There Oughta Be a Law!

Whoever said law books are boring clearly hasn’t read many city and town ordinances from the 1800s or early 1900s. Local governments are closest to the people, so naturally the laws they create often regulate the most mundane, common behavior. You can learn a lot about a community and the challenges it faced in a particular time period by studying its local ordinances. In doing the reading, however, you’re likely to find a few that give you a chuckle. Here are a few gems from cities and towns around Florida:

 

A War Against the Half-Baked

An ordinance passed in St. Augustine in 1878 required bakers to bake their bread into loaves of uniform weight – either 8, 16, or 32 ounces. The city inspector was supposed to inspect the bread from each bakery daily, and any baker whose bread was underweight would forfeit all such bread to the city’s poor population. Ocala had a similar law in place as of 1894. No doubt the law was put into place to enforce truth in advertising about how much bread you were actually receiving when you purchased a loaf for your family.

John Ferlita with bread at his bakery in Tampa (circa 1960s).

John Ferlita with bread at his bakery in Tampa (circa 1960s).

 

Pay Up, Rover!

They say the only sure things in life are death and paying taxes. In some Florida communities, this was once even true for dogs! Jacksonville charged a tax on dog ownership as of 1859, Tallahassee as of 1884, and Pensacola as of 1873. The tax was never more than a few dollars, but that could really add up in the 19th century.

Had this Panama City pooch been subject to an annual tax, we could guess that he was on the phone with the local tax assessor lodging a complaint! (1957)

Had this Panama City pooch been subject to an annual tax, we could guess that he was on the phone with the local tax assessor lodging a complaint! (1957)

 

Oh Go Fly a Kite! (Just Not Over There)

As of 1859, Jacksonville had an ordinance on the books prohibiting anyone from flying a kite between Duval and Bay streets, or near any public wharf. Given the vintage of this law, perhaps the town council was concerned about the welfare of sailors in the nearby harbor who might be stricken or at least distracted by flying kites. At any rate, this ordinance gave the Town Marshal the authority to destroy any kite violating the law.

These folks have the right idea - flying kites at the Daytona Beach Kite Festival where there's lots of room (1993).

These folks have the right idea – flying kites at the Daytona Beach Kite Festival where there’s lots of room (1993).

 

Save the Squirrels!

As of 1884, it was illegal for anyone to use a slingshot within the City of Tallahassee. No doubt these were popular toys for youngsters and maybe even a few adults at the time. We can just imagine a huge collective sigh of relief from all the local squirrels, birds, and window panes when this law was passed.

You'd be making a face like this also if your slingshot was just taken away. This is John Ward Henderson of Tallahassee (circa 1880s).

You’d be making a face like this also if your slingshot was just taken away. This is John Ward Henderson of Tallahassee (circa 1880s).

 

Do You Have a License?

Business licensing has long been a way for local communities to keep track of who is doing business in town, and regulate their activities. The kinds of businesses being licensed tend to change with the times, so you can imagine there are a number of 19th century businesses we’d be amused to see on a license fee schedule. Here are some of our favorites from the 1907 municipal ordinances of Quincy, Florida:

Annual License Fees

– Lightning rod salesmen, $10.00
– Manager of a merry-go-round, $12.50
– Professional hypnotist, $25.00

Merry-go-rounds and other carnival rides are generally still taxed, but not usually by their specific names. Here's a merry-go-round at the Quincy Tobacco Festival (1949).

Merry-go-rounds and other carnival rides are generally still taxed, but not usually by their specific names. Here’s a merry-go-round at the Quincy Tobacco Festival (1949).

 

A No-Brainer?

You may be surprised to learn that the city council of Tallahassee felt the need sometime in the 1880s to pass a law prohibiting wooden chimneys. Seems awfully self-evident that it would be a bad idea to construct a chimney out of flammable material, right? On the contrary – many chimneys in early Florida homes (especially in the rural areas) used what was called a “stick and dirt” construction. Straight sticks laid in log cabin style made up the frame of the chimney, and then the entire structure was plastered inside and out with clay. This method worked, but for obvious reasons stick and dirt chimneys were more liable to eventually catch fire than chimneys built from stone or brick.

A stick and dirt chimney in Wakulla County (1965).

A stick and dirt chimney in Wakulla County (1965).

These are just a few of the remarkable local ordinances passed in Florida towns and cities over the years. Visit your local library to find historic codes of ordinances from your Florida community, or visit the State Library of Florida to find a selection of local laws from across the state!

