New Accession: Cross Florida Barge Canal Records

In April, the State Archives of Florida accessioned 163 boxes of material from the Department of Environmental Protection documenting the creation, progression and eventual decline of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. Once received, archivists began working their way through the boxes to ready them for public access. The process involved sorting the records to better understand the kinds of information they contain and how researchers might use them. The materials are now divided into six distinct series: reports, land records, legal records, administrative files, Canal Land Advisory Council records and Cross Florida Greenway records.

Archivists examine a map included in the new accession from the Cross Florida Barge Canal records (2014).

Archivists examine a map included in the new accession from the Cross Florida Barge Canal records (2014).

When dealing with a large group of records across multiple series, archivists typically tackle the series that seems the most straightforward first. This allows the processing archivist to become familiar with the methods used by the documents’ creators to generate and organize the material. It also allows the archivist to learn about the history and evolution of the project or agency, especially when records are of a more professionally specialized nature. This is the case with the Cross Florida Barge Canal records, as many were created by engineers, land surveyors and appraisers, legal specialists, and environmental experts. The reports series was the first to be arranged and described because of its clear and consistent structure. Processing efforts are complete and the documents are now open for research at the State Archives of Florida.

Newly boxed and labeled records on the shelf at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Newly boxed and labeled records on the shelf at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

The Reports series (S2685) is comprised entirely of reports written in the course and aftermath of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. The wide variety of topics covered by the series include: project oversight and responsibility; engineering manuals, challenges, inspections and cost estimates; site specific analyses, appraisals, updates and designs; and environmental rehabilitation, restoration and development.

Reports created by the Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, are the most prevalent. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior also feature prominently. Many state agencies completed studies on the canal project, especially the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Cover of a report by the University of Florida's Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Cover of a report by the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers (Box 7, folder 24 of Series 2685, State Archives of Florida).

Many times supplemental studies would occur as a result of the release of comprehensive reports. In some cases, studies were contracted out to private companies in order to get additional perspectives on the findings of past reports. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers performed a large scale restudy of the Barge Canal in the mid 1970s. Many Florida agencies and universities built upon the Corps of Engineers restudies, often narrowing their scope to issues such as the environmental effects on wildlife, vegetation and water quality or local economics. The large number of agencies, universities, independent firms, corporations and public organizations that created reports on the project illustrates the significance of the proposed Cross Florida Barge Canal at both the state and national level.

The land records series is next up for processing. Look for a post on those records in the coming months!

 

Glass Lantern Slides

Young women fishing with cane poles from a jetty
The old Gregory house before it was moved: Ocheesee Landing, Florida.
People walking through a forest

These hand-tinted glass lantern slides are from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Collection. The 53 slides in the collection show a variety of Florida’s natural features, including scenes of rivers and river banks, forests, nature trails, fishing, sand dunes, and swimming.

The image of the Gregory House went unidentified until it was recognized by a patron on our Florida Memory Flickr page. We were able to match the image with another in our collection and confirm that this was indeed the house in the slide.

The Gregory House, built in 1849 by Planter Jason Gregory, stood at Ochesee Landing across the river from the Torreya State Park. In 1935, the house was dismantled and moved to its present location in the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was developing the park.

The remaining 52 images have very little identifying information. However, they are a beautiful example of Florida landscapes depicted on glass lantern slides, ca. 1940s.

People on a Lakeshore

Glass lantern slide shows were popular both as home entertainment and as an accompaniment to speakers on the lecture circuit. They reached their popularity about 1900, but continued to be widely used until the 1930s when they were gradually replaced by the more convenient 35-milimeter slides.

Young women posing in swimsuits on sand dune

Related Resources

 

Voting in Florida, Then and Now

On March 3, 1845, the U.S. admitted Florida as the 27th state in the Union.  A proclamation was issued for a statewide election to be held on May 26, 1845, in which citizens would elect a Governor, a member of the United States Congress, seventeen state senators, and forty-one state representatives.

Florida's first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Florida’s first state flag, unfurled at the inauguration of Governor William D. Moseley on June 25, 1845.

