Women’s Equality Day: The First Ladies of Florida Politics

In 1929 a journalist reported on Florida’s first U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen’s unusual problem: no pockets! Unlike her male colleagues — whose suits were constructed with upwards of thirteen pockets — Owen’s feminine professional attire provided little room for storing the necessities men typically kept in their pockets. Insisting she needed her hands to orate and handle important bill files, Owen reportedly fashioned a makeshift knapsack with a long strap to wear across her shoulders. With her hands free, Owen helped represent the first generation of women in politics, advocating on behalf of her constituents in the 4th congressional district of Florida from 1929 to 1932. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, like many of Florida’s pioneering female politicians, faced new and unexpected challenges after winning the right to vote in 1920.

Since 1971, Florida has joined in the nationwide observation of Women’s Equality Day on August 26th. Women’s Equality Day commemorates the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment (see our blog on Florida’s women suffragists), which granted women’s suffrage, and symbolizes “the continued fight for equal rights.” Today, in honor of 96 years of women participating in Florida politics, we have profiled the history and achievements of four of Florida’s most path-breaking female elected officials.

Portrait of U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, c. 1929.

Portrait of U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, c. 1929.


Ruth Bryan Owen, Florida’s First U.S. Congresswoman (1929-1932)

The daughter of famed U.S. Congressman and three-time presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, Ruth Bryan Owen (1885-1954) became a ground-breaking politician in her own right after being elected to serve as Florida’s first female congresswoman in 1928. Having grown up in a well-connected, politically active family, government fascinated Owen. As a young girl in the 1890s, she delighted in watching her father debate in Congress, earning her the nickname “sweetheart of the house.” After living abroad with her husband during WWI, Owen settled in Coral Gables, Florida, and soon developed a reputation as a strong public speaker and political organizer. In the early 1920s she served as President of the Community Council of Civic Clubs, and represented Florida on the National Council on Child Welfare. Though she lost her first campaign for Congress in 1926, she tried again in 1928 — touring her green Model T on an aggressive 500 stop speech-circuit from Jacksonville to Key West — and won.

Ruth Bryan Owen during congressional campaign, c. 1928.

Congressional candidate Ruth Bryan Owen poses with her secretary, driver and campaign car, “The Spirit of Florida.” Photo by G.W. Romer, c.1928.

As a congresswoman, she advocated for establishing the Everglades as a national park; expanded protections for children and families; and secured funding for a youth citizen program, which brought future leaders to Washington. “I like Congress. [I] always like work you feel you can do and I like to work for the people in Florida,” Owen said about her post. After a dry posture on alcohol prohibition caused her to lose reelection in 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Ruth Bryan Owen U.S. Minister of Denmark and Iceland, and once again she broke new ground as the first woman to hold such a high profile diplomacy position.

Name tag worn by student delegates to the Second Ruth Bryan Owned Brigade, 1931.

Name tag worn by student delegates to the Second Ruth Bryan Owen Brigade, 1931. Congresswoman Owen enacted a youth civic engagement program, and invited a delegation of students from each of her district’s 18 counties to shadow her in Washington. Of this initiative she wrote: “I think there are two qualities all young people have. One is energy and the other is idealism. [If] it is just possible to translate government into the terms which appeal to that sense of idealism in youth we not only give to youth the most wonderful interest in the world by bringing a powerful aid to government.”

Beth Johnson, Florida’s First Female State Senator (1963-1967)

Advertisement for Beth Johnson's State Senate campaign, c. 1962.

Advertisement for Beth Johnson’s State Senate campaign, c. 1962.

Elizabeth “Beth” McCullough Johnson (1909-1973) took her place in Sunshine State history when she won the distinction of the first woman elected to serve in the state senate in 1962. After graduating with a B.A. from prestigious Vassar College in 1930, Johnson relocated with her husband to Orlando in 1934. For the next two decades, the mother of three children assumed leadership positions in various local civic organizations like the Orlando Junior League, the League of Women Voters, and the Orlando Planning Board. In 1957, she became the second woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and subsequently won reelection until 1962 with her historic election as the first female state senator.

In the Florida Senate until 1967, Johnson championed educational access and mental health issues, taking on membership in the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, Constitutional Revision Commission, and the Legislative Council Committee on Mental Health. Specifically, she advocated for daytime access to adult education, lamenting that “too many feminine Phi Beta Kappa minds are in the kitchen. They should be going to college during the same hours their youngsters are attending school.”  Perhaps her greatest achievement as senator came in 1965 when she pushed for the passage of a $7.5 million bond program for the construction and establishment of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.  For her accomplishments, Senator Beth Johnson received the Susan B. Anthony Award as Democratic Woman of the Year in 1966 as “the woman who most nobly, ably and conscientiously exemplifies the entire spirit of the 19th Amendment.”

