The “Shocking” Ponce de Leon Hotel

Some things never change, including the American taste for gadgetry and new technology. Today, we fiddle with tablets and powerful cell phones. Barely more than 100 years ago, electricity itself was the bauble of the day. As in our own era, businessmen of yesteryear used the latest technology to attract new customers, especially in the tourist industry. Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine provides perhaps one of the most humorous examples of how people approach new innovations with a mixture of curiosity and uncertainty.

Ponce de Leon Hotel as seen from the nearby Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine (circa 1910s).

Ponce de Leon Hotel as seen from the nearby Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine (circa 1910s).

Flagler built the Ponce de Leon as part of a chain of hotels along his ever-growing Florida East Coast Railway, which was working its way down Florida’s Atlantic Coast. He hoped to induce the wealthy upper crust of northeastern tourists to come down and spend their winters in the mild splendor of the Sunshine State. To do this, the railway would have to be fast and efficient, and the hotels would have to be exquisite. Flagler commissioned New York architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings to design a veritable palace for his guests to enjoy. The architects sketched out a grand building in the Spanish Renaissance style, and construction began on the morning of December 1, 1885.

Dining room at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine (1891).

Dining room at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine (1891).

The site of the hotel was in itself an innovation. The area had been a marshy waste before Flagler’s engineers began preparing the ground for the foundation. Some observers feared the great Henry Flagler was bound to make a fool of himself by choosing such difficult terrain. Historian Sidney Walter Martin has written that someone once asked Flagler point-blank why he chose the relatively low-lying St. Augustine as the site for his grand palatial hotel. Flagler reputedly replied with a story. There had once been a good, loyal church member, Flagler said, who lived a very sober, pious life, until one day he decided to go off on a drunken spree, and he behaved very badly. When the man’s pastor questioned him about his behavior, he replied, ‘I’ve been giving all my days to the Lord hitherto, and now I’m taking one for myself.’ Flagler explained that in building the Ponce de Leon Hotel in such an unusually difficult location, he was doing much the same.

Parlor room at the Ponce de Leon Hotel (1891).

Parlor room at the Ponce de Leon Hotel (1891).

And once it was finished, who could blame him? The Ponce de Leon was truly a Spanish palace, with courts, nooks for reading and repose, tropical gardens, fountains, towers – everything necessary to impress even the most expensive and luxurious tastes. The hotel opened on January 10, 1888, with a total of 450 sleeping apartments of varying sizes and designs.

View of a fountain through an arch at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine (1930).

View of a fountain through an arch at the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine (1930).

Two innovations in the new hotel were of particular curiosity to Flagler’s first customers. Each room was equipped with steam heat, which to many seemed an odd fit for a Florida hotel. The system would not see a great deal of use, of course, but imagine the satisfaction of the guests on the days when it was needed! The other novelty was the presence of electrical lights in every room. Many of Flagler’s guests were not yet acquainted with the concept of having electrical lights in their personal space, let alone being the ones to operate the switches. At first the hotel was forced to hire extra staff to turn the lights off and on for its guests, because they were afraid of being shocked!

Interior view of the Ponce de Leon Hotel at St. Augustine (1959).

Interior view of the Ponce de Leon Hotel at St. Augustine (1959).

Over time, the mystique of electric-lit bedrooms faded, but the hotel itself continued to impress. The Ponce de Leon was one of the few great hotels of its kind to survive the Great Depression. During World War II, the grand building was used as a training center for the Coast Guard. In 1968, it became the center of the newly established Flagler College. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and it became a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2006.

What is your favorite place to visit on Florida’s Atlantic Coast? Fernandina? Miami Beach? Cape Canaveral? We’d like to know. Leave us a comment below or share your Atlantic Coast favorites on our Facebook page.

Postcard depicting Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel (circa 1960s).

Postcard depicting Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel (circa 1960s).

Sand Key Lighthouse

Lighthouses in the Florida Keys have a tough task to manage. The area is not only strewn with coral reefs and shoals, but is also a favorite highway for destructive hurricanes and other storms. The lighthouse at Sand Key, the southernmost lighthouse in the United States, has been in operation since 1827, and has borne witness to much of this action over the years.

Aerial view of Sand Key (1968).

