Thursday, December 28, 2017

Modern parallel to sad chapter

Closeup of title and graphic image from cover of WPA Guide to Florida
The Florida guide was part of the Federal Writers' Project.
I was casting about for a topic this month, and couldn't settle on anything. I kept being drawn back to an anecdote in the 1939 WPA guide to Florida featured in November's post.

The episode details an incident from the Reconstruction Era of the late 1860s to 1870s. I wondered if the authors included it to illustrate how much more civilized everyone had become by the 1930s. The problem is, the anecdote caught my attention because it reminded me of where we are today, in 2017-almost-2018. And that's a sad fact.

Within the WPA guide are road-trip itineraries identified as numbered tours. Tour 7 is 20 pages of tidbits about the area that parallels Florida's northern boundary. The episode that stayed with me is one paragraph on page 443 of Tour 7.

Readers learn that violence flared during Reconstruction in the city of Marianna and the surrounding areas of the county. Several killings took place. I assume the authors mean lynchings but that isn't specified. Only the fact that killings occurred. Opinions varied as to why they occurred, and the polarization is what struck me as so contemporary:

  • Some laid the blame on "the activities of unscrupulous Bureau officials and politicians." 
  • A bishop from Massachusetts, "who had first-hand knowledge of the situation, placed the guilt on the shoulders of the planters of Jackson County." 
  • A judge, "an aristocrat of Marianna, claimed that 'ruffians' from the border States were responsible."
  • A certain preacher and legislator believed "disputes over farm land caused much of the disorder, as poor whites objected to Negro ownership of choice farms."
  • Another man, "a wealthy Bostonian living in Jacksonville, declared the lawlessness was caused by carpetbaggers."

How much finger-pointing can ostensible leaders do? They looked the other way, blamed everyone else, pitted two less-privileged groups against one another, and seemed set in their own opinions. The reader can almost sense the tension simmering among these one-percenters.

Each person was in his own camp. Just like today. The Northerners and Southerners were at odds, similar to how Blue and Red adherents are today. I wouldn't be surprised to learn fake news was thrown about back then, too.

The WPA authors are silent about resolutions. The very next paragraph is about an abandoned inn standing in overgrown grounds.

We don't yet have any resolutions to the polarization and incivility of our times. I have to remain optimistic. In part, it's my nature. In part, it's how I stay hopeful that someday, maybe, love really will prevail.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

WPA Guidebook Dishes Up Tasty Tidbits

Men plant celery in a large farm field in WPA photo from the 1930s
This photo of men planting celery in Florida is from Florida,
A Guide to the Southernmost State. 
(Photo credit: Farm Security Administration)
Since we're in the season of celebratory eating, I have a good excuse for venturing into one of my favorite topics. Food! Today's post looks at some culinary and agricultural tidbits from mid-1930s Florida.

My source is Florida, A Guide to the Southernmost State. Published in 1939, it was a Works Project Administration initiative written by authors in the Federal Writers' Project. Briefly, both federal programs gave people the dignity of jobs during the Great Depression. 

The writers' project created guidebooks to the United States. In doing so, the authors captured - and preserved - portraits in time. I treasure my copy. It's a snapshot of Florida in the 1930s. Many modern residents and visitors wouldn't recognize the place. The book's foreward says Florida "is frequently referred to as the last American frontier." In the 1930s!

The book offers information on Florida history as well as then-modern culture. That makes it even more appealing to me.

These gleanings about food are mainly from the scenic driving tours the authors laid out for visitors.

  • In 1918, farmers in tiny Hastings earned $20 a barrel for their potatoes because there was a potato scarcity in the North (355). That's the equivalent of $352 a barrel in 2017. I can't find comparison pricing for modern times because sources seem to talk about bushels, not barrels. But a 2016 online article in Potato Grower magazine mentions $6 for a 100-lb. sack of potatoes. Factoid: Hastings is still known as Florida's potato capital.
  • In springtime, even yards of city houses were planted with celery and lettuce in Sanford, "capital of the Florida celery belt" (360). 
  • 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of crystallized fruit peel were produced every week during the winter season in Davenport's Citrus Candy Factory (367). Let me say, if you've never tasted homemade or locally made crystallized citrus peel, you are missing a treat. I made some from tangerine peels before my Robinson tangerine tree succumbed to citrus greening. Yum. 
  • Here's what was in typical lunch buckets of workers at a cypress mill in Sanderson: cornbread, black-eyed peas boiled with salt pork, and a jar of cane syrup. The worker poured the syrup into the lunch bucket's lid and sopped it up with the cornbread. Occasionally, the workers ate greens and bacon, pork chops and beans, biscuits, boiled sweet potatoes, and cowpeas (field peas) (423).
  • An "All-Day Sing" was a big social event in Chipley. Winners were determined by popular acclaim ("volume and enthusiasm"). At noon, everyone stopped to eat the dinners they'd brought from home: fried chicken, rabbit, squirrel, vegetables, coffee, and "mounds of cornbread" (445).
Nobody was eating celery or white potatoes. The different sections of Florida were somewhat isolated from one another, but still. I also don't get why entries about backwoods gatherings or work lunches, in this book or others, never seem to mention fresh citrus as a dessert. 

It's all enough to make me hungry. For food ... and for more social history.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

South Miami a city within a city

Life continues to affect my blogging frequency. I'll probably be on this once-a-month schedule through the end of the year. Hope to get back up to twice a month in 2018.

But I digress. Back to Florida history. We all know about Miami, and hear a lot about Miami proper and South Beach. But South Miami, not so much.  I didn't even realize there was a separate city named South Miami. So when I saw this video while browsing on YouTube, I was definitely interested. A Florida city I'd never heard of! Even though I've likely driven through it on one of the few trips my husband and I have made to Miami.

