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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (1929-2015)

Dr. Robert B. Hayling, an African-American dentist who played an instrumental role in the fight for civil rights in St. Augustine, died Sunday, December 20, 2015. He was 86.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (standing) speaking at a meeting between civil rights leaders and Governor Haydon Burns. Seated in the front row (L to R) are B.J. Johnson representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Loucille Plummer of St. Augustine, and attorney John Due representing the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (photo 1965).

Dr. Robert B. Hayling (standing) speaking at a meeting between civil rights leaders and Governor Haydon Burns. Seated in the front row (L to R) are B.J. Johnson representing Dr. Martin Luther King, Loucille Plummer of St. Augustine, and attorney John Due representing the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (photo 1965).

Dr. Hayling grew up in Tallahassee, where his father taught at Florida A & M University. Hayling himself attended that institution, then joined the United States Air Force in 1951. After serving his tour of duty, Hayling enrolled in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee to study dentistry. The Nashville student sit-in movement was in full swing during his time at Meharry, and the backlash against it struck close to Hayling when the windows of his dormitory were shattered by a dynamite blast directed at the home of one of his teachers across the street.

In 1960, Hayling moved to St. Augustine to begin his practice. He immediately became involved in local civil rights activism, serving as adviser to the area’s NAACP Youth Council and a local leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. St. Augustine was at that time preparing to celebrate its 400th anniversary, and African-Americans were all but excluded from many of the formal proceedings. Dr. Hayling successfully urged federal officials to insist on an integrated celebration. When Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson arrived in St. Augustine to dedicate a restored building as part of the festivities, two tables at the banquet at the Ponce de Leon Hotel were reserved for African-American guests.

The reaction from segregationists was intense. Hayling and three of his companions were beaten at a Ku Klux Klan rally in September 1963, and the dentist’s home was fired into in February 1964, killing his dog and narrowly missing his pregnant wife.

As summer vacation approached in 1964, Dr. Hayling began inviting young African-American students from around the country to visit St. Augustine and participate in the effort to break the grip of Jim Crow over local stores, restaurants, and beaches. Many students took up Hayling’s invitation and helped put St. Augustine on the front pages of newspapers all over the United States through their activism. Hayling himself was arrested on June 29, 1964 for “contributing to the delinquency” of minors – students involved in the protests.

Confrontation between segregationists and integrationists at a whites-only beach in St. Augustine (1964).

Confrontation between segregationists and integrationists at a whites-only beach in St. Augustine (1964).

Excerpt from a police blotter recording Dr. Hayling's arrest on June 29, 1964 Located in Box 130, folder 8, Farris Bryant Correspondence (S 756), State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt from a police blotter recording Dr. Hayling’s arrest on June 29, 1964. Located in Box 130, folder 8, Farris Bryant Correspondence (S 756), State Archives of Florida.

Publicity for the events in St. Augustine that summer helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Dr. Hayling wasn’t finished. His involvement with civil rights activism had badly damaged his dental practice, but he moved to Cocoa Beach to continue his own career and help other civil rights activists find work. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s, where he practiced dentistry until his retirement.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2014 along with James Weldon Johnson and A. Philip Randolph. A bronze plaque testifying to Dr. Hayling’s contributions hangs in the lobby of the Capitol.

Leander Shaw, Jr. Dies at 85

Leander Shaw, Jr., the first African-American Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, died Monday, December 14, 2015 following an extended illness. Shaw’s legal career in Florida spanned over 40 years, including stints as a public defender, prosecutor, appeals court judge, and law professor in addition to his time on the state’s highest bench.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Justice Shaw was born in Salem, Virginia in 1930 and educated at West Virginia State College and Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his law degree in 1957 and moved to Tallahassee to accept a position as professor of law at Florida A&M University. Shaw took the Florida Bar exam in the old DuPont Plaza Hotel in Miami in 1960, but because of his race was not permitted to stay there. According to Florida Supreme Court officials, when Shaw was admitted to the Bar that year he became one of only about 25 black attorneys practicing in the state at the time.