Aerial view of Sand Key (1968).

Sand Key is little more than a wisp of sand peeking out above the waves in the Florida Straits. It is located about six nautical miles southwest of Key West, with an excellent view of major shipping lanes through the vicinity. Congress originally passed up Sand Key for a lighthouse station when it began appropriating money for new lights in the region. Acts in 1822 and 1824 funded lighthouses at Cape Florida, Carysford Reef, the Dry Tortugas, and one of the Sambo Keys, but nothing for Sand Key.

Naval authorities still favored a light here, and Congress finally appropriated $16,000 in 1826 for a brick lighthouse and buildings for a resident light keeper and supplies. The light was completed and lit the following year, with John and Rebecca Flaherty as the keepers.

Map of the Florida Keys, from a report by Louis Agassiz (1880).

Map of the Florida Keys, from a report by Louis Agassiz. Sand Key is shown just southwest of Key West at the bottom-left (1880).

The Flaherty family kept the Sand Key Lighthouse into the mid-1830s. John died in 1830, but Rebecca continued as the lighthouse keeper until she remarried and eventually moved back north.

Hurricanes did extensive damage to the island and the lighthouse in the 1830s and 1840s. In October 1846, one storm completely demolished the lighthouse and swept away much of the island itself. Six people, including two children, perished in the tempest.

Congress appropriated money in 1847 for a replacement lighthouse. Meanwhile, the 140-ton ship Honey was employed as a “lightship,” a floating beacon anchored near where the lighthouse would normally have been.

A steamer delivers newspapers to the crew aboard a lightship in the Gulf of Mexico. Notice the two lamps attached to the masts (1867).

A steamer delivers newspapers to the crew aboard a lightship in the Gulf of Mexico. Notice the two lamps attached to the masts (1867).

The new lighthouse was completed in 1853, and featured Florida’s first Fresnel lens. The lens had been displayed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York before it was shipped to Florida for installation. It was lit for the first time on July 20, 1853.

The new Sand Key lighthouse was much stronger than the traditional conical brick building it replaced. The shaft of the lighthouse was a cast-iron pile, supported by a frame of iron beams. Over 450 tons of iron went into its construction.

The post-1853 Sand Key Lighthouse (photo circa 1920s).

The post-1853 Sand Key Lighthouse (photo circa 1920s).

A series of hurricanes in the ensuing decades made every attempt to undo this new feat of engineering. In October 1865, a storm destroyed every building on the island except the lighthouse itself. In October 1870, a pair of hurricanes delivered enough damage to require $20,000 worth of repairs. Additional hurricanes struck the island directly in 1874, 1875, 1909, and 1910.

Sand Key’s exposure to the elements certainly made its keepers cautious, but there were also positive elements to life on the island. Key West was only a day’s sail away, and residents often came over to Sand Key to have picnics. Fishermen also stopped off to visit  and sell their wares.

Men having a picnic at Sand Key Lighthouse (1899).

Men having a picnic at Sand Key Lighthouse (1899).

Although the island was small and offered little shelter from the wind and rain, terns frequently chose Sand Key to lay their eggs. The lighthouse keepers and Key West residents considered these a tasty treat, and collected them often. Plume hunters also came to Sand Key to hunt egrets and herons for their feathers, which were in high demand as decorations for ladies’ hats. The American Orinthological Union attempted to stop these practices by hiring “bird wardens” to watch over the animals. Eventually, the birds took matters into their own hands and stopped visiting Sand Key altogether.

Sooty terns nesting on Bush Key in the Tortugas (1939).

Sooty terns nesting on Bush Key in the Tortugas (1939).

The Coast Guard acquired the lighthouse at Sand Key in 1939, and automated its lamp in 1941 using an acetylene gas system. A live-in keeper was no longer required. Instead, Coast Guard personnel traveled to the island a few times a year to refill the fuel tanks.

With no one keeping watch over the island, the lighthouse suffered a great deal of vandalism over the years. Parts of the old keeper’s quarters fell into disrepair. A major renovation effort in 1989 restored much of the old lighthouse’s former lustre, but in November of that year the project was almost fatally derailed when a fire damaged the structure. Nearly a decade was spent restoring the lighthouse, but it resumed service on August 11, 1999.