Carrie Meek, Florida’s First African-American Member of U.S. Congress since Reconstruction (1993-2002)

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

The 1992 election of Florida Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek (1927-present) signaled the start of a new era in Florida politics: Meek would be Florida’s first African-American representative in U.S. Congress since Reconstruction. Although the 19th amendment barred voter discrimination on the basis of sex, it did not address the longstanding tradition of racism at the polls. Not until the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964, which outlawed poll taxes, and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, which spurred the fair redrawing of congressional districts, could African-Americans in Florida legitimately participate in politics. Carrie Meek, the granddaughter of former slaves, would lead the way for a new generation of black politicians in Florida.

Born in 1926, Meek grew up as the daughter of sharecroppers in the “black bottom” neighborhood of Tallahassee, receiving her education at the segregated Lincoln High School and Florida A&M University before earning a graduate degree from the University of Michigan.  In 1961, the newly divorced mother of two accepted a teaching position at Miami-Dade Community College. In 1978, after two decades as an educator, administrator, and community activist, she successfully campaigned for a spot in the Florida House of Representatives. A few years later in 1982, she became the first African-American woman elected to the Florida State Senate. During her tenure in the Florida Legislature, Meek advocated for gender, racial, and economic equality.

State Representative Carrie Meek seated in the Florida House Chamber, c. 1980.

Representative Carrie Meek seated in the Florida House Chamber, c. 1980.

From there, the 66-year-old grandmother set her sights on a federal ticket, capturing 83 percent of the vote in her historic 1992 run to represent Florida’s 17th congressional district on Capitol Hill. But, as Congresswoman Meek saw it, her responsibilities stretched beyond her Miami-based constituency, but to blacks throughout the state, who now, for the first time in over a century, had political representation in the federal lawmaking body: “[African-Americans in Florida will] have somebody they know will be attuned to their needs… Many [whites] are sensitive but they can’t really understand how hard we’ve had to struggle.”

During her first years in Washington, Meek fought hard for a spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee — a position typically closed to freshmen representatives — and made federal funding to relieve the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Miami a top priority. Among other initiatives in Washington, Meek sponsored bills related to immigration and welfare reform, as well as increased entrepreneurial opportunities for African-Americans. In 2002, at the age of 76, Carrie P. Meek decided not to seek re-election due to her age. Upon her departure, she expressed deep affection for the ten years she spent in Washington: “I wish I could say I was tired of Congress [but] I love it still.”

Paula Hawkins, Florida’s First Female U.S. Senator (1981-1986)

Portrait of U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins, 1980.

Portrait of U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins, 1980.

U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins (1927-2009) still holds the title of the only Florida woman elected to serve in the upper house of the Congress.  Hawkins also carries the distinction of being the first woman to win a full Senate term without a political family connection.  Before representing Floridians in Washington, Paula Hawkins lived in Winter Park and served on the Florida Public Service Commission from 1973-1979. She simultaneously ran two unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate in 1974 and Lieutenant Governor in 1978. Then, in 1980, the “fighting Maitland housewife,” who stood on a platform of conservative family values, won the race for U.S. Senate by a landslide — making her just one of two women in the U.S. Senate at the time. Shortly after her victory, a male reporter sarcastically asked who would do the laundry while she was busy lawmaking. “I don’t really think you need to worry about my laundry,” snapped the first female senator to bring her husband with her to Washington.

In the U.S. Senate Hawkins emerged as a tireless advocate for children, families, and drug-free youth.  Among her major legislative achievements, Senator Hawkins sponsored the National Missing Children’s Act in 1982, which allowed for federal intervention in state kidnapping cases and created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. On her crusade for children’s welfare, Paula Hawkins even spoke openly about how her own experiences as a child abuse victim inspired her fight for neglected and mistreated children in the Congress. “I can recall today how terrified I was…. I was embarrassed and humiliated…. Now, when children complain, I believe them,” she revealed to her constituents. Despite her advocacy for vulnerable youth, Hawkins ultimately lost a heated reelection race against Governor Bob Graham in 1986.  Nonetheless, her unmatched service as Florida’s first and only female U.S. Senator keeps her ranked high among the state’s most accomplished women in politics.

These are profiles of just four of the many Florida women who shaped state and national politics in the twentieth century.  For additional resources on the history and contributions of women in Florida, check out our Guide to Women’s History Collections.

The Forgotten History of Lincolnville

If you have ever visited St. Augustine, you might have noticed a large concentration of Victorian era homes just southwest of recognizable landmarks like the Bridge of Lions and the Cathedral Basilica. This is Lincolnville, a historically black neighborhood in America’s oldest city. Formed by St. Augustine’s freed slave population after the Civil War, Lincolnville was home to a thriving middle-class black community during the period of legalized segregation in early twentieth century Florida.

