Have You Seen This #Selfie?

We spotted this photo from our collection in the opening credits of the TV show Selfie.

Sada Roffe posing with Kodak camera

The image of Sada Roffe posing with a Kodak camera was taken in Tallahassee, Florida, ca. 1900 by photographer Alvan S. Harper. A professional photographer, Harper lived and worked in Tallahassee from 1884 until his death in 1911.

Selfie was cancelled, but don’t feel bad for Alvan Harper. His photographs have appeared in many publications over the years and helped to define how Americans view our past.

The Kentucky Club in Lewis Park, Tallahassee, Florida

This group of local actors in a park Tallahassee, Florida was featured in the in the first book of the Time-Life series, This Fabulous Century. Notice the levitating hat?

Although largely unidentified today, Harper’s photographs of the teachers, business owners and leaders of Tallahassee’s vibrant African-American community are important records of this era.

Young woman wearing fancy hat

 

Man in a satin-faced coat, holding a cane

 

Harper’s photographs also captured the trendy new Penny-Farthing bicycles.

Three young men with Penny-Farthing bicycles

Check out the rest of the Alvan S. Harper Collection on Florida Memory!

 

Daytona Beach and the Earliest Days of Aviation in Florida

Daytona Beach is perfect for sunbathing and swimming, but there’s no telling how many visitors have spent a day there without realizing they were enjoying themselves on one of Florida’s very first runways. Auto racing was already a popular sport at Daytona by the time the Wright brothers made their first successful flight in 1903. The hard sand surface of the upper beach was a perfect natural track for the light, speedy cars being developed by racing enthusiasts. Airplanes were an easy addition to the mix of experimental machines, since the motors in the earliest planes incorporated much of the same technology as automobiles. The result was an age when Daytona Beach served not only as one of the nation’s first racetracks, but also a natural airport.

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

An early bi-plane on Daytona Beach, built by Carl Bates (1909).

As enthusiasm for aviation spread quickly in the 1900s, more and more pilots and their experimental flying machines began appearing on the sand at Daytona. In 1906, New York aviator Israel Ludlow arrived at the auto races in Daytona and Ormond beaches to execute a test flight with a glider contraption he had designed. Charles K. Hamilton, who would go on to become the twelfth person to earn an American pilot’s license, flew the device. Hamilton gripped a tow rope tied to an automobile that pulled his aircraft along the beach by driving quickly across the sand. Once Hamilton left the ground, he released the tow rope and glided, shifting his body weight left and right to steer. The glider flew for about 150 feet before one of the wing ribs broke, sending it crashing to the ground. The glider was seriously damaged, but Hamilton survived.

Preparing for Florida's first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida's Atlantic coast (1906).

Preparing for Florida’s first glider flight at Ormond Beach near Daytona. Charles Hamilton would soon fly this glider into the air over Florida’s Atlantic coast (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Charles K. Hamilton flying a glider designed and constructed by Israel Ludlow of New York over Ormond and Daytona beaches (1906).

Daytona became a popular testing site for all kinds of aviation innovations. In 1910, Edward Andrews of Chicago flew the first twin-engine plane ever built from Daytona Beach. It flew for about 100 feet at an altitude of only 6 feet before breaking apart. Interestingly, Andrews later decided to temporarily buck the flight mechanization trend and develop a gliding apparatus worn on the arms. In 1911, he attached wings of wood and cloth to his arms and shoulders and had a car pull him along the beach until he took flight. The voyage was successful, but afterward Andrews had this to say:

“I have found this to be dangerous. A machine, which if free would be perfectly safe, is made as erratic as a child’s kite by the attachment of a rope. I, for one, shall seek other means of getting into the air.”

 

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

Edwin F. Andrews is towed behind a car on Daytona Beach while wearing his gliding apparatus (1911).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago - Daytona Beach (1910).

First twin-engine airplane, designed by Edwin Andrews of Chicago – Daytona Beach (1910).

The daring and edgy spirit of Daytona attracted a large number of aviation exhibitionists. John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed pilot, pioneer aviatrix Ruth Law, and future million-mile commercial pilot Ervie Ballough were all among the throng of eager aviators who flew up and down the sandy coast in the 1910s and 1920s.

