The Dreaded Yellow Jack

Yellow fever, also known as the “yellow plague” or the “yellow jack,” was one of the most dangerous and dreaded diseases prevalent in Florida during the 1800s. The disease is viral, spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but this knowledge was not widely known until the 20th century. In the meantime, epidemics often broke out in Florida during the summer months, especially in cities.

With no good understanding of how the disease was caused or spread, Floridians often blamed the infection on contact with a yellow fever patient or the presence of “miasmas,” swampy areas whose fumes supposedly affected those who breathed them in. Preventing yellow fever infection became an essential part of life in Florida. Entire communities, such as Bel Air outside of Tallahassee, were developed to provide a place for those who could afford it to get away from sickly downtown areas during the summers. Yellow fever even affected the social seasons, as many businesses and schools ceased operations during the hottest months to avoid the danger.

A life insurance company's travel endorsement with a yellow fever exclusion clause (1882).

A life insurance company’s travel endorsement with a yellow fever exclusion clause (1882).

As more people moved into the state and transportation by rail became faster and more common, yellow fever epidemics became larger and deadlier. A series of outbreaks emerged in 1887 and 1888 in cities across the state, infecting thousands and wrecking local commerce. Larger port cities like Key West, Tampa, and Jacksonville were the hardest hit.

A drawing from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicting Florida being dragged down by yellow fever (circa 1870s).

A drawing from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depicting Florida being dragged down by yellow fever (circa 1870s).

Hundreds of residents fled the cities, while those who remained tried every conceivable method to combat this scourge whose origins they could not understand. In Jacksonville, townspeople built large fires with heart pine, believing the pungent aroma of burning pitch would cleanse the air. Cannons were packed with heavy charges and fired in the center of town, with the belief that the shock waves would break apart the invisible organisms responsible for causing the fever.

Pinewood fires burning in the middle of Bay Street in Jacksonville, which it was believed would purify the air (1888).

Pinewood fires burning in the middle of Bay Street in Jacksonville, which it was believed would purify the air (1888).

Yellow fever wrought considerable destruction in Florida, but it indirectly benefitted the state as well. The severity of the epidemics in 1887 and 1888 led legislators to take action by forming a State Board of Health to combat the problem. The Board met for the first time in 1889, with Dr. Joseph Y. Porter of Key West as the first State Health Officer. Porter and his colleagues across the state immediately set to work establishing quarantine policies for ports and working with local governments to clean up potential breeding grounds for disease. Survivors of yellow fever became immune to further infection, and the State Board of Health issued “immunity cards” to these individuals so they could travel during epidemics without being subject to quarantine. As conditions improved, the board moved into other area of public health, including the collection of vital statistics and the regulation of burials and transportation of the deceased.

A yellow fever immunity card issued by the State Board of Health (1899).

A yellow fever immunity card issued by the State Board of Health (1899).

A death certificate completed for the Nassau County Board of Health, patterned after a template recommended by the State Board of Health. This certificate is one of over 2000 death and burial record entries from Fernandina now available for searching on Florida Memory.

A death certificate completed for the Nassau County Board of Health, patterned after a template recommended by the State Board of Health. This certificate is one of over 2000 death and burial record entries from Fernandina now available for searching on Florida Memory.

By 1900, scientists had demonstrated that yellow fever could indeed be carried by mosquitoes, which helped health authorities to better target their efforts to eradicate the disease. As a result, fear of the “yellow jack” these days is little more than a footnote in the history books.

On the Border, Part II

This is the second installment of a two-part series on border disputes in Florida history. If you missed reading the first blog, click here to read it.

Last week, we looked at John Houston McIntosh, a borderland Floridian whose life reflected the tensions that sometimes cropped up along the Florida-Georgia border before Florida was a United States possession. Today, we look at an even more profound border conflict in Florida history, one that took almost a century to settle completely.

When the dust cleared after the American Revolution and the treaties were all signed, the newly created United States possessed the 13 former British colonies between Canada and the southern edge of Georgia. The Spanish obtained East and West Florida in a separate treaty with the British. That left just one problem: What was the legal boundary between Florida and Georgia? As the maps below demonstrate, it depended on who you asked.

Excerpt from Thomas Bowen's Map of North America (1780s). Florida Map Collection - State Library of Florida.

Excerpt from Thomas Bowen’s Map of North America (1780s). Florida Map Collection – State Library of Florida.

Excerpt from Joseph Purcell's map of the Southern states, plus Spanish East and West Florida (1792). Florida Map Collection - State Library of Florida.

