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Early History of Chipley

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Chipley City History Page 1

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Chipley Founded 1882        The Town is Built        Year of the Big Fire           The Great Awakening            


Washington County

When Washington County was created in 1825, the area contained only about 100 families.  Most of these people were frontier farmers, although a few were engaged in other activities, particularly along the Gulf of Mexico Coast. 

The county's coastal boundary stretched from East Pass (near today's Destin) to the mouth of the Apalachicola River, in what is today, Franklin County.  The county's northern boundary extended to the Alabama-Florida line near today's Geneva, Alabama.

Carved from the territory that had been a part of Jackson County (created in 1822) and Walton County (created in 1824), Washington contained a vast region that comprised all of today's Bay and Calhoun Counties, and parts of what are now Franklin, Calhoun, Holmes, Walton and Okaloosa Counties.  At the time, the county was larger than some of the nation's smaller states.

Chipley - Founded In 1882

In 1882, the community of Orange was founded and renamed Chipley.   It was the year the Pensacola & Atlantic (later L & N) Railroad was completed beyond the town site.

Ironically, since Washington is still a dry county today, the first business enterprise was a wine shop that had been established on the site in 1881 by B. W. Berry, who also operated a pre-Prohibition Era whiskey distillery on land that nearly a century later would become Falling Waters State Park Recreation Center, just south of Chipley on Hwy 77.

Berry's business however came to an end in 1899, when the Washington County electors voted by a narrow margin to prohibit the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages within its boundaries.

Construction of a railway siding was completed in 1882 beside what was to become known as Tank Pond, near today's Agricultural Center and City Hall.  Water was pumped from the pond into an elevated tank, where the steam-driven locomotives stopped to re-supply.  The locomotives also obtained supplies of wood for fuel.

The original name of Orange, was probably for Orange Hill, the most prominent neighboring community. 

Initial plans called for a town to be platted beside the railroad on a hill perhaps three or four miles east of Tank Pond, near the future site of the National Egg-Laying Test Site (Poultry Experiment Station).  That site was then in Jackson County, a circumstance that prompted some of the Orange Hill and other Washington County promoters to seek a site in their county.  They visualized county seat status for the proposed town, but they realized it could not be achieved in Jackson County.  Marianna, then the largest town on the railroad east of Pensacola, had been well-established as the seat of government for Jackson County for half a century.

So the prospective promoters of the new town - Col D. H. Horne, Capt. Angus McMillan, Capt. G. W. Cook, Maj. W. J. Vankirk and J. M. Callaway, among others- approached Col. W. D. Chipley, manager of the new railroad,  with the idea of moving the proposed town site into Washington County.

Col Chipley, persuaded by his friends, some of them former fellow-Confederate Army officers, accepted their proposal.  Maj. Vankirk acquired title to 80 acres of land, which was then surveyed by Col. Horne, and would become the town's basic business district.  (For more on Chipley's founder see Historic Photos).

Soon after the site decision was made, the men named the town Chipley in honor of the railroad builder.  As the town developed, however, its northern and eastern sections spread into Jackson County.  That created problems, particularly for law enforcement and school officials, and that led to a border adjustment in 1915 that gave Chipley more Washington County "elbow room."

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The Newspaper

n 1882, J.C. Langley was the editor of the Intelligencer, the first newspaper established in the community.  The paper survived under different names and ownership to become the Chipley Banner, which merged with the Washington County News in 1943. 

The Town Is Built

Chipley's railway station and post office were originally located in railway box cars. Chipley's first school was called Limestone, named for Limestone Church about half a mile from town.  The school's name was changed to Chipley just after the town was established in 1886.  It was located near the site of today's county jail and about the same time, the Methodist Church that now stands at the top of the hill on Jackson Street, was  built around the same time.

Among Chipley's first merchants were William Tiller and a Mr. Matthew.  H.D. Feagan was the town's first druggist.  Dr. R. B. Bellamy was the first physician and Dr. A. D. Brown was the town's first dentist.  A Mr. Thompson was Chipley's first lawyer.

