many guest to his prosperous town.
In 1884, John Parsons welcomed yet another travelers publication, this
time called "Camping and Cruising in Florida." These sketches
were originally published in the popular magazines Forest and Stream
and American Field
. Aboard their schooner the Rambler
the writers set out on their boating journey cruising the coast of
Florida writing and describing their journey along the way. The
following is an excerpt taken from "Camping and Cruising in Florida"
and pertains to the authors trip to Bayport,
|Excerpt from "Camping and Cruising in Florida:, 1884
We came to Bayport at the mouth of
the Weekawachee River. The channels from the Gulf to the mouth of
the river was staked. Near the wharf at Bayport we ran on the
broken mast of a sunken blockade runner, but got off without
sustaining any damage. Bayport is an old place of some note,
formerly quite important as a shipping point for cedar. It
consists of a store, post-office, and a few pleasant residents.
It is a pretty place with some of largest orange and lemon trees
I saw in Florida. Mr. Parsons is proprietor of the store, and will
be found an agreeable and intelligent gentleman.
We went up the river some two miles with the schooner, and then
proceeded to the head of the stream, about ten miles farther, in
smaller boats. The source of the river is a large spring, in the
the basin of an acre in extent, surrounded by a rim or ridge of
considerable elevation. This "White Mountain Spring," as it is
called, is a subterranean river bursting out at this point with great
force, giving to the river below a very strong current until
tide-waters are reached. The spring is fifty feet in depth, and
so clear that one's boat seems like Mahomet's coffin, suspended in
mid-air. Great numbers of sheepsheads and gars can be seen
swimming near the bottom, but as might be expected, refuse to take a
bait in water so clear. The smallest object can be clearly
defined on the bottom of pure white sand. The water boils up
through great vents in the coralline rocks at the bottom, the bubbling
plainly being seen at the surface. At the bottom of the spring,
and for a short distance down the stream, are growing curious water
plants, whose small elliptic leaves exhibit tints of red, purple, and
blue, which are reflected through the crystal waters with a strange and
pleasing effect. We were well repaid for our row up the river
against the strong current, in viewing the wonders of this spring.
There is a store and a dwelling on its banks, and a large schooner was
resting on its bosom, which had been built, and was being rigged, at
Our return down stream with the current was an easy task, and very
enjoyable, for most of the way is through dense, low, and rich hamacks,
abounding in semi-tropical scenery. Tall cypress and palmettos,
swamp maples and Spanish ash, nod to each other across the narrow
stream, while the great white blossoms of the sweet-bay and magnolia
gleam like stars amid the dark and glossy leaves, and fill the air with
|View along the Weeki Wachee River sometime
prior to 1900. This is the same view that was seen while the
writers of Camping and Cruising Florida wrote about in 1884
(Photo from Private Collection)
By 1885 the railroad had finally reached Brooksville through the
of local resident John J. Hale and others. While a rail connection
through Brooksville was hoped as early as 1857, Hernando County
residents had been unsuccessful. With the introduction of the
railroad in Hernando County, Bayport received what was commonly called
which was nothing more than a narrow gauged private railroad. It
that the hack-line that reached Bayport was extended Brooksville and
the interior of the county.
For the price of $3 one could travel from Brooksville to Bayport
and back. It was also this hack line that now carried mail to
Bayport and long gone were the days that mail arrived by steamer.
In 1885 John Parsons, still living in Bayport, was still working to
promote his town but in a new manner. Parsons was passing the
adventure of business to some of the younger businessmen who had the
same zealous for business that he once possessed. It was sometime
around 1885 that John Parsons sold his General Store interest to a
Lewis B. Sanders. Parsons likely understood how much Bayport
relied on his general store and rather than closing the business he
found a new proprietor to take over. In addition Sanders was also
appointed and took the position as Bayport's new Post Master.
While Parsons had sold some of his Bayport interest, he remained
and continued to live in Bayport in the large home that he and Thomas
Parsons had built years prior.
