Why We Treasure the Treasure Coast

The Treasure Coast is a section of Florida’s Atlantic coastline located roughly between Vero Beach and Miami. Locals could point to lots of reasons why this part of Florida deserves to be “treasured,” but which treasure earned it the name? The miles of white sandy beaches? The once-prominent and lucrative pineapple industry in the area?

It turns out the name “Treasure Coast” is much more literal. Nearly 300 years ago, in 1715, a fleet of 11 Spanish ships was wrecked just offshore between the mouth of the St. Lucie River and Cape Canaveral.

These weren’t just any ships. They were part of what the Spanish called a plate fleet, sent to collect new wealth from the American possessions of the Spanish Empire and transport it to Spain. When they fell victim to the punishing winds of a hurricane, all but one of the ships sank, scattering their valuable cargo over the seafloor.

A map showing Florida's "Treasure Coast," roughly between Vero Beach and Miami.

A map showing Florida’s “Treasure Coast,” roughly between Vero Beach and Miami.

This plate fleet was especially rich, owing to the circumstances of the time. From 1700 to 1714, most of Western Europe was tangled up in a war over who would succeed to the throne of Spain. Plate fleets usually sailed from the Spanish port of Cadiz each year, but the intense European conflict made it too dangerous to make the journey. Once the war was settled, however, the Spanish made plans to collect much needed revenue from their American colonies. The fleet split once it reached the New World, some of the ships heading to Veracruz in New Spain, and others traveling farther south to Cartagena and Portobello. By the time the ships were reunited at Havana, they were loaded down with gold, silver, jewels, and trade items obtained from China.

Drawing of a typical Spanish galleon, similar to those that would have been part of the Plate Fleet of 1715 (1886).

Drawing of a typical Spanish galleon, similar to those that would have been part of the Plate Fleet of 1715 (1886).

The final leg of the trip back to Spain always carried the plate fleet up the Gulf Stream between the Bahamas and the Florida coast. This was a dangerous gamble, because if the ships encountered rough weather, it could push them against the shallower waters along the Florida coast, which concealed a number of reefs that could easily destroy the wooden hull of a ship. Oddly enough, most plate fleet sailings seemed to take place in the midst of hurricane season.

The 1715 plate fleet set sail from Havana on July 24th, caught the Gulf Stream, and began navigating northward. On the 30th, the fleet passed the mouth of the Bahama Channel, where the weather began to turn foul. By the early morning of July 31st, the ships were caught up in the brunt of an Atlantic hurricane, tossed about with no way to steer or resist the massive waves crashing onto their decks. Two ships, La Francesca and San Miguel, disappeared completely, while the others were crushed as the high winds pushed them into the shallow waters off Cape Canavaeral. The death toll is difficult to estimate; one historian has suggested that as many as a thousand may have died in this single incident.

A diorama depicting the activities of the survivors of the 1715 Plate Fleet wreck. The display is located at the McLarty State Museum in the Sebastian Inlet State Recreational Area (circa 1970s).

A diorama depicting the activities of the survivors of the 1715 Plate Fleet wreck. The display is located at the McLarty State Museum in the Sebastian Inlet State Recreational Area (circa 1970s).

Those who did survive made it to the Florida coast and began gathering wood and supplies from the wreckage to erect a camp. The admiral of the fleet, Don Francisco Salmon, sent a small detachment north to St. Augustine to report the disaster to Spanish authorities there. He ordered a boat constructed so that another detachment could go south to Havana for the same purpose. The situation for all involved was grim; survivors reported eating dogs, cats, horses, and even palmetto berries.

A serene sunrise at Sebastian Inlet (circa 1937).

A serene sunrise at Sebastian Inlet (circa 1937).

The Spanish attempted to recover their lost horde, but could only do so much, as the constant movement of the sea continued to break apart the ships of the plate fleet and scatter their contents. As word of the disaster spread, small vessels came from far and wide to pilfer and recover what small bits of the great treasure they could locate. Generations later, people still occasionally come across coins or other artifacts. When a 1955 hurricane blew away a portion of the sand dunes near Sebastian Inlet and exposed significant evidence of the shipwrecks, treasure hunters began looking for the wreck sites with renewed interest. Local resident Kip Wagner took up the search as a hobby, and eventually formed a company that found two of the fleet vessels and a wealth of artifacts.

