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.

 

 

 

St. Vincent Island

How much history can one island hold? If you’re looking at the barrier islands and keys off the coast of Florida, the answer is quite a lot. Take St. Vincent Island, for example. It’s a barrier island guarding the western entrance to Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle. Geologists estimate the island to be a mere 4,400 years old, but in that time it has been an outpost for Confederate soldiers, a cattle ranch, a resort and hunting preserve for rich tourists, a Spanish military camp, and a home for Native Americans.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area. Click the map to enlarge it.

St. Vincent Island is about 12,300 acres in size, with fourteen miles of beaches on the eastern and southern shores. It is sandwiched between St. George Island on the east and a small spit of land jutting out from Cape San Blas on the west. Indian Pass, which separates the island from the mainland, has historically been too shallow for major ship traffic, but the gap between St. Vincent and St. George islands (known as West Pass) was once a critical commercial entrance to Apalachicola Bay. The terrain is a microcosm of Florida itself, featuring small freshwater lakes, hills, forests of virgin pine growth, and swamps. Its first human residents were Native Americans who lived about 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have located pottery shards and shell middens testifying to their stay.

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

Documentation of the island’s naming is scant, but the reigning theory is that Franciscan friars working with the Apalachee tribes during the first Spanish colonial period named the island after St. Vincent, a martyr of the fourth century. Creek and Seminole Indians eventually made it to St. Vincent Island, replacing the earlier native tribes whose numbers dwindled from disease and battle following the arrival of the Europeans. Spanish forces also used the island in 1815 as a temporary refuge while operating in the Apalachicola River valley.

In 1811, Creek and Seminole leaders added St. Vincent Island to a large land grant designed to settle their debts to John Forbes and Company, a British trading firm. This land grant was known as the Forbes Purchase, and ultimately consisted of about 1.5 million acres of territory between the Apalachicola and Wakulla rivers.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection. Click map to enlarge it.

The validity of the Forbes Purchase was challenged once Florida became a U.S. possession in 1821, but the successors of the Forbes firm held title to St. Vincent Island until 1858, when they sold the land to Robert Floyd, a lawyer in nearby Apalachicola. Floyd and his young son Gabriel lived on the island, most likely at a point overlooking West Pass. The elder Floyd was serving as a collector of customs for the United States government as of 1860.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Despite its strategic view over the western route into Apalachicola Bay, St. Vincent Island played a relatively limited role in the Civil War. Several companies of the Fourth Florida Infantry commanded by Colonel Edward Hopkins occupied the island during the summer of 1861, but Governor John Milton ordered the island and all supplies and equipment removed later that year. The Confederates did build a small fort on the island, which they called Fort Mallory in honor of Stephen Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy. It was short-lived, however. When Union naval personnel from the East Gulf Blockade Squadron landed on St. Vincent in December 1861, they reported that the fort had been dismantled and deserted.

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861).

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861). Click the image to enlarge it.

As it turned out, the island was much more significant as a source of food than as a fortification. Robert Floyd died in 1860, but he had apparently maintained a large herd of sheep, cattle, and chickens on the island during his time there. One report suggested that over a thousand head of cattle inhabited the place. Owing to the wartime emergency, the land remained in legal limbo for the duration of the conflict, and citizens of Apalachicola helped themselves to the food animals roaming free on St. Vincent.

By the time the war had ended and things were getting back to normal, Gabriel Floyd had died, leaving the ownership of St. Vincent Island in turmoil yet again. George Hatch, a banker and former mayor of Cincinatti, purchased the island for $3,000 at public auction and lived there for a time. He died in 1875 and was buried on the island, making his the only marked grave on St. Vincent.

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Hatch’s family remained on St. Vincent Island for a number of years before selling it in 1890. Ownership passed in 1907 to Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce, a physician from Buffalo, New York. Pierce had made a fortune manufacturing patent medicines with names like “Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery” and “Dr. Pierce’s Pellets.” He also published a book entitled The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor in Plain English.

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Pierce decided to transform the island into a resort and hunting preserve. He constructed a number of cottages and buildings for his family and guests, and imported a variety of exotic wildlife, including the Sambur or India deer, Japanese deer, and Chinese antelope. He also maintained a number of food crops and a herd of cattle to supply his table. A thousand wild hogs and three to four hundred head of cattle were estimated to roam the island during the 1920s.

