The Forgotten History of Lincolnville

If you have ever visited St. Augustine, you might have noticed a large concentration of Victorian era homes just southwest of recognizable landmarks like the Bridge of Lions and the Cathedral Basilica. This is Lincolnville, a historically black neighborhood in America’s oldest city. Formed by St. Augustine’s freed slave population after the Civil War, Lincolnville was home to a thriving middle-class black community during the period of legalized segregation in early twentieth century Florida.

1885 Birdseye view of St. Augustine

A stylized map depicting a developed lot in Lincolnville (1885). Excerpt from 1885 birdseye view of St. Augustine, Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all enslaved peoples living in Union-occupied areas, which included St. Augustine– one of the few places in Florida to enforce emancipation during the Civil War. According Mary Anne Murray, an eye-witness who was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) some seventy years after emancipation: “All the slaveholders were ordered to release their slaves and allow them to gather in a large vacant lot west of St. Joseph’s Academy, where they were officially freed.” An estimated 672 slaves living in St. Augustine became freedmen at once, and the parcel became known as “liberation lot.” These liberated men and women would become the founders of Lincolnville. In the decades that followed, their descendants celebrated the anniversary of emancipation in jubilant fashion.

Emancipation Day Parade in Lincolnville (1920s).

Lincolnville photographer Richard A. Twine captured this image of Lincolnville residents commemorating Emancipation Day with an annual parade (1920).

The freedmen of St. Augustine wasted no time in settling a neighborhood of their own, leasing numerous city lots along the marshy banks of the Maria Sanchez Creek in the mid to late 1860s. Initially referred to as “Africa,” the rapidly developing corridor was soon renamed “Lincolnville,” after the slain Civil War president. By the 1880s, many Lincolnville residents were property owners who built their own homes, businesses, and churches. Several blacks from Lincolnville served in public office up until the turn of the century when restrictive voting laws like poll taxes and literacy tests effectively disenfranchised African-Americans. The definitive end to black political participation in Lincolnville came in 1902, when resident John Papino was shot after winning election to the city council. No black officials would be elected to city government again until 1973. Barred from the ballot box and routinely shut out from many of the economic opportunities available to whites, African-Americans living in Lincolnville focused on investing in their community’s development.

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s).

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s). There were at least 16 churches located in Lincolnville by the 1920s. Photo by Richard Twine.

Though intended to limit opportunity for African-Americans, the exclusionary conditions of segregation actually encouraged the growth of black enterprise initiatives. By the 1920s a lively commercial district of black-owned businesses had sprouted up around Washington St., making it the center of socialization in Lincolnville. “If you weren’t there on Saturday night, you hadn’t lived,” reminisced former civil rights activist and St. Augustine City Commissioner Henry Twine.

Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge

Richard Twine photographed this group of Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge on 92 Washington St (1920s). Now a condominium, Odd Fellows Lodge was once the community watering hole, hosting proms, dances, and even celebrity performances by Ray Charles and Little Richard.

One Lincolnville entrepreneur, Frank Butler, who owned the Palace Market grocery store on 54 Washington St. where he often sold his customers goods on credit, became a well-known real-estate investor during a time when property deeds typically barred land sales to blacks.  Having built up a rapport with city officials, Butler often received tips on tax sales and real-estate sales, advantages otherwise not extended to African-Americans. Longtime Lincolnville resident, Rosalie Gordon Mills, recalled that Butler “had a calling—a mission in life to succeed as a black man…. He knew how to deal with the race problem and took advantage of every opportunity.” Butler leased properties all over town to black-run businesses, allowed prospective homeowners to buy on credit, and even established “Butler Beach” (see our blog “Butler Beach and Jim Crow”), the only beach between Jacksonville and Daytona open to African-Americans during segregation.

Frank Butler in his College Park Realty Office in Lincolnville (1920s).

Frank Butler standing behind the front desk of his College Park Realty Office on 54 ½ Washington St. in Lincolnville (1920s). Photo by Richard Twine.

In addition to the numerous business ventures undertaken by Butler, the Washington St. district also boasted the Ice Berg, a legendary pharmacy and soda shop managed by Arthur C. Forward. “Everything was good,” recalled former Lincolnville resident Debbie McDade who insisted the Ice Berg sold the best ice creams sodas “in the world.” Three barber shops, six grocery stores in addition to Butler’s Palace Market, four cafes, and four dry cleaning shops filled out the rest of the commercial hub. Black professionals like dentist Rudolph Gordon; medical doctors Leon Reid, T.G. Freeland, S.J.E. Farmer; and pharmacists Otis J. Mills and Robert E. Smith provided trusted healthcare in a neighborhood historian Diana Edwards described as a place where “extended families looked out after everybody.”

Photograph Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles’ wedding day (1920s).

Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles on their wedding day (1920s). Photograph by Richard Twine.