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida's first state governor (circa 1845-49).

Drawn portrait of William D. Moseley, Florida’s first state governor (circa 1845-49).

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida's first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s first U.S. Senators, elected to office in 1845. The other Senator was James D. Westcott, Jr. Note that U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures at this time, not chosen directly by the people. Photo circa 1850s-60s.

Florida’s Legislative Council passed an act “to Facilitate the Organization of the State of Florida” on March 11, 1845, part of which laid out the criteria a citizen had to meet in order to participate in the election. Voting was restricted to free white males who were citizens of the U.S. at the time of the election and had lived in Florida for at least two years. A voter could only cast a ballot in the county where he had lived for at least six months and was enrolled as a member of the local militia.

J.H. Colton's map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

J.H. Colton’s map of Florida, published in 1853. With the exception of a few counties, this map reflects the county boundaries in place at the time of the 1845 statehood election.

Each of Florida’s twenty-five counties was divided into precincts. Clerks of the county courts appointed inspectors for each precinct to ensure an accurate and orderly voting process.  Each clerk and inspector kept poll books listing the voters.  Attached to these poll books were certificates of election on which the inspectors and clerk, after having counted the votes, wrote down the results for each candidate. Sometimes a voter’s qualifications were challenged by an inspector. In these cases, the inspector reviewed the available evidence and either had the voter swear an oath affirming his eligibility or rejected his claim outright.  Either outcome was then noted on the certificate.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter's attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison's right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

An example of a record showing the results of a voter’s attempt to cast a ballot. In this case, William Morrison’s right to vote was challenged, and he opted to swear an oath certifying his eligibility. His oath was rejected, however, by local election officials.

In this example, John L. Call's credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirmning his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

In this example, John L. Call’s credentials as a voter were called into question. After swearing him to an oath affirming his eligibility, the inspector allowed Call to vote.

Today, 169 years after the 1845 election that marked the beginning of Florida’s statehood, voting technology has changed a great deal, as have the requirements for becoming eligible to cast a ballot.

In 1845, a qualified voter could simply walk up to a precinct on Election Day and vote, barring any challenges from the inspector in charge. Today voters must register, and meet the following requirements:

  • Be a Citizen of the United States of America (a lawful permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen)
  • Be a Florida resident
  • Be 18 years old
  • Not have been judged mentally incapacitated by a court order
  • Not have been convicted of a felony without the citizen’s civil rights having been restored
  • Provide current and valid Florida driver’s license number or Florida identification card number. If a citizen does not have a Florida driver’s license number or a Florida identification card number then he or she must provide the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. If the citizen does not have any of these items, he or she must write “none” in the box or field where type of available ID is indicated.

 

Voter registration drive - Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

Voter registration drive – Tallahassee, Florida (1984).

In 1845, the only way to vote was in person. Today, Florida counties offer several methods for casting a legal ballot:

  • Go to designated poll site and vote in person
  • Early voting
  • Absentee voting
Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida's 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Stetson University political science professor T. Wayne Bailey, one of Florida’s 27 presidential electors, signing his Electoral College Certificate of Vote for Barack Obama in the Florida Senate chamber (2008).

Florida's state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Florida’s state flag, bearing the 1985 version of the Great Seal of the State of Florida (photo circa 1985).

Are you a qualified Florida voter? If so, election season is here, and you have the opportunity to help shape the future of your community and state. Make a note of the dates below, and exercise your right to cast a ballot on Election Day. For more information about voting in Florida, visit the Florida Department of State – Division of Elections website.

Primary Election

Deadline to Register: July 28, 2014
Election Day: August 26, 2014

General Election

Deadline to Register: October 6, 2014
Election Day: November 4, 2014

Polls are open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

Florida Memory is currently digitizing the returns from the 1845 statehood election, so everyone will be able to easily access them for genealogical and historical research. Expect to see them online and ready to search in a few weeks!

 

Save the Capitol!