Sand Key Lighthouse during its period of inactivity (1993).

Sand Key Lighthouse during its period of inactivity (1993).

For more photos of Florida’s historic lighthouses, search the Florida Photographic Collection.

What lighthouses have you visited in Florida? Tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment below or sharing on Facebook!

 

The City of Destiny

If you’ve ever looked at a map of Charlotte County in print or online, you’ve probably noticed something a little unusual on the northeast bank of the Myakka River near Port Charlotte. State Road 776, which crosses the Myakka River at that location, appears to run right through a series of concentric hexagons, with a circle at the middle. At first glance, it might appear to simply be a creatively designed neighborhood development. When this area was first laid out in the 1920s, however, its developers had much bigger, even utopian visions in mind.

Map showing parts of Charlotte County, including the location of El Jobe-An, indicated with a purple arrow (2014).

Map showing parts of Charlotte County, including the location of El Jobe-An, indicated with a purple arrow (2014).

Map showing El Jobe-An and the surrounding area (1990).

Map showing El Jobe-An and the surrounding area (1990).

This is El Jobe-An, once billed as the “City of Destiny” by the Boston and Florida Realty Trust, a group of investors who planned to turn the land in between the forks of the Myakka into “a cosmopolitan world port city of the first rank.” This ambitious vision might seem a bit over the top, but you must keep in mind that this was the 1920s, the era of the Florida Boom. Too often we think of the land boom as being something that happened only around Miami and Palm Beach, when in reality Florida real estate was being sold and developed all over the entire state.

El Jobe-An’s founders were caught up in this wave of real estate enthusiasm. Joel Bean, trustee of the Boston and Florida Realty Trust, acquired the property in 1923 when it was foreclosed upon. The land had previously belonged to a turpentine operation, during which time it was called “Southland.” Bean named his new possession by rearranging the letters of his own name, so that JOEL BEAN became EL JOBE-AN. These days, most folks just spell it “El Jobean.”

Plan of the El Jobe-An community, included in a promotional pamphlet (crica 1923).

Plan of the El Jobe-An community, included in a promotional brochure (circa 1923).

Cover of a promotional brochure on El Jobe-An (circa 1923).

Cover of a promotional brochure on El Jobe-An, part of the Florida Collection at the State Library of Florida (circa 1923).

Southland had already been platted out as a town, but Bean had the old plat invalidated in favor of his new plan, which featured the unique series of interlocking hexagonal wards. There were six such wards in the original plan. Each had its own civic center bordering on a circular plaza surrounded by a 100-foot boulevard from which additional roads radiated, so as to connect the plaza with the rest of the ward and the neighboring wards. The lots fronting the civic center in the middle of each ward would be for business; the remaining lots would be for residential purposes.

Bean planned for both public and private buildings in the new community to be built as much as possible in the “attractive Spanish type of architecture.” This policy and Bean’s choice of name for the place demonstrate his desire to tap into the exoticism that pervaded many real estate developments during this period.

 

El Jobe-An’s investors rested their hopes on the community’s proximity to excellent South Florida farmland. An early promotional brochure noted that the territory between the Gulf Coast and Lake Okeechobee was some of the best in the nation for growing profitable food crops. Moreover, the land north of the planned community had been set aside for farming operations. El Jobe-An was located near the Tamiami Trail, the Seaboard Air Line railroad, and an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. The promoters were certain this was going to be the next major Florida port.

Developers looking out over the Myakka River, with plans in hand (from a promotional pamphlet, circa 1920s).

Developers looking out over the Myakka River, with plans in hand (from a promotional pamphlet, circa 1920s).

El Jobe-An never became Florida’s next great port, but it did become a busy community. El Jobe-An Farms produced bell peppers, lettuce, and celery, which were shipped north for distribution. A number of northerners purchased lots in the new community. Mrs. Elizabeth Adams, owner of the Adams chewing gum and chiclet empire, was perhaps the most famous among them. Bean also opened the El Jobe-An Hotel, which offered lodging to visitors considering buying a lot or just looking to escape the winter cold.

