The Underground History of Florida Caverns State Park

For the past 74 years, the interpretive cave tours available at the Florida Caverns State Park have made the site one of the Sunshine State’s most unique attractions. Situated about one hour west of Tallahassee in Marianna near the Chipola River, the shimmering limestone caverns of northwest Florida regularly dazzle visitors. Aside from their obvious physical allure, the history of the Florida Caverns further illuminates the evolving social, economic, and environmental landscape of the state. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) first developed the caves into a public tourist destination in the late 1930s, but humans have interacted with some of the caverns for much longer. Since officially opening to the public in 1942, the Florida Park Service has dutifully maintained the caverns. As a result of these conservation efforts, generations of spelunkers, hikers, and sightseers have relished the opportunity to explore the curiosities of Florida’s underground world.

Colored lights give added dimension to the cave formations at Florida Caverns State Park, 2016.

Colored lights give added dimension to the cave formations in the “Cathedral Room” at Florida Caverns State Park, 2016.

The splendid mineral silhouettes inside the Florida Caverns did not form over a matter of years, decades, or even centuries. Rather, they are the result of 38 million years of falling sea-levels, which left previously submerged shells, coral, and sediment in the open air to harden into limestone. For the next several hundred thousand years, droplets of acidic rainwater passed through the ceiling of the porous limestone cave, and over time minerals bunched into icicle-like formations called stalactites. As the stalactites hung from the cavern’s top, water slowly trickled down to create mineral spires, known as stalagmites, on the cavern floor. In many rooms and hallways, the stalactites and stalagmites have joined to form full columns. Glistening draperies, soda straws, and ribbons complement the proliferation of stalactites and stalagmites, creating a distinct living environment for the cave-dwelling flora and fauna.

View of stalactites and stalagmites inside the Florida Caverns. The lowest point in the caverns is 65 feet below sea level, while the highest point is 125 feet above sea level. The temperature in the caverns hovers around 65 degrees at all times, regardless of seasonal fluctuations. Blind salamanders, crayfish, and gray bats live among the underground limestone formations.

View of stalactites and stalagmites inside the Florida Caverns. The lowest point in the caverns is 65 feet below sea level, while the highest point is 125 feet above sea level. The temperature in the caverns hovers around 65 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, regardless of seasonal fluctuations. Blind salamanders, crayfish, and gray bats live among the underground limestone formations.

Archaeological discoveries of pottery sherds and mammoth footprints in several of the caverns predate European settlement in North America. But the site factors into Florida’s more recent history, too. In 1674, for example, Spanish missionary Friar Barreda allegedly delivered a Christian sermon amid the backdrop of the underground wonderland. Prevailing folklore also suggests a group of Seminoles trying to escape Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal expeditions of the early 19th century took refuge in the caverns. Further, the secluded underground openings have reportedly sheltered outlaws, runaways, and mischievous teenagers for centuries.

Program from services commemorating the 274th anniversary of the first Christian services held at the Florida Caverns in Marianna. Florida Park Service Public Relations Files (S. 1951), Folder 62, State Archives of Florida.

Program from services commemorating the 274th anniversary of the first Christian services held at the Florida Caverns in Marianna, 1947. Florida Park Service public relations and historical files (S. 1951), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

The Florida Caverns remained one of the state’s best kept secrets until the 1930s, when the economic downturn of the Great Depression precipitated the expansion and creation of state and national parks. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, his administration proposed a “new deal” for United States economy, enacting a series of sweeping measures intended to relieve the financial strain of some 12 million jobless Americans, or nearly a quarter of the workforce. One of those programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the CCC, which fell under the operation of the Florida Board of Forestry, was designed to conduct conservation work, including state park construction, while simultaneously providing employment, education, and training to enrollees. State forest officials spied commercial potential in expanding the state park system, and would ultimately utilize federally funded CCC labor to realize that vision. “They [tourists] soon tire of the races, nightclubs, and man-made recreation. They sit in the lobbies of our hotels wondering what to do with themselves. If a park system were shown on the highway maps and their wonders described in the literature of a state department, the tourists would flock to parks by the thousands,” wrote forester Harry Lee Baker to the Florida State Planning Board in 1934. One year later, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Park Service (FPS), an agency overseen by the Florida Board of Forestry. The FPS would operate in tandem with both the National Park Service and the Internal Improvement Fund. By the close of 1935, seven of Florida’s original state parks came under the control of the FPS, including the Florida Caverns.

