Exploring the Everglades

Today, Florida’s Everglades are a popular destination for visitors and sportsmen.  This vast “river of grass” is host to agricultural areas and numerous canals, as well as a national park.  However, this was not always so.  There was a time when the Everglades were a wild and remote region.  Until the 1880s, some people even compared the Everglades to the interior of Africa, which was then an almost completely unknown part of the world.

Despite their mystery, there were many in the United States who believed that the Everglades could eventually be completely drained.  With such an effort, the Everglades could potentially become thousands of square miles of new land on which Florida could grow.  The promise of the enormous profits such an undertaking could generate was hard to ignore, and people from all over the United States became involved.  So great was said promise that the Times-Democrat, a newspaper out of New Orleans, resolved to not only fund but also send a man to lead two expeditions through the Everglades.  The Times-Democrat party became the first recorded group to successfully traverse the Everglades from north to south.

The Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades

The story begins with Hamilton Disston, the Disston Land Company, and Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund.  The IIF was established in 1851 for the purpose of encouraging the further development of Florida.  However, its resources were not exclusively for the development of the Everglades, and by the early 1880s, its obligations to various groups and projects all over the state had exceeded its means.  The IIF needed money.  Thus, the state resolved to sell more than four million acres of swampland, much of it in the Everglades, to the Disston Land company.  As a condition of the sale, Disston was required to begin draining the land himself.  Once reclaimed, Disston and many others like him believed that the Everglades could become extraordinarily fertile farmland.  Sales of this land, therefore, could have made him fantastically wealthy. (For more, see our blog post: “Land by the Gallon”)

Meanwhile, the Times-Democrat had long been predicting that the South was poised for a massive development boom following Reconstruction, especially concerning the conversion of wetlands into productive farms.  Though it primarily served New Orleans, the Times-Democrat boasted readership all over the South.  While it had no real ties to Disston himself, the newspaper saw that he owned – and was obligated to reclaim – lands which could help to make their prophecy come true.  Consequently, the newspaper organized two expeditions into the Everglades, the first in 1882 and the second the following year.  These expeditions would investigate the feasibility of draining the region and also determine what sort of plants might eventually grow best there.  The group included an experienced engineer and surveyor who could document their findings, as well as determine the best route for a telegraph line through the region at the request of the Western Union Company.

Hamilton Disston

Hamilton Disston

Though several military parties had crossed the Everglades during the Seminole Wars, these had all run between east and west.  The TimesDemocrat, therefore, proposed to attempt a route running from north to south, which promised many exciting new discoveries.   Furthermore, it would make a very exciting series of reports for their readership to enjoy.  The expedition would be led by Major Archie P. Williams,  who was the newspaper’s correspondent, and crewed by able and experienced men from the area.

The expedition proceeded in two stages.  In 1882, they traveled south along the Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, and then made their way west along the Caloosahatchee River, towards Fort Myers.  The following year, the group retraced its route eastward into Okeechobee, and then turned south into the Everglades proper, aiming to reach the mouth of the Shark River.  All told, the journey was more than 400 miles.  Much of it went deep through the uncharted Everglades.

A map of the major traversals of the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running North to South.

A map showing routes taken across the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running north to south.

The Shark River Valley: The Times Democrat Expedition’s destination.

The Shark River Valley: the Times-Democrat’s destination.

The expedition, composed of both white and African-American men, endured many hardships on their journey south.  The February 23, 1883 edition of the Times-Democrat, for example, contains a report of a nighttime invasion of the party’s camp by alligators.   A well-timed gust of wind stoked the dying fire, and the light revealed that the ground was “one moving mass of the reptiles.”  Perhaps a few stories were exaggerated for the readers, but that does not diminish the group’s efforts.  Often, they found the water so shallow and the mud so deep that they were obliged to push their boats along from behind while sinking themselves in the swamp.  Some days would only see a few miles of hard won progress; cutting a path through the seemingly endless sawgrass.  They faced inclement weather in small boats, and swarms of mosquitoes.  The group also feared potentially hostile encounters with the Native Americans who still inhabited the area, though their concerns proved baseless.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times-Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

While their trip through the Everglades was difficult, the Times-Democrat party did reach the Shark River.  When they reached the end of the “river of grass,” they determined that, based on their experiences, any drainage project in the Everglades was destined to end in failure.  They also judged that a telegraph line was not feasible, for even if the line could be laid, accessing it for maintenance would mean regular repeats of their own arduous journey.  Major Williams and his men thought that the Everglades “must remain a swamp forever.”

