Friday, December 26, 2014

Snippets of Christmas past

Screengrab of vintage line drawing of Santa coming out of the chimney
A look at Santa as he appeared in the Dec. 23, 1896
issue of the Ocala Evening Star newspaper.
Credit: Library of Congress's Chronicling America website
We may like to think Christmas of yesteryear was quieter, simpler, and perhaps more solemn than today's hectic festivities. In some ways, that may be true. In others, not so much. At least not in pioneer Florida. Else, the editor of The Gulf Coast Breeze (Crawfordville) wouldn't have felt the need to issue this caution in the paper's Christmas Eve edition in 1897:

"Christmas being the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to proclaim peace on earth and good will toward men, the day should be observed in all christian lands in strict accordance with that sentiment, and never as a day of drunken revelry and carousal."

Two years earlier, in 1895, the Bradford County Telegraph (Starke) spoke of the "festivities, the hilarities, the family greetings of earthly Christmas ..." in an editorial comment about how earthly celebrations will give way to "the great holiday of heaven."

Despite the emphasis on the holiday's religious significance in these two examples, some denominations were strangely quiet on Christmas in late 19th century Florida. At least in Ocala. The Dec. 26, 1895 edition of the Ocala Evening Star offered a recap of Christmas Day services. The content is worth quoting, for it surprised me:
  • "The Baptists had no exercises at the church." 
  • "The Methodist church had no Christmas exercises."
  • "At the Catholic church the decorations were very pretty and the services beautiful and solemn."
  • "The Episcopal church was nicely decorated in evergreens for the occasion, and the usual Christmas exercises were rendered, which were very beautiful and forcible."
  • "No services were held at the Presbyterian or Christian churches."
  • "Several Christmas trees were held among the colored churches."
I'm not sure what type of celebration is referenced by the Christmas trees being "held." If anyone knows, please add a comment. 

Although the Baptists didn't have a service on Christmas Day, the church youth presented a children's cantata on Christmas evening at the Baptist hall. The same Dec. 26, 1895 issue of the newspaper had a few lines about the event, and reported that the hall was "beautifully decorated with evergreens, and the nicely arranged tree was groaning under its load of presents for the children." 

The 1890s Florida newspapers carried no shortage of ads for Christmas gifts. Just like today, the ads ranged from the simple to the loud. Examples from the Ocala Evening Star editions of Dec. 12, 17, and 20, 1895:
  • "Embroidery done to order at reasonable rates for Christmas. Cottage east of armory building."
  • "You can make twelve elegant Xmas presents to twelve of your relatives and best friends by sitting NOW for a dozen of Gottlieb's unexcelled photographs. Studio opposite Montezuma."
  • "My Christmas Slippers fit easy feet, fit hard feet, fit every taste and every pocket and are just the thing for a present. J.A. Rowell."
Economic indicators were closely watched, then as now. On Dec. 27, 1898, the Ocala Evening Star ran an article by a reporter who had canvased numerous merchants about holiday shopping. With one exception, all the merchants said business had been better than the year before. The drug store had sold out of holiday goods, and the candy store did a "huge business," 40 percent higher than the year before. As a side note, I noticed that the confectioner had run a large print ad for Whitman's Chocolates in the newspaper a few days earlier.

The sampling of vintage newspapers showed me more similarities than differences in the season, with one glaring exception. On Dec. 23, 1898, the Ocala Evening Star carried an article about holiday travel. The railroads had lowered rates for the season. On the Southern Railway, patrons paid one-third of normal fare for the return leg of a round trip. The Plant System's "Holiday Excursion Rates" advertised one-way fare for a full round trip. Granted, the Plant offer was good only in Florida, and the Southern Railway's deal covered only the Southeast. But, still. Imagine booking a flight for the holidays and seeing such a bargain pop up in your browser. What a ghost of Christmas past that would be.

The newspapers referenced in this post are from the Library of Congress's excellent Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers website. If you are a fan of old newspapers, you could spend hours there.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hair: The long and short of it

People sitting on porch steps at Leon Hotel, Tallahassee, circa 1886
Notice how all the women wear their hair up in this c. 1886 photo of Leon
 Hotel in Tallahassee. Photo is by Alvin S. Harper and appears on page 40 of
Victorian Florida, America's Last Frontier, by Floyd and Marion Rinhart
Women today fashion their hair in myriad shapes, styles, lengths, and colors. We take for granted all the options and the ability to choose from among them. Contrast that to the late 19th century. Women had one choice for hair length: long. They had one choice for styling: up. Only girls and young women not yet out in society wore their hair in a loose, flowing manner.

The evidence is obvious in old photographs from Florida's frontier years. Every woman, from backwoods denizens to wealthy winter tourists, exhibits swept-up long hair. The poorer women didn't make a fuss over it. They parted their hair in the middle and twisted it into some kind of bun, or pulled it back without any visible part and pinned it atop or behind their head. The tourists display fashion trends, such as frizzed bangs in the late 1880s. Why anyone would deliberately frizz their hair is beyond me, but that style was a fad for a while. By the mid 1890s, the small topknot was the height of fashion. Such a style worked well for those with abundant hair. Otherwise, the results could appear comical.

One thing that connects past and present is the amount of time, care, and attention women lavish on their hair. But after reviewing, for example, Mark Campbell's 1867 book, Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work, Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids, and Hair Jewelry of Every Description, I give thanks for modern haircare products. Campbell called his book an "indispensable adjunct to every lady's toilet table," because it promised to help a woman dress her own hair and become proficient in the making of hair work. Hair work meant items such as braids, which functioned much the way today's hair extensions do. 

The book's directions are occasionally nightmarish. Even the easiest pattern in Campbell's book calls for the artisan to braid the hair extension over a wire, boil it, place the braided piece in a hot oven - be careful not to burn it! - and then remove the wire, insert a pliable cord in its place, sew the end of the braid together and dab it with a dose of shellac. You can read the book online on the awesome Project Gutenberg site if you want to learn more.

More accessible is Dorothy Quigley's 1897 What Dress Makes of Us, also available on the Project Gutenberg site. She offered readers valuable advice for how to select a hairstyle based on the shape of the face. She urges women not to be a slave to fashion: "A wise woman will adopt a prevailing mode with discretion, for, what may be essentially appropriate for one, may be fatally inappropriate for another," she wrote. Wise words, that still hold true today.

Here are a couple of links to fashionable coiffures of the late 1800s:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Utopia it wasn't

Historic photo of log cabin in Tillman, Florida, in the 1890s.
This 1890s Florida Memory photo shows a log cabin in
Tillman. The settlement predated the Indian River Catholic
Colony, which predated today's Palm Bay.
Photo credit: Florida Memory
My acquaintance with Palm Bay has always been from the interstate, as we travel to and from my in-laws' home farther south. To me, Palm Bay was a midcentury fabrication that had been planted in wilderness in the 1960s, and then had swelled to vast proportions. Another Deltona. It certainly wasn't where I expected to find remains of the pioneer Florida Indian River Catholic Colony.