Excerpt from Joseph Purcell’s map of the Southern states, plus Spanish East and West Florida (1792). Florida Map Collection – State Library of Florida.

Jean Baptiste d'Anville's "New and Complete Map of the West Indies" (1794). Florida Map Collection - State Library of Florida.

Jean Baptiste d’Anville’s “New and Complete Map of the West Indies” (1794). Florida Map Collection – State Library of Florida.

The mapmakers couldn’t agree, and neither could the statesmen. Considering how few people lived in the area at the time, it might not seem like such a big deal, but keep in mind that in those days the Florida-Georgia border was an international boundary line. Conflicts over the boundary continued between Spain and the United States, until finally the two countries agreed to settle their disputes by treaty. The Treaty of San Lorenzo, also sometimes called the Treaty of Madrid or Pinckney’s Treaty, stipulated that the two governments would appoint a joint commission to survey and mark the official border between Florida and Georgia.

Andrew Ellicott, a friend of Thomas Jefferson and a reputable surveyor and engineer, represented the U.S. on the commission. Captain Estevan Minor represented Spain. The two commissioners met at a point on the east bank of the Mississippi River below Natchez, where they were to begin their work. The Treaty of San Lorenzo called for the line to be surveyed out from the 31st parallel on the Mississippi east to the Chattahoochee River, down the Chattahoochee to its junction with the Flint River, then east to the source of the St. Marys River, then down the center of the St. Marys River to the Atlantic Ocean.

Drawn portrait of Andrew Ellicott, who represented the United States on the joint commission tasked with surveying out the boundary line separating Spanish Florida from the United States (circa 1800s).

Drawn portrait of Andrew Ellicott, who represented the United States on the joint commission tasked with surveying out the boundary line separating Spanish Florida from the United States (circa 1800s).

Sounds simple enough, right? All the instructions were right there, nice and plain. Ellicott, Minor, and their assistants began their work in 1796 and continued surveying the line into the year 1800. When it was time to connect the line with the St. Marys River, the commissioners explored several of the river’s forks and finally agreed upon a point that would be considered the river’s “source,” as the treaty directed. Here, the surveyors erected a large hill of soil, later called Ellicott’s Mound. They determined the latitude and longitude of this location and were thereby able to calculate the correct placement of a line between the mound and the intersection of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, which would be the Florida-Georgia boundary.

Excerpt of a map from Andrew Ellicott's 1803 journal, showing the source of the St. Marys River (1803). The State Library of Florida holds an original printing of this journal.

Excerpt of a map from Andrew Ellicott’s journal, showing the source of the St. Marys River (1803). The State Library of Florida holds an original printing of this journal.

Ironically enough, the placement of this line never proved a sticking point between Spain and the U.S. The real fireworks began once Florida and Georgia were both U.S. possessions. One of the first orders of business after Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 was for the federal government to survey Florida out into townships and sections so the land could be distributed to settlers and local governments. To do this, however, the government surveyors needed to know exactly where the line separating Florida and Georgia truly was. Consequently, the United States Surveyor General arranged for the boundary to be clarified.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, some officials were beginning to doubt whether Ellicott’s Mound was located at the true source of the St. Marys River. Captain William Cone, a resident of Camden County who was familiar with the area, said the source of the river was actually located about 20-30 miles to the south. The state of Georgia appointed a commission to study this issue, as well as a surveyor named J.C. Watson to run, survey, and mark the proper line. When Watson finished his work, his line was not as far south as what Captain Cone had called for, but his line still ended south of Ellicott’s Mound. Georgia stood to gain a great deal of new territory by these findings, and state officials quickly extended county boundaries and state surveys to include it.

After several more rounds of conflicting surveys, Florida officials filed a bill of complaint with the United States Supreme Court, which is constitutionally charged with settling interstate boundary disputes. The suit never reached a final hearing. The state governments of Florida and Georgia ultimately ended up deciding the matter themselves. In 1857, both states agreed to use Ellicott’s Mound as the turning point for the boundary on the St. Marys River. A subsequent joint survey team worked out a line that everyone agreed upon, and the whole package was recognized and confirmed by an act of Congress in 1872. This settlement affected a number of land titles, of course, and these associated matters were eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1887.