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Dr. Pierce died on St. Vincent Island in 1914, but his descendants continued to run the island for a number of years. During World War II, large portions of the island’s virgin yellow pine timber were cut and transported over a makeshift bridge to the mainland. The Pierce family also began leasing oystering rights to outside parties in order to make money. The family sold St. Vincent Island in 1948 to brothers Henry and Alfred Loomis, who sold it in 1968 to the Nature Conservancy. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service promptly designated St. Vincent Island as a National Wildlife Refuge, which it remains today.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Florida has long been a place where people come to make a fresh start. In some cases, eager newcomers have built entire communities from scratch, hoping either to strike it rich or to carve out a safe space to practice a particular way of life. Hall City, a planned community located near the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee in what is now Glades County, was built with both objectives in mind. First advertised around 1910, it was designed to turn 30,000 acres of piney woods and Everglades muck into a thriving Christian agricultural and educational center.

Excerpt of a 1912 Rand McNally map showing Hall City and the surrounding area. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

Excerpt of a 1912 Rand McNally map showing Hall City and the surrounding area. Notice that at this time Hall City was located in DeSoto County. In 1921, four additional counties were carved out of DeSoto, including Glades County, which now contains the Hall City site. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Hall City was the brainchild of Dr. George Franklin Hall, an Iowa native who established himself as a pastor and prolific writer in the Midwest in the late 19th century. He moved in 1900 to Chicago, where he pastored his church without salary while supporting his family on the proceeds of his writing and his investments. Around 1910, Hall began running newspaper ads for “La Belle Park,” a Christian colony in South Florida where temperance-minded families could build farms in a wholesome environment devoid of intoxicating drink. Hall was already busy breaking the land into 10-20 acre parcels, which he offered for sale at about $30 per acre. The settlement should not be confused with the nearby town of La Belle, which was settled decades before Hall came on the scene.

A steam plow arrives on a flat-car for service at Hall City (1912).

A steam plow arrives on a flat-car for service at Hall City (1912).

George Hall spared no effort to praise La Belle Park land as capable of growing everything from oranges to eggplants to strawberries to – as he put it – “everything else that tastes good and commands a high price in the Northern markets in January, February, and March.” The pastor-promoter promised easy terms for land, and offered to reward cash buyers with free town lots in Hall City, the planned capital of this new Christian utopia. Hall envisioned a bright future for his namesake town, including service from three railroads, escalating land values, and even a Christian college to be called Hall University. Hall set aside 160 acres for this institution adjoining the Hall City town site. He planned to plant 120 acres of the tract in citrus trees, which the students would manage themselves in order to offset the cost of tuition. By a combination of Christian teaching and purposeful labor, Hall intended for his university to become “a real developer of mind, muscle, and morals.”

Buildings near Hall City (1915).

Buildings near Hall City (1915).

The pastor’s enthusiasm for attracting new residents had a few limits. In newspaper advertisements, Dr. Hall stated that he would sell no land to African-Americans or “recently imported foreigners from the south of Europe.” Also, the town’s temperance theme was more than just a suggestion – it was legally woven into the residents’ land titles. Hall required all purchasers to sign deeds containing a “perpetual prohibition clause” forswearing the consumption of alcohol on the premises.

Despite these restrictions, settlers began purchasing the land and Hall City began to take shape over the next year. Hall sent his son George Barton Hall to run the operation, and soon the fledgling town had a general store, a hotel, several homes, and a post office. Curbs and sidewalks went in, and the Atlantic Coast Line established a depot for Hall City on its spur line headed south to Everglades City.

George Barton Hall (left) with two friends at Hall City (1913).

George Barton Hall (left) with two friends at Hall City (1913).

Even with these early signs of success, however, Hall City was in for a rough ride. It turned out that the swamp and piney woods surrounding the town were not as fertile as Dr. Hall had led the settlers to believe. Also, the Atlantic Coast Line spur was the only railroad that ever entered the town, which left residents without convenient connections to either coast. There was no major highway nearby; in fact the only Hall City automobile ever registered with the state was the one pictured above belonging to George Barton Hall. The biggest blow was the entry of the United States into World War I, which drew many of Hall City’s residents into the military or war-related industries elsewhere.