I was intrigued when I first learned of the Catholic Colony, which existed from about 1911 to 1914. My enthusiasm waned when I saw references to the colony as being a "land company." Florida's history is riddled with land company endeavors. Given the name Catholic Colony, I had half-expected a utopian community - an exercise in communal life rooted in faith. The reality was more mundane. The colony was a settlement attempt that failed, and decades later Palm Bay steamrolled over the ghost town's remains. Except for St. Joseph Catholic Church, the colony's church and possibly the oldest building in Palm Bay. The church's website says the settlers were so disillusioned with the land company they refused to use the place of worship provided for them, and instead built one by themselves.

Just how bad could the Florida Indian River Catholic Colony have been? For one, it started in a spot that already had a name, Tillman, and some settlers. Second, it apparently oversold Florida's virtues to such an extent that reality proved unbearable.  The rise and fall was swift: The company filed as a for-profit corporation in 1911, and by 1914 a Fr. Gabriel Ruppert was guiding disgruntled settlers in the building of their own simple church. The church's website says the people "were not favorably disposed to anyone closely associated with the Florida Indian River Catholic Colony."

The colony was a development company based in North Dakota, according to the diary of a Dr. Watson who treated the settlers in Florida. He wrote that German and Slavic farmers from the Midwest had been lured to Florida by promises of two crops a year in a tropical paradise.

Online sleuthing has uncovered what appears to be a slim promotional booklet published by the company. The only copy available is in the Special Collections Department of the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries. I hope I get to read it. In keeping with my optimistic nature, I like to think that somewhere within its 14 pages, good intentions abound. A settlement scheme that flounders because of ignorance or inexperience would be understandable. One rooted in the efforts of get-rich-quick schemers would not be. Nor would it be very Catholic.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Slowing down with a horse and buggy

Photo of carriage and drum horse giving rides at Pioneer Art Settlement's Fall Country Jamboree
American drum horse Mariah's Boon pulls the
Moonlit Acre carriage. Photo by Gerri Bauer
A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering around the Pioneer Art Settlement during the annual Fall Country Jamboree when I came upon the horse and buggy in the first photo in this post. What a happy surprise. Moonlit Acre Carriage Rides' owner Laura Moon was offering short, complimentary rides to and from the Underhill House, the oldest brick home in Volusia County and a current restoration project for the Settlement.

Of course I jumped in, to get a taste of 19th century transportation. My husband and I have been on horse-and-buggy tours in St. Augustine and Charleston, but this one was in a country setting dressed for the period. It made a big difference.

True, this carriage wasn't your typical pioneer buggy. It resembled a barouche. Nor was the horse typical. Laura's carriage was pulled by her beautiful American drum horse, Mariah's Boon. Such a horse-and-buggy combination was rarely - if ever - seen on the backwoods roadways of frontier Central Florida. More common were the cart and wagon shown in the other photographs. Both are on display at the Settlement.

The ride to and from the Underhill house was primarily on unpaved land, which gave a pleasant, rhythmic bounce to the journey. The day was gorgeous, the scenery lush, the carriage and horse beautiful. I could have ridden around for hours in a haze of romanticism.

But when writing about 19th century life, I always have to be careful to balance nostalgic impressions with the realities experienced by Florida pioneers. Both human and horse - or mule or oxen - had to venture out in all kinds of weather. Nobody went anywhere fast. Imagine driving your car between 5 and 8 miles an hour. That's average speed for a horse and buggy (according to an Ohio Department of Transportation safety sheet about driving in Amish country).

The distance between my house and the Settlement is about 15 miles. Since I'd never push a horse hard, it would take me 3 hours to reach the Jamboree, and then another 3 hours to get home. Such time factors help explain why pioneer residents's visits to far-away friends and relatives lasted days instead of hours. Given the slower movements through time  - and given how we rush through our 21st century life - I can't help but wonder: Did people back in the day live more in the moment than we do today? Maybe nostalgic views and realities can learn from one another.

Photo of 1879 Underhill House
Circa 1879 Underhill House - photo by Gerri Bauer

Photo of wagon at Pioneer Art Settlement
Wagon on display at Pioneer Art Settlement
Photo by Gerri Bauer

Photo of pioneer buggy at Pioneer Art Settlement
Buggy on display at Pioneer Art Settlement
Photo by Gerri Bauer

Monday, October 27, 2014

'Nothing but illness for days'

Close encounters with healthcare emergencies over the past two months have made me thankful for modern medicine. Without it, my 85-year-old mother would have been in her grave instead of in rehab.

Turn-of-the-century medical saddlebag kit was used by a
North Carolina doctor who moved to Florida. Photo credit:
University of Florida College of Medicine
Had this been the late 1800s Florida, the outcome almost certainly would have been different. To begin with,  life expectancy in the 1880 to 1890 period was a dismal 40 to 45, according to one chart from the University of Oregon. 

Second, the operations my mother underwent wouldn't have been options because they didn't yet exist. I wouldn't have been around to help care for her. I would have been long gone - lost at age 11 to infection because the penicillin that cured me in real life hadn't yet been discovered. (A British professor named Alexander Fleming discovered it in 1928. The American Chemical Society has a great webpage about the history.)

Pioneers on the Florida frontier weren't worried so much about cures and treatments that hadn't yet been developed. They cared about access to the best medical service available. And it usually wasn't found in newly settled communities in tropical wildernesses. Florida tourist centers may have billed themselves as havens for invalids, but settlers faced other challenges. 

"It has been nothing but illness for days," wrote Julia Daniels Moseley in a short letter to her husband in August 1884 when their children were sick (102).  "Anxious nights and anxious days ... The boys are safe now. The fear is passed. I am too tired to rest." The letter's terseness underscores the severity of her tenseness and dread. Moseley's other letters are far longer, and breezy and chatty. She was a pioneer in a community named Limona near Tampa. You can read her letters in Come to My Sunland, edited by Julia Winifred Moseley and Betty Powers Crislip (University Press of Florida, 1998).

In 1892, Florida tourist Emma Gilpin hoped to ward off mumps by being armed with a bottle of homeopathic pellets. In a letter to a relative, she asked that the remedy be mailed to her in Miami where mumps were "running through the house" (61) (Public Faces - Private Lives, Women in South Florida - 1870s-1910s, by Karen Davis, Pickering Press, 1990). A week later, she wrote about a weak-hearted visitor who caught a cold, nearly got pneumonia, and died soon after. Her words are poignant:

"I have been up all night for the past three nights but the most careful nursing was of no avail and last night she died. The Doctor stood over her day and night but without any hope" (62).  Permanent relocation to Florida held no appeal for snowbird Gilpin, in part because of the lack of health care. 

Another pioneer quoted in Davis's book was Fort Lauderdale's first schoolteacher, Ivy Cromartie Stranahan. She grew up near Florida's Peace River, and wrote that "Our medicines were herbs found in the woods" (97). They included a sasparilla spring tonic and a poultice made from "thick, juicy India collard leaves which grew in the lowlands" (97). Other home remedies included quinine for malaria, calomel for fevers, and turpentine for bites and stings. A trip to the doctor could involve a journey of 125 miles, as it did for Ella Dimick. Davis writes that Dimick had to take her daughter from Palm Beach to Rockledge for medical care in 1878. 