Over time, the number of planes and people visiting Daytona Beach necessitated regulations to ensure public safety. At first, Daytona’s city government determined the best method was to restrict landings and take-offs to the beach and keep them away from town. Once airstrips appeared at Bethune Point and farther inland in the 1920s, the beach was no longer deemed the safest place for these activities. In the 1930s, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of the beach as an airstrip.

John McCurdy, Canada's first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

John McCurdy, Canada’s first licensed airplane pilot, with his aircraft at Daytona Beach (1911).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Ruth Law lands her plane on Daytona Beach (1915).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Burgess-Wright biplane flying over Daytona Beach. The pilot, Phillips Ward Page of Massachusetts, was hired to fly guests of the Clarendon Hotel over the beach as a novelty (1912).

Daytona was one of the most popular spots for early aviation experiments in Florida, but there were certainly others. Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more images depicting early aviation in the Sunshine State!

Flagler’s Royal Poinciana Hotel

Henry Flagler opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach on February 11, 1894 with only 17 guests. The paint was fresh, and the electric lighting was so new it was advertised as a unique amenity. Flagler had built this palace as a winter playground for America’s richest travelers, planting it right off the main line of his Florida East Coast Railway. If they so chose, his guests could conduct their private railway cars right up to the hotel’s entrance.

Royal Poinciana Hotel - Palm Beach (circa 1900).

Royal Poinciana Hotel – Palm Beach (circa 1900).

The 17 original guests must have had a good time, because Flagler expanded the hotel almost immediately after it was opened, increasing its capacity to 1,000 guests. The size of the structure was immense; the Royal Poinciana had over 3 miles of hallways. With the telephone still a rare luxury, hotel employees were obliged to carry messages between guest rooms and the front desk by bicycle. At one point the hotel was reputed to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Porch of the Royal Poinciana (circa 1920s).

Flagler spared little if any expense entertaining his wealthy patrons. Guests could play golf, swim in the pool, or listen to the orchestra, which played every day in the hotel pavilion. Guides took those inclined to fish out into the Atlantic, sometimes bringing in dozens of mackerel in a single day’s catch.

Just in case some of the guests found all of this luxury a bit monotonous, the hotel staff occasionally planned special events. In one instance, pictured below, a parade of decorated boats was floated past the hotel for the amusement of its patrons.

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

A floating parade of decorated boats in front of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Palm Beach (circa 1900).

To keep the sights, sounds, and smells of Palm Beach as clean as possible, the designers limited the presence of the railroad and automobiles. Also, hotel staff rarely used horses, mules, or other animals to transport supplies or people. The primary modes of transportation on Palm Beach for guests were bicycles and “wheelchairs,” pedi-cabs in our own parlance.

A

A “wheelchair” or pedi-cab carrying guests in the vicinity of the Royal Poinciana Hotel (circa 1900).

Running such a complex operation as the Royal Poinciana Hotel naturally required a large and varied labor force. By the time the hotel was up and running Flagler had hired over a thousand workers. He built quarters for them across Lake Worth from the hotel in what is now called West Palm Beach. The employees used rowboats to get to and from work for each shift.

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

Plumbers and mechanics at the Royal Poinciana Hotel before it opened (1893).

The Royal Poinciana commanded the high-end hospitality market in Palm Beach for a number of years, but even such a sprawling wilderness of luxury as this had its weaknesses. In 1925, the nearby Breakers Hotel burned and was rebuilt. Since it was newer and offered updated amenities, it drew many guests away from the Royal Poinciana. Furthermore, the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 badly damaged the north wing of the hotel, shifting part of it off its foundation. The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 was the final blow. The Royal Poinciana Hotel closed in 1934, and was torn down within a year.

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

Aerial view of the Royal Poinciana Hotel during its final years (circa 1925).

The Royal Poinciana Hotel is just one of Florida’s many historic hotels that have come and gone over the years. For more photos of the Royal Poinciana and other palatial buildings, search the Florida Photographic Collection.

