How many of you have a place where your heart and soul has bonded with the land and when you find yourself there you have a feeling of intense peace and having arrived at your soul’s home? I know that sounds pretty New Age, but it is a real thing. And for me that place is the small, unincorporated place called Oak Grove in northern Okaloosa County. The same was true for my maternal Grandmother and my mother. The difference is, they were born there, I was not.
My first recollection of Oak Grove occurred when I was around four. We had been living in Ohio for a year or so and had come back to Florida. I knew we were going to visit my maternal grandparents and according to my parents, I was very excited. I popped up and down in the back seat of that old Packard about 40 times between Crestview and my grandparents’ home on Highway 2. Each time I asked if we were there yet. I have a distinct memory of crossing the bridge and then turning left and up the driveway. As we got out of the car, I saw my grandmother trotting across the property from the back, her ever present apron being held and fanned up and down as she alternately waved and jogged. For the next 16 years or so, I spent part of my summers with them and we usually came over around their anniversary in November for the family reunion and sometimes for Christmas. I also lived close enough to them during my last two years of college to spend nearly every weekend with them. So, I know what I feel when I go to Oak Grove is wrapped up with my emotions surrounding my deep love for my grandparents.
But it is more than that. As I drive up Yellow River Church Road, I pass where my grandmother grew up and her parents’ homestead and general store was located. Then I arrive at the church where many of my ancestors worshiped through all of its 180 years. I have ancestors buried at the church, as well as Stewart Cemetery a little further up the road. Further on towards Alabama, one set of my great2-grandparents lived and raised their children, as well as a set of great3-grandparents. From 1820 on, I had ancestors scattered out over the area where they left signs of their lives. I can take the “scenic route” over to Blackman seeing places where ancestors lived and worked the land and come to Cotton Cemetery where again I have numerous ancestors resting in peace. I can make a circle back to Oak Grove, seeing where my mother started school at Blackman (the building is gone but I do remember it) and drive along Highway 2 and remember the stories mother would tell occasionally about walking the road with her sister Carolyne. Coming back to where my grandparents lived and back to the church. Getting out I can smell the sweet scent of nature, the pine trees swaying and singing as the wind lightly brushes them. I can see my mother and her siblings at the church homecomings and the Sacred Harp sings that her grandfather organized for the church. It is not where I was born, but it will be where I rest someday, next to my Mom and at the feet of my grandparents.
Oak Grove was once a bustling farming community. There were a number of grist mills, the church, a Masonic Lodge and the Oak Grove school until it burned down in 1923. The many dirt roads were traveled daily by ox-drawn carts and early Model Ts and tractors. Now it is quiet and no longer bustles with activity. Too many have moved away and sold their land to be used to harvest slash pine rather than the long-leaf that once covered the area. The huge oak trees, like the one that existed in my great-grandparents front yard are no longer seen. I’m not convinced that all the change has been “progress”. We have lost a good bit in gaining our electronically-connected and salary-based lifestyles. We have lost that sense of deep community, that sense of place that binds your soul to where you live and sustains you when things are tough. Native peoples knew that sense of place before the government uprooted them and our ancestors sometimes developed it as they settled into a place that called to them on a deeper level. A place that was their HOME. That is what I feel when I go home to Oak Grove.
Below are some of the blogs I’ve posted on Oak Grove over the last four years. I am still working on a book about this community. My Mom’s health and COVID-19 put a serious dent in my plans to finish up some research. Oak Grove was one of the earliest communities in the panhandle that was settled after the Florida territory was transferred from Spain to the United States, with evidence of settlement as early as 1820. Many people in the Panhandle can likely trace their ancestry back to at least one family who settled in the area between Yellow River on the east and Blackman on the west and between the Alabama line on the north and what was referred to as Peadentown on the south.
Until Next Time. Have a safe and blessed Christmas and New Year.
So You Think You Know Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL, Part 1 – original post 29 August 2016
So You Think You Know Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL, Part 2 – original post 12 September 2016
So You Think You Know Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL, Part 3 – original post 26 September 2016
Northwest Florida Early Pioneers: James Millard and Lydia Olive Gaskin(s) – original post 10 October 2016
Big Fish in a Small Northwest Florida Pond: William Franklin and Mary Ann Malissa Hart King – original post 24 October 2016
Seven Sisters (and a Brother) in 1930s Oak Grove, FL – original post 7 November 2016
Approaching the Coming Crisis: 1840-1860 in the NW Florida Community of Oak Grove – original post 21 November 2016
Oak Grove in Okaloosa Co, FL: It’s Importance and Development in the History of the FL Panhandle – original post 8 April 2019
The Black and White of Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL – original post 22 April 2019
Getting to Know a Community from the Past – original post 3 August 2020