|Copyright 2008 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
St. Joseph - Florida's Lost City
During the late 1830s and early 1840s, Florida's largest city
stood on the beautiful shore of St. Joseph Bay. A natural deep
water port located on the Northwest Florida coast, the bay
attracted 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 was the site on which nearby
Apalachicola had been founded at the mouth of the river of the
same name not long after Florida was transferred from Spain
to the United States. The ownership of the site of the city,
however, was claimed by the Forbes company in a legal battle
that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. As a
result, in 1835, a group of businessmen from Apalachicola
relocated the short distance to St. Joseph Bay and founded a
Some of the wealthiest people in Florida invested in the project
and the new city of St. Joseph boomed. A well planned and
beautiful community rose on the shore of the bay and within
three years the population soared to 12,000 people, making St.
Joseph the largest city in the new Territory.
In order to compete commercially with Apalachicola, the
promoters of St. Joseph developed Florida's first railroad. The
tracks first connected the long wharf on St. Joseph Bay with
nearby Lake Wimico. Steamboats loaded with cotton and other
products coming down the Apalachicola River could detour into
the lake and offload their cargo there for transport by rail to
waiting ships at St. Joseph.
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" location.
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. Despite extending
its railroad to Iola on the Apalachicola River, St. Joseph was
unable to compete commercially with Apalachicola. The
population dropped from 12,000 to 6,000 almost as quickly as
it had grown. In an effort to rebound, the city began promoting
itself as a seaside resort, but during the summer of 1841 a
deadly yellow fever epidemic ravaged the community. In a
matter of months, the population of St. Joseph virtually
disappeared. By 1842, only 400 inhabitants remained. Some
of the homes were dismantled and moved by barge to
Apalachicola, while others were raided for windows, shutters
In September of 1844, a hurricane struck St. Joseph,
destroying much of what remained of the community and
driving away some of the last inhabitants. Despite legend that
the community disappeared, however, a few residents
remained and Florida newspapers continued to mention the
community for years to come. The great city on the bay,
however, was gone and today nothing remains other than its
historic cemetery and the artifacts on display at the
Constitutional Convention State Museum.
The legend of St. Joseph, the lost city on the bay, is a major
part of Northwest Florida folklore. Stories are told of the fever
epidemics and hurricane and of a pleasure city destroyed "for
its wickedness." The story was immortalized in the regionally
popular book, The Great Tide.
The best place to learn about the history of Old St. Joseph is
the state museum, located at 200 Allen Memorial Way in Port
St. Joe. Just follow the sights from U.S. 98 east of the city
The Story of the City on St. Joseph Bay
|St. Joseph Bay
The beautiful deep water of St. Joseph Bay in
Northwest Florida prompted the development of the
historic city of St. Joseph.
|Constitutional Convention State Museum
The museum preserves artifacts and interprets the
history of Florida's first constitution and the lost city
of St. Joseph.
|Florida's First Railroad
Displayed outside the Constitutional Convention
State Museum in Port St. Joe is a artifact from
Florida's first railroad.
|Historic Old St. Joseph Cemetery
The Old St. Joseph Cemetery in Port St. Joe
preserves the graves of many residents of the lost
city. Scores died in a yellow fever epidemic.
|The Site of Old St. Joseph
The beautiful grounds of the Constitutional
Convention State Museum in Port St. Joe preserve
part of the site of old St. Joseph.