South Miami's motto is "The City of Pleasant Living." The city has about 10,000 residents and is  near Coral Gables. That, too, is a separate city. But Coral Gables has a fairly visible profile and independent identity. To me, that's partly because I associate it with Coral Castle, an attraction that actually isn't in Coral Gables. It isn't even in Miami proper. But that's another blog post.

Wikipedia reports that South Miami residents incorporated in the 1920s in hopes of staving off the "booming city" just north of them. Miami swallowed it anyway, by growing around it in influence and name recognition, if not in actual city borders.

As a municipality, South Miami went through some rough times. The city started off at 6 miles in size, but reduced its borders twice and now is about 2 miles in size. Border shrinkage wasn't the only issue. Read the history on the city's website to learn how South Miami was "saved by a fire engine with no flames in sight!"

Now that I've been introduced to South Miami, I wonder how many other cities are nestled within the metropolis I consider one giant city of Miami. More fodder for future blog posts, I'm sure.

Google Maps screengrab showing borders of city of South Miami

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hurricanes haunt for a long time

1935 photo shows rescue train that was pushed off its track in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane pushed this rescue train off
its tracks. (Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Hurricane Irma knocked me right off my twice-a-month posting schedule. The storm also knocked out my power for almost six days. That's minor compared to what Irma destroyed in the Florida Keys, as I'm sure you've heard. The only positive news was the low number of deaths.

A similarly devastating storm struck the Keys in 1935, only that time, hundreds of people died. Sophisticated weather warning systems hadn't yet been developed. In Florida's Hurricane History, Jay Barnes writes that a warning described the system as a tropical disturbance that might have winds of hurricane force. That was a day before the storm known as the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane slammed into the Keys with winds higher than 150 mph.

Reports of that storm terrify even today. Barnes writes that a rescue train that carried evacuees - including veterans building the Overseas Highway - was tossed off the tracks by a wall of water sat least 17 feet high.

Barnes,  Florida Weather author Morton Winsberg, and most every account of the storm include the first-person observations of survivors J.E. Duane. He managed a fishing camp on Long Key and was an observer for the Weather Bureau. His report noted that he observed houses being lifted off foundations, moved, and broken apart by wind and water. Caught waist-deep in water, he was swept along until he grabbed onto a coconut tree's palm fronds and hung on "for dear life."  Duane was knocked unconscious, and when he awoke - still in the tree - saw that he was 20 feet above the ground.

You can read more excerpts of Duane's report in a Monthly Weather Review article on NOAA's Hurricane Research Division website.

Eleven members of a family named Russell on Matecumbe Key also survived, Barnes writes. Horribly, more than 50 other members of the extended family perished in the storm. Overall, more than 400 people died including many of the veterans.

I remember blogging about early Florida hurricanes last year after Matthew struck my area. Here's hoping it's the last time for a long, long while that I turn to that subject.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A game of el riquito, anyone?

Youth stand in the street and on sidewalks in Ybor City at the turn of the 20th century
Immigrant youth in Ybor City added an ethnic flavor to their
 games and pastimes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Back in 2002-2003, the Ybor City Museum Society hosted an exhibit about childhood pastimes during Ybor City's early years. I didn't see "Growing Up Ybor," but do have a copy of the 10-page booklet that accompanied the four-month exhibit.

So, what exactly did youngsters do in their spare time in the Tampa neighborhood at the turn of the last century? Some of them had no spare time. The exhibit booklet's section on "Childhood's End" quickly drew me, in part because it references Italians. I'm always on the lookout for domestic history about people who share my heritage. I learned the U.S. Census in 1900 reported that almost a third - more than 30% - of Italian cigar workers in Ybor City were ages 5 to 19. So much for playtime. They and other immigrant youth also had to help out at home and in family businesses, and attend school.

All wasn't dour, though. Although I think of Ybor City in that era as populated primarily by Cubans and Italians, it also housed immigrants from Spain, Germany, Romania and elsewhere. Children of each ethnicity introduced traditional games and pastimes, such as a Mediterranean singing game or re-enactments of Spanish or Italian folk tales.

The children also adopted American games and pastimes - even though they often used their native languages to describe them. The booklet states that "... stick-ball was el riquiti, jump rope was bailando la Suiza and jacks became las Yaquis."

Often, toys were handmade. They included dolls, dollhouses, button yo-yos, and scooters made of a skate and scrap wood. Store-bought items might include pick-up sticks, paper dolls, toy trucks and soldiers, and marbles. Pretty much what you'd expect in an early American childhood anywhere in the United States at that time. When movies arrived, neighborhood youth flocked to local theaters on Saturdays in Ybor City just as they did elsewhere. Truly, we're all much more alike than different, in so many ways.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Guava pies and two-board bridges

Stereographic image of an 1800s home in Pine Castle, Florida
The community of Pine Castle takes its name from this
 private residence built of pine by early settler Will Harney.
He called his house his pine castle.
Photo credit: Pine Castle Pioneer Festival website
Pine Castle is a community within the sprawl of Orlando, and is swallowed by the metropolis of some 2.4 million people. A century ago, Pine Castle was still a pioneer settlement. As recently as 30 years ago, longtime residents remembered what life was like in the early days. Some people shared their memories in a magazine issued as part of a local heritage festival in 1986. Among them was a woman named Rose McCoy.

Rose's parents bought 40 acres on Lake Gloria in 1910. I can't find a Lake Gloria on Google Maps in the neighborhood labeled Pine Castle. Perhaps it went by another name 100 years ago, when the area was surrounded by wilderness and Orlando was a place some distance away.