Florida and Georgia still have their differences from time to time, as adjoining states often do, but the southern boundary between them has all but ceased to be a matter for comment. The legacy of this near century-long disagreement is, however, still highly visible on state maps. You’ll recall that the land north of the Watson Line was claimed by Georgia all through the process of settling the dispute. By the time the controversy was settled, the land lying between the Watson Line and the real Florida-Georgia border had in many cases been sold and resold so many times that to re-survey it all into the Florida land system would have been very tedious. So, as a result, there is a strip of land across the top of the Sunshine State that belongs to Florida, yet is organized according to Georgia’s system of land description, as this map shows:

An excerpt from a map of Madison County published by the Florida Department of Transportation. The Watson Line is highlighted in red. Notice that the land between this line and the Georgia is not divided into the same system of townships and sections as the land farther south. Florida Map Collection - State Library of Florida.

An excerpt from a map of Madison County published by the Florida Department of Transportation. The Watson Line is highlighted in red. Notice that the land between this line and the official Florida-Georgia line is not divided into the same system of townships and sections as the land farther south. Florida Map Collection – State Library of Florida.

Remember that the State Library & Archives is an excellent source of information on all aspects of our state’s political history – even the obscure bits. We encourage you to visit info.florida.gov and search our catalogs to find more about your favorite topic in Florida history!

On the Border, Part I

Situated as it is between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, you wouldn’t immediately think of Florida as having had many boundary disputes. During the Spanish colonial era, however, the Florida-Georgia border was the setting for a number of dramatic quarrels between the Spanish and their neighbors to the north. These events are reflected in the lives of the people who lived near the border, especially when they had business dealings on both sides.

John Houstoun McIntosh is an excellent example. He was born May 1, 1773 in St. Andrews Parish, Georgia. He married a young woman from a prominent New York family in 1792, and began farming rice and cotton at “Refuge,” a plantation on the Satilla River in Camden County, Georgia.

Portrait of John Houston McIntosh (circa 1790s).

Portrait of John Houstoun McIntosh (circa 1790s).

Like many South Georgia planters, McIntosh was curious about the possibility of obtaining land in Spanish Florida. In 1803, he took an oath of allegiance to the Spanish government and received a grant of land along the Indian River near Merritt Island. He also purchased several parcels of land along the St. Johns River, including all of what is now known as Fort George Island.

Survey play showing one of John Houston McIntosh's parcels of land along the St. Johns River and Cedar and McGirt's creeks (1830). Click to enlarge.

Survey plat showing one of John Houstoun McIntosh’s parcels of land along the St. Johns River and Cedar and McGirt’s creeks (1830). Click to enlarge.

McIntosh made his home on Fort George Island, where he grew cotton and operated a sawmill. In 1808, his daughter Mary died, as did another relative. Both were buried on the island in uniquely shaped crypts, as seen below.

Two 19th-century crypts on Fort George Island, believed to be the tombs of Mary McIntosh and Ann Bayard Houston (photo 1998).

Two 19th-century crypts on Fort George Island, believed to be the tombs of Mary McIntosh and Ann Bayard Houstoun (photo 1998).

Despite living in Spanish Florida and swearing his allegiance, John McIntosh never relinquished his United States citizenship. In fact, in 1812 he helped lead an effort to wrest control of Florida from the Spanish colonial authorities at St. Augustine. The so-called Patriot Army, made up mostly of Georgians, drafted a constitution and declared Florida’s independence from Spain. They had hoped to enlist the support of Spanish Floridians in their cause, but the movement never really got off the ground. Florida would remain a Spanish possession for nearly another decade before it was relinquished to the United States.

First page of the Patriot Constitution, written up by John McIntosh and other leaders of the Patriot Army for the short-lived Republic of East Florida (1812).

First page of the Patriot Constitution, written up by John McIntosh and other leaders of the Patriot Army for the short-lived Republic of East Florida (1812).

As for John McIntosh, he moved back to Georgia in 1813 and remained there until his death in 1836. His Fort George Island property was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley through a mortgage foreclosure in 1817. Both men would later go before the United States Board of Land Commissioners to claim parcels of land they had earlier obtained from the Spanish government. These claims are accessible through the Spanish Land Grants collection on Florida Memory.

Don’t forget to look for next week’s Florida Memory Blog, when we’ll look at another famous Florida border dispute!

Family History on the Farm

Sometimes the best genealogical information comes from truly unexpected sources. The State Archives of Florida holds records from a wide variety of state agencies, many of which have had direct contact with the state’s citizens over the years. As a result, many of the records document the specific locations of specific individuals at specific times, which can be a big help for folks tracing their family trees.

