Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Florida has long been a place where people come to make a fresh start. In some cases, eager newcomers have built entire communities from scratch, hoping either to strike it rich or to carve out a safe space to practice a particular way of life. Hall City, a planned community located near the southwest shore of Lake Okeechobee in what is now Glades County, was built with both objectives in mind. First advertised around 1910, it was designed to turn 30,000 acres of piney woods and Everglades muck into a thriving Christian agricultural and educational center.

Excerpt of a 1912 Rand McNally map showing Hall City and the surrounding area. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

Excerpt of a 1912 Rand McNally map showing Hall City and the surrounding area. Notice that at this time Hall City was located in DeSoto County. In 1921, four additional counties were carved out of DeSoto, including Glades County, which now contains the Hall City site. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida. Click the map to enlarge it.

Hall City was the brainchild of Dr. George Franklin Hall, an Iowa native who established himself as a pastor and prolific writer in the Midwest in the late 19th century. He moved in 1900 to Chicago, where he pastored his church without salary while supporting his family on the proceeds of his writing and his investments. Around 1910, Hall began running newspaper ads for “La Belle Park,” a Christian colony in South Florida where temperance-minded families could build farms in a wholesome environment devoid of intoxicating drink. Hall was already busy breaking the land into 10-20 acre parcels, which he offered for sale at about $30 per acre. The settlement should not be confused with the nearby town of La Belle, which was settled decades before Hall came on the scene.

A steam plow arrives on a flat-car for service at Hall City (1912).

A steam plow arrives on a flat-car for service at Hall City (1912).

George Hall spared no effort to praise La Belle Park land as capable of growing everything from oranges to eggplants to strawberries to – as he put it – “everything else that tastes good and commands a high price in the Northern markets in January, February, and March.” The pastor-promoter promised easy terms for land, and offered to reward cash buyers with free town lots in Hall City, the planned capital of this new Christian utopia. Hall envisioned a bright future for his namesake town, including service from three railroads, escalating land values, and even a Christian college to be called Hall University. Hall set aside 160 acres for this institution adjoining the Hall City town site. He planned to plant 120 acres of the tract in citrus trees, which the students would manage themselves in order to offset the cost of tuition. By a combination of Christian teaching and purposeful labor, Hall intended for his university to become “a real developer of mind, muscle, and morals.”

Buildings near Hall City (1915).

Buildings near Hall City (1915).

The pastor’s enthusiasm for attracting new residents had a few limits. In newspaper advertisements, Dr. Hall stated that he would sell no land to African-Americans or “recently imported foreigners from the south of Europe.” Also, the town’s temperance theme was more than just a suggestion – it was legally woven into the residents’ land titles. Hall required all purchasers to sign deeds containing a “perpetual prohibition clause” forswearing the consumption of alcohol on the premises.

Despite these restrictions, settlers began purchasing the land and Hall City began to take shape over the next year. Hall sent his son George Barton Hall to run the operation, and soon the fledgling town had a general store, a hotel, several homes, and a post office. Curbs and sidewalks went in, and the Atlantic Coast Line established a depot for Hall City on its spur line headed south to Everglades City.

George Barton Hall (left) with two friends at Hall City (1913).

George Barton Hall (left) with two friends at Hall City (1913).

Even with these early signs of success, however, Hall City was in for a rough ride. It turned out that the swamp and piney woods surrounding the town were not as fertile as Dr. Hall had led the settlers to believe. Also, the Atlantic Coast Line spur was the only railroad that ever entered the town, which left residents without convenient connections to either coast. There was no major highway nearby; in fact the only Hall City automobile ever registered with the state was the one pictured above belonging to George Barton Hall. The biggest blow was the entry of the United States into World War I, which drew many of Hall City’s residents into the military or war-related industries elsewhere.

George Barton Hall, Jr., the first child born in Hall City. The building across the street was the office of his father George Barton Hall, Sr., general manager of the planned community (photo 1915).