My favorite thing about Rose's reminiscences is her emphasis on daily life. She recollects interesting elements of frontier living in the early 20th century. Among them are the following tidbits. They are transcribed from Pioneer Days: Focus on Farm Life, published by Pine Castle Center for the Arts, 1986:
  • a two-board "bridge" (Rose's quotes) about 30 to 40 feet long, used to cross a narrow waterway on the family's property
  • students eating lunch every day under the trees outside the schoolhouse
  • chapel services daily at school
  • a home garden of corn, peas, lettuce, strawberries, beans, grapes and pineapples
  • fresh milk stored in large china bowls in a pantry
  • screens all the way around food cabinets
  • legs of the food cabinets placed in cans of kerosene to prevent ants from climbing up
  • abundant guava trees, and plenty of guava pie 
  • household gas lights, gas stove and gas iron; the carbide gas and other components were stored in a shed and brass pipes were installed in the house
  • a visit by a priest from Orlando who provided Catholic instruction and taught the family's children the Hail Mary and other prayers
  • attendance at the Pine Castle Methodist Church services and Sunday school
I'm guessing the family was Catholic, else Rose's mother wouldn't have invited the priest to visit. There must not have been a Catholic church close enough for the family to reach by foot, horse or early automobile on a regular basis. Once again, I find that pioneer Christians reached across denominational lines without rancor in order to worship the Lord. It's a pattern that pops up in my research. A welcome one.

Pine Castle presents a Pioneer Days Festival each year. Learn about the event and more at the festival's website, and watch this video to learn more about Pine Castle history:

PINE CASTLE from Rob Matheson on Vimeo.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Florida a haven for writers

Members of the 1158 Literary Society pose for a group photo in 1895 in Orange City, Florida
Members of the 1158 Literary Society pose for a group photo
in Orange City, Fla., in 1895. The 1158 represents the total
of the ages of members. (Credit: State Archives of Florida)
I'm fresh from the wonderful #RWA17, and I’m all about books right now. Reading them, writing, them, talking about writing them …. It’s wonderful to get together with others who share your passion for the printed word. 

Some 2,000 of us gathered for the Romance Writers of America 2017 conference at Disney World in Orlando. I took for granted the interconnectivity: presentations, get-togethers, an app, live stream, downloadable handouts, social media, and the pre-conference logistical emails. How did writers in pioneer days network? Planning a conference by postal service and telephone seems fraught with delays and missed connections.

One thing writers did was form literary colonies. Florida was and still is a popular vacation and relocation destination among authors. Notable colonies and writers’ residences existed in St. Augustine, Winter Park and Key West. Is there a Western reader alive who doesn’t know Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1920s and 1930s? 

I'm surprised at just how many writers called Florida home at some point in their lives. You will be too, by the evidence in the dated but historically valuable The Book Lovers Guide to Florida (Kevin McCarthy, Ed., Pineapple Press, 1992). It’s just under 500 pages, and it takes the reader on a literary tour of the Sunshine State. You’ll find writers famous and forgotten, along with occasional tidbits about what drew them here. I like this 1926 quote by Rex Beach - an author I'm not familiar with: "Florida is the only pioneer state left in the Union." (Book Lovers Guide, 160-161). I wish more women and more ethnically and racially diverse writers were featured, or, I should say, I wish more diversity existed at the time. The guide's authors appear to have done a comprehensive job in their early internet era, when digitized records weren't yet available. 

No matter where writers gathered in Florida in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they did so without the benefit of air conditioning. Some lived here only during winter. Others were native Southerners accustomed to the climate. Some chose location carefully, such as in Key West where ocean breezes are a part of daily life. The presence of authors wasn’t so much a coordinated effort as it was a loose collaboration and shared recognition of pleasant working conditions.

Writers felt at peace in Florida in earlier years. Many weren’t recognized, or were given privacy if they were recognized. Fans may have heard them read at formal presentations. But readers, for the most part, stayed active with books through forming libraries and book clubs and especially literary societies. People couldn't hop online and download a a title, or make a quick trip to the nearest bookstore. 

The mention of bookstores brings me to a sad note about Book Lovers Guide, one which illustrates the book’s 25-year-old age. A 15-page appendix lists about 450 bookstores in Florida, many independent. Today, I sometimes wonder if there are 450 independent brick-and-mortar bookstores remaining in the entire United States.

Long live books.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

$1.50 and a Dream

Historic photo of Mary McLeod Bethune at the front of a line of students, early 1900s.
Students line up behind Mary McLeod Bethune in
Daytona Beach in this historic public-domain photo.
 Photo source: State Archives of Florida
July is the birth anniversary month of Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955). I assume everyone knows the educator, activist and political advisor to presidents, because she was one of the most famous women of her day. If you don't, you should.

Her life and legacy are too large to cover in a blog post. My blog is about daily life in earlier times. This post's focus is on Mrs. (later Dr.) Bethune's early days in Daytona Beach, when she famously started what is now Bethune-Cookman University with $1.50 and five students in 1904. Sounds like she simply started teaching. It was anything but simple.

The daughter of former slaves "dared to defy the caste system," writes her granddaughter Dr. Evelyn Bethune in a family memoir, Bethune: Out of the darkness into the light of Freedom. Daytona Beach was strictly segregated. African-Americans weren't allowed on the beachside unless they were working. The new schoolhouse was a shack, and Mrs. Bethune and her son, Albert, raised the $1.50 needed for rent by selling sandwiches and pies.

(You can find her sweet potato pie recipe in the October 2015 issue of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation's newsletter, The Legendary Retreat. It's on Page 4.)

While wealthier residents penned letters in ink on stationary, the five students of the new Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, and Albert Bethune, scrounged for writing implements. Dr. Bethune writes that they "crushed elderberries to use as ink." Also, "The charred splinters of burned logs were substituted for pencils." Butcher paper and paper bags served as writing surfaces. 

As the school grew, Mrs. Bethune hosted fundraisers, courted wealthy winter residents, and searched for land to buy. The only thing available - or so she was told - was property at the town dump. She sailed forward. 