During this time the former Bay-Port House Hotel, which opened in 1855,
was again serving the community as a hotel. Likely under new
management the name of the Bay-Port House was changed to carry and honor
former resident Isaac Garrison, who operated and owned the former
Bay-Port House. The new name of the hotel was The Garrison House.
At its original location the new Garrison House Hotel was again
serving Bayport as it had been built and was intended. In
addition to the Garrison House, Bayport also had a second hotel that
was called the Whisenot House. There is no history or information
on the Whisenot House. Both of these new hotels accommodate the
many fisherman and boaters that were interested in visiting and
conducting business at Bayport. Throughout the 1880's Bayport was
in a transition from a former
port of Hernando County to a small sleepy fishing village where one
could escape the burdens of life or take a coastal vacation. This
further assisted with the introduction of the railroad in Hernando
County and Bayport. The following information appeared in the
Gazetteer and is the entry for Bayport:
L.B. Sander, postmaster. A small village, located on the Weekiwoochee
River and the Gulf of Mexico, 17 miles from Brooksville, the county
seat and nearest shipping point, telegraph and express; one hundred and
fifty miles from Tallahassee. There are two hotels and a general
store. Mails Monday, Wednesday and Saturday by hack from
Brooksville, which also transfers passengers at $3 for round trip.
Oranges and lemons are the principal shipments made from this
point. The place was first settled in 1857. Lands sell from
$5 to $10 per acre.
Sanders, L.B., postmaster and gen. mdse.
Sturgis, Rev., clergyman.
(Excerpt taken from 1886-87 Florida Gazetteer in authors private collection)
On May 28, 1888 the Bayport community would suffer the tragic loss
of its founder resident, Major John Parsons. John Parsons had
remained loyal to his community and remained in Bayport until the very
end, where he finally passed at the age of 73 years. Parsons died
in the large colonial style home that he and his nephew, Thomas H.
had built in 1852. This large and beautiful home stood as the
first building and home in Parsons new town of Bayport. For more
than 30 years the Bayport founded lived in and continued to build the
small community that he had dreamed of as a young soldier. When
the Civil War arrived in Hernando County, John Parsons stood and
defended his town, gathering a company of men for the purpose.
Through the times of loss and times of destruction, John Parsons
never retreated from his dream of a community and stood strong ready
for every challenge that was handed him. The dream of Bayport
proved to be a life long and life learning endeavor for John Parsons and
even today his strong and courageous spirit still thrives in the small
historic coastal community.
The body of Major John D. Parsons was prepared and sent north to New
York by railroad. On June 6, 1888 funeral services for the
gallant John Parsons were held at the Church of the Holy Communion
located in New York. After services the body was taken and
interred in the Parsons/ Decatur
Family Plot in the Green-Wood Cemetery of New
York. This is the same cemetery where John's children and wife,
Susan Decatur, were buried years prior to his
death. Below is a copy of Major John Parsons obituary, which
appeared in the New York Times on June 5, 1888.
Published in the New York Times on June 5, 1888
Image courtesy of Roger Landers
After the death of John Parsons in 1888 the community of
Bayport somewhat ceased in growing as a community. Most of the
property formerly owned by John Parsons was purchased by the Coogler
Family from Brooksville. After the Coogler's purchased the former
home of John Parsons and with very little effort it was converted into
a large and beautiful hotel to serve Bayport for many more years.
The town built by John Parsons would remain and a new era in the
History of Bayport would begin.
A New Bayport
In the years that followed the death of John Parsons Bayport became a
popular resort in the winter for Northerners and in the summer for
families from Brooksville. After the death of John Parsons it was
as if Bayport was slipping back in time instead of moving forward. As the former home of pioneer resident
and founder John Parsons was turned into an attractive resort hotel the
Garrison House and Whisenot House eventually ceased operation and the
Bayport Hotel became the only resort hotel in town, the exact
date the Bayport Hotel was established and opened is unknown.
