A Home for Higher Learning

It’s hard to imagine Tallahassee without Florida State University or Gainesville without the University of Florida, but how did they get there? Believe it or not, at one time these institutions existed only on paper, and could have been located anywhere in the state. Multiple towns competed for the honor of hosting them, and the Legislature had to make some tough decisions to choose homes for Florida’s first institutions of higher learning.

Florida’s elected representatives recognized the value of higher education early on, but failed to translate their enthusiasm into action during the territorial era. In 1823, the territorial council voted to set aside two townships’ worth of public land to raise money for a seminary of higher learning. In 1836, Governor Richard Keith Call appointed a 14-member board to plan for a University of Florida. Very little concrete action materialized from these efforts, however, and Florida became a state in 1845 still lacking a state college of any kind.

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Floridians lamented the state of their educational system. Georgia had had a public university since 1785, while the University of Alabama had been open since 1831. Meanwhile, Florida’s young men and women were obliged to travel outside the state to finish their training, or not receive it at all. In January 1851, the Legislature took action by establishing two seminaries for teacher training, one for each side of the Suwannee River. Beyond this one directive, the act was silent as to where the two schools should be located. The Legislature would have to make that choice once the options were clearer.

Several towns throughout the state took this as their cue to make it very clear why they should be chosen as the site for one of the new seminaries. Several of their petitions to the Legislature have survived and are now part of Record Series 2153 at the State Archives of Florida. In recommending themselves, the petitioners focused on the healthfulness and convenience of their location. Pensacola’s advocates, for example, argued their proximity to the Gulf and points west would attract students from neighboring Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and perhaps even the West Indies. Ocala’s petitioners pointed to their position near the geographic center of the peninsula and the number of stage roads in the area as reasons for the town’s worthiness.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries. Click the image to enlarge it.

The committees writing these petitions realized, however, that it would take more than a few beautiful descriptive phrases to sway the Legislature. To sweeten the deal, they included offers of land, buildings, and even cash to strengthen their case.

East of the Suwannee River, Ocala in Marion County and Newnansville in Alachua County were the main contenders for a seminary. The Ocala petitioners offered to give the state 16 town lots in Ocala valued at $5,000, plus $1,600 cash, as well as the buildings then being used by the East Florida Independent Institute. The Institute had been established in 1852 by a New Englander named Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury, who went by the name S.S. Burton in Florida. Newnansville did not yet possess anything like the East Florida Independent Institute had to offer, but in their petition the citizens of the town pledged $5,000 toward constructing new facilities. The Legislature ultimately selected Ocala as the site for the state seminary east of the Suwannee, which after a series of transformations and a relocation to Gainesville became the University of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 - Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 – Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click image to enlarge and view transcript.

West of the Suwannee, Pensacola and Tallahassee were locked into a similar competition. Pensacola’s citizens promised to provide whatever land was necessary to build a seminary, but Tallahassee went much farther. The mayor and city council pledged to donate $10,000 to the cause, made up partly of $7,000 worth of land and buildings already under construction, plus the remainder in cash. City officials also offered to grant the institution an annuity of $1,500. Citizens of nearby Quincy in Gadsden County chimed in with a similar offer of the buildings used by the Quincy Academy, but the petitioners did not commit any specific amount of cash to the project, let alone an annuity. The Legislature chose Tallahassee as the site for the state seminary west of the Suwannee, which ultimately became the Florida State College for Women and later the Florida State University.

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school's football team was taken in 1899.

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school’s football team was taken in 1899. The team members are sitting on the steps of College Hall, the seminary’s main building, which stood from its construction in 1891 to 1909, when it was replaced by Westcott Hall, which still stands today.

What state institutions are located near your Florida community? Do you know how long they’ve been around, or how they came to exist? The State Library & Archives is home to a wealth of information on this subject – search Florida Memory, the State Library Catalog, and the Archives Online Catalog to learn more.

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:

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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.

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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.