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.

Signs of the Times

Signs are a critical part of driving. They tell us what road we’re on, how fast we can safely travel, what obstacles lie ahead, and how far we have left to the next major landmark. Road signage is especially important in a state like Florida, which hosts millions of tourists each year. After all, nothing ruins a vacation as quickly as getting lost, right?

As important as they are in the here and now, signs also have a history. Changes in road signage over time are in many ways reflections of changes in the broader history of the state.

Gateway and columns marking the Osceola County line (circa 1920s).

Gateway and columns marking the Osceola County line (circa 1920s).

When automobiles first came on the scene at the turn of the 20th century, there wasn’t much precedent for how the roads would be signed. Cities and towns often signed their local streets, but seldom were the roads outside of town well-marked, and numbered routes like we have today were almost entirely unheard of. Animal-powered carriages and carts had no speedometers, so there was no use in posting a speed limit. The general rule was to drive sensibly, and ask for directions if you lost your way.

Automobiles made it easier for folks to travel farther away from home. They also traveled faster, which made driving more hazardous, especially on curves and near intersections with other roads and railroads. Some local communities began posting signs to help visitors find their way more easily. Businesses often did the same, combining safety messages and directional information with advertising.

A sign near Leesburg giving directions to nearby towns (1913).

A sign near Leesburg giving directions to nearby towns (1913).

It was awfully nice of Goodrich Tires to post this sign near De Leon Springs warning motorists to slow down, but notice they did a little advertising at the same time (circa 1915).

It was awfully nice of Goodrich Tires to post this sign near De Leon Springs warning motorists to slow down, but notice they did a little advertising at the same time (circa 1915).

One of the key characteristics of road signs during this period was the lack of standardization. Public and private entities made signs using whatever colors, shapes, and materials they believed suited their purposes. The result was a bewildering array of road signs so thick motorists often had to slow down or stop completely to read them.

Advertising signage located close to the roadway near Eustis (1917).

Advertising signage located close to the roadway near Eustis (1917).

This somewhat complicated sign warned motorists of an approaching railroad crossing along the Dixie Highway (1924).

This somewhat complicated sign warned motorists of an approaching railroad crossing along the Dixie Highway (1924).

Apparently some speed limit signs even came with attendants, like this one located in Tallahassee (circa 1920).

An unusual speed limit sign in Tallahassee (circa 1920).

Florida wasn’t the only state having this problem, and it wasn’t long before highway officials across the country decided it was time for a solution. In November 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials met in Detroit and agreed upon a system of standardized highway signs to recommend to their respective states. Florida’s State Road Department chose to accept the suggested signage, and by the 1930s the signs along the state roadways were beginning to look more uniform. The Legislature also began restricting the number and placement of billboards to make things less confusing for motorists.

Standard road signs adopted by the State Road Department of Florida in the 1920s.

Standard road signs adopted by the State Road Department of Florida in the 1920s.

A State Road Department employee works on a batch of standardized railroad crossing signs at the Department's sign shop in Lake City (circa 1950s).

A State Road Department employee works on a batch of standardized railroad crossing signs at the Department’s sign shop in Lake City (circa 1950s).

A few additional changes have happened over the years. The signs marking U.S. highway routes, for example, were originally die-cut to be shaped like shields. These were later replaced by cheaper square signs with the U.S. shield and number printed on them.

In 1956, Florida implemented a system of color-coded U.S. highway signs to help motorists more easily follow their desired routes. The color-coded system was later discontinued because the colored signs faded faster and had to be replaced more often than the standard black and white ones.

A young girl stands in front of one of the old-style U.S. highway shields for U.S. 90 (1946).

A young girl stands in front of one of the old-style U.S. highway shields for U.S. 90 (1946).

Key from an official map published by the Florida State Road Department describing the color coding system for U.S. highways (1957).

Key from an official map published by the Florida State Road Department describing the color coding system for U.S. highways (1957).

Color-coded shield marking the end of U.S. Highway 1 in Key West (1986).

Color-coded shield marking the end of U.S. Highway 1 in Key West (1986).