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

Shaw moved to Jacksonville and began practicing as a private attorney. His office was located in the old Masonic Lodge at the corner of Broad and West Duval streets downtown. As a young African-American attorney practicing when Jim Crow was only just beginning to loosen its grip on Southern society, “Lawyer Shaw” found himself dispensing lots of pro bono advice. One of Shaw’s friends, Ray Barney, noted that Shaw was one of very few black attorneys available in Jacksonville at the time, yet he was always willing to help everyday members of the community understand the legal system and their rights. In 1990, Barney told Florida Magazine that Shaw “probably would have made a lot more money if he’d paid less attention to regular folks. But I always thought he was more like a pastor in a church than a lawyer.”

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

Shaw’s commitment to the public became more official when he was recruited as an assistant public defender for Duval County. In 1969 he became head of the Capital Crimes Division of the State Attorney’s staff and an adviser to the grand jury. In 1974, Governor Reubin Askew appointed Shaw to the Florida Industrial Relations Commission, where he served until Governor Bob Graham appointed him to the First District Court of Appeals in 1979.

Governor Graham appointed Leander Shaw as a Justice to the Florida Supreme Court in 1983, making him the second African-American to serve in that capacity. The first, Joseph Hatchett, had resigned his post a few years before to become a federal appeals court judge. Shaw served his term as Chief Justice from 1990 to 1992. He retired from the bench in 2003, but leaves behind a strong legacy of public service and dedication to the law.

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida's first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida’s first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

A Home for Higher Learning

It’s hard to imagine Tallahassee without Florida State University or Gainesville without the University of Florida, but how did they get there? Believe it or not, at one time these institutions existed only on paper, and could have been located anywhere in the state. Multiple towns competed for the honor of hosting them, and the Legislature had to make some tough decisions to choose homes for Florida’s first institutions of higher learning.

Florida’s elected representatives recognized the value of higher education early on, but failed to translate their enthusiasm into action during the territorial era. In 1823, the territorial council voted to set aside two townships’ worth of public land to raise money for a seminary of higher learning. In 1836, Governor Richard Keith Call appointed a 14-member board to plan for a University of Florida. Very little concrete action materialized from these efforts, however, and Florida became a state in 1845 still lacking a state college of any kind.

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Floridians lamented the state of their educational system. Georgia had had a public university since 1785, while the University of Alabama had been open since 1831. Meanwhile, Florida’s young men and women were obliged to travel outside the state to finish their training, or not receive it at all. In January 1851, the Legislature took action by establishing two seminaries for teacher training, one for each side of the Suwannee River. Beyond this one directive, the act was silent as to where the two schools should be located. The Legislature would have to make that choice once the options were clearer.

Several towns throughout the state took this as their cue to make it very clear why they should be chosen as the site for one of the new seminaries. Several of their petitions to the Legislature have survived and are now part of Record Series 2153 at the State Archives of Florida. In recommending themselves, the petitioners focused on the healthfulness and convenience of their location. Pensacola’s advocates, for example, argued their proximity to the Gulf and points west would attract students from neighboring Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and perhaps even the West Indies. Ocala’s petitioners pointed to their position near the geographic center of the peninsula and the number of stage roads in the area as reasons for the town’s worthiness.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries. Click the image to enlarge it.

The committees writing these petitions realized, however, that it would take more than a few beautiful descriptive phrases to sway the Legislature. To sweeten the deal, they included offers of land, buildings, and even cash to strengthen their case.

East of the Suwannee River, Ocala in Marion County and Newnansville in Alachua County were the main contenders for a seminary. The Ocala petitioners offered to give the state 16 town lots in Ocala valued at $5,000, plus $1,600 cash, as well as the buildings then being used by the East Florida Independent Institute. The Institute had been established in 1852 by a New Englander named Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury, who went by the name S.S. Burton in Florida. Newnansville did not yet possess anything like the East Florida Independent Institute had to offer, but in their petition the citizens of the town pledged $5,000 toward constructing new facilities. The Legislature ultimately selected Ocala as the site for the state seminary east of the Suwannee, which after a series of transformations and a relocation to Gainesville became the University of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 - Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 – Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click image to enlarge and view transcript.