Additionally, photographer Richard A. Twine’s studio on 62 Washington St. attracted regular customers interested in professional portraits.  When he was not working in his studio, Twine often took his camera to the streets of 1920s Lincolnville, documenting scenes of daily life at the height of the predominately black middle-class suburb’s business boom. Damaged by fire, Twine’s studio was slated for demolition in 1988 before the work crew discovered a collection of 103 glass negatives in the attic. Preserved by the St. Augustine Historical Society, and temporarily loaned to the State Archives of Florida for duplication, these rare slides illuminate the character of Lincolnville’s history.

Richa Lincolnville resident Mary “Mae” Martin standing outside the gate to her home (1920s).

As federal courts began striking down segregation laws as unconstitutional in the 1950s and 60s, Lincolnville became the site of civil rights organization in St. Augustine.  But, after integration came a decline in the number of black owned homes and businesses in Lincolnville. Although Lincolnville had never been entirely segregated– whites had always owned some shops and houses in the area– by the 1980s black residents of Lincolnville started selling and renting their properties in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The community became more commercialized and scattered, with much of the flavor and family-like atmosphere of 1920s Lincolnville living on only in Richard Twine’s photographs. However, longtime St. Augustine locals recognized the historic value of Lincolnville– in 1991, the Lincolnville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Florida’s First Publix

When most Floridians think of Publix, they imagine the grocery store chain with origins in Winter Haven. But did you know that Publix Super Market got its name from another business? In a speech given by Publix founder, George Jenkins, which was later published as The Publix Story, he explains his inspiration for the name of his company. He says, “The name ‘Publix’ was borrowed from a chain of theaters which was operating throughout Florida at the time. Most of them were closing up, and I liked the sound of the name so I just took it for my store.”

The theater chain was Publix Theatres Corporation, which operated at least 19 theaters in Florida during the mid-1920s and the early 1930s. Although the success of Publix Theatres in Florida was short-lived due to the stock market crash of 1929, Publix had a significant influence on Florida’s theater market because of the high standards the company established and the availability of their theaters.

During the 1920s, the United States saw an increase in chain stores. It started with grocery stores, and moved to drug stores, gas stations and clothing stores before eventually reaching the entertainment market. Companies would begin locally and sometimes develop into national companies, which was the case with Publix Theatres.

The Olympia Theater in Miami (1926) was owned and operated by Publix Theatres.

The Olympia Theater in Miami (1926) was owned and operated by Publix Theatres.

In 1925, Publix Theatres was founded in New York City as an affiliate of Paramount Studios. By 1929, Publix had the most powerful theater company in the United States because they modeled their business after large corporations. With 1200 locations, there were Publix theaters in large cities like New York City and Chicago, in addition to theaters in the South, Midwest and Northeast.

The Florida headquarters for Publix was located in St. Petersburg because of the city’s proximity to other Publix locations. Theater sites included the Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg and Jacksonville; the Olympia, Fairfax, Hippodrome and Paramount in Miami; the Stanley, Ketler and Arcade in West Palm Beach; the Tampa Theatre in Tampa; and locations in Gainesville, Daytona, Lake Worth and Palm Beach, to name a few.

Entrance to the Fairfax Theatre in Miami (1929).

Entrance to the Fairfax Theatre in Miami, which was acquired by Publix Theatres in 1929 along with eight other theaters in Miami.

With such a large presence in Florida’s theater market, Publix set the standard high for its competitors and for itself. Not only were the theaters opulently decorated, each one was also equipped with air-conditioning. The Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg was the first air-conditioned building in the Suncoast region. During the theater’s grand opening on September 10, 1926, the sold out crowd was reported to have covered their shoulders to keep from freezing. Likewise, a training school was organized for those interested in theater management, and training manuals were created for employees so they could learn how to provide patrons with a courteous and entertaining experience. Publix Theatres provided a space for local communities to come together for events that went beyond watching movies. There were ukulele contests, traveling vaudeville shows, as well as special tea and wafer events.

With the stock market crash, Publix was unable to pay the mortgage debts for its locations around the United States. By 1935, Publix was bankrupt. Many of the theaters owned by Publix were sold, including the theaters in Florida. Sparks Theaters of Lakeland took possession of a number of theaters previously owned by Publix, including the Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg.

The stage in the Tampa Theatre.

The opulently decorated stage at the Tampa Theatre.

The change in owners didn’t mean the end of all theaters formerly under Publix. The Florida Theatres in Jacksonville and St. Petersburg hosted Elvis concerts in August of 1956, as did the Olympia Theater in Miami. Many of the theaters are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville and the Tampa Theatre in Tampa.

Although Publix Theatres only spent a short time in the Sunshine State, the influence of the company lives on in Florida. Throughout the state you can still visit a Publix, but instead of watching a film you’re shopping for groceries.  What are your favorite memories as a theatergoer in Florida? Share with us by leaving a comment below, or by posting this blog on Facebook or Twitter.

Exploring the Everglades

Today, Florida’s Everglades are a popular destination for visitors and sportsmen.  This vast “river of grass” is host to agricultural areas and numerous canals, as well as a national park.  However, this was not always so.  There was a time when the Everglades were a wild and remote region.  Until the 1880s, some people even compared the Everglades to the interior of Africa, which was then an almost completely unknown part of the world.