On this count, the Times-Democrat men were only partially right.  Mr. Disston’s plan to “redeem” the Everglades never came to complete fruition.  Though some parts were drained in the twentieth century, much of the area is still swampland save for the natural islands, or hammocks, which occasionally rise up from the sawgrass.  Though the dry and fertile farmlands never materialized, accessibility has greatly improved.  A network of flood control canals and nature trails cross parts of the Everglades, as well as the famous “Alligator Alley” highway.  Travelers through the Everglades certainly have a much easier time of it than dragging their boats through the muck.   If you ever find yourself in the Everglades, take a moment to remember Major Archie Williams, his crew of intrepid Floridians, and their journey into the unknown.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair: Florida on Display

Summertime is well and truly underway here in Florida, and people from all over the world are coming to enjoy what our state has to offer.  In the summers of 1964 and 1965, however, Florida came to them as part of the World’s Fair, held in New York City’s Flushing Meadows Park.

Presided over by the iconic Unisphere, the fair ran for more than a year, from April 1964 to October 1965, with a break for the New York winter.  With the theme “Peace Through Understanding,” the fair was a showcase of the latest and greatest; from cutting edge technology to works of art from all over the world.  Dozens of other countries had a presence, along with many US states and several prominent corporations.  Visitors could marvel at Bell Laboratories’ video phone technology, admire the Ford Mustang – unveiled to the world for the first time at the fair – or sample any number of foreign cuisines.

Florida’s pavilion, rather than looking forward to the wonders of a utopian future, was an exhibition of the progress being made and the pleasures to be had in Florida; potentially on the very same day.  Indeed, visitors could even book a flight south right in the pavilion.  As one promotional video put it, Florida’s pavilion had “pretty girls, orange juice, and jumping porpoises.” In addition, the exhibit boasted shops, works by Floridian artists, and other attractions; all topped by the enormous illuminated orange of the Citrus Tower.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

There were numerous guest acts, including performances by several Florida high school bands.  Also appearing was a group of Seminole alligator wrestlers who, according to Fair correspondence, “preferred to wrestle very large alligators” and were willing to bring their own to accommodate.  Accounting for all the various exhibits, demonstrations, and shows, Florida’s pavilion was among the largest at the fair.

Florida’s exhibit eventually ranked as the seventh most popular out of more than 150 at the fair by its end. The Florida pavilion only placed behind the likes of General Motors or the Vatican, who had Michelangelo’s Pietà brought to the fair at great expense.  The famous sculpture weighed some twenty thousand pounds including its marble base.  All told, close to fourteen and a half million fairgoers visited the Florida pavilion in the 1964 and 1965 World’s Fair seasons.  Were you or someone you know one of them?  Let us know in a comment!

Ralph Stanley Dies at 89

Banjo player and vocalist Ralph Stanley was a master of what he described as the “old-time mountain style” found in the ridges and valleys of his home on the Virginia-Kentucky border.  His high clarion tenor was iconic in traditional mountain music and modern bluegrass alike.  He died at his home in Sandy Ridge, Virginia on Thursday at the age of 89.

Stanley Brothers and Clinch Mountain Boys performing at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival- White Springs, Florida

Ralph Stanley (banjo) with Carter Stanley (guitar) at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival

Stanley was born in Dickenson County, located in Southwest Virginia, on February 25, 1927, absorbing the sentimental folk songs of the Carter Family right along with the doleful hymns of the Primitive Baptist Universalist congregation he grew up with.  After receiving his first banjo as a teenager, his mother taught him the claw-hammer style she had learned in her youth.  By the age of 19, Stanley had formed the Clinch Mountain Boys with his brother, Carter, which remained active for two decades.

