Bagdad can build on history with a new center, parks and innovative designs to make it a ‘Heritage Village’

Published on September 06, 2013 with No Comments

The Riverfront Master Plan would showcase Bagdad’s remarkable history and the distinct qualities that make it a “heritage village” which began as a lumber mill town two centuries ago.

The plan shows ways to maximize the village’s appeal both through its history and through realignment of parks to make public spaces more accommodating to visitors and residents. The improvements would allow more people to appreciate Bagdad, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Heritage Village would be an inviting campus of historic homes, shops, churches and parks that encourage people to explore the community on foot, always better than a car for up-close experiences.

Forsyth Street would be transformed into a pedestrian-friendly “main street,” with two travel lanes and more useable pedestrian space, including areas for seating, trees and historic signs as well as some parking. The road would accommodate bicyclists, too.

Gateways would welcome people to the historic district at the intersections of Forsyth Street and Garcon Point Road and at Forsyth Street and Main Street. The campus environment will extend westward, with interpretive areas that offer seating, shade shelters and panels and displays of historical and architectural significance. East of Forsyth Street, Elm, Overman and Bushnell streets will be upgraded to improve bicycle and pedestrian circulation.

A new Bagdad Heritage Center would be located at the northeast corner of Forsyth and Main streets, a location which allows the center to integrate with Mill park and serve as a gateway to the community. It could be a visitor information center, with interactive displays, educational experiences and artifacts. It would be designed to be architecturally compatible with the area and include outdoor displays, gardens and a pedestrian connection to Mill Park and the riverfront. Parking would be in the rear.

Mill Park could be linked to other waterfront parks by extending the current dead-end road to tie in with Water Street. This design integrates Mill Park with Oyster Pile Park and Shipyard Park and offers a loop that connects back to Forsyth Street. In addition, a separate plan commissioned by Santa Rosa County calls for redevelopment of the old mill site at Mill Park.

At Oyster Pile Park, car and trailer parking can be shifted westward to link it with Shipyard Park as one contiguous recreation space along the river. Other suggested improvements: A continuous boardwalk along the riverfront, a public restroom, better picnic facilities.

Dorr Landing would be dedicated to canoe and kayak launching only, as recommended in a previous study, the Bagdad Transportation and Master Plan.

Bagdad’s history is intertwined with that of Forsyth and Simpson, a company that became a major player in the timber industry after it developed Florida’s first industrial site at the confluence of the Blackwater River and Pond Creek to mill longleaf yellow pine.

The company became a major exporter and the community survived even the Civil War, when both Confederate and Union forces burned Bagdad to prevent the other from gaining a strategic edge.

By the early 1900s, Bagdad was the largest economic center in Florida, with the growth of shipbuilding an important boost to the economy. By 1939, however, the local economy was withering under the Great Depression, the depletion of long leaf pine and the closing of the mill.

Still, many important historic markers remain, including the Thompson House on Forsyth Street. It survived the Civil War fires and is an ante-bellum landmark. There also are many diverse architectural styles in the village, including Saltbox, Shotgun and Creole Cottage.


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