West of the Suwannee, Pensacola and Tallahassee were locked into a similar competition. Pensacola’s citizens promised to provide whatever land was necessary to build a seminary, but Tallahassee went much farther. The mayor and city council pledged to donate $10,000 to the cause, made up partly of $7,000 worth of land and buildings already under construction, plus the remainder in cash. City officials also offered to grant the institution an annuity of $1,500. Citizens of nearby Quincy in Gadsden County chimed in with a similar offer of the buildings used by the Quincy Academy, but the petitioners did not commit any specific amount of cash to the project, let alone an annuity. The Legislature chose Tallahassee as the site for the state seminary west of the Suwannee, which ultimately became the Florida State College for Women and later the Florida State University.

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school's football team was taken in 1899.

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school’s football team was taken in 1899. The team members are sitting on the steps of College Hall, the seminary’s main building, which stood from its construction in 1891 to 1909, when it was replaced by Westcott Hall, which still stands today.

What state institutions are located near your Florida community? Do you know how long they’ve been around, or how they came to exist? The State Library & Archives is home to a wealth of information on this subject – search Florida Memory, the State Library Catalog, and the Archives Online Catalog to learn more.

What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.

Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member's signature is indicated by an

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member’s signature is indicated by an “X” mark. Even though the 99th USCT was a Union regiment, it was raised in Louisiana, where its members had enjoyed few if any opportunities for formal education. Box 4, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.

Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.

To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.

What’s a Bahia Honda?

The Florida Keys stretch for some 200 miles from Biscayne Bay near Miami to the Dry Tortugas. About 1,700 individual islands make up the archipelago. Looking on the bright side, that’s a lot of breathtaking Florida scenery to explore. On the other hand, that’s also an awful lot of islands to have to name and chart on a map!

Tough as it may have been to give each of the Florida Keys a unique and memorable name (and indeed there are still a few without names), explorers and locals have generally been up to the challenge over the years. Moreover, many of the names contain a little gem of history about the islands they’re identifying. Today’s blog explores a few of the more unusual place names in the Florida Keys, along with the history they represent.

First off, here’s a map showing the places we plan to discuss (click the map to enlarge it):

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation's official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of the Florida Department of Transportation’s official 2014 Florida Highway Map showing the Florida Keys, highlighting the four unique place names we discuss in this post. Click the map to enlarge it.

Plantation Key

The Florida Keys might not seem much like the place to have a plantation, but that’s exactly how this island got its name. Plantation Key is located between Tavernier and Islamorada. Spanish charts generally do not give it a name, but by the 18th century it appeared on some maps as Long Island. The “Plantation” appellation likely stems from its use for coconut and pineapple production in the late 19th century by Captain Benjamin Baker. Baker was widely known as “King of the Wreckers,” engaged as he was in the business of salvaging the cargoes of ships that had foundered on the Florida Straits. An 1871 account in Harper’s Monthly Magazine claimed Baker had realized a profit of seven thousand dollars from a single year’s crop of pineapples. Not a bad haul for a second job!

Two men wearing leis made from sponges - Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Two men wearing leis made from sponges – Plantation Key (circa 1910).

Bahia Honda

No, this place name has nothing to do with foreign automobiles. Bahia Honda (pronounced Bah-EE-ah OWN-dah in Spanish) is a key located just southwest of the Seven Mile Bridge and northeast of Big Pine Key. The name, which means “deep bay” in Spanish, has appeared on maps and nautical charts at least as far back as the late 16th century. When Henry Flagler began building his Over-the-Sea Railroad through the Keys in the 1900s, Bahia Honda became home to two large dormitory-style buildings for the crews building the Bahia Honda Bridge connecting the island with West Summerland Key.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Excerpt of a 1763 British map of Florida showing the Florida Keys, including Bahia Honda. Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Original Bahia Honda Bridge under construction (circa 1908).