With its candy-striped awnings and ornate art glass dome, Florida’s old capitol is an architectural reflection of a bygone era, as well as an excellent example of a grassroots historic preservation effort.  For over a century, the building served elements of all three branches of government. Over time, however, Florida outgrew its capitol, and in 1977 a new twenty-two story building was erected just behind it.  The old capitol building was first slated for demolition, but when Tallahassee locals discovered the state’s intent to raze one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board quickly mobilized a resistance, urging Floridians to preserve their history and “Save the Capitol!”

View of the east front of new Capitol with old capitol in front - Tallahassee, Florida

A mid to late 1970s view of the east front of new capitol with old capitol in front, just as those engaged in the preservation battle would have seen it (1975-1979).

Perhaps some 1970s legislators were blind to the important symbol of a democratic state government, but from 1839 until 1977, the old capitol bore witness to numerous important milestones in Florida’s history. Two years after establishing  Tallahassee as the capital of the sparsely populated Florida territory in 1824, three log cabins were built for conducting government business.  But by the following decade, the territory seemed destined for statehood, and  Governor Richard Keith Call asked the legislature for a larger space in 1839. The new brick and mortar statehouse proved a worthwhile investment when it was completed in 1845.  In that same year, Florida became the twenty-seventh state to join the Union and  first elected governor, William Dunn Moseley, was sworn into office beneath the new capitol’s east portico, commencing the state’s history.

Florida's Capitol before addition of dome - Tallahassee, Florida (circa 1870s).

Though taken sometime in the 1870s, the above photograph captures the old Capitol’s original 1845 appearance, before the addition of a small cupola in 1891 and then the familiar dome in 1902 (circa 1870s).

In an effort to accommodate a growing state government, Florida’s capitol underwent a series of structural changes. However,  its current appearance was restored to honor the 1902 work of Frank Pierce Milburn, who added a stately copper dome.

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after 1902 - Tallahassee, Florida

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after Milburn’s 1902 additions – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1902 and 1922).

Further renovations occurred in 1923, 1936, and 1947. Despite physical alterations, the capitol remained a firm symbol of democracy as Florida’s political landscape continued to evolve into the twentieth century.

Replica of Liberty Bell displayed during Savings Bond drive in June 1950.

A replica of the Liberty Bell displayed during a savings bond drive at the old capitol highlights the structure as a physical centerpiece of government action in Florida (June 1950).

However, by the early 1970s it was clear that Florida government had outgrown its Tallahassee headquarters.  Thus, the 1972 Legislature appropriated funds for a new, mammoth capitol complex, intending to destroy the old capitol after finishing the project. When it finally opened in 1977, a faction of politicians, including Governor Reubin Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker, remained in favor of the original demolition plan, but an unexpected backlash would challenge the proposed action.

Representative Bill Nelson with a toy bulldozer - Tallahassee, Florida (18 May 1977)

Nelson to the rescue! Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, throws his body in front of the “first” bulldozer to show up at the old capitol. Nelson made the statement earlier in the session that efforts to save the old capitol had so frustrated him that he felt like he would throw his body in front of the first bulldozer that showed up to begin to raze the historic structure. Nelson was true to his word as Reps. Hill and Haben wound up a toy and started it down the aisle of the house chamber (18 May 1977).

Nancy Dobson, a historian and Director of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, spearheaded the opposition, enlisting the support of Secretary of State Bruce Smathers.  Soon, legislators, academics, and the interested public began expressing their indignation over the  idea of eliminating such a significant historical landmark.  ”If the political powers within the state decide to destroy the building in which they themselves have a sentimental and historical involvement, what will be their attitude toward other preservation efforts in the state with which they may have little or no personal relationship?” Dobson questioned.

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson - Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Like many other historic preservation campaigns,  the race to save the Capitol was led primarily by female activists.  Their work culminated in an event orchestrated by Mrs. Bruce Smathers.  On March 30, 1978 “Save the Capitol Night,”  hosted guests at the site for music, tours, and an opportunity to sign a petition in favor of preservation.  Kicking off the festivities, a local folk  band performed on the steps, encouraging audiences to  ”save that grand old southern lady on the hill.”  Ultimately, the campaign was a success, and the old capitol, restored to its 1902 appearance, opened as a public museum in 1982.

