This Civil War-era town flourished briefly in the 19th century before a series of tragedies led the town to ruin.
Ellaville was founded around 1861 when George Drew, a businessman who would later become the first governor of Florida after Reconstruction, built a mansion on the western banks of the Suwannee River. He named the town Ellaville as a tribute to Ella, his long-time African-American servant. After the Civil War, Drew and his partner, Louis Bucki, opened a steam-operated sawmill. The mill was soon the largest in Florida, employing 500+ people. The Florida Railroad would eventually build a rail-line through town, with direct service to the mill.
Ellaville was soon booming, boasting a population of about 1,000 people by the early 1870s. In addition to the mill and train station, it had a steamboat dock, a Masonic lodge, two churches, two schools, and a commissary. George Drew became one of the richest post-Civil War businessmen in Florida. In 1876, he was elected governor of the state.
After his term as governor was completed, Drew sold his company shares to Bucki and left Ellaville to pursue other ventures in Jacksonville. The mill in Ellaville burned down in 1898. Though it was quickly rebuilt, there was no longer an abundance of pine available for harvest. During the early 1900s, major flooding of the rivers and the Great Depression took their toll on the town. The town finally vanished after the post office closed in 1942. The Drew Mansion, after having been abandoned because of flood damage, experienced years of vandalism before it burned to the ground in the 1970s. In 1986, the Hillman Bridge — built by a Federal Aid Project in 1925 — was also abandoned when a new thoroughfare was built.
Today, very little remains of Ellaville. The old bridge is there, and offers nice views of the limestone banks of the Suwannee River and the railroad bridge. If you hike on the Florida Trails that start at the parking lot and picnic area at the west end of the Hillman Bridge, you might catch a glimpse of some of the foundation of the Drew Mansion, though it’s usually covered by vegetation. A flywheel from the sawmill is on display at nearby Suwannee River State Park. An old cemetery is located on River Road south of Highway 90. Interestingly, only a few of the town’s abandoned homes remain empty; a number of them — though lopsided, dilapidated and time-worn — have again become occupied.
Know Before You Go
On the western side of the Suwanee River. Drive west on Highway 90; the sign for Ellaville can be seen as you cross the river.