1885 Birdseye view of St. Augustine

A stylized map depicting a developed lot in Lincolnville (1885). Excerpt from 1885 birdseye view of St. Augustine, Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all enslaved peoples living in Union-occupied areas, which included St. Augustine–one of the few places in Florida to enforce emancipation during the Civil War. According Mary Anne Murray, an eye-witness who was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) some seventy years after emancipation: “All the slaveholders were ordered to release their slaves and allow them to gather in a large vacant lot west of St. Joseph’s Academy, where they were officially freed.” An estimated 672 slaves living in St. Augustine became freedmen at once, and the parcel became known as “liberation lot.” These liberated men and women would become the founders of Lincolnville. In the decades that followed, their descendants celebrated the anniversary of emancipation in jubilant fashion.

Emancipation Day Parade in Lincolnville (1920s).

Lincolnville photographer Richard A. Twine captured this image of Lincolnville residents commemorating Emancipation Day with an annual parade (1920).

The freedmen of St. Augustine wasted no time in settling a neighborhood of their own, leasing numerous city lots along the marshy banks of the Maria Sanchez Creek in the mid to late 1860s. Initially referred to as “Africa,” the rapidly developing corridor was soon renamed “Lincolnville,” after the slain Civil War president. By the 1880s, many Lincolnville residents were property owners who built their own homes, businesses, and churches. Several blacks from Lincolnville served in public office up until the turn of the century when restrictive voting laws like poll taxes and literacy tests effectively disenfranchised African-Americans. The definitive end to black political participation in Lincolnville came in 1902, when resident John Papino was shot after winning election to the city council. No black officials would be elected to city government again until 1973. Barred from the ballot box and routinely shut out from many of the economic opportunities available to whites, African-Americans living in Lincolnville focused on investing in their community’s development.

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s).

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s). There were at least 16 churches located in Lincolnville by the 1920s. Photo by Richard Twine.

Though intended to limit opportunity for African-Americans, the exclusionary conditions of segregation actually encouraged the growth of black enterprise initiatives. By the 1920s a lively commercial district of black-owned businesses had sprouted up around Washington St., making it the center of socialization in Lincolnville. “If you weren’t there on Saturday night, you hadn’t lived,” reminisced former civil rights activist and St. Augustine City Commissioner Henry Twine.

Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge

Richard Twine photographed this group of Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge on 92 Washington St (1920s). Now a condominium, Odd Fellows Lodge was once the community watering hole, hosting proms, dances, and even celebrity performances by Ray Charles and Little Richard.

One Lincolnville entrepreneur, Frank Butler, who owned the Palace Market grocery store on 54 Washington St. where he often sold his customers goods on credit, became a well-known real-estate investor during a time when property deeds typically barred land sales to blacks.  Having built up a rapport with city officials, Butler often received tips on tax sales and real-estate sales, advantages otherwise not extended to African-Americans. Longtime Lincolnville resident, Rosalie Gordon Mills, recalled that Butler “had a calling—a mission in life to succeed as a black man…. He knew how to deal with the race problem and took advantage of every opportunity.” Butler leased properties all over town to black-run businesses, allowed prospective homeowners to buy on credit, and even established “Butler Beach” (see our blog “Butler Beach and Jim Crow”), the only beach between Jacksonville and Daytona open to African-Americans during segregation.

Frank Butler in his College Park Realty Office in Lincolnville (1920s).

Frank Butler standing behind the front desk of his College Park Realty Office on 54 ½ Washington St. in Lincolnville (1920s). Photo by Richard Twine.

In addition to the numerous business ventures undertaken by Butler, the Washington St. district also boasted the Ice Berg, a legendary pharmacy and soda shop managed by Arthur C. Forward. “Everything was good,” recalled former Lincolnville resident Debbie McDade who insisted the Ice Berg sold the best ice creams sodas “in the world.” Three barber shops, six grocery stores in addition to Butler’s Palace Market, four cafes, and four dry cleaning shops filled out the rest of the commercial hub. Black professionals like dentist Rudolph Gordon; medical doctors Leon Reid, T.G. Freeland, S.J.E. Farmer; and pharmacists Otis J. Mills and Robert E. Smith provided trusted healthcare in a neighborhood historian Diana Edwards described as a place where “extended families looked out after everybody.”

Photograph of Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles’ wedding day (1920s).

Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles on their wedding day (1920s). Photograph by Richard Twine.

Additionally, photographer Richard A. Twine’s studio on 62 Washington St. attracted regular customers interested in professional portraits.  When he was not working in his studio, Twine often took his camera to the streets of 1920s Lincolnville, documenting scenes of daily life at the height of the predominately black middle-class suburb’s business boom. Damaged by fire, Twine’s studio was slated for demolition in 1988 before the work crew discovered a collection of 103 glass negatives in the attic. Preserved by the St. Augustine Historical Society, and temporarily loaned to the State Archives of Florida for duplication, these rare slides illuminate the character of Lincolnville’s history.

Lincolnville resident Mary “Mae” Martin standing outside the gate to her home (1920s).

Lincolnville resident Mary “Mae” Martin standing outside the gate to her home (1920s). Photograph by Richard Twine.