Despite their mystery, there were many in the United States who believed that the Everglades could eventually be completely drained.  With such an effort, the Everglades could potentially become thousands of square miles of new land on which Florida could grow.  The promise of the enormous profits such an undertaking could generate was hard to ignore, and people from all over the United States became involved.  So great was said promise that the Times-Democrat, a newspaper out of New Orleans, resolved to not only fund but also send a man to lead two expeditions through the Everglades.  The Times-Democrat party became the first recorded group to successfully traverse the Everglades from north to south.

The Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades

The story begins with Hamilton Disston, the Disston Land Company, and Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund.  The IIF was established in 1851 for the purpose of encouraging the further development of Florida.  However, its resources were not exclusively for the development of the Everglades, and by the early 1880s, its obligations to various groups and projects all over the state had exceeded its means.  The IIF needed money.  Thus, the state resolved to sell more than four million acres of swampland, much of it in the Everglades, to the Disston Land company.  As a condition of the sale, Disston was required to begin draining the land himself.  Once reclaimed, Disston and many others like him believed that the Everglades could become extraordinarily fertile farmland.  Sales of this land, therefore, could have made him fantastically wealthy. (For more, see our blog post: “Land by the Gallon”)

Meanwhile, the Times-Democrat had long been predicting that the South was poised for a massive development boom following Reconstruction, especially concerning the conversion of wetlands into productive farms.  Though it primarily served New Orleans, the Times-Democrat boasted readership all over the South.  While it had no real ties to Disston himself, the newspaper saw that he owned – and was obligated to reclaim – lands which could help to make their prophecy come true.  Consequently, the newspaper organized two expeditions into the Everglades, the first in 1882 and the second the following year.  These expeditions would investigate the feasibility of draining the region and also determine what sort of plants might eventually grow best there.  The group included an experienced engineer and surveyor who could document their findings, as well as determine the best route for a telegraph line through the region at the request of the Western Union Company.

Hamilton Disston

Hamilton Disston

Though several military parties had crossed the Everglades during the Seminole Wars, these had all run between east and west.  The TimesDemocrat, therefore, proposed to attempt a route running from north to south, which promised many exciting new discoveries.   Furthermore, it would make a very exciting series of reports for their readership to enjoy.  The expedition would be led by Major Archie P. Williams,  who was the newspaper’s correspondent, and crewed by able and experienced men from the area.

The expedition proceeded in two stages.  In 1882, they traveled south along the Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, and then made their way west along the Caloosahatchee River, towards Fort Myers.  The following year, the group retraced its route eastward into Okeechobee, and then turned south into the Everglades proper, aiming to reach the mouth of the Shark River.  All told, the journey was more than 400 miles.  Much of it went deep through the uncharted Everglades.

A map of the major traversals of the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running North to South.

A map showing routes taken across the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running north to south.

The Shark River Valley: The Times Democrat Expedition’s destination.

The Shark River Valley: the Times-Democrat’s destination.

The expedition, composed of both white and African-American men, endured many hardships on their journey south.  The February 23, 1883 edition of the Times-Democrat, for example, contains a report of a nighttime invasion of the party’s camp by alligators.   A well-timed gust of wind stoked the dying fire, and the light revealed that the ground was “one moving mass of the reptiles.”  Perhaps a few stories were exaggerated for the readers, but that does not diminish the group’s efforts.  Often, they found the water so shallow and the mud so deep that they were obliged to push their boats along from behind while sinking themselves in the swamp.  Some days would only see a few miles of hard won progress; cutting a path through the seemingly endless sawgrass.  They faced inclement weather in small boats, and swarms of mosquitoes.  The group also feared potentially hostile encounters with the Native Americans who still inhabited the area, though their concerns proved baseless.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times-Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

While their trip through the Everglades was difficult, the Times-Democrat party did reach the Shark River.  When they reached the end of the “river of grass,” they determined that, based on their experiences, any drainage project in the Everglades was destined to end in failure.  They also judged that a telegraph line was not feasible, for even if the line could be laid, accessing it for maintenance would mean regular repeats of their own arduous journey.  Major Williams and his men thought that the Everglades “must remain a swamp forever.”

On this count, the Times-Democrat men were only partially right.  Mr. Disston’s plan to “redeem” the Everglades never came to complete fruition.  Though some parts were drained in the twentieth century, much of the area is still swampland save for the natural islands, or hammocks, which occasionally rise up from the sawgrass.  Though the dry and fertile farmlands never materialized, accessibility has greatly improved.  A network of flood control canals and nature trails cross parts of the Everglades, as well as the famous “Alligator Alley” highway.  Travelers through the Everglades certainly have a much easier time of it than dragging their boats through the muck.   If you ever find yourself in the Everglades, take a moment to remember Major Archie Williams, his crew of intrepid Floridians, and their journey into the unknown.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair: Florida on Display

Summertime is well and truly underway here in Florida, and people from all over the world are coming to enjoy what our state has to offer.  In the summers of 1964 and 1965, however, Florida came to them as part of the World’s Fair, held in New York City’s Flushing Meadows Park.