Major Vankirk started selling lots from his 80-acre parcel.  Lots facing the railroad were 50 feet wide and 140 feet deep and sold for $40 each, while the residential, or back lots, were sold for $20 each.  Among the first residents of Chipley were William Tiller, Capt. McMillan, and Ed Daniel.  Other early settlers included T. J. Jones, Sol Ellis, Dr. Bellamy, Dave Farrior, Henry Faust, J. M. Callaway, Daniel Williams and Billy Williams.  A Baptist church was built in 1889 on a lot later occupied by G. M. Meyers.

The Collier House, a boarding house, was in existence prior to 1890 near today's Chipley Motel.  The Chipley Hotel was completed in 1890.

Dekle & Company, private bankers, brought Chipley its first banking services in 1899.  The First National Bank was organized in 1905, and the Chipley State Bank was formed a year later.

When Chipley was reincorporated in 1901, the city authorized the issuance of $10,000 in bonds to finance the construction of a municipal water system and a school building.  In 1902, the Presbyterian Church was built.

In 1905, the Birmingham Columbus & St. Andrews Bay Railroad started construction from Chipley southward.  In 1910, a $22,000 bond issue was sold to finance improvements to the water system, and in 1913 the city approved a franchise to Chipley Light & Power Company for the installation and operation of an electric light system.  CL&PC later added an ice making plant. 

In 1919, a $60,000 bond issue financed the installation of a sewer system and improvements to the existing water system.  A few downtown streets were paved in 1922 a year later, sidewalks were installed over a wider area of town.

In 1926 Gulf Power Company acquired CL&PC and was granted a franchise to furnish electricity within the city. 

Chipley became the Washington County seat of government in 1927, then a courthouse and jail were built within a few years. 

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Historical news clips from the Chipley Banner

Early news clips from the Chipley Banner newspaper reveal that Chipley, taking advantage of the railroad, quickly became a productive farming community.

Pear season, 1893.  The Pear Packing House of Shear & Wolf produced and shipped seven railway cars of pears to market that season.  Each carload contained 500 boxes of pears.

Shipping Watermelons, 1893.  Watermelons were being shipped from Chipley in railway carloads in late June, 1893.   "Mr. Danley, Mr. Lockley and Mr. Clark are the shippers thus far..."

Cotton, 1897.  Chipley area producers had shipped 1,475 bales of cotton when the crop year ended in October.

Good, Pure Water, 1902.  Drillers of a municipal water well struck hard, near-flint rock in Chipley in October, at a depth of 58 feet, and found plenty of good, pure water at 108 feet.  Tests showed it to be remarkably free of organic matter.

Cotton Gin Burns, 1910.  A cotton gin owned by E. N. Dekle, A.D. Campbell and W. O. Butler, Jr. burned in Chipley with a loss estimated at $10,000.

Tobacco, 1924.  Tobacco was introduced to Chipley as a cash crop sometime around 1924, and the first railway carload of tobacco was shipped from Chipley to Hahira, Georgia in August of that year.

Fired Its First Kiln, 1925.  The Chipley Lime Company in June 1925, fired its first kiln of lime, under the direction of Manager B.S. Donnan.  The Manager lauded the lime for its purity and abundance.

Watermelons, 1927.  Fred Cope loaded the first carload of 1927 crop-year watermelons to be shipped from Chipley.  The carload sold for $700 and shipments from Chipley by July 24 totaled 250 carloads.

Sweet Potatoes, 1928.  A railway carload of sweet potatoes, shipped from Chipley that year, sold for 65 cents per bushel. 


"Year of the Big Fire" (1898) 

A fire, believed to be of incendiary origin, leveled most of Chipley's business district on May 14, 1898.  The great fire destroyed and gutted thirty-five buildings that were reduced to ashes while Chipley was less than 20 years old.

It was the community's first "baptism of fire."  A second fire leveled a portion of the business district 28 months later.  The year 1898 was locally labeled "year of the big fire."  In the first fire, the rosin yards down by the railroad burned with explosive eagerness, sending great clouds of smoke spiraling into the clear sky on a near-windless day.  The smoke could be seen for miles.

The fire had started a few minutes after 12 o'clock in a small building at the rear of the While & Williams store in the central part of the business district.  It quickly engulfed nearby buildings and jumped to nearby structures, most of them built with yellow heart pine lumber.  The buildings, with their wooden shingle roofs, burst into flames and burned with the eager fury of lightwood kindling.

