The Wreck of the S.S. Florida

SS Florida

The remains of the S.S. Florida, one mile south of St. Joseph’s point. Only the rusting fireboxes and bottom of the boiler remain above the sand.

Special to The Star
Published: Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 09:58 AM.

By Herman Jones


No one knows where the Great Storm of 1856 was spawned. Chances are it sprang to life over the Bahamas around Aug. 25-26. On the 27th it entered the Straits of Florida and both Fort Dallas on Biscayne Bay and Key West reported strong winds and gales. For the next four days it would churn its way through the Gulf before making landfall on Crooked Island, west of Mexico Beach.

First it beat the devil out of Cape San Blas and destroyed the second lighthouse, which now lies about two-thirds of a mile offshore. Just five years before, another “Great Storm” had knocked down the first Cape San Blas lighthouse along with the ones on Cape St. George and Dog Island.

 To the north, on the peninsula, the S.S. FLORIDA would become the second victim of the storm’s fury.

FLORIDA departed the Pensacola Navy Yard on Thursday morning, Aug. 28. As the steamer crossed the Pensacola Bar at 10 a.m. and entered the open Gulf, I’m sure the seasoned Master of FLORIDA felt a knot in his stomach. The long ground swells that crashed beneath FLORIDA’S bow meant only one thing--somewhere in the Gulf there was a hurricane. Hopefully, they could reach Apalachicola, their next scheduled stop the next day, and find safety in its protected bay.

Friday morning, as they drew near Cape San Blas, an ominous warning greeted them. The great shoal of the Cape was a seething, boiling cauldron of crashing breakers; it would be impossible to round the Cape and reach Apalachicola. The captain decided to put about and try to find a protected anchorage westward.

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