CCC workers construct mess hall at the Oleno forestry training camp in Columbia County, Florida, 1935. With the establishment of the Florida Park Service, thousands of unemployed Floridians were put to work by the CCC to develop state parks for public use.

CCC workers construct mess hall at the Oleno forestry training camp in Columbia County, Florida, 1935. With the establishment of the Florida Park Service, the CCC put thousands  of unemployed Floridians to work developing state parks for public use.

In order to make the newly discovered series of caves accessible to tourists, CCC enrollees were paid approximately one dollar per day to work on the project from 1938 to 1942.  Underground, the “gopher gang” removed hundreds of tons of soil and rock to create usable pathways and clearings large enough for people to walk through, while also installing a light and trail system to guide visitors through the caves. Above ground, CCC workers helped construct a visitor center, fish hatchery, and nine-hole golf course. With the onset of America’s involvement in World War II, the federal government discontinued the CCC, and work on the caverns project abruptly stopped. In 1942, the 1,300 acre Florida Caverns State Park officially debuted to the public, charging 72 cents for general admission.

Golfers in play on the Florida Caverns Golf Course, 1947.

Golfers play on the Florida Caverns Golf Course, 1947.

Thousands of visitors descended into the bowels of the “underground wonderland” during its first years of operation. The caves soon emerged as a popular Sunshine State tourist destination during and after WWII. As Florida’s total population more than doubled between 1940 to 1960, the FPS proposed several improvements and expansions to the state park to accommodate more visitors. No expansion issue was more sensitive, however, than the subject of segregated park restrooms for blacks and whites. A reflection of the separate and unequal Jim Crow South, the FPS designed the state parks system in the 1930s with only whites in mind–admission fares necessarily excluded African-Americans.  However, the booming wartime economy of the early 1940s opened more economic opportunity to black Floridians, and in turn, lined their pockets with more disposable income to spend on recreation. Florida Caverns Superintendent Clarence Simpson observed the changing demographic of visitors and agreed that “they [African-Americans] should be given the same service that we accord to anyone else,” but warned that it would be “a grave mistake [to] allow them to use the same rest room.” Segregated bathroom facilities were eventually built for black patrons, and segregation persisted at all of Florida’s state parks until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively outlawed the practice.

Letter dated May 25, 1943 from Superintendent of Florida Caverns, J. Clarence Simpson to FPS Director Lewis Scoggin regarding segregated bathroom facilities. Florida State Parks project files (S. 1270), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

Letter dated May 25, 1943 from Superintendent of Florida Caverns J. Clarence Simpson to FPS Director Lewis Scoggin regarding segregated bathroom facilities. Florida State Parks project files (S. 1270), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

In addition to offering integrated bathrooms and impressive guided cave tours, by the mid-1960s, Florida Caverns State Park also boasted new campgrounds, a swimming hole, expanded hiking and biking trails, and a bath house.

Florida Caverns State Park promotion brochure, ca. 1950. State Library of Florida vertical file collection.

A young visitor is pictured standing inside the “Cathedral Room” on the cover of a Florida Caverns State Park promotional brochure, ca. 1950. State Library of Florida vertical file collection.

While perhaps not as well-known as Virginia’s Lurary Caverns or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the eerie calm of the luminescent mineral contours at Florida Caverns State Park consistently draws droves of new and returning visitors each year. The next time you find yourself driving on the historic Highway 90 corridor in northwestern Florida, follow the signs for the caverns at Marianna, and uncover some of Florida’s underground history.

Entrance to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, c. 1950.

Entrance to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, ca. 1950.

Interested in planning a trip to Florida Caverns State Park? Visit the Florida State Parks website for more information.