As federal courts began striking down segregation laws as unconstitutional in the 1950s and 60s, Lincolnville became the site of civil rights organization in St. Augustine.  But, after integration came a decline in the number of black owned homes and businesses in Lincolnville. Although Lincolnville had never been entirely segregated– whites had always owned some shops and houses in the area– by the 1980s black residents of Lincolnville started selling and renting their properties in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The community became more commercialized and scattered, with much of the flavor and family-like atmosphere of 1920s Lincolnville living on only in Richard Twine’s photographs. However, longtime St. Augustine locals recognized the historic value of Lincolnville– in 1991, the Lincolnville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Out of the blue!: The Ins-and-Outs of Cyanotype Printing

Back in April, a 1920s-era scrapbook of portraits of the Bridge family of Dade City was accessioned into the Archives. This scrapbook was unusual in two ways: first, it heavily features pets as the subjects of its photographs; second, nearly all of the prints are cyanotypes—prints created through an early photographic process, characterized by their brilliant Prussian blue hue.

Fred L. Bridge with his dog in Dade City.

Bridge family dog in Dade City.

The deep, cool tones of cyanotype photography are particularly refreshing to viewers coping with Florida’s summer heat. But, as it turns out, Florida’s summertime UV rays are ideal for the exposure of cyanotype prints! Inspired by the unique and beautiful prints preserved in the Bridge family scrapbook, we decided to research the history behind this unusual photographic process and even learned how to create our own cyanotypes.

A Brief History of Cyanotype Photography

English astronomer John Herschel first discovered the chemical process of cyanotype printing in 1842, when he coated paper with iron salts before exposing them to light to create an image. Herschel used the technique to copy his scientific notes through contact printing—laying objects onto sensitized paper to create an image. The process later became a popular method for copying architectural plans or “blueprints.” Additionally, botanist Anna Atkins applied this same process in creating photograms of algae. Released in 1843, Atkins’s British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, debuted as the first-ever publication illustrated with photographs. Atkins is also credited as being the first woman to create a photograph.

The cyanotype process was infrequently used until the 1880s, when photographers turned to cyanotype printing as a quick and inexpensive way to proof their negatives. Commercially available, pre-sensitized cyanotype sheets became available in 1872, and by the early 20th century were used to produce cyanotypes at home.

Though pre-sensitized cyanotype sheets are still commercially available today, we elected to mix the solution, sensitize the paper, and create a contact print using a large-format negative from the Archives. The method we chose is similar to how  photographers may have proofed their own negatives in 1870.

The Process

First, we selected a large-format black and white negative with simple, clean imagery, little detail, and with a good scale of dark, light and mid-tones, in the hopes that this negative would produce a clear cyanotype image. Given these parameters, we selected William Elsner’s 1934 photograph of a palm-lined road in Florida.

Palm-lined road in Florida by William Elsner.

Then, we set out on mixing the sensitizer, with a kit purchased online. The sensitizer is produced by mixing equal parts of two  solutions: Solution A (a mix of 100g ferric ammonium citrate with 500 ml water) and Solution B (40g potassium ferricyanide with 500ml water). The solutions are mixed in jars that have been covered in paper, to keep them out of the light.

Isabella mixes the sensitizer.

After mixing the solutions in the darkroom, we painted the resulting sensitizer onto watercolor paper, a heavier stock of paper that would stand up well to rinsing the prints later.

To protect the negative from the sensitized paper, we enclosed the negative in clear mylar–the same material used to protect many historical documents in the Archives. After the sensitized paper dried, we tacked the encapsulated negative onto the sensitized paper, and allowed the print to sit in direct sunlight for ten minutes.

Sunlight exposes the image onto the sensitized paper.

As the sunlight exposed the image onto the paper, the sensitized area of the paper turned from light yellow to a deep emerald green. Once the ten minute exposure time elapsed, we took the print inside for washing. After washing the print for five minutes in softly running water, the color transformed into the Prussian blue hue characteristic of cyanotype prints.

Jackie poses with freshly rinsed print.

Jackie poses with the freshly rinsed print.

The final print.

For more information about historic photographic processes, check out our exhibit, Daguerreotype to Digital, which covers the history of photography from 1839 to the present era. Are you a photographer? Let us know about your experiences with alternative photographic processes in the comments section!


Florida’s First Publix

When most Floridians think of Publix, they imagine the grocery store chain with origins in Winter Haven. But did you know that Publix Super Market got its name from another business? In a speech given by Publix founder, George Jenkins, which was later published as The Publix Story, he explains his inspiration for the name of his company. He says, “The name ‘Publix’ was borrowed from a chain of theaters which was operating throughout Florida at the time. Most of them were closing up, and I liked the sound of the name so I just took it for my store.”

The theater chain was Publix Theatres Corporation, which operated at least 19 theaters in Florida during the mid-1920s and the early 1930s. Although the success of Publix Theatres in Florida was short-lived due to the stock market crash of 1929, Publix had a significant influence on Florida’s theater market because of the high standards the company established and the availability of their theaters.