Ramrod Key

Ramrod Key is located about 25 miles northeast of Key West between Summerland and Big Pine keys. Despite the name, the island is shaped nothing like a ramrod. Evidence pointing to the origin of this unusual name is a bit hazy, but local experts generally agree the name hails from a British ship called Ramrod that wrecked nearby in the early 19th century. The name was well enough known by the 1850s that it began appearing on government surveys. A post office operated at Ramrod Key from 1917 to 1951, whereupon mail service was transferred to neighboring Summerland Key.

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Ramrod Key Post Office (ca. 1950).

Lake Surprise

Lake Surprise is one of the first bodies of water crossed by the Overseas Highway after it leaves the Florida Mainland. As strange as it might seem, this is indeed a true lake contained entirely within Key Largo, and its discovery was truly a surprise, and not a pleasant one. The lake was unexpectedly encountered by the construction crews building Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway across Key Largo. The water had not appeared on preliminary surveys of the island, and it presented one of the earliest major obstacles for the project. When the crews attempted to fill in a causeway for the railroad rather than build a bridge, the fill material simply disappeared. Lake Surprise was eventually conquered, but only after 15 months of fill work.

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

Florida East Coast Railway engine #10 crossing Lake Surprise on a barge. The engine was used by railroad work crews during construction to transport workers, supplies, and building materials (1906).

These are, of course, only a sample of the many unusual names found throughout the Florida Keys, but hopefully it will inspire you to pull out a map and explore further. Who knows? You may get some ideas for a future Florida vacation!

Follow the Liter

Have you ever wondered why we buy gasoline by the gallon, but purchase soft drinks in liter bottles? Or why track runners often race for a number of meters, yet long jumpers measure their achievements by feet and inches?

The United States has been flirting with the idea of adopting the metric system of measurement since 1866, but even today we remain on the fence. We use the old English standard in some cases, and the metric system in others. When a push to “go metric” surfaced in the 1970s, Florida’s state leaders launched a major campaign to prepare the public for the big change. The movement to go metric fizzled after a while, but it produced some interesting documents at the time, and even today it affects how students are taught units of measurement in math and science classes.

Brochure from the Florida Department of Education designed to help students learn the metric system (circa 1980). Click to view the entire brochure (Box 3, Folder 35, Florida Metric Council Planning Files - Series 1811, State Archives of Florida).

Brochure from the Florida Department of Education designed to help students learn the metric system (circa 1980). Click to view the entire brochure (Box 3, Folder 35, Florida Metric Council Planning Files – Series 1811, State Archives of Florida).

It all started in 1975, when President Gerald Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act into law, establishing a national policy for the increased use of the metric system. Congress had authorized the change over a century before, but decades of custom and familiarity had kept most people using the old English standard system. Increasingly, however, other countries with which the U.S. was doing business were switching to metric. Even the United Kingdom, where the English system had originated, dropped the old measurements in favor of metric in 1965. Upon signing the Metric Conversion Act, President Ford noted that over 90 percent of the world’s people were using metric – this law would make it easier for Americans to stay competitive in science and global trade.

Page from the brochure shown in the previous image. Metric conversion advocates stressed the convenience of the system's reliance on units of 10.

Page from the brochure shown in the previous image. Metric conversion advocates stressed the convenience of the system’s reliance on units of 10.

In January 1976, Florida Commissioner of Education Ralph Turlington and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Connor presented a draft resolution to the Governor Reubin Askew and his Cabinet calling for a steering committee to study the problems and requirements of metric conversion. The Cabinet approved the resolution, and in October 1976 the Florida Metric Council held its first meeting. The Council was made up of representatives from Florida’s schools, farmers, consumers, engineers, manufacturers, and other groups that would be greatly affected by the change.

One of the most critical aspects of the Council’s work was to figure out how to educate both children and adults about the purpose of switching to the metric system and how to convert traditional measurements into metric units. Council members believed this was essential for obtaining public support for the move. With this aim in mind, the Florida Metric Council partnered with a variety of state agencies to develop guides for the public, which explained the rationale for metric conversion and provided tips for doing the necessary math in daily activities like shopping and cooking.

A brochure (circa 1980) developed by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service to help everyday Floridians understand how metric conversion would affect common activities like shopping and measuring materials around the house (Box 139, Folder 12, Koreshan Unity Papers - Collection N2009-3, State Archives of Florida).