Then, as now, Sunshine State supporters put PR spins on their pitches. In her 1873 collection of sketches, Palmetto Leaves (University Press of Florida,  1999), Harriet Beecher Stowe insisted that Florida's malarial fevers "are of a mild type, and easily managed" (122).  Her chapter, "Florida for Invalids," actually presents a fairly balanced view of what invalids could expect from a stay in the sunshine. Of many salient points, my favorite is this one: "It may, however, comfort the hearts of visitors to Florida to know, that, if the climate here is not ... just what they would have it, it is about the best there is going"  (133). Some things even modern medicine can't improve on.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New facts in an old story

The upcoming grand opening of the Enterprise Heritage Society on Oct. 18, 2014, is great news for anyone interested in local history. The former county seat has pretty much been swallowed by the city of Deltona, with its 80,000+ people. Having a physical presence will help the historical group preserve the community's identity.

I've long known details of Enterprise's roots. One of the region's oldest communities, it has a well-documented history. As seems to be the case with many local histories I've traced in Florida over the years, available facts made no mention of a Catholic presence there.  I just assumed one didn't exist. So I was really surprised recently to discover a Works Progress Administration (WPA) record documenting a Catholic church in Enterprise from 1881 until 1929.

Screengrab of handwritten page from WPA Church Record
Page from the WPA record about a Catholic church
in Enterprise. Credit: Florida Memory
The church in a rectangular, frame white building on Clark Street was pastored by a Father McFall for the first five years, 1881-1886. A priest from nearby Sanford, Father P.J. Roche, oversaw the parish from 1928-1929. What about the years in-between? The WPA is silent. The parish and church don't even have a recorded name.

Among the people who provided details to the WPA field worker in 1940 were two former church members, Mrs. John R. Thursby and Miss Mabel Thayer, both of Blue Springs, and Father J. G. Litch, described as an "old resident" of Enterprise.

You can review the entire record, scant though it is, at the Florida Memory website's WPA Church Records Collection. As for me, I'll be taking a drive down to Clark Street, and then up to the Diocese of St. Augustine Archives, to find out more.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lue Gim Gong: past, present

Photo of Lue Gim Gong on ladder at citrus tree
Thanks to Florida Memory for this image
of Lue Gim Gong tending his citrus in DeLand.
Lue Gim Gong is probably one of the most gifted horticulturists you've never heard of.  He was both lauded and derided in his day - late 1800s to early 1900s. Lauded for his botanical prowess, derided for his ethnicity and his eccentricity. Today he is just mostly forgotten - but not in DeLand, where he developed the award-winning Lue Gim Gong orange.

The Chinese immigrant is on my mind because of recent action at the West Volusia Historical Society. The organization's Heritage Gardening Group is launching an effort to save extant Lue Gim Gong orange trees from citrus greening. I'm a member of that group, and excited about the project.

A recent generation of Lue Gim Gong trees grow on the grounds of the society's museum complex. Cuttings from aged trees were budded onto rootstock and planted in a small grove that frames a gazebo. A bronze bust of Lue is displayed in the gazebo. A mural of Lue is also featured prominently on a storefront in downtown DeLand.

I wonder how Lue would approach the greening menace. For sure, he'd be focused on developing a resistant variety. I like to think he'd be successful. Even Lue's detractors acknowledged his horticultural ability, although they took pains to denigrate his orange variety into oblivion.

The Lue Gim Gong orange was noted for its cold-hardiness and for holding its crop on the tree.
Photo of Lue Gim Gong in 1920
This photo of Lue Gim Gong
is from 1920. (Photo credit:
Stetson University)
Lue bred the variety by cross-pollinating Hart's Late and Mediterranean Sweet oranges. The Lue Gim Gong orange was so outstanding it won a national industry award in 1911. Lue died in 1925. His orange also died, in a sense. It was dismissed as insignificant - a minor seedling of the more famous Valencia orange. (The once-named Hart's Late is now considered to have been the Valencia.)

I can't help but question the long-ago campaign to discredit Lue's work. The references I have seen, that label his citrus variety as minor, aren't attributed to a specific scientist or academic study. It's true Valencia holds its oranges on the tree, and is resistant to cold. But Lue's tree - the supporting structure itself - is said to have been far more cold-hardy than any other citrus tree. People clamored for Lue Gim Gong trees in the early 1900s. The trees were distributed by Glen Saint Mary Nursery, except for the many Lue was said to have given away.

The few accounts that remain describe Lue as brilliant, gentle, loyal to his mentor but distant with her siblings, devoted to his pets (two horses and a rooster), and a devout Christian with Confucianist roots. Legend says that, after his death, stacks of uncashed checks were found in the DeLand house he inherited from his mentor and mother-figure, Fannie Burlingame. She, by the way, is worth a blog post of her own.

Lue died penniless, and nearly friendless but for a few neighbors and townsfolk brave enough to challenge their era's bigotries. His horticultural records and journals disappeared. The least we can do is save his trees.

Learn more about Lue Gim Gong. He's worth it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hands across religions

As a child in the 1960s, I thought all people were either Catholic or Jewish. There was little evidence of other faith traditions in my New York City environs. When I moved to Central Florida in early adulthood, the known world appeared to be entirely Southern Baptist.

Those perceptions of were based partly on superficial observation of the surroundings as I went about my life. Yet it was true that the people in these - and probably other - faith traditions carved geographical niches at the time.

Historic photo of Sisters of St. Joseph from the book "Miami 1909"
Sisters of St. Joseph at Cape Florida Lighthouse,
as shown in the book Miami 1909.
(Photo credit in book: Charles Mann / Miami Pioneers)
Our postmodern world has moved beyond denominational dominance in most areas of the United States. Interdenominational initiatives are a norm. What intrigues me is how my research on the social history of pioneer Catholicism in Florida continues to unearth similar modernist behavior. I keep finding exceptions in what I previously considered an era of isolationism among faith traditions.

As noted in other blog posts, those circles of friendships may be due to human needs on a sparsely populated frontier. But Miami wasn't exactly a backwoods settlement in 1909. Wikipedia cites the U.S. Census for the 1910 population count of 5,471. Yet 1909 Miami is when my latest example of religious intermingling occurs.

The 1984 book, Miami 1909by Thelma Peters, (Banyan Books), is built around the diary Miami resident Fannie Clemons wrote that year. Peters, herself a Miami pioneer and a former president of the Florida Historical Society, established a rich sense of place in which to situate the diary excerpts. One of the places Peters mentions is St. Catherine's Convent School. In the photo caption for the picture of the school on Page 35, she says the following:
Some non-Catholic children were sent here because the sisters had a reputation for gentility and thoroughness.
I like the sound of that, having been the product of similar teachers at St. Brigid's in Brooklyn.

The Miami convent school was just east of the Church of the Holy Name, built in 1898 on grounds of what is today Gesu Church. The original, small wooden church was built on land donated by Henry Flagler, who I believe was Presbyterian. Peters relays an anecdote in which Flagler, at the time, said that "two institutions that never failed to do what they started out to do were the Standard Oil Company and the Catholic Church."

