Second Chances

Second chances come more easily in some cases than in others. When a 3,500-year old bald cypress tree near Longwood, Florida known as “The Senator” burned in 2012, local residents could not have imagined that any such second chance was in store for their beloved landmark. Thanks to the determination of the local community and a little luck, however, the outcome was nothing short of miraculous.

Excerpt of a map from the Florida Department of Transportation showing Longwood and the surrounding region (2014).

Excerpt of a map from the Florida Department of Transportation showing Longwood and the surrounding region (2014).

Longwood is located just north of Orlando in Seminole County. The earliest settlers arrived in the 1870s, mostly to get started in the citrus industry. One of the defining landmarks of the area was the cypress tree that would later be called the Senator. Local historians have suggested that both Native Americans and early settlers used the tree to help find their way from the St. Johns River to trading centers farther west. At its largest, the Senator was 47 feet around, 17.5 feet in diameter, and 165 feet high.

People admiring the Senator at Big Tree Park in Longwood (1946).

People admiring the Senator at Big Tree Park in Longwood (1946).

As Longwood grew and became a popular stopping point along the highway, the Senator took on a new role as tourist attraction. Several photos in the Florida Photographic Collection show visitors gazing in wonder at the majestic tree, or trying to see just how many people were required to encircle its massive base. After a hurricane snapped off 47 feet of the tree’s height in 1925, locals became very concerned about the welfare of this natural treasure. State Senator Moses Overstreet, who happened to own the land on which the tree stood, donated the acreage to Seminole County so it could be preserved. The area was called “Big Tree Park,” although the tree itself quickly became known as “The Senator” in honor of Overstreet’s generous gift.

Tourists holding hands around the Senator in Longwood (circa 1930).

Tourists holding hands around the Senator in Longwood (circa 1930).

The Senator prospered for the remainder of the 20th century, even regaining seven feet of the height it had lost in the 1925 hurricane. Tragedy struck on January 16, 2012, however, when a young woman set fire to the tree while smoking inside its large hollow base. The Senator quickly burned from the inside out, causing the trunk to collapse. All that was left standing was a charred, jagged stump. Seminole County officials closed Big Tree Park while they tried to figure out what to do next.

Two key developments combined to give Longwood’s famed Senator tree a new lease on life. Some years before the fire, a science teacher from Miami named Layman Hardy visited the Senator shortly after one of its branches had broken off and fallen during a storm. Hardy noticed several tiny buds of new growth on the branch. Realizing that these buds could be used to clone the unusually massive tree, he took them to a tree nursery owner in Lafayette County named Marvin Buchanan, who grafted clippings from the Senator’s branch onto other roots from the same species. Seven of the grafted trees survived, although their famous parentage was mostly forgotten.

Grafting has long been practiced by nurseries, farmers, and horticulturists to combine the best qualities of multiple strains of plants. Seen here is a diagram from a 1924 agricultural report explaining the best buds to be used for grafting pecan trees. See University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 170 (May 1924), page 181 (Available through the State Library of Florida).

Grafting has long been practiced by botanists, farmers, and horticulturists to combine the best qualities of multiple strains of plants. Seen here is a diagram from a 1924 agricultural report explaining the best buds to be used for grafting pecan trees. See University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 170 (May 1924), page 181 (Available through the State Library of Florida).

When news of the Senator’s demise emerged, a forestor named Scott Sager remembered that the big tree had been grafted. Before long, Seminole County officials had arranged for one of Marvin Buchanan’s copies of the Senator to be carefully prepared, dug up, and transferred to Longwood for replanting in Big Tree Park. Seminole County schools held a contest to come up with a name for the newcomer – the name “The Phoenix” was chosen as the winner. The new tree was dedicated March 2, 2013.

Meanwhile, another project was underway to utilize wood from the original Senator. Shortly after the fire in 2012, a member of the Seminole County Historical Commission named Bob Hughes asked county officials if he could salvage wood from the fallen trunk to create a memorial. Hughes’ request was granted, whereupon he and others set up a program in which woodworking artists could apply to receive wood from the ancient tree to create works of art. There was a caveat. All artists receiving wood from the tree had to create exact duplicates of their pieces to give back to Seminole County. A total of 18 artists were chosen to participate. Their pieces, many now on display at the Museum of Seminole County History, capture the life and death of the Senator as well as a broader perspective of Florida’s natural beauty.

Several of the pieces used in the exhibit at the Museum of Seminole County History were so large they had to be brought in on flat-bed trailers. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Seminole County History.

