It’s High Time for a Frolic!

Florida’s pioneer settlers faced a number of hardships when they first arrived, but that didn’t stop them from having a little fun every now and then. Rural families often lived a few miles apart from one another, but they would come together when one of them had a major project that needed to be done. Fodder pulling, which involved pulling the leaves off corn stalks for use as food for the stock animals, was one such task. Others included splitting rails and rolling logs to a home site for a new cabin. No matter what the day’s work entailed, once everyone was finished the families often enjoyed a good hearty meal and a little music and dancing. In North Florida, these informal parties were known as “frolics.”

Example of a typical Cracker log cabin, this one being located in Wakulla County (photo 1941).

Example of a typical Cracker cabin, this one being located in Wakulla County (photo 1941).

Frolics were simple, of course, but imagine how much fun they must have been for young folks living so far apart from one another! Dancing was frowned upon if not entirely forbidden by a number of the prominent churches in pioneer Florida, but it happened nonetheless. Perhaps as a compromise, much of the dancing resembled what we would call square dancing, where the participants followed a prescribed set of moves rather than pairing off and dancing however they pleased. One favorite was the cotillion, which involved eight persons, four of each sex. Someone would call the steps as the musicians played, and the dancers would react accordingly. W.T. Cash, Florida first State Librarian and an early resident of Taylor County, remembered some of these steps in the cotillion:

“Honor your partner! Lady on the left! Balance all! All promenade!”

And when it was time for the dance to end:

“Right hands to your partners, gents to the center, and ladies to your seats!”

A fiddler (circa 1880s).

A fiddler (circa 1880s).

The fiddle and harmonica were the main instruments used in making the music, and the musicians were usually just folks in the neighborhood who had picked up their craft from a relative or friend. The instruments, Cash reported, rarely cost more than about $10.

When they weren’t playing the more upbeat dancing tunes, the musicians drew from a wealth of folk songs that most of the party-goers would have known by heart. Songs like “Arkansas Traveler,” “Hell after the Yearling,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Cindy,” and “Turkey in the Straw” were popular numbers in North Florida.

The Florida Folklife Collection holds many recordings of these traditional songs being played by celebrated folk artists. Click on the Play button below to hear “Turkey in the Straw,” played by Telleta Arwell and Mary Ann Bows at the 1987 Florida Folk Festival. The lyrics follow.


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Note: This is one of those songs with a hundred different variations; we’ve just chosen a few of our favorite verses.

Chorus:

Turkey in the straw, hee haw haw!
Turkey in the hay, hey hey hey!
Roll ’em up and twist ’em up a high tuck a-haw,
And hit ’em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw!

Verses:

As I was a-goin’ on down the road,
With a tired team and a heavy load,
I cracked my whip and the leader sprung,
I said Hey! Hey! to the wagon tongue.

I came to the river and I couldn’t get across,
So I paid five dollars for a big bay hoss,
Well he wouldn’t go ahead, and he wouldn’t stand still,
So he went up and down like an old saw mill!

Well I met this catfish comin’ down the stream,
I said, ‘Mr. Catfish, what do you mean?’
Caught Mr. Catfish by the snout,
Turned Mr. Catfish wrong side out!

With so much distance in between families, folks had to get every bit of enjoyment they could out of these gatherings. They often lasted far into the night. One musician, remembering these days, commented that after a night of playing the harmonica at a frolic his mouth hurt so bad he couldn’t laugh for a week!

If this kind of folk music gets you tapping your feet, we recommend you check out our Audio section for more recordings from the Florida Folk Festival, as well as Florida Memory Radio, our 24-hour Internet radio station.

Also, if you don’t have a copy of our bluegrass and old-time music CD, “Look A-Yonder Comin’,” contact us and we’ll send you a complimentary copy.

Front cover of "Look aA-Yonder Comin, a collection of bluegrass and old-time string band music from the Florida Folklife Collection.

Front cover of “Look A-Yonder Comin’, a collection of bluegrass and old-time string band music from the Florida Folklife Collection.

Staying at the Ormond

New Year’s Day is a holiday in itself, but New Year’s Day 1888 was especially sweet for
Ormond Beach. That’s because it was opening day for the grand Ormond Hotel, a grand resort
for wealthy Northerners looking to escape the chilly winters back home.