Flagler was busy extending his Florida East Coast Railway to Key West in 1909. Two of his business associates founded St. Catherine's school, which in 1909 was staffed by six Sisters of St. Joseph from New York, Florida, Ohio, and Ireland. Pupils that season closed the school year with a program that included the following:
  • music by the school's music club, the St. Cecelia Club
  • piano solos
  • readings
  • awarding of medals of excellence
And, we're sure, some heartfelt prayers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Campaigning through Florida, 1888 style

I'm watching every minute of Ken Burns' "The Roosevelts" and makes me wonder whether any U.S. presidents visited pioneer Florida while in office. My search - and the PBS series itself - notes the many times FDR visited Florida. His era is way outside the scope of this blog. I think most people know Teddy Roosevelt was in Tampa in 1898, getting ready to fight in the Spanish-American War. The Theodore Roosevelt Association says he and his wife, Edith, stayed at Tampa Bay Hotel while Teddy waited for orders to leave for Cuba. But he wasn't president at the time.

The hotel, by the way, is now part of the University of Tampa. You can still experience its turn-of-the-century grandeur by visiting the Henry B. Plant Museum inside the main building.

Historic photo of President and Mrs. Cleveland in Florida in 1888.
President and Mrs. Cleveland in Rockledge, Fla., 1888.
Credit: Florida Memory
Tampa hardly qualified as small-town frontier in 1898. Ten years earlier, though, the Brevard County settlement of Rockledge definitely did. That was the year President Grover Cleveland and his popular wife, Frances, visited the riverfront city. Rockledge had been incorporated only a year before, in 1887, according to Wikipedia.

In those days before Internet, movies, TV, or radio, a president and First Lady were bonafide celebrities. A visit by such a prominent couple would bring out an entire town.

Women couldn't vote for president in 1888 (not 'til 1920), but it's safe to assume that a good number of women in Rockledge wanted to see the young First Lady that day. She was popular throughout the nation. The National First Ladies' Library says American women copied her hairstyle, dress style, and even tried to mimic the way she posed in photos. The C-SPAN First Ladies Influence & Image series features a segment on her as a fashion icon. 

The trip to Rockledge was part of a campaign tour that also included stops in Winter Park, Jacksonville, Sanford, and other cities. Author and blogger Ray Osborne's ebook, President Cleveland's Florida Trip 1888, notes the media's fascination with Frances Cleveland. I found the book - and Osborne's history blog named Time Passages - while digging for information on the domestic details of that long-ago visit. I'll report back about the fashion and food after some more research. In the meantime, you can read what Osborne blogged about the trip. No such thing as too much history!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sharing Catholic peace

Partial view of the front page of a Jan. 7, 1906 newspaper
Front page of the Jan. 7, 1906 Pensacola Journal.
Credit: Chronicling America
Stories in newspaper archives offer wonderful slices of everyday life, and then some. I just found a Catholic lecture series given top billing on the front page of the Jan. 7, 1906 edition of the Pensacola Journal (today the Pensacola News-Journal). The prominent story placement surprised me.

The article tells about the first scheduled program by the Rev. Xavier Sutton, C.P., a "prominent Passionist missionary."  His lectures were to be structured specifically for non-Catholics, and were to cover doctrinal and devotional matters. The news is up there with articles about tariff bills, trade, and the timber market. Father Sutton's photo is larger than the nearby image of the state's attorney, who was featured because he'd just moved to town.

Father Sutton's first topic title was "Why Protestants Are Not Catholic." The reporter took pains to assure the audience they wouldn't hear anything offensive or threatening. The goal was to "enlighten without wounding." My favorite part tells how Father Sutton would help his listeners discern "whether or not the Catholic church can give [them] that peace and security which she promises to those who are within her fold." More than a century after those words were written, I can relate. That promise remains true, as all Catholics know.

You can read the entire article online via a really cool Library of Congress website named Chronicling America, where you can search historic newspaper pages. Be prepared to spend some time.

Pensacola has a long Catholic history. The Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel's website notes the 1559 Mass said by Dominicans who were part of an expedition that landed on what would become Pensacola. That parish's roots date to the 1700s. Father Sutton's talks were at St. Joseph's, established in 1891 in downtown Pensacola. I would have loved to hear his talks, but will settle for some post-lecture coverage. Looks like I'll be spending more time in the archives.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Solid, sturdy, calls to prayer photo showing late 1800s image of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Key West
St. Mary Star of the Sea, Key West.
In my research, I'm noticing that the pioneer Catholic churches in Florida seem to share a simplicity of style. That interests me, primarily because it magnifies the difference between the urban North and missionary territory of the rural South. Florida may be known today as New York South, but that wasn't the case when the area was being settled in the decades after statehood (1845). The missionary priests, religious sisters, and laity-settlers often formed minority enclaves in Protestant-majority communities. Did these Catholics build minimalist church structures because of financial constraints, supply limitations, or to refrain from calling attention to themselves? Maybe a combination of all three. 

As an example, look at this page's Florida Memory image of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Key West, one of Florida's largest cities during the pioneer era. The parish website says St. Mary's was the fifth Roman Catholic church built in Florida, and that it opened in 1852. This photo pre-dates 1901, when the structure burned down. The basic shape, unassuming steeple, and restrained adornment remind me of photos of other Roman Catholic churches established in other Florida towns in the 1880s and even into the early 1900s. 

Key West was a population center in the 1800s, and at one point had more residents than any other city in Florida. That's relative, I know. The 18,000 people in Key West about 1890 are a blip compared to, say, the 500,000 +/-  in New York City when the neo-Gothic grandeur of St. Patrick's Cathedral started to rise in the late 1850s. But the distance between the architectural styles of the cities' prominent Roman Catholic presences is far more than miles or an imbalance in resident populations. To me, the sturdy Florida churches reflect the faithful themselves, at least those brave enough to help settle a new land: plain, solid, and sturdy, and ready to get a job done.

Friday, August 22, 2014

In search of heirloom cultivars

Types of vegetable and fruit crops grown in pioneer Florida are nothing but names now 

Close-up photo of muscadine grapes growing on grapevine
Muscadines don't seem to have changed much over the years.
(Photo by Gerri Bauer)
Every vegetable gardener knows the fun of poring over varieties and cultivars and choosing what to grow. Just about every vegetable gardener - and plenty of nongrowers - also knows how many varieties have been lost to the demands of commercialization. Hence the rise of seed savers and heirloom-tomato aficionados in search of great-tasting, complex flavors. I've grown a (usually different) heirloom-tomato variety along with a fave hybrid every year in my garden.

Those tomato varieties will be the focus of another post. Today I want to write about the vegetables and fruits that no longer sprout in the gardens and farms of Florida. I thought about them earlier this week when harvesting muscadines from the improved variety I grow. Muscadine grapes have a long history in Florida soil.

My research is a mere surface swipe - notes gleaned from the pages of an 1889 Florida Dispatch, Farmer and Fruit Grower, the 1906 DeLand Special Edition of the Florida Agriculturist newspaper, and various local histories. Here's a sampling of what I found. If anyone knows of any of the varieties being cultivated or stored in a seed bank, leave a comment. Maybe the variety can be shared with home gardeners looking to follow in the footsteps of Persimmon Hollow pioneers.