One unusual source of information comes from the records of the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Record Series 299), which was active in Florida from about 1918 to 1927. The program was funded by the federal government and administered by the Florida Department of Public Instruction, a predecessor of today’s Department of Education. Participating students took instruction in the areas of agriculture and home economics and completed projects, such as farming a small crop or raising livestock. The program was immensely popular in rural communities nationwide, and over time it was incorporated into what we now know as the Future Farmers of America.

An example page from a volume of student records for the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

An example page from a volume of student records for the Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

The records in Series 299 document the students who participated in the Smith-Hughes classes. Each student’s entry gives the student’s name, age, his or her project and its extent, income and expenditures associated with the project, and the school and teacher providing the class. Perhaps most crucially, many of the entries explain what the students were doing in 1927 when the program ended. Some of the students appear to have stuck to farming, while others went on to high school, college, or straight into a new career. This information can be highly valuable for family history researchers working with a “mystery” ancestor for whom information has been tough to find.

Example entries from Barberville, Florida from the Smith-Hughes agricultural education records. As of 1927, student Gordon Bennett had moved on to Stetson University, while G. Baker had established himself as a farmer at Pierson, Florida (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

Example entries from Barberville, Florida from the Smith-Hughes agricultural education records. As of 1927, student Gordon Bennett had moved on to Stetson University, while G. Baker had established himself as a farmer at Pierson, Florida (Series 299, State Archives of Florida).

While these records are interesting, they do have limitations. Not every student in a community took the Smith-Hughes classes, nor did every rural Florida community offer them. According to the 1916-1918 report of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, only 24 Florida counties applied for the program, and of these counties fewer still received funding. Participating communities included: Alachua, Allentown, Altha, Aucilla, Baker, Barberville, Canal Point, Chiefland, Chipley, Crescent City, Delray, Eustis, Fort Pierce, Fort White, Graceville, Grand Ridge, Greensboro, Gonzalez, Hawthorne, Homestead, King’s Welcome, Laurel Hill, Lemon City, Live Oak, Madison, Malone, Marianna, Mason, Mt. Pleasant, Montverde, Plant City, St. Cloud, Sanford, Sebring, Sneads, Summerfield, Taft, Trenton, Wauchula, and Winter Haven.

Members of a Florida chapter of the Future Farmers of America apply pesticide to a citrus grove. The FFA grew out of the nationwide Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (circa 1920s).

Members of a Florida chapter of the Future Farmers of America apply pesticide to a citrus grove. The FFA grew out of the nationwide Smith-Hughes agricultural education program (circa 1920s).

These limitations aside, the records offer a unique glimpse into the lives of students living in some of Florida’s most rural communities in the 1920s. And, for some genealogists, they may be just the right piece of the puzzle to help illuminate the life of an ancestor.

The Smith-Hughes Student Records (Series 299) are just one of many genealogically significant record series housed at the State Archives of Florida. Visit our guide to genealogical research on Florida Memory AND the Archives’ Online Catalog to learn more about our collections and how you can use them to discover more branches of your family tree.

Old Punta Rassa

Passing through Punta Rassa on the way to or from Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf coast, you just don’t see many cows these days. It’s mostly condos, marinas, and businesses. That’s a big leap from how things used to be, as anyone familiar with the history of Florida’s cattle industry can tell you. For a good portion of the 19th century, Punta Rassa was a favored port for shipping cattle to Cuba.

Excerpt of an 1882 Rand McNally map of Florida showing Punta Rassa and Fort Dulany (Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

Excerpt of an 1882 Rand McNally map of Florida showing Punta Rassa and Fort Dulany (Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

The port had already been an important spot for some time before Florida cattlemen began using it as a trading center. A U.S. Navy schooner reported in the 1820s that a group of Spaniards and Native Americans were using the area as a fishery. The U.S. Army established a supply depot (Fort Dulany) in the vicinity during the Second Seminole War. It wasn’t until the 1850s that the cattle shipping business began to really take hold.

One of Florida’s most famous cattlemen, Jacob Summerlin, helped establish Punta Rassa as a port. He and his brother Clarence came to the area in 1858 and began shipping cattle to Cuba. When the American Civil War struck shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army reactivated Fort Dulany and used the port to ship cattle down to Union-controlled Key West. Not long after the war ended, the port and Army barracks passed into the hands of the International Ocean and Telegraph Company, which extended an underwater telegraph cable from Punta Rassa to Havana, Cuba, 110 miles away.

Jacob Summerlin, sometimes referred to as the

Jacob Summerlin, sometimes referred to as the “king of the Crackers” (circa 1870s).