 

 

 

 

Familiar Faces on Florida Memory

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

UPDATE

As our blogs this month have demonstrated, sometimes you can find more in the Archives than you anticipated. Recently, the State Archives received an email from Orestes Ortega III giving names to previously unidentified faces—his grandparents and aunts. After seeing the photograph on Florida Memory, he wanted to share with us the history of his family’s journey to the United States. Together with his aunt Maritza, who is shown in the photograph, Mr. Ortega shared their family’s story with us.

Explaining the photograph’s significance to him, Mr. Ortega says, “My grandmother showed me this photograph when I was a boy and it is well-known in our family. It is something of a point of pride for my grandparents. This image has always been so important to me. Their decision to leave in such crazy circumstances, a pregnant wife, two small girls, and a rickety little boat, has always inspired me. I am here today because of the moment in that photograph.”

The Ortega family and Armando Rodriguez wait on a Coast Guard boat at Key West (April 11, 1961).

The Ortega family and Armando Rodriguez wait on a Coast Guard boat at Key West (April 11, 1961).

This photo shows the family of Cuban mechanic Orestes Ortega, Sr. (wearing a hat) waiting in a Coast Guard boat with ex-Castro captain Armando Rodriguez (seated back). Ortega’s oldest daughter, Maritza (far left holding a doll), his wife, Aracelia (who is five months pregnant with the couple’s son, Orestes Ortega, Jr.), and youngest daughter, Meca (center) joined him to escape from the rising political instability of mid-century Cuba. Ortega and an old mariner named “El Isleño” hid a small boat, Jocuma (pictured), near a dock and waited for the right time for the Ortega family to leave the island. One evening in April 1961, Ortega decided to take his chances. This would be their third attempt to escape from Cuba. With El Isleño’s help, Ortega placed his young family and some supplies into the small boat before setting off for the United States. They left Cuba around 6:00 pm as the sugar mill horn blew. The drifters spent two nights at sea, and on the third day Ortega saw something on the horizon. Their boat had been badly damaged, they were running out of food, and their compass was damaged. Luckily, what Ortega saw was an American-owned oil platform. After landing on the platform, they were transported to South Florida to start their lives in the U.S. This image was captured on April 11, 1961.

What have you discovered in the Archives? Share your story with us in the comments below. If you come across an unidentified person you recognize in our collection, please email archives@dos.myflorida.com and include a link to the image.

Found in Translation: A WWI Veteran Steps Out of the Past

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Florida Memory recently digitized the State Archives of Florida’s collection of World War I service cards. Soon after the collection went online, one of the service cards emerged as the key to uncovering more about the life and death of forgotten WWI veteran, Manuel Cabeza.

With assistance from archivists at the State Archives of Florida, researchers were able to confirm that Cabeza, the victim of a 1921 lynching in Key West, was a natural born citizen of the United States and an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Army.

Manuel Cabeza

Manuel Cabeza’s World War I service card.

While investigating the unsolved murder, researchers contacted the State Archives seeking documentation of Cabeza’s military service. After translating the last name from Spanish to English, “cabeza” means “head” in English, archivists located a copy of Manuel “Head’s” World War I service card. It is hopeful that this documentation will aid in the effort to place a proper U.S. government headstone on Cabeza’s grave.

Are you researching your family history? Our collection of WWI service cards isn’t the only great resource we have for genealogists. Check out our Guide to Genealogical Research at the State Archives of Florida to learn more about our most frequently used resources.

New Collection: Florida Maps

Florida Maps is the newest addition to Florida Memory’s ever-growing document collections. This is a selection of over 300 maps from the State Library of Florida’s Florida Map Collection. In addition to the standard cataloging included in all of our digitized collections, these maps have been indexed for all place names, counties, business entities, forts, lighthouses, land grants, and more. A new zoom feature allows users to view each map in full detail.

map_example

With over 70,000 place names across the more than 300 maps, this collection offers an extensive presentation of the cartographic history of Florida. A great resource for researchers, genealogists and map lovers,  these maps are browsable by their geographic scope, temporal coverage, thumbnails, format, and subject terms.

