BAGDAD VILLAGE HISTORIC DISTRICT
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES - SANTA ROSA COUNTY, FL
Oakland Basin and Shipyard Point
One of the most beautiful areas in historic Bagdad was the southern waterfront known as Oakland Basin. The basin is defined by a curved point of land to the east called Shipyard Point. The long peninsula was most likely created as the Blackwater River shifted its course, forming the islands and drifts made up of sand and sediment. A man-made channel called Dutchmen’s Cut was built for convenience to access the river instead of traveling the distance around the peninsula.
(Above) This photo of Oakland Basin was taken in 1912.
(Right) As seen in this aerial photo, Oakland Basin is defined by a curved point of land to the east of Bagdad called Shipyard Point. The long peninsula extends southward creating the basin. Dutchman's Cut is a man-made channel slicing through the peninsula.
Oakland Basin had two main facilities that offered the community leisure time enjoyment. Located on the waterfront, the Odd Fellows Pavilion was one of several properties owned by the IOOF. Members gathered at the facility regularly for social events. A favorite was the weekly dances which were advertised in the Milton Gazette.
(Above) This photo shows the grove of oaks at Odd Fellows Pavilion on Oakland Basin.
The other popular site was Tomasello’s Bath House. The bath house was located at the end of a pier and was open to the public. Arrangements could be made to use the bath house for private parties if desired. The Milton Gazette published the rules and charges for the bath house. The cost to bathers was 10 cents each with no exceptions per Mrs. P. Tomasello.
(Above) This photo was taken at Oakland Basin with Tomasello's Bath House in the background.
Shipyard Point was the busier side of Oakland Basin. It is here that Captain John Gardner established the first shipyard in 1833. The yard extended from Tampa Landing on the Blackwater River and wrapped around the point to the interior of Oakland Basin. At its largest, the shipyard covered 21 acres of the peninsula.
Through the years, the owners of the shipyard were John Gardner, Henry Farley, Joseph Forsyth, E. E. Simpson & Company, and, finally, William M. Ollinger and Martin F. Bruce.
In 1858, William Ollinger and Martin Bruce formed a partnership to construct a small repair plant and marine railway at the settlement of Bagdad on the Blackwater River. For the next sixty years the firm of Ollinger & Bruce and its successor, the Bruce Drydock Company, operated a shipyard at this site.
(Right) This photo shows one of the floating dry-docks built by Ollinger & Bruce. The structure was made of heart pine and was submersible.
The two partners built floating drydocks of yellow heart pine. Each was anchored to the river bottom using twenty tons of ballast per section. These drydocks were capable of lifting large vessels out of the water using hands pumps. It took approximately 40 men from ten to fifteen hours to raise a vessel for repair.
In 1861, the Ollinger & Bruce Company was awarded a contract authorized by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to construct one of three gunboats. Upon completion, the gunboats would be deployed to defend the coast of Florida and its rivers.
(Left) In this photo, long ladders allowed workers to reach the topside of the dry-dock. The series of pumps on each side of the platform were used to fill the chambers causing the structure to sink. Once the platform was submersed, the vessel was positioned and the process reversed. It took approximately 40 men from 10 to 15 hours to raise a vessel.
On March 11, 1862, the nearly completed gunboat, along with Ollinger and Bruce’s shipyard, was destroyed by Confederate troops to prevent it falling into Union hands. This occurred under the command of Lt. Col. William K. Beard of the 1st Florida Regiment Volunteers during the Confederate retreat into Alabama. Ollinger and Bruce were able to save their drydocks from destruction by submerging them below the surface of the Blackwater River. Following the Civil War, the partners raised the sunken drydocks, and rebuilt their shipyard.
(Right) This photo is of the same vessel shown above. At the sides and stern, stanchions can be seen which hold the vessel in place. The main rail is off the starboard for repair or replacement. Each one these drydocks built by Ollinger & Bruce was anchored to the bottom of the river using twenty tons of ballast.
Through the decades of the 1870s and 1880s, Ollinger & Bruce engaged specifically in the repair of the region’s large schooner fleet with some occasional ship building. The company continued business in Bagdad until 1890 when Mobile, Alabama, began drawing business to their port. At that time William Ollinger left Bagdad to build a 6000-ton capacity steamship drydock in Mobile. The Alabama Drydock & Shipbuilding Company grew from this company in the twentieth century.
(Left) This photo was taken around the turn of the twentieth century. Behind the impressive riverboat, a three-masted ship is in place for repairs at the Bruce Drydock Company. George Bruce, son of Martin F. Bruce, formed this company upon the passing of his father. The Bruce Drydock Company continued in Bagdad until 1917.
Martin Bruce remained in Bagdad where he later fell ill, passing away in 1894. He was succeeded in the business by his eldest son, George Bruce. George formed the Bruce Drydock Company at Bagdad which continued until 1917.
Today, a few remnants of the Ollinger & Bruce Shipyard can be seen along the banks of the Blackwater River. They are a reminder of the industrial prosperity that support businesses shared with the Bagdad Lumber Mill in its harvesting, milling, and shipping of yellow pine lumber in Northwest Florida.