Hotel Ormond - Ormond Beach (1900).

Hotel Ormond – Ormond Beach (1900).

The name “Ormond” had been associated with the area since James and Emanuel Ormond had
settled a 2,000-acre plantation called “Damietta” in the area during the late Spanish
colonial era. In the 1870s, a group of men from New Britain, Connecticut arrived to seek a
place for establishing a colony of workers from their business, the Corbin Lock Company. At
first they named the area after their hometown, but they decided to change the name to
something more reminiscient of local history. The first post office named Ormond appeared
in 1880, and by 1886 the settlement was a stop along the new St. Johns & Halifax Railroad.

The hotel did not perform well in its first two years, but its location and potential lured
the interest (and money) of developer Henry Flagler. He bought the hotel in 1890 and began
a major expansion project that added three wings, a swimming pool, a casino, a pavilion and
a pier extending out over the Halifax River. The hotel quickly became one of the star
attractions along Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway.

Excerpt of a map of the Florida East Coast Railway system featuring Ormond and the Ormond Hotel (1917).

Excerpt of a map of the Florida East Coast Railway system featuring Ormond and the Ormond Hotel (1917).

Like Flagler’s other hotels, the Ormond was a playground for those with enough money to
enjoy it. Activities included horseback riding, wooded excursion paths, bicycling (which
was then still quite new), sailing and fishing. When the automobile arrived on the scene,
the Ormond gained a new favorite activity: driving and racing along the packed sands of the
nearby beach.

Ranson E. Olds in his Olds Pirate racecar on Ormond Beach (circa 1896).

Ranson E. Olds in his Olds Pirate race car on Ormond Beach (circa 1896).

The Ormond enjoyed considerable popularity during the heyday of the Flagler hotels, playing host at various times to the Rockefellers, the Astors, the Vanderbilts and a number of other famous personalities. John D. Rockefeller liked the place so much he bought the house across the street in 1917 and spent the winters there until his death in 1937.

The hotel changed hands several times in the second half of the twentieth century. On November 24, 1980 the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was destroyed in 1992 to make way for condominiums, but the original 21-foot wooden cupola is now displayed in Fortunato Park near the Halifax River.

The Ormond Hotel in 1982, surrounded by a growing Ormond Beach.

The Ormond Hotel in 1982, surrounded by a growing Ormond Beach community.

What historic structures are located in your Florida community? Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find images of them!

J.C. Penney Had a Farm

If you ever find yourself in Northeast Florida looking for a pleasant route for driving, we recommend State Road 16 between Green Cove Springs and Starke. There’s not much traffic, the scenery is nice, and you’ll pass through a remarkable relic of Florida history called Penney Farms. At first glance, the town bears the usual hallmarks of a North Florida village – large shade trees, wood-frame houses, and a historical marker here and there. Read one of those markers, however, and you’ll learn that Penney Farms was a planned community, developed from scratch in the 1920s by the department store tycoon J.C. Penney himself.

Aerial view of Penney Farms in Clay County (1940).

Aerial view of Penney Farms in Clay County (1940).

James Cash Penney came to prominence as a pioneer in the chain store movement in the early years of the 20th century. He opened the first J.C. Penney Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and by 1912 had over 30 stores, mainly operating in the West. By 1924, Penney was making over a million dollars annually, which enabled him to pursue a number of philanthropic causes.

In 1922, J.C. Penney purchased 120,000 acres of farmland in Clay County near Green Cove Springs, just east of the St. Johns River. He intended to develop a model farming community, structured similarly to the J.C. Penney department store chain. Just as the chain’s directors held stock in the company, farmers would earn interest in Penney Farms by raising crops and purchasing additional interest in the land with the proceeds of their labor.

Cattle scales used at Penney Farms (1931).

Cattle scales used at Penney Farms (1931).

So who did the farming at Penney Farms? Not just anyone. Persons interested in claiming a tract of land at the new community had to fill out an application. Many of the questions pertained to the applicant’s moral character and religious affiliations. A promotional brochure provided a list of characteristics wanted by the company. Penney Farms wanted young to middle-aged men, preferably married, “willing to take advice from others,” and affiliated with some church. The use of “intoxicants or cigarettes” was strictly prohibited. The application asked the prospective farmer to send in a photo of himself or his family if possible, as well as the names and addresses of three persons who could testify to his character.

