Former Big Lake Refuge managers home brings back memories
Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jeremy Bennett recently enjoyed a visit with Margaret Webb of Jacksonville, the daughter of former refuge manager Olin Cash. Cash served as Big Lake's manager from 1937 to 1943. Cash came to Big Lake after serving in the Navy.
Mr. Cash was the fifth Big Lake National Wildlife manager after its development in 1915. He met and married his bride, Rebecca, in Tennessee and their first home was the house at Timms Point next to the Refuge headquarters.
Ms. Webb and her sister were born during her father's years at Big Lake. They left the area in 1943 and her only memories of the area are what she had heard and seen through pictures.
Ms. Webb said she was very excited to visit the place of her birth. She was also happy to get copies of data her father had written while serving at Big Lake.
Bennett was also pleased to get copies of some of the photographs she had of the early headquarters, her father, houseboats, and the house at Timms Point.
The house was auctioned and moved to its present site north of the Manila Nursing Center.
"The owners of the house were very nice and let me go through it," Ms. Webb said. "They told me the cypress paneling and a side door are original. The house had been remodeled but the bedrooms were in the same place as when we lived there."
Bennett said the early managers at Big Lake had a tough time.
"People hunted for a living and they did not want the regulations," Bennett said.
Ms. Webb said when they left Big Lake her dad transferred to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in 1943, which is located in the Apalachicola National Forest. Big Lake and the Panacea Unit is a part of the Southeast Region of the National Park Service. They loved living at Big Lake. Their families were close enough to visit often but when they transferred to Florida, Mrs. Cash missed her family's visits. They left Florida and moved to Jackson, Tenn.
"When we moved to Tennessee, Dad went to work for the postal department and retired from there," Ms. Webb said. "After he retired he got into the real estate development business and had a part in developing three or four subdivisions."
She said he always kept his love of the outdoors and hunting.
"His heart was in Arkansas and he enjoyed returning to hunt," she said.
Her sister Carrie remembers them talking about the paratroopers getting caught in the trees when they would parachute on training missions during the war. Their dad would climb the trees and help them down. He would also find lost hunters and help them find their way out. Mrs. Cash loved to hear the sound of the wind rustle through the pine trees. They also talked about serving lunch to officials when they were visiting Big Lake.
Mr. Cash passed away on Nov. 10, 1974, and Mrs. Cash died in 1996.
Lonnie Wright of Manila is a longtime Big Lake enthusiast. He was born in 1924 and has spent a big part of his life at Big Lake. He has had a houseboat there since he returned from the Navy. His houseboat was the last one taken from the water and is now on dry land. He still enjoys being at the lake most every day. He said there were a lot of houseboats at one time.
"There was a double-decker houseboat and when crews came in to work they would stay on the houseboat. It had a cook shack," Wright said.
He said he remembers Mr. Cash and remembers well the house headquarters building at Timms Landing. He said it was built through the WPA and was a beautiful place.
"I bid on the house when it went up for auction," Wright said. "Dr. Shaneyfelt out bid me by $60. The house had one foot centers. It was well built."
Wright said it was tough on some of the early wildlife managers to try to enforce the law but it was tough on the hunters who had always made their living hunting, trapping, and fishing.
"Men made their living and fed their families hunting and trapping," he said. "They didn't want to farm, they were hunters and trappers. The freight packed in ice was hauled out by wagons to the depot. The ice was cut out of Big Lake in the winter and filled up the ice house. Hook McCullough hauled ducks to the railroad to be shipped out. Hides were also shipped out."
He said in the early years after regulations were set violators would get fined and maybe get their log nets taken away.
"Today the fines are big and they can lose their boats and trailers," he said.
Wright has known all of the Big Lake managers who have served during his lifetime.
A list of managers include: Major Tucker 1915-1916; George Ridic 1916-1917; Levin L. Bryan 1917-1931; Steve Crosley 1931-1937; Olin H. Cash 1937-1943; Joe Morton 1943-1956; William H. Julian 1956-1958; David W. Peterson 1958-1960; Oscar G. Robertson 1960-1963; Bobby W. Brown 1963-1974; John H. Doebel 1974-1975; Marvin L. Nichols 1975-1984; Donald J. Kosin 1984-1990; Luke F. Eggering 1991-1993; Darrin B. Unruh 1993-1997; Clarke Dirks 1998-2000; Brian Braudis 2001-2004; Jeremy Bennett 2004-present.