Throughout this period, cattlemen from all over Central and South Florida would drive their cows to Punta Rassa to be sold. The telegraph company, the Summerlins, and later the Hendry family owned pens where cattle could be kept during price negotiations (for a fee, of course), and the port featured a number of places for the cattlemen to buy supplies, tools, and other goods not widely available in the interior of the state.

Range cattle in pens at Punta Rassa (circa 1900s).

Range cattle in pens at Punta Rassa (circa 1900s).

Punta Rassa could get a little wild when there were lots of cowhands about. The cattlemen were generally paid for their cows in gold coins, and the hands typically received their cut while still in town. Contemporaries recalled that some of this money often went toward having a good time drinking Cuban rum and playing poker. Longtime resident C.T. Tooke didn’t recall fights being all too common, but he did remember that the younger men liked to shoot when they got a bit “liquored up.” The walls and floors of the old barracks were riddled with bullet holes, he explained.

The barracks seen here were originally built by the United States Army during the Second Seminole War. Over time the building was expanded to accommodate a cable station and an increasing number of weary cattle drivers (circa 1890s).

The barracks seen here were originally built by the United States Army during the Second Seminole War. Over time the building was expanded to accommodate a cable station and an increasing number of weary cattle drivers (circa 1890s).

Toward the end of the 19th century, Punta Rassa began to transform yet again. Florida’s cattle trade was still significant, but competition from Texas and Central America was taking its toll on demand. Meanwhile, another group had discovered Punta Rassa and the surrounding area: wealthy sport fishermen.

In 1885, New York sportsman W.H. Wood reputedly caught the first tarpon ever to be landed using a rod and reel. Chain lines and harpoons had previously been the favored methods for catching these large fish. As Wood’s catch became famous through sports pages across the country, sport fishermen began flocking to Punta Rassa to try their hand at fishing for tarpon, Spanish mackerel, and kingfish. The Summerlins, Shultzes, and other families that had previously catered mostly to Florida’s Cracker cattlemen, now turned their attention toward building inns and other amenities to serve these new customers.

Punta Rassa Hotel (1913).

Punta Rassa Hotel (1913).

The port’s good fortune began to wane in the early years of the 20th century. In 1906, the Tarpon House, one of the elite lodges for sport fishermen, was destroyed by fire. Some of the hotel’s regular guests chipped in and helped finance the rebuilding, but the new structure burned in 1913. It was never rebuilt. Punta Rassa never quite came back from these losses, at least as a major business center. These days, most folks know it to be nothing more than a quaint section of roadway linking Sanibel Island with the greater Fort Myers area.

For more on Punta Rassa and its ties to Florida’s cattle industry, we recommend these books:

Joe Akerman, Florida Cowman: A History of Florida Cattle Raising. 6th ed. Madison: Jimbob Printing, 1989.

Prudy Taylor Board, Remembering Lee County: Where Winter Spends the Summer. Charleston: History Press, 2006.

Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak”

“Big Oak is really big.”

Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park.

“Treaty Oak” in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

The tree appears in a variety of photos and postcards in the Florida Photographic Collection, although the “Treaty Oak” appellation doesn’t really appear to have taken hold until the 1930s. Most historians ascribe the new name to an effort by Florida Times-Union reporter Pat Moran and the local Garden Club to drum up public interest in preserving the tree. Eager to play up its significance, Moran explained that the old oak had borne witness to a number of agreements between Native Americans and white settlers.

Given the tree’s impressive size (and apparent age), the story isn’t difficult to believe. The majestic oak’s trunk is over 25 feet in circumference, and its branches grow to over 70 feet in height, which creates a circle of shade about 190 feet in diameter. One report from the 1950s suggested that over 3,000 persons could find shade under the tree at the same time.

Men and women stand in and around Jacksonville's famous

Men and women stand in and around Jacksonville’s famous “Treaty Oak,” then known simply as “Big Oak” or “Giant Oak” (circa 1900s).

Moran’s efforts to preserve the tree were noble, but funding would be required to secure the land around the tree and provide proper protections. Jessie Ball duPont and the Alfred I duPont Trust took action in the 1930s by purchasing much of the land surrounding the tree. In the 1960s, the duPont interests donated the land to the City of Jacksonville with the understanding that it could only be used for a public park having the tree’s continued preservation as one of its goals. The park was initially called “Treaty Oak Park,” but it was later renamed for Jessie duPont to honor her efforts to preserve the historic tree.