The popular shopping cart feature, previously only available for the Florida Photographic Collection, is now available for Florida Maps. Now you can purchase high-resolution scans or prints up to 16″ by 20″. Explore the new Florida Map collection on Florida Memory today—what will you discover?

A Visit from the Past

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

As archivists working with the Florida Photographic Collection, we often receive phone calls and emails from patrons looking for specific images. Sometimes photos are acquired for news articles or academic publications, but other times pure curiosity fuels their inquiries. Whatever the case, we archivists become detectives for the public. The research process can be tedious and frustrating, but it can also be quite exciting and rewarding—especially when we are able to uncover surprising material for our patrons.

A few months ago, we received a question from patron Katie Godwin. Her family has an old portrait from 1951 of her late grandmother Mary Lou Bisplingoff. At the time, Bisplingoff, who had not yet married, was on the edge of twenty and a student at Florida State University. While Katie was replacing the broken glass of the framed picture of her “Nana,” she discovered something interesting about the photo: “When I took the frame apart to install the new glass, I found two surprises: one was a baby picture of my mother. The other was that the picture we had admired for so long was actually an ‘unfinished proof.’ A stamp on the back said the picture had been made at L’Avant Studios.”

With a sense of mystery, Katie began her quest. This is her story:

“You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone.”

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

While the new glass was being cut for the frame, I searched online and found that L’Avant had been a prominent studio in Tallahassee for decades. The studio closed in the 1980s and donated their inventory to the State Archives of Florida. I began to get excited. I hoped that I could find the original version of this beloved picture and get a clearer, brighter copy to share with my family.
The next morning I called the Archives and asked about the photograph. I was referred to Photographic Archivist Adam Watson, who knew the collection well. At his request, I sent a copy of the image and the stamp on the back, as well as an approximate date for the photograph. As promised, I heard back within just a few days; however, I was only partially prepared for the response. The image I was searching for was not there, but Adam found eight other pictures of Nana. Upon seeing the photos, I recognized only one of them. The rest were entirely new to me and my family. Nana has been gone for two years now. You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone. It was surreal. These pictures were taken just before she turned twenty, over sixty years ago!

“Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana.”

Initially I thought I would print all of the pictures and surprise my mother with them for her birthday, but I couldn’t keep something this big to myself. Instead, I immediately told her over the phone and then sent the proofs to her. I also texted the photos to my sisters. It was all so out of the blue and unexpected. As for my grandfather, who struggles the most with losing Nana, we decided to wait to tell him until we had the prints. I worked with Jackie Attaway to purchase high resolution digital scans of all eight images and then had them printed at a local print shop.

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

“…they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her.”

Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana. My Mom noticed that in one picture you could see Nana’s resemblance to her father’s side of the family. Another was my favorite because I thought you could see the glint in her eye and the sparkle she was trying to contain. In one of the photos, we noticed that her shoes were almost the same as the shoes my sister wears now; and in some you could see the shadow of a huge lamp that made the whole scene look like something from the movies. All of the photos were glamorous, and they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her. My grandfather could hardly speak when he saw them.  They were bittersweet for him, but he has told me several times how much he loves the pictures and how he took them around to his friends in town, showing her off. I had no idea that the State Archives could hold such a treasure for our family. Working with Adam and Jackie was pleasant, easy, and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

At the State Archives we use our institutional knowledge, tenderness, and care when assisting patrons like Katie. Each day we have the privilege of being the custodians of a vast and wonderful collection of historic treasures. Katie’s story is an example of how a little archival research can allow patrons to connect with history on a personal level. As archivists, those are the most rewarding days for us.

What will you find in the Archives? This October, join us in celebrating Archives Month by exploring the Archives yourself. You can search for pictures of your family members on the Florida Photographic Collection, then further your research in person at the State Archives. In addition, the Photographic Collection provides high resolution scans and prints to the public for a nominal fee. Did Katie’s story inspire your own family research? Let us know in the comments section below!