Several of the pieces used in the exhibit at the Museum of Seminole County History were so large they had to be brought in on flat-bed trailers. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Seminole County History.

One of the most compelling displays consists of six columns of wood from the Senator’s trunk arranged in a circle representing the exact circumference of the original tree. The outer faces of the columns have been beautifully finished, while the inner faces still bear the black charring caused by the fire. Several other pieces are enclosed in a case at the center. This arrangement gives the visitor an opportunity to truly comprehend the magnitude of the historic tree by walking figuratively around and inside its former base. The full exhibit, titled The Senator’s Sculptures: Ancient Wood Reborn, will be open until September 30, 2015. Click here for details.

The centerpiece of the Museum's exhibit features six columns of wood from the Senator's trunk representing its enormous size. The exhibit remains open until September 30, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Seminole County History.

The centerpiece of the Museum’s exhibit features six columns of wood from the Senator’s trunk representing its enormous size. The exhibit remains open until September 30, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Seminole County History.

The Senator is no longer a natural beacon in Big Tree Park, but Longwood’s citizens and leaders are clearly taking its legacy seriously. The tree’s successor, the Phoenix, is already some fifty feet tall, and the Museum of Seminole County History has found truly unique ways to articulate the majesty of the original. When it comes to second chances, a historic monument like the Senator tree could hardly ask for more.

What are the “famous” natural resources in your Florida community? What efforts have been taken to preserve them (or their memory) for future generations? Leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to share on Facebook or Twitter!

Cherry Lake

Cherry Lake is a small community located less than five miles from the Georgia State Line in Madison County. It has been home to one of the state’s most vibrant 4-H summer camp programs since 1937, but it was a hub of activity long before that time.

Excerpt from the 2013 official Florida Highway Map published by the Florida Department of Transportation, showing Cherry Lake in Madison County.

Excerpt from the 2013 official Florida Highway Map published by the Florida Department of Transportation, showing Cherry Lake in Madison County.

According to Dr. Alonzo Blalock, who grew up in the area during the mid-1800s, Native Americans originally called Cherry Lake by the name “Ocklawilla.” The terrain surrounding the lake was well-suited for farming, and as more American settlers began venturing into Florida in the 1820s and 1830s, several selected Ocklawilla as the place to make their fortunes. Lucius A. Church, a New Hampshire native and former Georgia merchant, moved into the area around 1830 and bought up two thousand acres of land for a plantation. Other early settlers included the families of William L. Tooke and Reddin W. Parramore. Both of these men were from North Carolina, but spent time in Georgia before moving south into Florida. By 1837, the local post office carried the name “Cherry Lake.” The name stems from the presence of wild cherry trees near the water’s edge, according to Allen Morris’ book of Florida place names.

Several collections at the State Library & Archives touch on Cherry Lake’s history through the years. Members of the community who served the Confederate Army during the Civil War and later received a pension from the state, for example, may be traced through our collection of Confederate Pension Applications. The application below was filed by Thomas J. Blalock, who lived near Cherry Lake when the war broke out.

Confederate pension application (1909) for Thomas J. Blalock, one-time resident of Cherry Lake (click the image to enlarge and view full application dossier).

Confederate pension application (1909) for Thomas J. Blalock, one-time resident of Cherry Lake (click the image to enlarge and view full application dossier).

Cherry Lake was also at times the headquarters of a voting precinct, and at least two militia units were formed there. The muster roll below, for example, lists the members of a company of volunteer militiamen commanded by Captain Charles Williamson. The unit formed at Cherry Lake in September 1870.

Muster Roll of Captain Charles Williamson's Company (Company K) organized at Cherry Lake, Florida in September 1870 (Box 2, folder 16 - Record Series 1146, State Archives of Florida).

Click the image to enlarge. Muster Roll of Captain Charles Williamson’s Company (Company K) organized at Cherry Lake, Florida in September 1870 (Box 2, folder 16 – Record Series 1146, State Archives of Florida).

During the Great Depression, Cherry Lake became the scene of a more profound development. As the American economy continued to spiral downward in the early 1930s, the federal government embarked on an unprecedented series of projects to jumpstart economic activity – President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was one of several agencies coordinating this work. In the early 1930s, FERA bought up 15,000 acres on the shores of Cherry Lake and made plans for a community to house families resettled from crowded urban areas. The idea was to develop the land into a farm and industrial plant that would sustain the inhabitants and help take pressure off the cities. By 1935, well over a hundred families had been relocated to Cherry Lake from Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, and elsewhere. Officially, the new settlement was called the Cherry Lake Rehabilitation Project. This was later shortened to “Cherry Lake Farms,” which was the name given to the post office in December 1935.