A brochure (circa 1980) developed by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service to help everyday Floridians understand how metric conversion would affect common activities like shopping and measuring materials around the house (Box 139, Folder 12, Koreshan Unity Papers – Collection N2009-3, State Archives of Florida). Click to view the entire brochure.

Some folks believed metric conversion would solve a lot of problems. Since the metric system is based on units of 10, mathematical computations of distance, mass, and speed would be easier to compute. Manufacturers would also save time and money by using a single set of measurements to label packages and parts.

Others were more skeptical. Some people questioned the expense involved in a wholesale conversion to metric. Just replacing the speed limit signs, for example, was expected to cost somewhere around $200 million nationally. Others simply saw no reason for the United States to abandon a system that had been working so well for so long.

State Senator Dick Langley of Clermont argues against metric conversion, claiming that only drug dealers and communists would support the bill because drugs were sold in metric units and communist countries used the metric system. Senator George Kirkpatrick waves a small American flag over Langley's head (1984).

State Senator Dick Langley of Clermont argues against metric conversion, claiming that only drug dealers and communists would support the bill because drugs were sold in metric units and communist countries used the metric system. Senator George Kirkpatrick of Jacksonville waves a small American flag over Langley’s head (1984).

In Florida, as throughout the nation, mixed support for metric conversion led to mixed results. For example, Florida was the first state to require speed limits to be posted in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour on state highways. Those signs only lasted a year, however, before public disapproval led the Department of Transportation to scrap the program.

A more permanent legacy of the metric conversion debate is the way in which students are taught weights and measures in school. Even with the widespread preference for standard units of measurement like inches, pounds, and gallons, some aspects of life and work require knowledge of the metric system. This is especially true in the medical and scientific fields, where internationally-recognized standards are the norm. Florida teachers now prepare their students by teaching both systems of measurement, as well as the methods for converting from one to the other.

Which system of measurement do you use the most? Did you learn to use both systems when you were in school, or just one? Share your experiences by leaving us a comment on the blog below!

Rhea Chiles Dies at 84

Rhea Chiles, First Lady of Florida during the governorship of her late husband Lawton Chiles, has died at the age of 84. Before, during, and after her term as First Lady, Chiles demonstrated a profound commitment to bettering the lives of Floridians through her educational and cultural pursuits.

Rhea and Lawton Chiles walking during Chiles' campaign for the governorship of Florida (1990).

Rhea and Lawton Chiles walking during Chiles’ campaign for the governorship of Florida (1990).

One of Chiles’ most unique contributions was the idea for Florida House, a sort of showcase for the Sunshine State located in downtown Washington, DC. In the late 1960s, while the Chiles family was visiting Washington, one of Rhea and Lawton’s young children asked if the family could visit Florida’s embassy. The parents explained that only nations had embassies, not states, but Rhea became intrigued by the idea of having a state “embassy” in Washington.

Rhea Chiles at home in Lakeland (1971).

Rhea Chiles at home in Lakeland (1971).

Lawton Chiles was elected U.S. Senator for Florida in 1970, which offered Rhea the opportunity to turn her vision into a reality. During the Chiles’ first year in Washington, Rhea discovered a building at 200 East Capitol Street that was badly in need of repair, but was well positioned to become the “embassy” she had in mind for Florida. She set to work raising funds from friends back home, along with $5,000 of her own money, and soon the old building was given a new lease on life as Florida House. The building was dedicated in 1973, and continues to serve as a center for exhibiting Florida’s history, culture, and achievements.

Florida House in Washington, DC (circa 1970s).

Florida House in Washington, DC (circa 1970s).

As First Lady, Rhea Chiles turned her attention mainly to the welfare of Florida’s children. She and Governor Chiles were instrumental in establishing the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies, now a component of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. The Center focuses on maternal and child health research and education.

Mrs. Chiles also helped develop S.W.A.T. (Students Working Against Tobacco), a statewide network of youth-led anti-smoking organizations. The campaign is widely credited with reducing the number of teenage smokers in Florida, and has served as a model for similar programs around the United States.