By 1919, Mrs. Bethune was profiled in the book Women of Achievement by the then-dean of Morehouse College, Benjamin Brawley. He writes of the early days at the permanent site:
By means of concerts and festivals the first payment of five dollars was made on the present site, then an old dump-pile. With their own hands the teacher and the pupils cleared away much of the rubbish, and from the first they invited the cooperation of the people around them by lending a helping hand in any way they could, by 'being neighborly.' 
The student population had grown to almost 200 by 1919. As the years went on, Mrs. Bethune persevered through challenges and obstacles that included visits by the Klu Klux Klan. In one famous incident, she ushered her students into one building and sang hymns with them as klansmen gathered outside. The men's identities were hidden behind hoods, as usual. Dr. Bethune notes in her family memoir that no one was harmed that night.

Mrs. Bethune was a woman of tremendous faith, writes her granddaughter. She was strong-willed, determined, and willing to work hard for her dream of helping others. This post touches on only one small portion of her wide-ranging life. Visit her house, which is a National Historic Landmark. Learn more about her. She'll inspire you.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Little House on the Florida frontier

1890s photo of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almanzo, in Florida
The Wilders in Florida. Laura doesn't seem happy 
to be here. Not sure of the original source of this
 photo or who gets credit. I found it on Pinterest
I'm a longtime fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House fame. But never, ever, did I realize until recently that she lived on the Florida frontier for a brief time.

I was so surprised when I read that fact in the book Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Tystad Koupal, editor (South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017). Laura's short Florida stay is mentioned in passing, but I halted in mid-sentence and set out to learn more.

Laura and her husband, Almanzo Wilder, and their daughter, Rose, spent most of 1891 and 1892 in the small, northern Florida town of Westville, which is tiny even now. The population today is less than 300. But Westville proclaims its sliver of Wilder history, I'm glad to say. So do other people. A Google search turns up all kinds of information.

There's a Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead Park you can visit on County Road 163 in Westville. A historical marker stands at the site of the Wilder homestead and provides a brief history of Laura's time in Florida. Never have I been so anxious to read a sign. A little disappointed, maybe, to learn from it that the Wilders returned to the Dakota plains because Florida was too humid for Laura.

The sign also says Rose, as an adult, wrote a fictionalized account of the Florida sojourn and that the story won an O. Henry prize in 1922.  Can't wait to read the piece, which is titled "Innocence."

The Wilders made the odd detour to Florida because family was already living here. A 2012 Chipley newspaper article about Laura's life says relatives still live in the area.

The article also includes an interesting comment from Laura about her stay in Florida. It makes me think more than the humidity affected her perspective of her new home:
"... we went to live in the piney woods of Florida, where the trees always murmur, where the butterflies are enormous, where plants that eat insects grow in moist places, where alligators inhabit the slowly moving waters of the rivers. But at the time and at that place a Yankee woman was more of a curiosity than these...”
She wasn't really a Yankee, of course, at least not in the sense that I think of Yankees (being one myself). But Westville is in Holmes County in the farthest reaches of northern Florida. It's practically a part of Alabama. In the early 1890s, some locals indeed might have been openly curious - and possibly resentful - about a Midwestern/Yankee woman trying to put down roots in the rural Old South.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Missouri offers a booklet about the family's Westville period. I've put it on my to-be-read list. I'm curious about what Laura writes about life on the Florida frontier.

One of the main reasons I like Laura's autobiography and novels about growing up on the American frontier is her attention to the details of daily living. To think she turned that lens of observation on pioneer Florida is a treasure, indeed.

Postscript, 2018: I found and read the short story, "Innocence," through the Internet Archive digital library. My take is that the locals were suspicious and possibly unfriendly to Laura during her stay in Florida. The cultural gaps had to be  enormous. Also, the short story has a sinister plot twist that I hope was fictional and not based on a true incident.

Postscript, 2020: I bought and read the booklet about Westville and the effort to uncover history about the family's time in frontier Florida. Here's a link to my post about it. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A possum in the applesauce

Row of buildings in Stuart when it was a pioneer town
This pioneer photo on page 87 of Stuart on the St. Lucie, A Pictorial History
is credited to Robert Gladwin.
How I wish I had a photo to go with the headline: A possum in the applesauce. But Southeast Florida pioneer Homer Hine Stuart Jr. had other things on his mind the night he encountered the marsupial in 1886. Namely, ridding his bungalow of the critter before his visiting mother woke up and saw it.

Homer described the scene in a letter to his fiancee, Margaret, who stayed in civilized Athens, N.Y.  She declined his invitations to come to the frontier town of Stuart on the banks of the St. Lucie River. The city carries Homer's surname to this day. Yet Homer homesteaded on the river for only a handful of years. He and Margaret got married in 1888 and settled in the North.

Head and shoulders image of Homer Hine Stuart Jr. in the late 1800s.
This image appears on
the title page of  Stuart
on the St. Lucie.
Before I return to the possum story, I first want to credit the book in which I found it. Parts of Homer's letter are transcribed in the wonderful Stuart on the St. Lucie, A Pictorial History, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow (Sewall's Point Co., 2001).

The possum story gets better, and Homer's writing is all that's needed. So let me step out of the way:
"...At last I got to sleep but only for a little while, I thought all the dishes were being broken & there was a Possum on the table with his idiotic smile. Of course I had to make the best of it & while mother sat eating her breakfast & saying how delicious the applesauce was & in this climate what a perfect substitute for butter, I agreed with her & to prove it ate some more of the delicate flavored applesauce thinking all the time of what she would think if I told her the picture of the night before. An Opposum standing in the dish of applesauce & munching the wing of a chicken, his tail resting in the sugar bowl."
Truly, I couldn't have made that up. And I write fiction when not blogging.

Thurlow writes that Homer became disenchanted with pioneering soon after his widowed mother left. He homesteaded in Florida for only five years. Several other family members also owned riverfront land in Stuart, so the city name may also reflect their influence. Not a one, though, can top Homer's possum story.