Presided over by the iconic Unisphere, the fair ran for more than a year, from April 1964 to October 1965, with a break for the New York winter.  With the theme “Peace Through Understanding,” the fair was a showcase of the latest and greatest; from cutting edge technology to works of art from all over the world.  Dozens of other countries had a presence, along with many US states and several prominent corporations.  Visitors could marvel at Bell Laboratories’ video phone technology, admire the Ford Mustang – unveiled to the world for the first time at the fair – or sample any number of foreign cuisines.

Florida’s pavilion, rather than looking forward to the wonders of a utopian future, was an exhibition of the progress being made and the pleasures to be had in Florida; potentially on the very same day.  Indeed, visitors could even book a flight south right in the pavilion.  As one promotional video put it, Florida’s pavilion had “pretty girls, orange juice, and jumping porpoises.” In addition, the exhibit boasted shops, works by Floridian artists, and other attractions; all topped by the enormous illuminated orange of the Citrus Tower.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

There were numerous guest acts, including performances by several Florida high school bands.  Also appearing was a group of Seminole alligator wrestlers who, according to Fair correspondence, “preferred to wrestle very large alligators” and were willing to bring their own to accommodate.  Accounting for all the various exhibits, demonstrations, and shows, Florida’s pavilion was among the largest at the fair.

Florida’s exhibit eventually ranked as the seventh most popular out of more than 150 at the fair by its end. The Florida pavilion only placed behind the likes of General Motors or the Vatican, who had Michelangelo’s Pietà brought to the fair at great expense.  The famous sculpture weighed some twenty thousand pounds including its marble base.  All told, close to fourteen and a half million fairgoers visited the Florida pavilion in the 1964 and 1965 World’s Fair seasons.  Were you or someone you know one of them?  Let us know in a comment!

The Old Stagecoach Line

Imagine you wanted to take a trip to Tampa this weekend. How would you get there? Would you travel by car, by airplane, or maybe by bus? If we were living a hundred years ago, you might even choose to go by steamship or by train. Now imagine a time when none of those forms of transportation were an option for most destinations. How did people get around Florida in those days? One option was to take the stagecoach line.

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King's Road, from Charles W. Bockelman's The King's Road to Florida (1975).

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King’s Road in northeastern Florida, from Charles W. Bockelman’s The King’s Road to Florida (1975).

The stagecoach lines in Florida started out as routes for the U.S. Postal Service, which needed to establish good roads for transporting mail from place to place. Railroads and steamships carried the mail whenever possible, but for many frontier post offices in the interior these simply weren’t available yet.

Travelers needed good roads as much as letters did, and over time the Postal Service began turning its routes over to private companies, which built more comfortable horse-drawn coaches to carry both mail and passengers between communities. One of the earliest examples of this was the Concord Stagecoach Line, which connected Tampa and Palatka. The Concord was later purchased by Hubbard L. Hart, who operated steamships along the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. As steamboat and railroad transportation became more widely available, stage lines were often integrated into the companies that operated them, connecting Florida’s main traffic routes with even the smallest communities.

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart's management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart’s management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Stagecoach lines were a professional affair like modern bus or air lines, with tickets and schedules and regular routes. The ride, however, was anything but smooth. Florida’s rough and varied terrain made any cross-state journey difficult and lengthy. Primitive unpaved roads permitted speeds of only a few miles per hour, and crossing rivers often involved waiting for ferries. Most trips took multiple days, with passengers staying in hotels or boarding houses along the way. The Concord stage line between Tampa and Palatka, for example, stopped at Ocala and Melendez (modern-day Brooksville) overnight.

The stagecoach lines were a handy option for early travelers, but their time grew short once the railroad appeared on the scene. Florida was slow to exploit the “iron horse” at first, but after the Civil War railroads began criss-crossing the state, rendering many of the old stage routes obsolete. Trains simply carried mail and passengers faster and more efficiently than horse-drawn carriages.

A few relics of the stagecoach era can still be found here and there around Florida. Several counties have roads with names like “Old Post Road” or “Stagecoach Road” indicating where stage lines once operated. One community near Wesley Chapel even has the name “Stagecoach Village.” The old Concord Stage Line ran through the area a few miles away, and an explanatory historical marker is located along one of the main streets.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

What former highways pass through your Florida community? Get the conversation started by posting a comment or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!

The Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901

The morning of Friday, May 3, 1901 dawned like any other late spring day in Jacksonville. Men and women went to work, children went to school, and soon the city was humming with its usual bustle of activity. By one o’clock that afternoon, however, the lazy calm would erupt into the most destructive disaster of the city’s history. A fire strengthened by favorable winds, dry conditions, and a path laden with wooden buildings would rage through Jacksonville, destroying thousands of buildings and millions of dollars in property.

