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On February 23, 1844 — a year before Florida became the 27th state in the Union — the territorial legislature adopted “an act to incorporate the Town of Milton in Santa Rosa County.”

The act laid out the town’s original boundaries — from the mouth of Pond Creek, up the Blackwater River to “Quin’s Land Line,” a half-mile west, then back down to the creek — and appointed a board of six “town wardens.”

Willing Street in 1907. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

Settled in the early 1800s, the town sprung up around various early industrial sites on the Blackwater River, including Jackson Morton’s brickyard and Benjamin Jernigan’s sawmill, from where “Milltown,” later Milton, likely got its name. Before the name Milton caught on, the settlement was referred to by a variety of names, including Blackwater, Lumberton, Jernigan’s Landing, Hard Scrabble, and even Scratch Ankle, after the brambles and briars that once grew along the banks of the river and scratched the ankles of those embarking and disembarking from boats.

The Bagdad Land and Lumber Company on the Blackwater River, near Milton, in 1917. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

Fueled by a booming lumber industry, Milton prospered in the years before the Civil War, and by 1860 was Florida’s seventh-largest city. But as with many Southern cities, the war had a catastrophic impact on the young town. With Confederate and Union troops fighting in Pensacola over control of the city and its forts, many Milton residents fled inland to cities like Greenville, Alabama.

Much of Milton’s commercial and industrial facilities were burned by retreating Confederates in 1862 to prevent their use by federal troops.

The Milton Drug Store, circa 1913. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

The town rebuilt itself during the post-war years, buoyed by the arrival of a railroad connection in 1882, but catastrophic fires in 1885 and 1892 destroyed much of Milton’s business district. A third fire in 1909 burned nearly every building within two blocks of the riverfront. But the town rebuilt again, and in 1910 Milton’s first electric plant was installed on Berryhill Road. Within a few years, a waterworks had been built, and the Milton Fire Department was established in 1914.

The railroad bridge over the Blackwater River was destroyed in a 1916 hurricane. (UWF Archives/Special to The Pulse)

By the onset of World War II, the lumber industry was in decline, but the U.S. Navy’s sudden need to train thousands of pilots led to the establishment of Naval Air Station Whiting Field just north of Milton. Over the years, the base — now home to one of the busiest airspaces in the world — has become an integral part not only of Milton, but of Santa Rosa County and the wider region.

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