Monday, May 29, 2017

School days - so distant, so near

students and teachers outside a one-room schoolhouse in 1890s Florida
These students and teachers posed for a photo outside their
South Florida schoolhouse in the 1890s.
Photo credit: Florida Memory, State Archives of Florida
Two things stood out as I browsed school news from more than a century ago. One, people spouted opinions about education with vigor. Two, the sub-collegiate curriculum -- aka high school -- in the academy that grew to become Florida State University was surprisingly challenging to my 21st century eyes.

Really, I should make it three things. Third, teacher pay was pretty poor. School salaries in Ocala in 1897 ranged from $25 to $50 a month. The modern equivalent is $731 to $1,462. That was for a seven-month term.

The salaries were described in an Ocala Evening Star article about the July 5, 1897 Marion County Board of Public Instruction meeting. Nothing indicates whether the salary range applied to teachers in both white and black schools. These were the days of segregation. A separate article on the same news page noted the 40 teachers present at the opening exercises of "The Colored Normal" in Witness hall. The Normal was a teaching institute, but it seems it was conducted in a church. By the second day, 75 teachers were in attendance. No word on money. The article received a fraction of the space allocated to the board's affairs.

Downstate in Titusville a few years later, a letter writer in the Jan. 26, 1900 Florida Star
lamented he way his "former colleagues on the school board" wasted money. R.N. Andrews of Cocoa chastised officials for spending  more than $600 on charts, maps and books when they could have procured the same supplies at a much lower cost. In his long letter, he wrote he'd been contacted by numerous people who had complaints about school business.

That same year, 1900, back in Ocala, residents were protesting a proposed special school tax district. They wanted an election on the district postponed and the district's boundaries redrawn. You can read their reasons in the Sept. 6, 1900 issue of the Ocala Evening Star.

While adults agitated, students sweated at their studies, if the curriculum in the April 18, 1901 edition of The Weekly Tallahassean is any indication. A long article about the West Florida Seminary mentioned classes taken by students in the sub-collegiate course. These students had to be at least 12 to enroll, and had to "pass through three years of hard study" to advance to the collegiate level.

Their courses included: grammar, rhetoric, literature, business and higher arithmetic, bookkeeping and commercial law, algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics, civil government, physiology and hygiene, botany, physical and political geography, history and Latin.

I suspect "business and higher arithmetic" was akin to the "finite mathematics" I took to fulfill the Quantitative Learning requirement when I returned to college in middle age. Granted, I was rusty and years out of practice. But the memory of calculating interest on mortgages, and other such business exercises, gives me renewed respect for those long-ago learners.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eldora a Florida ghost town

1980s photo of 19th century building
Known as Eldora House, this structure was built in 1877.
It was a private residence and a boarding house.
Photo credit: Gerri Bauer
We live in a time of change. Pioneer Floridians did, too, especially regarding travel. Changes in transportation could doom a town. The small community of Eldora is a perfect example. Its fortunes rose and fell in a little over two decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The thriving waterfront community relied on the river as its main highway. The town fronted the Indian River, which at the time was a main thoroughfare. Eldora lost significance - and population - through a combination of factors. Water transportation faded as railroads expanded. A freeze killed the town's citrus crop, and a year later a hurricane struck. Finally, the Intracoastal Waterway was dug, which meant Eldora no longer sat on the main transit route.

The town faded. It lost people, and even its name. Originally, the settlement had been known as Pumpkin Point.

During its short existence in the last quarter of the 19th century, Eldora had a post office, school, aviary, orange groves and a business that used palmetto berries to make a medicinal syrup. I learned all that when touring the site many years ago in order to write a newspaper article. That's when I took the photo that accompanies this blog post. The crumbling structure in the photo was built in 1877 and called Eldora House. It served as a private residence and then a boarding house.

A park ranger explained the town's history during that visit. That's because Eldora in modern times became part of Canaveral National Seashore. That gives Eldora somewhat of a happy ending, compared to other Florida ghost towns.

One of the few remaining structures there during my tour has been restored. Known as the Eldora State House, it's now a museum and may be visited on weekends. You can learn about the town and the people who lived there. And stand on the waterfront and wonder what it was like to live in a time and place where waterways formed your only link to the wider world.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Outpost, outlaw, island a unique mix

Early 20th century photo of Ernest Coe and Ted Smallwood from Man in the Everglades book
Ted Smallwood, seated, talks with Ernest Coe in Smallwood
store in this undated photo that appears in the 1968 book,
Man in the Everglades. Coe was a driving forced behind
establishment of  Everglades National Park.
You have to want to go to Chokoloskee Island. It's not on the way to anywhere else. South of Everglades City, it's in the part of Southwest Florida known as the Ten Thousand Islands.

It's remote now. Imagine one hundred years ago. Chokoloskee Island is one of those places that lend credence to the idea of frontier Florida as a slice of the Old West, albeit with a different climate. Renegades really did hide out, shoot it out, and in general slink around. White settlers and Native Americans stepped warily around one another after fighting three wars between the 1830s and 1850s.

One famous outlaw story is associated with Chokoloskee Island and in particular with the waterfront trading post known as Smallwood store. My post isn't focused on the outlaw. His name was Edgar Watson and his story is overall scary. You can read about him in the island's Wikipedia page and in the novel Killing Mr. Watson mentioned in the embedded video, below.

The post is more about the store, which I visited with my husband some years ago. It's a historic site and museum now.

Ted Smallwood opened the general store/post office in 1906. History says he was known for having a mutually respectful relationship with the Seminoles in the area. You have to remember, the 19-aughts were only 50 years after the end of the Third Seminole War. In modern perspective, it would be like something that happened in the 1960s. Plenty of folk were still around who remembered the previous era. Seminoles and white Americans weren't on the most casual of terms.

