For years, Elise Mitchiner has run the Niceville-area website about the local history of Niceville Florida. The site, boggyflorida.com, has become a repository for local knowledge. But, Thursday, October 6th, was about the history she was able to preserve in the real world.
Mitchiner, along with Niceville City Manager Lannie Corbin, unveiled one of three new Florida State Historical Markers on the city’s southwest side, bordering Boggy Bayou. Each marker memorializes a piece of the past that informs the present day.
“She has done a tremendous amount of work to get ready for today,” Councilwoman Cathy Alley said of Mitchiner’s efforts to have the historical markers placed in town. “So this has been a great honor for this mission and the work that she has put in for the city and for the historical work for today.”
The sign unveiled in front of the crowd at the present-day Lions’ Park explains that the land was once home to a very productive lumber mill that employed many of the people who lived in the area locally. The sign reads: The Boggy Mill Company incorporated in August 1908. The mill consisted of 40 Acres on the East Side of Boggy Bayou. With access to the forest and waterways, it was an ideal location. The company drew settlers for lumber industry jobs like logging, turpentine and shingle-getting. It was rough, difficult, and dangerous work. In November 1908, the flywheel of the sawmill’s largest engine gave way. A piece of it struck engineer George Bostic, resulting in his death. Teh Pensacola News Journal reported in November 1908: “The Boggy Mill Company is now running its plant on full time, cutting about 21,000 board feet per day. The Mill of the Consolidated Land and Lumber Company will be ready to start up in a short time. Boggy is becoming one of the best towns in this section. The name Boggy signifies that it is bogged down with business. There are about ten buildings in the course of construction and everyone is busy. New families are locating rapidly, and at the present time the town has four stores, two mills and two turpentine stills.” In 1912, JP Rawls bought the mill site at public auction, plus 6,000 additional acres. He later sold it to the Mutual Land and Lumber Company, owner by developer R.E.L. McCaskill.
A second sign memorializes the fire which burned most of the town to the ground in 1934.
The final sign is across the street from the Blue Collar Cafe and highlights the boat-building industry, which centered on Boggy Bayou almost 100 years ago.
You can visit all three markers in an hour. They are all walking distance from one another on the eastern shore of Boggy Bayou.
Niceville had far fewer people than it does today. The earliest record I can find is from 1940 – less than 1,000 people lived in Niceville. According to Niceville Historian Elise Mitchener’s website, Boggyflorida.com, 824 people lived in Niceville in 1930. No entry exists in the column for 1930, which means it was not recorded by the census bureau. Roughly 16 times more people live in the city limits today.
“We can only imagine what the landscape looked like back in the early part of the last century,” said Niceville Mayor Daniel Henkel, who referenced writing from Presbyterian Minister John T. Farris, who visited the area a century before the markers went up. “He described the forest in this area with its impressive live oak trees and stated that a visit to the forest should be a part of a trip to the South, beginning on what he describes as a good automobile road from Crestview to Niceville and on to Boggy Bayou… Among the live oaks the cypress and the longleaf pines, rise 40 to 60 feet before spreading out their dense foliage. Along the road, one seems to be riding through the arches of a cathedral.”
Henkel compared the past to the present, saying “Looking around us today, where we gather to picnic, enjoy water views and observe the Fourth of July Fireworks – one would have no idea that there was once a 40-acre limber mill located [at Lions’ Park], that in 1934, the old downtown area of Niceville had 10 commercial buildings destroyed by a fire, or that ships were built here in the late 1800s, or that Niceville was a major regional fishing center. The historical markers being dedicated here today help to tell the earliest history of our city.”
After Mayor Henkel spoke to the markers themselves, State Representative Patt Maney spoke about the history of Niceville more generally. “The prophet Isaiah taught us to remember our history,” Representative Maney said, referencing the Old Testament.
Representative Maney reminded the crowd that the original settlers from the United States named the area which became Niceville ‘Boggy.’ It was known as Boggy until 1910 when the area was still a part of Walton County. He then talked about the descendants of the original settlers who remain in the area today – the Wises, the Natheys and the Howells. Maney ended by reminding the crowd that history needs to continue to be made in the area. “The story of Niceville, is not yet [finished]. It continues to be written,” Maney said