Celebrating the Fourth in Florida

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and folks all over the state are preparing to celebrate. Every community has its own traditions for marking the occasion, often involving grand displays of fireworks. Floridians have found lots of unique ways to celebrate Independence Day over the years, and today’s blog explores a few examples found in the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory.

Fun and games have always been popular ways to ring in the Fourth. A 1900 newspaper report from Miami, for example, encouraged local citizens to come out for a public Fourth of July celebration that included horse races, bicycle races, and “funny races.” There’s no telling what kind of races they came up with, but the theme of having games and contests on the Fourth hasn’t changed much since those days.

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Watermelon eating contest on the Fourth of July (1968).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

Children participating in a sack race at a Fourth of July celebration in White Springs (1990).

“Miss Firecracker” rides in the pace car during the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach on the Fourth of July (1963).

Parades are another old standby for celebrating the Fourth. Horses, cars, themed floats, and lots of red, white, and blue have all been popular ingredients for Independence Day processions.

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Crowds gather for a Fourth of July celebration near the courthouse square in Ocala (1889).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Delray (1914).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Fourth of July parade in Orlando (circa 1885).

Picnics are always a popular way to celebrate the Fourth as well. Funny hats are optional.

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

A family enjoys a Fourth of July picnic at the Silver Lake Recreational Area near Tallahassee (1957).

How is the Fourth of July celebrated in your Florida community? Leave us a comment below or on Facebook sharing your memories of Independence Day celebrations from years past.

Florida’s Own Stonehenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Camp Roosevelt

Every old house, every river, and every bend in the road in Florida has a story. Some are easy to learn about, others not so much. Understanding the history of a place becomes even more complicated when the place itself changes rapidly over a short period of time. The history of Camp Roosevelt south of Ocala is a case in point. In the space of a single decade, it served as an educational center for at least three separate federal programs, headquarters for workers building the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, and emergency housing for returning World War II veterans and their families.

Map showing the location of Camp Roosevelt just south of Ocala near the convergence of Lake Weir Rd. with U.S. 27/301/441.

Map showing the location of Camp Roosevelt just south of Ocala near the convergence of Lake Weir Rd. with U.S. 27/301/441. The map dates to the 1990s, but the Roosevelt name remains.

The camp originated as a temporary home for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the large labor force it needed to build the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. This project had been a long time in the making. Even as far back as the 16th century when the Spanish had control of Florida, shippers and government officials had wished there was some way to shorten the lengthy and dangerous voyage necessary to sail around the Florida Straits. A number of ideas emerged for digging the canal, but the enormous expense of the project led private and public authorities to shy away from it.

Ironically, the arrival of the Great Depression gave the plan a boost off the drawing board and into action. Local politicians urged the federal government to take on the canal project as a federal relief program through the New Deal.  The Franklin Roosevelt administration allocated funding for the project in September 1935 on this basis, and by the end of the month construction was underway to prepare for workers to arrive. The plans called for what amounted to a small city, complete with medical and recreational facilities, a dining hall, a post office, and headquarters buildings. The Army Corps of Engineers designated the site as “Camp Roosevelt” in honor of the President.

Men's dormitory at Camp Roosevelt, built in 1935 to accommodate workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (photo circa 1936).

Men’s dormitory at Camp Roosevelt, built in 1935 to accommodate workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal (photo circa 1936).

The camp’s population quickly swelled with workers, but their stay was to be much shorter than planners had expected. Vocal opponents of the project in Central and South Florida argued that digging the deep canal would expose and contaminate the underground aquifer that contained their water supply. Sensing trouble, the Roosevelt administration quietly backed off of the project. Works Progress Administrator Harold Ickes dropped his support, and Congress failed to extend the original 1935 appropriation. In the summer of 1936, with only preliminary work complete in several locations along the proposed route, work came to a halt.

An early view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, probably around Dunnellon (1936).

An early view of construction on the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, probably around Dunnellon (1936).

With no money to continue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared to close its operations at Camp Roosevelt. With these extensive facilities vacant, the Works Progress Administration sensed an opportunity to take over the site and use it for a good cause. The W.P.A., the University of Florida in Gainesville, and the Army Corps of Engineers reached an agreement whereby the University would operate Camp Roosevelt as a center for adult education. The University would be in charge of the program itself, whereas the W.P.A. would handle the business end of the camp. The Army Corps of Engineers would pay most of the utility bills. Less than three months from the end of the work on the barge canal, the University of Florida’s adult education extension program was up and running at the camp. Major Bert Clair Riley, the university’s dean of extension services, administered the program from Gainesville, while a series of local directors handled the day-to-day business on the ground.

A student feeds a piece of wood through a router as his instructors look on (photo circa 1936).

