Carrabelle History


Florida’s first people lived in this area for thousands of years before explorers came from the old world to “discover” our area.

The history of Carrabelle and Dog Island, Florida includes a colorful mix of native people, logging, turpentine, shipping, bootlegging, fishing and war.

In prehistoric time, in Northwest Florida, Native people flourished along the numerous rivers and bays, because those important waterways and wetlands surrounding them sustained important animal foods such as turtles, fish, and mussels. Riverine forests were full of deer, turkey, and squirrel, as well as wild plant foods such as hickory nuts, grapes, acorns, and persimmons. Fertile floodplain soils supported corn and other agriculture. In addition, the rivers served as highways for communication, travel, and trade.

As far back as 5,000 years ago, Florida native people traded over huge distances, both importing (copper from the Great Lakes region, stone from the Appalachian Piedmont) and exporting (marine shells, pearls, shark teeth). In Northwest Florida, the Pensacola, Apalachicola and the Apalachee Indians were still living throughout the area when the Spanish and French explorers came to Florida in the 1500’s.  Settlers in the area, both Indians and early Europeans, hunted the bountiful game for food and furs, which were then shipped out of St. Marks.


Rio Carrabella was the name of the fishing village recognized by the first post office in 1878 and was said to mean "beautiful river" although legend says it was named after our first post mistress, Caroline Arrabella Hall.


There was a brief skirmish during the Civil War when sailors from the blockade ship Sagamore anchored in East Pass, came upriver and encountered the Carrabelle Irregulars under the command of Captain Blocker of the Beauregard Rangers.

Carrabelle's first boom time came after the Civil War when lumber and naval stores were the most important commodities. Its natural deep water port gave Carrabelle an edge.  In 1875 the first lumber mill was established - cutting pine and cypress from upriver and in swamps and shipping it to the north and overseas. Large sailing ships, mainly schooners, would come through the pass and drop anchor behind Dog Island in Ballast Cove, so named because the ships would drop their ballast before sailing into Carrabelle to pick up their cargo. You may to this day, find ballast rock in the cove.  Then the ships would come up the river and tie up at the docks to load.

A Town on the River

On December 24, 1881 O. H. Kelley and 18 other registered voters filed with the Franklin County government to incorporate the Town of Carrabelle. The Franklin County Commission approved and it was filed with the Clerk of the County Court.  This set the original boundary and established the first city government structure. Carrabelle sought to have the town chartered with the Florida Legislature, which provided "home rule" powers however due to delays this did not get approved by the state of Florida until May of 1893.

By 1893 there were many lumber and saw mills along the Carrabelle River and the downtown area was established around Coombs Mill, close to the mouth of the river. During this time, the area flourished - docks were stacked high with lumber and barrels of turpentine. The Florida Department of Commerce reports that in 1899 and 1900, there were more ships in and out of the port of Carrabelle than any other port in the state.



In 1838, the first of a series of Dog Island Lighthouses were built on the western tip of the Dog Island. It marked the "middle entrance to St. George's Sound," between St. George and Dog Islands. The final Dog Island Lighthouse was collapsed by a hurricane in 1873. After the three short-lived beacons were destroyed on Dog Island, the Coast Guard chose land west of Carrabelle for the fourth structure. The Crooked River Lighthouse (pictured left) guided mariners through the treacherous pass between Dog and St. George Islands from 1895 to 1995. Completed in 1895, the site included two identical keeper’s houses, one on each side of the tower.

The Georgia, Florida & Alabama Railway Company established service from Carrabelle to Tallahassee in 1906. There was a railroad station in downtown Carrabelle from which trains carried salted down mullet and other goods to points north, as well as bringing in needed supplies for the residents. The railroad also brought tourists from Tallahassee to stay at the Lanark Springs Hotel, a luxurious resort hotel. The other side of the station was the steamboat depot. Here people could catch the daily boat to Apalachicola and St. Marks or the weekly steamships to St. Andrew’s, Pensacola and points beyond.

A disastrous Category 5 hurricane hit the town head on at the turn of the century. The “Carrabelle Hurricane” left only 9 structures standing. The town was rebuilt and many of today's larger buildings were built during the early part of the 1900's. This was the first boom time for Carrabelle. Lumber and turpentine were king. During this short period, Greek sailors came and began a flourishing sponge industry.


Between World War I and World War II, Carrabelle went into a severe economic slump. Fishing became the principal industry.

Along with the entire country, Carrabelle slipped into the Great Depression. During Prohibition much business was done by barter and there was a brief period in which smugglers from the Caribbean unloaded their contraband near Alligator Point and hid in the nearby woods.

In 1942, with the entry of the United States into WW II, Camp Gordon Johnston was built and over a half a million of men were trained in amphibious assault at the camp. For many it was the last stopover for those going to the Pacific or European theaters.

Carrabelle was also an important port for shipping oil during World War II. The oil was shipped by barge from Texas, through the Intercoastal Waterway to Carrabelle and then on to Jacksonville through a pipeline, where it was loaded on ships for delivery to Europe. The pipeline began at what is now known as Three Rivers. Since WW II, Carrabelle has been known as a commercial fishing port. Throughout Carrabelle history, recreational fishing has remained a primary attraction for locals and visitors.

Today living on the edge of Tate’s Hell, surrounded by national and state forests, Carrabelle has become a mecca for ecotourism of all sorts. Bears, wildflowers, birds and butterflies are annual visitors. Hiking, kayak and paddling trails from the Gulf and up through the forest give visitors a chance to see amazing places. There are many attractions in addition to some of the most family friendly beaches in the world. The Crooked River Lighthouse and Keeper’s House Museum, the Camp Gordon Johnston WW II Museum and the Carrabelle History Museum continue to tell the rich story of Carrabelle’s history.