Down By The Riverside: The Sawmill Life
Marie “Mickey” Wesley Swinford was born in India, Mississippi, in 1910, and was brought to her home in Point Washington, Florida, at the mouth of the Choctawhatchee River when she was three months old. After graduating from high school in DeFuniak Springs, she studied nursing at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, receiving her RN degree. Later she enrolled at Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, and received her BS in Nursing in 1936. She went on to a career in medicine and public health, marrying Dr. Kenneth R. Swinford, a Forestry Professor from the University of Florida.
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My father moved to Point Washington from Ebro. He had several portable sawmills and a permanent mill at Point Washington. He started in the sawmill business with my mother’s father, who was a Strickland. The company was known as “Strickland and Wesley” at first. Later it became “Wesley and Sons.” My mother, Katie Marie Strickland Wesley, was visiting my father at one of his portable sawmills in India, Mississippi when I was born. They returned to Point Washington when I was three months old. I imagine we came from Pensacola on the “Fritz” or another boat of similar nature. Steamboats operated on the river and the day, and I can remember my parents taking them to Pensacola around Christmas to buy presents.
There weren’t any good roads, and if you wanted to go anywhere, you traveled mainly by boat. Our trips to DeFuniak Springs required going across the bay in our launch – the “Hazel S” – and then by car from Freeport. My older brother, Willie, eventually started up a daily ferry service, powered by his boat, the “Lark.” He carried the mail to and from Freeport, and a small load of cars. I can remember that sometimes they had moonlight dances on the ferry. I’ll never forget these, as my father wouldn’t let me participate because I was just a teenager and in his opinion, too young to take part. The State road department later took over the ferry services.
My father had rights to the sunken logs in the Choctawhatchee River. These were from earlier logging and rafting operations. He had his men raise the logs and raft them downstream to his mill at Point Washington. Lumber was sawed at the mill, stored, and partially seasoned on pilings in the entrance to the Point Washington Bayou. Then it was…