French Colony in Santa Rosa County?
ASHS Column for 01/05 06
Belandville. There are many people
across our area that may have never
heard of this community. As I understand
it, there’s not much left there to tell the
story of its beginnings, much less its
In the early years of the Great
Depression, Albertino J. Beland had
access to several hundred acres in north
Santa Rosa County, Florida. The land
was in a remote area of the Florida
panhandle, but Beland saw a great
opportunity for people with
similar interests and talents to begin life anew.
He formed a farming colony of French-Canadians in the woods near McClellan, Florida. It was land deemed nearly worthless at the time, because logging had decimated it, so it was bare of trees.
The promise held by Beland was imaginative: the settlers needed a vision to band together and set in motion a community where its citizens produced all they needed. It could be a Utopia of sorts, with a common language (French) and a common goal (self-sufficiency). It’s not clear whether they intended to attempt to form a government separate from that which was already established.
Over one hundred families created a village with all the necessities. They built a cannery, a post office, a winery, some general stores, a church, a creamery, and by one account, even a mill to make hosiery. A post office, with a Mr. Gerad Paridise as postmaster, was even established so the community’s mail would not have to be delivered to a Munson rural route.
Settlers with enough money to purchase the land from Beland were sought by advertisements in French-speaking magazines and newspapers across the U.S. and Canada. Even local businessmen from Brewton saw profit in such an endeavor. In the February, 1933 issue of the "Brewton Trade Record," an article was written in great detail how a group of Brewton storeowners and influential businessmen made a field trip to see Beland and his creation.
After Beland had been the guest of the Brewton Rotary Club he invited the businessmen to visit the colony. The article tells of "four or five cars" making the 22-mile trip to Belandville where they were treated to a lunch of dainty sandwiches and "extra good coffee."
Beland chose his colonists according to conditions he’d placed in force. He told them if they put forth the effort in Santa Rosa County that they had in more extreme climates they would be better rewarded here for the fruits of their labor. He made sure those who came were able to pay cash in full because he would not sell by payments. Beland may have felt the moment was ripe for such communities to again spring up all over the United States. It was time for men to free themselves from the industrialized world and fend for themselves as was once done in this country!
Beland took the Brewton businessmen on a tour of his dream society, impressing the Brewton men with his organization and vision. They listened to Beland tell of the future hope he had for the community. He told how besides the money the colonists spent for land and homes over the past two years, some $200,000.00 had been spent in the region, purchasing farm machinery, building materials, and fencing.
The Brewton men realized that most of that money was spent in Pensacola, because Beland’s offices were located there! They began to try to persuade Beland to make more purchases of necessities from the stores in Brewton, using the logic that Pensacola was some 55 miles away, Milton over 30 miles, but Brewton was only about 22 miles. To them it made good sense that the Belandvillites would be better off to make the shorter trip to obtain the same goods and services!
What eventually happened to the innovative colony is not known, except that it seems the 1930s was not a good time for such a daring venture. By the end of the decade, most of the settlers had moved away. It’s said that there’s hardly any sign there was ever a village or town there. There may be a few bricks here and there, the remnants of the creamery or the cannery, but other than that, the forest has taken root once again.
Nature, like hope, springs eternal.
Research for this article was taken from the archives of the Escambia County Historical Society’s Alabama Room, in the McMillan Museum at Jefferson Davis Community College, Brewton. Other information may be gotten from the book, "Belandville: A French-Canadian Colony in West Florida" ($7.95 plus tax and shipping), by Laura Lee Scott, Patagonia Press, P.O. Box 284, Bagdad, FL 32530.
The annual meeting of the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society is 7 pm Tuesday, January 17. Members, be sure to attend, and visitors are always welcome. Come join us for potluck supper and great fellowship! RSVP, please. For more information, call Margaret Collier at 850-256-2029, or me, at 850-256-2661.