Governor George F. Drew Mansion & the Ghost town of Ellaville | Madison County, FL
Along the western banks of the Suwannee River in 1861, George Franklin Drew founded a small settlement here that he named Ellaville, in honor of his long-time servant, Ella. He opened a steam-operated sawmill which soon became the largest in Florida at that time, employing 500 people. Ellaville was soon booming, with about 1,000 residents and a rail line was built through town with direct service to the mill.
In addition to the mill and train station, it had a steamboat dock, a Masonic lodge, two churches, two schools, and a commissary.
During the 1870s, George F. Drew amassed a small fortune from his sawmill and lumber business and became popularly known as “Millionaire Drew,” a moniker that gained him recognition as an important North Florida businessman. He was one of the richest post-Civil War businessmen in Florida and in 1868, construction of this great home began. The two-story mansion, surrounded by formal gardens, was one of the first homes in the area to have modern facilities.
In the early-1870s, Drew was appointed a Madison County commissioner, and in 1876 he won the gubernatorial election following a hotly contested vote recount. As governor, Drew played a major role in state and national political events that eventually led to the “Compromise of 1877” and the end of Reconstruction in Florida. Drew counted among his successes the creation of the State Bureau of Immigration, which helped promote settlement. The Florida State Grange was chartered with Drew’s support, and his administration also oversaw the first implementation of county and city boards of health.
After his term as governor was completed, Drew sold his company shares to Bucki and left Ellaville to pursue other ventures in Jacksonville.
Like the fate of most agricultural economies, the successes and defeats of the next hundred years would depend heavily on environmental and economic factors. In 1898, the original mill burned and although it was rebuilt, the industry would quickly exhaust the yellow pine it harvested and would close for good. The early 1900s brought flooding and of course Wars and a depression.
The floods and the Great Depression took their toll on the town. In 1942, the post office closed its doors for good.
Throughout these trying times, I suppose Ellaville held on to it’s relevance because of its location on the Florida Railway Mainline between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. And in present day, the bridges into Ellaville are the only epitaphs of what once was. They hold faithfully to the past even though the rest of the town has burned or crumbled to the ground. The railroad bridge has seen many reincarnations and was once reportedly deconstructed during Governor Drew’s election as carpetbaggers approached by train trying to derail his gubernatorial bid. The main traffic bridge in to town is known as the Hillman Bridge has known many forms as well.
The Drew Mansion Over the Years
The Drew Mansion, after having been abandoned because of flood damage, experienced years of vandalism before it burned to the ground in the 1970s.
Today, very little else remains of Ellaville besides the old bridge and the ruins of an old river store and fueling station. In the colder months, you might catch a glimpse of the foundation of the old Drew mansion, if it isn’t covered in vegetation.