During that time, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys found success arranging blues, ballads, hymns and breakdowns to feature their fraternally tight vocal harmonies and expressive musicianship in a style that, while often associated with bluegrass, featured little of the bombastic virtuosity and jazz-inflected melodies of popular bluegrass groups like Flatt and Scruggs or Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.

On November 8, 1958, nearing the height of their popularity, the Stanley Brothers headlined the Suwannee River Jamboree, a weekly radio program in Live Oak, Florida.  Their performance of Stanley’s original composition “Gonna Paint the Town” from a half-hour segment of the program syndicated to nearby radio stations can be found in the Florida Folklife Collection (S1576, T85-66):

After his brother’s death in 1966, Stanley began to focus more on the traditional ballads of his Appalachian home, shying further away from any bluegrass leanings his brother had.  His contributions to country music were recognized over the course of his career with inductions into both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor and the Grand Ole Opry, an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University, Congressional recognition in the form of the Living Legend Award and a National Medal of Arts, as well as a Grammy Award for his performance of “O Death” in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“Dr. Ralph,” as he was known in his later years, never wavered in his commitment to the penetrating and powerfully unpretentious roots of old-time mountain music, thus insuring his place in the pantheon of American roots music.

100 New Photos Every Week

Florida Memory adds approximately 100 photos every week. Now you can see them all on our Recently Added Photos page. Check back every Tuesday to see Florida’s history captured in tiny moments!

Here are some highlights from recent weeks:

Mackey International Airlines Chief stewardess Pauline Desjardin and Thea Bodner in Fort Lauderdale, 1972

Mackey International Airlines Chief stewardess Pauline Desjardin and Thea Bodner in Fort Lauderdale, 1972

Commander Harold Crossman with actress Loretta Young at Findlay Gallery for a St. Mary's Hospital benefit auction in Palm Beach, 1969

Commander Harold Crossman with actress Loretta Young at Findlay Gallery for a St. Mary’s Hospital benefit auction in Palm Beach, 1969

Kittens in a top hat in Dade City

Kittens in a top hat in Dade City

Portrait of Lela Fine Gresham in St. Marks

Portrait of Lela Fine Gresham in St. Marks

John Young Gresham was Head Keeper at the St. Marks Lighthouse from 1918 until 1949

John Young Gresham was Head Keeper at the St. Marks Lighthouse from 1918 until 1949

Bass player Hank Hauser getting fumigated at Miami Beach

Bass player Hank Hauser getting fumigated at Miami Beach

Remembering Lois Duncan

Award-winning author Lois Duncan passed away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

Duncan was the author of 50 books, ranging from children’s picture books to adult novels, but she is best known for her young adult suspense novels. Seven of Duncan’s books have been adapted into films. She was also the daughter of Florida photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz.

In tribute to Lois Duncan, we are re-posting this interview with her from May, 2012. In it, Duncan gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of some of her father’s most famous photographs.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico.

Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz was a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier’s, and Town and Country.

His work has been referred to as “an American social history” that documented scenes of American life as diverse as affluent northeasterners to middle-class Floridians. He often used friends and family as subjects in his photographs. Tell us about this one.

Duncan: There I am, standing in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico, getting eaten alive by chiggers while my father kept waiting for “the light to be just right.”

The slant of light was one of the most important things I learned from him about photography. Whenever we took a photo trip on a magazine assignment, he would have the script of the photos he was to take, and before he ever started work, he and Mother would visit each location, determine the angle from which the shot should be taken, and the direction the light should be when the picture was taken.

Then they’d register the time of day when they should try for that shot. (Unfortunately for me, this daisy field shot was not planned beforehand–Joe just stumbled on a “pretty field of daisies” and I happened to be in the car–so the lighting was overhead and he had to wait for a cloud to come over so he could shoot without shadows.)

Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz  lived in Sarasota, Florida. He fell in love with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus which wintered there and photographed performers for 20 years. This photograph of clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath is one of the most famous of his circus images. How did it come to be?

Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath.

Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath

Duncan: Joe was good friends with many of the Ringling Brothers Circus performers. He took this photo of Emmett Kelly in the bathtub as a favor to Kelly, who wanted the image for his Christmas card.

Joe’s wife, Lois Foley Steinmetz, was crouched down out of sight behind the chair that held Kelly’s clothing, with an egg beater in her hand. After every shot Joe took, Lois would leap out of hiding, use the egg beater to increase the foam in the tub, and conceal herself once again.

===

Here are more images of Lois Duncan from the Joseph Janney Steinmetz collection:

Lois Duncan fishing in Pennsylvania, ca. 1938

Lois Duncan fishing in Pennsylvania, ca. 1938

William Steinmetz and Lois Duncan Steinmetz with their mother Lois Foley Steinmetz, 1940.

William Steinmetz and Lois Duncan Steinmetz with their mother Lois Foley Steinmetz, 1940

Steinmetz family at the studio packing for a photo assignment, ca. 1950

Steinmetz family at the studio packing for a photo assignment, ca. 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, admiring the scenery of the Suwannee River, 1949

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, admiring the scenery of the Suwannee River, 1949

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, left, and friend Polly Gaines in a motorboat, 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, left, and friend Polly Gaines in a motorboat, 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz on the 1949 cover of Collier's magazine.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz on the 1949 cover of Collier’s magazine.

The Old Stagecoach Line

Imagine you wanted to take a trip to Tampa this weekend. How would you get there? Would you travel by car, by airplane, or maybe by bus? If we were living a hundred years ago, you might even choose to go by steamship or by train. Now imagine a time when none of those forms of transportation were an option for most destinations. How did people get around Florida in those days? One option was to take the stagecoach line.

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King's Road, from Charles W. Bockelman's The King's Road to Florida (1975).

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King’s Road in northeastern Florida, from Charles W. Bockelman’s The King’s Road to Florida (1975).

The stagecoach lines in Florida started out as routes for the U.S. Postal Service, which needed to establish good roads for transporting mail from place to place. Railroads and steamships carried the mail whenever possible, but for many frontier post offices in the interior these simply weren’t available yet.

Travelers needed good roads as much as letters did, and over time the Postal Service began turning its routes over to private companies, which built more comfortable horse-drawn coaches to carry both mail and passengers between communities. One of the earliest examples of this was the Concord Stagecoach Line, which connected Tampa and Palatka. The Concord was later purchased by Hubbard L. Hart, who operated steamships along the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. As steamboat and railroad transportation became more widely available, stage lines were often integrated into the companies that operated them, connecting Florida’s main traffic routes with even the smallest communities.

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart's management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart’s management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Stagecoach lines were a professional affair like modern bus or air lines, with tickets and schedules and regular routes. The ride, however, was anything but smooth. Florida’s rough and varied terrain made any cross-state journey difficult and lengthy. Primitive unpaved roads permitted speeds of only a few miles per hour, and crossing rivers often involved waiting for ferries. Most trips took multiple days, with passengers staying in hotels or boarding houses along the way. The Concord stage line between Tampa and Palatka, for example, stopped at Ocala and Melendez (modern-day Brooksville) overnight.

The stagecoach lines were a handy option for early travelers, but their time grew short once the railroad appeared on the scene. Florida was slow to exploit the “iron horse” at first, but after the Civil War railroads began criss-crossing the state, rendering many of the old stage routes obsolete. Trains simply carried mail and passengers faster and more efficiently than horse-drawn carriages.

A few relics of the stagecoach era can still be found here and there around Florida. Several counties have roads with names like “Old Post Road” or “Stagecoach Road” indicating where stage lines once operated. One community near Wesley Chapel even has the name “Stagecoach Village.” The old Concord Stage Line ran through the area a few miles away, and an explanatory historical marker is located along one of the main streets.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

What former highways pass through your Florida community? Get the conversation started by posting a comment or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!

The Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901

The morning of Friday, May 3, 1901 dawned like any other late spring day in Jacksonville. Men and women went to work, children went to school, and soon the city was humming with its usual bustle of activity. By one o’clock that afternoon, however, the lazy calm would erupt into the most destructive disaster of the city’s history. A fire strengthened by favorable winds, dry conditions, and a path laden with wooden buildings would rage through Jacksonville, destroying thousands of buildings and millions of dollars in property.

View of Jacksonville's riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

View of Jacksonville’s riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

It all started at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory near the corner of Beaver and Davis streets in the LaVilla neighborhood. Workers had been busily laying moss out to dry in the sun when the noon whistle sang out to announce lunch. They made their way to the shade of the trees to eat, leaving the moss unattended. Normally, a few men would stick around to make sure no ashes or embers from the surrounding neighborhood made their way to the drying fibers, but on this day the lack of wind made such precaution seem unnecessary.

Spanish moss drying on racks - similar to the situation that led to the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

This Spanish moss drying operation is similar to the one that started the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

Then one of the workers noticed a small glowing spot in the moss and went over to investigate. Finding that the moss had somehow caught fire in several places, he called for help, but a deadly chain of events was already in motion. The wind, which had stayed quiet all morning, suddenly came to life, sending burning bits of moss closer and closer to the shed where the company’s stock of dried fibers was stored. The building ignited and was quickly engulfed in flames, flinging burning embers into the surrounding area. More buildings caught fire, and before long Chief T.W. Haney of the Jacksonville Fire Department sounded a general alarm.

Flames consume one of Jacksonville's Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

Flames consume one of Jacksonville’s Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

 

By this time the whole of Jacksonville knew something was wrong. Even if they hadn’t heard the clanging of the fire engine bells, residents could already see a distant cloud of smoke billowing upward and working its way east over the neighborhoods. Families closer to the fire sprang into action, piling household goods into wagons and driving them away from the growing conflagration. Eager to help their neighbors, some people took their belongings only a few blocks away before unloading them and returning. Many of these possessions would later go up in flames before their owners could collect them.

Jacksonville’s fire department fought the blaze valiantly, but neither the wind nor technology was on their side. The fire marched steadily eastward, consuming block after block of wooden structures. Sidewalks, bricks, and concrete structures glowed red with heat and cracked or exploded. Columns of thick smoke rising from the burning city were reportedly seen from as far away as Raleigh, North Carolina.

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents took shelter in the recently completed city armory, the Windsor Hotel, and the county courthouse, but eventually even those buildings had to be evacuated. Depending on their location, people hurried to get across either Hogan’s Creek or the St. Johns River to safety, the fire closing in behind them. At one point, the fire turned southward, trapping the massive crowd waiting at the Market Street Wharf to be transported across the St. Johns River. Desperate to get away from the approaching flames, many residents jumped into the water. This scene, which at the time was thought to have resulted in an enormous loss of life, was dubbed the “Market Street Horror.” Miraculously, despite widespread destruction of property, only seven persons are believed to have lost their lives in the blaze.

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950).

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950). Click the map to enlarge it.

By nightfall, the wind had died down, and the fire was running out of fuel. A total of 2,368 buildings and 466 acres of city territory had been burned to the ground. Twenty-three churches, ten hotels, and every single public building except one federal office structure was destroyed. National Guard troops rallied to the scene to preserve law and order, but the city itself was practically deserted. Nearly 10,000 people had lost their homes, and were forced to take up temporary residence in tents sent to Florida by the United States government.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Jacksonville recovered quickly from the Great Fire of 1901. Just six months after the disaster, the city played host to the Florida State Fair, and in 1903 residents marked their return to prosperity with an extravagant Gala Week and Trades Carnival. By 1913, 11,000 buildings had been erected to replace the ones consumed by the disaster. Residents and outside observers agreed — Jacksonville was back!

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

 

The Dixie Highway Comes to Florida

Florida is one of several states where, once in a while, you’re subject to come across a road called “Old Dixie Highway.” Some of the roads with this name are prominent thoroughfares, while others have become mere side streets over the years, bypassed by larger highways built along the outskirts of town.  In the early twentieth century, all of these roadway segments were stitched together into what was briefly the largest interstate highway system in the United States.