The trading post both was and wasn't a Little House on the Prairie-type store. For one thing, the back porch extends right out over Chokoloskee Bay. The place was extremely isolated. Only about ten families lived on the island. Homesteaders could pick up their mail and find goods like lanterns, fabric, and farm and fishing equipment. But the store also hosted Indians who glided up on the waterfront side in canoes and traded furs and hides.

The store remained open until the 1980s and still retains its original look. I was amazed when I walked through. Soon as I dig out (I mean find) our photos from that trip I'll post some of them. In the meantime, you can see a great virtual tour on the Smallwood website.

Life on Chokoloskee Island in the early 1900s was unlike anywhere else. In some ways, it still is today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Heavy music on a joyous day

screengrab of ad for Easter clothes, from 1916 newspaper
This ad appeared on the same page of the
April 21, 1916 Pensacola Journal as the
article about Easter music at St. Michael's.
Catholics tend to fall into two camps when it comes to church music - traditional or contemporary. Me, I like Gregorian chant. Some was performed at Easter services at St. Michael's in Pensacola a century ago. Along with a great deal of other music.

First, a digression. In case you're wondering why the blog illustration depicts Easter finery instead of something music-related. I had nothing to accompany the musical selections listed below, is one reason. The other is that the illustration appears on the same newspaper page as the article about the St. Michael's Easter service. Both are on Page 3 of the April 21, 1916 edition of the Pensacola Journal. At first glance, I thought I was looking at 1950s fashions. I rechecked the newspaper date, and sure enough it's 1916.

Pensacola has many strengths but it's hardly a hotbed of fashion forwardness. I'm intrigued enough to add women's fashion trends of the 19-teen years to my "future explorations" file.

Back to the music. The newspaper reporter said the choir "prepared a brilliant musical program for its part in the divine services Easter Sunday." The music was set to begin a half-hour before solemn High Mass. Another performance was scheduled for Easter evening, and the entire community was invited, including non-Catholics. The article makes a point of noting that fact. A crowd was expected, and extra chairs brought in.

Here's the musical program:

  • Vidi Aquam (Gregorian)
  • Regina Coeli (Giorza)
  • Kyrie (Emerson)
  • Gloria (Ganns)
  • Credo (Ganns)
  • Sanctus (Emerson)
  • Benedictus (Gounod)
  • “Pilgrims’ Chorus” and “Evening Star” from Tannhauser (Wagner)
  • “Sweet Reverie” (Tobani-Getz)
  • “As God Ordained,” quartet for strongs (strings?) (Muted)
  • “Largo” (Handel)
  • Postlude, “The Heavens Are Telling” (Handel)
Instruments were five violins, a cornet, flute, cello, bass, clarinet and organ. The musicians were mentioned by name. The violinists were O’Brien Motto, Bertram Coleman, Bertram Dannheisser, Max Heinberg and Fred Fairchild. On the cornet was Robert Diaz, with A. Distasia on flute, A. Diaz on cello, Benj. Fairchild on bass, a Mr. Brown on clarinet and A.C. Reilly as organist. No word on individual members of the chorus. Perhaps too many to list. The congregation was expected to sing even at the evening program.

The performances at the church were said to be the continuance of a "time-honored custom." St. Michael's in 1916 was already a historic parish, having been established in 1781. Today, St. Michael's is a basilica.

After reading such a glowing write-up, I dug up renditions on YouTube of several of the selections. Oh, my. Just about all were quite heavy. Much has changed in Catholic church music over the last century. For the better.

Friday, March 31, 2017

First magic kingdom?

Screengrab of artist's rendering of Tampa Bay Hotel in 19th century
From the Henry Plant Museum video:
  'The Tampa Bay Hotel: Florida's First Magic Kingdom'
In the 19th century, Florida was portrayed elsewhere in the nation as an exotic, tropical locale. So developers gave people what they expected. A case in point is railroad magnate Henry Plant, whose resort hotel is dubbed in the accompanying video as Florida's first magic kingdom.

One of the speakers in the Henry Plant Museum video suggests that 19th century travelers' expectations of the extraordinary is one reason Plant gave his resort hotel a Moorish look. His Tampa Bay Hotel even had minarets.

I've written about the Tampa Bay Hotel in the past - or rather, about the museum housed within the building. The National Historical Landmark is now part of the University of Tampa. Today's post shares the link to the video about the hotel's history. The 15-minute video goes into architectural detail about the structure and explains what happened to it after the glitterati of the 19th century moved on to other playgrounds.

The hotel story is replete with superlatives that are eye-opening when compared to the lives and houses of the average 19th century Floridian. The hotel had 500 rooms on 6 acres, and was furnished with European goods shipped to the site in 41 trainloads. The goods included 30,000 square yards of carpet. According to the video, the Tampa Bay Hotel was Florida's first all-electric, steam-heated and fireproof hotel. The grounds included tropical landscaping, a horse track, golf course and spaces for musical and theatrical performances.

All this glamour was unveiled on Feb. 5, 1891, at an opening ball for 2,000 guests. The New York Times covered the gala.

Enjoy this look at an increasingly distant past:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

School site echoes vibrant past

2011 Google Street View photo of St. Benedict the Moor School
Does this building still stand? This is
 a 2011 image of St. Benedict the Moor
School. (Credit: Google Street View)
Second of two parts

Six years is a long time in our age of instant communications. The turn-of-the-20th-century building at the core of today's post might not exist anymore. I can't find photos of St. Benedict the Moor School newer than a 2011 Google Street View, pictured first in this post. That's an ominous sign, for the school's history is rich. The physical remainder, as you can see, is in dire shape.

Built in 1898, St. Benedict school was "one of the first all-black Catholic schools in Florida," according to a 2014 article in the St. Augustine Record. The St. Benedict parish in St. Augustine's Lincolnville neighborhood was founded in the 1870s, during Reconstruction. St. Benedict's Church was built in the early 1900s. It's been restored and appears vibrant again. You can learn more on the church's Facebook page.