With all the treasure being found in the area, local newspapermen John J. Schumann, Jr. and Harry J. Schultz thought it might make for a good nickname for the region. Florida’s Atlantic coast was already lined with towns by this time, and it could be difficult for any one of them to convey to visitors exactly what made them special. Schultz and Schumann decided that since they had a Space Coast to their north and a Gold Coast to their south, it made perfect sense to turn Kip Wagner’s recent find into a publicity generator and call their area the “Treasure Coast.”

What is your favorite part of the Florida coast to visit? Let us know by leaving a comment on Facebook! Also, search the Florida Photographic Collection for more photos of incredible treasures discovered in the waters of the Sunshine State.

Dunlawton Sugar Plantation

Have you ever looked at a Florida landmark and thought about all the things it could tell you if it could speak? Some, admittedly, might have been far enough out of the way that they would have very little to say. Others, like the ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation near Port Orange in Volusia County, might be a little more chatty.

Ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation at Port Orange (circa 1920s).

Ruins of the Dunlawton Sugar Plantation at Port Orange (circa 1920s).

The Dunlawton Sugar Plantation and its mill have been around since the final years of Spain’s ownership of Florida. Local historians identify the mill’s original owner as Patrick Dean, who may have received the land as part of a grant from the Spanish Crown. Dean reputedly died during an Indian attack, whereupon his land passed to his sister Cecily, wife of local planter John Bunch. The Bunch family had also obtained land from the Spanish, and were prominent citizens in the area.

A map from the Spanish Land Grant documents of John Bunch, who acquired the Dunlawton mill and plantation after the death of its original owner (1818).

A map from the Spanish Land Grant documents of John Bunch, who acquired the Dunlawton mill and plantation after the death of its original owner (1818).

The land changed hands twice more, eventually entering the possession of Charles Lawton of South Carolina. Lawton named the plantation and mill “Dunlawton,” combining his mother’s maiden name with his own name. Lawton sold the property in 1832 to the Anderson family, who were operating the mill at the start of the Second Seminole War in 1835.

The mill was the scene of an early battle between the Florida militia and the Seminoles in January 1836. Major Benjamin Putnam of the Florida Volunteers led two militia companies to Dunlawton to recapture supplies that had been taken by Seminole raiders. The soldiers happened upon a couple of Seminoles, fired, and soon after found themselves under attack. During the course of the battle, about 120 Seminoles and escaped African-American slaves were involved. The militiamen had been young and inexperienced, and likely underestimated the strength of their adversaries. As Seminole War historian John K. Mahon explains, the Dunlawton skirmish “wakened many volunteers to the fact that they were playing with death.”

Excerpt of an 1836 map showing areas affected by the Second Seminole War. The Battle of Dunlawton is indicated with the note "Battle Jany 18."

Excerpt of an 1836 map showing areas affected by the Second Seminole War. The Battle of Dunlawton is indicated with the note “Battle Jany 18.”

The mill was partially destroyed, but it was rebuilt after the war by a John J. Marshall. The property changed hands several times in the ensuing years, and was used for varying purposes. During the Civil War, several of the kettles used for boiling cane juice were re-purposed by the Confederates for saltmaking. The buildings on the property also sheltered Confederate patrols when the weather became rough.

The Dunlawton property changed hands several more times before being purchased by J. Saxton Lloyd, who had the grounds landscaped and turned into a historic park. He retained the ruins of the sugar processing equipment and surrounded them with flowering shrubbery and other plants.

Postcard of Dunlawton Plantation with machinery and interpretive signage (circa 1940s).

Postcard of Dunlawton Plantation with machinery and interpretive signage (circa 1940s).

Dunlawton had one more major transition in its future. In 1952, J. Saxton Lloyd leased the Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens to Dr. Perry Sperber, who envisioned a whole new attraction to draw visitors to the property. He built a train that would carry tourists through the gardens past a series of life-size statues of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. Sperber called the renovated park “Bongoland.” The dinosaurs were popular both as scenery and for photo opportunities!

Children perched atop a concrete Stegosaurus dinosaur at Bongoland (1959).

Children perched atop a concrete Stegosaurus dinosaur at Bongoland (1959).

J. Saxton Lloyd donated the mill ruins and the Dunlawton property to Volusia County in 1963. Since 1988, the gardens have been open to the public and maintained by a non-profit organization called the Botanical Gardens of Volusia, Inc.

Is there a building in your Florida community that has witnessed a lot of historic changes? Tell us about it by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook page. Also, search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have photos of it on Florida Memory!

