Jefferson County Planter John Bellamy
The Bellamy Road was the first major U.S. federal highway in early territorial Florida.
In 1824, only five years after Florida became a United States territory (and the same year that Alachua County itself was created), Congress authorized the construction of its first federal highway. It would be a 25-foot (7.6 m) wide road, connecting Pensacola to St. Augustine. The Territorial Council commissioned John Bellamy, a Monticello plantation owner, to build it. The project took two years to complete, at a cost of $20,000. The route would become known as the Bellamy Avenue. It was a major highway until the Civil War, when other roads became preferred routes. A few of the places it passed were the town of Traxler, the Santa Fe Taloca Spanish Mission, and what would become Newnansville.
U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Burch had the contract for the entire job and put Bellamy in charge of the $13,500 section from Picolata on the St. Johns River to the Ochlockonee River. To survey the route, Burch with a detachment marched from Pensacola beginning Oct. 22, 1823 and reached St. Augustine Nov. 25, 1823, a distance of 445 miles (716 km). Bellamy used his own equipment and slaves, and completed his portion of the road in May of 1826. Construction was delayed by heavy rains and Indian attacks.
Tree stumps were cut within one foot of the ground to allow wagon axles to clear them. Sometimes one lone stump would be a bit higher and would strike the floorboard of a wagon, sometimes jarring it completely apart, resulting in the road receiving the ominous nickname "Stump-Knocker". The roadbed was typically not built up over wet areas. Instead, logs were placed in the path that resulted in a frequently bumpy ride.
The original road crossed Alachua County along the route of the Old Mission Trail, a trail widely used by Indians and Franciscan missionaries, running from near Santa Fe Lake through a swampy, forested hammock between present-day O'Leno State Park and River Rise Preserve State Park. It is here where the Santa Fe River disappears underground and travels three miles (5 km) before re-appearing. This area became a perfect natural crossing for the road. It was the first Federal highway in Florida, and opened the interior of north Florida to settlers.
The Congressional Act read:
"Be it enacted that the President of the United States is hereby authorized to cause to be opened, in the Territory of Florida, a public road from Pensacola to St. Augustine, commencing at Deer Point, on the Bay of Pensacola, and pursuing the old Indian Trail to the Cow Ford on the Choctawatchy River; thence direct to the Natural Bridge on the Econfinan River; thence to the Ochese Bluff on the Apalachicola River; thence in the most direct practicable to the site of Fort St. Louis; thence as nearly as practicable, on the old Spanish road to St. Augustine crossing the St. Johns River at Picolata; which road shall be plainly and distinctly marked and shall be the width of twenty-five feet."
Remnants of the old sand road are used today and part of the
Bellamy Road forms the county line between the northwest part of Putnam County and
the southwest part of Clay