|Welcome to Florida's Hometown!
1912 Tragedy at Neal's Landing
by Dale Cox
|Copyright 2010 by Dale Cox
All Rights Reserved
The wooden ferry ramp can still be seen
leading into the river at Neal's Landing.
the river here during that war and for decades the large Creek Indian village of Ekanachatte or
“Red Ground” stood at this spot. During the 19th century Neal’s Landing became an important
riverboat port and ferry landing. Today State Highway 2 crosses the river here thanks to a
In the days before the present bridge or the well-remembered suspension or “swinging”
bridge that preceded it, travelers had to cross the Chattahoochee River on ferryboats, flat
barges that carried them from Neal’s Landing across to Seminole County, Georgia. It was one
of these that capsized resulting in the Christmas tragedy of 1912.
Available accounts do not record how many people were on the ferry when it flipped over in the
cold December waters, but people from at least two families lost their lives in the accident.
Others, including the ferry operator, were evidently saved.
A young child was among the dead but because of his race and in the custom of the times, his
name was not given in the newspapers. The other two victims were identified as 25-year-old
James H. “Jim” Avery and his 17-year-old wife, Willie Mae Hewett Avery. Mr. Avery, in an
unusual twist of fate, was the only survivor of an 1862 slave uprising that left both of his
parents dead. He and his wife were on their way to for a Christmas visit with her sister in the
Parramore community of Jackson County.
Rescuers searched desperately for the missing people and then continued a search for their
bodies for days, but no trace of them was found for four months. It was not until April of 1912
that, oddly, all three bodies were found more than 75 miles downstream from Neal’s Landing
at Ricco’s Bluff in Liberty County, Florida. Mrs. Avery was identified by a coat she had borrowed
from a relative due to the cold weather, while accounts of the time indicated that the $35 that
Mr. Avery normally kept pinned in his vest pocket was still there when his body was found.
Newspapers of the time were at a loss to explain how all three bodies were found together
more than 75 miles from the point that all three had drowned. The only suggestion offered was
that perhaps they had all become trapped in driftwood that had carried them together down
such a great distance of flooded, twisting river channels.
Although they are seldom remembered today, such tragedies were commonplace for our
ancestors. Newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries are filled with similar accounts
of ferry accidents and steamboat collisions or explosions along the Chattahoochee and
During the 19th century, for example, another accident at Neal's Landing also claimed
numerous lives. The steamboat Eagle caught fire there while making its way down the river
from Columbus, Georgia, to Apalachicola, Florida. Several people lost their lives in the flames
that engulfed the beautiful paddlewheel riverboat and a shipment of gold from a Columbus
bank wound up on the bottom of the Chattahoochee River. A young girl was praised for
heroism after rescuing several passengers in that accident. The lost gold was later recovered.
Neal’s Landing – A Christmas visit to family
and friends turned tragic for a Georgia couple
and the child of another family when the
ferryboat at Neal’s Landing capsized on
December 23, 1912. All three lost their lives
in the cold waters of the Chattahoochee River.
Neal’s Landing, located in the far northeast
corner of Jackson County and now a popular
park and boat landing, has been an
important crossing point on the
Chattahoochee River since before the
American Revolution. British troops ferried