View of Jacksonville's riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

View of Jacksonville’s riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

It all started at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory near the corner of Beaver and Davis streets in the LaVilla neighborhood. Workers had been busily laying moss out to dry in the sun when the noon whistle sang out to announce lunch. They made their way to the shade of the trees to eat, leaving the moss unattended. Normally, a few men would stick around to make sure no ashes or embers from the surrounding neighborhood made their way to the drying fibers, but on this day the lack of wind made such precaution seem unnecessary.

Spanish moss drying on racks - similar to the situation that led to the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

This Spanish moss drying operation is similar to the one that started the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

Then one of the workers noticed a small glowing spot in the moss and went over to investigate. Finding that the moss had somehow caught fire in several places, he called for help, but a deadly chain of events was already in motion. The wind, which had stayed quiet all morning, suddenly came to life, sending burning bits of moss closer and closer to the shed where the company’s stock of dried fibers was stored. The building ignited and was quickly engulfed in flames, flinging burning embers into the surrounding area. More buildings caught fire, and before long Chief T.W. Haney of the Jacksonville Fire Department sounded a general alarm.

Flames consume one of Jacksonville's Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

Flames consume one of Jacksonville’s Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

 

By this time the whole of Jacksonville knew something was wrong. Even if they hadn’t heard the clanging of the fire engine bells, residents could already see a distant cloud of smoke billowing upward and working its way east over the neighborhoods. Families closer to the fire sprang into action, piling household goods into wagons and driving them away from the growing conflagration. Eager to help their neighbors, some people took their belongings only a few blocks away before unloading them and returning. Many of these possessions would later go up in flames before their owners could collect them.

Jacksonville’s fire department fought the blaze valiantly, but neither the wind nor technology was on their side. The fire marched steadily eastward, consuming block after block of wooden structures. Sidewalks, bricks, and concrete structures glowed red with heat and cracked or exploded. Columns of thick smoke rising from the burning city were reportedly seen from as far away as Raleigh, North Carolina.

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents took shelter in the recently completed city armory, the Windsor Hotel, and the county courthouse, but eventually even those buildings had to be evacuated. Depending on their location, people hurried to get across either Hogan’s Creek or the St. Johns River to safety, the fire closing in behind them. At one point, the fire turned southward, trapping the massive crowd waiting at the Market Street Wharf to be transported across the St. Johns River. Desperate to get away from the approaching flames, many residents jumped into the water. This scene, which at the time was thought to have resulted in an enormous loss of life, was dubbed the “Market Street Horror.” Miraculously, despite widespread destruction of property, only seven persons are believed to have lost their lives in the blaze.

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950).

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950). Click the map to enlarge it.

By nightfall, the wind had died down, and the fire was running out of fuel. A total of 2,368 buildings and 466 acres of city territory had been burned to the ground. Twenty-three churches, ten hotels, and every single public building except one federal office structure was destroyed. National Guard troops rallied to the scene to preserve law and order, but the city itself was practically deserted. Nearly 10,000 people had lost their homes, and were forced to take up temporary residence in tents sent to Florida by the United States government.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Jacksonville recovered quickly from the Great Fire of 1901. Just six months after the disaster, the city played host to the Florida State Fair, and in 1903 residents marked their return to prosperity with an extravagant Gala Week and Trades Carnival. By 1913, 11,000 buildings had been erected to replace the ones consumed by the disaster. Residents and outside observers agreed — Jacksonville was back!

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

 

The Dixie Highway Comes to Florida

Florida is one of several states where, once in a while, you’re subject to come across a road called “Old Dixie Highway.” Some of the roads with this name are prominent thoroughfares, while others have become mere side streets over the years, bypassed by larger highways built along the outskirts of town.  In the early twentieth century, all of these roadway segments were stitched together into what was briefly the largest interstate highway system in the United States.

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919).

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919). Click the map to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher, the same entrepreneur who helped develop Miami Beach in the early 1910s. Fisher believed northerners would pay top dollar for lots in South Florida, but he recognized the need for a reliable highway to funnel his customers southward. He had already been involved in promoting the Lincoln Highway, an east-west route across the northern United States. That project had run into trouble, however. Promoters had expected private funding to cover the cost of building the road, but they were never able to raise the necessary ten million dollars. Fisher realized that for a highway connecting Miami with the northern states to succeed, it would require both private and public backing.

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

In November 1915, Carl Fisher announced his intention to build the nation’s first true national automobile highway linking the North and South. He originally called it the “Cotton Belt Route,” but the press quickly latched onto the road’s symbolic value as a peace gesture binding the nation together. Keep in mind there were still a number of individuals living at this time who had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The New York Times suggested the new highway ought to be called the “Dixie Peaceway.” Over time, however, the name settled into the familiar “Dixie Highway” we still see on road signs today.

Fisher originally intended for the highway to run between Chicago and Miami, but the route in between was up for debate. Virtually every community between these two endpoints wanted to be located along the profitable new road. Fisher and his backers decided to organize a conference of governors and other state representatives in Chattanooga in April 1915 to hammer out the details and form the Dixie Highway Association. Constructing and maintaining the roadway would remain the responsibility of the states and communities along the route, but the Association would help with marketing, surveying, and other coordinating tasks.

