Submitted in memory of Arthur Hildred “Hill” Corley, Muscogee (1924-2001)
Muscogee, located twenty mile northwest of Pensacola, is a ghost town today. However, for approximately seventy years, it was an important contributor to the economy of Escambia County. Founded ca 1857 when a group of Georgia lumberman bought up timberland and railroad grant lands, the town drew its life from the timber and sawmill industries. Muscogee Lumber Company (believed to be named for the home county of the owners) gave the town its name.
In 1889 Muscogee Lumber Company was bought by Southern States Land and Lumber Company. Pines from the surrounding 340,000 acres of northwest Florida and south Alabama forests were brought to the sawmills by oxcart, rail, or water. The company owned five locomotives and seventy cars that operated on approximately fifty miles of logging railroad and spur track. A tugboat worked the adjacent Perdido River.
At its height Southern States employed about one thousand men in its logging camps and four large mills. The planing and finishing mill was one of the largest and most perfectly appointed on the south. One year Southern States exported sixty million feet of lumber. Thirteen million feet were sent to eastern American cities. The remainder went to England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Brazil, the West Indies, Central America, Mexico and Africa.
A commissary and other stores where residents bought groceries, farm equipment, clothing and various merchandise lined the streets of Muscogee. Boarding houses and a comfortable hotel accommodated visitors and businessmen who arrived by trains operated by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Pensacola, Alabama, and Tennessee Railroad. A barber shop operated by A.C. Townley, a post office with Postmistress Sarah Bell Henderson Bradley, and at least two churches (Baptist and Methodist) were located in Muscogee. Two cemeteries were in the northeast corner of the town. Other cemeteries used by the residents of Muscogee were the Gonzalez United Methodist Church Cemetery and the Clear Springs United Methodist Church Cemetery, across the Perdido River in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Among the families who lived in Muscogee were the Richbourgs, Nellums, Suggs, Taylors, Hendersons, Vaughns, Hardys, Mullins, Corleys, Bradleys, Seals, Browns, Garretts, Pittmans, Moseleys, McCalls, McKinnons, and Merritts.
Muscogee suffered much damage during the 1916 and 1917 hurricanes, with as much as eighty percent loss of Southern States’ standing timber in 1917. That blow was followed by a strike of some mill workers only a month later. Threats of violence toward those who did not participate caused unrest among the residents and their families.
The twelve-grade Muscogee School, filed with the sons and daughters of the mill employees, at one time was credited with sending the largest percentage of its students on to college than any Florida high school. On occasion, when the Perdido River would rise the students and teachers evacuated the school building, climbed on a switch engine, and resumed classes in a dry location. For that reason, the school was relocated to higher ground in 1908. The school remained the last one-room school in the county, operating as late as 1940. The fewer than twenty students were children of WPA workers.
As forests were cleared and depleted, the timber economy began to falter and fade. Beginning in the early 1900s, Southern States began to sell parts of its holdings as the timber was cut off. In 1925, as part of an ongoing and intensive liquidation program, the company abandoned its saw and planing mill activities in Muscogee. On December 17, 1928, Southern States sold the entire town of Muscogee and 2,300 acres adjoining it. The buyer was B.C. Davis, a land owner and turpentine operator from DeFuniak Springs.
At the time of the sale, Muscogee had a population of between 300 and 400, with approximately 100 residences. It was located, per newspaper accounts, at the intersection of the Old Spanish Trail (which had a steel bridge over the Perdido River and ran north to Atmore) and the Cantonment-Muscogee-Bay Minette Road. Five Artesian wells had been identified in the townsite, with a flow of a million gallons of excellent water each day.
Over the next decade residents of Muscogee moved away, and vacant buildings and homes were dismantled. The lumber from those structures was sold and used elsewhere. Little evidence remained then and less remains today of what was once one of the most important sawmill towns in west Florida.
Sources: The Pensacola News Journal; Pensacola Bay Baptist Association Records; Cemetery Research; Interview with Mr. Corley.