To Fence or Not to Fence

If you get very far off the interstate in Florida, you’re likely to drive past a cow pasture or two. Say what you will about the American West, but Florida has been in the cattle industry for centuries. Many aspects of the business have changed over time, of course. Perhaps the most profound change has been the fence that separates you and your car from those cows as you drive past.

Fenced cattle in Central Florida (circa 1960s).

Fenced cattle in Central Florida (circa 1960s).

A hundred years ago, the idea of fencing the open range was widely considered dangerous to the cattle industry, and any farther back than that it was simply unthinkable. By the 1950s, however, legislators had passed a law requiring cattle owners to confine their animals. This transformation of public opinion on cattle fencing was rooted in the transformation of Florida itself.

Cattle drive at Bartow (circa 1890s).

Cattle drive at Bartow (circa 1890s).

Until the early 20th century, most cattle owners did not fence their cows at all. They allowed the animals to wander the open range, going wherever they could find the best grass. Vast tracts of land were still held at this time either by the state or by absentee owners who made no effort to prevent cattle ranchers from using their property for range purposes. Stamping the cows with unique brands allowed the owners to distinguish their cattle from everyone else’s. When it was time to move the cattle to market or pen the new calves up for branding, the cattle workers would round up the animals, often with the aid of cattle dogs, and drive them to wherever they needed to go. This was a particularly beneficial system for smaller cattle operations, who often didn’t have much land of their own. With a smaller population and less development, the open range system allowed all cattle owners to take advantage of Florida’s expansive territory.

In the days before cattle had to be fenced, there was no telling where you might find cows in Florida. In this photo, several cows enjoy a drink near Wakulla Springs (circa 1920s).

In the days before cattle had to be fenced, there was no telling where you might find cows in Florida. In this photo, several cows enjoy a drink near Wakulla Springs (circa 1920s).

As Florida’s population expanded and railroads and automobiles became more common, modernity came increasingly into conflict with the open range method. Trains and cars often encountered cows on their respective roadways, sometimes with fatal results. Additionally, sometimes cows wandered into towns or homesteads and made nuisances of themselves. Many Floridians began calling for a “fence law” to require cattle owners to confine their cows. Some cattle owners were unopposed to this, especially those who owned more valuable “blooded” cattle. A number of other ranchers depended on the free range system to have enough land to feed and water their cows. They saw the prospect of a fence law as a serious threat.

An automobile accident involving a cow in Volusia County (circa 1920s).

An automobile accident involving a cow in Volusia County (circa 1920s).

The debate could be nasty at times. As property owners began fencing their land to manage the movements of the cows, some disgruntled fence opponents would cut the wires or shoot the cows the fence was meant to contain. The state enacted laws to punish fence cutters, but the perpetrators were often difficult to catch. One cattleman went to extreme measures and tied live rattlesnakes up near all of his fence posts to prevent his wires from being cut!

On June 7, 1949, Governor Fuller Warren approved Senate Bill 34, which finally enacted a law requiring livestock owners to keep their animals off the public roadways. Cattle owners who did not comply faced stiff fines, and potential liability for damages caused by free roaming cows.

Brahman bull standing next to a fence (circa 1950s).

Brahman bull standing next to a fence (circa 1950s).

Be sure to check out our Florida Cattle Ranching photo exhibit for more images relating to this historic Sunshine State industry!

Daytona Beach and the Earliest Days of Aviation in Florida

Daytona Beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming, but there’s no telling how many visitors have spent a day there without realizing they were enjoying themselves on one of Florida’s very first runways. Auto racing was already a popular sport at Daytona by the time the Wright brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. The hard sand surface of the upper beach was a perfect natural track for the light, speedy cars being developed by racing enthusiasts. Airplanes were an easy addition to the mix of experimental machines, since the motors in the earliest planes incorporated much of the same technology as automobiles. The result was an age when Daytona Beach served not only as one of the nation’s first racetracks, but also a natural airport.

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

As enthusiasm for aviation spread quickly in the 1900s, more and more pilots and their experimental flying machines began appearing on the sand at Daytona. In 1906, New York aviator Israel Ludlow arrived at the auto races in Daytona and Ormond beaches to execute a test flight with a glider contraption he had designed. Charles K. Hamilton, who would go on to become the twelfth person to earn an American pilot’s license, flew the device. Hamilton gripped a tow rope tied to an automobile that pulled his aircraft along the beach by driving quickly across the sand. Once Hamilton left the ground, he released the tow rope and glided, shifting his body weight left and right to steer. The glider flew for about 150 feet before one of the wing ribs broke, sending it crashing to the ground. The glider was seriously damaged, but Hamilton survived.