Meet a Researcher

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Meet Braeden Belcher, a historian at Florida State University who is using the State Archives of Florida as a resource for his master’s thesis. Originally from Brighton, Michigan, Braeden is a student in the FSU Historical Administration and Public History Program and “hope[s] to one day work in a museum!”

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Belcher brought some archival experience with him on his research trip to the State Archives.  While in college, he worked as a research assistant in his university’s archives.  In this capacity, he was in charge of researching and developing displays that highlighted the archives’ collection and, according to Braeden, he “loved it!”

Braeden’s master’s thesis explores how Floridians celebrated the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution in 1976.  Braeden is using the records of the Bicentennial Commission of Florida (Series 787), which was the group responsible for planning bicentennial celebrations and activities throughout the state in the 1970s.  These archival records are helping Braeden “get a picture of how Floridians were planning for America’s 200th birthday, and what being an American meant to them.”

To plan his research trip, Braeden made frequent use of our online catalog and the Florida Memory website, as well as consulting archives staff in the research room.  “The finding aids available online have a lot of useful information about the collections, but the staff is always willing to help me if I have extra questions,” he says.

Through consulting the archives’ catalog, website, and staff, Braeden acquired the materials he needed for his research project.  He also has this advice for potential researchers: “Make sure you have a general idea of which documents you want to look at, the more information you can give to the staff the better! They will always be able to help you out and answer any questions you have, so feel free to ask!”

If you’re conducting research at the State Archives of Florida, remember that the reference staff is always available to answer questions and to help point you in the right direction. The Archives reference room is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Share Your Digital Photos: Hurricane Matthew

Hurricanes NamesNow that Matthew has passed, it will be remembered alongside Camille, Andrew, and Charley as one of many hurricanes that have shaped Florida’s history. Help the State Archives preserve that history by donating your digital images of damage, flooding, and other effects of this event. To learn more about donations, please see below.

What are the digital photograph specifications?

  • File Format: TIFF, JPEG, RAW
  • Megapixel: Minimum 5MP

Can I donate photographs taken with my phone?

Probably. The camera on your mobile device may produce images of a high enough quality to meet our minimum requirements. Most modern devices, including iPhones (4 and newer), iPads (3 and newer), and many Android devices by Samsung, Motorola and Sony take photographs at a minimum resolution of 5 megapixels. Check your phone’s specifications to verify that it provides the appropriate quality for images

Will my photos be put on Florida Memory?

It is possible, but not all photographs donated to the State Archives appear on Florida Memory.

How do I donate my digital photographs?

Donors are asked to sign a Deed of Gift (PDF, 2 pages) transferring to the State Archives legal custody of the records and any copyright interests they hold in the records, thus allowing the Archives to make the records fully accessible to the public for historical research. Send all photos, along with the deed of gift, as attachments to the Archives by email at archives@dos.myflorida.com.

Finding Family on Florida Memory

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

With genealogy as the fastest growing hobby in America, many Floridians seek out resources at the State Archives of Florida to research their ancestors and connect with their past. In the process of digitizing photographs, documents and audio, Archives staff members sometimes make surprising discoveries–including insights into the lives of their own relatives.

Young circus acrobats practicing on a bicycle in Tallahassee. Terry Folmar, center.

Young circus acrobats practicing on a bicycle in Tallahassee. Terry Folmar, center.

Isabella Folmar, Florida Memory administrative assistant, was working as a scanner when she came across the above image of her grandfather Terry Folmar with fellow acrobats Margie Herold and Sandra Brooks.

“I was looking through the Tallahassee Democrat Collection on Florida Memory, and there he was. I remember once, when I lived with my grandparents as a little girl, my grandfather told me about being in the circus when he was a boy. But I had never seen any pictures,” said Folmar.

“This photo is really special to me. I remember sharing it with everyone in my family after I found it. My grandfather appreciated this little window into the past, and asked me to be on the lookout for more photos of his childhood,” she added.

Group of men in front of Moseley's Drug Store, Madison. Dr. Alonzo Lashbrook Blalock, third from left.