 

 

Glass Lantern Slides

Young women fishing with cane poles from a jetty
The old Gregory house before it was moved: Ocheesee Landing, Florida.
People walking through a forest

These hand-tinted glass lantern slides are from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Collection. The 53 slides in the collection show a variety of Florida’s natural features, including scenes of rivers and river banks, forests, nature trails, fishing, sand dunes, and swimming.

The image of the Gregory House went unidentified until it was recognized by a patron on our Florida Memory Flickr page. We were able to match the image with another in our collection and confirm that this was indeed the house in the slide.

The Gregory House, built in 1849 by Planter Jason Gregory, stood at Ochesee Landing across the river from the Torreya State Park. In 1935, the house was dismantled and moved to its present location in the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was developing the park.

The remaining 52 images have very little identifying information. However, they are a beautiful example of Florida landscapes depicted on glass lantern slides, ca. 1940s.

People on a Lakeshore

Glass lantern slide shows were popular both as home entertainment and as an accompaniment to speakers on the lecture circuit. They reached their popularity about 1900, but continued to be widely used until the 1930s when they were gradually replaced by the more convenient 35-milimeter slides.

Young women posing in swimsuits on sand dune

Related Resources

 

Florida’s Own Stonehenge

If you travel south from Ocala toward Belleview on U.S. Highway 27/301/441, there’s a place where the northbound and southbound lanes split to go around a tiny patch of thick forest.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a reason for this at first, aside from the small satellite sheriff’s office Marion County has in the median.  There’s more to this than meets the eye, however.

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The "Stonehenge" structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Excerpt of a Florida Department of Transportation map showing U.S. 27/301/441 between Ocala and Belleview. The “Stonehenge” structures are located in the median of this highway where the northbound and southbound lanes bend outward (1977).

Hidden among the vines and oak trees in the middle of this busy highway is Florida’s own Stonehenge. Granted, it’s not nearly as old, and its uses aren’t nearly as shrouded in mystery. That being said, it’s still quite a sight to see in person. Four enormous concrete structures rise nearly as high as the trees, covered in vines, moss, and graffiti. They date back to 1936 when construction began on a bridge to cross a section of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos (2014).

One of the towering structures located in the median of U.S. 27/301/441 at Santos. Photo by the author (2014).

 

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos (2014).

Another concrete megalith peeks out from a tangle of vines and overgrowth at Santos Photo by the author (2014).

The Franklin D. Roosevelt administration had authorized the canal project as a federal relief program. Camp Roosevelt, located a few miles away, served as housing for the workers. The canal had yet to be built at this point, although government authorities had already condemned a strip of land for it, right through the middle of the community of Santos.

The project was short-lived. In June 1936, after barely six months of work, the federal government halted work on the bridge at Santos. Concerns about the canal project’s impact on tourism and the water supply had aroused concern among the public and Congress, and no additional funding was made available for the span.

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center. The camp no longer exists, but some of the houses still remain, and the neighborhood is still called

Buildings at Camp Roosevelt, originally established in 1935-36 to house laborers working on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The camp was later used as a vocational education center (1936).

The bridge piers were, however, already built. What could be done with them? They were too heavy to move, and too expensive to simply destroy. Project managers decided to leave them where they stood. Maybe they thought the canal project would resume sometime in the future and the piers could still be used.

The Cross Florida Barge Canal did resurface in later decades, but the Santos Bridge remained untouched. When U.S. 27/301/441 was widened, the road planners simply bypassed the enormous bridge piers and allowed the space they occupied to grow up naturally. The Cross Florida Greenway now passes through the area, and the old bridge piers are a side attraction for visiting hikers and mountain bikers. The nearby trailhead is called Santos in honor of the community that once prospered there.

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project (2014).

Graffiti from a number of fraternities marks the remnants of the Santos Bridge project. Photo by the author (2014).

The Stonehenge-esque structures at Santos are merely one of many mysterious monuments to the past hiding in plain sight in Florida. What mysterious historical structures are located in your community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have photos of them, or consider donating a photo by contacting us.