Preparing for Florida's first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida's Atlantic coast (1906).

Preparing for Florida’s first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida’s Atlantic coast (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Daytona became a popular testing site for all kinds of aviation innovations. In 1910, Edward Andrews of Chicago flew the first twin-engine plane ever built from Daytona Beach. It flew for about 100 feet at an altitude of only 6 feet before breaking apart. Interestingly, Andrews later decided to temporarily buck the flight mechanization trend and develop a gliding apparatus worn on the arms. In 1911, he attached wings of wood and cloth to his arms and shoulders and had a car pull him along the beach until he took flight. The voyage was successful, but afterward Andrews had this to say:

“I have found this to be dangerous. A machine, which if free would be perfectly safe, is made as erratic as a child’s kite by the attachment of a rope. I, for one, shall seek other means of getting into the air.”

 

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago - Daytona Beach (1910).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago – Daytona Beach (1910).

The daring and edgy spirit of Daytona attracted a large number of aviation exhibitionists. John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed pilot, pioneer aviatrix Ruth Law, and future million-mile commercial pilot Ervie Ballough were all among the throng of eager aviators who flew up and down the sandy coast in the 1910s and 1920s.

Over time, the number of planes and people visiting Daytona Beach necessitated regulations to ensure public safety. At first, Daytona’s city government determined the best method was to restrict landings and take-offs to the beach and keep them away from town. Once airstrips appeared at Bethune Point and farther inland in the 1920s, the beach was no longer deemed the safest place for these activities. In the 1930s, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of the beach as an airstrip.

John McCurdy, Canada's first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Daytona was one of the most popular spots for early aviation experiments in Florida, but there were certainly others. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images depicting early aviation in the Sunshine State!

Tarzan’s Secret Treasure

It was December 1, 1941. In less than a week, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would bring the United States fully into World War II, but for the moment American involvement was limited. Even as war preparations ramped up across the country, Americans attempted to remain calm and preserve a sense of normalcy. Curtains still rose on Broadway, radio stations played popular music between war-related bulletins, and projectors still rolled at the movie theaters.

On this particular night, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure hit the silver screen for the first time. The film was set in the heart of Africa, where legend claimed an enormous cliff “rises from the plains to support the stars.” The scenery was indeed legendary, but many scenes were actually shot in Florida!

Members of the cast at Wakulla Springs (1941). L to R: Johnny Sheffield, a stand-in for Sheffield, Jean Knapp (a stand-in for Maureen O'Sullivan), Johnny Weissmuller, and another Sheffield stand-in.

Members of the cast at Wakulla Springs (1941). L to R: Johnny Sheffield, a stand-in for Sheffield, Jean Knapp (a stand-in for Maureen O’Sullivan), Johnny Weissmuller, and another Sheffield stand-in.

Tarzan’s Secret Treasure was directed by Richard Thorpe, and starred Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, with Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane and Johnny Sheffield as Boy. The story begins when Boy’s life is saved by a safari party that encounters Tarzan’s territory while searching for a lost city and its riches. A grateful Tarzan offers to lead the group to the lost city, but when Boy lets it slip that Tarzan knows a great deal about the location of the missing riches, some members of the party get a bit greedy. We won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you, but suffice it to say that the rest of the film becomes a classic case of good versus evil, with a lush and dangerous jungle as the backdrop.

Tarzan, Jane, and Boy make their way up an oak log during filming at Wakulla Springs (1941).

Tarzan, Jane, and Boy make their way up an oak log during filming at Wakulla Springs (1941).

Much of the underwater filming took place at Wakulla Springs, located about 14 miles south of Tallahassee. Some of the scenes included Tarzan, Jane, and Boy playing underwater with an elephant, Tarzan’s rescue of Jane and Boy during the film’s finale, and a battle between Tarzan and a small army of angry alligators. Some of the footage actually ended up in another Tarzan movie, Tarzan’s New York Adventure, which premiered the next year in 1942.

An elephant exits the water at Wakulla Springs as park manager Newt Perry looks on. The cameramen's

An elephant exits the water at Wakulla Springs as park manager Newt Perry looks on. The cameramen’s “island” is visible in the background (1941).