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919).

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919). Click the map to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher, the same entrepreneur who helped develop Miami Beach in the early 1910s. Fisher believed northerners would pay top dollar for lots in South Florida, but he recognized the need for a reliable highway to funnel his customers southward. He had already been involved in promoting the Lincoln Highway, an east-west route across the northern United States. That project had run into trouble, however. Promoters had expected private funding to cover the cost of building the road, but they were never able to raise the necessary ten million dollars. Fisher realized that for a highway connecting Miami with the northern states to succeed, it would require both private and public backing.

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

In November 1915, Carl Fisher announced his intention to build the nation’s first true national automobile highway linking the North and South. He originally called it the “Cotton Belt Route,” but the press quickly latched onto the road’s symbolic value as a peace gesture binding the nation together. Keep in mind there were still a number of individuals living at this time who had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The New York Times suggested the new highway ought to be called the “Dixie Peaceway.” Over time, however, the name settled into the familiar “Dixie Highway” we still see on road signs today.

Fisher originally intended for the highway to run between Chicago and Miami, but the route in between was up for debate. Virtually every community between these two endpoints wanted to be located along the profitable new road. Fisher and his backers decided to organize a conference of governors and other state representatives in Chattanooga in April 1915 to hammer out the details and form the Dixie Highway Association. Constructing and maintaining the roadway would remain the responsibility of the states and communities along the route, but the Association would help with marketing, surveying, and other coordinating tasks.

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

The Dixie Highway Association called on each governor whose state would be traversed by the new road to appoint two commissioners to decide on the best route and report back with their views. Governor Park Trammell appointed George W. Saxon, a banker from Tallahassee, and Samuel A. Belcher, a road construction magnate from Miami, as Florida’s commissioners. Carl Fisher and most of the road’s advocates had long assumed the Dixie Highway would enter the state north of Jacksonville and simply follow the Atlantic coast to Miami. Highway enthusiasts in the middle of the state and along the Gulf Coast, however, wanted to reap some of the highway’s benefits for themselves. The Central Florida Highway Association, a powerful lobbying organization with members from Naples to Tallahassee, argued for a western branch of the Dixie Highway that would offer travelers an alternate route between Macon, Georgia and Miami via a string of towns on the western side of the Florida peninsula.

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Belcher and Saxon agreed a western route was needed, but they couldn’t agree on where it should be located. Saxon and the Central Florida Highway Association wanted to include towns near the Gulf coast north of Gainesville, including Trenton, Perry, and Tallahassee. South of Kissimmee, they wanted the Dixie Highway to proceed as far southwest as Arcadia before turning back east to rejoin the main route near Jupiter. Belcher thought this route was too long and winding to properly serve northern travelers. He envisioned a highway proceeding almost due north from Gainesville, passing through Live Oak or Lake City before entering Georgia near Valdosta. South of Kissimmee, he thought the road should head straight for the coast, hitting somewhere around Melbourne as U.S. 192 does today.

While Belcher’s route was more direct, Saxon argued that the Gulf coast communities had already pledged considerable support for the highway, with taxpayers even voting to bond themselves for the necessary funding. If their communities were bypassed, he warned, those communities might withdraw their support for the project altogether. Belcher ultimately relented, and the Dixie Highway was established with two routes through Florida, connected by cross-state roads at several points.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was as successful as its founders had hoped, but it survived only a short time under its original name. All of the commotion over funding the road and selecting its route had provoked questions about the federal government’s potential role in developing interstate highways. A coalition of local authorities, business owners, and auto industry leaders began calling for Washington to simplify the process of expanding the nation’s highway infrastructure by funding and supervising a network of federal roads.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Bankhead Act, which pumped $75 million of federal money into the idea. This was the beginning of the U.S. highway system we know today. As that system grew, older blazed trails like the Dixie and Lincoln highways were absorbed into it. Soon, the name “Dixie Highway” was only used locally on certain segments of the original route, usually with “Old” in front of it. The name “Dixie Highway” also lived on in the names of businesses like the “Dixie Highway Garage” or the “Dixie Highway Inn” that had sought to link themselves to the novelty of the new road.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

Next time you’re driving through Florida and encounter a portion of the “Old Dixie Highway,” we encourage you to drive it and try to capture a bit of the excitement that must have filled northern travelers coming to the Sunshine State for the first time. You’ll not only be getting off the beaten path for a while – you’ll also be driving down a unique piece of Florida history!

