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!

Not on MY Biscuit!

Do you use butter in your home, or do you prefer margarine? The stakes involved in this question may seem rather low, but that’s not how dairy farmers saw things when margarine came on the scene in the 1870s. They were accustomed, after all, to selling most of the nation’s butter that wasn’t being produced at home. In Florida and elsewhere, the question of whether and how to regulate margarine ultimately fell to lawmakers to decide, resulting in a real 19th century “bitter butter battle.”

Edvis Newton stands with a Kraft margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

Edvis Newton stands with a Parkay margarine display at a Jitney Jungle store in Tallahassee (1947). Who knew such a popular product had such a contentious history?

A French chemist named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès invented margarine in the 1860s in response to a contest sponsored by Emperor Napoleon III to develop a suitable substitute for butter. The emperor hoped the winning substance could be used by the lower classes and the French military. Mège-Mouriès called his solution “oleomargarine.” The “oleo” part came from the Latin oleum (oil), since one of the major components of the product was beef tallow. The “margarine” part of the name came from the margaric acid used in creating the compound. The term “margaric” is adapted from the Greek word márgaron, meaning “pearl” or “pearl-oyster,” since the fatty acid naturally forms small white pearl-shaped droplets.

Mège-Mouriès patented his new product and marketed it under the trade name “margarine.” The idea caught on well enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and by 1871 inventors were already seeking patents for margarine production processes in the United States. Meatpackers were some of margarine’s most enthusiastic proponents, since the new product gave them something profitable to do with the animal fats leftover from processing meat. Dairy farmers, on the other hand, saw margarine as a threat to their hold on the butter market. They were joined in their opposition by others who were concerned that improperly concocted margarine could be dangerous to human health.

The question of what to do about butter and its imitators began landing in state legislatures across the nation, and in 1881 it was Florida’s turn to debate the matter. The following law passed the Senate and Assembly and was approved by signature of Governor William D. Bloxham on February 17, 1881:

AN ACT to prevent the selling as Butter of Oleomargarine or any Spurious Preparations purporting to be Butter.

The People of the State of Florida, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. That any person or persons who shall knowingly and willingly sell or cause to be sold as butter any spurious preparation purporting to be butter, whether known as oleomargarine or by any other name, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined in a sum not to exceed one hundred dollars, or be imprisoned in the county jail for a period of time not to exceed thirty days, or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the Court.

SEC 2. Any keeper of any hotel or boarding house who shall knowingly and wilfully, without giving notice to guests at the table, supply oleomargarine or other spurious preparation purporting to be butter, for the use of guests, shall be subject to the same penalty.

That’s a stiff punishment for passing fake butter!

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

No margarine here! Young Margie Davis is seen here churning butter the old-fashioned way (date unknown).

Taken in context, Florida’s treatment of margarine was not so unusual. Congress adopted a law in 1886 regulating the definition of butter and imposing a tax on oleomargarine at two cents per pound. State governments developed a whole range of solutions to the butter battle, including restricting producers from coloring margarine to resemble butter. Without coloring, margarine typically has a whitish tint, resembling lard more than butter. Delaware, Illinois, and Michigan all passed laws establishing this sort of color restriction. New Hampshire opted for the opposite tactic. Its legislature required margarine producers to color their products pink, so consumers would realize they weren’t eating real butter.

Despite all the fuss, consumers gradually warmed up to the idea of using margarine, especially in situations when meat, milk, and butter were in short supply. City dwellers who lacked easy, inexpensive access to farm-fresh butter tended to favor the margarine substitute, and it served as a vital commodity during both world wars. By the 1950s, most of the earlier restrictions on margarine had been dropped.

Margarine has also served at times as creative inspiration. Census and Social Security Death Index records indicate that Florida has been home to many people with some variant of the term “oleomargarine” in their names over the years. The words “Oleo” and “Margarine” were quite common by themselves as names in the early decades of the 20th century, while our research has turned up one case in Duval County of someone with “Oleo Margarine” as their full given name.