Application to occupy a farm at Penney Farms - from a promotion brochure  dated 1927.

Application to occupy a farm at Penney Farms – from a promotion brochure dated 1927. Click to enlarge.

By 1927, Penney Farms boasted 20,000 cleared acres, 300 buildings, a general store, a post office, a garage and machine shop, a canning factory, a boarding house, a dairy farm, and 3,000 range cattle. Demonstration plots provided pecans, Satsuma oranges, persimmons, pears, grapes, peppermint, and vegetables. The J.C. Penney-Gwinn Institute of Applied Agriculture had its headquarters on the property, where it provided practical and theoretical training in agriculture and homemaking for the families living at Penney Farms.

View of a main street in Penney Farms' residential section (circa 1920s).

View of a main street in Penney Farms’ residential section (circa 1920s).

But there was more to Penney Farms than just farming. J.C. Penney chose to also make this the site for another of his philanthropic endeavors, the J.C. Penney Foundation Memorial Community. This retirement community was built especially for retired ministers and other Christian workers and their wives. The community included 22 furnished apartment buildings, along with the Penney Memorial Chapel. The community was dedicated to the memory of J.C. Penney’s parents.

View of the JC Penney Foundation's memorial community for retired ministers, Christian workers, and their wives (1958).

View of the J.C. Penney Foundation’s memorial community for retired ministers, Christian workers, and their wives (1958).

 

Penney Memorial Chapel at Penney Farms (1936).

Penney Memorial Chapel at Penney Farms (1936).

The arrival of the Great Depression slowed the development of Penney Farms considerably. Penney himself lost almost all of his personal wealth, and was forced to borrow against his life insurance policies to help his company make payroll. He sold off most of the property comprising Penney Farms, leaving only about 200 acres. He deeded this land to his foundation’s Memorial Community, which he gave to the Christian Herald Foundation to run. In 1971, it became the self-sustaining Penney Retirement Community, Inc., and in 1999 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the farmers who had relocated to the area to participate in Penney’s planned community either bought land or continued working in some capacity in the area. The town of Penney Farms is still incorporated, and as of the 2010 Census it had a population of 749.

Aerial view of the Penney Memorial Chapel and surrounding buildings (circa 1947).

Aerial view of the Penney Memorial Chapel and surrounding buildings (circa 1947).

Welcome to Florida, Mr. President!

Nobody lays out their welcome mat like Florida. The Sunshine State plays host to millions of visitors each year – 94.7 million in 2011 alone, according to official statistics. Every guest is important, but when the President of the United States comes to stay, you can imagine the press coverage goes up a few clicks.

The same holds true for the President-elect, as the 1921 visit of President-elect Warren Gamaliel Harding demonstrates. Harding, a Republican Senator from Ohio, had just defeated Governor James M. Cox, also of Ohio, in a landmark election fought mainly over the World War I policies of President Woodrow Wilson. With the November 1920 election ended and the weather turning colder, Harding decided to take a much-needed vacation in Florida.

Harding arrived in St. Augustine to a hearty welcome from the locals. Security measures were much more relaxed in those days, and the newspapers reported that Harding shook hands with people all the way through the train station before motoring off to the Ponce de Leon Hotel. There, he met with Senator Joseph Sherman Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who planned to take Harding aboard his personal 90-foot houseboat, the Victoria, for a cruise down the Florida coast.

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen's houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen’s houseboat, the Victoria, near Rockledge (1921).

The houseboat party included Frelinghuysen, Harding, and a number of close Harding confidants, including Senator Albert Fall of New Mexico, former Ambassador to Mexico Henry Fletcher, George Christian (Harding’s private secretary), and Harding’s campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty.

For two weeks, Harding divided his time between relaxing and meeting some of his new Floridian constituents. While calling at Daytona, the President-elect attended a patriotic pageant given by the local citizens. He turned down an official reception at Miami, but invited officers from the local Masonic Lodges and the American Legion to meet him in front of his cottage at the Flamingo Hotel. The Miami News reported that Harding shook hands and greeted each person individually before making a brief address.