Construction of temporary barracks at Cherry Lake Farms for incoming families (1935).

Construction of temporary barracks at Cherry Lake Farms for incoming families (1935).

The community had everything it needed – roadways, water, electricity, a meat market, a general store, public meeting spaces, and housing. FERA and the Cherry Lake settlers tried several avenues for making the community profitable. At first, they tried raising sugar cane. The project was not successful, so they moved on to raising grapes. This too failed to pass muster, but residents had some luck manufacturing furniture and small crafts. Chairs, desks, tables, and other home furniture were constructed, along with ashtrays, table pads, artificial flowers, and other articles for sale.

Sawmill #2 at Cherry Lake Farms (1935).

Sawmill #2 at Cherry Lake Farms (1935).

Life at Cherry Lake wasn’t all about hard work, of course. The residents made regular use of the settlement’s spacious auditorium, hosting plays, picture shows, and first-rate musical entertainments. According to eminent Madison County historian Edwin Browning’s account of Cherry Lake Farms, even the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and bandleaders Chick Webb and Jan Garber were featured on that stage in its heyday.

Scene from a community play at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Scene from a community play at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Ticket stub for an event at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Ticket stub for an event at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Most of the Cherry Lake infrastructure returned to private ownership during and after World War II. Many of the residents returned to their former homes or moved elsewhere. A few families stayed in the area. The state’s 4-H program began leasing a 12-acre tract of land on the west side of the lake for camp operations around 1937. That property was later acquired outright for 4-H purposes, and remains a headquarters for year-round 4-H activities today.

Attendees of the Cherry Lake 4-H camp in either 1937 or 1938. 1ST ROW L-R: Milton Cave, Melvene Smith, Gloria Bailey, N. Colbern, Bascom Coody, Willerdeen Pulliam; 2ND ROW : Faye Smith, Franklin Stokes, Ruby Stokes, Ed Smith, Jr., Louise Brown, Joe Smith Pulliam.

Attendees of the Cherry Lake 4-H camp in either 1937 or 1938. 1ST ROW L-R: Milton Cave, Melvene Smith, Gloria Bailey, N. Colbern, Bascom Coody, Willerdeen Pulliam; 2ND ROW : Faye Smith, Franklin Stokes, Ruby Stokes, Ed Smith, Jr., Louise Brown, Joe Smith Pulliam.

Are you researching the history of a Florida community? How about your family’s Florida roots? The State Library & Archives have the resources to help you find what you need. Search Florida Memory for documents and media in digital format, search the Library Catalog for rare Florida publications, or plan a visit to our research facility in Tallahassee.  Have a question about our collections? Not sure what you’re looking for? Contact us by email at Archives@dos.myflorida.com and let us know how we can help.

Florida History in a Cup

Folks, it’s HOT outside. Unless you’re lucky enough to be somewhere with lots of shade or a breeze, five minutes outdoors will put you sorely in need of a fan and a cool beverage. Iced tea is a favorite choice, of course – there’s no telling how many millions of gallons of it Floridans and visitors run through every year. Just the thought of all that refreshment brings to mind some important questions. How long has tea been consumed in Florida? And when did we make the (brilliant) decision to start drinking it ice-cold instead of warm? We turned to the resources of the State Library & Archives of Florida to get some answers, and here’s what we found:

Plate 29 from Discovering the New World, Based on the Works of Theodore de Bry, edited by Michael Alexander (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). This image was based on sketches by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline (image originally published in 1591).

Plate 29 from Discovering the New World, Based on the Works of Theodore de Bry, edited by Michael Alexander (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). This image was based on sketches by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline (image originally published in 1591).

First off, Europeans didn’t bring the concept of brewing tea to Florida. Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline, created a series of sketches depicting the activities and rituals of the Native Americans he encountered during the 16th century. At least one of these sketches depicts the “black drink” ceremony practiced by a number of Native Americans in the Southeast. This ritual involved brewing and consuming a drink made from the leaves of the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). The participants often vomited the tea afterward – hence the name Ilex vomitoria for the plant itself – but the natives believed this to be a way of purifying the mind and body.

The yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), whose leaves were used by native Floridians to make a tea consumed as part of the

The yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), whose leaves were used by native Floridians to make a tea consumed as part of the “black drink” ceremony (photo 1964).