I'm assuming the following are open-pollinated rather than hybrids, being that they were being grown before and up to/including 1906:

  • Peas: Alaska, John L., Bliss Everlasting.
  • Strawberries: Hoffman, Excelsior, Lady Thompson, with the latter two being noted as best for DeLand home gardens.
  • Grapes: Duchess, Roger's No. 44, Peter Wylie, Herbemont, Ives, Goethe (aka Prince). A wine grape named Norton was said to be "marvelously adapted to our soil and climate."
  • Muscadine grapes: Flowers, James, Meisch.
  • Peaches: Peento (numerous references to that one), Bidwell's Early, Florida Crawford.
  • Oranges: Boone's Early, Enterprise Seedless.
  • Pears: LeConte (numerous references).
  • Pineapples: Enville City ("great taste, doesn't ship well"), Red Spanish ("good for home use, easy to grow"), Cayenne, Abbaka, Egyptian Queens.
What, no persimmons? Well, no, at least not in that brief survey I conducted. But DeLand did go by the name Persimmon Hollow before being settled and taking on the name of city founder Henry A. DeLand. I'm on the local persimmon trail, though, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a brief history of persimmon cultivation from Ty-Ty Nursery over the border in Georgia.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Small-town life in 1887

Front page of the April 1887 issue of the DeLand Collegiate student newspaper
The student newspaper was published monthly.
Image credit: Stetson University duPont-Ball Library
Picnics, boating excursions, and fishing parties. Such were the summer activities of Florida college students in 1887. At least the students who wrote about the summer ahead in the April 1887 issue of their student newspaper, the DeLand Collegiate. The writers advised their peers to travel and find "startling experiences" so they'd have enough material for "the appalling amount of essays which we will have to write next year." Some things don't change.

But some things do. In the newspaper's Gleanings section, there's a mention that 14 was the average age of students entering college 100 years earlier. Meaning, the year 1787. Another difference is the 1887 school year's starting date: October, unlike the current August start dates.

The paper was issued monthly during the academic year by the Palmetto Literary Society of DeLand Academy and College, one of the early names of Stetson University. An annual subscriptions cost 50 cents.

One of my favorite sections is Around Town on Page 8. That's because I write romance novels set in an 1800s Florida town, and tidbits of period social history interest me and provide foundation for ideas. The news in 1887 DeLand included:

  • Fireflghters were to be fitted for uniforms;
  • John B. Stetson planned extensive improvements to an orange grove he purchased;
  • Performers under the name of Hamlin's Wizard Oil Troupe presented several "very good" open-air concerts in the streets;
  • A resident was trying to organize a military company in the city, and an armory would be built if he succeeded in securing a $300 appropriation from the County Commission. 
You can read the entire issue online via Stetson University duPont-Ball Library's excellent digital archives. Yes, I do work at Stetson and have a degree from there, but aside from that I'm a huge fan of libraries, and support both duPont-Ball and the DeLand Regional Library. I just found the DeLand Library's slideshow on Flickr. Visit and support your local libraries, in person or online. They're worth it. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Old books yield more than printed pages, without fail

Old books can be like treasure chests. A journey through the pages can uncover threads of a previous owner's life via notes, dog-ears, smudges, and general wear. Such is the case with my 1926 Florida Wild Flowers: An Introduction to the Flora of the Florida Peninsula. The guidebook by Mary Francis Baker was published by MacMillan, and is in excellent shape except for the standard yellowing of vintage paper.

With a few exceptions, there aren't any markings scribbled inside. The absence of inside-page notes, coupled by the inked inscription on the inside front cover, captured my interest the day I bought the book.

Snapshot of inside front page showing book owner's handwritten note
This inscription is the first thing the reader
sees on opening the 1926 Florida
wildflower guidebook.
Plant guides are purchased to be used. I once borrowed a friend's Appalachian wildflower guide for a trip the North Carolina mountains. I duly noted time, date, and place of particular discoveries next to each flower's identification photo and text.  Others had done so before me. The impromptu field notes provided a sense of closeness with other plant explorers of the same tame ilk - as in, those using plant guides on well-traveled terrain. David Fairchild we were not.

Inside the cover of Florida Wild Flowers, however, there is a stern note written in cursive:
Without fail, return this volume to Herbert Felkel, 126 Marine Street, St. Augustine Florida. Fail not!! - Herbert Felkel. 1926.
At first I thought Mr. Felkel's friends were obviously guilty of failure to return his guidebook. But the book's good condition belies that. The book is used, yes. The spine easily falls open to pages about milkweed, and Cherokee (coral) bean. But it's apparent no one dragged the book around on outdoor expeditions. So why did the owner spell out such a forceful directive?

Here's where the theme from the original Twilight Zone should play. I'm a former journalist, and I just so happened to buy a vintage guidebook that had been owned by - a journalist. I just Googled Herbert Felkel and learned he took over managing editor duties at the St. Augustine Herald's forerunner in 1917. The newspaper's Through the Years webpage says he then served as editor from 1921 to 1934.

Anyone who worked in a pre-Internet newsroom knows that books, especially reference books, always disappeared. No wonder Mr. Felkel wrote his warning. Reference books were like gold. You couldn't just do an Internet search - the Internet didn't exist. Woe to the person who reached for a reference tome on deadline, only to find an empty shelf.

My new knowledge about Mr. Felkel illuminated the few pencil markings I did find on the pages. Small, faint checkmarks highlight details that likely were pertinent to a writer or editor researching a story. I can see the journalist's mind working, when making note of such things as:

  • Florida's greater variety of wildflowers, and "plants of strange habits," than any other state;
  • how 18th century French botanist Andre Michaux actually saw the Florida flowers the modern (1926) traveler "passes by on well-made roads."
The word trilisa is underlined, a rarity in this book, in a passage about the marsh blossom's purple blooms.  In the same paragraph, a sentence about a marsh sedge with white bracts earns one of the tiny pencil marks. I'm fairly knowledgeable about uplands Florida flora, not so much about the botany of marsh plants. I would have liked to have read whatever story emerged from the notetaker, so careful not to heavily mar the pages of the treasured tome. 

Mr. Felkel's fierce protection of the book paid off. I caretake it now, two years shy of the 90th anniversary of publication. My tenure shall be inscription-less. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Quilts and Stetson Mansion a dream combination

Photo of antique sewing machine, quilt and chair
How perfect is this? I sat down to write this post about the historic Stetson Mansion and the Quilt Showcase featured there. A new-old Antiques Roadshow episode from 1998 was on TV. As I started typing, the appraiser on TV displayed an 1880s "Boss of the Plains" Stetson made while hatmaker John B. Stetson was still alive. The new aspect of the episode was a comparison of then-and-now values of the featured antiques. The Stetson hat was worth $600 to $1,000 in 1998, and $800 to $1,200 in 2014. But can you really put a price on history?