The decline of the Florida Boom and the arrival of the Great Depression put a damper on construction at El Jobe-An. Commercial fishing and farming became the primary sources of income, although the hotel did a little business now and then. When RKO Pictures began shooting the film Prestige (starring Ann Harding and Adolphe Menjou) nearby at Warm Mineral Springs, El Jobe-An and the hotel were so full of people the restaurant kitchens and fishing guides could barely keep up.

Joel Bean eventually retired from guiding his investment, and El Jobe-An grew into a more traditional Florida coastal community. A few relics of the original public buildings and fishing lodges appear to still be around, as photos surface from time to time online. The striking pattern of the street grid in El Jobe-An is perhaps the best reminder we have now of Joel Bean’s higher vision, yet another seldom-told story of Florida’s peculiar past.

The State Archives of Florida does not currently hold any photos of buildings or people at El Jobe-An. If you or someone you know has photos and would be interested in donating them to the Archives for preservation, we would be honored to use those images to help promote the study of Florida’s unique history. Contact us for details.

Raising Cane

Sugar is almost as ubiquitous in Florida history as it is in the American diet. For centuries, settlers have taken advantage of Florida’s favorable climate to grow sugar cane for home use or commercial profit.

Sugar cane has been cultivated in Asia since ancient times, but its use in the West was limited until about the 18th century. Honey was the sweetener of choice in Europe before that time. When Europeans began colonizing the Americas during the Age of Discovery, sugar cane was one of the plants they brought to cultivate.

Sugar cane workers collecting sugar cane in a field located near Clewiston (circa 1980s).

Sugar cane workers collecting sugar cane in a field located near Clewiston (circa 1980s).

Florida’s first major sugar cane operations arrived while the British had possession of the territory in the 1700s. Florida’s new owners were optimistic about the possibilities for building great profitable plantations along the St. Johns River, and colonial authorities handed out large grants of land to British subjects willing to try their hand at planting.

Denys Rolle and Dr. Andrew Turnbull were among the British planters who attempted to grow sugar cane on their Florida estates. Remains of Turnbull’s operation at New Smyrna are still visible today.

Remains of a warehouse at Andrew Turnbull's plantation at New Smyrna Beach (1953).

Remains of a warehouse at Andrew Turnbull’s plantation at New Smyrna Beach (1953).

The United States took possession of Florida in 1821. As planters from Virginia and the Carolinas began moving into North Florida, they were anxious to cultivate new and profitable crops that would solidify their fortunes and those of the new territory. Settlers such as future Florida Governor Thomas Brown, William Wirt, William Nuttall, John and Robert Gamble, and William Bailey invested large sums of money in the equipment necessary to grow cane plants and extract the sugar.

Cane-grinding machine powered by a mule. The mule walked around in a circle, activating a pair of rollers. The cane stalks would be fed into the rollers, where it would be crushed and purged out the other side. The juice contained in the stalks was collected and diverted into a vat or barrel (photo circa 1890s).

Cane-grinding machine powered by a mule. The mule walked around in a circle, activating a pair of rollers. The cane stalks would be fed into the rollers, where it would be crushed and purged out the other side. The juice contained in the stalks was collected and diverted into a vat or barrel (photo circa 1890s).

Their enthusiasm notwithstanding, these early cane growers faced a major problem. The longer sugar cane stays in the ground, the better the sugar it produces. The plant is, however, highly susceptible to freezing. When sugar cane freezes, its ability to produce crystallized sugar is diminished. North Florida cane growers consequently faced something of a guessing game when deciding the right time to harvest their sugar crops. Over time, the risks associated with growing cane became too great for most planters to invest much money in the venture. Many plantations continued to produce smaller amounts of sugar cane for home and local use, but large-scale cultivation of sugar cane was for the most part abandoned by 1840.

Watercolor by James Calvert Smith of cane grinding process (date unknown).

Watercolor by James Calvert Smith of cane grinding process (date unknown).

Although sugar cane failed as a major cash crop in the 19th century, its presence in Florida pioneer culture at that time was constant and critical. Even if a freeze were to stunt the growth of a cane crop, the plants could still be processed to extract the cane juice, which could then be made into molasses, rum, or cane syrup. These products became staples in the average Florida household.