Jacksonville’s “Treaty Oak” is just one of many famous trees and other living legends around the Sunshine State. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for images of these landmarks, and tell us about your favorites by sharing them on Facebook or Twitter and dropping us a comment.

A Twist of ‘Phate

One curious aspect of Florida history is the recurring theme of booms and busts the state has experienced over the decades. We hear often about booms and busts in land sales, but commercial enterprises have had their own business cycles. One lesser known industry that was critical to Florida’s economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the mining of phosphates.

Light colored phosphate pebbles embedded in

Light colored phosphate pebbles embedded in “matrix” (1915).

Phosphorus is a crucial element in fertilizers. Credit for discovering it generally goes to a German alchemist named Hennig Brand, who first isolated the substance from urine in 1669. Later scientists found the same element in bone and guano, and determined that it played a significant role in the lives of plants, animals, and people.

Phosphorus was favored as a fertilizer as early as the 19th century, but it could be expensive to produce. Phosphorus does not naturally occur as a free element; it must be extracted from other substances. Guano was an early preferred source, but supplies were limited. That all changed in the 1880s when beds of phosphate-enriched rock were discovered in parts of the United States, especially South Carolina and Florida.

1913 Map of Florida showing phosphate deposits - Florida State Geological Survey.

1913 Map of Florida showing phosphate deposits – Florida State Geological Survey. Florida Map Collection, State Library.

A real Florida boom resulted. In 1888, an estimated 1,000 tons of phosphate rock were shipped from the state. By 1892, that amount had increased to 354,327 tons. Prospectors descended on Florida from the Panhandle to the Everglades, piercing the sand with long probes that collected soil samples from deep within the ground in hopes of finding traces of valuable phosphate rock. These hopeful explorers had all sorts of superstitions to guide them. Some said the height or shape of a pine tree was a good indicator of phosphates below the ground. Others swore there was a certain variety of grass that only grew over rich phosphate deposits.

A phosphate prospecting crew (1913).

A phosphate prospecting crew (1913).

It wasn’t long before large companies, bankrolled in part by Northern capital, began buying up land and extracting phosphate rock. The State of Florida established a Board of Phosphate Commissioners in 1891 to supervise the activities of these companies. A series of their records (Series 22) is available for research at the State Archives of Florida, by the way.

Early pick and shovel phosphate mining near Dunnellon (1889).

Early pick and shovel phosphate mining near Dunnellon (1889).

Two preferred methods for mining phosphate quickly developed. “Land pebble” mining involved extracting phosphate directly from the ground either by hand or by using dredging equipment. Also, some Florida rivers, most notably the Peace River that empties into Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico, contained large beds of phosphate material washed in from the surrounding watershed. Some companies used pumps and suction pipes to extract this “river pebble” phosphate from the water and strain out the surrounding sand. In both land pebble and river pebble mining, the material would be taken to a processing plant, where it would be refined, dried, and sent off to market.

Painting depicting the Florida Phosphate Mining Company dredge at work on the Peace River (circa 1890s).

Painting depicting the Florida Phosphate Mining Company dredge at work on the Peace River (circa 1890s).

Elevator and drying works at the Peace River Phosphate Company's plant near Arcadia (circa 1910s).

Elevator and drying works at the Peace River Phosphate Company’s plant near Arcadia (circa 1910s).

The impact of the phosphate industry on Florida was immense. Production increased steadily during the twentieth century, so that by 1956 the state’s mining companies were putting out over 10 million short tons of phosphate per year. In the early days, entire towns were formed around phosphate companies. Polk and Hillsborough counties offer a few memorable examples, including “Pebble,” “Bone Valley,” and “Phosphoria.” Concerns about the environmental impact of phosphate mining, especially strip mining, have led to changes in the extraction process. It is still, however, an important Florida industry, one that provides a number of much-needed jobs and economic growth.

Excerpt from a 1902 Cram map showing a portion of Polk and Hillsborough counties, including several sites named for their role in the phosphates industry. Note "Pebble," "Bone Valley," and "Phosphoria."

Excerpt from a 1902 Cram map showing a portion of Polk and Hillsborough counties, including several sites named for their role in the phosphates industry. Note “Pebble,” “Bone Valley,” and “Phosphoria.” Florida Map Collection, State Library.

What Florida industry has most affected your community? Tell us about it by commenting below or sharing this post with your friends and neighbors on Facebook!

Aunt Aggie’s Unusual Garden

In the early 20th century, visitors to Lake City in Columbia County were often encouraged to visit the local gardens owned by an African-American woman known as “Aunt Aggie.” The plants were nice enough: calycanthus, oleander, crepe myrtle, spirea, wild azaleas, and at least eight varieties of roses. But that’s not what made the garden unique.