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

These days, butter and margarine get along living side by side in refrigerators all across Florida. Even this recipe card for Florida Orange Meringue Pie offers the cook a choice of which to use (circa 1950s).

If this hasn’t convinced you of food’s vital role in history, check out our new primary source set for teachers titled The History of Foodways in Florida. Its purpose is to empower teachers to use food traditions as a lens for studying history with their students, but anyone is welcome to enjoy the historic documents and media it provides.

Florida’s First Civil Governor

What do you know about territorial Florida’s first civil governor, William Pope DuVal? If you aren’t familiar with the governor’s backstory, you’re in luck. James M. Denham, Professor of History at Florida Southern University, has recently released a biography of DuVal entitled Florida Founder William P. DuVal, Frontier Bon Vivant. Moreover, Dr. Denham will be speaking about Governor DuVal and the book at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee on Friday, January 29th at 7:00pm. Admission is free; the details may be found on the Mission’s Events Calendar.

But who was William Pope DuVal, and how did he end up as Florida’s first civilian chief executive?

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

Governor William Pope DuVal (circa 1830).

DuVal was born in 1784 at Mount Comfort, Virginia, not far from Richmond. His father was a lawyer, and at the age of 14 DuVal decided to follow the same career. He read law in Bardstown, Kentucky and was admitted to the bar at 19.

President Monroe appointed young DuVal United States Judge for the eastern district of the newly acquired territory of Florida in May 1821. John C. Calhoun, a friend of DuVal’s who was then serving as Monroe’s Secretary of War, had put in a good word for the young lawyer with the President. DuVal’s career took another fortunate turn the following year when President Monroe appointed him governor. DuVal took over administration of the territory from General Andrew Jackson, who had served as military governor until Congress could establish a civil government for the new province.

DuVal served four three-year terms (1822-1834) as governor, leading Florida through a variety of early challenges as a territory. The very act of administrating the new province was one of the toughest. Commercial and political activity was concentrated at Pensacola and St. Augustine, which were separated by nearly 400 miles of sparse wilderness. The trip between these ports by boat took nearly as long as a land voyage and had its own inherent dangers. The answer, territorial officials determined, was to construct a new capital someplace between the two main cities. DuVal appointed two commissioners, John Lee Williams of Pensacola and Dr. William H. Simmons of St. Augustine to determine the best location. Tallahassee was the result; DuVal proclaimed it the capital on March 4, 1824.

Replica of Florida's first capitol, established at Tallahassee in 1824. The replica was built by local Boy Scouts in honor of Florida's centennial celebration (1924).

Replica of Florida’s first capitol, established at Tallahassee in 1824. The replica was built by local Boy Scouts in honor of Florida’s centennial celebration (1924).

Governor DuVal was also at the center of one of the most contentious issues of Florida’s territorial era: banking. As is the case with most frontier societies, early Florida planters were in constant need of capital and credit to build up their plantations and create more wealth for themselves and the territory. The problem was that the basis for much of Florida’s existing wealth at that time was tied up in those same plantations, with no banking facilities to offer any liquidity. Leading citizens attempted on several occasions to get a branch of the United States Bank established in Florida, but nothing came of their efforts.

Meanwhile, Governor DuVal opposed the territorial legislature’s attempts to create a local territorial bank. He argued that the charters proposed by lawmakers lacked specific guarantees that notes would always be redeemed in specie upon demand. He also believed the charters should have contained provisions for forfeiture in the event of malfeasance by the bank directors, and that directors should be restricted from taking out large loans from their own bank. DuVal ultimately vetoed over a dozen bank charters in the 1820s. A few passed over his veto, but none lasted very long.

Then came the Union Bank, chartered in 1833 without a veto from DuVal. The Union Bank was an unusual institution, in that its stock was to be secured by public bonds. In other words, the territorial legislature was so desperate for capital that it allowed a private bank to do business supported by the credit of the territory itself! The scheme worked for a while, but mismanagement, the Panic of 1837, and a severe drought in 1840 combined forces to ultimately doom the bank and attract a Congressional investigation.