Eventually the Sanders General Store closed and the Bayport
became the sole attraction in the small fishing village of Bayport.
Throughout the 1880's and 1890's most Bayport residents worked
cutting cedar or growing oranges in the local groves while others
simply worked as labors, there was very little to draw one to Bayport to live.
This photo of the Bayport
Hotel, date unknown, shows the great colonial style home built by John
Parsons in 1857. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller)
In 1909 the Bayport Hotel received a new manager and the atmosphere of
the southern hotel became popular among Hernando County. Long
time Bayport resident Frances Goethe became the manager of the Bayport
Hotel in 1909 after the death of her husband Joe Goethe. Joe
Goethe passed away on December 31, 1909 when a boat that he was in
caught fire off Anclote. Joe and Frances Goethe moved to Bayport
in ca. 1879 and Joe took up the occupation of cedar cutter. After
taking over the management of the Bayport Hotel, Frances Goethe along
with her son, Henry, eventually started a fishing business at Bayport.
The fish were iced down, moved from Bay Port to Centralia by
wagon and shipped out of Centralia by rail. In addition Mrs.
Frances Goethe opened a "token store" from the Bayport Hotel,
which included fishing tackle and boat rentals. While there was
very little work in Bayport, Mrs. Frances Goethe created and found work
to support her family after her husband death. After the death of
Mrs. Frances Goethe, date unknown, the Bayport Hotel closed and ceased
operation, after nearly 70 years the doors of the former John Parsons
home closed since the home was built. Once the doors of the hotel
were closed they would never be opened again as the hotel sat and fell
into disrepair and eventually caught fire sometime in the 1940's to
become nothing more than another chapter in the history of Hernando
County and Bayport.
During the years of prohibition the activities around Bayport seemed to
once again increase, however this time with illicit activities of
moonshine and rum running. According to Bootleggers in the Backwoods: Prohibition and the Depression in Hernando County
by Richard Cofer, "in the 1920s and 1930s, Hernando County's natural
appearance had not altered much since the first settlers had arrived.
The natural thickness of the vegetation, combined with a tough,
independent, pioneer-like population, gave the county the right
character for the illicit liquor trade. In many ways Prohibition
proved a boon to Hernando County. The county had no points of interest
to maintain a tourist trade. Real estate speculation had fallen from
boom to bust. There was no other source of economic stimulation. By the
mid-twenties the logging industry had depleted itself, the citrus
industry was small, the rock mining industry had not yet been
developed, and truck farming was minimal. Interviews with people who
resided in Hernando County at the time confirm that there was not much
money available, and many transactions were made in the form of
bartering. According to one local citizen, whiskey was made in
'nearly every other house.' Another resident recalled: 'There were so
damn many moonshiners in Hernando County they had to sell to each other
to stay in business.' The entire county's social and political
structure was infused with the illegal liquor trade. Cooperation
between shiners and local law enforcement officers was typical. "The
law, from judges on down, was inclined to look the other way where
Prohibition enforcement was concerned. It was a situation made to
order." Not only did law enforcement officers collect payoff money, but
they actively frustrated the efforts of federal Prohibition agents.
In Hernando County whenever federal agents would make an
appearance or plan a raid, 'The sheriff would notify moonshiners to
move, to get out, and 'the revenooers' would come in and maybe
tear up the still but find nobody there," according to one resident.'
According to residents of the area, the leading Bayport resident
involved in whiskey smuggling was a man named Henry. "Henry got
two dollars a case for every case that landed at Bayport," claimed one
Bayport resident who was active in the smuggling. Henry organized
the local people, mostly fishermen and relatives, to run the barges,
signal the Cuban boats, and unload the liquor. "Old Henry kept a
pile of palmetto brush piled up, and you couldn't go into Bayport at
night without him stopping you. If the wrong ones was coming, he
would put a match in them palm fans to give the warning. They could see
the light of the fire and get out and hide." Another local resident
|"They would haul that whiskey away from here in Planters peanut trucks.