Wakulla Springs’ manager, Newt Perry, was instrumental in selling the springs as a filming location to the brass at Metro-Goldwn-Mayer Pictures. He had worked at Silver Springs as a promoter and performer before arriving at Wakulla Springs in 1939 to manage the lodge for owner Edward Ball. Perry, a world-renowned swimmer, wore many hats during the filming at Wakulla. Besides running the lodge and promoting the springs for use by the film industry, he also helped with a number of logistical details. In many of the production photos available on Florida Memory, Perry can be seen working with the actors and moving equipment into place.

Manager Newt Perry with actors portraying Bantu warriors (1941).

Manager Newt Perry with actors portraying Bantu warriors (1941).

Newt Perry propels the underwater diving bell, along with cameraman Russ Erving (1941).

Newt Perry propels the underwater diving bell, along with cameraman Russ Erving (1941).

The Tarzan films helped popularize Wakulla Springs and draw in additional visitors. More films were shot here as well, including The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Night Moves (1975), and Airport ’77 (1977). The State of Florida purchased the springs in the 1980s and converted the area into the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Thousands of visitors come each year to view the magnificent springs. Boat tours are popular, especially those using glass-bottom boats, which are just right for viewing the vibrant habitat beneath the water’s surface.

Visitors look through the glass bottom of a tour boat at Wakulla Springs (circa 1980).

Visitors look through the glass bottom of a tour boat at Wakulla Springs (circa 1980).

Find more images of Wakulla Springs and Florida’s many other natural wonders by searching the Florida Photographic Collection!

Where Shopping’s Still a Pleasure

Cookies and cakes, chicken fingers, “pub subs,” friendly employees, clean atmosphere – if you’re a Floridian, chances are good you’ve either been to or enjoyed food from a Publix Supermarket.

George Jenkins, founder of Publix, grew up in the grocery business working for his father’s general store, but that’s not where his future plans started. He moved to Tampa, Florida at the age of 17 to try to cash in on the Florida real estate boom. When he arrived he took a job as a store clerk at the local Piggly Wiggly. He soon moved up the ladder to become manager, and then became manager of the largest store in the chain in Winter Haven. Jenkins decided to get the most out of his business skills by starting his own store. He opened the Publix Food Store on September 6, 1930, followed by another store in 1935. Yet, Jenkins’ dreams were bigger than a run-of-the-mill grocery. He wanted a store that focused on the customer, with clean, beautiful spaces, helpful service, air conditioning, and all the latest innovations. He closed his first two stores and on November 8, 1940 made his dream a reality by opening the first Publix Supermarket in Winter Haven.

First Publix super market - Winter Haven, Florida

First Publix supermarket – Winter Haven, FL (1940)

 

First Publix super market - Winter Haven, Fla.

First Publix supermarket – Winter Haven, FL (1940)

 

First Publix super market - Winter Haven, Florida

First Publix super market – Winter Haven, FL (1940)

Publix still calls Florida home, with its headquarters in Lakeland, but there are now over 1,000 Publix Supermarkets in six states, and “Mr. George’s” dream lives on!

George Jenkins (1961)

George Jenkins (1961)

 

Publix Market at Venice East near Sarasota, Florida.

Publix Market at Venice East near Sarasota, Florida (1961)

 

Find more photos of Publix and other Florida businesses by searching the Florida Photographic Collection.

The Wakulla Swamp Volcano

Floridians know their state isn’t made up just of sandy beaches. There are swamps, sandhills, prairies, and in some places rolling hills that seem more appropriate in a state farther north. It’s nice to have a little variety, of course, but what would you say if we told you Florida once had its very own volcano?

Model Melody May in front of the volcano at Jungle Land in Panama City (1966).

Model Melody May in front of the volcano at Jungle Land in Panama City (1966).

No, not that volcano. A real one, a natural volcano like Mount St. Helens. For generations, people swore they could occasionally see a dark column of smoke rising up out of the forests southeast of Tallahassee. It was too much smoke to come from a single campfire or some industrial process. The smoke was thicker, blacker, more ominous. Folks nicknamed the phenomenon the “Wakulla Volcano,” even though some bearings indicated it was located in extreme southern Jefferson County in Township 4 South, Range 3 East, somewhere near what’s now known as the “Gum Swamp” section of the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge.

The swamps in southern Wakulla and Jefferson counties are some of the most beautiful, although they can be difficult to access (photo 1971).

The swamps in southern Wakulla and Jefferson counties are some of the most beautiful, although they can be difficult to access (photo 1971).