 

 

The Day They Gave a Florida Island Away on “The Price is Right”

If you’ve ever seen the hit daytime show The Price is Right, you know they’ll give away just about anything. Toasters, exercise equipment, new cars, bread makers, trips to Italy – you name it, they give it. But have you ever heard of The Price is Right giving away an island?

Excerpt of map of Putnam County showing Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake (1990).

Excerpt of map of Putnam County showing Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake (1990).

Well, not the entire island. But Bill Cullen, the host of the show before CBS took it over, did give away a nice chunk of Florida real estate on Bear Island in the middle of Crescent Lake, which straddles the border between Putnam and Flagler counties near the Atlantic coast. The date was December 11,1961, and the movie Mysterious Island, based on the popular Jules Verne novel of the same name, was about to be released in theaters by Columbia Pictures.

Columbia and the Price is Right folks had gotten together and planned a whole show promoting the movie release. One lucky winner would walk away with the keys to a new two-bedroom house on their very own (part of) “Mysterious Island,” complete with a dock and the latest amenities.

The house on

The house on “Mysterious Island,” locally known as Bear Island (1961).

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman of New York were the lucky winners of the “Mysterious Island” house. They were flown to Crescent City for a ceremony at their new home, where they were given the keys, the deed to the land, and a private screening of Mysterious Island. Columbia filmed all of this, and used it to help promote the movie.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman, the lucky winners of the

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman, the lucky winners of the “Mysterious Island” house (1961).

The Freemans appeared to be very pleased with their new home on “Mysterious Island,” but they ended up not doing much with it. After the ceremony and a fishing trip, they returned to New York and reportedly never returned. In early 1964, the local newspaper reported that Jake Ward, the developer who owned the rest of the island, had bought the house. He hoped to perpetuate the “Mysterious Island” theme and create an attractive housing development.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman enjoying their first (and apparently last) fishing trip on Crescent Lake (1961).

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman enjoying their first (and apparently last) fishing trip on Crescent Lake (1961).

The island is still privately owned today. There’s not much there, aside from the house and a landing strip. There’s no telling whether the owners even know the unique history of the place. But now you do!

You never know what kinds of quirky Florida history will show up when your browse the Florida Photographic Collection. Tell us about the interesting photos you’ve found by sharing on our Facebook page, or leave a comment below.

 

 

 

Shipwreck of the Atocha

It was June 13, 1971. Don Kincaid, who had been diving off the coast of the Florida Keys, made his way to the surface with a handful of something shiny, coiled up like a small snake. He climbed aboard the work boat Virgalona with the aid of a ladder, and excitedly spread his find out for his colleagues to see.

Kincaid’s boss, shipwreck hunter Mel Fisher, congratulated him and radioed to his other cruiser nearby to join them. Kincaid had found nearly eight feet of gold chain, a sign that Fisher and his team were close to something big. In time, they would learn that they had found the remains of a Spanish treasure ship, part of a fleet lost in a hurricane in 1622. The ship was called Nuestra Señora de Atocha.

The workship James Bay, used by Mel Fisher and his crew to excavate the remains of the Spanish galleon Atocha.

The work ship James Bay, used by Mel Fisher and his crew to excavate the remains of the Spanish galleon Atocha (1979).

The Spanish government sent treasure fleets periodically to its New World possessions to collect gold, silver, precious stones, and trade goods that had been mined or produced there. The ships then returned to Spain to deliver their holdings into the coffers of the Spanish monarchy. The Atocha had been recently built at Havana, Cuba for one of these missions. The name Nuestra Señora de Atocha honored the Virgin of a shrine near Madrid. The ship was 600 tons.

An example of a Spanish galleon similar to the Atocha, on display at McKee's Museum of Sunken Treasure on Plantation Key (1972).

An example of a Spanish galleon similar to the Atocha, on display at McKee’s Museum of Sunken Treasure on Plantation Key (1972).

When the 1622 treasure fleet left Spain in April, it carried wine, cloth, ironwork, and books to distribute to Spanish settlements in the Americas. It also carried around half a million pounds of mercury, which would be used to extract silver from ore mined in what is now Bolivia. When the fleet reached the New World, the ships began trading their goods for the riches of the Americas. They took on silver from Peru, gold bars and silver coins from New Granada, tobacco, indigo, and tons of Cuban copper.