George Barton Hall, Jr., the first child born in Hall City. The building across the street was the office of his father George Barton Hall, Sr., general manager of the planned community (photo 1915).

By 1918, the only business left operating in town was the Hall City Mercantile Company store, and it was living on borrowed time. The post office had already closed; mail service was routed through nearby La Belle or Palmdale. The Atlantic Coast Line eventually abandoned the spur passing near Hall City and took up the tracks. Most of the land was forfeited for taxes and bought up by large corporations, although Glades County officials have received inquiries from heirs of the original owners as recently as the 2000s. The Hall City town site is inaccessible to the public, as it is surrounded by privately owned land with no public roadways running through it.

Little evidence of the town remains aside from a few sandy roadbeds and fragments of sidewalk here and there. According to Glades County old-timers, most everything of value was removed from Hall City for use elsewhere once it was clear the settlement had failed.

Hall City’s story is remarkable, but not unusual. Hundreds of similar ghost towns and “map dots” are located throughout the state, each with its own story of rise and decline. What ghost towns or “map dots” exist in your Florida county? What has been done to preserve their stories? Get the conversation started by sharing this post on social media, or leave us a comment below.

Next Stop – Wauchula!

Florida Memory extends its congratulations to the city of Wauchula, which was recently named Florida’s Main Street program of the month for September 2014. The town, which now serves as the seat of Hardee County, dates back at least to the 1880s when the railroad first pushed through southwestern Florida. The name Wauchula itself appears to be a little older, as many authorities agree it derives from the Creek word watula, meaning “sand hill crane.”

Map from the 1890s showing the location of Wauchula between Fort Meade and Arcadia on the Florida Southern Railway (State Library of Florida).

Map from the 1890s showing the location of Wauchula between Fort Meade and Arcadia on the Florida Southern Railway. U.S. Highway 17 follows roughly the same route as this railroad once did (State Library of Florida).

The town was still part of DeSoto County when the first post office named Wauchula opened in 1888. The settlement had been known as “English” for at least a few years beforehand, likely named for Eli English, who operated a small store about a mile south of the present downtown area. According to records from DeSoto County, Wauchula was originally incorporated on June 9, 1888, although the act was not validated by the state until 1903. In 1921, when DeSoto County was divided up into several parts, Wauchula became the seat of the newly formed Hardee County.

Hardee County Courthouse, not long after its original construction (photo circa 1920s).

Hardee County Courthouse, not long after its original construction (photo circa 1920s).

Since its establishment, Wauchula has been a regional center of commercial activity, especially agriculture. In honor of Wauchula’s achievement as this month’s featured Main Street program, we have selected a few images from the Florida Photographic Collection depicting some of the city’s earliest Main Street scenes.

A street scene from downtown Wauchula, taken from the 1974 location of the Masonic Hall (photo circa 1905).

A street scene from downtown Wauchula, taken from the 1974 location of the Masonic Hall (photo circa 1905).

A Memorial Day parade heading down Main Street in Wauchula. According to a note accompanying the original image, this was the last parade in Wauchula to be held on dirt roads in the town (1915).

A Memorial Day parade heading down Main Street in Wauchula. According to a note accompanying the original image, this was the last parade in Wauchula to be held on dirt roads in the town (1915).

Beeson Brothers' Drug Store on Main Street in Wauchula. This firm was established in 1905 when W.B. and Dr. J. Mooring Beeson, the latter a graduate of the Medical College of Alabama, set up shop with a stock of no more than $50 worth of drugs (photo circa 1905).

Beeson Brothers’ Drug Store on Main Street in Wauchula. This firm was established in 1905 when W.B. and Dr. J. Mooring Beeson, the latter a graduate of the Medical College of Alabama, set up shop with a stock of no more than $50 worth of drugs (photo circa 1905).