Aunt Aggie's

Aunt Aggie’s “Bone Yard” garden in Lake City (circa 1910).

What made Aunt Aggie’s garden such a popular place to visit were the thousands of creatively arranged animal bones that decorated the space.  For years, Aggie Jones and her husband Jenkins collected the bones of various animals, allowed them to dry and bleach out in the sun, and then arranged them into trellises, gateways, arches, flower bed borders, and other structures. Skulls topped many of these unusual features.

Agnes Jones, also known as

Agnes Jones, also known as “Aunt Aggie,” in her unusual bone-decorated garden in Lake City (circa 1908).

Aggie and Jenkins Jones had both been born into slavery. Aggie came to Florida in 1844 with her owner, Elijah Mattox, who built a plantation near present-day Rose Creek in Columbia County. After Aggie was emancipated following the end of the Civil War, she continued to work for the Mattox family until she moved to Lake City. She bought property from one of her employers, Louise Cathey, in Lake City in 1883. It was on this property that Aunt Aggie began constructing her gardens.

So why the bones? There’s no clear answer, really. Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer; maybe this was part of Aggie’s motivation. Maybe it was just a bit of creative flair. At any rate, the “bone garden” became a popular tourist spot for travelers passing through Lake City by railroad or automobile. A pamphlet describing the garden says it was also a popular “lovers’ retreat.” Visitors would sometimes write their names and addresses on the bones – perhaps one of Florida’s most unusual guest books. Plants and fresh vegetables were almost always available for sale.

Aunt Aggie with a visitor in her garden (circa 1915).

Aunt Aggie with a visitor in her garden (circa 1915).

Time changes all things, and with Aunt Aggie’s garden it was no different. Aggie Jones died in 1918, and her garden and home were subsequently demolished to make way for a school. All that remains now are a handful of postcards and photographs, plus a few recollections written down by various visitors to Aunt Aggie’s mysterious creation.

What is the most unusual tourist attraction you’ve ever seen? Let us know by commenting below, or commenting on our Facebook page!

 

A Grand Florida Friendship

Florida has a peculiar way of bringing people together. Families come here for vacations, businesses come to set up shop, and sometimes Florida is even the setting for reunions between friends both new and old. One of the most iconic examples of this is the friendship between inventors Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. The two men came from different generations and lived in different places, but they spent many a winter living next door to one another in sunny Fort Myers of Florida’s Gulf coast.

Henry Ford (left) and Thomas Edison (right) sitting on a pier at Punta Rassa (1925).

Henry Ford (left) and Thomas Edison (right) sitting on a pier at Punta Rassa (1925).

Ford and Edison met for the first time in 1886 at the annual convention of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies in New York City. At a banquet held at the Oriental Hotel on Long Island, someone pointed the young Henry Ford out to Edison and explained that Ford had developed a gasoline engine. Edison immediately began asking Ford questions about the design. As the young man described his creation, Edison excitedly banged his fist on the table and exclaimed that Ford had the right idea. Steam and electric cars (at that time) had too many insurmountable drawbacks, but gasoline-powered engines could make the automobile a feasible sell for the average consumer. Ford later explained that up to that time no one had given him any encouragement. To hear this enthusiastic approval from one of the world’s greatest inventors was invaluable.

Edison was first attracted to Florida a year before this chance meeting with Ford. While vacationing at St. Augustine, he was encouraged to visit the southwestern portion of the state, which at that time was generally reached by traveling to Cedar Key by rail, and then to Punta Rassa by steamer. Edison made the journey, with some difficulty, and was delighted with the area. Even better, he learned that giant bamboo grew naturally around Fort Myers. Edison had been using bamboo filaments for his early incandescent bulbs, but so far only fibers from specific Japanese bamboo species had been good enough to use. Perhaps the bamboo around Fort Myers, which was originally introduced to Florida from Japan, would make a good substitute. In a matter of days, Edison made the decision to buy up land in the area and set up a home and laboratory.

Man stands in front of giant bamboo plant (circa 1890s).

Man stands in front of giant bamboo plant (circa 1890s).

Meanwhile, Edison maintained his friendship with Henry Ford. In 1913, the Fords and Thomas Edison spent a vacation at the home of naturalist John Burroughs. The group had such a wonderful time that Edison decided to invite the Fords and Burroughs down to Fort Myers. The arrival of this party was a grand event for the small, sleepy town, as you might imagine. Every single automobile owner in town (all 31 of them) escorted the visitors to Edison’s winter home.