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

The Myth About Dusty, Musty Archives

Have you noticed how often news articles and blog posts refer to archives as dusty, musty places filled with similarly dusty, musty collections? Here are a few quotes perpetuating the dusty, musty myth about archives:

“I lifted the lid of a sere and dusty gray box; a box unexceptional among shelf upon shelf of sere and dusty gray boxes…”

“An archivist enters, pushing a cart that bears a dozen dusty gray boxes.”

“…the search happens in finding aids, the archival stacks, and the dusty boxes.”

“When people think of archives at all, they think of mouldering files in forgotten basements…”

“Leaving Cloister of Dusty Offices, Young Archivists Meet Like Minds”

“Musty Archives Shed Light on Democracies at War”

Invoking the name of T.R. Schellenberg, a revered mid-20th century American archival theorist and writer, one archivist responded to the seemingly endless litany of dusty mustiness with this Tweet,  “Whenever you use ‘musty’ [or 'dusty'] in an article about Archives, the ghost of Schellenberg kills a kitten.” (Brad Houston, University Records Archivist, University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee, @herodotusjr)

Houston’s response, though couched in humor, affirms a truth rarely revealed in the quest for a snappy headline or catchphrase: archives and the collections they preserve are usually pretty darn clean. As these shots of our storage areas show, one would have to search long and hard to find the dust and must so ubiquitous in those articles and blog posts.

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida's colorful past (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida’s colorful past (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Occasionally an archives will acquire a collection that was not stored in clean conditions and requires cleaning or rehousing. If researchers are provided access to such a collection before that work is done, they might indeed encounter some dirt or dust. Or a very small or severely understaffed and struggling archives might lack the resources to perform such work. But those are the exceptions. Far more typical are the well-maintained collections and facilities that disprove the myth of the dusty, musty archives. Come visit us – we promise you won’t get dirty!

Did you know you can search the holdings of the State Archives of Florida from your own computer anytime? Check out the Archives Catalog to find out what we have on your favorite Florida history topic.

 

Edmund Cottle Weeks

The nation’s existential crisis of civil war brought to the forefront many individuals who were mature, tested, and ready to act as leaders for both sides. After four years of trial by combat, many U.S. officers chose to remain and to make a life in the South. They brought to the former Confederacy a leavening of Union sentiment, Republican politics, and a strong desire to enforce the Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts which followed their victory.

Edmund Cottle Weeks, a merchant seaman and officer, U.S. Navy and Army officer, and Republican politician, was among those tasked with wrestling Florida back into the Union. His life in Florida would be clouded by a charge of murder, but also by an ascent to the pinnacle of state politics during the era known as Reconstruction.

E.C. Weeks

Born in Massachusetts in 1829 and educated at private schools in Connecticut, Weeks was a world traveler prior to his enrollment at Yale College, where he spent less than a year. He then studied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. After three years he failed to finish the course there as well.

Three years experience before the mast earned Weeks the billet of ship’s Master in the trading firm Wallace, Sherwood, and Company. In this endeavor Weeks now followed his father’s trade.

When the Civil War began Weeks enlisted and was assigned as an acting officer in the U.S. Navy. His conduct under fire earned positive mention in reports. In 1863, repairs idled his ship and brought orders to lead amphibious raiding parties in Louisiana. His transfer to the Army soon followed.

In the summer of 1864, Army officials at Key West raised a regiment of U.S. volunteer cavalry for service in Florida. Week was placed in command of the unit, however, a delay in his commissioning allowed for a period of dissent to arise in the regiment. The resulting problems culminated in a court martial for Weeks, who was charged with murdering a soldier under his command while encamped at Cedar Key. Even though the court martial brought to light charges of drunkenness against Weeks, he was eventually exonerated. The murder charge followed him for the rest of his days in Florida.

