Located in the once-thriving small sawmill town of Ellaville, Florida, sits the Hillman Bridge. The town was also known for a manufacturing center which along, with the sawmill, were own by George Franklin Drew, Florida’s twelfth governor from January 2, 1877, to January 4, 1881.
It was named for Captain W. J. Hillman of Live Oak, a member of the State Road Department who pushed for the construction of the bridge. Construction took place between 1925 – 1926 as a federal aid project and was built by the R. H. H. Blackwell Co. of East Aurora, New York.
The State Chamber of Commerce did not want to name the bridge after either Hillman or Ellaville; members felt to the average tourist it would be as distinctive as the name “Bridge #1313.” Instead, the Chamber wanted to name the bridge after the Suwanee River or after Stephen Foster, whose song “Old Folks at Home” immortalized the Suwanee River. The local newspaper, The Evening Independent, played devil’s advocate, pointing out that another newspaper had misspelled “Suwanee” twice in the same article. “If the press could misspell the name, then so could tourists, and, that could be counterproductive.”
After all the arguments were settled, the Hillman name remained standing, and the bridge was dedicated in 1927. In 1983, a truck carrying an over-height load across the bridge hit one of the steel crossbeams and tore it loose from the structure. The Florida Department of Transportation was already in talks to build a new bridge alongside the old one and did so in 1986.
The original bridge remains today but is restricted to foot and bike traffic.
Governor George Franklin Drew
Governor Drew was born in Alton, New Hampshire, on August 6, 1827. At twenty in 1947, he moved south to Columbus, George and opened a machine shop, and also engaged in lumbering in the area. Then in 1865 he moved to Ellaville and built Florida’s largest sawmill along the Suwanee River.
In 1876, Florida was on the brink of insolvency and looked to Drew to save her honor and regain her credit. At the convention, he was nominated by acclamation. When he entered office, the State had bonded and floating debt of nearly $2,000,000. There was no money in the treasury; the industries of the State had not recovered from the depressing effect of 1873; State script, of which there was about $40,000 in the treasury, was only worth 75 cents on the dollar and 7 percent interest-bearing bonds sold for only 65 cents on the dollar, 6 percent were worth 60 cents.
After a single term, Governor Drew retired to private life and left the state in a much better position. Bonds were sold at a premium, the floating debt had been paid off, and taxes had been reduced each year of his administration.
During September 1900, Amelia, his wife, was in poor health and taken a turn for the worse. He wrote to his daughter and said he didn’t want to go on living without his wife. Amelia passed away on September 26. After making her funeral arrangements, he sat down on the veranda of their Jacksonville home, drawing one long breath, and then grasping a couple of times, he passed away. His doctor diagnosed him as dying from a broken heart.