Group of men in front of Moseley’s Drug Store, Madison. Dr. Alonzo Lashbrook Blalock, third from left.

Similarly, Photographic Archivist Adam Watson discovered a photo of his great grandfather in a collection of photographs taken in Madison.

“My great grandfather was a doctor in Madison. I had never seen anything but formal portraits of him.  I had heard many stories about him from family and former patients.  I knew that he primarily made house calls but also had an office in the back of one of the drug stores downtown.  In this photo he is apparently hanging out in front of the drug store with his ‘buds.’ It was interesting to see an informal photo of him from head to toe,” said Watson.

“I was surprised at how small and kind of tough looking he was. It was easier now to imagine this man whom former patients told me could often be spotted in front of his house early in the morning,  asleep behind the reins of his carriage after a late night house call–his horse having found the way home.”

Children with Santa mailing letters to Santa from Tallahassee. Charlotte Pullen, top right, held by Santa.

Children mailing letters to Santa from Tallahassee. Charlotte Pullen is held by Santa.

Sound Archivist Ross Brand has uncovered a number of records of various family members in the State Archives, but two regarding his mother, Charlotte, were of particular sentimental value.

“The first thing I found after I started working in the Archives was a photo of my mom as a child mailing a letter to Santa.  In fact, most of her brothers and sisters are gathered around in the photo as well.  I don’t even think my mom had ever realized that it ran in the Democrat!”

Later, while digitizing Florida Folk Festival recordings, Brand found an even more charming record of his mother: “When I heard Thelma Boltin say my mom’s name, I couldn’t believe it.  My mom used to joke that she sang at the Folk Festival when she was in high school, but the fact that it somehow got captured on tape is incredibly serendipitous.”  This was the only recording of the Godby High School Folk Singers, and it just happened to be the year that Charlotte Pullen, as she was known then, was co-leader.  “Hearing not only her speaking voice, but her singing voice, too, was amazing,” Brand said, continuing that he “couldn’t wait to sneak her version of John Denver’s ‘Grandma’s Feather Bed’ onto a mix CD with all of her favorite folk music from the 1970s.”    

Archives are home to historically significant materials that often bear personal meaning to archives staff and the communities they serve. This October, make the most of Archives Month by investigating your family’s history using resources from the State Archives of Florida. Have you found a photograph of a loved one on Florida Memory? Let us know in the comments section!

Archives Month 2016

Happy American Archives Month! Every October, the State Archives of Florida joins with archives throughout the country to participate in a month-long dialogue about what an archive is, who archivists are, and why it matters to the average American citizen. Archivists are a passionate group of professionals dedicated to the faithful preservation of the historical documents that make up state, local, and national histories. Some of the stories living within these records can have far-reaching impacts on the modern people looking at them, and an archivist’s work is driven by the responsibility to provide public access to these potentially life-changing materials. Throughout Archives Month we will be sharing some of our best life-changing stories from the State Archives of Florida vault. But, in order for archived records to change lives they, too, must have a physical repository to call home. With that in mind, we’re starting off Archives Month 2016 with a brief history of how the State Archives of Florida came into existence and why it matters.

History of the State Archives of Florida

The State Archives of Florida as it exists now did not open until 1969, but several Floridians with a passion for preserving state history were at work for much longer. Early on in Florida’s statehood, the Secretary of State was charged with maintaining Florida’s historical records. However, not until the State Library of Florida opened in 1925 did any meaningful preservation begin. Prior to this, original state documents had no official home, and lived in moldy basements, hot attics, and other scattered locations inhospitable to long term preservation.

In the early 20th century, Caroline Mays Brevard, Florida historian and educator, emerged as one of the earliest advocates for the establishment of a “hall of history” for the state documents. In an era before women could vote, Brevard appealed to Florida’s lawmakers for an official state repository to collect and maintain Florida’s historical records.

Caroline Brevard's written appeal for a state repository of Florida's historical documents. Ca. 1900.

Caroline Brevard’s written appeal for a state repository of Florida’s historical documents, ca. 1900.