George Barton Hall, Jr., the first child born in Hall City. The building across the street was the office of his father George Barton Hall, Sr., general manager of the planned community (photo 1915).

George Barton Hall, Jr., the first child born in Hall City. The building across the street was the office of his father George Barton Hall, Sr., general manager of the planned community (photo 1915).

By 1918, the only business left operating in town was the Hall City Mercantile Company store, and it was living on borrowed time. The post office had already closed; mail service was routed through nearby La Belle or Palmdale. The Atlantic Coast Line eventually abandoned the spur passing near Hall City and took up the tracks. Most of the land was forfeited for taxes and bought up by large corporations, although Glades County officials have received inquiries from heirs of the original owners as recently as the 2000s. The Hall City town site is inaccessible to the public, as it is surrounded by privately owned land with no public roadways running through it.

Little evidence of the town remains aside from a few sandy roadbeds and fragments of sidewalk here and there. According to Glades County old-timers, most everything of value was removed from Hall City for use elsewhere once it was clear the settlement had failed.

Hall City’s story is remarkable, but not unusual. Hundreds of similar ghost towns and “map dots” are located throughout the state, each with its own story of rise and decline. What ghost towns or “map dots” exist in your Florida county? What has been done to preserve their stories? Get the conversation started by sharing this post on social media, or leave us a comment below.

The Irish in Florida

When you think about major centers of Irish culture in the United States, where does your mind go first? Boston? New York? Would it surprise you to know that Florida is home to one of the five largest Irish-descended populations in the United States?

Man enjoying the St. Patrick's Day parade in Lake Worth (1988).

Man enjoying the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Lake Worth (1988).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, over 2 million Floridians identify as having Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry. That’s over 10 percent of the entire state’s population! But how did all these Irish and Scots-Irish people get to Florida?

Some of the earliest Irishmen came to Florida not as settlers, but as soldiers. In 1781, during the American Revolution, Spanish forces laid siege to Pensacola to wrest it from the British, who had held both East and West Florida since 1763. Among the Spaniards were a number of mercenary soldiers, including the “Regimento Hibernia,” comprised of Irishmen who had volunteered to fight for the Spanish King.

Depiction of the 1781 Siege of Pensacola.

Depiction of the 1781 Siege of Pensacola.

The number of Irish-descended Florida residents increased during the second Spanish colonial period (1783-1821), owing mainly to the Spanish government’s desire to develop a thriving economy in the Florida provinces as quickly as possible. The Spaniards granted large tracts of land to individuals willing to cultivate it, even if they were foreigners. A number of Irishmen and Irish-descended U.S. citizens were among the men and women who held title to these grants when Florida became a United States possession in 1821. See the Spanish Land Grants collection to browse these documents.

Map of Irishman George Fleming's grant of land from the Spanish government, given in 1816. Click on the map to enlarge it and view the rest of the documents associated with the Fleming Grant.

Map of Irishman George Fleming’s grant of land from the Spanish government, given in 1816. Click on the map to enlarge it and view the rest of the documents associated with the Fleming Grant.

Many of the American settlers who entered Florida after it became a U.S. territory also hailed from either Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry. They often migrated southward from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, where they had previously settled after spending time as indentured servants, freehold farmers, or residents of British colonies in the Caribbean. Once in Florida, many of these newcomers set up small family farms and worked cattle on the open range, becoming what historians and folklorists often call Florida “Crackers.”

The Great Potato Famine of the 1840s drove a large wave of Irish immigrants to the United States. Although the majority of new settlers in this group went to northern cities like New York and Boston, as many as 100,000 of them may have ended up in the South. About 25,000 Irish lived in New Orleans by 1850 – fully a quarter of that city’s population. Others spread across the rural countryside, including Florida.

The cultural impact of Florida’s Irish and Scots-Irish settlers can be seen in a variety of place names, celebrations, and other traditions practiced around the state even today. Hibernia, a small community in Clay County near the St. Johns River, takes its name from the Latin version of “Ireland.” It began as a plantation belonging to the Fleming family whose Spanish land grant is referenced above. The small community of Shamrock in Dixie County was named in honor of the Irish ancestry of William O’Brien, a timber magnate who helped found the powerful Putnam Lumber Company. Central Florida boasts a Dublin (Lake County) and a Killarney (Orange County), both named after cities in Ireland.

