Riding steamboats on the Apalachicola River. Traveling from one community to another by covered wagon. Listening for screams of panthers in the swamps. These are just a few of the many remembrances of Callie Scott McClellan, a true Florida pioneer.
Miss Callie was born in Liberty County on April 3, 1896. She was one of 16 children. She was taught at a young age to work in the fields, plant with sugar cane, sweet potatoes, corn, peanuts and cotton. The boys plowed, and the girls hoed. They often rose at 2 a.m. to help in neighbors' fields with ``never a thought about charging, because helping someone was what they were supposed to do.''
When she wasn't working with the crops, she did chores around her home. She also attended three-month schools whenever they were available and still remembers all her teachers' names.
Miss Callie spent most of her childhood at towns like Sneads, Sumatra, Wakulla and Quincy. Her father, Lawson L. Scott, followed the logging industry and also discovered a special way for growing tobacco, another big crop in that part of the state.
Once Scott perfected his method, large landowners called upon him for assistance, while his children earned one-half cent for every tobacco worm they collected from the fields. These big, green worms attacked the plants and wiggled uncomfortably in Miss Callie's hands if she did not keep them between two little sticks. After the tobacco was harvested, they strung the leaves with a needle and thread and hung them in the big tobacco barns. Then the door was closed and the leaves were smoked with sulfur to kill the remaining bugs, before the ``tied hands'' were transported to market.
While her family lived near Bristol, they raised rice. One winter the rice pond froze hard enough for the children to play on the ice. The Apalachicola River had no bridge then. When the family wanted to travel to Blountstown, they crossed the river on a two-wagon ferry.
Steamboats such as the Queen City, Callahan, Little Callahan and the Eufaula plied the ``big river'' in the early 1900s, making weekly runs to Apalachicola. Most times people traveling from Bristol to Apalachicola made the trip down and back in one day. If not, they spent the night in the comforts of a warm stateroom aboard the vessel.
Besides steamboat trips, the family also traveled by wood-burning train from Chattahoochee to Apalachicola. But when they moved from one location to another, it was usually by covered wagon, with one wagon conveying the family and the other transporting their furniture and supplies. They stopped at night and cooked their meals over an open campfire.
By the time she was a young woman, Miss Callie had visited most of the towns along the river. At Tallahassee, where the family also lived for a while, she danced at a party at the State House.
But it was at Howard's Creek, where her father worked for the Bay City Sawmill of Apalachicola, that she met her husband-to-be, Jesse L. McClellan, a widower with six children. McClellan worked as a paymaster and commissary operator.
Once the two decided to get married, they asked a friend by the name of Mr. Hensler to take them to Apalachicola aboard his yacht, the Busy Bee. They intended to have the ceremony in town, but Hensler persuaded them to get married on his boat. For the occasion, the bride wore a long white dress with tiny little white buttons down the back and inserted lace at the sleeves. A justice of the peace from Apalachicola performed the ceremony on May 15, 1915.
After their wedding, the couple returned to Howard's Creek, then McClellan agreed to oversee crews cutting railroad ties at Farmdale, an old town that once stood on Tyndall Air Force Base. They reached Farmdale by launch, sailing through the new canal, now the Intracoastal Waterway, which was still being dredged that year. Farmdale boasted a hotel and several families and industries at that time. While living in that location, they made occasional trips to Panama City and Millville, riding between the two towns in a Ford that got stuck in the ankle-deep sand.
Like Scott, McClellan moved from town to town following timber and farming interests. In 1919, the McClellans spent several months living in the old Jason Gregory House at Ocheesee Landing on the Apalachicola River. McClellan ran the warehouse from the old antebellum plantation and filled farmers' orders for fertilizer and supplies.
When Miss Callie moved into themansion, she heard tales that the place was haunted. John Grace, a former warehouseman and Gregory's son-in-law, had been bludgeoned to death in that location by one of his drivers seeking money on Nov. 29, 1908. His murder created a sensation in Northwest Florida that was talked about for many years.
The old house, which has now been restored, graces the grounds of Torreya State Park across the river, was especially creepy the night she received word from Blountstown that the sheriff had been shot and a posse was hunting his killer along the river swamps. When she was notified that the man had been caught, she sighed in relief.
The McClellans were at Ocheesee for the great river flood. The high water ruined a lot of merchandise in the warehouse. It also swept whole houses down the river and drowned many horses, cows and hogs.
From Ocheesee, the family moved on to other locations, keeping bee apiaries whenever possible.
At Sumatra, McClellan caught catfish in traps, baiting them with old cheese mixed with cornbread. Cries from large animals could often be heard in the surrounding woods and swamps.
Eventually the McClellans settled in Central Florida but returned to the northern section of the state in the 1930s. During World War II, they operated a combination grocery store and restaurant on U.S. 98 in St. Andrews. Miss Callie also ran a two-story boarding house off Michigan Avenue. Every day she fed 35 men who worked round-the-clock on different shifts at Wainwright Shipyard. After her husband died in 1954, she managed a restaurant on 15th Street for several years.
Besides McClellan's six children, most of whom she helped raise, Miss Callie had seven children. Four of these children remain, along with 10 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Today Miss Callie continues to be independent.She spends most of her time at Fort Meade but returns to Panama City for visits to relatives and friends. Although her mind remains alert, physical problems have limited activities with her church. Grace Lee, her daughter and a Panama City resident, attributes her mother's longevity to healthy eating and her love of life. ``My mother never has angered easily. She's always been happy and kind and ready to join in the crowd. She believes in helping people and the love of the Lord,'' she said.
Return to Miscellaneous
Return to Liberty County, FL Web Page