The act of cutting the cane and extracting the juice was in itself a vital part of local culture, especially in sparsely populated areas. These tasks required a great deal of labor, best accomplished by a community effort. Consequently, many families would hold “cane grindings,” which combined the work of cane processing with the excitement of a communal celebration. The cane would be stripped and fed into a simple machine that crushed it, squeezing out the juice, which was channeled into a waiting vat or barrel. The juice would then be boiled into the various sugar products. There was usually a large meal involved, and sometimes singing and dancing. In a time when homesteads were typically miles apart, this was one of the best ways to get families (expecially the young people) together for a good time. There’s no way to know how many Florida marriages began with a simple “How do you do” at an old-fashioned cane grinding.

Group gathered for a cane grinding at the home of William J. Owens of Columbia County (circa 1890s).

Group gathered for a cane grinding at the home of William J. Owens of Columbia County (circa 1890s).

Sugar cane began to come back into the picture as a commercial enterprise around the turn of the twentieth century. As settlers ventured farther south along the Florida peninsula, they finally encountered areas that either rarely or never suffered from frost. These conditions would best serve large-scale sugar cane production. Developers prepared the terrain for cultivation by diverting rivers and draining large tracts of land, including parts of the Everglades. By the 1920s, the sugar industry was up and running in earnest. The industry received a boost in the 1960s when the federal government banned the importation of Cuban sugar, which had previously been a significant source of the product for the U.S. Today, sugar cane is a multi-billion dollar industry in Florida, producing about 2 million tons of raw sugar annually.

Sugar cane processing plant near Clewiston (circa 1980s).

Sugar cane processing plant near Clewiston (circa 1980s).

Have you ever been to a cane grinding? Do you remember sugar cane growing somewhere near where you grew up? Tell us about it on Facebook or in the comments section below. Also, search the Florida Photographic Collection to find more photos of sugar cane production.

Lanark-by-the-Sea

If you’re looking for a scenic route to get you through the Florida Panhandle, there’s no substitute for U.S. Highway 98, which follows the Gulf coast all the way from Pensacola to Perry. You’re probably familiar with some of the larger waypoints along this road – Panama City, Destin, Apalachicola. The smaller communities, however, have a charm all their own, and a rich history in most cases. This is in part because many of these smaller communities weren’t always so small. Lanark Village in Franklin County is a prime example.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida's Gulf coast.

1950s-era highway map showing Lanark and vicinity on Florida’s Gulf coast.

In the 1880s, most of the Panhandle was still forested with virgin timber. The population was small, and most inhabitants had only small farms. The South was beginning to emerge from the economic malaise that followed the Civil War, and investors were beginning to take interest in Florida’s plentiful land and agreeable climate. William Clark, a Scotsman who had made his fortune in the textile industry, partnered with several of his colleagues in Scotland and New York to begin developing the area just east of the Apalachicola River. The Clark Syndicate, as it came to be called, eventually controlled a whole constellation of companies, including the Scottish Land & Improvement Company, the Georgia & Florida Investment Company, the Gulf Terminal & Navigation Company, and the Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Company.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Map of Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad showing the proposed route of the road and lucrative timber resources along the route. This map was used to sell company bonds to investors (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Gulf Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

These projects were cleverly integrated. The railroad company captivated the interests of prospective bondholders by pointing out all the timber the company would have access to once it had penetrated south from Tallahassee to the Gulf. As the railroad progressed, the syndicate built stations and laid out communities along the way, so that workers could begin tapping the natural resources of the area to repay the bondholders and turn a profit. Arran, McIntyre, and Sopchoppy were founded in this way.

The railroad executives had special plans for the Gulf. Just east of Carrabelle, where the Carrabelle, Tallahassee, and Georgia line passed quite close to the coast, the company laid out a town and named it after William Clark’s home county of Lanarkshire. The original plan called for a street grid with 118 city blocks. The streets running north and south were named for various trees, while the avenues running east and west were named for board members of the Clark Syndicate. One broad street entering town from the north was to be called Bloxham Road, a nod to Governor William D. Bloxham.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Plan of Lanark-by-the-Sea (1894). Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad Collection (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