That's a segue for me to say the Stetson Mansion is priceless. I'm sure the owners differ on that. What is priceless is the combination of quilts and the house built by John B. Stetson in 1886 as a winter home in DeLand. And that's for a major reason (besides the obvious) you might never expect. I certainly didn't. The detailed patterns of the wood flooring mimic quilt designs of centuries gone by. That's amazing, particularly because the mansion's floors are artistic gems. Apparently Stetson's wife, Elizabeth, enjoyed quilting.

The Stetson Mansion Quilt Showcase and Tour drew me back to the house for my most recent tour. Vintage and contemporary quilts became featured accents throughout the 9,000-square-foot structure, with some quilts made with material from the Downton Abbey fabric line. Not that the house needs accessories. Stetson Mansion is one of a kind, and you must visit if you like historic homes - and even if you don't, just to see how a National Register building can retain its architectural integrity while functioning as a 21st century private residence and a tourist destination. You'll be in awe of the house's bright, airy feeling, the layout, woodwork, floors, stairs, furnishings, decor, and of the restoration done by owners Michael Solari and JT Thompson. I've now been lucky enough to have been on tours led by each of them.

Images of quilt and the patterns in the wood floor
The floors in Stetson Mansion are patterned
after quilt designs. 
The portrait of 1880s life that emerges on tours is obviously one of luxury. Stetson was a wealthy man. He donated so generously to the local university it was renamed John B. Stetson University in his honor in the late 1880s and today is known as Stetson University. (Disclaimer: I work there.) Stetson's winter estate was originally 300 acres and is now a more manageable 2+ acres. The distinctive house has details such as thousands of panes of leaded glass, different wood-floor patterns in each room, stained-glass, and designs carved into the woodwork. Stetson's friend and fellow Florida winter resident Thomas Edison installed electricity, a rarity at the time. The Stetsons entertained royalty and robber barons alike during their winters in residence.

It's hard enough to envision Edison hanging out in pioneer DeLand, much less Vanderbilts, Astors, and King Edward VII and his entourage. How I wish that a Stetson servant had left behind a diary! Many servants lived in the mansion, on the third floor. The first-floor kitchen had a call system similar to the one in Downton Abbey. The servants were able to tell which room was ringing for service. Which is one reason why, I'm sure, there is no diary. What servant would have had time or energy to write after a day of cleaning, cooking and serving the owners and their guests? Still, it's nice to dream that somewhere, sometime, written recollections will turn up. Imagine what we would learn.

The quilt portion of the Stetson Mansion Quilt Showcase and Tour is hosted by the Quilt Shop of DeLand. The showcase continues through August 2, 2014. A few tour spaces remain available as of this writing. Make reservations online at the Stetson Mansion events page

Monday, July 21, 2014

Heirloom quilts: fabric, thread tell time

I'm coming up against deadline to finish a quilt square for the NASA star-themed quilt project. The entry deadline is Aug. 1, 2014. When digging in my closet for complementary scraps of red, white and blue fabric, I was sidetracked by an old journalism portfolio that hadn't been opened in a while. In it were newspaper clippings of articles waiting to be pasted into a scrapbook. Old articles. Not quite antiques, but ... close. 

One was a 1987 story I wrote about a Florida Quilt Heritage Discovery Day at the library in New Smyrna Beach, a coastal city in Central Florida.

photo of a 1980s newspaper article So, what does that have to do with Florida frontier? My young reporter self was fascinated with the stories told that day about the quilts brought in for documentation. I shared as many as I could in the article. 

Most of the quilts were family heirlooms sewn in the 19th century and early 20th century. And even though they belonged to Floridians in 1987, the quilts almost all originated somewhere else.

The quilts were beautiful, tangible evidence of the past. They illustrated the way people brought personal treasures that mattered when they migrated to Florida, whether they made the trek in 1880 or 1980. 

Homemade quilts, stitched with love, warmed both body and soul of new Florida settlers in need of roots.

More than 60 quilts were documented that day, including the following. The 1987 owners' names and relationship to the quiltmakers are in parentheses:
  • red, white and green Mariner's Compass quilt, made in 1847 by Mary Ann Wilson in Pennsylvania (great-granddaughter Mrs. Newell Adams of Daytona Beach);
  • a quilt made in Ohio in 1888 by Alice Hutchins, who sewed into it her own image in silk (grandson Bill Hutchins of Edgewater); 
  • Mennonite quilt made by Mary Roth in 1920s in Nebraska, that included part of her 1892 wedding dress (granddaughter Kathy Meck of New Smyrna Beach);
  • feathered-star pattern quilt made by Fannie Lord Grimshaw in 1901 in New York, and exhibited at the New York State Fair in 1975 (daughter-in-law Harriet Grimshaw of Daytona Beach).
Fannie made a deliberate mistake in her quilt because she said, as her daughter-in-law related, only God is perfect. Imperfections, to me, make quilts authentic, real ... human. They often outlive their makers and subsequent owners. The Quilt Heritage Day took place 27 years ago. Some of the quilts' then-owners may no longer be alive. But the quilts likely still exist.

Learn more about the Florida Quilt Heritage Project and see images of some of the 5,000+ quilts documented all across the state, at the Museum of Florida History website.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How's this for dedication?

St. Helen Church, Vero Beach, built in 1919.
Credit: Images of America - Vero Beach, which gives photo
credit to the Indian River County Historical Society.
Today's post grows from a photo caption. I just got back from a family mini-trip in Vero Beach. One night, we ate at the Ocean Grille and I found a copy of  Images of America - Vero Beach in the gift shop. If you're into history, chances are you're familiar with the Images series by Arcadia Publishing. I love the photo books because they provide such great slices of local history. The Vero edition is by Teresa Lee Rushworth and, like the others I've read over the years, is a great time capsule.

My point in bringing up the book here, in a Pioneer Catholics blog post, is because of this photo from page 16. It is the first St. Helen Church in Vero Beach. The caption explains that the wooden church was built in 1919 after the congregation raised enough money. Apparently, there was one priest available to say Mass at the new church. Vero was not his only parish. The book says a lone priest was assigned to tend souls from Rockledge to Okeechobee. Google tells me that's about 100 miles.

That's one example of dedication. The other is found among the parish members who resided in the Vero area, which was still a frontier in 1919. (I see, once again, that I'm going to have to expand the parameters of my blog beyond the 19th century because so much of Florida's pioneer days stretched into the early 20th century.) Before they scraped up enough money to build their tiny church, the Catholics in Vero had to make an effort to attend Mass. Teresa Lee Rushworth explains in the photo caption: "Prior to 1919, Vero's Catholic residents had catch a 6:00 a.m. train every Sunday morning in order to attend the 8:00 a.m. Mass in Fort Pierce."

Train travel wasn't exactly luxurious in 1919 Florida. Those pioneers rode the rails two hours there, and two hours back, for a service that was probably an hour or hour-and-a-half. That's how important the spiritual sustenance of the Mass and Eucharist were for those long-ago Catholics. It's something to think about, the next time the short, air-conditioned ride to church seems like a burden. How important is spiritual sustenance to you?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Digging into citrus cultivation

Citrus from my yard, before
citrus greening moved in.
History filters down to us in a funnel. A wide world of people and events trickles through comparatively few sources. Sometimes forgotten is just how many diverse practices and opinions existed, even about something as seemingly homogenous as citrus cultivation.

