In a report earlier this summer to the Apalachicola Area Historical Society, Apalachicola resident Diane Brewer explored the reason for her championing a campaign to restore the city's six historic squares.
Brewer is pursuing her efforts through the Historic Apalachicola Foundation, a non-profit organization first created by retired architect and Apalachicola native son Willoughby Marshall, who has authored papers on the history and significance of the squares.
Donations may be made on www.gofundme.com/apalachicolas-historic-squares, where Brewer outlines her plans.
“The six original squares miraculously are largely still intact but most have been bisected by streets, creating intersections in the middle of them, and worse, a few have had inappropriate ‘improvements’ placed on portions of these squares that detract and interfere with their intended purpose,” she wrote. “One initial objective is to define the boundaries of the squares with visible markers so that all will know where they are. Our long-range goal is to re-route the streets around, not through, these squares as before to enable them to become gathering places for the public with something appropriately historic in the center of each one.”
Two weeks ago, Brewer secured a Tourist Development Council grant of $1,161 to help in the printing of 5,000 copies of a new pamphlet guide to the squares, that will serve as a map tour. The pamphlets will be distributed at the county’s visitors centers.
Apalachicola’s layout, with its central square and rectilinear grid of streets and blocks, harkens back to Spain’s 16th century “Laws of the Indies,” a codified process to aid Spanish colonists in building settlements in the Americas. These design guidelines were used in several cities, including Philadelphia, said to have served as the model for Apalachicola, each with a large central square and five smaller squares. The Apalachicola Land Company gave the city its six squares, its streets, and other lots for public use, perhaps intending citizens would build houses facing the squares as evidenced by the orientation of Trinity Episcopal Church. In Nov. 1980, the Apalachicola Historic District was added to the US National Register of Historic Places; all six of the squares lie within the district. Four of the squares (Madison, Franklin, Chapman and Gorrie) can be seen one from the other.
“The visibility of the squares would be enhanced by the erection of a monument, fountain, statue or sculpture in the centers of these four squares. Today, our squares have lost their identities. Streets cut through them and in many cases buildings and other structures have been constructed on them. Many people may not even be aware of their existence,” said Brewer.
The following are excerpts from the new guide to the squares.
Avenue G between 10th and 11th Streets
Washington Square, likely named for the first president, is in the approximate geographical center of the historic district. Covering a four block area, it is the largest of the squares and the only one to not be intersected by streets. It is believed this square was originally meant to be the center of town, but development naturally gravitated to the river and the bay.
It remained open space until 1892, when the county erected an imposing, Romanesque-style brick county courthouse that in 1940 became the county health and welfare departments, before being dismantled in 1957 to make way for Weems Memorial Hospital. Also in 1892, the now-defunct county jail was on the northwest quadrant of Washington Square. Today, Weems shares the square with the Love Center Church, the county health department, and the Apalachee Center.
Avenue L and 6th Street
Franklin Square occupies the northeast corner of the historic district and the traditionally African-American neighborhood known as “the Hill.” At one time, stately homes were scattered across the Hill, but most were either moved or destroyed. A large number of shotguns - the iconic Southern workforce housing – once lined the Hill’s streets, but these too have mostly disappeared. Franklin Square abuts one of the town’s best examples of Mission-style architecture: the Holy Family Senior Center, constructed in 1928 as a church and Catholic school for African-American children. Named for Benjamin Franklin, the square features a recreation center, basketball and tennis courts, a playground and picnic pavilion, and one quadrant of open green space.
Avenue L and 14th Street
This square was named for the fourth President, who helped draft the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and served as secretary of state under President Jefferson. Madison Square was undisturbed until 1920 when streets bisected it. The water tower on the southeast quadrant was erected in the 1960s. In 2010, the Justin Brice Griffin Skateboard Park was built on the southwest quadrant, named for a musician and avid skateboarder. The two north quadrants remain unused and are currently wooded. This square is ready for restoration to its original intended purpose as open space for community use, the goal of Restore Apalachicola’s Historic Squares project.
Avenue D & 14th Street
Chapman Square was originally named Marshall Square in honor of Chief Justice John Marshall, who rendered the 1835 Supreme Court’s decision confirming the much-disputed Spanish land grants to the Apalachicola Land Company. A newspaper report in July 1909 states that a “Mr. Morgan was instructed [by the City Commission] to tear down the old stable on Marshall Square.” At some point after 1909, this square was renamed for the noted 19th century botanist Dr. Alvin W. Chapman, a friend and colleague of Dr. John Gorrie. Chapman discovered many rare plants and trees in the region and is best known for his book “Flora of the Southern United States (1860).” He also led the choir at Trinity Episcopal Church on Gorrie Square. Chapman opposed the secession of Florida and during the Civil War was known to hide from Southern patrols in Trinity Church. Chapman is buried alongside his wife in Chestnut Cemetery, directly behind his former home, now restored, at the corner of Avenue E and 6th Street. Chapman Square, with open space in three quadrants and tennis courts in the fourth, conforms well to the intended use of the squares.
Avenue F and Eighth Street
City Square, just southeast of Washington Square, was first known as “White Square” for lawyer Joseph White (1781-1839), a delegate from the Florida Territory to Congress and a trustee of the Apalachicola Land Company, who was instrumental in the company’s legal acquisition of what became Apalachicola and Franklin County. This square was renamed in the early 1900s when the original City Square became Gorrie Square. In the early decades of the 20th century, City Square’s southeast quadrant housed a “Pound” before it was closed due to repeated complaints of odors. The northeast and northwest quadrants, the site of a trailer park in the 1970s, are today home to the city’s Community Garden. This square is connected to Chestnut Street Cemetery, the oldest burying ground in Apalachicola, which comprises 596 identifiable graves, many more unmarked ones, and a few nameless, marked only with simple wooden crosses or a blanket of shells. City Square’s southwest quadrant features a pavilion and open space area.
Avenue D & 6th Street
The 1836 Apalachicola Land Company map shows the original name was City Square, and changed after a monument was erected in 1899 to honor Dr. John Gorrie (1803-1855), the Apalachicola physician who pioneered refrigeration, air-conditioning and the manufacture of ice. Gorrie served as mayor, postmaster, bank president, secretary of the Masonic Lodge and a founding vestryman of Trinity Episcopal Church. The monument to him graces the northeast quadrant of the square.
In 1956-7, on the southwest quadrant, the Gorrie Museum was built, and Gorrie’s grave, after several relocations, now lies in the southeast quadrant. In 1906 a steel water tower for Apalachicola’s first water system was erected at the center of the square where it stood until a hurricane toppled it in 1985. The two cannons in the square’s center are the remains of seven cannons and a mound of cannonballs obtained in 1913 from Fort Barrancas near Pensacola to decorate Battery Park; these two were moved here around 2000. An 1857 map shows no roads having been cut through this square, but a later map reveals that to have changed by 1915. Some old-timers report that cows were sometimes brought to this square to graze.