Fleet officials were already getting nervous; hurricane season had started. The oppressive tropical summer heat was intense, and workers cursed and sweated in the baking sun as they loaded cargo and tended their ships. The Atocha and its sister vessels remained docked at Havana while their captains awaited the new moon, which they believed would provide fairer sailing weather until they could get past the dangerous Florida coast. On September 4th, the fleet finally put out to sea.

 

Map showing the approximate location of the wreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha.

Map showing the approximate location of the wreck of the Spanish galleon Atocha (indicated by a red circle).

Less than two days later, a powerful hurricane passed over the fleet near the Dry Tortugas, snapping masts and scattering the ships. Two of the ships, Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, sunk within sight of one another after running aground between Key West and the Dry Tortugas. Only five people from the Atocha survived, one sailor, two ship’s boys, and two slaves.

The loss of the treasure of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita was a significant financial blow for Spain. The Spanish government needed this money to run the country, especially the military, which was involved at this time in the ongoing Thirty Years’ War plaguing Central Europe. The Spanish sent salvage ships to the supposed site of the wreck, where indigenous slaves dove to the sea floor with the aid of a diving bell to search for the lost cargo. Eventually, the Spanish recovered about half of the treasure lost from the Santa Maragrita. One Spanish recovery mission found the location of the Atocha, but the water was too deep for divers to reach it. The Spaniards had little choice to abandon the wreck and its treasure in the churning waters of the Florida Straits, where it would remain for over 300 years.

Treasure hunter Mel Fisher viewing items recovered from the wreck of the Atocha (1978).

Treasure hunter Mel Fisher viewing items recovered from the wreck of the Atocha (1978).

That is, until Don Kincaid swam to the surface to show his shining discovery to shipwreck hunter Mel Fisher. After nearly two years of additional searching, Fisher’s crew began unearthing large amounts of treasure from the sea floor. On one day in May 1973, the divers brought up around 1,500 coins. They nicknamed the area the “Bank of Spain.”

 Gold coins from the wreck of the Atocha on display at Mallory Square in Key West (1982).

Gold coins from the wreck of the Atocha on display at Mallory Square in Key West (1982).

The treasures kept coming. Swords, cannonballs, gold bars, a rosary, the navigator’s astrolabe – treasure after priceless treasure emerged from the deep. Some were sold to pay for the costs of the hunt, including payments to people who had invested in Mel Fisher’s expedition. Many artifacts from the Atocha are now on display in museums around the Florida Keys.

Treasure from the Atocha on display at Mallory Square in Key West (1982).

Treasure from the Atocha on display at Mallory Square in Key West (1982).

Cannons taken from the wreck of the Atocha (1975).

Cannons taken from the wreck of the Atocha (1975).

Astrolabe from the wreck of the Atocha (circa 1980s).

Astrolabe from the wreck of the Atocha (circa 1980s).

What secrets lie beneath the waters near your Florida community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection for more photos of shipwrecks and the treasures they have yielded over the years.

See and Do It All at Floridaland!

By the 1960s, Florida was a tourist’s playground. Any family could find something to do, whether it was to hit the beach, catch a few roller coaster rides at the Miracle Strip, stroll through the lush scenery of Cypress Gardens, or take in the historic sights of Key West or St. Augustine. In Florida, you could do anything. But where could you do everything?

Performing dolphins (or porpises) at Floridaland (1967).

Performing dolphins (or porpoises) at Floridaland (1967).

Floridaland near Sarasota aspired to be that place. The park was located on fifty acres between U.S. Highway 41 and Sarasota Bay. It opened on Christmas Day in 1964, and offered ten distinct attractions for one admission price. From the moment visitors walked through the gates and received greetings from the talking macaws posted there, they had the freedom to explore and take in all kinds of entertainment.

One option was to travel back in time and visit the ghost town attraction, where pistol-packing sheriffs would periodically save the day from robbers and troublemakers. Watching the spectacle was tough work, of course, so the Golden Nugget Saloon was nearby to provide refreshments and a show.