His cavalry unit, the 2nd Florida Cavalry, was brigaded with the Second Infantry Regt USCT during the events surrounding the Battle of Natural Bridge, which occurred south of Tallahassee in March 1865. This combined force attempted to take the bridge at Newport but was repulsed, which necessitated the movement to the “natural” bridge further upstream on the St. Mark’s River. The battle ended in a Confederate victory that ultimately prevented Union troops from capturing Tallahassee during the war.

After the war, Weeks returned to the vicinity of Tallahassee where his attempt to run a cotton plantation ended badly. The debt he acquired from this investment soon soured his reputation, with many locals claiming he was in default on his loans.

E.C. Weeks

Weeks operated as a Republican politician and garnered the attention of powerful Republican officials in the Reconstruction government. The struggles among and between Republicans and Democrats resulted in frequent changes in government as state officials jockeyed for position. In one battle, Governor Harrison Reed lost his Lieutenant Governor and appointed Weeks to that vacant post.

This appointment created a fire storm in the Florida Senate, and Weeks left the position but continued to be politically active. Later, he served as a Leon County commissioner and sheriff, and as a Representative in the Florida House. During this period, he unsuccessfully campaigned for Governor and U.S. Senate.

After U.S. forces supporting Reconstruction withdrew from Florida, the Republican government, and its officials, fell to the Democratic Party. The Army had provided former slaves and federal officers with protection while they exercised or enforced their newly won civil rights. These people were now exposed to the backlash created by the loss of the war and the armed occupation that followed.

In 1890, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Florida resigned in frustration, citing an inability to enforce the laws of the United States in Florida. Weeks accepted appointment to the position from President Benjamin Harrison. In that same year the widowed Weeks married a Tallahassee widow, Elisabeth Hunt Craft, and made his residence in the house now known as The Murphy House on Park Avenue in Tallahassee. This home became a refuge for freedmen and whites seeking sanctuary from gangs and mobs seeking to drive them back into subservience.

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Weeks Surveyor General of Florida. Two years later ill health forced him to resign. He died in Tallahassee on April 12, 1907.

For an archivist, it was an engrossing opportunity to become familiar with such a character from our nation’s Passion play. We are all familiar with Lincoln, Davis, Lee, and Grant as the towering figures of those years. To be responsible for the archival preservation of one man’s history, slight as it may be in terms of the written record, as he enacted his part in that epoch has been rewarding.

Weeks resurfaced at the State Archives of Florida when his descendant brought to us several of Major Weeks’ commissions as a Florida or United States official. These recently donated materials have joined State Archives Manuscript Collection M74-22, which contain boxes and volumes of official and family correspondence, and operations records, that provide some small insight into the life of a sea rover, naval/army officer, “radical” politician, law enforcement officer, and family man.

Thank You to Our Friends at the Riley House!

The African-American photo identification event, held yesterday at the State Archives, was a great success. Several folks from the community helped us identify images of African-American life in Tallahassee from the 1950s and 1960s. Special thanks to Althemese Barnes and the John G. Riley House and Museum for helping to organize this important event!

Over one hundred images were identified. For example, we learned that future NFL star and Chicago Bears legend Willie “The Wisp” Galimore (far right) appears in this photo along with three still unidentified Florida A&M football players.

Willie "The Wisp" Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

Willie “The Wisp” Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

… And this photograph of Griffin Junior High School beauty queens, including Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Founding Executive Director at the John G. Riley House & Museum.

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

New Accession Spotlight: 1926 Miami Hurricane Letter

Collections Management staff at the State Archives of Florida spends much of their time bringing new collections into the Archives and readying them for public access. Though the majority of our holdings document the activities and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government, the Archives also preserves and makes available papers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials created by private individuals and organizations.

Despite the fact that our most recent manuscript donation consists of only one item, its provides a strong first person account of significant events in Florida history. This prompted staff to quickly digitize and transcribe the item for inclusion on the Florida Memory website.

Excerpt from a letter describing the 1926 Miami Hurricane

The donation consists of a single hand-written letter describing hurricanes that hit southern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the twelve page account details Kaye’s activities both during and in the aftermath of the storms.

Excerpt from page 3: "There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall in the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside."