During the 1920s, the United States saw an increase in chain stores. It started with grocery stores, and moved to drug stores, gas stations and clothing stores before eventually reaching the entertainment market. Companies would begin locally and sometimes develop into national companies, which was the case with Publix Theatres.

The Olympia Theater in Miami (1926) was owned and operated by Publix Theatres.

The Olympia Theater in Miami (1926) was owned and operated by Publix Theatres.

In 1925, Publix Theatres was founded in New York City as an affiliate of Paramount Studios. By 1929, Publix had the most powerful theater company in the United States because they modeled their business after large corporations. With 1200 locations, there were Publix theaters in large cities like New York City and Chicago, in addition to theaters in the South, Midwest and Northeast.

The Florida headquarters for Publix was located in St. Petersburg because of the city’s proximity to other Publix locations. Theater sites included the Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg and Jacksonville; the Olympia, Fairfax, Hippodrome and Paramount in Miami; the Stanley, Ketler and Arcade in West Palm Beach; the Tampa Theatre in Tampa; and locations in Gainesville, Daytona, Lake Worth and Palm Beach, to name a few.

Entrance to the Fairfax Theatre in Miami (1929).

Entrance to the Fairfax Theatre in Miami, which was acquired by Publix Theatres in 1929 along with eight other theaters in Miami.

With such a large presence in Florida’s theater market, Publix set the standard high for its competitors and for itself. Not only were the theaters opulently decorated, each one was also equipped with air-conditioning. The Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg was the first air-conditioned building in the Suncoast region. During the theater’s grand opening on September 10, 1926, the sold out crowd was reported to have covered their shoulders to keep from freezing. Likewise, a training school was organized for those interested in theater management, and training manuals were created for employees so they could learn how to provide patrons with a courteous and entertaining experience. Publix Theatres provided a space for local communities to come together for events that went beyond watching movies. There were ukulele contests, traveling vaudeville shows, as well as special tea and wafer events.

With the stock market crash, Publix was unable to pay the mortgage debts for its locations around the United States. By 1935, Publix was bankrupt. Many of the theaters owned by Publix were sold, including the theaters in Florida. Sparks Theaters of Lakeland took possession of a number of theaters previously owned by Publix, including the Florida Theatre in St. Petersburg.

The stage in the Tampa Theatre.

The opulently decorated stage at the Tampa Theatre.

The change in owners didn’t mean the end of all theaters formerly under Publix. The Florida Theatres in Jacksonville and St. Petersburg hosted Elvis concerts in August of 1956, as did the Olympia Theater in Miami. Many of the theaters are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville and the Tampa Theatre in Tampa.

Although Publix Theatres only spent a short time in the Sunshine State, the influence of the company lives on in Florida. Throughout the state you can still visit a Publix, but instead of watching a film you’re shopping for groceries.  What are your favorite memories as a theatergoer in Florida? Share with us by leaving a comment below, or by posting this blog on Facebook or Twitter.

Exploring the Everglades

Today, Florida’s Everglades are a popular destination for visitors and sportsmen.  This vast “river of grass” is host to agricultural areas and numerous canals, as well as a national park.  However, this was not always so.  There was a time when the Everglades were a wild and remote region.  Until the 1880s, some people even compared the Everglades to the interior of Africa, which was then an almost completely unknown part of the world.

Despite their mystery, there were many in the United States who believed that the Everglades could eventually be completely drained.  With such an effort, the Everglades could potentially become thousands of square miles of new land on which Florida could grow.  The promise of the enormous profits such an undertaking could generate was hard to ignore, and people from all over the United States became involved.  So great was said promise that the Times-Democrat, a newspaper out of New Orleans, resolved to not only fund but also send a man to lead two expeditions through the Everglades.  The Times-Democrat party became the first recorded group to successfully traverse the Everglades from north to south.

The Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades

The story begins with Hamilton Disston, the Disston Land Company, and Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund.  The IIF was established in 1851 for the purpose of encouraging the further development of Florida.  However, its resources were not exclusively for the development of the Everglades, and by the early 1880s, its obligations to various groups and projects all over the state had exceeded its means.  The IIF needed money.  Thus, the state resolved to sell more than four million acres of swampland, much of it in the Everglades, to the Disston Land company.  As a condition of the sale, Disston was required to begin draining the land himself.  Once reclaimed, Disston and many others like him believed that the Everglades could become extraordinarily fertile farmland.  Sales of this land, therefore, could have made him fantastically wealthy. (For more, see our blog post: “Land by the Gallon”)

Meanwhile, the Times-Democrat had long been predicting that the South was poised for a massive development boom following Reconstruction, especially concerning the conversion of wetlands into productive farms.  Though it primarily served New Orleans, the Times-Democrat boasted readership all over the South.  While it had no real ties to Disston himself, the newspaper saw that he owned – and was obligated to reclaim – lands which could help to make their prophecy come true.  Consequently, the newspaper organized two expeditions into the Everglades, the first in 1882 and the second the following year.  These expeditions would investigate the feasibility of draining the region and also determine what sort of plants might eventually grow best there.  The group included an experienced engineer and surveyor who could document their findings, as well as determine the best route for a telegraph line through the region at the request of the Western Union Company.