Pictured (L to R) are Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, and Henry Ford in Fort Myers (1913).

Pictured (left to right) are Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, and Henry Ford in Fort Myers (1913).

Henry Ford enjoyed himself so much at Fort Myers that he decided to purchase a winter home there as well. In 1916, the property adjoining the Edison home came up for sale, and he purchased it for $20,000. Ford called this property “the Mangoes” after all of the mango trees growing there. These had been brought from Key West by Dr. William Hanson in the 1880s.

Henry Ford's winter home, called

Henry Ford’s winter home, called “The Mangoes” (1991).

The Fords and the Edisons began enjoying most of their winters together at Fort Myers. They spent their days exploring the barrier islands, including Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine islands, camping in the Everglades or along the Caloosahatchee River, and even square dancing on the pier to phonographic records. The two inventors also spent time doing what inventors do best – tinkering. Improving America’s source of natural rubber was one joint project – Ford experimented with planting rubber trees on his property, while Edison attempted to make rubber from goldenrod plants.

Thomas Edison's laboratory at his home in Fort Myers (circa 1950s).

Thomas Edison’s laboratory at his home in Fort Myers (circa 1950s).

Thomas Edison died in 1931, and Henry Ford’s trips to Florida became less frequent. The legacy of the friendship these two men shared has, however, been enshrined by historians and preservationists. The Edison and Ford homes are now open to the public as museums, including Edison’s laboratory and gardens. One popular feature is Edison’s vast collection of phonographs, pictured below.

Visitors to the Ford-Edison Museum view Thomas Edison's vast collection of phonographs (1966).

Visitors to the Ford-Edison Museum view Thomas Edison’s vast collection of phonographs (1966).

How has Florida helped bring people together in your own life or community? Share with us by leaving a comment below or by posting this blog to Facebook!

Let’s Have An Air Party

Of all the kinds of parties you can have – toga parties, foam parties, hurricane parties – an air party might seem the silliest. But that’s exactly the sort of celebration many of Florida’s major communities were throwing in the 1930s, when commercial aviation and air tourism were still in their infancy.

Program from Orlando's Second Annual "Air Party," January 1935 - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Program from Orlando’s Second Annual “Air Party,” January 1935 – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Officials in both the private and public sectors had recognized by this time that aviation offered Florida a marvelous opportunity. Distance, as one observer put it, just didn’t mean as much anymore when a trip that had once taken days could now be accomplished in a few hours. To encourage Florida’s growth as a destination for air tourism, state and local governments teamed up with private businesses to host air races, air parties, and other events. These efforts had two objectives: to sell Florida as a tourist destination by air to the rest of the country, and to convince Floridians of the worthiness of investing in better aviation infrastructure.

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Army planes fly over the timing stand at the Sixth Annual All-American Air Races (1934).

Air cruises, usually sponsored by chambers of commerce, aeronautical clubs, and other civic groups, were some of the most unique events. These were typically open to any “sportsman pilots” or private aviators who wanted to attend. The pilots would fly their planes from airport to airport along a chain of host cities, enjoying receptions, races, and other activities along the way. Here’s an example itinerary from the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise:

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) - Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

Itinerary for the Second Annual Florida State Air Cruise (1935) – Box 1, folder 1, William C. Lazarus Papers (Collection M82-133), State Archives of Florida.

The towns along the route would often extend privileges to the visiting pilots at their local country clubs, hotels, and restaurants. In some cities – Orlando we know for sure – the pilots received fuel and oil at wholesale prices as an incentive. The local chambers of commerce often arranged ground transportation as well, and local groups provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming, boating, and other favorite Florida pastimes.

Pilot Harold Neumann with

Pilot Harold Neumann with “Miss Chevrolet” in Miami (1936).

These groups were typically quite intimate, but their activities were highly visible and helped introduce a large number of people to the possibilities of aviation. A little more time, plus some help from World War II, saw Florida criss-crossed with busy commercial air routes and a whole new sector to its thriving tourist industry.

Interested in aviation or a related Florida industry? The State Library & Archives has a wide variety of books, ephemera, photographs, and manuscript collections touching on these subjects. The program and itinerary from this blog post, for example, came from a collection of papers belonging to William C. Lazarus, who once directed the Aviation Division of the State Road Department and helped organize a number of “air parties.” Search our catalogs to find out what we have on your favorite topic in Florida history!