The Clark Syndicate planned to advertise Lanark-by-the-Sea as a healthful and luxurious Florida resort, and sell town lots to wealthy Northerners who craved a little rest from the crowded cities and chilly weather. To get them to stick around for a bit while they fell in love with the place, the Scottish Land & Improvement Company built a fine hotel at the center of town. The establishment opened July 4, 1894. Water was drawn from nearby Lanark Spring into a 20,000 gallon water tank, where it could be used for the hotel, nearby town lot owners, or for fire protection. The coastline around Lanark doesn’t normally lend itself to white sandy beaches, but the developers were undaunted. According to one of the company’s annual reports, workers managed to fill in a section of shoreline with sand and invent a beach for guests to enjoy. The hotel also featured a wide veranda with rocking chairs, and a 500-foot boardwalk connecting the main building with a dancing pavilion near Lanark Spring. Parts of the spring were covered with a bath house, including private dressing rooms for men and women.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.

Newspaper ad for the Lanark Inn, date unknown. Carrabelle, Tallahassee & Georgia Railroad (N2002-5), Box 1, FF11, State Archives of Florida.


Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

Front view of the Lanark Inn, Franklin County (1898).

The Lanark Inn, as it was called, became a popular getaway spot, not only for tourists, but also for wealthier locals from nearby Tallahassee. The railroad company offered special excursion ticket prices to entice visitors. In 1896, company executives reported offering $1.00 tickets from any point on the railroad to Lanark each Sunday during the summer. In addition, the steamer “Crescent City” brought more guests over from nearby Apalachicola.

The hotel was the center of the community. After the train arrived each day, it was common for all of the cottage owners from around town to gather in the lobby to chat and receive their mail. Saturday nights were spent dancing in the hotel ballroom, and bridge games were popular during the day. The dock that extended out over the Gulf in front of the main building was a popular place to gather after supper for swimming, dancing, and reminiscing.

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Florida Railway and Navigation Company Engine #15 at the Lanark Hotel (circa 1890s).

Over time, the fortunes of the Clark Syndicate began to decline. By 1926, a hard-surface highway between Tallahassee and Carrabelle was complete, which rendered the passenger railroad increasingly unnecessary. Timber was getting more scarce, and the Clark companies eventually began selling off parts of their former North Florida empire. The hotel suffered severe damage during a hurricane in 1929, and a fire destroyed the old hotel in the 1930s. It was rebuilt, but like most sequels, it never recaptured the vibrancy of the original.

Lanark was changing, but it had glory days yet to come. During World War II, the new hotel building served as the headquarters for a training base called Camp Gordon Johnston. Entire divisions of soldiers were trained in amphibious warfare techniques on the beaches here, including the use of amphibious vehicles. A number of the soldiers who trained here participated in the D-Day invasion of 1944.

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers training on the beach at camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

After the war, the camp buildings fell into disrepair, but developers began planning for an entirely new settlement at Lanark. In 1955, Lanark Estates, Inc. filed a plat laying out a new subdivision where the Lanark Inn had once been a social center. The new community was called Lanark Village, and it is still visible today as you drive through on U.S. 98.

Florida is covered with small communities having stories like that of Lanark-by-the-Sea. The State Library and Archives of Florida have a wide variety of print and manuscript materials to help you uncover these gems of local history. Visit info.florida.gov to learn more about our resources!

Camp Murphy

Imagine it’s 1943, in the midst of World War II, and you’ve stopped in at a lunch counter in Stuart, Florida. In making small talk with the uniformed soldier sitting next to you, you learn that he’s stationed at nearby Camp Murphy. You ask what he’s training for, and he shrugs and nonchalantly replies that he’s in radio school.

As the old adage goes, that’s what they all say. In reality, Camp Murphy was home to a secret radar training program established by the 801st Signal Training Regiment of the U.S. Army. The Army Signal Corps had been experimenting with radar since the 1930s at its school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. With a war underway, however, the need for trained radar technicians was growing rapidly, so the Corps decided to open up a new location someplace with better year-round weather.

Aerial view of Camp Murphy (1942).

Aerial view of Camp Murphy (1942).

The Martin County site the Corps selected was perfect for the task at hand. The camp was constructed on a tract of about 8,000 acres located between U.S. Highway 1 and the Florida East Coast Railway near Hobe Sound. The dense forest covering much of the land was ideal for concealing the operation. As new buildings were constructed, the builders painted them a dull green to help them blend in with their surroundings. Roads criss-crossed the property, but in a haphazard pattern rather than in a grid. No trees were cut unless it was absolutely necessary. The idea was to camofluage the installation as well as possible.