Wild West show at Floridaland's Ghost Town (1960s).

Wild West show at Floridaland’s Ghost Town (1960s).

 

“Miss Kitty” performs in a stage show at the Gold Nugget Saloon at Floridaland (1960s).

Families more interested in modern action could choose to visit one of Floridaland’s many shows featuring trained porpoises. Handlers coaxed these animals into doing almost anything for a couple of fish. They jumped high into the air on cue, jumped through the proverbial hoops, and even donned costumes to delight their patrons. On one occasion, Floridaland officials organized the world’s first known “porpoise to porpoise” long distance call. Moby Dick, one of Floridaland’s porpoise performers, contacted his colleague Keiki at Sea Life Park in Hawaii on May 14, 1965 using a specially designed phone. The two chattered for more than five minutes before hanging up.

Porpoise jumps through a pair of hoops over a trainer's lap at Floridaland (1960s).

Porpoise jumps through a pair of hoops over a trainer’s lap at Floridaland (1960s).

Floridaland's sheriff had a little help from this porpoise, who donned a hat and gun in this stunt (1960s).

Floridaland’s sheriff had a little help from this porpoise, who donned a hat and gun in this stunt (1960s).

Other popular animal attractions included Billy Goat Mountain, Deer Park, and the “nursery.” These were especially popular with the youngsters, as they could feed many of the animals by hand and watch them perform up close and personal.

“Billy Goat Mountain” at Floridaland (1965).

Children bottle-feed Floridaland's youngest residents at the

Children bottle-feed Floridaland’s youngest residents at the “nursery” (1960s).

Floridaland enjoyed great success, enough to convince Holiday Inn to build a hotel near the resort only three years after it opened. There were challenges, however. The tanks containing the park’s trained porpoises drew their water from the surrounding bays, which made them vulnerable to contamination with insecticides and dangerous red tide algae. On at least one occasion, the performing animals had to be removed from their home by stretchers and temporarily placed in the swimming pool of the nearby Holiday Inn. Furthermore, the cost of running such an extensive set of attractions was high. Ultimately, this cost became unsustainable. The owners attempted to bump up gate receipts by adding more rides, gardens, and longer shows, but it was not enough. The park closed on July 2, 1971.

Floridaland's tour train (1965).

Floridaland’s tour train (1965).

Floridaland lasted less than a decade, but its attractions were still enjoyed by many, as today’s photos from the Florida Photographic Collection reveal. What were your favorite Florida tourist attractions to visit when you were growing up? Tell us about it by leaving us a comment below.

Also, if you happen to be in the Tallahassee area on Friday, October 17th, visit the State Archives’ slideshow exhibition entitled “The Golden Age of Florida’s Miracle Strip.” The cycling slideshow will feature over 150 historic images of Panama City Beach and its famed Miracle Strip tourist district from the 1930s through the 1970s. Melody May, a promotional model long associated with the Miracle Strip, will be present, and tourism historian Tim Hollis is scheduled to speak about the history of the tourism industry in the Panama City area. Parking and admission are free, and complementary refreshments with a Florida tourism theme will be provided. The event will last from 6-8pm, and will be located in the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building at 500 S. Bronough St. in Tallahassee. Contact the State Archives at 850-245-6719 with any questions.

 

Ochopee, Home of the Nation’s Smallest Post Office

Florida’s unique history owes some of its splendor to great people and great visions. In many cases, however, the most interesting tidbits have happened when no one was expecting it. That’s certainly the case with Ochopee, home of the smallest post office building in Florida, and most likely the smallest in the United States. The people of Ochopee hadn’t planned to have such a cramped space for handling mail. If it hadn’t been for a serious tragedy, the tiny settlement might never have had such a distinction.

