All along Pasco County's west coast are inlets, bayous, coves, and creeks that bear unique names—some of which have significant meaning to our local history.
One such name with great historical significance is that of Fillman Bayou located west of , near Aripeka.
Named for one of west Pasco’s pioneers — Martin D. Fillman — this natural bayou has been the scene of activity for more than a century.
So, who was Martin D. Fillman and what impacts did he have on this region of Pasco County?
Fillman’s Military Career & Controversy
Born December 12, 1833, in Columbia County, Florida, Martin D. Fillman was a true Florida pioneer.
While little is known about his early childhood, muster rolls show that at age 21 he enlisted at Fort Fraizer as a private with Captain Frances M. Durrance’s Company of Florida Mounted Volunteers.
For six months, Fillman roamed the Florida wilderness with his mounted comrades offering protection to residents from the illusive and raiding Seminoles.
On December 21, 1856, this volunteer company was mustered out and from there, Fillman found his way to Hernando County.
But, Fillman’s military career didn’t end there. In July 1861, as local companies were being formed in Hernando County for service under the Confederacy, he made his way to Bayport, where he enlisted in Captain John Parsons’ Independent Company.
On June 21, 1862, after nearly a year of serving on the home front, Fillman then joined Capt. Samuel E. Hope’s Company, which saw service in various parts of Florida including Olustee.
But, this is where our story takes a turn.
According to pension records and Fillman’s own testimony, in the winter of 1863 he was disabled by “a severe attack of fever,” but was honorably discharged in Hernando, Florida at the expiration of his services in 1865—the end of the war.
However, the muster rolls tell a different story. According to War Department records, on October 25, 1863, about the time of his illness, Fillman was shown as being “dropped from the rolls, having deserted to the enemy.”
But, these War Department records seem to conflict with those records compiled by the Florida Legislature in 1903, which reveal= Martin D. Fillman was mustered out of Capt./ Samuel E. Hope’s Company on April 12, 1865.
Yet, in 1913, the claim of desertion was backed by Capt. Samuel Hope, who, in a letter, wrote,
“The official records are correct. M.D. Fillman, David Osborn, and Revels deserted my company at that date [October 25, 1863] while on Pickett Duty on the Homosassa River. I don’t think Fillman returned until after the war.”
This charge of desertion followed Fillman to the grave and later resulted in a denied claim of a widow’s pension for his wife, Annie Raulerson.
Life on the Bayou
Following the Civil War, Fillman returned to Hernando County, where he carved out a new life and way of living, although having sustained serious injuries during his service.
Only 30 years old at the time, he was suffering from a broken rib, badly injured left hand, and a gun-shot wound to his left leg about half way between his ankle and knee.
These injuries likely made manual labor difficult, but Fillman still worked hard to provide for his family.
Sometime between 1867 and 1869, census records show the family moved to our coast, settling on 40 acres situated at the head of the bayou that bears his name—Fillman Bayou.
Here, Fillman built his family a simple log cabin home and took to the land with his plow to grow cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and an abundant crop of sugar cane that was processed into cane syrup.
But, farming wasn’t his only occupation.
In addition to working the land, Fillman also owned a small sailing boat that he sailed to Cedar Keys every Monday, where it was loaded with goods that were brought back and sold in the vicinity of Gulf Key, now known as Aripeka.
Not only did this provide Fillman with a steady income, but it also provided sustenance to neighboring pioneers beyond the standard crops, fish, and wild game hunted in the region.
Fillman’s work was not only important to these pioneers but in some senses was vital to their survival.
In 1885, Fillman was described as having an athletic form with a devastated face from the sun, but was notably “a true type of sea wolf, less the coarseness of language.”
But, after living on the bayou for more than 20 years, there was no doubt that age was beginning to take its toll on the rugged sea-farer.
By 1900, Fillman had given up his sea-faring ways and at age 66 was working as a farm hand in the Macon community of east Pasco, where he lived with his son-in-law and daughter, Charlotte Hopkins Potter.
According to pension records, on April 11, 1905, Martin D. Fillman died in Zolfo, Florida, however it remains unclear where he was buried.
The Bayou’s Future
Today, Fillman Bayou is a favorite fishing spot for Pasco County anglers, many who might be unaware of this natural feature’s history and name origins.
According to Anglersinfo.com, most of Fillman Bayou is a shallow, rock-strewn mud bed, with a few fresh water springs that help moderate temperatures in extremely cold conditions.
While the numerous rock piles contain crab, shrimp, and other small invertebrates, the sea-grass beds, shoreline sloughs, and mangroves offer an ideal feeding opportunity for most fish.
At the back of the bayou exists a 16-foot canal dredged in the 1950s with the intentions of shipping lime rock by barge from Belcher’s Mine, now known as SunWest Mine.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, in April 2009, developers got the unanimous approval from Pasco County Commissioners to build the proposed SunWest Harbourtowne on the site of the still active lime rock mine.
With 2,500 homes, 250 hotel rooms, a convention center, 250,000 square feet of stores, 50,000 square feet of office space, an 18-hole golf course, 500 boat slips, a marina, and a nearly 5-mile long boating channel, the project will bring Fillman Bayou to the forefront of Pasco’s west coast boating activities.
According to WUSF, in May 2011, the project got approval from Governor Rick Scott and the Florida cabinet, who unanimously approved a 50-year lease and dredging of state-owned submerged land to joint applicants Pasco County and SunWest Acquisition Corp.
But, the channel project still needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.