The coming of railroads in the 1850s affected Apalachicola's role in the formerly lucrative cotton trade. The town's dwindling economy was further shattered during the Civil War by a blockade that sealed off the harbor. The economy remained affected until a decade after the war, when a thriving lumber industry developed to revive the town's income. The town rode the crest of the lumber boom until 1930, when the Apalachicola River floodplain was stripped of cypress. Facing another economic crash, Apalachicola began to capitalize on a readily available natural resource. The bay had been a source of sponges and seafood since the early settlement days and seafood canning became the tow's main industry.
A true citizen of Apalachicola: Arriving in 1833 and remaining until his death in 1855, Dr. John Gorrie, a brilliant physician and inventor, developed a refrigeration unit used to cool the rooms of yellow fever patients. His machine laid the groundwork for modern refrigeration and air conditioning and was the first patented ice machine.
Yellow Fever was a mysterious, vicious disease that claimed up to 70 percent of its victims. Symptoms began with shivering, high fever, insatiable thirst, savage headaches and severe back and leg pains. In a day or so, the restless patient became jaundiced, turning yellow. In the terminal stages, patients spit up blood, blood temperatures dropped, pulse faded and the comatose patient, who was cold to the touch, would die in eight to 10 hours. Victims were buried as quickly as possible. Areas were quarantined and yellow flags flown. Gauze was hung over beds to filter air, handkerchiefs were soaked in vinegar and garlic was worn in shoes. Bed linens and compresses were soaked in camphor and sulfur was burned in outdoor smudge pots. Gunpowder was burned and cannons were fired. When it was over, cleaning and fumigation began.
Not long after the death of Dr. Gorrie in 1855, famed botanist and physician Alvan Wentworth Chapman commented to celebrated botanist Asa Gray, "Gray, there is the grave of a man we recognize as superior to all of us." The technology needed to discover the cure for yellow fever still does not exist. Gorrie's valiant attempt inadvertently created a machine and theory that changed the world forever. The John Gorrie Museum State Park reveals this remarkable and compassionate man and shows the amazing machine he created.
Dr. Gorrie, physician and inventor became so absorbed in his air conditioning that he gave up medical practice to promote his ice machine. An agent appointed in Manhattan was of no help, so Dr. Gorrie traveled to New Orleans and found a Boston man who bought half the project. When the Bostonian died, unable to interest anyone else and almost penniless, Dr. Gorrie returned home to Apalachicola, secluded himself, fell into depression, became ill and died at age 52.