Europeans weren’t too keen on the black drink ceremony, but there were other herbal concoctions they liked and copied. A Spanish physician named Nicolás Monardes, for instance, wrote extensively of the Sassafras plant, whose roots were frequently made into a tea. Sassafras tea was believed to cure a wide variety of ailments from fevers to constipation to lameness. As Europeans were gradually introduced to green and black teas from Asia, these products began showing up in shipments of goods traded at Pensacola and St. Augustine.

When Florida became a United States possession in 1821, coffee seems to have been much more popular than tea among the earliest American settlers. The State Archives of Florida holds several ledgers from Floridian general stores dating back to the 1820s, which are very useful for understanding what our forbears were buying and selling at various times. Coffee far outranked tea in popularity in the 1820s, probably because of expense, but there’s still plenty of evidence for tea consumption. Local Tallahasseans were buying teacups, saucers, teapots, and tea itself, as this page from the ledger of merchant Miles Blake shows (click/tap the image to enlarge it):

Page from the sales ledger of Miles Blake's general store in Tallahassee. This particular page details sales made in February 1828, including some tea sold to Sherod McCall. The entry is indicated by a red arrow (Page 18 of Volume 1 of Collection M96-28, State Archives of Florida).

Page from the sales ledger of Miles Blake’s general store in Tallahassee. This particular page details sales made in February 1828, including some tea sold to Sherod McCall. The entry is indicated by a red arrow (Page 18 of Volume 1 of Collection M96-28, State Archives of Florida).

The medicinal value of tea was appreciated right on through the 19th century. In the 1840s, Gadsden County physician John M.W. Davidson recorded a recipe for “beef tea” in his journal. This concoction, more of a broth than a tea, appears to have been intended for patients who had trouble eating solid foods for one reason or another. Click on the page image for a transcription of the recipe.

Page from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson, with a recipe for beef tea (circa 1840s).

Page from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson, with a recipe for beef tea (circa 1840s).

By the middle of the 19th century, tea consumption was becoming more popular throughout the United States. Some businessmen wondered if perhaps Asian tea plants would grow in Florida. In 1867, the Florida Tea Company published a prospectus proposing to grow tea plants on a plantation in Madison County in North Florida. The organizers claimed the enterprise would yield as much as a quarter million pounds of tea per year. It does not appear that this grand experiment was ever tried, no doubt in part because of the dire economic conditions experienced across Florida following the Civil War. Newspapers did, however, continue to report on small-scale experimental tea plots in various parts of the state.

Inside cover of the Florida Tea Company's prospectus - from the Florida Collection of the State Library (1867).

Inside cover of the Florida Tea Company’s prospectus – from the Florida Collection of the State Library (1867).

By the twentieth century, tea was much more affordable, and could be enjoyed both as a refreshing drink and as an excuse to be social. Many of Florida’s famous hotels featured elegant tea gardens, and tea parties were a favorite venue for meeting friends, neighbors, or colleagues. Even the younger set made a habit of sitting down to tea now and then.

Japanese tea garden at the Flamingo Hotel on Miami Beach (1923).

Japanese tea garden at the Flamingo Hotel on Miami Beach (1923).

Blanche and Mary Pat Weedon having a tea party in Bartow (1931).

Blanche and Mary Pat Weedon having a tea party in Bartow (1931).

As for when iced tea came into vogue, that’s a tricky question. Recipes for iced tea began showing up in print around the 1870s, but the drink didn’t really take off until it was introduced at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Hotels offered it on their menus to refresh thirsty guests who had just come in from a day’s activities. Railroad stations often sold the drink as well. It’s not hard to imagine why it caught on especially well in the South. Iced tea offered the flavor and fulfillment of a traditional beverage with the added pleasure of refreshing coolness.

So – next time you pour yourself a glass of iced tea or make a cup of hot tea (perhaps when the weather cools down a bit), remember that you’re partaking in a long-standing tradition in Florida’s history, one that has taken many forms over the years. Bottoms up!

The Yamato Colony

The southern half of Florida’s Atlantic coast is one of the most densely populated portions of the state. It’s hard to imagine a time when this was not the case, but at the turn of the 20th century, the population in this area was comparatively tiny. In 1905, Fort Lauderdale had a population of only 219 persons. Miami had fewer than 5,000 residents, even counting the suburbs. West Palm Beach was home to about 1,300.

Investors were eager to get more settlers moving into the area to farm and generate economic activity. With help from Florida’s Bureau of Immigration, they cast a wide net, seeking new residents from around the country and abroad. Jo Sakai, a Japanese man who graduated from New York University in 1903, was one of those who answered the call. In 1904, Sakai and others would establish a colony near present-day Boca Raton called Yamato.

Excerpt from a 1915 map of Florida published by the Southern Railway Company, showing the location of Yamato (indicated by a red arrow). Map courtesy of the State Library's Florida Map Collection.

Excerpt from a 1915 map of Florida published by the Southern Railway Company, showing the location of Yamato (indicated by a red arrow). Map courtesy of the State Library’s Florida Map Collection.

Jo Sakai had come to the United States after graduating from Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. After studying finance at NYU, he was attracted to Florida by advertisements from Florida’s Bureau of Immigration and the Model Land Company promising plentiful land and profitable farming opportunities. The Model Land Company was a corporation set up by developer and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to manage the massive grants of land given by the State of Florida as an incentive for building the Florida East Coast Railway.

Sakai inspected the land available for sale and purchased one thousand acres from the Model Land Company near modern-day Boca Raton. The idea was that he would establish a colony of workers, develop a successful farming operation, and pay for the land over time. As an incentive, the Model Land Company agreed to front the money for the colony’s equipment and housing.

Jo and Sada Sakai (circa 1910).

Jo and Sada Sakai (circa 1910).

Jo Sakai left for Japan in March 1904 to seek willing individuals for the new proposed farming colony. By autumn he had several takers, but they had to carefully disguise their intentions to avoid disruption by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. To reduce suspicion, Sakai’s colonists told the government they needed their exit permits and passports so they could study in the United States. Once in the U.S., the colonists traveled to Florida on Henry Flagler’s dime, another sign of how eager developers were to get South Florida’s economy going. By the end of 1904, a dozen colonists were ready to work.

The Japanese newcomers called their new home “Yamato,” an ancient name for Japan itself. Getting the farming underway was slow at first. The soil was fertile, but it had never been cleared before. Months of manual labor went into preparing only a few acres for cultivation. The inhospitable climate and mosquitoes didn’t help matters.

One of Yamato's earliest pineapple fields (1906).

One of Yamato’s earliest pineapple fields (1906).

Over time, however, the Yamato colony began to grow. In 1907, the Florida East Coast Railway established a train station at Yamato, near where Yamato Rd. (State Road 794) now crosses the railroad tracks in Boca Raton. The local post office, which had previously been called “Wyman,” was renamed “Yamato.” Settlers began sending word to Japan for their wives and families to join them in Florida. Jo Sakai’s wife Sada arrived in 1906, making her the colony’s first woman, and in 1909 their daughter became the first child born in the new settlement.

Settlers gathered at the Yamato train depot on the Florida East Coast Railway, established in 1907 (photo circa 1911).

Settlers gathered at the Yamato train depot on the Florida East Coast Railway, established in 1907 (photo circa 1911).

Pineapples were the first major crop grown in Yamato, but a blight in 1908 all but ended that strategy. The colonists began growing winter vegetables like beans, onions, and especially tomatoes. Although the colony remained active for several decades, it was never very large. A number of residents branched off into other fields of work over time, and by the 1930s there were only about 20-25 Japanese farmers living in Yamato.

The last group of children to attend school at the Yamato schoolhouse. After the school closed in 1922, children from Yamato attended classes in Boca Raton (photo circa 1922).

The last group of children to attend school at the Yamato schoolhouse. After the school closed in 1922, children from Yamato attended classes in Boca Raton (photo circa 1922).

Anti-immigrant sentiments did not directly disturb the colonists’ work, although a number of the settlers were unable to legally become U.S. citizens until the 1950s. World War II presented the colony’s toughest challenge, one it would not survive. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, a federal judge ordered that Japanese-owned lands at Yamato be turned over to the United States government. Some of the land went toward building an airfield for Boca Raton, and a large portion ultimately became the site of Florida Atlantic University.

Boca Raton has all but absorbed what remained of Yamato after the war, but some former residents took steps to keep the colony’s memory alive. George Morikami, who by the 1960s had bought up a considerable amount of land, granted a parcel to Palm Beach County in 1973 for a park. On June 25, 1977, the Morikami Museum of Japanese Culture opened along with the park. The museum seeks to inculcate an appreciation for Japanese culture through exhibits, authentic Japanese ceremonies and demonstrations, and other educational experiences.

A Japanese tea ceremony at the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach (circa 1980).

A Japanese tea ceremony at the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach (circa 1980).

Celebrating the Fourth in Florida

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and folks all over the state are preparing to celebrate. Every community has its own traditions for marking the occasion, often involving grand displays of fireworks. Floridians have found lots of unique ways to celebrate Independence Day over the years, and today’s blog explores a few examples found in the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory.