As roads grew wider and speeds grew faster, it also became necessary to posts signs that would be highly visible from all travel lanes. This was especially important near exits and entrances on the freeways, so motorists could choose the correct lane well ahead of an intersection. As a result, signs became larger and many were placed overhead so they could be viewed more easily from the inner travel lanes.

Governor Farris Bryant (second from left) stands with a group of men in front of a large sign along a new section of Interstate 75 in Hamilton County (1964).

Governor Farris Bryant (second from left) stands with a group of men in front of a large sign along a new section of Interstate 75 in Hamilton County (1964).

Road signs are just one example of commonplace objects with a story to tell about Florida’s history. What other objects can you think of that have changed over the years? Start a conversation by leaving a comment below or sharing this post and your thoughts on Facebook!

Also, if you happen to live near Tallahassee or will be passing through sometime soon, stop by the State Library & Archives to have a look at our extensive map collection. Our holdings include a variety of local, county, and state highway maps dating back to the earliest years of the automobile age!

A State Treasure at Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wasn’t just an author from Florida. She lived Florida. Her stories are laden with imagery and themes that Floridians know as their own. From South Moon Under to Cross Creek to The Yearling, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939, Rawlings’ books continue to give readers the opportunity to experience Old Florida charm with the turn of every page.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home in Cross Creek (circa 1940s).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home in Cross Creek (circa 1940s).

Rawlings died in 1953, but she left far more than just her iconic writings as a legacy. She also left her home at Cross Creek, a tiny community packed into a small strip of land between Orange and Lochloosa lakes in southern Alachua County. The area had been settled since the 19th century, but few would have known how to find it until Rawlings’ fame put it on the map.

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation Map showing Cross Creek and vicinity (1990).

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation Map showing Cross Creek and vicinity (1990).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings purchased her Cross Creek home in 1928 and began renovating it in 1930. Historic preservation experts believe the house was originally built in the 1880s as a two-room cabin with a “dogtrot,” or a breezeway running through the house from front to back. Additional bedrooms were built in the 1890s, while a dining room and kitchen were added in the 1920s. The house was not electrified until Rawlings had been living in the house for ten years, and even then the source of power was a Delco generator installed in the nearby pump house.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home at Cross Creek (circa 1980s).

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home at Cross Creek (circa 1980s).

When Rawlings died, she left her home to the Florida Endowment Corporation, now known as the University of Florida Foundation. Since 1970 it has been managed by the Florida Park Service. Thousands of visitors come to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house each year to tour the grounds and learn about the life and career of this remarkable Floridian. The house became so popular in the years following the release of the movie Cross Creek in 1983 that state officials closed the site for a year while the foundation was strengthened to handle the added burden.

A barn on the Rawlings property at Cross Creek (1965).

A barn on the Rawlings property at Cross Creek (1965).

The Florida Photographic Collection contains numerous pictures of Rawlings, Cross Creek, and other places associated with her stories. Some of the rarest photos were taken by agents of MGM Studios in the 1940s as they searched around north and central Florida for settings to use in a film adaptation of The Yearling. This first attempt at turning the prize-winning book into a film faltered, partly due to the onset of World War II. MGM finally released the movie in 1947. Gregory Peck, Claude Jarman, and Jane Wyman starred, and the film won two Oscars for art direction and cinematography. It was nominated for five other Academy Awards.

Farm house scouted by MGM Studios as a possible filming site for a film adaptation of The Yearling (1940).

Farm house scouted by MGM Studios as a possible filming site for a film adaptation of The Yearling (1940). Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find more MGM photos.

On September 29, 1970 (45 years ago this week), the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home was added to the National Register of Historic Places. If you haven’t been to see it, you owe it to yourself to visit when you’re in the area next. Click here for more information from the Florida Park Service.

Until you’re ready to make the trip, of course, you can always search for photos of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek on Florida Memory!

Some Trees Have Knees

If someone asked you to name something that lives for centuries, can grow over a hundred feet tall, and can have dozens of knees, what would you say it was? It might sound like some hideous creature, but most Floridians would know it’s actually the majestic bald cypress.

A cypress swamp in Palmdale (1961).