Map of Southwest Florida showing Ochopee and the nearby Gulf Coast. Naples is located northwest of Ochopee along U.S. 41 (1953 map - Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

Map of Southwest Florida showing Ochopee and the nearby Gulf Coast. Naples is located northwest of Ochopee along U.S. 41 (1953 highway map – Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

Ochopee got its start in 1928 when the James T. Gaunt family purchased a few hundred acres in Collier County on either side of what was to become the Tamiami Trail. The Gaunts were farmers, and they intended to set up a major tomato-growing operation. Farming on the edge of the Everglades was no easy task, of course. The family and their workers lived in surplus Army tents when they first arrived, which made the heat and mosquitoes a daily torture.

A view of the terrain near Ochopee, mostly marshes with a few heads of palmetto (1942).

A view of the terrain near Ochopee, mostly marshes with a few heads of palmetto (1942).

In the first year, the Gaunts and their business partners wrestled a real settlement out of the muck. They hired a large workforce to tend and harvest their tomatoes, mostly African-Americans from Miami and Georgia, with a few local Seminole families as well. The Seminoles lived in their own chickees near the company property, while the African-Americans typically lived in houses on the site. One of the workers’ quarters was called “Boardwalk” because for much of the year the only way to get between the houses was by boardwalk. Wages ranged between $1.00 and $2.50 per day, plus free utilities and health insurance.

Seminole workers in the tomato fields of the J.T. Gaunt Company - Ochopee (circa 1930s).

Seminole workers in the tomato fields of the J.T. Gaunt Company – Ochopee (circa 1930s).

By 1932, the Gaunt Company had a substantial village to serve their tomato farm, but it didn’t have a name. That year, the family decided to establish a post office, but they wanted something a little more special than “Gaunt” or “Gaunt Farms” for a name. According to one of the family members, Someone asked Charley Tommie, a local Seminole, what the native word for “farm” was. Charley replied “O-chopp-ee,” and the Gaunts decided that would be the name of their growing settlement. The post office was established in August of that year, and postal business was carried out in a corner of the company store.

One night in 1953, a fire broke out in the boarding house at Ochopee. It spread quickly to other buildings, and with the nearest fire department being miles away at Everglades City, residents were forced to fight the blaze with buckets of water from a nearby canal. Postmaster Sidney Brown was able to get his records out of the general store, but when the flames were finally extinguished, the building was a total loss. The next day, when the mail arrived, Postmaster Brown needed someplace to conduct business. A member of the Gaunt family pointed out a nearby shed used to store irrigation pipes and hoses, and with that the nation’s smallest post office building was adopted. Gaunt Company workers moved the building to a more convenient location, installed a counter and work space, and it was ready for service.

Ochopee Post Office (circa 1940s).

Ochopee Post Office (circa 1940s).

Since then, the Ochopee post office has been as much a tourist attraction as it has a place of business. The Florida Photographic Collection contains a number of photos of the building from various angles and at different times. Some visitors assumed the locals built the post office that size originally as a novelty, but Ochopee residents knew better. Their post office, like so many curiosities in Florida’s past, was an accident of history.

Postmaster Sidney H. Brown in front of the Ochopee Post Office. Brown managed to save the records of the post office from the fire that destroyed this building's predecessor in 1953 (photo circa 1960s).

Postmaster Sidney H. Brown in front of the Ochopee Post Office. Brown managed to save the records of the post office from the fire that destroyed this building’s predecessor in 1953 (photo circa 1960s).

Does a landmark in your community have a story like that of the Ochopee post office? Tell us about it by leaving a comment or sharing on our Facebook page!

 

Somebody Give That Cow a Bath!

Why in the world would someone want to bathe a cow? Better yet, why would someone bathe an entire herd of cows? They’re just going to get dirty again anyway. Yet for a number of years in the early 20th century, it was very common for cattle ranchers to lead their cattle, one by one, through a vat designed to douse them from top to bottom. The practice was called cattle dipping, and it had little to do with keeping the cows clean.

Chart illustrating the effects of ticks on cattle (1913).

Chart illustrating the effects of ticks on cattle (1913).