A few web resources linked in this post document the church and school history. As always, for me, the social history leaps out. Such as the time three Catholic nuns were arrested in 1916 because they were white women teaching black schoolchildren. Jim Crow laws forbade such interaction during segregation years in Florida (and probably in other states).

As a Catholic-owned educational institution, St. Benedict's was a private school. A judge ruled the law didn't apply to private schools, and the nuns were released. Their names deserve mention, though: Sisters Mary Thomasine, Scholastica and Beningus, according to the St. Augustine Record article. That news story also notes the arrests occurred on an Easter Sunday.

1920s photo of students seated in a truck decorated for a parade
St. Benedict's students ride in a school float decorated
for an Emancipation Day parade in the 1920s.
(Credit: State Archives of Florida/Twine)
The information about the nuns is listed in various websites and on a historical marker erected on the grounds of the church complex. Photos of the marker are below.

Lesser known are the photos by African-American Richard Twine, a photographer who's the subject of Part One of this post. He photographed St. Benedict class pictures, church gatherings and even the school's float in an Emancipation  Day parade in the 1920s. The images bring to life the human side of one of the decades when St. Benedict School thrived. The Twine collection may be viewed on the Florida Memory website.

The school closed in the 1960s, some 70 years after it was built with money from philanthropist and Catholic nun St. Katharine Drexel. In fact, a photo of the school appears on her Wikipedia page. Restoration efforts started, but stalled. In 2004, the school was considered one of St. Augustine's most threatened historic places. I wonder if restoration remains a goal. I sure hope so.

Front and back views of Black Catholic Heritage marker in St. Augustine
Credit: These closeup views of the Black Catholic Heritage historical marker are from a gallery on

Monday, February 27, 2017

Gifted photographer a mystery man

photo of Richard Aloysius Twine
Photographer Richard A. Twine self-portrait
(Photo credit: State Archives of Florida/Twine)

July 2019 update:
Mystery photographer revealed

Original 2017 post:

First of two parts

Funny how threads of interest travel online. Last week, I saw a Facebook post by Florida's Bureau of Library Development. It linked to a page on the State Archives of Florida's Florida Memory website. A mouthful of titles, I know. 
The trail was worth following. It led to an African-American photographer named Richard Aloysius Twine.

I can't link to a Wikipedia page about Twine, because one doesn't exist. I hope to rectify that by creating a page for him as part of a retirement project. He deserves wider recognition for the visual record he made of the African-American community of Lincolnville in St. Augustine. Between 1922 and 1927 he created more than 100 images of Lincolnville people, places and events.

Twine's images are preserved at the St. Augustine Historical Society and showcased online at Florida Memory. That website provides the only biographical detail I could find about Twine. He was born in 1896 and was a professional photographer, at least during the 1920s. He was in his 20s when he documented community life.

What the brief bio doesn't say, but what I infer from the photos, is that Twine was Catholic or was close to the Catholic community in Lincolnville. A number of his pictures depict St. Benedict the Moor church, churchgoers and schoolchildren. St. Benedict the Moor was the first African-American parish in the St. Augustine diocese, according to a 2014 article in the St. Augustine Record. Part Two of this blog post looks more closely at the church and school.

Ninety-six of Twine's photos can be viewed online. One of my favorites is titled "The 'Catholic Crowd' After Church." Twine - looking quite dapper - is seated in the middle of the photo, and is surrounded by women wearing their Sunday best. The image preserves a slice of life from a long-ago Sunday.

I looked at every one of the photos. Each draws the viewer in for a closer look. Each leaves the viewer with a better understanding of a place and people at a certain point in time. A sensitive and gifted man was behind the camera. I wonder what happened to him. Did he stop taking photos? If so, why? Did he move away? Embark on a different career? The photos are silent.

Early 1900s photo of group of African-Americans
'The 'Catholic Crowd' After Church," by Richard A. Twine, seated at center.
(Photo credit: State Archives of Florida/Twine)

Part 2 of the original 2017 post is about St. Benedict the Moor Catholic School.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Food, culture contrast in 'Cross Creek Cookery'

Open pages of Cross Creek Cookery cookbook
Cross Creek Cookery was published 75 years ago.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery, both by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. First editions of both books have a place of honor on my bookshelves.

Rawlings moved to Florida in the 1920s and homesteaded in pioneer fashion on a citrus grove in Cross Creek. Even today, the Creek remains a hamlet. It's a strip of land sandwiched between Lochloosa and Orange lakes, an easy drive from Gainesville or Ocala but a century away in ambience.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Cross Creek was remote. Many local customs and behaviors were country holdovers from the turn of the 20th century and earlier. Rawlings captured the essence and lifestyles of the people, and brought them to life in fiction and nonfiction. Readers met many of the locals in Rawlings' popular memoir, Cross Creek.

Although Rawlings lived her version of a Florida Cracker lifestyle at Cross Creek, she was from a privileged background. She moved seamlessly between her rural haven and the urban Northeast. Nowhere is that contrast more evident than in Cross Creek Cookery

The cookbook features a mix of local country cuisine and family recipes from Rawlings' cultured upbringing. The instructions for "Mother's Almond Cake," with its "Almond Paste Filling" and "Boiled Frosting for Almond Cake," require three pages of text. "Cassava Pudding" - a backwoods treat - needs only a paragraph. The recipe was shared with Rawlings by a homesteader in the Ocala National Forest. The woman and her family had settled in the Florida scrub before it became a national forest.

The book's commentary is as revealing as the juxtaposition of recipes. Rawlings was aware. She knew that although she had lived in Cross Creek for years, she never truly could be of Cross Creek. In her preface to the recipe for "Sweet Potato Pone," she tells of the time she invited a local friend to the family's Christmas dinner at Cross Creek. She spent days preparing an elaborate meal.