Planters didn't know they owned those trucks, but that's what they had
painted on them." The account is picked up again by a man who worked
for Henry and, Sam: They had it piled up there in the cemetery, the
Bayport cemetery, two or three truck loads piled. Work for about 10 or
15 minutes and they would give you a ten dollar bill. They would give
you all the liquor you wanted to drink. They would give me a drink and
say, "Tex, that was the big shot from Tampa, Sam. Tex now listen.
Anytime you want a drink there is a quart sitting where you can see it.
You can drink all you want to, but don't take a drop with you. It's
watched with a high powered rifle.
During the times of these illicit
activities the area of Bayport was not open to just anyone who wanted
to take a ride. Since there was only one road into Bayport the
area was kept closed and off limits to outsiders as illegal activities
were underway. Just as the Bayport Hotel fell into disrepair so
did everything else that was remaining including the cemetery.
The Forgotten Bayport Cemetery
The Bayport Cemetery is among the oldest cemeteries in Hernando
County, however it is also among a lengthy list of forgotten cemeteries
of Hernando County. The exact date and the first burial in the
Bayport Cemetery are unknown since the cemetery fell into disrepair and
has long since been vandalized. The Bayport Cemetery at least
dates to 1857 with the internment of Bayport founder Thomas H. Parsons,
however it is believed that the Bayport Cemetery was already
established at this time possibly by the military. With the
establishment of the Bayport Community Cemetery many residents chose a
plot in the community cemetery as their final resting place, entire
families decided upon family burial plots in the community cemetery.
As the cemetery fell in disrepair the erodes of time began to creep in
and take the cemetery property back. The vines and vegetation
took over the cemetery growing over the hundred year old headstones
that marked the graves of the one time residents of the Bayport
Community. What time didn't take vandals did, throughout the
years the Bayport Cemetery has been vandalized with headstones being
broken and stolen from atop the burials that they marked. Today
there are only three headstones that mark the burials of the Bayport
Cemetery, these were too big and heavy to steal. Those stones
that were stolen were located in a Hernando County pawn shop and court
ordered to be given to the May-Stringer Museum in Brooksville where
they currently reside today. It is believed that there were
several graves in the Bayport Cemetery that were marked with home-made
wooden markers that have since burned in forest fires and rotted away
from coastal flooding.
The following list of names are those buried in the Bayport Cemetery
and has been ascertained either through research and/ or previously
recorded information. Those names with an (*) next to were taken
from a list of names that appeared an article published in the Brooksville Sun
on Aug. 17, 1951.
Internments of the Bayport Cemetery
- Erected to the memory of Maj. Isaac Garrason, died 1865. (*)
- Sacred to the memory of Wm. D. Underwood, born March 15, 1825; died March 28,
- John E. Johnson, born Rye, New Hampshire, March 21, 1823; John P. Johnson, son
of above, born January 28, 1853, drowned at Bayport June 3, 1859. "A widowed
mother and her son mourn their loss." (*)
- Hannah Johnson, born February 14, 1814, died July 24, 1899. Green lief Johnson,
born March 7, 1849, died Aug. 17, 1880. (*)
- Sacred to the memory of the Rev. A. M. Barrington, born April 4, 1820, died
March 20, 1886. "Rest here blest saint fell from his throne. The memory break under peace in the shade." (*)
- Rev. Johnson Wright, died May 17, 1877. Age 51 years. (*)
- Marie Nissen, wife of Jens Norskov, born in Denmark July 10, 1850, died at
Bayport June 16, 1886. Anne Katherine, her daughter, born in Denmark Apr. 3,
1874 died at Cedar Keys July 18, 1881. (*)
- Mollie A. Ayers born Dec. 27, 1881 died June 1, 1905 **
(Taken from Brooksville Sun article in authors private collection)
Images of the Bayport Cemetery