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding greets his new constituents in Miami (1921).

When he wasn’t meeting with the locals, President-elect Harding kept busy with two main amusements: fishing and golfing. The Victoria had been stocked with tackle well before he arrived, and Harding took advantage of the boat’s lazy cruise southward to fish for amber-jack, sail-fish, and even barracuda. When the Victoria was in port, Harding and his cohorts hit whatever golf links were closest.

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

President-elect Warren G. Harding playing golf at Miami Beach (1921).

Harding ended his Florida vacation in early February and began preparing for his inauguration and his program for bringing “normalcy,” as he called it, to the United States. Once President, the Ohioan would return to Florida several times. That should come as no surprise, of course. You know what they say about getting Florida sand in your shoes. Once it’s there, you can’t help but come back.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding's trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Warren G. Harding reeling in a fish off the Florida coast. The original photo is undated; it could have been from any of Harding’s trips to Florida between 1921 and 1923.

Do you remember when someone famous came to your Florida community? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below or by posting on our Facebook page!

A County Governed by an Island

Thomas Paine once argued for American independence from Great Britain by declaring it was absurd for a continent to be governed by an island. Curiously enough, similar arrangements have occurred in Florida, albeit on a smaller scale and lacking the part about absurdity. Monroe County, for example, is headquartered at Key West, but possesses a great deal of territory on the mainland. If you count Amelia Island as a true island, you could say the same for Nassau County. What many folks don’t realize is that Dade County was once governed from an island as well.

A portion of J.H. Colton's 1853 Map of Florida showing Indian Key and vicinity.

A portion of J.H. Colton’s 1853 Map of Florida showing Indian Key and vicinity.

It’s hard to imagine Dade County without Miami at the center of its government, but that is indeed how it began. When the Legislative Council established Dade County with the Governor’s approval on January 28, 1836, it included all of the Florida Keys from Bahia Honda Key to the mainland. It also included a large chunk of the peninsula, with boundaries running from Cable Sable on the Gulf Coast north to Lake Okeechobee and then southeast to the Hillsborough River and the Atlantic Coast. Indian Key, which is located roughly between the Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys, became the inaugural county seat.

Aerial view of Indian Key (circa 1990s).

Aerial view of Indian Key (circa 1990s).

Indian Key might be small, but surely you’ve heard what they say about dynamite in small packages. The island was already inhabited, primarily by people associated with a wrecking business belonging to a man named Jacob Houseman. The Keys were notorious for their shipwrecks, and men like Houseman made a living from salvaging their cargoes. In 1828, Houseman petitioned Congress to make Indian Key an official United States port of entry. His supporting documentation claimed there were 47 people living on the island: 21 white and 26 black.

An image from Herper's New Monthly Magazine (1870-71).

An image from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1870-71).

A serious calamity befell Indian Key during the Second Seminole War. On August 7, 1840, Seminole Indians attacked the island, killing several of its inhabitants and burning the buildings. With the county seat destroyed and abandoned, local government of Dade County essentially ceased. In 1841, the territorial legislature adjusted the jurisdiction of the Monroe County Superior Court so it could handle most of the cases arising in Dade County. The acting clerk of the Dade County Court wrote the governor apologetically in 1843, explaining that he had deviated from the law a great deal in conducting elections that year. The county seat was vacant, he explained, and hardly anyone was around to vote, let alone supervise a poll or canvass the results. Using his own money, then, the acting clerk procured a book, canvassed the votes, and made out the returns himself.

The legislature voted to legalize the clerk’s actions, but the lawmakers realized that something more had to be done. With Indian Key devoid of people or facilities for carrying on the administration of the county, the local government needed a new location. On March 9, 1844, the legislature voted to move the seat of Dade County to Miami, where it remains today.

Map of Indian Key (1840).

Map of Indian Key (1840).

Indian Key is now reserved as a state park. Visitors can take a boat or kayak out to the island when the waves are calm. Park officials have recreated parts of the original street grid, and interpretive markers explain the unique history of the island.

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!