A bond drawn on the credit of the Territory of Florida and put at the disposal of the Union Bank. Notice that the bond is signed by Governor William Pope DuVal as chief executive of the territory (1834).

A bond drawn on the credit of the Territory of Florida and put at the disposal of the Union Bank. Notice that the bond is signed by Governor William Pope DuVal as chief executive of the territory (1834).

By this time, DuVal had returned to private life, practicing law in Florida until he moved to Texas in 1848. He died while on a trip to Washington, D.C. on March 19, 1854, and was interred in the Congressional Cemetery.

DuVal’s name is commemorated in a number of place names around the state (usually without the capital “V”). Streets carrying the name Duval may be found in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Key West, Pensacola, and many other towns and cities. Duval County was named for the governor in 1822.

Find more images of Governor William Pope DuVal and Florida’s other governors by searching the Florida Photographic Collection.

Strawberry Schools

Remember those late spring days back in grade school when all you could think about was the approach of summer vacation? Depending on your age and your preferences, you might have spent the time off swimming, taking family trips, or earning a little spending money at a summer job – anything but sitting still in a classroom.

There was a time, however, when some Florida students took their vacation much earlier in the year, from January through March. A number of counties in Central and South Florida mandated this to accommodate the harvest schedules for winter fruits and vegetables, which provided a living for small family farms. Strawberries were the main Florida crop requiring this arrangement. As a result, schools that operated on the modified April to December calendar were called “strawberry schools.”

Students attending a

Students attending a “strawberry school” in Plant City, Florida (1946).

Strawberries have been cultivated in Florida since the late 1800s. They have been grown in nearly every county in the state at one time or another, but large-scale sustained strawberry farming has mainly been centered in Hillsborough, Polk, Hardee, Bradford, Union, and Orange counties. These days, commercial strawberry farming is largely confined to large-scale operations with hundreds of acres under cultivation. Up until about the 1950s, however, family farms dominated the industry. In some places, strawberry farming came to define whole communities. Plant City, for example, has long been known as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World,” and strawberries have been a key theme in the town’s self-promotion.

Hillsborough County folder, Ephemera Collection, State Library of Florida.

Hillsborough County folder, Ephemera Collection, State Library of Florida.

Florida strawberries generally become ready to harvest between late December and March, right in the middle of the traditional spring session of the public schools. Farm families depending on the strawberry harvest for their livelihood often enlisted their children’s help tending and picking the berries. Gathering the fruit was only one part of the process; one woman remembered children being responsible for watering the rows of tender plants by hand and covering them with Spanish moss when the weather turned cold.

Children and adults picking strawberries in Plant City (1946).

Children and adults picking strawberries in Plant City (1946).

Strawberry farmers valued the labor their children provided at harvest time, but they also recognized the importance of their education. Some communities decided to have the best of both worlds by rearranging the school year. This was no new invention; the very idea of summer vacation was originally devised to allow farm children to help their families during the busy summer months. Plus, plenty of other states had similar systems to allow schoolchildren to help out at harvest time. There have at various times been “potato schools” in Connecticut, “apple schools” in New York, “tomato schools” in Ohio, and so on. What Central Florida needed was a “strawberry school” that would allow the students’ off-time to coincide with the strawberry harvest January through March.

Excerpt from the minutes of the Florida Board of Education, July 30, 1942 - volume 6, page 286, Series 252, State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt from the minutes of the Florida Board of Education, July 30, 1942 – volume 6, page 286, Series 252, State Archives of Florida.

And that is exactly what happened in many cases. In earlier years, counties would adjust the school year as needed for their particular harvest season. Once state education authorities began regulating the length and structure of the school calendar, local districts had to request permission to operate on a special schedule. Frequently, only some of the schools in a district would operate on the “summer” or “strawberry” system, while the rest of the county would use the more familiar “winter” system. In at least one case in Polk County, a school remained opened year-round and parents had the opportunity to choose which months their children would attend classes. A similar system was attempted for a few years in the early 1940s in Wimauma in Hillsborough County.