Local wisdom has it that stories of the volcano were around even when Native Americans occupied the area. The legend became particularly popular in the late 19th century, when a variety of newspapers and magazines carried stories about the mysterious Wakulla Volcano and its possible explanations. Some said it was some sort of beacon established by pirates. During the Civil War, some believed it might be a signal used by deserters hiding out in the swamps to communicate with the ships of the Union blockade. Moonshiners, hermits, giant pine trees struck by lightning, and Native Americans were all suggested at one time or another as the source of the thick black smoke.

Moonshine stills like this one from Miami could produce a lot of smoke depending on what was used to fuel the fire. Some believed this explained the mysterious Wakulla Swamp Volcano (photo 1925).

Moonshine stills like this one from Miami could produce a lot of smoke depending on what was used to fuel the fire. Some believed this explained the mysterious Wakulla Swamp Volcano (photo 1925).

The Wakulla Swamp Volcano seemed to close up shop after the 1886 Charleston Earthquake, which was felt across Middle Florida. Some folks assumed whatever geological formation had opened up to produce the smoke had been closed by the shaking of the ground. Others continued looking for answers, even into the 20th century. As scientific knowledge about the geological formation of Florida became more advanced, notions of an actual volcano became less popular. The best explanation State Librarian W.T. Cash could provide when asked about the volcano in the 1930s was that a mass of peat or vegetation must have caught fire and smoldered, creating the smoke. Marshes and peat bogs do occasionally experience this sort of slow, smoldering fire, although for it to continue burning for so long would be unusual.

A core sample of peat taken by the Florida Geological Survey using the brass cylinder on the right. Peat can become dry and flammable, and some believed this explained the mysterious Wakulla Swamp Volcano (photo 1944).

A core sample of peat taken by the Florida Geological Survey using the brass cylinder on the right. Peat can become dry and flammable, and some believed this explained the mysterious Wakulla Swamp Volcano (photo 1944).

We may never know what was causing that enigmatic black column of smoke rising above the trees. We can be thankful, however, that whatever it was didn’t destroy the forest in that area, because St. Marks Wildlife Refuge is a stunning piece of natural Florida territory. We at Florida Memory recommend you visit sometime!

 

Fountains of Youth

The legend of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s quest to find the Fountain of Youth is one of the most popular stories in Florida history and culture. Books, paintings, movies, and even live pageants depict old Ponce as the guy who was convinced he would find a fountain in Florida whose waters would turn back the hands of time and keep anyone who drank from it or bathed in it young. He never found the fountain, of course, or else we’d refer you to him for the full story. We can, however, tell you a bit about Ponce’s exploration of Florida and the fountains of youth his journey has inspired over the years since his departure.

Drawing of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon at the Fountain of Youth (date unknown).

Drawing of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon at the Fountain of Youth (date unknown).

You might be surprised to learn that for all the hoopla about Ponce’s fountain quest, no documents from his lifetime survive to prove that the fountain was the object of his mission at all. Stories of such a fountain had already been around for centuries, sort of like that of the Holy Grail. Ponce would certainly have been aware of these stories, but evidence is lacking that he put much effort into finding out if they were true. The legend of Ponce’s search for the fountain of youth seems to start years after his death, when a chronicler of the Spanish court wrote a history of his expeditions. In reality, the explorer was more likely prodded by the prospect of finding gold and land, as well as the Spanish king’s promise to make him governor of the territory he discovered.

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon (date unknown).

Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon (date unknown).

Whatever his motivation, Ponce set out from Puerto Rico on March 3, 1513 to explore. On March 27th the crew spotted land, and after a few more days they went ashore and Ponce claimed the land for Spain. All of this took place during Pascua Florida, the traditional “feast of flowers,” and accordingly Ponce decided to call the new territory Florida. The exact location of his landing is uncertain, although plenty of theories exist. Most guesses have him going ashore somewhere between St. Augustine and the mouth of the St. Johns River. After claiming possession of Florida, Ponce and his ships moved down the east coast, along what is now the Florida Keys, and then into the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on which historian you ask, he then made it as far as Charlotte Harbor or maybe even Pensacola Bay before returning to Puerto Rico.

A man poses as Juan Ponce de Leon during the Ponce de Leon Festival in Punta Gorda (circa 1960s).

A man poses as Juan Ponce de Leon during the Ponce de Leon Festival in Punta Gorda (circa 1960s).

Ponce later made a second voyage to Florida, this time equipped to stay for a while. He brought two ships, 200 colonists, 50 horses, cows, pigs, and everything necessary to set up a permanent colony. Florida was no empty territory at this time, however. The fledgling settlement, likely located near Charlotte Harbor, came under fierce attack from the native Calusa Indians, who did not appreciate the Spaniards’ intrusion. Several settlers were killed, and Juan Ponce was badly wounded by an arrow. The expedition decided to cut its losses and retreat. The ships sailed to Cuba, where Ponce died of his wound. His remains were shipped back to Puerto Rico for burial, and it would be several more years before another permanent Spanish settlement was attempted.