The camp was named for U.S. Army Colonel William Herbert Muprhy, a pioneer researcher in the radar field whose aircraft had been shot down over Indonesia by the Japanese. Construction began in March 1942 and was far enough along for the camp to open in less than three months’ time.

A classroom building once used at Camp Murphy (1957).

A classroom building once used at Camp Murphy (1957).

Once complete, Camp Murphy was almost a city unto its own. It had a railway station, post office, cinema, library, and bowling alley, in addition to the usual accouterments of an Army training base. Although the soldiers training at the camp traveled often to nearby Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound, and Stuart, they were sworn to keep the true purpose of the base secret. This was also the case for the numerous local civilians who worked on the base as nurses, secretaries, carpenters, and general laborers.

The average training course at Camp Murphy required about five months to complete. Classes on radio and radar operation were interspersed with target practice and combat training, aided by the dense vegetation covering the property.

By the end of 1944, the camp had served its purpose, and the Army Signal Corps chose to close up shop. Most of the camp’s equipment was shipped up to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, or to Camp Crowder in Missouri. The buildings and property became surplus, subject to disposition by the U.S. War Assets Administration.

Kitching Creek at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, once home to Camp Murphy (1958).

Kitching Creek at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, once home to Camp Murphy (1958).

After the war, several possible uses were proposed for the camp. In 1946, state officials contemplated using the base as a new tuberculosis sanatorium. The idea was eventually withdrawn, on account of Camp Murphy’s isolation and the difficulty of getting personnel and supplies to the area. Senator George Smathers offered the installation as a candidate when the Air Force began looking for a new location for an academy. Although Senator Smathers did his best to sell Camp Murphy and its seasonable climate, this plan also fell through.

Ultimately, Camp Murphy ended up becoming a state park in 1950. It was called Jonathan Dickinson State Park, named after a man who was shipwrecked in the area in 1696 with his family. Native Americans discovered the family and other survivors, but permitted them to travel north to their home in Pennsylvania.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park (1960).

Jonathan Dickinson State Park (1960).

Florida made many contributions to the war effort during World War II. Learn more in our World War II unit in the Online Classroom.

Calling Cape Canaveral

Telecommunications is a serious field of business, but in Florida there’s always a little room for good humor. In the late 1990s, the 407 area code used in the Orlando region was quickly running out of new numbers to serve the area’s growing population.

The Florida Public Service Commission began holding hearings to solicit public input on solutions to the problem. Self-described telecommunications hobbyist and space enthusiast Robert Osband knew exactly what the solution ought to be.

At the time, the area served by area code 407 included Brevard County, home of Cape Canaveral and the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Osband searched a list of unused area codes and discovered that 3-2-1 was not in use at the time. What better an area code for Brevard County, he thought, than a number suggestive of a rocket launch?

The space shuttle lifts off from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island (circa 1980s).

The space shuttle lifts off from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island (circa 1980s).

Osband attended one of the Florida Public Service Commission’s hearings at Orlando City Hall and pleaded his case. The commissioners were receptive to the idea, and requested permission from the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) to use area code 321. NANPA, the agency in charge of assigning codes, had originally placed the unused 321 code in a category of “relief codes” not eligible for use, but ultimately allowed the change.

Area code map created by the Florida Public Service Commission (2014).

Area code map created by the Florida Public Service Commission (2014).

On November 1, 1999, Governor Jeb Bush placed the first official call into the new 321 area code territory. He made the call from the Florida Public Service Commission’s hearing room to the teleconference room of the Kennedy Space Center. Robert Osband was present at the Canaveral end of the call, and was congratulated for his clever idea.

Brevard County received a memorable area code, and Osband got a little something out of the deal as well. Before the work was even complete on changing over to the new area code, he requested a new number for his cell phone, 407-543-8633. Why this number, you ask? Just look at the keypad on your phone. Once the new area code was in place, Osband’s cell number became 321-LIFTOFF!

Want to learn more about Brevard County and the Space Coast? Check out our learning unit on NASA and the Space Program, or search for relevant photos in the Florida Photographic Collection.

