We’d driven to St. Marks to watch shore birds. It was a lovely day in every way, a day free of cares with Charles and I exploring the area on no particular time table. A good sea breeze was up and sunshine disappeared as clouds moved in. A light rain encouraged us to climb back in our car. Charles wondered out loud where West Goose Creek might be. He knew it was somewhere nearby. We tried with no luck to find it on our car’s GPS.
It was about 2:00 when we ordered grilled shrimp in a folksy restaurant right on the St. Marks River. Dogs were allowed on one side of the restaurant and not the other, an interesting feature to me. Charles asked the waitress why the difference in sides, both seeming equally open. She guessed it was because one side was nearer the kitchen so it might be a health issue. Then Charles asked his real question. Did she know where we might find West Goose Creek. She had never heard of it. She asked another fellow but he didn’t know either. We needed someone with some age on them. All those folks were too young.
It was delightful eating by the river with raindrops freckling the water. As we nibbled we remembered times at West Goose Creek.
Charles’ family, consisting of him, his parents and his siblings, as well as Uncle Lewis and almost the whole clan of Morrises, made an annual trek down from Thomas County in the fall to buy fresh fish from seiners at the seinyard and then cook them right there. His memory is of cool air, a long wait for fish to “come in,” resulting in plenty of time for cousins to chase and play on the beach before the fish fry started.
“It was always Uncle Lewis’s idea,” Charles said, sipping iced tea. “Mama and her sisters brought side dishes–potato salad, baked beans, pimiento sandwiches, chocolate cake, all that stuff. We’d get so hungry waiting for the fish, we kids tried to slip bits of food from under the covers but someone nearly always caught us.”
I remembered going myself with the family once after Charles and I married, probably about 1966. It was great fun. I enjoyed the adventure, seeing the stretch of Gulf beach, the warmth of the fire as the sun went down. I thought we might do that every year, but that was the last time, I think because Uncle Lewis moved away.
We really wanted to see if we could find that place after all these years. “Let me see if my phone GPS can locate West Goose Creek,” I said.
And there it was on my screen. The directions indicated it was only nine miles away.
It wasn’t an easy nine miles. The last three or four were lonely narrow mud and sand roads with only an occasional mailbox and even fewer visible houses. It was beautiful but not a place you’d want to be when you ran out of gas or had a heart attack. Finally we drove clear of the tangled forest and found ourselves in an opening onto a small cove. There was an old ruins, a very well kept informational sign about West Goose Creek and Wakulla Beach, and several big water birds shopped for tiny crabs and fed among grasses in a stretch of wetland. We saw a limpet (I think!), a couple of ibis, a willet maybe. There were, of course, big brown pelicans diving into the sea, and I saw at a distance some little ducklike birds swimming and then disappearing for whole minutes in the waves. I was thrilled to see all the birds and compare them to pictures in our guide book.
We both learned a lot more about West Goose Creek, Wakulla Beach, and East Goose Creek.
In the 1880’s, according to the historical marker, folks from north Florida and South Georgia traveled to Wakulla Beach/West Goose Creek to seine for mullet. They went in wagon trains (the wagons made into covered ones with stretches of tarp) at the end of the harvest season, as described by William Warren Rogers in “Thomas County 1865-1900.” Many groups would stay as long as a week. When the schools of mullet “ran,” the men would pull them in with great seining nets, then everyone pitched in salting the fish down in barrels to take home. At night the harmonicas and fiddles were brought out. A bonfire glowed brightly by the shore. The singing and storytelling, sometimes even dancing, went on for hours.
The marker indicates that West Goose Creek Seinyard was the last to close down and that was when Hurricane Kate, in 1985, destroyed all the sheds.
The ruins we saw were of a pretty sophisticated tourist hotel having had columns, a concrete foundation and plumbing. Seems it was the dream, actually the third of three dreams, of Daisy Walker, wife of Senator Henry N. Walker, Sr. Daisy dreamed of a town, East Goose Creek, and even laid it out in streets. But today it’s only a ghost town covered by vines, palms and scrub oaks or live oaks. The first hotel, built in 1915, became the Walkers’ home after a few seasons of welcoming guests. They built another hotel which seems to have been destroyed in a tropical flood in September, 1928. Then they built the hotel, remains of which are still there. It was a two story building with kitchen and dining room on the ground level, sleeping rooms above.
I was telling a friend about our adventurous day and he became quite interested in the actual creek of West Goose Creek. I had to admit I didn’t see a creek. Maybe he will discover it and, if there’s a trail to it, I’d like to see that. On some other adventurous day!