A student feeds a piece of wood through a router as his instructors look on (photo circa 1936).

At first, the extension program mainly offered short courses in subjects like model design, leathercraft, art appreciation and design, and training for W.P.A. administrators. Program leaders made bold plans to expand their reach to include short courses for civic officials, printers, real estate brokers, toymakers, and aviators. The University also offered more formal courses in subjects like English and History to aid those students who wished to continue their education at the university level.

A list of classes held during one of the first terms conducted by the University of Florida extension program at Camp Roosevelt, fall 1936. This document is part of the records of Camp Roosevelt held by the State Archives of Florida (Series M87-9).

A list of classes held during one of the first terms conducted by the University of Florida extension program at Camp Roosevelt, fall 1936. This document is part of the records of Camp Roosevelt held by the State Archives of Florida (Series M87-9).

Funding for the extension program, as with the canal and so many federal projects at this time, was temporary, and within a year the University of Florida had to decide whether it would continue the work. It did, in a way, but through a new partnership that changed the focus of the camp to more of a relief operation. The National Youth Administration, dreamed up by Eleanor Roosevelt as a way to offer federal relief to young women who could not join the Civilian Conservation Corps, teamed up with the vocational division of the Marion County school system and began running the camp. The camp’s population consisted mainly of women, although men would later be admitted to the camp as well. Participants took classes for half the day, and worked on projects such as sewing, metalwork, or cosmetology for the remainder of the day. Typically, the students had had no more than a year or two of high school before entering Camp Roosevelt. By the time they completed the term, program administrators hoped to place them in their communities as secretaries, stenographers, library assistants, or other skilled workers.

Leatherworking class at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1936).

Leatherworking class at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1936).

As World War II approached, the camp’s classes and activities became geared more toward defense work. Teenage boys too young to enter the military were admitted to the camp, and nursing, welding, woodwork, and signmaking replaced the more domestic skills that had been prevalent in earlier years.

Students practice bandaging in first aid class at Camp Roosevelt (April 4, 1941).

Students practice bandaging in first aid class at Camp Roosevelt (April 4, 1941).

Student flight mechanics at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1940).

Student flight mechanics at Camp Roosevelt (circa 1940).

Whether they came for the federal relief wages or to do defense work, Camp Roosevelt’s residents were living in a difficult time. This did not, however, stop them from making the best of their situation and maintaining a healthy social atmosphere. The camp had a newsletter, the “Roosevelt Roundup,” edited by the faculty and students. It had dances and athletic activities, and recreation leadership training was even offered as a course.

Students put on a show at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Students put on a show at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Dance at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

Dance held at Camp Roosevelt (1941).

As the war continued, more and more of Camp Roosevelt’s usual pool of residents became involved in formal defense work, and administrators decided to shut the camp down. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers retained the site and planned to keep it up, as plenty of enthusiasm still remained for resuming the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Before that could happen, however, a more pressing problem emerged for the camp to tackle.

As World War II came to a close, the young men and women who had left to join the military or serve in other defense capacities came home, looking to start new lives as adult civilians. This sudden surge triggered a dire shortage of adequate housing. Husbands and wives and sometimes children frequently found themselves living with other family members, not so much for lack of funds but simply for lack of available homes to buy or rent. Civic leaders scrambled for solutions, and in Marion County facilities like the small houses at Camp Roosevelt became an attractive option. The Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce appealed to federal leaders, asking that the buildings at Camp Roosevelt be made available to provide housing for returning veterans. Washington complied, and soon former soldiers and their young families were moving into the buildings once occupied by canal workers and then residents of the W.P.A. and N.Y.A. relief programs. The federal government retained the right to move the new residents should the barge canal project regenerate, but by the time this happened some years later, the Army Corps of Engineers had determined it would not need the complex. It was declared surplus property, and eventually was sold piecemeal to private citizens.

One of over seventy residences at Camp Roosevelt built originally to house workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Many of these homes were later sold to private citizens and became part of the Roosevelt Village neighborhood (photo circa 1936).

One of over seventy residences at Camp Roosevelt built originally to house workers for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal project. Many of these homes were later sold to private citizens and became part of the Roosevelt Village neighborhood (photo circa 1936).

Looking at this neighborhood, now called Roosevelt Village, its former roles during the Great Depression and World War II are not readily apparent. It just goes to show that no matter which direction you look in Florida, there’s a story to be told.

What buildings or other spaces in your Florida town played a role in the Great Depression or World War II? Share with us by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget that Florida Memory has a large number of photos from World War II-era Florida. Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find these historic images.