Wakulla County has a near-absence of any municipal population, with two small municipalities holding about 3% of the population. The county seat, Crawfordville, is the only unincorporated county seat among Florida's 67 counties.
In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez found his way to what would be Wakulla County from Tampa, Florida camping at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers. Narvaez determined this was a very suitable spot for a fort. In 1539, Hernando de Soto followed with his soldiers establishing San Marcos de Apalache, but it was not settled until 1733.
Early 19th century
The area to become Wakulla County was an active place in the early 19th century. A former British officer named William Augustus Bowles attempted to unify and lead 400 Creek Indians against the Spanish outpost of San Marcos capturing it. This provoked Spain and a Spanish flotilla arrived some 5 weeks later and assumed control of San Marcos. In 1818, General Andrew Jackson invaded the territory (Wakulla) taking control of San Marcos. Two captured British citizens, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, were tried, found guilty of inciting Indian raids, and executed; causing a diplomatic nightmare between the United States and England. In 1821, Florida was ceded to the United States and the San Marcos was occupied by U.S. troops. In 1824, the fort was abandoned and turned over to the Territory of Florida. By 1839, the fort was returned to the U.S. and a federal marine hospital was built. The hospital provided care for victims of yellow fever in the area.
Forts of Wakulla County
Source: Florida Forts
Wakulla County was created from Leon County in 1843. It may (although this is disputed) be named for the Timucuan Indian word for "spring of water" or "mysterious water." This is in reference to Wakulla County's greatest natural attraction, Wakulla Springs, which is one of the world's largest freshwater springs, both in terms of depth and water flow. In 1974, the water flow was measured at per day—the greatest recorded flow ever for a single spring.
In an 1856 book, adventurer Charles Lanman wrote of the springs: Another possible origin for the name Wakulla, not as widely accepted, is that it means "mist" or "misting", perhaps in reference to the Wakulla Volcano, a 19th-century phenomenon in which a column of smoke could be seen emerging from the swamp for miles.
The town of Port Leon was once a thriving cotton-shipping hub, with a railroad that carried over 50,000 tons of cotton a year to be put on ships, usually for shipment direct to Europe. Port Leon was the sixth-largest town in Florida, with 1,500 residents. However, a hurricane and the accompanying storm surge wiped out the entire town. New Port (today known as Newport) was built two miles (3 km) upstream but never quite achieved the prosperity of Port Leon.
During the Civil War, Wakulla County was blockaded from 1861-1865 by a Union squadron at the mouth of the St. Marks River. Confederates took the old Spanish fort site known as San Marcos de Apalache and renamed it Fort Ward. The Battle of Natural Bridge eventually stopped the Union force that intended to take Fort Ward and nearby Tallahassee, the last Confederate state capitol which the Union had not captured. The Union forces were not able to land their full forces, but still outnumbered the Confederates, who chose to make their stand at a place where the St Marks River goes underground—the "Natural Bridge' referred to. However, the Confederates had over a day to prepare their defenses and the Union retreated. Most of the dead were African-American troops fighting for the Union.
The Twentieth Century
In Gloria Jahoda's book, The Other Florida, she writes movingly of the extreme poverty of Wakulla County from the early 1900s to 1966, when Wakulla still had no doctor and no dentist, few stores and a county newspaper produced just once a month on a mimeograph machine. Today, Wakulla has several doctors and dentists, several supermarkets and big-box retailers, a golf resort and a thriving seafood business.