A cypress swamp in Palmdale (1961).

The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a familiar sight near Florida’s many lakes, rivers, creeks, swamps, and springs. The trees generally take their time to grow, but that’s not really a problem for a cypress. They can live for hundreds of years. The Senator, a bald cypress that grew near Longwood in Seminole County until it was tragically burned in 2012, was estimated to be about 3,500 years old at the time of its death. (More on the Senator Tree here).

Tourists holding hands around the Senator Tree in Longwood (circa 1930).

Tourists holding hands around the Senator Tree in Longwood (circa 1930).

One of the bald cypress’ most unusual characteristics is its “knees.” The knees are conical growths protruding up from the root system that radiates out from the tree’s trunk. They often have a knobby, knee-like appearance at the top. Their function is unknown, although studies suggest they may help the cypress absorb oxygen and remain stable in loose wet soils.

Cypress trees and knees at Fisheating Creek in Glades County (circa 1980s).

Cypress trees and knees at Fisheating Creek in Glades County (circa 1980s).

Cypress root system, photographed in Collier County (1978).

Cypress root system, photographed in Collier County (1978).

Cypress wood has long been admired for its beautiful grain, durability, and the ease with which it can be shaped and cut for building purposes. In the early 20th century, logging companies bought up vast tracts of land and cut much of the bald cypress growing in Florida swamps. The hearts of these trees, some of which were likely approaching a millenium in age, were sawed into lumber and marketed as “tidewater cypress.” The cypress industry is still in business, although the supply of available trees has dwindled considerably. Many cypress stands are now part of publicly owned protected wetlands.

Men sitting on a particularly large cypress log transported by train to the Burton-Swartz Lumber Company mill in Perry (1926).

Men sitting on a particularly large cypress log transported by train to the Burton-Swartz Lumber Company mill in Perry (1926).

As for the knees, they too have been a prized commodity. Their distinctive shape, natural broad base, and easy carvability make them perfect for creating figurines, birdhouses, and other small knick-knacks. Tom Gaskins of Palmdale, Florida made a career out of carving and shaping cypress knees for sale. He developed a Cypress Kneeland museum in Palmdale, featuring a collection of carved, peeled, and otherwise altered knees, plus a catwalk zig-zagging through an actual cypress swamp.

Along the path, visitors could see some of Gaskins’ experimental methods for shaping the knees as they grew. At various times, he tried flattening the knees with weights and carving designs into them so that the wooden flesh of the knees would grow around the cuts. Gaskins passed away in 1998, and the Cypress Kneeland Museum closed in 2000.

Tom Gaskins, artist and owner of the Cypress Kneeland attraction in Palmdale (1987).

Tom Gaskins, artist and owner of the Cypress Kneeland attraction in Palmdale (1987).

One of Tom Gaskins' creations (1987).

One of Tom Gaskins’ creations (1987).

Cypress trees and their unusual knees are just one of the features that make Florida a unique environment and all the more interesting. Which of Florida’s distinctive characteristics is your favorite? Share this post on social media or leave a comment below and get the conversation started!

Cypress sentinels watch over Lake Eloise in Polk County at sunset (1980).

Cypress sentinels watch over Lake Eloise in Polk County at sunset (1980).

When Florida Touched the Mississippi

The calm, winding Perdido River currently serves as Florida’s western boundary, but that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Florida’s territory extended all the way to the Mississippi River!

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Florida’s First Steam-Powered Railway

On September 5, 1836, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad ran its first train from the Apalachicola River to St. Joseph. It took about 25 minutes to move the eight cars and 300 passengers along the eight-mile stretch of track. An enthusiastic crowd met the train at its destination, delighted in both the local and statewide implications of this short voyage. In addition to boosting the local economy, the Lake Wimico & St. Joseph Railroad had the honor of being the first steam-powered railroad to operate in Florida.

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Farming at Fellsmere

The town of Fellsmere is located just west of Sebastian off Interstate 95 in Indian River County. It was one of many small communities wrestled from the swampy plains of South Florida in the early 20th century to serve the growing number of farmers making their living in the region.
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