Hamilton Disston

Hamilton Disston

Though several military parties had crossed the Everglades during the Seminole Wars, these had all run between east and west.  The TimesDemocrat, therefore, proposed to attempt a route running from north to south, which promised many exciting new discoveries.   Furthermore, it would make a very exciting series of reports for their readership to enjoy.  The expedition would be led by Major Archie P. Williams,  who was the newspaper’s correspondent, and crewed by able and experienced men from the area.

The expedition proceeded in two stages.  In 1882, they traveled south along the Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee, and then made their way west along the Caloosahatchee River, towards Fort Myers.  The following year, the group retraced its route eastward into Okeechobee, and then turned south into the Everglades proper, aiming to reach the mouth of the Shark River.  All told, the journey was more than 400 miles.  Much of it went deep through the uncharted Everglades.

A map of the major traversals of the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running North to South.

A map showing routes taken across the Everglades. Note Major Williams’ 1883 route marked by a solid black line running north to south.

The Shark River Valley: The Times Democrat Expedition’s destination.

The Shark River Valley: the Times-Democrat’s destination.

The expedition, composed of both white and African-American men, endured many hardships on their journey south.  The February 23, 1883 edition of the Times-Democrat, for example, contains a report of a nighttime invasion of the party’s camp by alligators.   A well-timed gust of wind stoked the dying fire, and the light revealed that the ground was “one moving mass of the reptiles.”  Perhaps a few stories were exaggerated for the readers, but that does not diminish the group’s efforts.  Often, they found the water so shallow and the mud so deep that they were obliged to push their boats along from behind while sinking themselves in the swamp.  Some days would only see a few miles of hard won progress; cutting a path through the seemingly endless sawgrass.  They faced inclement weather in small boats, and swarms of mosquitoes.  The group also feared potentially hostile encounters with the Native Americans who still inhabited the area, though their concerns proved baseless.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

A 1913 Everglades survey party. Though smaller in number, their equipment is similar to what the Times-Democrat expedition would have been outfitted with. You can see a somewhat larger boat in the background, fitted with a mast for a small sail.

While their trip through the Everglades was difficult, the Times-Democrat party did reach the Shark River.  When they reached the end of the “river of grass,” they determined that, based on their experiences, any drainage project in the Everglades was destined to end in failure.  They also judged that a telegraph line was not feasible, for even if the line could be laid, accessing it for maintenance would mean regular repeats of their own arduous journey.  Major Williams and his men thought that the Everglades “must remain a swamp forever.”

On this count, the Times-Democrat men were only partially right.  Mr. Disston’s plan to “redeem” the Everglades never came to complete fruition.  Though some parts were drained in the twentieth century, much of the area is still swampland save for the natural islands, or hammocks, which occasionally rise up from the sawgrass.  Though the dry and fertile farmlands never materialized, accessibility has greatly improved.  A network of flood control canals and nature trails cross parts of the Everglades, as well as the famous “Alligator Alley” highway.  Travelers through the Everglades certainly have a much easier time of it than dragging their boats through the muck.   If you ever find yourself in the Everglades, take a moment to remember Major Archie Williams, his crew of intrepid Floridians, and their journey into the unknown.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

Exploring the Everglades in style on airboats.

The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair: Florida on Display

Summertime is well and truly underway here in Florida, and people from all over the world are coming to enjoy what our state has to offer.  In the summers of 1964 and 1965, however, Florida came to them as part of the World’s Fair, held in New York City’s Flushing Meadows Park.

Presided over by the iconic Unisphere, the fair ran for more than a year, from April 1964 to October 1965, with a break for the New York winter.  With the theme “Peace Through Understanding,” the fair was a showcase of the latest and greatest; from cutting edge technology to works of art from all over the world.  Dozens of other countries had a presence, along with many US states and several prominent corporations.  Visitors could marvel at Bell Laboratories’ video phone technology, admire the Ford Mustang – unveiled to the world for the first time at the fair – or sample any number of foreign cuisines.

Florida’s pavilion, rather than looking forward to the wonders of a utopian future, was an exhibition of the progress being made and the pleasures to be had in Florida; potentially on the very same day.  Indeed, visitors could even book a flight south right in the pavilion.  As one promotional video put it, Florida’s pavilion had “pretty girls, orange juice, and jumping porpoises.” In addition, the exhibit boasted shops, works by Floridian artists, and other attractions; all topped by the enormous illuminated orange of the Citrus Tower.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Porpoises performing for a happy audience, the main Florida pavilion is visible in the background.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Among the attractions was a water-ski show, offered free to the public courtesy of Florida. There were regular showings hosted every day in a large amphitheater adjacent to the pavilion proper.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

Miss Florida 1965 Carol Blum demonstrates her water skiing ability in the Florida aquadrome.

