HALFWAY POND CAMP SITE (Cowpen Lake)
William Bartram made two trips with Indian traders into the interior of north Florida in spring 1774. They followed an established trading path that originated at the Lower Spalding Store, located at today’s Stoke’s Landing on the St. Johns River. The first trip in April 1774 carried Bartram and his companions to the “Alachua Savanna,” today Paynes Prairie, the Indian town of Cuscowilla, both south of Gainesville; the second trip in mid-June, with the traders, to the Alachua Savanna, Long Pond (near Chiefland), the Indian town and trading post of Talahascohte, Manatee Springs, and the Suwannee River. William found many intriguing plants and animals along this path, which he described and illustrated.
Bartram and his companions camped at Halfway Pond, about a long days-ride from the lower store. This site was located in the vicinity of today’s Cowpen Lake, west of the town of Interlachen, in western Putnam County. Although not specifically located, his camp, described in the following excerpt from his Travels, may have been located in the vicinity of a small water-filled sinkhole, known locally as Blue Pond, an arm of one of the larger pools in the Cowpen Lake basin. Halfway Pond, the adjoining lakes in the basin, and their surrounding pine lands were probably the sources for Bartram’s illustrations of the Florida softshell turtle, several sunfishes, coachwhip snake, and gopher tortoise.
Bartram described the area as “…a spacious meadow, beneath a chain of elevated sand hills, the sheet of water at this time was about three miles in circumference; the upper end, and just under the hills, is surrounded by a crescent of dark groves, which shaded a rocky grotto. Near this place, was a sloping green bank, terminating by a point of flat rocks, which projected into the lake, and formed one point of the crescent that partly surrounded the vast grotto or bason of transparent water, which is called by the traders a sinkhole. Just by the little cape of flat rocks, we fixed our encampment.”
“LITTLE CAPE OF FLAT ROCKS”
For years, the idea of rocks in the vicinity of the trader’s camp thwarted naturalists who tried to trace William Bartram’s trail through north Florida. There are no known limestone outcrops at the surface in the sandhill district of western Putnam County. Blue Pond, and by extension, a sand-and-clay mine at nearby Edgar, may provide an answer. Bartram’s flat rocks were not limestones at all, but fine-grained, white or variegated kaolin clays that typically formed hardened flat layers. These exposures are developed as outcrops along the south shore of Blue Pond, as well as other shorelines in the Cowpen Lake basin. These Pliocene-aged clays, mined in the Edgar area for more than 100 years, are the sources for a fine potter’s clay, known by the trade name EPK.
FLUCTUATING LAKE LEVELS
The lakes in the western Putnam sandhills are controlled by a surficial aquifer that fluctuates with rainfall. Water seeps from sands of the surrounding sandhill pinelands into sinkhole depressions buried in carbonate rocks. When rainfall is abundant, lake levels rise; during droughts, they fall. Water also leaks through the porous bottoms of many of the local lakes further contributing to lake level changes. Lake levels may have been high when William Bartram passed through the area in 1774, based on his description of a “sheet of water about three miles in circumference.”
The Cowpen Lake area is privately owned and there is no public access to the lakes. There are, however, many scenic rural roads that crisscross the lake area. Route 20A, probably following the old Trader’s Path, is part of the Putnam Bartram Century Bike route. See maps for biking information.
Bartram Trail Site Marker Number 30 has not been erected. No convenient placement for the marker has yet been found. The Lake however can be seen from Highway 20 at the coordinates provided above (Figure 1).
Links and References
Bartram’s Travels Online
Coordinates: 29° 36.625’N 81° 59.623’W
The coordinates given for this site those of State Road 20’s closest approach to Cowpen Lake. The Lake can be seen from the roadway at this point.