While the Milton area can trace its rich history back to 1559 when Don Tristan de Luna first explored Florida’s panhandle, the City of Milton was officially incorporated under the Florida Territorial Acts of 1844.
History suggests that in the early 1800s, the area was originally referred to as “Blackwater,” after the river where the settlement began. According to legend, it was also called “Scottman’s Anchorage” for the barges that traversed the river and “Scratch Ankle” for the brambles and briars that grew along its banks.
In those early years, the Blackwater River served as the settlement’s main transportation artery for timber, lumber, brick, naval stores and shipbuilding industries. As the South embraced the Industrial Revolution, Scratch Ankle became home to the largest in the region and was renamed “Milltown,” which eventually gave way to Milton. The Arcadia Mill was Florida’s largest antebellum industrial complex and the first in the South to turn local natural resources into finished products.
Milton’s industrial boom suffered a crushing blow during the Civil War. Commercial facilities were destroyed to prevent their being used by Union forces, estates were lost as residents fled to Alabama, and progress was halted for the duration of the war.
In the early 1880s, the railroad came to Milton, expanding the area’s commercial opportunities. As the timber industry grew and extended deeper into the region’s dense forests, railroad tracks began to cover the county. Wooded areas were cleared, giving way to farmland, and Milton entered a new era of growth in cotton and peanuts.
Milton was struck by three devastating fires, in 1885, 1892 and 1909. Each blaze destroyed much of the fledgling town’s commercial district, but the 1909 fire razed nearly every building within two blocks of the river, excepting the old courthouse on Berryhill Road. Today’s historic downtown reflects the city’s aggressive rebuilding efforts in the years following the fires.
By the early 20th century, Milton was providing advanced services and conveniences enjoyed by larger cities. In 1910, an electrical plant and 110-foot water tower were installed at the edge of town on Berryhill Road. Over the next several years, modern infrastructure began to come online, including sewer lines, paved streets and a bridge to cross the river.
As World War II approached, Milton was chosen as the site for NAS Whiting Field, a preeminent training facility for Naval Aviators, and the community quickly embraced the service members and their families. Today Milton is a growing, progressive city balancing small-town charm and modern urban life.