“We should no longer delay to make provision for the care and preservation of our archives…. Such a hall would be the headquarters for all historical activities in the state, and here thousands of our people would find information. State pride would be strengthened, for patriotism would know its reason for being,” urged Brevard.

Though Caroline Brevard died in 1920, five years before the establishment of a functional state library, her advocacy certainly contributed to the appointment of the first State Librarian, W.T. Cash , in 1927 and the first State Archivist, Dr. Dorothy Dodd, in 1941. After Cash’s death in 1951, Dodd succeeded him as State Librarian.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the the University of Chicago.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the University of Chicago.

Until the State Archives opened as its own entity in 1969, the State Library assumed archival functions, and was responsible for collecting and storing archival materials. During her tenure as State Archivist, Dorothy Dodd traveled the state in search of significant Florida-related historical records and manuscripts. She later recounting how she “started [the State Library’s Florida Collection] with the idea that anything that had to do with Florida had a place in th[e] collection.” By the time she retired in 1965, Dr. Dodd had collected 260 linear feet of territorial and state papers, and it is these items that formed the original core of the State Archives of Florida’s holdings.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s deteriorative impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s destructive impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building on 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building at 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray Building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 siege of St.Augustine is the oldest collection item currently held by the State Archives of Florida, and is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 attack on St. Augustine is the oldest single item currently held by the State Archives of Florida. Additionally, it is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Why Celebrate Archives?

For over four decades, the State Archives of Florida has served Floridians with access to the records of their state.  Specifically, the State Archives is statutorily mandated to “collect, preserve, and maintain the significant official records of state government and to inform the public about the existence and location of these records.” Additionally, the Archives is also permitted to collect, preserve, and maintain historic local government records, manuscripts, photographs, maps, plans, and other evidence of past activities in Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

The State Archives of Florida now holds approximately 50,000 cubic feet of archival records.  A staff of professional archivists is responsible for the continued acquisition and processing of archival records,the maintenance of existing records, and making them available for public access.

Collections Management Archvist, Tyeler McLean. Before a patron can make use of an archival collection, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

Collections Management Archivist, Tyeler McLean, processes a newly acquired collection. Often when the Archives acquires a new collection, it arrives in a disorganized condition.  Before researchers can make use of a collection’s contents, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

In reflecting on why archives should be celebrated, seasoned archivist Elisabeth Golding opined:

Why celebrate? Because American archives, and Florida archives, preserve and protect the foundations of our freedoms. Archives collect the records that make transparent government possible and preserve evidence of civil and property rights. We can cite a state or federal Constitution in defending our rights as citizens because archives preserve the integrity and authenticity of those original documents. We can hold government agencies accountable because archives preserve the original laws that set forth those agencies’ responsibilities and limitations and the budgets that show how those agencies spent taxpayer dollars.

But that’s not all we celebrate. Archives serve as the recorded memory of a community, a state, a nation, a society. Every day, students, teachers, historians, journalists, attorneys, and members of the public use records from the State Archives and other archival repositories to search their family history, study the development of communities and transportation networks, analyze legislative intent, trace land ownership and use, find resources for History Day projects, and find information about the actions and decisions of elected and appointed government officials.

If you live in the Tallahassee area, celebrate Archives Month with us at our special after-hours Archives Month events throughout the month of October.

Florida Memory Wall Calendar

Show your love for Florida Memory, and your four-legged friends, by requesting a Paw Prints: Florida Pets, Remembered wall calendar! This complimentary 15-month (Oct. 2016 – Dec. 2017) calendar features photographs from the State Archives’ collections depicting special moments between Floridians and their pets. Each image has been carefully tinted to recapture the original living colors of its time.

The calendar features 15 unique images.

The calendar features 15 unique images.

Individuals and organizations alike may request our calendar. Send your request to archives@dos.myflorida.com, or contact the State Archives Reference Desk at 850.245.6719. Quantities may be limited depending on supply availability. All items are shipped free of charge.

Looking for more ways to help spread the word about Florida Memory? Visit our promotional items page to request posters, mousepads, CDs and brochures.