Excerpt from page 3: “There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall. In the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside.”

Kaye began with a brief account of the October 21st storm before plunging into the events of September 18th and the days that followed. While it is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, especially during her walk across the causeway and to Hollywood in search of “her folks.”

Do you have original materials related to significant people, places, or events in Florida history? Learn more about donating them to the State Archives of Florida.

Digitizing the Governor Milton Letterbook (Part One)

Reunited, and It Feels So Good…

On July 10, 2013, volume one of Governor John Milton’s letterbooks returned to Tallahassee. The mostly dis-bound, fire-damaged letterbook resided in Florida’s capital city on at least two separate occasions prior to this year when the Florida Historical Society lent it to the State Archives for digitization.

The State Archives holds part two of Milton’s letterbooks, which covers the period from 1863 to 1865, but this is the first time in a long time that both volumes have been in the same location. The story of how these two letterbooks were reunited in Tallahassee reveals the often circuitous route taken by historical documents, from the time of their creation until they find a permanent home.

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

The most obvious distinguishing feature about volume one of Milton’s letterbook is the fire-damaged pages. The fire in question occurred at the residence of William Hall Milton, grandson of John Milton, in Marianna, Florida, in about 1912. According to W.H. Milton, the fire burned many family papers, but a tin box preserved the letterbook and a few other documents tucked safely inside.

In 1937, W.H. Milton came into contact with Daisy Parker, a student at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (FSCW). Parker was in the process of writing a senior paper on John Milton and somehow became aware of the singed papers in Marianna.

Kathryn Abbey, a professor at FSCW, wrote to Watt Marchman, a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, about Parker’s discovery. Marchman, a member of the Florida Historical Society (FHS), contacted W.H. Milton about adding the letterbook to their collections. Milton agreed to the proposal, and promised to have the letterbook forwarded to Jacksonville (then the home of the FHS) upon the completion of Parker’s research.

The letterbook arrived in Jacksonville on July 1, 1937. It is not known whether Parker consulted volume two of Milton’s letterbooks, which at the time resided at the State Library in Tallahassee, or if she ever submitted her senior paper.

And so it was that one Milton letterbook left Tallahassee for the second time since its creation during the early years of the Civil War.

By 1979, the FHS collection, including volume one of Milton’s letterbooks, had been transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa. Archivists overseeing the FHS collections contacted the Bureau of Archives and Records Management (BARM) in Tallahassee about exchanging copies of the letterbooks to aid researchers at both institutions. In the summer of 1979, an agreement was made and the two repositories swapped photocopies of their Milton letterbooks.

Since the exchange of photocopies in 1979, researchers at both institutions (FHS later moved to Cocoa, Florida) have enjoyed access to the complete John Milton letterbooks, though with one volume at both sites being in the form of photocopies.

Because of the fragile nature of the fire-damaged portions of the letterbook, few researchers have had access to the volume one originals. This will remain the case, but through digitization researchers can now see the originals online, burnt edges and all.

Careful high-resolution scanning of the originals will ensure the continued integrity of the documents as well as make them available online via the Florida Memory website. The digitization of this project is ongoing and should be completed in the summer of 2014.

Stay tuned for future posts on interesting finds in the charred pages of John Milton’s first letterbook…

FHS Digitization in Progress…

Each year, the Florida Memory team selects one large archival collection for digitization and addition to the website.

This year, our friends at the Florida Historical Society in Cocoa loaned us two collections from their holdings for digitization. The first is Governor John Milton’s letterbook from 1861-1863. The second collection includes correspondence and other documents related to two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call and his daughter Ellen Call Long.

We will scan the original documents, such as the one below, and make them searchable through an online database. This process will take about one year, with the collection going live in the summer of 2014.

Image from John Milton's Letterbook, 1861

Image from John Milton’s Letterbook, 1861

This series of blog posts will chronicle the digitization of these remarkable collections and highlight significant documents discovered along the way.

Stay tuned for the second installment, which examines the journey of Governor John Milton’s letterbook to Tallahassee… for the third time.