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:
At this very moment, two 15th-century Spanish caravels are tied up at St. Marks about 20 miles south of Tallahassee. Most folks will recognize their names – the Niña and the Pinta – because these were two of the ships used by Christopher Columbus and his crew to sail that proverbial ocean blue in 1492.
You can put down the phone, though – there’s no need to raise the alarm. The Spanish haven’t come for a third colonial occupation of Florida. Rather, these ships are replicas created by the Columbus Foundation as floating museums dedicated to educating the public about Christopher Columbus and the ships he used to explore parts of the Western Hemisphere.
The two ships and their crews are currently on a tour of the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Seaboard this winter and spring. At each port of call, they offer tours of the ships, which describe how the ships were sailed in the 15th century, what life was like for the sailors, and how the ships operate today in their replica form.
The Niña and the Pinta will remain in port at St. Marks until February 22nd, and will then sail on to Marco Island, where they will be in port from February 27th to March 1st. The ships will be anchored at Vero Beach on the Atlantic Coast from March 6-11, and then at Ponce Inlet from March 13-17. These dates are subject to change, of course – we recommend you visit the Columbus Foundation’s website at thenina.com for full details about the ships, their schedule, and tours.
With this fine-looking pair of Spanish caravels in port so close by, we at the State Library and Archives cannot help but think about some of the excellent resources we hold from the Spanish colonial era, several of which are available through Florida Memory. The oldest object in the State Archives, for example, is a 1589 map depicting the English privateer Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 raid on St. Augustine. This hand-colored map is the earliest-known depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. It was created by Baptista Boazio, an Italian cartographer working for the English at this time.
The Archives also holds a large collection of original records used by settlers to defend their titles to their land following the official transfer of Florida to the United States in 1821. One of the conditions of the treaty between Spain and the U.S. was that the United States government would honor existing land grants given by the Spanish Crown. The U.S. Board of Land Commissioners was established in 1822 to review claims and verify titles to these land grants, which claimants supported through deeds, correspondence, maps, and other materials establishing their ownership. These dossiers of material were retained by the Commission, and are now in the possession of the State Archives. The colorful maps and drawings alone make the collection worth a look, but for families with ties to these original claimants they can be great for genealogical research as well. Florida Memory has digitized the Spanish Land Grant collection in its entirety, and the images are available online.
Students of the Spanish colonial era will also find the East Florida Papers a very useful resource. A complete copy of the original records of East Florida held by the Library of Congress is available at the State Archives, along with an index. The documents include an index to Royal Decrees, financial records, and correspondence between Spanish officials on matters such as runaway slaves, the militia, religious authorities, and the transfer of the Florida Archives to the United States. The collection’s catalog record contains a fuller description of the contents.
These are just a few of the resources on the Spanish colonial era available to you through the State Library and Archives. Check out the State Library’s bibliography of resources relating to the Spanish colonial era, and contact us with any questions about the Archives’ holdings.
Nobody lays out their welcome mat like Florida. The Sunshine State plays host to millions of visitors each year – 94.7 million in 2011 alone, according to official statistics. Every guest is important, but when the President of the United States comes to stay, you can imagine the press coverage goes up a few clicks.
The same holds true for the President-elect, as the 1921 visit of President-elect Warren Gamaliel Harding demonstrates. Harding, a Republican Senator from Ohio, had just defeated Governor James M. Cox, also of Ohio, in a landmark election fought mainly over the World War I policies of President Woodrow Wilson. With the November 1920 election ended and the weather turning colder, Harding decided to take a much-needed vacation in Florida.
Harding arrived in St. Augustine to a hearty welcome from the locals. Security measures were much more relaxed in those days, and the newspapers reported that Harding shook hands with people all the way through the train station before motoring off to the Ponce de Leon Hotel. There, he met with Senator Joseph Sherman Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who planned to take Harding aboard his personal 90-foot houseboat, the Victoria, for a cruise down the Florida coast.
The houseboat party included Frelinghuysen, Harding, and a number of close Harding confidants, including Senator Albert Fall of New Mexico, former Ambassador to Mexico Henry Fletcher, George Christian (Harding’s private secretary), and Harding’s campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty.