What’s In a Name?

About 200 yards below where the Withlacoochee River empties into the Suwanee lies the remains of the small town of Ellaville. This was once a thriving sawmill and manufacturing center owned by George Franklin Drew, Florida’s governor from 1877 to 1881. Very little evidence of the Drew home or the sawmill remains, but the place is still significant for another reason. Three bridges cross the Suwanee River within sight of one another at this point. One carries the railroad, one carries U.S. 90, and one lies defunct, open only to foot traffic. This bridge, the Hillman Bridge, has perhaps the most interesting story of the three, because of the minor brouhaha that broke out over its name when it was first built in 1926.

Hillman Bridge over the Suwannee River at Ellaville (1927).

Hillman Bridge over the Suwanee River at Ellaville (1927).

The bridge was constructed during one of Florida’s biggest highway construction booms. By the 1920s, the concept of state-sponsored highway systems had caught on fully, and roads were snaking their way through every part of the region. The Old Spanish Trail, which roughly corresponded with the route of U.S. Highway 90 through North Florida, was quickly becoming a major east-west corridor. Road construction begets bridge construction, hence the need for a new bridge at the point where the Old Spanish Trail/U.S. 90 crossed the Suwanee between Madison and Suwanee counties.

During construction, the bridge was known as the “Hillman Bridge,” after Captain W.J. Hillman of Live Oak, a member of the State Road Department who had helped push for the appropriation to build the structure. A few months before the bridge was opened to the public, however, the State Chamber of Commerce took issue with the idea of naming it after Hillman permanently. Chamber officials argued that the state ought to take advantage of the Suwanee River’s power as a popular symbol of Florida and name the bridge either after the river itself, or after Stephen Foster. Foster, of course, had immortalized the Suwanee in his song “Old Folks at Home.” Naming the bridge for Hillman or Ellaville, the Chamber argued, would be about as distinctive to the average tourist as if the state named it “Bridge #1313.”

A group of motorists in Live Oak. Captain W.J. Hillman is in the white Cadillac at right (circa 1920s).

A group of motorists in Live Oak. Captain W.J. Hillman is in the white Cadillac at right (circa 1920s).

The Chamber’s concerns opened up a statewide press discussion of the subject. Some took the Chamber’s side, agreeing that Florida would benefit from making use of the Suwanee’s name recognition qualities. The Evening Independent played devil’s advocate, noting that another newspaper had spelled “Suwanee” two different ways in the same article. If the press could misspell it, the editor argued, so could tourists, and that might be counterproductive. Another group suggested the inscription over the bridge ought to pertain somehow to the supposed translation of the name “Suwanee,” which was believed to be “Water Beloved of the Sun God.”

The Hillman Bridge just over a year after it was completed. The swollen waters of the Suwanee River rush past below (1928).

The Hillman Bridge just over a year after it was completed. The swollen waters of the Suwanee River rush past below (1928).

When the bridge was officially dedicated in 1927, the Hillman name stuck. For added name recognition, the State Road Department prominently displayed a sign alerting motorists they were crossing the Suwanee River. The finished product came out to about 910 feet in length, constructed by R.H.H. Blackwell Company of East Aurora, New York at a cost of about $150,000. The bridge was abandoned in 1983 when a truck carrying an overheight load drove across the bridge and caught on one of the steel crossbeams, tearing it loose from the structure. The old span was already on the list for replacement, and the Florida Department of Transportation moved ahead with their plans. The new bridge opened in 1986.

Hillman Bridge, still open to foot and bike traffic (2014).

Hillman Bridge, still open to foot and bike traffic (2014).

Today, the bridge still stands, although it is restricted to foot and bike traffic only. The Florida Department of Transportation deeded it to the Florida Department of Natural Resources in 1986 after the new span opened. It remains one of the best extant examples of a Pratt metal-truss bridge in Florida.

The State Library and Archives of Florida hold a variety of records pertaining to the Florida Department of Transportation and the old State Road Department. Search our catalogs for more information!

Why We Treasure the Treasure Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A serene sunrise at Sebastian Inlet (circa 1937).

A serene sunrise at Sebastian Inlet (circa 1937).

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

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

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

Dunlawton Sugar Plantation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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