Only months before Governor Lawton Chiles’ death in 1998, Rhea Chiles established a foundation in his memory, dedicating it to bettering the lives of Florida’s children by providing public awareness and support for children’s programs across the state. She also established a community cultural center called the Studio at Gulf and Pine, located on Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, where she resided at the time of her passing.

The Old General Store

Think back to the 19th century for a moment, a time before the Internet, big box stores, or even paved highways. Where did Floridians of that era get the goods they couldn’t produce at home? Even without our modern conveniences, families still managed to get their hands on books, manufactured cloth, metal goods, and countless other products that originated from far away. For most 19th and early 20th century Floridians, many of these goods came from a general store.

W.E. Daniels' General Store in Arcadia (circa 1890s)

W.E. Daniels’ General Store in Arcadia (circa 1890s)

The general store – sometimes called a dry goods store or emporium or some other name – had a little bit of everything. Foodstuffs like cheese, crackers, hardtack, wheat flour, rice, coffee, and sugar were available, as were household goods like pots and pans, lamps, nails, utensils, furniture, tools, and even stoves!

In some communities, if there wasn’t a separate feed store in business, the general store might also be the go-to place for farming supplies and equipment. Shovels and rakes, seed, almanacs, feed, rope, and any number of other useful essentials could be found lining the shelves.

It also wasn’t uncommon for other businesses to set up shop in a corner of the store or in a second-story office. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, post offices, and even banks made their homes in general store buildings. All this activity and commerce made general stores popular places for meeting, socializing, and conducting business of all kinds.

Advertisement for the firm of T.T. Harrison in Eureka, Florida - printed on page 83 of H.D. Bicaise, A Guide to the Land of Flowers (Charleston: Parry, Cook & Co., 1878). Copies of this and a number of other 19th century Florida guidebooks are available at the State Library of Florida.

Advertisement for the firm of T.T. Harrison in Eureka, Florida – printed on page 83 of H.D. Bicaise, A Guide to the Land of Flowers (Charleston: Parry, Cook & Co., 1878). Copies of this and a number of other 19th century Florida guidebooks are available at the State Library of Florida.

A few sample transactions from the ledger of a general store operated by the Orman family in Apalachicola. Purchases listed include brandy, country butter, beef, white beans, whiskey, matches, molasses, corn, bacon, soap, and pure white lead. These purchases were recorded on August 2, 1853 (Box 2, Orman Family Papers - Series 1844, State Archives of Florida).

A few sample transactions from the ledger of a general store operated by the Orman family in Apalachicola. Purchases listed include brandy, country butter, beef, white beans, whiskey, matches, molasses, corn, bacon, soap, and pure white lead. These purchases were recorded on August 2, 1853 (Box 2, Orman Family Papers – Series 1844, State Archives of Florida).

The shopping experience was often a bit different than the self-serve method we use today. The proprietor or his/her clerk generally waited on each customer, pulling the requested items one by one and marking them down in a ledger to calculate the price. Locals usually had a line of credit with the store, which they used to charge purchases until they could obtain the necessary cash to pay off their bill. In 19th century Florida, many families outside of town relied on selling surplus cotton, corn, hides, or other products to provide the cash they needed. Once they received the proceeds, they were able to settle their bill. Sometimes families sold or traded their farm products directly to the store as part of their method of payment.

Interior of the T.J. Beggs & Co. General Store in Madison (1900).

Interior of the T.J. Beggs & Co. General Store in Madison (1900).

For historians, the records from these general stores are invaluable for studying the lives of everyday families in 19th century Florida. By looking at what people were buying and selling, we can get a better idea of what the average household contained, what folks were eating, what kinds of medicines were popular, and so on. For genealogists, there’s always the chance of coming across purchases made by a relative, which can provide a unique perspective into that ancestor’s daily life. The State Archives holds ledgers and papers from several general stores around the state, and they are available for use in our research facility in Tallahassee.

Even today, the general store lives on in popular memory as one of the key institutions of the standard 19th century Florida town. A number of general stores survived into the 20th century, and a few have even made it into our own times. Others have been replicated as part of tourist attractions and museum displays.