Correspondence by a 19th century writer named Mrs. Leora B. Robinson of Orlando dispels any notion of past practices being narrowly defined. She comes across as plain-speaking and straightforward in the concise guidebook she wrote for Florida newcomers in 1884.  Living in Florida consists of letters Leora wrote for a Kentucky publication, Home and Farm, in response to readers' questions. And they had questions aplenty, particularly about the gold rush so peculiar to the Sunshine State: orange fever.

Everybody wanted to get rich quickly with
an orange grove. This one belonged to
Count Frederick deBary. Credit:
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Readers wanted exactitude: how much to spend, what kind of land to buy, what rootstock to use, how many years until a profit would surface. Leora pushed back. It all depends, she said, on whether a homesteader worked the land or hired a manager, and on numerous other variables. "Before I begin estimating the cost of an orange grove I would call attention to the fact that the methods of cultivation and procedure are almost as numerous as the owners of the grove..."  she wrote. Among the citrus theories floating around Florida in the 1880s are the following, which she itemized:

  • Orange trees do best on low ground.
  • Orange trees die on low ground.
  • Land that is too high is as bad as land that is too low.
  • Don't use budded trees; always used seedlings.
  • Never use seedlings.
  • Don't transplant nursery-grown budded trees into your grove.
  • Do transplant nursery-grown budded trees.
  • Shaddock is the best rootstock.
  • Sweet orange is the best rootstock.
  • Grapefruit is the best rootstock.
  • Lemon is the best rootstock.
  • Don't plow the grove.
  • The more the grove is plowed, the better.
  • Don't plow in summer.
  • Only plow in summer.
  • Plant trees densely - no more than 15 feet apart.
  • Plant trees 20-, 30-, even 40-feet apart.
Leora overflowed with practical common sense, some of it derived from the groves she managed for others. One of her takeaways from the conflicting advice was this: "You can hardly make a mistake." And if one did? There were other ways to make a living in pioneer Florida. She suggested the homesteader "...  plant arrow-root, raise melons, split rails at $1 per hundred, build cabins for your neighbors at $1.50 per day, raise chickens, catch fish and eat them, make fertilizers, shoot alligators on Lake Kissimmee and sell their hides .." For a person willing work, Florida was a paradise in more ways than one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Of haw jelly and cassava pancakes

****Recipes in this blog post are for historical interest only.****

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I can focus on a small treasure of a cookbook, a bicentennial edition published in 1968. Yes, eight years earlier than the 1976 Bicentennial the rest of us remember. But for New Smyrna (Beach), 1968 was indeed a bicentennial year. The coastal city was settled in 1768 in what is believed to have been the largest British colonization attempt in the then-New World. 

You can access Smyrna colony textual documents at the University of North Florida's Florida History Online, and I highly recommend a stop at the New Smyrna Museum of History next time you're in the area. It's run by the Southeast Volusia Historical Society, which in 1995 issued a reprint of the 1968 Keepsake Recipes of New Smyrna, Bicentennial Edition. The cookbook is the focus of this blog post soon as I stop rambling about New Smyrna Beach. I lived there for seven years, and have a soft spot for it.

The New Smyrna Junior Woman's Club published the original edition of the book. Many residents who contributed recipes had local roots far back into the 19th century. The women shared a number of pioneer culinary treats, including the haw jelly and cassava pancakes of this post's title. Eileen H. Butts contributed both those recipes, and she has this to say about the pancakes: "A most wonderfully different taste delight." Hmmm. Maybe, but after reading the recipe I'm not so sure I'd be willing to try them out:
Grate the fresh cassava root. Soak for a couple of hours in salted water. Squeeze out water. Stir grated pulp in any good pancake batter.
However, they do sound a tad more appealing than the Golden Cattail Pancakes recipe, which calls for a cup of cattail pollen.

The haw jelly sounds delicious, and Eileen notes that, "There is no jelly in all the world more beautiful - a lovely rose color and nothing else has the delicate haw flavor." Berries of the Florida native hawthorn are hard to come by, and people who know where haws are growing tend to keep mighty quiet about it. I've traipsed around a lot of Florida and  have yet to encounter the plants. Consider yourself lucky if you come across some "summer haws," the kind transformed into the jewel-tone jelly of the recipe. 

After the work of finding the main ingredient, the rest of the recipe is equally demanding. It calls for the cook to wash the haws, "pick over carefully" and then boil them until they burst. The hot pulp is placed into a jelly bag and set aside until all the juice has dripped out. Only then does the cook proceed with typical jelly-making steps of boiling the mixture with sugar until the jell stage is reached. 

Finally, there's a note that if haws are in scant supply, a "very few" green apples may be added at the juice-making stage.

After all that, a recipe for Orange Leaf Tea is a breeze.  Contributer Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. Walter M.) Pace instructs the cook to first search for tender young leaves of an orange tree. Then, "bring water to a slow boil, add leaves, cooking slowly several minutes." And that's it. Done. Sweeten to taste if you wish. 

Essentials of living often served double and triple duty in pioneer homesteads, and Orange Leaf Tea fits in that category. Mrs. Pace ends her tea recipe by advising: "Good for breaking fever and bring out the measles." I may try the tea for its taste - it does sound yummy - but on matters of ill health I'll defer to modern medicine. With a dose of tea for good measure. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pedaling the faith

A big thanks to archivist Sister Catherine Bitzer and the Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine, for material she shared about Catholic life on the frontier. The information in Brief History of the Churches of the Diocese of St. Augustine Florida stretches the boundaries of my 19th century focus by up to eight years, but is too interesting to overlook.

St. Peter, 1908. Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine
At the turn of the 20th century, a chunk of land 100 miles by 40 miles comprised Florida East Coast mission field. The Rev. Michael J. Curley covered the area by bicycle and rail. Fr. Curley was the first resident pastor of St. Peter's in DeLand, which was without a resident pastor from 1883 to the early 1900s. (Yes, St. Peter is my parish and I know my first two Pioneer Catholic posts are related to it. I'll expand soon!)

It's hard to think about Florida - fourth most populous U.S. state - as once being mission territory. But the archival literature references Fr. Curley as a missionary priest who pedaled and pushed his bicycle for hours from DeLand to New Smyrna, where he got on the train. That's a good 20 to 25 miles. He then pedaled some more, between stations along the coast.

Clergy were spread thin in frontier Florida, and persevered amid challenges. There wasn't a resident priest from Daytona south to Palm Beach. The Rev. Michael F. Foley of Baltimore spent a good portion of 1885 to 1893 ministering to DeLand and surrounding areas, despite being in "broken-down health." After he left, the Rev. John O'Brien of Palatka came to DeLand once a month to offer Mass. Fr. Curley arrived in 1904.  A diocesan missionary priest named the Rev. P.J. Bresnahan helped spread the Gospel in "DeLand's vast mission field," as the entire Central East area was called, but I'm not sure how long he stayed after his 1906 efforts. Fr. Curley, described as zealous, devoted the second Sunday of each month to the missions.