Cattle dipping was a major part of an all-out battle to eradicate Texas tick fever from Florida’s otherwise prosperous cattle industry. The fever, actually a blood infection caused by parasites, was spread through ticks, which presented a big problem for Florida ranchers, who still largely practiced the free-range system for cattle production. Rather than sticking to one fenced pasture, a rancher’s cattle might roam at will over miles of territory until their owner rounded them up. Branding kept the cattle from different ranches separate in cases where multiple herds mixed together. Under the circumstances, the cattle were bound to pick up ticks as they moved about in the woods, and there just wasn’t much to be done about it.

But they had to try. Texas tick fever was becoming a major drain on the industry’s profitability. Some farmers attempted to control tick infestations by keeping cattle and other farm animals out of a pasture for several months if an infected animal had grazed there. The idea was that if the infectious ticks had nothing to feed on for a long enough period of time, they would die and the fever vector would be gone.

Counties heavily involved in the cattle industry sometimes set up checkpoints to inspect animals for ticks before allowing them to pass, hoping to stop the spread of the fever-causing bugs. These methods had limited success. Ticks preyed on a variety of animals, both wild and domestic, so measures affecting only some animals would not protect healthy cattle from being bitten.

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (circa 1920s).

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (circa 1920s).

Early on, a few farmers experimented with the idea of washing their cattle in some sort of chemical to discourage ticks from biting them. At first, ranchers considered it a far-fetched idea, but it proved effective with a little trial and error. Over time, an arsenic solution was adopted as the most efficient agent for protecting the cattle. So long as the solution was mixed correctly and the cattle did not stay in it too long, the cow would be safe, but any ticks attempting to bite it would be poisoned.

Cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County, while a man marks it to show it had been dipped (circa 1920s).

Cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County, while a man marks it to show it had been dipped (circa 1920s).

Cattle dipping appeared to be a viable solution for preventing Texas tick fever, except it was difficult to get every rancher in Florida to do it. Setting up the dipping vats was expensive, and rounding up free-range cattle to be dipped every few weeks was time-consuming. Many Florida ranchers at this time had small operations, and barely had the time and help to round up the cattle a few times a year, let alone every time they would require dipping. The tick fever threat was serious, however, and eventually the state stepped in.

The Legislature passed a law in 1923 requiring every cattleman in the state to comply with a full tick eradication program, which included dipping cattle every two weeks. The new law met with mixed reactions from the state’s cattle ranchers. Some believed the state’s actions would help save the industry, while others dismissed the entire affair as needless meddling. To make the cattle dipping requirement less onerous, the State Livestock Sanitary Board contracted with private companies to build dipping vats all across the state, so that even owners of smaller cattle concerns would not have as far to travel to dip their cows.

Dipping was still a chore, of course, and the records of the Livestock Sanitary Board at the State Archives are full of letters complaining about the inefficiency of the system at times. By the mid-1930s, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that conditions had improved enough that most areas could be released from quarantine.

Excerpt from a letter to State Veterinarian J.V. Knapp from High Springs farmer C.S. Douglass, dated Jan. 29, 1933. Douglass writes: "The tax payers are becoming awful sore over the reckless and unfair way this tick eradication work is being done and we are figuring on dipping the State Live Stock Sanitary Board if they don't build us a dipping vat in the area they claim to be infested with cattle fever ticks, or release us from dipping."

Excerpt from a letter to State Veterinarian J.V. Knapp from High Springs farmer C.S. Douglass, dated Jan. 29, 1933. Douglass writes: “The tax payers are becoming awful sore over the reckless and unfair way this tick eradication work is being done and we are figuring on dipping the State Live Stock Sanitary Board if they don’t build us a dipping vat in the area they claim to be infested with cattle fever ticks, or release us from dipping” (State Livestock Sanitary Board Tick Eradication files [Series 1888], Box 2, folder 3 – State Archives of Florida).

Most of the cattle dipping vats from the 1920s and 1930s have been filled in or removed, but the tops of a few are still visible. If you choose to give your cow a bath these days, it’s usually to get it ready for a stock show!

Remains of a dipping vat near Natural Bridge in Leon County (1980).

Remains of a dipping vat near Natural Bridge in Leon County (1980).

Cattle and other stock farming is still a major Florida industry. Tell us about your experiences with raising cattle or other livestock by leaving us a comment below or on Facebook!