Fun and games have always been popular ways to ring in the Fourth. A 1900 newspaper report from Miami, for example, encouraged local citizens to come out for a public Fourth of July celebration that included horse races, bicycle races, and “funny races.” There’s no telling what kind of races they came up with, but the theme of having games and contests on the Fourth hasn’t changed much since those days.

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

“Miss Firecracker” rides in the pace car during the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach on the Fourth of July (1963).

Parades are another old standby for celebrating the Fourth. Horses, cars, themed floats, and lots of red, white, and blue have all been popular ingredients for Independence Day processions.

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Picnics are always a popular way to celebrate the Fourth as well. Funny hats are optional.

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

How is the Fourth of July celebrated in your Florida community? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook sharing your memories of Independence Day celebrations from years past.

A Cloud of Suspicion

As the United States moved closer to breaking ties with Germany and its allies during the First World War, citizens across the country took steps to separate themselves from all things German. Foods with ties to German culture received new names. Hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches.” Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage.” Teaching the German language, playing German music, and even speaking in German were banned in some areas. Violators of these restrictions often found their loyalty to the United States questioned.

Anti-German sentiment was far-reaching, and Florida was not immune. In 1910, Germans made up 10.7 percent of Florida’s total white population of foreign birth or parentage, second only to Cubans in number. German and German-American immigrants had established farms and businesses across the state. German-American clubs had sprung up in Jacksonville, Tampa, and even smaller towns like Arcadia and Daytona. Members of the German-American community often denounced the war and spearheaded efforts to raise money for organizations like the International Red Cross, but they still frequently came under suspicion.

German American Club building in Tampa (circa 1912).

German American Club building in Tampa (circa 1912).

In Tampa, for example, the German-American Club was ultimately forced to dissolve, and its building was attacked by vandals. Saint Leo Abbey, a German Benedictine monastery located at San Antonio just to the north of Tampa, was home to Florida’s only German-language newspaper until its editor was arrested and held until the end of the war. The Legislature even passed a law in 1917 requiring all aliens to register with local authorities.

An early photo of Saint Leo Abbey in San Antonio, north of Tampa (circa 1920s).

An early photo of Saint Leo Abbey in San Antonio, north of Tampa (circa 1920s).

German-American businesses were often seized by the federal government to prevent their profits from aiding Germany, and to stamp out any attempt to use them as a front for German espionage. The German-American Lumber Company, a thriving Pensacola-based concern involved in Florida’s yellow pine industry, fell victim to this practice in 1918. The company’s leaders attempted to avoid interruption of business by transferring control to native Pensacola attorney and board member W.A. Blount. The strategy failed. On March 23, 1918, company president H.G. Kulenkampff was arrested as an “enemy alien,” and control of the lumber company was transferred to a new board of directors appointed by the federal Custodian of Alien Property, A. Mitchell Palmer. When the war ended, the reorganized “American Lumber Company” was put up for sale. Because Germany agreed by treaty to compensate its nationals for property confiscated by the United States during the war, the federal government did not compensate the original German owners of the German-American Lumber Company for their losses. No records indicate whether they ever received any compensation at all after the war.

Engine #7 of the German-American Lumber Company at Millview (1915).

Engine #7 of the German-American Lumber Company at Millview (1915).

Even the loyalty of some of Florida’s most respected German-Americans was called into question. Joseph L. Earman, chairman of the State Board of Control, wrote to naval authorities at Miami in 1918 requesting an investigation into the loyalty of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women. Conradi, while born in Ohio, was of German parentage, and Earman believed an investigation was in order because of the “all important” nature of his work. Earman admitted that Conradi’s teaching was excellent and that the college had prospered under his leadership. “At the same time,” he wrote, “patriotism is above all in these trying times.”

Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women during World War I (photo circa 1925).

Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women during World War I (photo circa 1925).

Letter from State Board of Control Chairman Joseph L. Earmon to Lieutenant C.A. Muller of the Seventh Naval District, requesting an investigation of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women - Box 2, folder 17, Correspondence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1882-1922 (Series 249), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from State Board of Control Chairman Joseph L. Earmon to Lieutenant C.A. Muller of the Seventh Naval District, requesting an investigation of Dr. Edward Conradi, president of the Florida State College for Women – Box 2, folder 17, Correspondence of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1882-1922 (Series 249), State Archives of Florida.