"Building after building was consumed, until 35 has been laid to earth in ashes," the Chipley Banner reported.  "It was only by perseverance and most heroic work by scores of willing hands that the fire was even stopped where it was.  Fortunately, there was no wind blowing, for had there been...the loss would have been considerably greater.  The origin of the fire is unknown but it is generally attributed to incendiary causes."

The fire alarm consisted of yelling and ringing of church bells, which brought "the whole populace of the town" to the scene.  volunteers formed bucket brigades to battle the blaze, as others raced to remove merchandise, fixtures and household items from threatened buildings.  the Banner described the day as one in the history of Chipley which will be long remembered by the citizens of our little city."

The Rev. S. B. Rogers, pastor of the First Baptist Church used "Chipley in Ashes" as the title of his sermon the next day. 

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Post Office Established (1883)

A post office was designated for Chipley, a new community beside the new Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad, on May 4, 1883.  the village, called Orange for the first months of its existence, was destined to become the dominant community in Washington County, which was sharply reduced in size 30 years later.

Henry M. Wimberly, appointed by Republican President Chester A. Arthur, became the first postmaster on the date the office was designated.  He was succeeded on October 22, 1883, by James M. Callaway, also appointed by President Arthur.

William C. Barnes, an appointee of Democratic President Grover Cleveland, became postmaster July 13, 1886.   He served nearly two years, being succeeded by Bernard Y. Kavenaugh on April 28, 1888, also during the first Cleveland Administration.

Postmasters were political appointees prior to 1938 with appointments being made by the President with the consent of the Senate.  Each appointment was made for the duration of the appointing President's term.  A national administration change from Democratic to Republican or vice versa usually brought a change of postmasters across the country. 

In 1938 post masters were given civil service status, and since then, a postmaster appointment will last until a postmaster retires, resigns, or is removed for cause.

Road Department Founded in 1915 

Ca. 1982.  The 1915 Florida Legislature created the Florida Road Department and provided for the appointment of five board members and a state highway engineer.  The first financial report, October 1, 1915 to May 31, 1916, for the State Road Department was $10,153.09

In 1922, the department was divided into five divisions or districts with the 16 northwest counties falling into the area that is now known as the Third District.

Up until the administration of Governor F.P. Cone, the district office was located where the board chairman lived.  During Governor Cone’s administration, John Huey Faulk helped establish Chipley as the permanent district office.   The first district office was located in the “Old Meyers Home.”  Later it moved upstairs in the Dunn Building.  Finally the office was located at its present site in 1940.

During the history of the Chipley District Office, the state has changed from a transportation system of mostly dirt roads to the present day multimodal system involved in all modes of transportation; from the budget of $10,159.09 for the entire state to a budget of $65 million for the third district alone.

The Great Awakening (1916)

Chipley was the scene in 1916 of a phenomenal religious revival, which attracted wide attention.   It was directed by Evangelist George C. Cates, with the assistance of pastor of Chipley's Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.  Seven hundred persons were "converted" during the revival, described as the most successful ever held here.  It could still claim that distinction.

"The greatest sight ever witnessed in Chipley, probably in West Florida, and possibly in the whole state of Florida...."  said the Chipley Banner, in describing the closing ceremonies of the five-week revival.

Chipley's population was then about 1,500.  Many of the converts were from surrounding farms and communities.  It was a localized version of the "Great Awakening," a revivalist influence that had swept the nation earlier.

"Since that time," the Banner wrote in the December 21, 1916 issue, "there have been something like 100 more who have yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit, confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as their Savior.  Rev Cates is a wonderful preacher, and it is probable that his meeting here is the greatest ever held in Florida."

The Chipley Revival was the subject of a 30-page booklet, called the Cates Union Revival, Chipley, Florida, 1916, published but not copyrighted by the Pentecostal Publishing Company of Louisville,  Kentucky.  Only a few copies were known to be in existence in 1990.  the booklet describes the effectiveness of the revival in no less glowing terms than did the Banner.  It tells how the revival, the before American entered WWI, had a terrific religious-emotional impact on the community.      

Continued on Page 2


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History Sources: E. W. Carswell's book, Washington, Florida's Twelfth County.  Copyright 1991, E.W. Carswell. All Rights Reserved. And the Chipley Centennial, 1982 Published by The Washington County News and the Chipley Centennial Committee.

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