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

The Dixie Highway Association called on each governor whose state would be traversed by the new road to appoint two commissioners to decide on the best route and report back with their views. Governor Park Trammell appointed George W. Saxon, a banker from Tallahassee, and Samuel A. Belcher, a road construction magnate from Miami, as Florida’s commissioners. Carl Fisher and most of the road’s advocates had long assumed the Dixie Highway would enter the state north of Jacksonville and simply follow the Atlantic coast to Miami. Highway enthusiasts in the middle of the state and along the Gulf Coast, however, wanted to reap some of the highway’s benefits for themselves. The Central Florida Highway Association, a powerful lobbying organization with members from Naples to Tallahassee, argued for a western branch of the Dixie Highway that would offer travelers an alternate route between Macon, Georgia and Miami via a string of towns on the western side of the Florida peninsula.

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Belcher and Saxon agreed a western route was needed, but they couldn’t agree on where it should be located. Saxon and the Central Florida Highway Association wanted to include towns near the Gulf coast north of Gainesville, including Trenton, Perry, and Tallahassee. South of Kissimmee, they wanted the Dixie Highway to proceed as far southwest as Arcadia before turning back east to rejoin the main route near Jupiter. Belcher thought this route was too long and winding to properly serve northern travelers. He envisioned a highway proceeding almost due north from Gainesville, passing through Live Oak or Lake City before entering Georgia near Valdosta. South of Kissimmee, he thought the road should head straight for the coast, hitting somewhere around Melbourne as U.S. 192 does today.

While Belcher’s route was more direct, Saxon argued that the Gulf coast communities had already pledged considerable support for the highway, with taxpayers even voting to bond themselves for the necessary funding. If their communities were bypassed, he warned, those communities might withdraw their support for the project altogether. Belcher ultimately relented, and the Dixie Highway was established with two routes through Florida, connected by cross-state roads at several points.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was as successful as its founders had hoped, but it survived only a short time under its original name. All of the commotion over funding the road and selecting its route had provoked questions about the federal government’s potential role in developing interstate highways. A coalition of local authorities, business owners, and auto industry leaders began calling for Washington to simplify the process of expanding the nation’s highway infrastructure by funding and supervising a network of federal roads.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Bankhead Act, which pumped $75 million of federal money into the idea. This was the beginning of the U.S. highway system we know today. As that system grew, older blazed trails like the Dixie and Lincoln highways were absorbed into it. Soon, the name “Dixie Highway” was only used locally on certain segments of the original route, usually with “Old” in front of it. The name “Dixie Highway” also lived on in the names of businesses like the “Dixie Highway Garage” or the “Dixie Highway Inn” that had sought to link themselves to the novelty of the new road.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

Next time you’re driving through Florida and encounter a portion of the “Old Dixie Highway,” we encourage you to drive it and try to capture a bit of the excitement that must have filled northern travelers coming to the Sunshine State for the first time. You’ll not only be getting off the beaten path for a while – you’ll also be driving down a unique piece of Florida history!

In Quite a Pickle

Spring is well underway here in the Sunshine State, and many Florida families have already marked the occasion by planting flowers and tilling up garden patches. These days, growing fruits and vegetables is as much a form of entertainment as a supplement to the family diet, since modern refrigeration and shipping make it possible for us to get almost any food we desire from the local grocery.

That was certainly not the case for most Florida families during the 19th century. In those days, most Floridians relied heavily on their own farms and garden patches for food, especially vegetables and fruits. Grocers could be found in town, but their products were often both limited and expensive.

The problem, of course, is that even sunny Florida experiences cooler weather for a few months out of the year, and many fruits and vegetables simply don’t grow as well during that time. Without the ability to refrigerate or freeze their spring and summer crops for winter use, 19th century Florida families favored pickling as a way to preserve these precious foods. One bit of evidence supporting this is the large number of pickle recipes we often find in the cookbooks and correspondence of Floridians who lived before the age of modern refrigeration. Since gardens across the state are starting to bear lots of tasty food items ripe for the picking, we’ve decided to share a few of our favorite historic pickling recipes:

Recipe for cucumber pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century.

Recipe for cucumber pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Our first recipe comes from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry belonging to the Simpson family of Jefferson County. Here are the instructions for making their version of “cucumber pickles”:

Get very small cucumbers, wipe them clean, lay them into stone jars. Allow one quart of coarse salt to a pail of water. Boil the salt & water until the salt is dissolved; turn it boiling hot on the cucumbers; cover them up tight, and let them stand twenty four hours. Turn them into a basket to drain. Boil as much of the best cider vinegar as will cover the cucumbers. Wash out the jars, put the cucumbers into them, turn on the vinegar boiling hot, cover them with cabbage leaves & cover the jars tight. In forty eight hours they will be fit for use.

Any kind of pickles is good made in the same way.

