Old St. Joseph - Port St. Joe, Florida
|Site of Old St. Joseph, Florida
A booming coastal city once stood here on the
peaceful grounds of the Constitutional Convention
Museum State Park in Port St. Joe, Florida.
St. Joseph Bay, Florida
St. Joseph was a port city on St.
Joseph Bay. An important center of
commerce, it was once Florida's
OLD ST. JOSEPH
Port St. Joe, Florida
Lost City of the Gulf Coast
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: June 5, 2014
Ghost Towns in the South
During the late 1830s and early 1840s,
Florida's largest city stood on the beautiful
shore of St. Joseph Bay. The site is now
marked by the city of Port St. Joe.
A natural deep water port located on the
Northwest Florida coast, St. Joseph Bay drew
the attention of early promoters because of
its natural advantages and because the
ownership of the land there was not tangled
in legal issues as the case in nearby
Apalachicola was founded at the mouth of
the Apalachicola River not long after Florida
was transferred from Spain to the United
States. Early promoters soon learned,
however, that ownership of the land on which
their city stood was claimed by the Forbes
company. The legal battle over the lands
went all the way to the United States
Seeking to avoid conflicting land titles, a
group of businessmen from Apalachicola
relocated the short distance to St. Joseph
Bay in 1835. They were politically connected
and wealthy and their new city thrived.
Called the "Saints" by both admirers and
detractors, some of the wealthiest people in
Florida made up the list of investors in St.
Joseph. They designed a well planned and
beautiful community on the protected shores
of St. Joseph Bay. Within three years their
community attracted 12,000 residents,
making it the largest city in Florida.
St. Joseph Bay is large and deep, but was
disadvantageous because no major river
emptied into it. To circumvent this problem,
the "Saints" built Florida's first railroad.
The tracks first ran from a long wharf at St.
Joseph to a similar wharf on nearby Lake
Wimico. Steamboats coming down the
Apalachicola River could shorten their trip by
turning off into Lake Wimico and unloading
their cargoes at the railroad station. Rail cars
then carried the baled cotton and other
commodities to the waiting ships at St.
The plan was to replace Apalachicola as the
major port for the plantations and farms that
lined the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and
Flint Rivers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
There was big money to be made in cotton
and the city that prevailed stood to prosper.
St. Joseph and Apalachicola engaged in a
fierce battle for commercial superiority.
Apalachicola boasted of its location on a
major navigable waterway while St. Joseph
promoted its railroad, fine living and "healthy"
So successful was St. Joseph's effort that
Florida's Constitutional Convention met there
instead of Tallahassee in 1838. Working for
34 days, delegates drafted Florida's first
constitution. The convention ended on
January 11, 1839. Six years later, thanks in
part to the work done at St. Joseph, Florida
was admitted to the Union as the 27th state.
Disaster, however, soon struck the new city.
Even after the railroad was extended to Iola
on the Apalachicola River, St. Joseph simply
could not compete commercially with
As the economy faltered, the population
dropped from 12,000 to 6,000 almost as
quickly as it had grown. The versatile "Saints"
tried to rebrand their city as a health resort,
but yellow fever erupted there in 1841.
Many residents died as the deadly fever
swept through St. Joseph, sparing neither
small children, healthy adults or the elderly. .
By 1842, only 400 inhabitants remained.
The final blow came in September 1844
when a hurricane struck St. Joseph. Many of
the remaining buildings were destroyed and
all but a handful of residents left for more
promising locals. St. Joseph became a
The legend of St. Joseph, the lost city of the
Gulf Coast, is a major part of Florida's
folklore. Stories are told of a city so wicked
that God wiped it from the earth much like
Sodom and Gomorrah of old.
The legendary tale forms the basis for the
regionally popular novel, The Great Tide. By
writer Rubylea Hall, it is available here:
The best place to learn about the history of
Old St. Joseph is at the Constitutional
Convention Museum State Park. Located at
200 Allen Memorial Way in Port St. Joe, the
museum features displays and artifacts that
tell the real story of the lost city.
Please click here for more information.
Graves of a Lost City
The crypts and headstones at Old
St. Joseph Cemetery are the most
visible remains of the lost city of
Old St. Joseph.
Florida's First Railroad
The first railroad in Florida linked
Old St. Joseph first with Lake
Wimico and later with the village of
Florida's First Constitution
Delegates from across Florida
Territory met at St. Joseph in
1838-1839. Here they drafted a
constitution that led to Florida
being admitted to the Union as a