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Whitaker Builds Stagecoach and Inn

The information in the following is taken from an article appearing in The Pensacola News Journal, September 4, 1966, written by E.W. Carswell for the History of Washington County
James Dennard Whitaker and MAry Ann Davis Whitaker

Nowadays when we travel from Bonifay to Dothan, Alabama, we often take Road No. 173N, cross Highway2 and go into Alabama. Not far above the Alabama line set Whitaker Methodist Church on the east side of the road. It gets it name from settler, J. D. Whitaker (October 13, 1822 - January 17, 1904) on of four children. Born at what later became Orange Hill in Washington County, 12 year old J. D. was one of only 2 surviving children. Most likely Orange Hill was already an outpost for frontiersmen and Spanish explorers and an inn already existed there. 

In 1820, Florida has been acquired from Spain and when Tallahassee was designated as the territorial capital, agitation arose over the need for a stagecoach line from Tallahassee to Pensacola. Since Orange Hill was too far south to link up with Escambia River crossing at present day Chumuckla, the barely teenager Whitaker, along with his mother and 2 slaves, Nan and her boy, Pamp, moved to what was then Jackson County. Located about 3 1/2 miles north of what became known as Noma, they found an attractive spot between the "Old Mound Line" and the present day Alabama line, and the "Coffee Survey" or original "Blaze Line".

Whitaker at 13 was recovering from pneumonia, but he and his mother carved out a home and stagecoach stop on the wilderness. From the small herd of cattle and sheep that his uncle who had encouraged and helped him to make the venture gave him to raise on shared, J. D. eventually carved out a thriving operation. 

He developed herd and sold 4,000 cattle and 6,000 sheep at a time in addition to large quantities of wool. The stagecoach stop also was a success and they built a large double-pen long home, log kitchen, and surrounding cabins and out buildings resembling a small village. Often 6 or 8 travelers would require overnight lodging in the primitive, but clean accommodations. 

In 1839 the 17 year old, Whitaker married Mary Ann Davis who brought with her two slaves, George and Dick. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitaker joined the Confederate Army. Because of his knowledge of livestock, he was detailed to drive, feed and care for cattle procured as a source of meat to armies. 

Returning from the war he resumed his endeavors as a stagecoach - innkeeper, rancher, farmer and postmaster. In 1848, when Holmes County was formed from portions of Jackson, Washington and Walton Counties, Whitaker outpost was located in Holmes County. In 1853-54 the U.S. Government established the state line at its present location and the Whitaker's 250 acres were located in Dale, County, Alabama. A few years later when Geneva County was created, the Whitaker settlement ended up in Geneva County where it is today.

When the Pensacola-Atlantic Railroad was completed in 1862, the stagecoach was not able to compete with the "iron horse" and gradually faded from the West Florida Scene. But this link had promoted the efforts to cleat the Choctawhatchee River for boat traffic to Geneva where a gerry existed in the 1830's, providing a connecting transportation link with coastal area south. 

Whitaker's industrious nature helped him to prosper, but his frugality was also well known. Not trusting banks, it was generally known that he hoarded large sums of money by converting his cash into $20 dollar gold pieces. At one time $5000 was stolen from the family. According to Mr. Carswell, it was rumored to be a particular party in Chipley though no arrest was ever made. Whitaker has a specially made walking cane that he carried with him at all times. It was said to be filled with gold pieces. In later years, after the place has deteriorated and cropland had taken over most of the homestead, a Mr. Knight was plowing a field for the owner, granddaughter Ellen Blount. He plowed up an iron pot containing 127 twenty dollar gold pieced baring dates from 1850 to 1894. The treasure was divided equally between Blount and Knight.