The Simpsons were also apparently adventurous enough to try pickling other garden items, even watermelon rind! Here’s a recipe for “watermelon pickles” acquired from a “Mrs. Porter” and included in the Simpson family cookbook:

Recipe for watermelon pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for watermelon pickles from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry. Box 11, folder 14 of Collection M91-5 (Simpson Family Papers), State Archives of Florida. The book was added to over a period of time around the mid-19th century. Click the image to enlarge it.

Here’s the transcript. Be careful with this one – we’re still not sure about one of the units of measurement used in this recipe!

10 [pounds?] of rind

Take the green off the rind, boil in pure water until tender, drain the water off and make a syrup of 2 [pounds?] of sugar, 1 qt of vinegar, 1/2 ounce of cloves, 1 ounce of cinnamon. The syrup to be boiled and poured over the rind three mornings in succession, boiling hot.

 

Now we’re sure you’ve heard of fried green tomatoes, but have you ever had them pickled? Mary Archer, who lived in Tallahassee for seven decades of the 19th century, included a recipe for green tomato pickles in her small leather-bound handwritten cookbook, now held by the State Library & Archives of Florida. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Brown, Florida’s second state governor. Brown operated one of the few hotels in Tallahassee during the antebellum era, and Mary herself managed the hotel for a few years during Reconstruction. Mary’s cookbook, which includes entries dating from 1852 to sometime after 1869, provides a unique snapshot of North Florida cuisine, especially the preserves and baked delicacies popular at that time. Here are Mary Archer’s instructions for green tomato pickles:

Recipe for green tomato pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 - State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for green tomato pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 – State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

And the transcript:

One peck of green tomatoes, cut into thin slices. Sprinkle them with salt for one day. 12 onions cut in the same way. One bottle of mustard, a quarter of a pound of mustard seed, alspice, cloves, ground pepper, ground ginger, each one ounce.

Mix the spices together and put in a kettle a layer of tomatoes and a layer of spices alternately. Cover them with vinegar, and let them simmer until the tomatoes look quite clear, then they are fit for use.

Mary also had a few other pickling recipes in her cookbook, including this one for what was commonly called “yellow pickles” or “Virginia pickles” in those days:

Recipe for yellow pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 - State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

Recipe for yellow pickles, included in the handwritten recipe and remedy book of Mary S. Archer (MS 63 – State Library Manuscript Collections). The recipe likely dates to the 1850s or 60s. Click the image to enlarge it.

The transcript:

Cut white head cabbage in four parts and lay them one night in strong [salt] and water. Scald them three successive days in salt and water adding [more] salt each day. Cover the bottom and sides of your kettle with the outside green leaves of the cabbage. Put in the cabbage, then cover them with vinegar, then cover all with cabbage leaves. Boil them until you can put a straw in the stalk of the cabbage. Drain the vinegar and put them in a jar. Have ready Turmeric, mustard and celery seed, spice, cloves, pepper and mace. Put them in the top after well mixing them. Fill the jar with cold vinegar. Onion cut fine should be put with the seasoning. This pickle is ready for use immediately tho age improves it.

These are just a few of the many pickling recipes found in the collections of the State Library & Archives. They’re more than just a tasty way to enjoy spring and summer vegetables all year long – they’re also a link between the culinary traditions of today , when food preservation methods liking salting, smoking, and pickling were a necessity for all Florida families.

What kinds of pickles do you enjoy best? Do you make your own? Share with us by leaving a comment below, or by posting this blog on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

St. Vincent Island

How much history can one island hold? If you’re looking at the barrier islands and keys off the coast of Florida, the answer is quite a lot. Take St. Vincent Island, for example. It’s a barrier island guarding the western entrance to Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle. Geologists estimate the island to be a mere 4,400 years old, but in that time it has been an outpost for Confederate soldiers, a cattle ranch, a resort and hunting preserve for rich tourists, a Spanish military camp, and a home for Native Americans.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area. Click the map to enlarge it.

St. Vincent Island is about 12,300 acres in size, with fourteen miles of beaches on the eastern and southern shores. It is sandwiched between St. George Island on the east and a small spit of land jutting out from Cape San Blas on the west. Indian Pass, which separates the island from the mainland, has historically been too shallow for major ship traffic, but the gap between St. Vincent and St. George islands (known as West Pass) was once a critical commercial entrance to Apalachicola Bay. The terrain is a microcosm of Florida itself, featuring small freshwater lakes, hills, forests of virgin pine growth, and swamps. Its first human residents were Native Americans who lived about 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have located pottery shards and shell middens testifying to their stay.

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

Documentation of the island’s naming is scant, but the reigning theory is that Franciscan friars working with the Apalachee tribes during the first Spanish colonial period named the island after St. Vincent, a martyr of the fourth century. Creek and Seminole Indians eventually made it to St. Vincent Island, replacing the earlier native tribes whose numbers dwindled from disease and battle following the arrival of the Europeans. Spanish forces also used the island in 1815 as a temporary refuge while operating in the Apalachicola River valley.

