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A racetrack runs through Buffer Preserve

By Sandra Chafin Special to the Star

The Old St. Joseph Racetrack is now located on Buffer Preserve property, so there’s a connection. You cannot walk around the racetrack or see where the grounds or the horse stalls were located. The only way you know it is there is by reading about it or have access to an old aerial picture.

For history buffs, realizing that a significant part of Old St. Joseph is now on St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve is amazing!

Henry A. Drake’s account of History of the Rise and Fall of Old St. Joseph, Birthplace of Florida contains a lot of interesting topics covering the years from 1838 to 1967. The remaining articles will only refer to connections to the Buffer Preserve or the St Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve due to time and length of articles. There’s still a lot of acreage to cover in the preserve that we want you to know about.

So, continuing Drake’s account of the old city, it goes like this:

In its heyday St. Joseph was quite metropolitan in possessing a daily newspaper, two or more banks, churches, several hotels, a seminary, shipyard, cotton press, brickyard, grist mill, a board of trade, race track and many business and professional people. The city promised soon to rival Charleston, Savannah or New Orleans, both in trade and charm. It had the distinction of being the Gulf terminus of one of the first railways in the U. S., and that alone gave it prominence equal to many Atlantic ports without such means of transportation.

Advertisers in the St. Joseph Times during Jan. 1840 included the name of Crawford Sproul, listed as a proprietor of track and stables. Presumably, this refers to the Calhoun racetrack which, with 35 stalls and a grandstand, was located two miles east of St. Joseph. This attracted the sporting element of distant places and, with the excellent public accommodations, including some gaming houses where liquors were imbibed in some quantities, it appeared the town was taking on the atmosphere of a pleasure resort.

St. Joseph soon became known as a fast town! Some referred to it as the “wickedest place in the U.S.,” asserting it was without churches or any form of religious worship. However, there were Methodist, Baptist and Catholic churches, perhaps others, with some of the well-known clergymen being Revs. Richards, Love, Haskow, Gautier, Sr., Mercer and Lookey.

Buffer Preserve staff were told that at one time you could plainly see the site of the racetrack from the air. But, when pines were clear cut, it made it much more difficult to see. To get your bearing on where the racetrack was located, look at the southwest corner of the intersection of Rutherford Road and State Route 30A and let your imagination run wild.

We are leaving Old St. Joseph now and turning our attention to the plants at the preserve. On to plants you might see when roads dry and are more conducive to hikes, bike rides or casual walking.

If you have the chance to walk some of the trails (wear rainboots), you might see some of the following native wildflowers blooming: Liatris or blazing star, false foxglove, vanilla leaf ironweed, short-leafed rose gentian, or American white waterlily. You might see a remaining pine lily also.

Foxglove in bloom at the Buffer Preserve

Seminole false foxglove is a wildflower you might see blooming on the Preserve. Flawildflowers.org states there are 17 species of Agalinis native to Florida, many of which are similar in appearance and hard to differentiate. It occurs naturally in sandhills, flatwoods, coastal scrub, and xeric woodlands. Bees and butterflies love it. Fall is the season it blooms on the preserve.

Ironweed is another perennial found naturally in floodplains, wet to mesic pine flatwoods. Ironweed flowers in summer and fall. While it may not look like much to us, the butterflies love it. It attracts other pollinators also. Ironweed is a native wildflower and is a member of the aster family.

Perfect weather for a tram trip to get to Pond Road for exploring.

Rose gentian might be known to you as marsh pink. They are a perennial and you will find them in wet pinelands, flatwoods, and along wetland edges. Coastal rose gentian blooms from April through October. They have delicate pink flowers.

The American white waterlily grows in ditches, ponds, swamps, and depression marches. They are aquatic and smell good. The plant grows in submerged soil, and it flowers spring through fall. When it turns cool, they become dormant.

The first tram trip, led by Friends’ board member, Doug Lovejoy was a great success. Pictured is the group who went on the first trip. A change of plans on the road to travel was necessary due to standing water. There will be other trails on other first Fridays for you to participate in. Join them.

Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves are an important group of dedicated citizens who love nature, taking care of the environment and helping the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve and St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve. They are not paid, and frankly, the Preserve could not afford them. They are invaluable in presenting special events, such as Fall and Winter Bay Day. While COVID-19 prevented the Fall Bay Day, they are looking forward to February for the winter event. When called upon to help, they are ready.

Doug Lovejay was enthusiastic in telling about different aspects of the trail.

If you are interested in being a part of this special group please send an email to admin@stjosephbaypreserve.org and someone will reach out to you. Meetings are open to the public and you are invited to join the group on the Third Thursday of each month. Due to last minute cancellations on rare occasions, please call 850-229-1787 to be sure the meeting will be taking place. The group would love to have anyone interested attend a meeting.

Board members are Linda Palma, March Ard, Lillian Hughes, Lynda White, Rich Trahan, John Ehrman, Nancy Thomson, Tim Nelson, Doug Lovejoy, and Dusty Alford. This is an outstanding group of board members.

Reminder: the tram delivers the group to a road or trail from the parking lot at the main gate. So, you get to ride to the designated road and then the fun starts. You can walk, see the trees and plants up close and smell the freshness in the air.

Masks are required and social distancing practiced. You will need sunscreen, water, hat, sturdy shoes, and your most inquisitive mind. We hope you will join the group for a fun couple of hours to learn about the Buffer Preserve and see our fantastic plants, trees and animals. We think you will be glad you did.

Call 850-229-1787 to sign up for the tram trips (First Fridays) or to ask questions.