Postcard showing children lining up to turn in the strawberries they have picked (circa 1930s).

Postcard showing children lining up to turn in the strawberries they have picked (circa 1930s).

If you’re “warm-natured,” taking your vacation in the winter-time might not sound like such a bad idea, especially if you had to spend some portion of it walking up and down the rows of a field picking fruit at ankle level. The system had its problems, as veteran strawberry scholars have explained when asked about their experiences. Former Hillsborough County teacher Myrtis Hawthorne once told Tampa Tribune writer Leland Hawes that she remembered the gnats being so bad in her classroom that she often put a small dab of kerosene on her students’ faces to keep them away. The heat left her little choice but to keep the windows open, and so the gnats simply became part of the experience.

The strawberry school system was a boon for farmers, but several factors combined to bring it to an end in the years following World War II. Migrant workers had become a crucial part of the agricultural labor force during the wartime emergency, and in the postwar years they preferred to be able to move northward in the summer months as crops became ready for harvest. Also, improved roads and increased automobile ownership helped popularize the concept of the family vacation, which many families preferred to take in the summer.

The educational quality of strawberry schools also came into question during this period. In 1946, Tampa Tribune reporter J.A. “Jock” Murray began writing a series of articles criticizing the system as exploitative and academically deficient. Murray’s efforts helped pave the way for Florida’s landmark Minimum Foundation education law of 1947, but the school term remained a local option issue. The tide was turning, however, and in 1956 the Hillsborough County School Board abolished the strawberry school calendar for all of its schools. The remaining strawberry schools in surrounding counties followed suit soon afterward.

Two children eating strawberries at the annual Plant City Strawberry Festival (1978).

Two children eating strawberries at the annual Plant City Strawberry Festival (1978).

Strawberry farming is still a major winter industry in Central Florida, but these days children spend much more time eating the berries than picking them. Plant City still holds an annual Strawberry Festival that brings in thousands of visitors. This year’s event is coming up soon, by the way – the festival runs March 3-13, 2016. Now that you have a bit of local strawberry history under your belt, you’re all set to give it a try.

If you were a student again, would you choose a three-month winter vacation or a three-month summer vacation? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook with your thoughts!

Rivers H. Buford, Jr. (1927-2016)

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr., former Assistant Attorney General and onetime General Counsel to the Florida Board of Education, died January 3, 2016 in Tallahassee. Buford’s public service to the people of Florida was a family affair. His father, Rivers Henderson Buford, Sr., served as Attorney General and a Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, while his son, Rivers Henderson Buford, III, has served in several high ranking positions in the Legislative and Executive branches of the state government.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Rivers Henderson Buford (left) with his son Rivers, Jr. (right) in Tallahassee (1945).

Florida Supreme Court Justice Rivers Henderson Buford (left) with his son Rivers, Jr. (right) in Tallahassee (1945).

Rivers Buford, Jr. was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1950. From 1952 to 1956, he served as judge on the Leon County Claims Court. He later entered state government service as Assistant Attorney General under Earl Faircloth, holding that office from 1966 to 1969. Buford then moved to the Florida Board of Education, where he served as General Counsel under Commissioner Floyd Thomas Christian, Sr. These were busy years for Buford, as the state government grappled with legal battles over school desegregation, busing, and widespread dissatisfaction over funding for education.

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. (1927-2016).

Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. (1927-2016).

Buford performed two additional stints as Assistant Attorney General (1985-87; 1990-2003), and also served as a member of the State Board of Pilot Commissioners prior to his retirement in 2010. Mr. Buford was a resident of Tallahassee at the time of his passing.

The State Archives of Florida takes pride in honoring the memory of Rivers Henderson Buford, Jr. Click here to view more images of Mr. Buford’s family.