The Fleming House Hotel at Hibernia near the St. Johns River (ca. 1940s).

The Fleming House Hotel at Hibernia near the St. Johns River (ca. 1940s).

St. Patrick’s Day is by far the most popular traditional Irish celebration practiced in Florida, although the revelry extends far beyond just those who identify as having Irish ancestry. Communities in every corner of the state mark the occasion each year by holding parades, enjoying Irish music and dancing, and wearing green.

St. Patrick's Day celebration in Melrose (ca. 1907).

St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Melrose (ca. 1907).

St. Patrick's Day parade in Lake Worth (1988).

St. Patrick’s Day parade in Lake Worth (1988).

Preserving Florida’s Irish and Scots-Irish heritage also has a more serious side apart from the merriment of St. Patrick’s Day. Irish descendants have formed a number of organizations over the years to train new generations in Irish cultural traditions while enjoying the fellowship that goes along with them. The United Irish of Southwest Florida, the Irish Cultural Association of Orlando, and the Irish Cultural Association of Jacksonville are just a few of these groups helping to educate the public about Irish genealogy and culture. The Florida Folklife Program has also helped preserve Florida’s Irish ties through cultural performances at the Florida Folk Festival and its Folklife Apprenticeship Program.

Irish folk group

Irish folk group “South Moon Under” performing at a “Ceili” celebration hosted by the Irish Cultural Association of Jacksonville (1991).

James Kelly works with folklife apprentices Pam Carsey and Linda Gesele on playing the Irish fiddle in Miami (1988).

James Kelly works with folklife apprentices Pam Carsey and Linda Gesele on playing the Irish fiddle in Miami (1988).

Are you a Floridian with Irish or Scots-Irish ancestry? If so, how do you celebrate your heritage? Let us know by leaving a comment below and sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!

Eyes on the Skies

Over a quarter million Floridian men and women of all races joined the military during World War II, but civilians had a role to play in national defense as well. With over a thousand miles of coastline, Florida was particularly vulnerable to enemy air attacks. Recently developed long-range bombers had the ability to carry large quantities of explosives far from their base, and radar detection was still in an early phase. Thousands of Floridian civilians helped meet this threat by signing up for duty as ground observers for the Aircraft Warning Service.

An observation tower in Madison County used by the Aircraft Warning Service during World War II (ca. 1940s).

An observation tower in Madison County used by the Aircraft Warning Service during World War II (ca. 1940s).

The Aircraft Warning Service was administrated by the United States Army Air Corps, but keeping a constant watch on every patch of sky over the coastal states required far more manpower than the Army could spare. That’s where civilians came into play. Once Army planners decided where the observation posts needed to be, they relied on local county and city defense councils to appoint local civilians to operate them.

Ground observers came from all walks of life. Retirees, students, housewives, laborers, and professionals alike volunteered their time to learn the shapes and markings of various aircraft and keep an eye on the skies. Teams of fifteen to twenty observers were assigned to staff each observation post in shifts. Each post was located near the center of a watch area consisting of about 36 square miles. The Aircraft Warning Service was originally organized in late June 1941; by mid-September eager civilians had already organized over 500 of the 880 posts planned for Florida.

Map of Aircraft Warning Service observation posts in Florida as of September 20, 1941 - Box 35, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

Map of Aircraft Warning Service observation posts in Florida as of September 20, 1941 – Box 35, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

With war looming in late 1941, the Army had neither the time nor the money to build new civilian observation posts or supply them with sophisticated communications equipment. Instead, the Aircraft Warning Service used existing fire towers and other elevated structures, and trained volunteers to communicate their observations quickly using existing telephone lines. When observers sighted an aircraft, they were instructed to immediately contact their local telephone operator, who would connect them directly with a regional “filter center” set up to process aircraft sightings. The observers were given a specific form to use in reporting what they saw. In theory, if an enemy airplane was to enter United States airspace, the Army would be able to use data received from multiple observation posts to tracks its movements.