Anti-German sentiment began to fade after the war, and Floridians of German heritage were able to openly celebrate their culture once again. Today, German-American clubs and societies thrive throughout the state, including in Miami, Jacksonville, Cape Coral, Lake Worth, Casselberry (Orlando area), and St. Petersburg. Traditional German food, music, and dancing are popular components of multicultural celebrations, and some communities even hold events specifically honoring German culture. The annual Oktoberfest events held in cities such as Palm Beach and Tampa are good examples.

Performers dancing at an Oktoberfest celebration in Lantana (1986).

Performers dancing at an Oktoberfest celebration in Lantana (1986).

What cultural influences have made an impact on your Florida community? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook, and search the Florida Photographic Collection for more photos of multicultural celebrations.

Juneteenth and Emancipation Day in Florida

June 19th is celebrated in many parts of the United States as “Juneteenth,” to commemorate the end of slavery after the Civil War. Many Floridians, however, celebrate a separate Emancipation Day on May 20th. So… which date is correct, May 20th or June 19th? In taking a look at the history of these celebrations, we see that the answer is… both.

African-American women stand in front of a car decorated for an Emancipation Day parade in Lincolnville (circa 1925).

African-American women stand in front of a car decorated for an Emancipation Day parade in Lincolnville (circa 1925).

In today’s world, news of a single event can be transmitted across the planet in seconds. Social media, satellite telecommunications, and the Internet in general have all but erased the meaning of distance when it comes to getting an important message from point A to point B.

This was not the case in 1865, when the Civil War was coming to an end. Many telegraph lines had been destroyed during the conflict, and news about the war was often either incorrect or contradictory. Neither the end of the war nor the end of slavery was absolutely confirmed until Union troops arrived in each locality to receive the surrender of their Confederate counterparts. This process happened in stages, with areas farther west learning the news weeks after the folks closer to the east coast.

In Florida, the process began in May 1865. Union General Edward M. McCook arrived in Tallahassee to receive the surrender of Florida’s Confederate troops on May 10th. On May 20th, McCook formally announced President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House, effectively ending slavery in the state. As a result, many Floridians celebrate May 20th as Emancipation Day.

Reeactors recreate Edward M. McCook's announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee. This was the 150th anniversary of the original announcement (2015).

Reeactors recreate Edward M. McCook’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee. This was the 150th anniversary of the original announcement (2015).

News of emancipation and the war’s official end did not reach Texas until the next month. On June 18th, Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with 2,000 soldiers to occupy Texas. The following day, June 19th, he announced the Emancipation Proclamation from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. Consequently, emancipation is generally celebrated in Texas on June 19th.

Juneteenth celebrations are not limited to Texas, however. The tradition of celebrating the end of slavery on June 19th has spread to many communities in other states, including some in Florida. There has even been a movement to make June 19th a national holiday for commemorating emancipation.

Union soldier reenactor with children during the 2015 Emancipation Day Celebration at the Knott House Museum in Tallahassee.

Union soldier reenactor with children during the May 20, 2015 Emancipation Day Celebration at the Knott House Museum in Tallahassee.

Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find more photos of emancipation celebrations across the Sunshine State!

 

 

The Armed Occupation Act of 1842

Land records are some of the most useful items in a genealogist’s toolbox. They pinpoint specific people in specific places at specific times, and can serve as a stepping stone to other historic records that illuminate the lives of our ancestors. Sometimes land records can tell us a lot about a given moment in the broader history of Florida as well. The records associated with the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 are an excellent example.

By the end of the Second Seminole War, which lasted from 1835 to 1842, the number of Native Americans in Florida had dwindled considerably. Many had died in battle, and over 3,800 were forcibly removed to reservations out west. The few Seminoles who stayed in Florida retreated into the southernmost reaches of the territory. Eager to prevent any further conflict between the remaining natives and white settlers, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act in 1842, which was designed to encourage settlers to populate the Florida peninsula. The idea was that if these settlers were limited by law to those who were able to bear arms, the territory would have the makings of an army at the ready if disturbances were to arise in the future.

A depiction of the Battle of Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War (1837).

A depiction of the Battle of Okeechobee during the Second Seminole War (1837).

Under the conditions of the act, any single man 18 years of age or older or any head of a family could apply for up to 160 acres of land through the government land offices at Newnansville and St. Augustine. If the settler established a home within a year, lived on the land for five consecutive years, and cleared and enclosed at least five acres of the granted land, he or she would receive title to the entire parcel for free. As each would-be settler selected his or her land and applied to the government land office for a permit, he or she would file an application affirming that they met the lawful requirements to receive it. These applications are excellent for genealogists because they identify the settler’s name, marital status, length of residence in Florida, and the location of the land desired. This is especially helpful information for those looking to identify the pioneer settlers among their Florida ancestors. Many of the settlers who took advantage of this law were from other parts of the United States, including ex-soldiers from the Second Seminole War. Consequently, in many cases these records are the first piece of a family’s paper trail in Florida.