 

Statue of Juan Ponce de Leon near the historical marker in Punta Gorda commemorating his establishment of a colony near Charlotte Harbor (photo 1972).

Statue of Juan Ponce de Leon near the historical marker in Punta Gorda commemorating his establishment of a colony near Charlotte Harbor (photo 1972).

While Ponce may not have actually done much searching for the famous fountain of youth, the romantic allure of the story has been irresistable to generations of Florida visitors. Business owners have capitalized on this trend, too. Take, for example, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. Since the 1860s, the park has delighted visitors with its collection of Old Florida attractions, all centered around a spring reputed to be mentioned in accounts of Ponce’s original landing in 1513.

Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine. The

Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine. The “Luella Day” who signed the photo was Luella Day McConnell, known locally as “Diamond Lil.” She purchased and enlarged the attraction in the early 1900s (photo 1907).

 

An old water mill, one of the attractions at the expanded Fountain of Youth park in St. Augustine (1946).

An old water mill, one of the attractions at the expanded Fountain of Youth park in St. Augustine (1946).

Another would-be Fountain of Youth appears in this postcard, which depicts the “Tomoka Cabin” near Ormond Beach. Shortly after the Hotel Ormond opened for business in 1888, the proprietors built this small structure next to the serene waters of the nearby Tomoka River. Hotel guests would often bring picnic lunches to this spot and spend the day exploring. The fountain seen here was part of the mystique of the place. At least one visiting group probably wished it was purveying something other than youth or mineral water. Local legend has it that a group of visitors was once stranded here when the hotel staff left them overnight. The weather became so cold they burned the furniture for heat!

A worn postcard depicting the

A worn postcard depicting the “Fountain of Youth” at the Tomoka Cabin near Ormond Beach (circa 1910).

The Gulf Coast has its share of candidates as well. St. Petersburg features a “Fountain of Youth Park,” complete with a fountain fed by a mineral spring.

Postcard depicting the

Postcard depicting the “Fountain of Youth” at Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg (circa 1950s).

To the south in Sarasota County, Warm Mineral Springs has its own Fountain of Youth. The proprietors were quick to note that this was the “real” one. Unlike most of Florida’s springs, this one is quite warm. Each day, about 17,000 gallons flow from the springs every three minutes. The temperature is about 87 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Promotional literature for Warm Mineral Springs, located near Venice in Sarasota County (1956).

Promotional literature for Warm Mineral Springs, located near Venice in Sarasota County (1956).

We at Florida Memory are convinced that all of Florida’s beautiful springs qualify as fountains of youth. They might not erase wrinkles and sun spots, but they do help roll back the years by providing a place for the entire family to relax and have fun. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images of Florida’s many spring systems!

 

Florida’s Barefoot Mailmen

The next time your computer takes a few extra seconds to send an email message, just be thankful you didn’t have to hand-deliver it yourself. Be especially grateful you didn’t have to deliver it by walking sixty miles barefoot in the blazing Florida sun.

That challenging scenario was a reality for the first men to carry mail between what is now Palm Beach and Miami. The United States Postal Service established a route between these two points in the 1880s, but the “route” was only on paper. It certainly didn’t follow a railroad, road, or even a trail. None of these existed at the time. The only reliable trail from Hypoluxo near Lake Worth to Miami and Biscayne Bay lay along the Atlantic coast.

One of six panels in a mural commemorating the barefoot mailmen of South Florida. The mural hangs in the West Palm Beach post office on Olive Avenue (photo circa 1950).

One of six panels in a mural commemorating the barefoot mailmen of South Florida. The mural hangs in the West Palm Beach post office on Olive Avenue (photo circa 1950).

Hence the barefoot mailman. The Postal Service hired mail carriers to walk the mail down from Hypoluxo to Miami, using the firmer sand along the beach as a highway. Shoes were more hindrance than help, so the barefoot mailmen simply didn’t use them. The entire expedition took about a week, the carrier leaving Monday morning and returning Saturday evening. He was typically issued a tin pail, a cup, hard biscuits, coffee, a hatchet, and some matches, all of which he carried along with the mail in a sack slung over one shoulder.