One of the centers where U.S. Army personnel compiled information from ground observers to track the movement of aircraft over U.S. airspace - Box 48, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

One of the centers where U.S. Army personnel compiled information from ground observers to track the movement of aircraft over U.S. airspace – Box 48, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

 

Flash message form used by Aircraft Warning Service ground observers (ca. 1940s) - Box 35, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

Flash message form used by Aircraft Warning Service ground observers (ca. 1940s) – Box 35, folder 7, State Defense Council Subject Files (Series 419), State Archives of Florida.

The system received its most dramatic test in December 1943 when aircraft spotters at an observation post in West Palm Beach reported an actual German plane flying over the Florida coast. The spotters, Mr. and Mrs. Merrill Smith and Mrs. Herbert Weiss, performed their duty exactly as they had been trained. They sent a “flash message” to the United States Army Air Corps by telephone, correctly identifying the aircraft as a German JU-88 and giving its location and bearing.

Luckily, although the plane was indeed German, the pilot at the controls was an American. According to contemporary newspaper reports, a disgruntled German pilot had voluntarily turned the aircraft over to Allied personnel in almost mint condition. The plane was subsequently flown back to the United States, where it was given a thorough examination by Army aviation experts. Allied aerial squadrons had been notified of the enemy plane’s planned voyage, but so far as the civilians ground observers knew, it could have been the start of a real attack!

The Aircraft Warning Service is just one of many ways Floridian civilians aided the Allied war effort during World War II. Visit our Florida in World War II exhibit for more information. Also, if you’re interested in learning how your Florida community responded to civilian defense challenges during this conflict, consider visiting the State Library & Archives to check out the subject files of the Florida State Defense Council (Record Series 419). Get started by reading our recent blog describing these records.

Mardi Gras in the Sunshine State

Think Mardi Gras is something that only happens in New Orleans? Think again! Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” has been celebrated in many parts of the world at one time or another, including right here in Florida. And it isn’t a recent phenomenon. Some Florida towns were holding Mardi Gras celebrations over a hundred years ago.

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras, for all its characteristic decadence, actually stems from religious origins. It is the final, culminating day of the Carnival season on the Christian liturgical calendar. Carnival season extends from Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day) to the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, which occurs about six weeks prior to Easter Sunday. Since the Lenten season typically involves a sober regimen of self-denial and penance, Carnival season and Mardi Gras serve as an opportunity to eat richly and celebrate joyously (hence the “fat” part of Fat Tuesday) before things get more serious.

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

A wide variety of colorful rituals and traditions have developed around this basic concept, many unique to the cities in which they were born. Common Mardi Gras activities include parades, costume balls, colorful decorations, and the designation of “royalty” to preside over the festivities. When Apalachicola celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1915, for example, the event was reigned over by King Retsyo. Ten points if you can guess the significance of King Retsyo’s name!

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola's first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Pensacola was perhaps the first Florida city to observe Mardi Gras, holding its first celebration in 1874. A group of leading local socialites formed a Mardi Gras “krewe” called the Knights of Priscus Association to organize the festivities. The tradition fizzled after a few years, but was revived with gusto in 1900. Pensacola continues to celebrate Mardi Gras annually.

Pensacola's Mardi Gras celebration of 1900 included the crowning of King Priscus, better known as local attorney Alexander Clement Blount, II.

Pensacola’s Mardi Gras celebration of 1900 included the crowning of King Priscus, better known as local attorney Alexander Clement Blount, II.

Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities all over Florida, featuring a blend of time-honored traditions and new ideas. Apalachicola, for example, recently instituted a Mardi Gras parade featuring both citizens and their pets. The event is spearheaded by the Krewe of Salty Barkers, adopting themes like “Barkaritaville” and “Woofstock” to guide both two- and four-legged participants in their costume choices.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola's Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola’s Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

Farther down the peninsula, Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park offers an annual Mardi Gras event patterned after the popular New Orleans version of the festival. Hollywood also holds an annual Mardi Gras celebration titled “Fiesta Tropicale.” It originated in 1935 as the “Festival of Nations.” These are just a few examples; Florida towns from Dunedin to Lake Wales to Leesburg regularly celebrate Fat Tuesday with enthusiasm.

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Does your Florida community do something special to celebrate Mardi Gras? If so, we want to know about it! Leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook and Twitter!