In January 2020 at one of its regular weekly meetings, Apalachicola’s Rotary Club was treated to an informal presentation by local resident Diane Brewer on the history of Apalachicola’s six historic city squares.
The original plat consisted of a grid of blocks, alleys, streets and squares. Brewer displayed a map of the 1830 plat showing the squares, prepared for the Apalachicola Land Company which owned the land comprising Apalachicola.
She also distributed a brochure on the squares created in 2019. Believed to be the first and only brochure focusing on the squares, it was created by Brewer with research and a charming hand-drawn map by Pam Richardson and graphics done by Cindy Clark of Baymedia.
The Apalachicola Land Company donated the land to the city for land for various community purposes to be used for streets, its courthouse, churches, a cemetery and the six squares intended to be open space for the public.
The city’s layout was modeled after Philadelphia’s, even to the original names of its streets. Houses and other buildings were intended to face the squares. The fašade of Trinity Episcopal faces Gorrie Square. The congregation was founded in 1836.
The commerce of Apalachicola in shipping cotton, timber and seafood gravitated toward the water, unfortunately diminishing the development and importance of the squares. According to Apalachicola native, architect Willoughby Marshall, only Washington and Gorrie were commonly used as intended. Washington Square was the site of Franklin County’s courthouse building until 1939 until it was demolished in 1957 for Weems Hospital. The single event most detrimental to the squares came with the invention of the automobile when streets were created in the 1920s crossing the squares.
Inspired by Marshall’s vision and his 1975 award winning study Apalachicola, Economic Prosperity through Historic Preservation, Brewer has worked on restoring the squares as much as possible with the help of the city of Apalachicola which passed two resolutions unanimously in 2015 and 2017. They called for no new construction or long- term leases on them and ordered a thorough professional survey of City Square when it was threatened by a proposed CVS pharmacy, complete with a drive-through over an alley.
Since then, the restoration project has been adopted by the Historic Apalachicola Foundation, a 501c3 created in the 1980s. The foundation has moved forward a number of interim restoration plans including a public fund -raising event, a Facebook page and a gofundme site.
At its meeting, Rotary was honored to be among the first citizens to hear about a short PBS program in preparation on the squares and their restoration set to air on Local Routes, on WFSU-TV on Thursday, March 19 at 8 p.m.
Rotary supports the foundation’s efforts to safeguard this important part of Apalachicola’s history, so important for its future which is now largely based on heritage tourism.
The Rotary Club meets at noon each Tuesday at Tapas in Apalachicola. Anyone wishing to know more about Rotary International is welcome to visit or you may contact Cliff Butler at 653-5848 for more information.