For two weeks, Harding divided his time between relaxing and meeting some of his new Floridian constituents. While calling at Daytona, the President-elect attended a patriotic pageant given by the local citizens. He turned down an official reception at Miami, but invited officers from the local Masonic Lodges and the American Legion to meet him in front of his cottage at the Flamingo Hotel. The Miami News reported that Harding shook hands and greeted each person individually before making a brief address.
When he wasn’t meeting with the locals, President-elect Harding kept busy with two main amusements: fishing and golfing. The Victoria had been stocked with tackle well before he arrived, and Harding took advantage of the boat’s lazy cruise southward to fish for amber-jack, sail-fish, and even barracuda. When the Victoria was in port, Harding and his cohorts hit whatever golf links were closest.
Harding ended his Florida vacation in early February and began preparing for his inauguration and his program for bringing “normalcy,” as he called it, to the United States. Once President, the Ohioan would return to Florida several times. That should come as no surprise, of course. You know what they say about getting Florida sand in your shoes. Once it’s there, you can’t help but come back.
Do you remember when someone famous came to your Florida community? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below or by posting on our Facebook page!
Some things never change, including the American taste for gadgetry and new technology. Today, we fiddle with tablets and powerful cell phones. Barely more than 100 years ago, electricity itself was the bauble of the day. As in our own era, businessmen of yesteryear used the latest technology to attract new customers, especially in the tourist industry. Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine provides perhaps one of the most humorous examples of how people approach new innovations with a mixture of curiosity and uncertainty.
Flagler built the Ponce de Leon as part of a chain of hotels along his ever-growing Florida East Coast Railway, which was working its way down Florida’s Atlantic Coast. He hoped to induce the wealthy upper crust of northeastern tourists to come down and spend their winters in the mild splendor of the Sunshine State. To do this, the railway would have to be fast and efficient, and the hotels would have to be exquisite. Flagler commissioned New York architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings to design a veritable palace for his guests to enjoy. The architects sketched out a grand building in the Spanish Renaissance style, and construction began on the morning of December 1, 1885.
The site of the hotel was in itself an innovation. The area had been a marshy waste before Flagler’s engineers began preparing the ground for the foundation. Some observers feared the great Henry Flagler was bound to make a fool of himself by choosing such difficult terrain. Historian Sidney Walter Martin has written that someone once asked Flagler point-blank why he chose the relatively low-lying St. Augustine as the site for his grand palatial hotel. Flagler reputedly replied with a story. There had once been a good, loyal church member, Flagler said, who lived a very sober, pious life, until one day he decided to go off on a drunken spree, and he behaved very badly. When the man’s pastor questioned him about his behavior, he replied, ‘I’ve been giving all my days to the Lord hitherto, and now I’m taking one for myself.’ Flagler explained that in building the Ponce de Leon Hotel in such an unusually difficult location, he was doing much the same.
And once it was finished, who could blame him? The Ponce de Leon was truly a Spanish palace, with courts, nooks for reading and repose, tropical gardens, fountains, towers – everything necessary to impress even the most expensive and luxurious tastes. The hotel opened on January 10, 1888, with a total of 450 sleeping apartments of varying sizes and designs.
Two innovations in the new hotel were of particular curiosity to Flagler’s first customers. Each room was equipped with steam heat, which to many seemed an odd fit for a Florida hotel. The system would not see a great deal of use, of course, but imagine the satisfaction of the guests on the days when it was needed! The other novelty was the presence of electrical lights in every room. Many of Flagler’s guests were not yet acquainted with the concept of having electrical lights in their personal space, let alone being the ones to operate the switches. At first the hotel was forced to hire extra staff to turn the lights off and on for its guests, because they were afraid of being shocked!
Over time, the mystique of electric-lit bedrooms faded, but the hotel itself continued to impress. The Ponce de Leon was one of the few great hotels of its kind to survive the Great Depression. During World War II, the grand building was used as a training center for the Coast Guard. In 1968, it became the center of the newly established Flagler College. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and it became a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2006.
What is your favorite place to visit on Florida’s Atlantic Coast? Fernandina? Miami Beach? Cape Canaveral? We’d like to know. Leave us a comment below or share your Atlantic Coast favorites on our Facebook page.
The legend of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s quest to find the Fountain of Youth is one of the most popular stories in Florida history and culture. Books, paintings, movies, and even live pageants depict old Ponce as the guy who was convinced he would find a fountain in Florida whose waters would turn back the hands of time and keep anyone who drank from it or bathed in it young. He never found the fountain, of course, or else we’d refer you to him for the full story. We can, however, tell you a bit about Ponce’s exploration of Florida and the fountains of youth his journey has inspired over the years since his departure.
Every Sunday, worshipers belonging to the oldest Catholic parish in the United States file into the St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica, where mass has been celebrated in some form or fashion for nearly 450 years. As timeless as this sturdy building may appear to the visitor, however, its history bears witness to many instances of warfare, disaster, and change that have shaped the city of St. Augustine.
The British only owned Florida for a brief moment (1763-1783), but during that time they did take a stab at turning the territory into a productive colony. In 1764, the British Parliament set aside £500 (British pounds sterling) as a bounty for cultivating silk, cotton, and indigo in East Florida, and authorized generous land grants for citizens who stepped forward to develop these industries.
Dr. Andrew Turnbull, a Scotsman and a physician, convinced a number of his wealthy friends in Britain to take advantage of these offers and start a new colony in East Florida. Turnbull planned to employ a number of Greeks from Asia Minor as laborers for his new venture. He chose a Greek labor force because he felt they would be more accustomed to the warm climate they would encounter in Florida, and because he believed he would be able to convince a good number of them to leave the Ottoman Empire, where labor conditions were tough.
Millions of visitors and locals alike enjoy Florida’s beaches every year, along with the public facilities built to enhance them. That privilege was restricted for many years, however, by Jim Crow laws that prohibited African-Americans from sharing those beaches with their fellow citizens who were white. In some areas, public authorities provided separate beaches designated for use by African-Americans, such as Miami’s Virginia Beach, shown below.
Elsewhere, private individuals took the initiative. African-American businessman Frank B. Butler responded to beach segregation in northeast Florida by purchasing and opening his own beach on Anastasia Island.
Butler, who owned the Palace Market in the Lincolnville district of St. Augustine, began buying land on Anastasia Island in 1927. Over time, he developed a residential subdivision, casino, motel, and beach resort for African-Americans. By 1948, at least eleven African-American-owned businesses operated in the area, and “Butler Beach” was a thriving tourist attraction. This was reputedly the only beach between Jacksonville and Daytona that African-Americans were allowed to use. These photos depict Butler Beach at the height of its popularity in the 1950s.
Teachers, you may find our Black History Month resource guide to be helpful when planning for lessons about civil rights, Jim Crow segregation, or other aspects of the African-American experience in the United States.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was but a single episode in the prolonged series of imperial conflicts between England and Spain in the 18th century. In the summer of 1740, the conflict came to Florida.
James Oglethorpe, English military commander and founder of the Georgia colony, led the expedition against St. Augustine. In January 1740, Oglethorpe presented his plan for a swift victory before the South Carolina General Assembly. He envisioned a decisive surprise attack led by English soldiers and militia, aided by Creek and Cherokee warriors.
The city of St. Augustine became a battleground in the Civil Rights Movement during the summer of 1964.
Demonstrators held several nonviolent “wade-ins” at segregated hotel pools and beaches. This film shows footage taken by the Florida Highway Patrol of one of the largest demonstrations, a wade-in held at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964 (see full-length version).
Civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., came to northeast Florida to show their support for the Movement. King is said to have remarked that St. Augustine was “the most segregated city in America” at the time. He pledged to defeat segregation using nonviolence, even “if it takes all summer.”
To learn more, see Dan R. Warren, If It Takes All Summer: Martin Luther King, the KKK, and States’ Rights in St. Augustine, 1964 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008).