In Quite a Pickle

Spring is well underway here in the Sunshine State, and many Florida families have already marked the occasion by planting flowers and tilling up garden patches. These days, growing fruits and vegetables is as much a form of entertainment as a supplement to the family diet, since modern refrigeration and shipping make it possible for us to get almost any food we desire from the local grocery.

That was certainly not the case for most Florida families during the 19th century. In those days, most Floridians relied heavily on their own farms and garden patches for food, especially vegetables and fruits. Grocers could be found in town, but their products were often both limited and expensive.

The problem, of course, is that even sunny Florida experiences cooler weather for a few months out of the year, and many fruits and vegetables simply don’t grow as well during that time. Without the ability to refrigerate or freeze their spring and summer crops for winter use, 19th century Florida families favored pickling as a way to preserve these precious foods. One bit of evidence supporting this is the large number of pickle recipes we often find in the cookbooks and correspondence of Floridians who lived before the age of modern refrigeration. Since gardens across the state are starting to bear lots of tasty food items ripe for the picking, we’ve decided to share a few of our favorite historic pickling recipes:

Recipe for cucumber pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century.

Recipe for cucumber pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Our first recipe comes from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry belonging to the Simpson family of Jefferson County. Here are the instructions for making their version of “cucumber pickles”:

Get very small cucumbers, wipe them clean, lay them into stone jars. Allow one quart of coarse salt to a pail of water. Boil the salt & water until the salt is dissolved; turn it boiling hot on the cucumbers; cover them up tight, and let them stand twenty four hours. Turn them into a basket to drain. Boil as much of the best cider vinegar as will cover the cucumbers. Wash out the jars, put the cucumbers into them, turn on the vinegar boiling hot, cover them with cabbage leaves & cover the jars tight. In forty eight hours they will be fit for use.

Any kind of pickles is good made in the same way.

The Simpsons were also apparently adventurous enough to try pickling other garden items, even watermelon rind! Here’s a recipe for “watermelon pickles” acquired from a “Mrs. Porter” and included in the Simpson family cookbook:

Recipe for watermelon pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for watermelon pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Here’s the transcript. Be careful with this one – we’re still not sure about one of the units of measurement used in this recipe!

10 [pounds?] of rind

Take the green off the rind, boil in pure water until tender, drain the water off and make a syrup of 2 [pounds?] of sugar, 1 qt of vinegar, 1/2 ounce of cloves, 1 ounce of cinnamon. The syrup to be boiled and poured over the rind three mornings in succession, boiling hot.

 

Now we’re sure you’ve heard of fried green tomatoes, but have you ever had them pickled? Mary Archer, who lived in Tallahassee for seven decades of the 19th century, included a recipe for green tomato pickles in her small leather-bound handwritten cookbook, now held by the State Library & Archives of Florida. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Brown, Florida’s second state governor. Brown operated one of the few hotels in Tallahassee during the antebellum era, and Mary herself managed the hotel for a few years during Reconstruction. Mary’s cookbook, which includes entries dating from 1852 to sometime after 1869, provides a unique snapshot of North Florida cuisine, especially the preserves and baked delicacies popular at that time. Here are Mary Archer’s instructions for green tomato pickles:

Recipe for green tomato pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 - State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for green tomato pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 – State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

And the transcript:

One peck of green tomatoes, cut into thin slices. Sprinkle them with salt for one day. 12 onions cut in the same way. One bottle of mustard, a quarter of a pound of mustard seed, alspice, cloves, ground pepper, ground ginger, each one ounce.

Mix the spices together and put in a kettle a layer of tomatoes and a layer of spices alternately. Cover them with vinegar, and let them simmer until the tomatoes look quite clear, then they are fit for use.