Interior of the Carlton and Carlton Bank in Wauchula. The bank was originally established in 1904 in a corner of the Wauchula Hardware Store. The bank moved into a building of its own in 1909, and in 1915 it was incorporated as the Carlton National Bank. Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton was part of the Carlton family who established the bank (photo 1904).

Interior of the Carlton and Carlton Bank in Wauchula. The bank was originally established in 1904 in a corner of the Wauchula Hardware Store. The bank moved into a building of its own in 1909, and in 1915 it was incorporated as the Carlton National Bank. Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton was part of the Carlton family who established the bank (photo 1904).

Wauchula is one of many Florida communities represented in the Florida Photographic Collection. Search for your community by using the search box at the top of the page. Also, take a moment to learn more about the Florida Main Street Program from Florida’s Department of State.

Not Our First Rodeo

Lots of people associate the idea of a rodeo with the American West – Texas, Oklahoma, someplace dusty, hot, and dotted with cacti. And while rodeo is most certainly a big hit out west, it has deep roots here in the Sunshine State as well. Florida, after all, has been home to a thriving cattle industry for centuries. Native Americans and the Spanish were raising cows as early as the 1500s, long before organized ranching arrived in what would become known as the American West. As new settlers arrived and the era of Spanish ownership came to an end, the herds remained, changed hands many times, and continued to serve as a valuable source of food and trade.

Drawing of the

Drawing of the “cow ford” that eventually became the site of Jacksonville. This particular section of the St. Johns River was used for the purpose of fording cattle as far back as the late 18th century (drawing circa 1800s).

Rodeo developed partly out of the practical needs of a farm or cattle ranch, and partly because the tasks involved naturally lend themselves to competition and spectacle. Roping, herding, and branding cattle, breaking wild horses, and overall dexterity in the saddle were all basic needs of even the earliest cattle ranch hands. The events of modern rodeos are closely related to these traditional skills.

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

Aside from serving as a demonstration of skill, rodeos have a strong social element that brings together communities like few other traditions can do. In cities and towns where the surrounding region is highly involved in the cattle industry, rodeos are held frequently, and are designed for the entire family to enjoy. Floridians as far south as Homestead and as far north as Bonifay have special annual rodeos with a lengthy past. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, for example, originated in 1928 when the local American Legion post was looking for a fundraiser for a new building. Post officials invited all the local families, including the Seminoles located nearby, to attend a rodeo and parade to raise money for their cause. A band from Wauchula provided music, and even Governor Doyle Carlton rode in the procession. The first rodeo was a smashing success, and even with the arrival of the Great Depression, the people of Arcadia kept up the tradition of holding rodeo events each year. It still continues today.

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

One of rodeo’s most admirable aspects is its inclusiveness. While the crowd may roar at the spectacle of an adult rider using every ounce of strength to stay atop a bucking bull, there’s just as much enthusiasm for the large number of events held especially for the kids. From rodeo’s earliest days, children have been earnest competitors, demonstrating their horsemanship, roping skills, and overall athleticism in a variety of ways. Older kids with a little more size and experience may compete in junior versions of the same events as adults, while a few events are just for the small fry. At Arcadia, for example, youngsters can participate in the “calf scramble” and “mutton bustin'” challenges. In the calf scramble, an entire army of kids are unleashed on the arena where calves adorned with bandannas have been placed. Those participants who successfully chase down a calf and remove its bandanna are declared the winners. In the mutton scramble, young riders hold onto the backs of sheep as they scurry about the arena. Whoever stays on the longest wins.

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

A young man participates in a

A young man participates in a “calf scramble” at a rodeo in Lakeland. This version of the calf scramble had an interesting twist. If a participant could catch the calf and get him over the finish line, he got to keep it (1947).

These are just a few of the hundreds of images in the Florida Photographic Collection pertaining to the rodeo. Is there a rodeo event near your community? Tell us about your favorite rodeo experiences by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).