Armed Occupation Act permit application for Elias Hart of Alachua County. Hart made his application as a single man aged over 18 and able to bear arms. The application reveals he had been in Florida since September 1818, and that he was requesting the right to settle a parcel of land near the Annutteliga Hammock in present-day Hernando County. This document was digitized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and accessed through the LABINS database.

Armed Occupation Act permit application for Elias Hart of Alachua County. Hart made his application as a single man aged over 18 and able to bear arms. The application reveals he had been in Florida since September 1818, and that he was requesting the right to settle a parcel of land near the Annutteliga Hammock in present-day Hernando County. This document was digitized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and accessed through the LABINS database.

A number of prominent Florida citizens received land under the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Ossian B. Hart, governor of Florida from 1873-1874, received 160 acres of land along the Indian River just south of Fort Pierce. Douglass Dummett, who had arrived in Florida with his father in the 1820s, received land on Merritt Island, which he used to establish an orange grove whose fruit was reputed to be unusually hardy in the face of cold weather. A “castle” of a house was later built on the Dummett property by an Italian duke (more on Dummett Castle here). Mills Olcott Burnham, a Vermont native who moved to Florida in the 1830s seeking better health, received land near Ankona, also south of Fort Pierce. Burnham was a pioneer in pineapple cultivation, as well as a keeper of the Cape Canaveral lighthouse for over two decades.

Ossian B. Hart, 10th governor of Florida (1873-1874) and a beneficiary of the Armed Occupation Act (painted circa 1870).

Ossian B. Hart, 10th governor of Florida (1873-1874) and a beneficiary of the Armed Occupation Act (painted circa 1870).

Captain Mills Olcott Burnham of Cape Canaveral, businessman, pineapple farmer, and lighthouse keeper (circa 1880).

Captain Mills Olcott Burnham of Cape Canaveral, businessman, pineapple farmer, and lighthouse keeper (circa 1880).

So how do you go about using these documents? The State Library & Archives hold microfilm copies of these permit applications, along with an index (Record Series 1305). Also, the Department of Environmental Protection has digitized the originals as part of the LABINS database (click here to view it). To search the permit applications, set the “Document Type” field to “AOP” and add in the first and last names you wish to look up. Keep in mind that spellings for a single name can vary over time, so be prepared to try a few different versions of names if necessary. We recommend not filling out any other fields for this particular kind of search in LABINS.

To search for an ancestor's Armed Occupation Act permit in LABINS, select "AOP" from the Document Type menu and fill out the  name fields. Sometimes given names have variable spellings - consider searching for last names only at first.

To search for an ancestor’s Armed Occupation Act permit in LABINS, select “AOP” from the Document Type menu and fill out the name fields. Sometimes given names have variable spellings – consider searching for last names only at first.

If you find you have ancestors who received land through the Armed Occupation Act, you’ll likely also find them in the 1845 Election Returns, which are available digitally on Florida Memory. They may also appear in a number of records available for research in person at the State Library & Archives in Tallahassee. Check out our Guide to Genealogical Research for more details.

This return from Florida's 1845 statehood election records the votes of citizens voting at the home of Mills Olcott Burnham of St. Lucie County. Burnham served both as a voter and a poll inspector.

This return from Florida’s 1845 statehood election records the votes of citizens voting at the home of Mills Olcott Burnham of St. Lucie County. Burnham served both as a voter and a poll inspector.

A State Park Under the Sea

One of the greatest strengths of Florida’s state park system is its diversity. Between the caves, springs, towering forests, picture-perfect beaches, and historic structures, there’s a park to suit almost every interest. Heck, Florida is even home to the nation’s first underwater state park, located down in the Florida Keys. Read more »

The Legend of Sam Story

At least as late as 1956, a simple stone marker stood near the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and Bruce Creek, inscribed with the words “Sam Story, Cheif [sic] of the Euchees 1832.” The Euchees (or Yuchis) are not well documented in history, but some segment or segments of the tribe appear to have arrived in the Florida Panhandle by the end of the 18th century. John L. McKinnon’s History of Walton County, originally published in 1911, provides the most detailed account of the Euchee Indians and Sam Story available. It’s based on information the author learned from his father, who was one of the original pioneers of Walton County and may have met Sam Story. Read more »