Friday, September 11, 2015

On the Way From
Jacksonville to Tallahassee

There is a state road—I've read somewhere that it was the old stagecoach route—that once took travelers from Florida's most populous metropolitan center (Jacksonville) to its capital, a route stretching from east to west along the northernmost reaches of the state. Sometimes called the Old Spanish Trail—not to be confused with the route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles in the West—the route was also known as Florida State Road 10 until the 1927 formation of U.S. Route 90.

If you zoom in on a current-day map, close enough to see the details of those spots in the road too small to be called towns, somewhere on that Florida road, between Lake City and Live Oak, you might be able to locate the place known as Wellborn. Now merely called an "unincorporated community," Wellborn belongs to Suwannee County, itself a location called home by barely more than forty thousand people.

While there may not be many people living in Wellborn, it is still a place that is important to me. Why? Though I've never been there, that's where my maternal roots lie—at least on the McClellan side. And that's why we'll be settling in that area—at least, virtually speaking—for the next few days.

We've been following the trail, backwards in time, of my great grandfather, Rupert Charles McClellan, the dentist who once set up his practice in Tampa, Florida, but who, before that, had served not only as dentist but mayor of rural Fort Meade, a small city of now nearly six thousand people, whose municipal well-being experienced the ebb and flow of economic changes over the decades.

Before Tampa, before Fort Meade, and before marriage to his Tennessee bride Sarah Ann Broyles in 1898, Rupert was living in the home of his parents in Wellborn. Second son of William Henry McClellan and Emma Charles, themselves both children of the Suwannee County region, Rupert made his arrival there in Wellborn on July 30, 1871.

His first appearance in the decennial census records was in 1880, where he and his older brother Frank were joined by brothers William Robert, Philip Tyler and just-born baby sister, Asenah Julia—who, for whatever reason, had been entered in the enumeration as "Emily."

Of course, as things went with families of that era, more children were added to the McClellan family beyond that 1880 record. All told, the McClellans welcomed nine children into their household—at least, nine who made it to adulthood. In addition to those I've already mentioned, there were two more daughters followed by two more sons: Fannie Belle, Emily Jesse, George Sterling and Norman Delaney.

While Wellborn was never a boom town, it did have its heyday—between the years of 1890 and 1920, according to Wellborn "lifers" Maurice and Ann Geiger, shared in an interview published in the Suwannee Valley Times. (Maurice, incidentally, claimed descent from my third great grandfather, so contact with this distant McClellan cousin is now going on my genealogy to-do list for upcoming projects.)

Though small and seemingly insignificant, Wellborn has merited its place in at least two recently-published local history books, augmenting the resources to add to my library.

Of course, nothing will replace the chance to travel there, myself. Admittedly, I and family members have discussed this over the years, but never have taken the opportunity. The one chance I've had to travel to Florida, oddly, did not afford me the luxury of making the two hundred forty mile trip farther north to the McClellan property. That trip will have to await another opportunity—and believe me, it won't take place during hurricane season.

Above: 1880 U.S. Census record for the William H. McClellan household in Suwannee County, Florida; courtesy



  1. It's interesting to follow the trails our ancestors took. I'm following one such trail on Highway 89A/89 which follows the original trail my ancestors took. They couldn't stop at the nearest fast food place, or gas station. They were only looking for water for themselves and their animals. It has been fun to actually find those water holes. These are places like Navajo Wells, Willow Springs, and House Rock Springs.

    1. Just hearing your stories of retracing their steps would make an interesting read!

  2. The land of Live Oak trees, Stephen Foster and some beautiful crystal clear springs. I miss my time visiting with my in-law prior to their demise. It's a beautiful place, this part of Florida, Wellborn, Live Oak, Chiefland and Lake City.

    1. Charlie, you are only making me wish even more that I had time, during my trip to Florida last month, to go see Wellborn!

  3. Two History Books from the area!! I hope you find lots of info you can verify:)

    1. But first, I have to figure out where to buy those privately-published little gems :)


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