Mary also had a few other pickling recipes in her cookbook, including this one for what was commonly called “yellow pickles” or “Virginia pickles” in those days:

Recipe for yellow pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 - State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for yellow pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 – State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

The transcript:

Cut white head cabbage in four parts and lay them one night in strong [salt] and water. Scald them three successive days in salt and water adding [more] salt each day. Cover the bottom and sides of your kettle with the outside green leaves of the cabbage. Put in the cabbage, then cover them with vinegar, then cover all with cabbage leaves. Boil them until you can put a straw in the stalk of the cabbage. Drain the vinegar and put them in a jar. Have ready Turmeric, mustard and celery seed, spice, cloves, pepper and mace. Put them in the top after well mixing them. Fill the jar with cold vinegar. Onion cut fine should be put with the seasoning. This pickle is ready for use immediately tho age improves it.

These are just a few of the many pickling recipes found in the collections of the State Library & Archives. They’re more than just a tasty way to enjoy spring and summer vegetables all year long – they’re also a link between the culinary traditions of today , when food preservation methods liking salting, smoking, and pickling were a necessity for all Florida families.

What kinds of pickles do you enjoy best? Do you make your own? Share with us by leaving a comment below, or by posting this blog on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

In Memoriam

Joan Lee Perry Morris, longtime curator of the Florida Photographic Collection, died April 21, 2016 at the age of 81. For over half a century, Joan and her husband Allen dedicated their lives to the study of Florida history, writing books and accumulating a rich trove of historic images to share with the public.

Portrait of Joan Morris (1966).

Portrait of Joan Morris (1966).

Born March 11, 1935, Joan grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1966, she married Allen Covington Morris, who at that time was serving as Clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. The couple shared a mutual passion for Florida history, which inspired their collaboration on a variety of books and projects over the years, including biennial editions of the Florida Handbook, which Allen had begun compiling in 1947.

Joan and Allen Morris posing for one of their historically-themed Christmas cards (circa 1970s).

Joan and Allen Morris posing for one of their historically-themed Christmas cards (circa 1970s).

Joan was best known for her work with the Florida Photographic Collection, which Allen originally established in 1952 with images he had collected over the years for the Florida Handbook. Joan took over as curator and photographic archivist in 1971 to allow Allen to focus on his responsibilities at the Capitol. The collection flourished under Joan’s leadership, expanding to over a million historic images during her tenure.

Allen and Joan accumulated photographs from many sources. The majority were donated, although some of the most valuable images were saved from destruction by Joan herself. At one point, for example, an employee at the Tallahassee Democrat was in the process of discarding thousands of photographic negatives from the paper’s archives when Joan stepped in and offered to take them. These images are now available as the Tallahassee Democrat photo collection on Florida Memory.

Joan and Allen Morris in the darkroom of the Florida Photographic Collection when it was still housed at Robert Manning Strozier Library on the campus of Florida State University. The collection was relocated to the State Archives of Florida in 1982 (photo 1972).

Joan and Allen Morris in the darkroom of the Florida Photographic Collection when it was still housed at Robert Manning Strozier Library on the campus of Florida State University. The collection was relocated to the State Archives of Florida in 1982 (photo 1972).

But Joan did more than just collect and preserve photographs. She shared her knowledge with countless authors, journalists, and other individuals from all over the world who visited the State Archives to find images to illustrate their work. She took great pride in helping each patron find the very best photographs for their projects, a service warmly acknowledged in hundreds of publications.

Joan Morris attending a slideshow event at the State Archives of Florida (circa 2013).

Joan Morris attending a slideshow event at the State Archives of Florida (circa 2013).

Joan remained curator of the Florida Photographic Collection until her retirement in 2003, although she continued to work as a volunteer for several years afterward. The vast collection of photographs she and Allen assembled over a lifetime continues to be a source of knowledge and enjoyment for Floridians and countless others – a real public treasure. The State Archives is deeply indebted to Joan for her years of public service and her dedication to preserving Florida’s photographic past.