In 1811, Creek and Seminole leaders added St. Vincent Island to a large land grant designed to settle their debts to John Forbes and Company, a British trading firm. This land grant was known as the Forbes Purchase, and ultimately consisted of about 1.5 million acres of territory between the Apalachicola and Wakulla rivers.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection. Click map to enlarge it.

The validity of the Forbes Purchase was challenged once Florida became a U.S. possession in 1821, but the successors of the Forbes firm held title to St. Vincent Island until 1858, when they sold the land to Robert Floyd, a lawyer in nearby Apalachicola. Floyd and his young son Gabriel lived on the island, most likely at a point overlooking West Pass. The elder Floyd was serving as a collector of customs for the United States government as of 1860.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Despite its strategic view over the western route into Apalachicola Bay, St. Vincent Island played a relatively limited role in the Civil War. Several companies of the Fourth Florida Infantry commanded by Colonel Edward Hopkins occupied the island during the summer of 1861, but Governor John Milton ordered the island and all supplies and equipment removed later that year. The Confederates did build a small fort on the island, which they called Fort Mallory in honor of Stephen Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy. It was short-lived, however. When Union naval personnel from the East Gulf Blockade Squadron landed on St. Vincent in December 1861, they reported that the fort had been dismantled and deserted.

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861).

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861). Click the image to enlarge it.

As it turned out, the island was much more significant as a source of food than as a fortification. Robert Floyd died in 1860, but he had apparently maintained a large herd of sheep, cattle, and chickens on the island during his time there. One report suggested that over a thousand head of cattle inhabited the place. Owing to the wartime emergency, the land remained in legal limbo for the duration of the conflict, and citizens of Apalachicola helped themselves to the food animals roaming free on St. Vincent.

By the time the war had ended and things were getting back to normal, Gabriel Floyd had died, leaving the ownership of St. Vincent Island in turmoil yet again. George Hatch, a banker and former mayor of Cincinatti, purchased the island for $3,000 at public auction and lived there for a time. He died in 1875 and was buried on the island, making his the only marked grave on St. Vincent.

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Hatch’s family remained on St. Vincent Island for a number of years before selling it in 1890. Ownership passed in 1907 to Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce, a physician from Buffalo, New York. Pierce had made a fortune manufacturing patent medicines with names like “Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery” and “Dr. Pierce’s Pellets.” He also published a book entitled The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor in Plain English.

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Pierce decided to transform the island into a resort and hunting preserve. He constructed a number of cottages and buildings for his family and guests, and imported a variety of exotic wildlife, including the Sambur or India deer, Japanese deer, and Chinese antelope. He also maintained a number of food crops and a herd of cattle to supply his table. A thousand wild hogs and three to four hundred head of cattle were estimated to roam the island during the 1920s.

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Dr. Pierce died on St. Vincent Island in 1914, but his descendants continued to run the island for a number of years. During World War II, large portions of the island’s virgin yellow pine timber were cut and transported over a makeshift bridge to the mainland. The Pierce family also began leasing oystering rights to outside parties in order to make money. The family sold St. Vincent Island in 1948 to brothers Henry and Alfred Loomis, who sold it in 1968 to the Nature Conservancy. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service promptly designated St. Vincent Island as a National Wildlife Refuge, which it remains today.

An International Attraction

It takes about 18 hours and 7,600 miles to fly from Orlando to Beijing. That’s a long haul for most Floridians, but did you know that for ten short years you could go to China without leaving Florida?

Park in Shenzhen, China after which Splendid China in Florida was modeled (2011). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Park in Shenzhen, China after which Splendid China in Florida was modeled (2011). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Splendid China Florida was a tourist attraction in Citrus Ridge, located just southwest of Orlando near the meeting point of Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Polk counties. The park offered a miniaturized Forbidden City, dances, traditional acrobatics, and other demonstrations of Chinese culture. It was modeled after a park of the same name in Shenzhen, China, across the border from Hong Kong. The owners hoped to promote Chinese culture overseas and tourism to China itself.

Acrobats from Splendid China performing at the Florida Folk Festival (1999).

Acrobats from Splendid China performing at the Florida Folk Festival (1999).

Dragon dance performance at Splendid China theme park (1998).

Dragon dance performance at Splendid China theme park (1998).

Unfortunately, the park never took off. It could not compete with the bigger, flashier theme parks drawing tourists from around the world. The owners tried several strategies to capture a portion of Central Florida’s vast tourist market, but the effort ultimately failed.

After a decade of lackluster attendance, the attraction finally closed its doors in 2003. The structures and gardens remained standing for another ten years, although over time they began to take on the appearance of a Chinese ghost town in the middle of Florida. Skateboarders and thrill-seekers became the closed park’s most frequent visitors, along with photographers looking to document its unusual landscape. A quick Internet search will turn up hundreds of photographs of the crumbling Splendid China park, all poignant reminders of the life cycle experienced by so many of Florida’s tourist attractions over the years.

To learn more about the rise and fall of Splendid China, check out Wenxian Zhang’s 2006 article on the subject in the Florida Historical Quarterly. Also have a look at the State Library’s Tourism in Florida resource guide, which lists related books, journal articles, and digital collections.