Excerpt of an 1883 map showing official postal routes through Florida. No route connected Miami with the Lake Worth region at this time. Instead, mail for Miami had to come from Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, or Cedar Key via Key West. The "barefoot" route along the Atlantic coast shortened the time required to deliver mail to Miami.

Excerpt of an 1883 map showing official postal routes through Florida. No route connected Miami with the Lake Worth region at this time. Instead, mail for Miami had to come from Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa, or Cedar Key via Key West. The “barefoot” route along the Atlantic coast shortened the time required to deliver mail to Miami.

The trip required crossing several rivers and inlets. Carriers stashed boats near all of the crossings so they could get across safely without damaging the mail. Sometimes other travelers would accompany a carrier so they too could use the boats.

One of these crossings was the scene of a most unfortunate tragedy. James “Ed” Hamilton, a young mail carrier, was headed for Miami in October 1887 when he discovered that the boat he normally used to cross the Hillsboro Inlet was tied up on the opposite side. He secured his mailbag in a tree, removed his clothing, and apparently attempted to swim the inlet and retrieve the boat. What happened next is uncertain, but young Hamilton met his end, possibly carried out to sea by a current or attacked by an alligator. He was never seen again. His memory is honored by a memorial plaque at Pompano and a six-panel mural by artist Stevan Dohanos entitled “Legend of James Edward Hamilton, Mail Carrier,” which hangs in the West Palm Beach post office.

Another panel from the Olive Avenue post office mural in West Palm Beach, this one depicting James Edward

Another panel from the Olive Avenue post office mural in West Palm Beach, this one depicting James Edward “Ed” Hamilton rowing his boat carefully past a few alligators (photo circa 1950).

In late 1892, contractors completed the first county-maintained road between Lantana and Lemon City along the coast. The U.S. Postal Service ended the “barefoot” route the next year. Interest in the tradition of the barefoot mailman lives on, however. Theodore Pratt, an author of Florida fiction who lived in the Lake Worth area, penned a successful novel called The Barefoot Mailman in 1943. Columbia Pictures made the story into a movie in 1951, starring Robert Cummings, Terry Moore, Jerome Courtland, and John Russell.

Actress Terry Moore during the filming of Columbia Pictures' film adaptation of Thedore Pratt's The Barefoot Mailman (1951).

Actress Terry Moore during the filming of Columbia Pictures’ film adaptation of Thedore Pratt’s The Barefoot Mailman (1951).

Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images relating to the early days of Miami, Palm Beach, and other cities along Florida’s Atlantic coast. And don’t forget to share your favorites on Facebook or Pinterest!

The Yaupon Holly

The yaupon holly, or cassina, is an attractive verdant plant native to the southeastern United States. Its red berries give the plant a festive look similar to that of other plants in the same genus, which we tend to use for holiday decorations. The scientific name for yaupon holly is Ilex vomitoria, which to some folks might suggest something not worth celebrating. As it turns out, however, yaupon was a crucial part of a Native American ceremony performed by tribes in Florida and across the region.

The yaupon plant, Ilex vomitoria (1964).

The yaupon plant, Ilex vomitoria (1964).

Purification was a common theme in the religious ceremonies of many Southeastern natives. One such tradition, called the “black drink” ceremony, involved the men of a town imbibing a tea made from the leaves of the yaupon holly. European observers associated the consumption of this tea with vomiting among those who drank it, hence the name Ilex vomitoria, although there is some debate among scholars as to whether that reaction was to the tea or to other factors.  At any rate, part of the significance of this practice was the belief that it helped purify the mind and body. The frequency of this ceremony varied; in some contexts it was performed daily, while in others it was reserved for when guests arrived or for other special occasions. Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony at Fort Caroline, depicted the tradition in a watercolor painting in the 1560s. Theodor de Bry later incorporated the image in his Grand Voyages, published in 1591 to entice Europeans to further colonize the Americas.

DeBry engraving depicting a ceremony involving the

DeBry engraving depicting a ceremony involving the “black drink” (1591).

Osceola, the Anglicized name of a prominent 19th century Seminole, is derived from the Creek, asi-yahola, which means “black drink cry.” Curiously, Osceola is often remembered as “Chief Osceola,” although he was neither born nor selected as such.

Illustration of Osceola (here spelled Aseola), a 19th-century Seminole leader (1842).

Illustration of Osceola (here spelled Aseola), a 19th-century Seminole leader (1842).

Check out the Florida Photographic Collection for more images relating to topics such as Florida’s diverse plant life and the history of the Seminoles!