Concurrent with mission work, a structured worship schedule took form in the growing DeLand parish. Here's a look at the program in about 1906:
  • Sundays, November to May:  High Mass with sermon in morning; Rosary, sermon, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening
  • Sundays, June to October: Low Mass with sermon, followed by Benediction, in morning
  • Way of the Cross on Fridays in Lent
  • First Friday "faithfully observed"
  • Sunday School "never omitted"
By this time, 20+ years had passed since Catholics and non-Catholics in DeLand worked together to build and furnish St Peter's Church. They did it again,  in 1906-1908, to erect a rectory and enlarge the church.  Brief History states with pleasure that "... many non-Catholics contributed very generously." The South hasn't always been kind to Catholicism. The good feeling of the ecumenism lingers across the decades.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Home on the trail

I just got back from the annual work retreat, where my department was held captive for a few days of team-building and productivity. This year, our location was the lakefront Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center in south central Florida. The parklike complex is in rural farm and ranch country on the Lake Wales Ridge. The main lodge had copies of Polk County's agriculture magazine, In the Field, in which cattlemen's association news figures prominently. It got me thinking about how deeply intertwined cattle ranching and Florida are.

Bartow cattle drive. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
A lot of information is available about the history of Florida ranching and cattle drives - numbers, dates, controversies, leaders, etc. I had to dig to find details about how cowhands ate on the trail. It's kind of a stretch to fit this topic into "Home Life," but if you think about it, the trail really was a type of home - particularly in the 19th century when drives conducted on horseback lasted weeks.

Dana Ste. Claire, in his book, Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History (Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1998), surprisingly includes canned tomatoes among typical trail cuisine such as bacon, grits, sweet potatoes, cornbread and coffee. He also mentions how fried meat might be packed into tins, and then covered with hot fat for preservation. Not so yum, if you ask me. Both Ste. Claire and Jim Bob Tinsley's Florida Cow Hunter: The Life and Times of Bone Mizell (University of Central Florida Press, 1990), note how a cow or steer might be butchered, salted and smoked at the start of a roundup or drive. Ideally, meals were prepared at a chuck wagon, but the wagons couldn't always reach cowboys on roundups when they tracked cattle across wetlands. The workers had to carry rations in those cases. Food might include syrup cookies that they'd brought from home, and whatever game they hunted.

Home on the trail required resourcefulness. Obviously, on a drive, cowboys slept on the ground. But Florida is famous for its rains. Tinsley writes how, it wet season, cowmen dug parallel trenches, heaped the dirt in the middle, and piled palmetto fans atop the dirt. That became a bed.

One final note: A fascinating example of pioneer ingenuity is in Joe A. Akerman Jr. and J. Mark Akerman's book, Jacob Summerlin, King of the Crackers (Florida Historical Society Press, 2004): Black jack oak provided a salt substitute if the tree was cut green, burned, and left overnight so that a crust would form. The crust had to be scraped off the next morning before the dew dried.

Monday, June 9, 2014

From hominy to ham with champagne sauce

One defining factor of much early Florida life-writing is socioeconomic. Only wealthier and/or educated tourists and settlers had time and ability to leave behind records of their day-to-day life. And the hotels and other businesses that catered to them churned out promotional literature. So we often don't learn what regular folk had for dinner in pioneer households. But we know a lot about, say, the 11-course meals served at places like Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and Tampa Bay Hotel in Tampa. The two were rival establishments that, for a time, represented the ultimate in elegance in late 1800s Florida. Some guests stayed for the season and considered the hotels their winter homes.

Plant Museum brochure and reprint of historical brochure
An interesting side note: Both majestic former hotels are now centerpieces of well-regarded colleges, Flagler College in St. Augustine, and University of Tampa on Florida's west coast. At Tampa, a portion of the historic hotel structure houses the Henry  B. Plant Museum, well worth the visit. In St. Augustine, Lightner Museum - another former hotel - is directly across the street from the college, and is also a must-see.

Credit: 2012 El Scribano, page 33
We can be fairly sure neither modern dining hall is offering the type of cuisine hotel guests expected back in the day. The 2012 issue of El Scribano, the St. Augustine Historical Society's journal of Florida history, has a really interesting article by society research library Chief Librarian Robert Nawrocki about kitchen operations at Ponce de Leon Hotel. Included is a detailed look at the 11 courses served for dinner on Jan. 31, 1893, the height of the winter season. I'm fascinated by the mix of mundane food and haute cuisine on the menu. Patrons could have hominy or stewed tomatoes with their Granadine of Lamb, a la Soubise. Everyday fruits (bananas, raisins) and nuts were rolled out after people feasted on macaroons and Baba au Rhum.

The scope of the menu surprises, and I wonder how people ate so much. Judging from old photos, obesity wasn't a problem back then. I've heard diners ate sparingly of each serving in order to survive multiple courses. Which makes me wonder what happened to the leftovers. Were the local hungry fed? Were servants allowed to take home the extra food? Was it composted? Fed to backyard animals? Official records, at least the ones I've run across, are silent on these details. The people who knew were too busy working to sit down and write about it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Growing citrus on offal, castor beans and cotton seed

I found a gem a few weeks ago when browsing the Florida section of duPont-Ball Library: a 98-page 1961 master's thesis titled The History of Citrus in Mount Dora, Florida, to 1900, by Martha Stokley Arterburn. I seem to have been the first to check out the volume since 1991.

Martha's research included interviews with family members of early growers, and their memories had an immediacy based on proximity. In 1961, pioneer days were still part of the not-too-distant past. Kind of like interviewing someone today about World War II or life in midcentury America.

Seems to me citrus trees grew larger in the 19th century, at least in this part of the state. Old photos like this one of DeLand horticulturist Lue Gim Gong in his grove attest to what Martha notes on page 10 of her thesis: the trees towered over people. She was told they could reach 30 feet.
Credit? I've seen this photo both at West Volusia Historical Society and at
Citrus was fertilized with cottonseed meal, a very smelly bone meal,  castor bean "pumace," dead animals (buried), offal like discarded organs from an animal butchered for food, and "ground flesh" - not sure I want to know more. Makes me appreciate my packaged organic fertilizer. Martha reports that the fertilizer was placed between the trees and plowed in along with a cover crop, which was anything that happened to be growing there.

Not everyone adopted that early version of organic growing. She notes that an 1888 letter writer told the Florida Farmer and Fruit-Grower he used sulphate of potash, phosphoric acid, and magnesia with ammonia on his grove.

There are enough tidbits in Martha's thesis to write several blog posts, and I may return to it later. But for now I want to mention one more thing.  It's the small-world phenomenon, and maybe frontier Florida was a small world. One of Martha's interview subjects was Barney Dillard Jr., who shared his citrus expertise. Any fan of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knows that Florida pioneer Barney Dillard Sr. shared folklore and hunting tales with the writer in the 1930s. The material helped shape the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling. Rawlings had a couple of thousand citrus trees on her property at Cross Creek. I wonder what she used for fertilizer.