There were numerous guest acts, including performances by several Florida high school bands.  Also appearing was a group of Seminole alligator wrestlers who, according to Fair correspondence, “preferred to wrestle very large alligators” and were willing to bring their own to accommodate.  Accounting for all the various exhibits, demonstrations, and shows, Florida’s pavilion was among the largest at the fair.

Florida’s exhibit eventually ranked as the seventh most popular out of more than 150 at the fair by its end. The Florida pavilion only placed behind the likes of General Motors or the Vatican, who had Michelangelo’s Pietà brought to the fair at great expense.  The famous sculpture weighed some twenty thousand pounds including its marble base.  All told, close to fourteen and a half million fairgoers visited the Florida pavilion in the 1964 and 1965 World’s Fair seasons.  Were you or someone you know one of them?  Let us know in a comment!

Ralph Stanley Dies at 89

Banjo player and vocalist Ralph Stanley was a master of what he described as the “old-time mountain style” found in the ridges and valleys of his home on the Virginia-Kentucky border.  His high clarion tenor was iconic in traditional mountain music and modern bluegrass alike.  He died at his home in Sandy Ridge, Virginia on Thursday at the age of 89.

Stanley Brothers and Clinch Mountain Boys performing at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival- White Springs, Florida

Ralph Stanley (banjo) with Carter Stanley (guitar) at the 1959 Florida Folk Festival

Stanley was born in Dickenson County, located in Southwest Virginia, on February 25, 1927, absorbing the sentimental folk songs of the Carter Family right along with the doleful hymns of the Primitive Baptist Universalist congregation he grew up with.  After receiving his first banjo as a teenager, his mother taught him the claw-hammer style she had learned in her youth.  By the age of 19, Stanley had formed the Clinch Mountain Boys with his brother, Carter, which remained active for two decades.

During that time, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys found success arranging blues, ballads, hymns and breakdowns to feature their fraternally tight vocal harmonies and expressive musicianship in a style that, while often associated with bluegrass, featured little of the bombastic virtuosity and jazz-inflected melodies of popular bluegrass groups like Flatt and Scruggs or Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.

On November 8, 1958, nearing the height of their popularity, the Stanley Brothers headlined the Suwannee River Jamboree, a weekly radio program in Live Oak, Florida.  Their performance of Stanley’s original composition “Gonna Paint the Town” from a half-hour segment of the program syndicated to nearby radio stations can be found in the Florida Folklife Collection (S1576, T85-66):

After his brother’s death in 1966, Stanley began to focus more on the traditional ballads of his Appalachian home, shying further away from any bluegrass leanings his brother had.  His contributions to country music were recognized over the course of his career with inductions into both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor and the Grand Ole Opry, an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University, Congressional recognition in the form of the Living Legend Award and a National Medal of Arts, as well as a Grammy Award for his performance of “O Death” in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“Dr. Ralph,” as he was known in his later years, never wavered in his commitment to the penetrating and powerfully unpretentious roots of old-time mountain music, thus insuring his place in the pantheon of American roots music.

100 New Photos Every Week

Florida Memory adds approximately 100 photos every week. Now you can see them all on our Recently Added Photos page. Check back every Tuesday to see Florida’s history captured in tiny moments!

Here are some highlights from recent weeks:

Mackey International Airlines Chief stewardess Pauline Desjardin and Thea Bodner in Fort Lauderdale, 1972

Mackey International Airlines Chief stewardess Pauline Desjardin and Thea Bodner in Fort Lauderdale, 1972

Commander Harold Crossman with actress Loretta Young at Findlay Gallery for a St. Mary's Hospital benefit auction in Palm Beach, 1969

Commander Harold Crossman with actress Loretta Young at Findlay Gallery for a St. Mary’s Hospital benefit auction in Palm Beach, 1969

Kittens in a top hat in Dade City

Kittens in a top hat in Dade City

Portrait of Lela Fine Gresham in St. Marks

Portrait of Lela Fine Gresham in St. Marks

John Young Gresham was Head Keeper at the St. Marks Lighthouse from 1918 until 1949

John Young Gresham was Head Keeper at the St. Marks Lighthouse from 1918 until 1949

Bass player Hank Hauser getting fumigated at Miami Beach

Bass player Hank Hauser getting fumigated at Miami Beach

Remembering Lois Duncan

Award-winning author Lois Duncan passed away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

Duncan was the author of 50 books, ranging from children’s picture books to adult novels, but she is best known for her young adult suspense novels. Seven of Duncan’s books have been adapted into films. She was also the daughter of Florida photographer Joseph Janney Steinmetz.

In tribute to Lois Duncan, we are re-posting this interview with her from May, 2012. In it, Duncan gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of some of her father’s most famous photographs.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico.

Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz was a world-renowned commercial photographer whose images appeared in such publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Time, Holiday, Collier’s, and Town and Country.