Afterwards, she told her guest the meal was an example of a typical Yankee Christmas dinner. She asked what his family would eat for a typical Florida Cracker Christmas dinner. Her friend's reply? "Whatever we can git, Ma'am. Whatever we can git." (Page 183)

Be sure you get the chance to spend some time with one or both of these classic books. Happy 75th Anniversary to a piece of Florida's past.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Racing through layers of history

Man in Stanley Steamer race car on beach  in 1906, surrounded by fans
Halifax Historical Society photo used in the book 'Daytona
Beach: 100 Years of Racing' depicts the Stanley Steamer
car driven to a world record in 1906.
We’re nigh on to Speed Weeks: the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona just roared through the region the last weekend of January. It reminded me I’ve been remiss. I've never blogged about the early days of automobile racing in Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach on Florida's East Coast. 

That's partly because pictures of old racing cars all look alike to me. But it's mainly because I’m more drawn to the social history that surrounded the races than to things like engine specifications and speed records.

There's a lot of recorded history about the nuts and bolts, no pun intended. But precious little about the peripheral activities that occurred among the people involved. I got enthused at the 1906 photo posted here because of the names mentioned, but my euphoria was short lived. The man in the driver’s seat is Fred Marriott, a name known to me for its hotel connotation. But I found no connection between him and the hotel family. He’s seated in a "#2" Stanley Steamer. I thought immediately of carpets. Unfortunately, the Stanley Steamer car has absolutely nothing to do with the Stanley Steemer carpet cleaning company.

So, even in my social history blog I have to resort to nuts and bolts on this subject. The photo is from the Halifax Historical Society and is pictured on page 17 of Daytona Beach: 100 Years of Racing by Harold D. Cardwell Sr. (Arcadia Publishing, 2002). The photo depicts a momentous event that has nothing to do with floor coverings or hotels. The caption notes that Marriott had broken a world record of 127.66 mph in the Stanley Steamer in 1906. 

That’s fast even by 21st century standards. It’s no wonder such speeds awed inquisitive spectators at a time when many people still called cars “horseless carriages.”

Automobile racing was an expensive hobby from the start, and the speed trials and beach races drew the era’s glitterati as both participants and spectators. Listen to the surnames of some of the racers, car owners, and spectators, sometimes one and the same: Vanderbilt, Flagler, Gould, Astor. They were the one percent of their time. Several helped found the Florida East Coast Automobile Association at the start of the 20th century, and built an oceanfront clubhouse. 

Tourist lodgings such as the massive Ormond Hotel -  demolished in 1992 - catered to the racers and car owners. They also hosted the fans who came to see them. I sometimes wonder if wives and families went along on these racing jaunts. Then, as now, winter weather in Florida was hard to resist. Most of the historic racing-related photos picture predominantly male crowds. The ladies may not have been interested. There were plenty of other things to occupy them. If only old photos could talk.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Amish pioneered in Florida

Road sign depicting silhouette of horse and buggy
Road sign is in the North, a traditional
 location of Amish settlements. But
an Amish community in Florida dates
 to pioneer years. Creative Commons
photo credit: Daniel Schwen
The word Amish makes me think of rolling farmland and horse-and-buggy transportation on rural roads in the North and Midwest. Not fun in the sun in Florida.

That, despite my knowing that Pinecraft in Sarasota is a popular vacation destination for many Amish. The surprise, for me, is learning that Pinecraft was established in the 1920s by an Amish man who had a celery farm.

Suddenly the Amish are part of Florida pioneer history.

The Anabaptist community's roots in Florida are traced to a farmer named Daniel Kurtz, according to the website Amish America. The website cites a book titled The History of Pinecraft, 1925-1960, by Noah Gingerich. I can't find a copy anywhere except online for $90+ dollars  - not an option! -  and in Sarasota-area libraries - a good three- to four-hour drive from me.

There appears to be no in-depth history within my reach. I did find a 28-year-old news item in the Tampa Bay Times. It mentions that two of the earliest residents were of the Yoder and Miller families, and that streets are named after them. Sorry I can't link to the article, as I had to log in to read it via the duPont-Ball research library at Stetson University. The March 7, 1989 item is bylined Pat Fenner.

According to the article, Daniel Kurtz was Old Order Amish, and he and his family moved farther south in 1925 after finding Tampa too worldly. He and his family settled "a long horse ride away" from Sarasota.

Others must have soon followed suit. The multi-author book The Amish (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) notes that a "handful of farmers" (location 4424 in Kindle) bought land for celery farming on the outskirts of Sarasota in the late 1920s.

Florida land prices skyrocketed in the early 1920s during the Florida boom, which collapsed in 1926. Either Kurtz started his farm at the height of the boom, or he and the others scooped up acreage at reasonable prices after the market crashed. Both Amish America and Wikipedia mention that Pinecraft had previously been the site of the Sarasota National Tourist Camp. Perhaps the camp was a victim of the crash.

Word of Florida seems to have traveled quickly. In Amish Society (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, 4th Edition), author John A. Hostetler says elderly Amish began vacationing in Florida "as early as 1927" (page 358) for health reasons. Pinecraft became kind of a resort for them.

It remains so today. Thousands of Amish travel to Pinecraft by bus each year and, once in town, get around on bicycles. A resource about the modern-day scene is the blog Pinecraft-Saraosta by resident Katie Troyer. She writes about the regular goings-on in town and seems to know just about everybody.

So there you have the extent of my knowledge of early Pinecraft. Many questions, few answers. I'll keep digging. My husband and I have traveled throughout most of Florida, but not yet to the Sarasota region. Time to plan a mini-getaway. History awaits.

Screengrab showing Pinecraft location in Google Maps
From Google Maps