John Henry Pittman and his wife at the counter of their general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

John Henry Pittman and his wife at the counter of their general store in Two Egg (circa 1970).

Bradley's Country Store on Centerville Road in Leon County. The structure was built in 1927, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 (photo circa 1990).

Bradley’s Country Store on Centerville Road in Leon County (still in operation). The structure was built in 1927, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 (photo circa 1990).

Is there a general store in your Florida community? If so, what are your favorite items to purchase when you’re visiting? Post a comment below, and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook so friends and family can join in the conversation.

Room and Board

During the 19th century, developers, railroad magnates, and other enterprising businessmen peppered Florida with hotels to house the state’s growing number of visitors. These establishments ranged from modest inns to palatial resorts built by the likes of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant. But where could you stay if you couldn’t afford a room in one of these hotels? Or, what if you were traveling for work and just needed a place to crash rather than to be entertained? The answer for many visitors was to stay in a boarding house.

A boarding house in Crescent City, Putnam County (circa 1870s).

A boarding house in Crescent City, Putnam County (circa 1870s).

Boarding houses were the go-to low-cost accommodations for locals and visitors traveling around Florida in the 1800s. They could be standalone businesses, or they might be combined with a post office, a general store, or some other business. Some Floridians even operated boarding houses out of extra rooms in their private homes.

North Miami Avenue in Miami (1896). The building second from the left contained a store owned by T.N. Gautier on the ground floor and a boarding house on the second floor run by Gautier's wife.

North Miami Avenue in Miami (1896). The building second from the left contained a store owned by T.N. Gautier on the ground floor and a boarding house on the second floor run by Gautier’s wife.

McCord family home in Tallahassee, circa 1910. The McCords took in boarders at this time.

McCord family home in Tallahassee, circa 1910. The McCords took in boarders at this time.

Boarding houses were advertised just as widely as hotels, but they had a few differences. The furnishings in the rooms were usually simpler, and there were generally fewer amenities and services. Proprietors often served meals family style, with boarders eating together at a single table rather than in their own private groups. That’s not to say the food was dull – far from it. While Florida’s boarding houses might not have been serving four-course meals with all the trimmings, guidebooks and advertisements reveal that the quality of the food was a critical component of a house’s reputation. Advertisements often referenced the house’s “excellent table,” or listed the fresh foods served daily.

Mrs. Crook's Boardinghouse in Winter Haven (1912).

Mrs. Crook’s Boardinghouse in Winter Haven (1912).

The trade-off for offering limited services, of course, was the lower price tag for a stay at the boarding house. At Fernandina in 1884, for example, a night at the Egmont Hotel cost $4, while a night at most of the town’s boarding houses was only $2. On top of that, many proprietors would cut boarders a deal if they committed to a week’s stay. A $2 difference may seem negligible today, but keep in mind we’re talking about 19th century dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that $2 jump in price for a night at the Egmont represents about a $50 price difference! No wonder so many folks were staying at Florida’s boarding houses when they traveled.

Advertisement for the Hernandez House in St. Augustine, printed on page 104 of H.D. Bicaise, A Guide to the Land of Flowers (Charleston: Parry, Cook & Co., 1878). A copy of this guidebook is available in the State Library's Florida Collection.

Advertisement for the Hernandez House in St. Augustine, printed on page 104 of H.D. Bicaise, A Guide to the Land of Flowers (Charleston: Parry, Cook & Co., 1878). A copy of this guidebook is available in the State Library’s Florida Collection.

Boarding houses remained popular into the 20th century, although new establishments eventually superseded them as the primary low-cost lodging options. Motels and campgrounds became especially popular with automobile owners, who were looking for cheap and convenient options along the roadways.

The Miller family of Toledo, Ohio at a tourist camp in Sarasota (1929).

The Miller family of Toledo, Ohio at a tourist camp in Sarasota (1929).

Do you know of any boarding houses that once existed in your community? When were they in operation? Get in the conversation by commenting below and sharing this post with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter.