Surviving the Blast: Fallout Shelters in Tallahassee

The 1950s were in many ways a prosperous time for the United States. The population was booming, the national economy was on the upswing, and more consumers were gaining access to goods and services that enriched their families’ lives. Just under the surface, however, lay growing concerns about the possibility of nuclear war between the highly polarized eastern and western blocs in the Cold War. When the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device in 1949, U.S. policymakers and concerned citizens alike pressed for more preparedness for a potential nuclear blast within U.S. territory. The national Office of Civilian (Civil) Defense in Washington took on the primary role in developing programs to educate the public about the potential nuclear threat and coordinate local, state, and national efforts to prepare for it. In Florida, state government was highly involved as well.

Logo of the Florida Civil Defense Council, adopted from its national counterpart, used in the 1950s and 1960s.

Logo of the Florida Civil Defense Council, adopted from its national counterpart, used in the 1950s and 1960s.

A broadside alerting citizens to the need for having a plan in place in case of nuclear attack (1954).

A broadside alerting citizens to the need for having a plan in place in case of nuclear attack (1954).

A map of sites around the state for monitoring radiation levels in the event of a nuclear attack. This map was one of several included in the 1962 revision of the state's Civil Defense Plan.

A map of sites around the state for monitoring radiation levels in the event of a nuclear attack. This map was one of several included in the 1962 revision of the state’s Civil Defense Plan, which can be found in the State Documents Collection at the State Library of Florida.

One of the main concerns was how to ensure the survival of the largest number of citizens possible during the actual nuclear attack. Although the images and reports coming from witnesses to the earlier Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb sites were less than reassuring, scientists and officials held out hope that an atomic blast was survivable if citizens were properly prepared and adequate fallout shelters were available. Consequently, civil defense agencies at the local, state, and national level began identifying existing structures that could be designated as fallout shelters, and planned for more to be built. Private citizens also began building fallout shelters of their own. An entire industry developed around providing consumers with the materials necessary to construct and supply these structures.

Gilbert Chandler, Jr. emerges from a basement under the Tallahassee Motor Hotel on North Monroe Street. Civil Defense officials said 500 people could potentially take shelter in the space in the event of a nuclear attack (March 2, 1961).

Gilbert Chandler, Jr. emerges from a basement under the Tallahassee Motor Hotel on North Monroe Street. Civil Defense officials said 500 people could potentially take shelter in the space in the event of a nuclear attack (March 2, 1961).

Aside from sheltering the population, governments also had to think about maintaining order during a disaster. In the event of a nuclear attack, state officials would need to be able to communicate with law enforcement and local governments across the state to coordinate their efforts once the attack was over. To ensure that the state government would remain functional during a nuclear emergency, Florida’s civil defense authorities established fallout shelters under both the governor’s mansion and the capitol building, complete with supplies of drinking water, food, and other necessities.

Chlorine is added to water supplies at the fallout shelter in the basement of the old capitol building in Tallahassee. At left is Hal Miller, field operations officer of U.S. Civil Defense Region #3, based in Thomasville, Georgia. At right is Tallahassee city engineer Thomas P. Smith (February 15, 1962).

Chlorine is added to water supplies at the fallout shelter in the basement of the old capitol building in Tallahassee. At left is Hal Miller, field operations officer of U.S. Civil Defense Region #3, based in Thomasville, Georgia. At right is Tallahassee city engineer Thomas P. Smith (February 15, 1962).

Workers prepare to build thickened walls around the basement of the governor's mansion in Tallahassee so it could be used for a fallout shelter. The man at right is Charles P. Walker, who had served as the superintendent of the executive mansion for 20 years when this photo was taken (December 18, 1961).

Workers prepare to build thickened walls around the basement of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee so it could be used for a fallout shelter. The man at right is Charles P. Walker, who had served as the superintendent of the executive mansion for 20 years when this photo was taken (December 18, 1961).

Governor C. Farris Bryant tests an emergency radio system located in the fallout shelter located in the basement of the governor's residence in Tallahassee. In the event of a nuclear attack, this shelter would have become Florida's seat of government, and the radio system would have enabled communication between the governor and the State Highway Patrol, the Road Department, and other state agencies. This photo was taken around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962).

Governor C. Farris Bryant tests an emergency radio system located in the fallout shelter located in the basement of the governor’s residence in Tallahassee. In the event of a nuclear attack, this shelter would have become Florida’s seat of government, and the radio system would have enabled communication between the governor and the State Highway Patrol, the Road Department, and other state agencies. This photo was taken around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962).

Some shelters, such as this one planned for the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee, never made it past the blueprint stage.

A plan showing the basic concept of a fallout shelter to be built under the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee. This shelter was never built (plan drawn up circa November 1962).

A plan showing the basic concept of a fallout shelter to be built under the Collins Building on Gaines Street in Tallahassee. This shelter was never built (plan drawn up circa November 1962).

Thankfully, aside from a few drills and the drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, these shelters were never needed for their intended purpose. Many were later remodeled for storage or other purposes. A few still remain, however, and they remind us of how seriously the danger of nuclear war commanded the attention of Floridians living during the Cold War.

Do you know of a former fallout shelter still in existence somewhere in Florida? Did you ever participate in a drill that involved going into one of these shelters? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment.

Save the Capitol!

With its candy-striped awnings and ornate art glass dome, Florida’s old capitol is an architectural reflection of a bygone era, as well as an excellent example of a grassroots historic preservation effort.  For over a century, the building served elements of all three branches of government. Over time, however, Florida outgrew its capitol, and in 1977 a new twenty-two story building was erected just behind it.  The old capitol building was first slated for demolition, but when Tallahassee locals discovered the state’s intent to raze one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board quickly mobilized a resistance, urging Floridians to preserve their history and “Save the Capitol!”

View of the east front of new Capitol with old capitol in front - Tallahassee, Florida

A mid to late 1970s view of the east front of new capitol with old capitol in front, just as those engaged in the preservation battle would have seen it (1975-1979).

Perhaps some 1970s legislators were blind to the important symbol of a democratic state government, but from 1839 until 1977, the old capitol bore witness to numerous important milestones in Florida’s history. Two years after establishing  Tallahassee as the capital of the sparsely populated Florida territory in 1824, three log cabins were built for conducting government business.  But by the following decade, the territory seemed destined for statehood, and  Governor Richard Keith Call asked the legislature for a larger space in 1839. The new brick and mortar statehouse proved a worthwhile investment when it was completed in 1845.  In that same year, Florida became the twenty-seventh state to join the Union and  first elected governor, William Dunn Moseley, was sworn into office beneath the new capitol’s east portico, commencing the state’s history.

Florida's Capitol before addition of dome - Tallahassee, Florida (circa 1870s).

Though taken sometime in the 1870s, the above photograph captures the old Capitol’s original 1845 appearance, before the addition of a small cupola in 1891 and then the familiar dome in 1902 (circa 1870s).

In an effort to accommodate a growing state government, Florida’s capitol underwent a series of structural changes. However,  its current appearance was restored to honor the 1902 work of Frank Pierce Milburn, who added a stately copper dome.

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after 1902 - Tallahassee, Florida

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after Milburn’s 1902 additions – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1902 and 1922).

Further renovations occurred in 1923, 1936, and 1947. Despite physical alterations, the capitol remained a firm symbol of democracy as Florida’s political landscape continued to evolve into the twentieth century.

Replica of Liberty Bell displayed during Savings Bond drive in June 1950.

A replica of the Liberty Bell displayed during a savings bond drive at the old capitol highlights the structure as a physical centerpiece of government action in Florida (June 1950).

However, by the early 1970s it was clear that Florida government had outgrown its Tallahassee headquarters.  Thus, the 1972 Legislature appropriated funds for a new, mammoth capitol complex, intending to destroy the old capitol after finishing the project. When it finally opened in 1977, a faction of politicians, including Governor Reubin Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker, remained in favor of the original demolition plan, but an unexpected backlash would challenge the proposed action.

Representative Bill Nelson with a toy bulldozer - Tallahassee, Florida (18 May 1977)

Nelson to the rescue! Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, throws his body in front of the “first” bulldozer to show up at the old capitol. Nelson made the statement earlier in the session that efforts to save the old capitol had so frustrated him that he felt like he would throw his body in front of the first bulldozer that showed up to begin to raze the historic structure. Nelson was true to his word as Reps. Hill and Haben wound up a toy and started it down the aisle of the house chamber (18 May 1977).

Nancy Dobson, a historian and Director of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, spearheaded the opposition, enlisting the support of Secretary of State Bruce Smathers.  Soon, legislators, academics, and the interested public began expressing their indignation over the  idea of eliminating such a significant historical landmark.  “If the political powers within the state decide to destroy the building in which they themselves have a sentimental and historical involvement, what will be their attitude toward other preservation efforts in the state with which they may have little or no personal relationship?” Dobson questioned.

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson - Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Like many other historic preservation campaigns,  the race to save the Capitol was led primarily by female activists.  Their work culminated in an event orchestrated by Mrs. Bruce Smathers.  On March 30, 1978 “Save the Capitol Night,”  hosted guests at the site for music, tours, and an opportunity to sign a petition in favor of preservation.  Kicking off the festivities, a local folk  band performed on the steps, encouraging audiences to  “save that grand old southern lady on the hill.”  Ultimately, the campaign was a success, and the old capitol, restored to its 1902 appearance, opened as a public museum in 1982.

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

Tallahassee Established as Territorial Capital (March 4, 1824)

On March 4, 1824, Governor William P. Duval designated Tallahassee as the capital of the Florida territory.

"View of the City of Tallahassee," by Norris, Wellge & Company (1885)

“View of the City of Tallahassee,” by Norris, Wellge & Company (1885)

The map above, published by Norris, Wellge & Company in 1885, provides a bird’s eye view of the city fifty years after its designation as capital of the Florida territory. According to a census taken in 1825, 996 peopled lived in Leon County. The city’s population at that time probably did not exceed 200.

By 1890, Leon County’s population reached nearly 18,000, while the city limits contained about 2,200 residents. Like many other communities in the late 19th century South, the majority of Tallahassee’s population lived in the rural areas surrounding the city.

Today, the City of Tallahassee is home to almost 182,000 people, with a metropolitan area population of about 375,000.

Thank You to Our Friends at the Riley House!

The African-American photo identification event, held yesterday at the State Archives, was a great success. Several folks from the community helped us identify images of African-American life in Tallahassee from the 1950s and 1960s. Special thanks to Althemese Barnes and the John G. Riley House and Museum for helping to organize this important event!

Over one hundred images were identified. For example, we learned that future NFL star and Chicago Bears legend Willie “The Wisp” Galimore (far right) appears in this photo along with three still unidentified Florida A&M football players.

Willie "The Wisp" Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

Willie “The Wisp” Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

… And this photograph of Griffin Junior High School beauty queens, including Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Founding Executive Director at the John G. Riley House & Museum.

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

First Tallahassee Sit-In (February 13, 1960)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

On February 13, 1960, Patricia Stephens (later Due), and other local CORE members held the first of several sit-ins at department store lunch counters in downtown Tallahassee.

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

On February 20, students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) held another, larger sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Tallahassee. When they refused to leave, 11 were arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace by engaging in riotous conduct and assembly to the disturbance of the public tranquility.” Several of the students chose “jail over bail” and remained in police custody while their story circulated around the country and garnered additional support for the movement.

In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The participants in these events were the “Foot Soldiers for Change” who worked tirelessly to defeat segregation in the United States.

To learn more, see Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (University of Georgia Press, 1999).

Civil Rights Exhibit at the State Archives

Stop by the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building (500 South Bronough Street) in Tallahassee during the month of February to see our photographic exhibit: “Images of the Civil Rights Movement in Tallahassee, 1956-1963.”

Presented in recognition of Black History Month, and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the images featured in the exhibit honor only a few of the many events and individuals critical to the Civil Rights Movement in Tallahassee.

Sit-In at Woolworth’s lunch counter (February 13, 1960)

Sit-In at Woolworth’s lunch counter (February 13, 1960)

The above photograph shows the first of several sit-ins held at department stores in downtown Tallahassee. Seated and wearing dark glasses is prominent activist and local Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organizer Patricia Stephens (later Due).

Patricia Stephens (later Due) being arrested by Tallahassee Police (May 30, 1963)

Patricia Stephens (later Due) being arrested by Tallahassee Police (May 30, 1963)

The above photograph was taken on the day Tallahassee Police arrested 260 FAMU students for protesting in front of the segregated Florida Theater.

Justus R. Fortune vs. City of Tallahassee (1850)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

In 1850, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case City of Tallahassee v. Justus R. Fortune. The case came to the state’s highest court on appeal from Leon County. It centered on the responsibility of an incorporated body, in this case the City of Tallahassee, for maintaining a public road within its boundaries.

Page from Florida Supreme Court case Fortune v. City of Tallahassee (1850)

Justus R. Fortune was a resident of Tallahassee. According to the case file, he operated a tin shop along a city-maintained road and owned at least one horse. On October 3, 1848, Fortune lent his horse to George W. Hutchins, who borrowed the animal for an unspecified purpose.

When Hutchins finished his business and returned the horse, he hitched it to a post near Fortune’s tin shop in the customary fashion. At some point, the horse broke loose from the hitching post and escaped. A thorough search of the surrounding area failed to recover the animal.

The next day, Fortune discovered the horse, badly injured, at the bottom of a ditch that crossed the city road adjacent to his property. The horse later died. He blamed the City of Tallahassee for failing to maintain the regularly-traveled public thoroughfare, as evidenced by the “nuisance” ditch, which had resulted in the death of his horse. Fortune sought to recover $125 from the city as compensation for his loss.

Fortune’s case against the city rested on language contained within Tallahassee’s Act of Incorporation. According to the Act, the city had both the power and the responsibility to “prevent and remove nuisances” within its corporate limits. In this case, the section of road in question existed firmly within city limits, and therefore, Tallahassee officials had the responsibility to provide for its maintenance.

Fortune’s legal representation cited various U.S. court cases from other states and English Common Law as precedent for upholding the principal that the City of Tallahassee bore responsibility for maintaining the road and answering for accidents such as that which befell Fortune’s horse. The court agreed: “…that the City of Tallahassee was guilty of a nonfeasance in permitting the nuisance mentioned…to remain…”

The only brief point of contention was whether Fortune had taken all necessary and deliberate care to protect his property. Could he be to blame for not better securing his horse? Whether Hutchins could be charged with negligence did not become an issue.

The court found that: “…if a person should go headlong with his beast upon a nuisance, which (with ordinary care) he might have avoided, he ought not to have damages for his loss in consequence of his own recklessness.” The court determined that citizens daily hitched their horses and other animals throughout the town along public roads. Sometimes these animals escaped. But, these escapes were certainly accidental occurrences, instead of widespread negligence.

This case established important precedent in Florida law, following English Common Law and decisions made by courts in other states. Overtime, the responsibility (and liability) of incorporated settlements to maintain public property within their boundaries extended far beyond roads to include all types of infrastructure, and even persons employed by cities and towns on official business. Cases like Fortune form the legal basis for the rights of citizens to make cities and towns responsible for maintaining public works and other manifestations of taxpayer-funded infrastructure within corporate limits.

Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk

Earlier this week, the City of Tallahassee unveiled a commemorative sidewalk that recognizes the pivotal role played by Tallahassee and Leon County residents in the Civil Rights Movement.

The artistic sidewalk, located at the intersection of Monroe and Jefferson Streets in downtown Tallahassee, is appropriately placed near the site of many dramatic moments during the struggle for civil rights in Florida’s capital city.

The photographs below captured some of those events and the daring individuals who challenged segregation and changed history.

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

 

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory's and Woolworth's sit-ins, March 12, 1960

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory’s and Woolworth’s sit-ins, March 12, 1960

 

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

 

Sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter, March 13, 1960

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter, March 13, 1960

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

 

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

These eight photographs tell only a small part of the story. To learn more, see The Civil Rights Movement in Florida (online learning unit); Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003); Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise, The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).

Tallahassee Designated Capital of the Florida Territory

On March 4, 1824, Governor William P. Duval issued a proclamation designating Tallahassee capital of the Florida territory.

Tallahassee was chosen as the location best suited for the territorial capital because it lay about halfway between Florida’s two principal towns: Pensacola and St. Augustine. Prior to Duval’s proclamation, territorial leaders alternated between Pensacola and St. Augustine for the first two sessions of the Territorial Council. Travel by land was long and arduous as no complete road linked East and West Florida. The treacherous journey by sea through the Florida Straits convinced Florida’s leading politicians of the need to establish a new seat of government within reasonable overland travel of its major settlements.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

Excerpts from The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume XXII: The Territory of Florida, 1821-1824, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1956), 854-855.

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