His work has been referred to as “an American social history” that documented scenes of American life as diverse as affluent northeasterners to middle-class Floridians. He often used friends and family as subjects in his photographs. Tell us about this one.

Duncan: There I am, standing in a field of daisies in Taos, New Mexico, getting eaten alive by chiggers while my father kept waiting for “the light to be just right.”

The slant of light was one of the most important things I learned from him about photography. Whenever we took a photo trip on a magazine assignment, he would have the script of the photos he was to take, and before he ever started work, he and Mother would visit each location, determine the angle from which the shot should be taken, and the direction the light should be when the picture was taken.

Then they’d register the time of day when they should try for that shot. (Unfortunately for me, this daisy field shot was not planned beforehand–Joe just stumbled on a “pretty field of daisies” and I happened to be in the car–so the lighting was overhead and he had to wait for a cloud to come over so he could shoot without shadows.)

Florida Memory: Joseph Janney Steinmetz  lived in Sarasota, Florida. He fell in love with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus which wintered there and photographed performers for 20 years. This photograph of clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath is one of the most famous of his circus images. How did it come to be?

Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath.

Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath

Duncan: Joe was good friends with many of the Ringling Brothers Circus performers. He took this photo of Emmett Kelly in the bathtub as a favor to Kelly, who wanted the image for his Christmas card.

Joe’s wife, Lois Foley Steinmetz, was crouched down out of sight behind the chair that held Kelly’s clothing, with an egg beater in her hand. After every shot Joe took, Lois would leap out of hiding, use the egg beater to increase the foam in the tub, and conceal herself once again.


Here are more images of Lois Duncan from the Joseph Janney Steinmetz collection:

Lois Duncan fishing in Pennsylvania, ca. 1938

Lois Duncan fishing in Pennsylvania, ca. 1938

William Steinmetz and Lois Duncan Steinmetz with their mother Lois Foley Steinmetz, 1940.

William Steinmetz and Lois Duncan Steinmetz with their mother Lois Foley Steinmetz, 1940

Steinmetz family at the studio packing for a photo assignment, ca. 1950

Steinmetz family at the studio packing for a photo assignment, ca. 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, admiring the scenery of the Suwannee River, 1949

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, admiring the scenery of the Suwannee River, 1949

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, left, and friend Polly Gaines in a motorboat, 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz, left, and friend Polly Gaines in a motorboat, 1950

Lois Duncan Steinmetz on the 1949 cover of Collier's magazine.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz on the 1949 cover of Collier’s magazine.

The Old Stagecoach Line

Imagine you wanted to take a trip to Tampa this weekend. How would you get there? Would you travel by car, by airplane, or maybe by bus? If we were living a hundred years ago, you might even choose to go by steamship or by train. Now imagine a time when none of those forms of transportation were an option for most destinations. How did people get around Florida in those days? One option was to take the stagecoach line.

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King's Road, from Charles W. Bockelman's The King's Road to Florida (1975).

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King’s Road in northeastern Florida, from Charles W. Bockelman’s The King’s Road to Florida (1975).

The stagecoach lines in Florida started out as routes for the U.S. Postal Service, which needed to establish good roads for transporting mail from place to place. Railroads and steamships carried the mail whenever possible, but for many frontier post offices in the interior these simply weren’t available yet.

Travelers needed good roads as much as letters did, and over time the Postal Service began turning its routes over to private companies, which built more comfortable horse-drawn coaches to carry both mail and passengers between communities. One of the earliest examples of this was the Concord Stagecoach Line, which connected Tampa and Palatka. The Concord was later purchased by Hubbard L. Hart, who operated steamships along the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. As steamboat and railroad transportation became more widely available, stage lines were often integrated into the companies that operated them, connecting Florida’s main traffic routes with even the smallest communities.

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart's management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart’s management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Stagecoach lines were a professional affair like modern bus or air lines, with tickets and schedules and regular routes. The ride, however, was anything but smooth. Florida’s rough and varied terrain made any cross-state journey difficult and lengthy. Primitive unpaved roads permitted speeds of only a few miles per hour, and crossing rivers often involved waiting for ferries. Most trips took multiple days, with passengers staying in hotels or boarding houses along the way. The Concord stage line between Tampa and Palatka, for example, stopped at Ocala and Melendez (modern-day Brooksville) overnight.

The stagecoach lines were a handy option for early travelers, but their time grew short once the railroad appeared on the scene. Florida was slow to exploit the “iron horse” at first, but after the Civil War railroads began criss-crossing the state, rendering many of the old stage routes obsolete. Trains simply carried mail and passengers faster and more efficiently than horse-drawn carriages.

A few relics of the stagecoach era can still be found here and there around Florida. Several counties have roads with names like “Old Post Road” or “Stagecoach Road” indicating where stage lines once operated. One community near Wesley Chapel even has the name “Stagecoach Village.” The old Concord Stage Line ran through the area a few miles away, and an explanatory historical marker is located along one of the main streets.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

What former highways pass through your Florida community? Get the conversation started by posting a comment or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!