The Legend of Sam Story

At least as late as 1956, a simple stone marker stood near the confluence of the Choctawhatchee River and Bruce Creek, inscribed with the words “Sam Story, Cheif [sic] of the Euchees 1832.” The Euchees (or Yuchis) are not well documented in history, but some segment or segments of the tribe appear to have arrived in the Florida Panhandle by the end of the 18th century. John L. McKinnon’s History of Walton County, originally published in 1911, provides the most detailed account of the Euchee Indians and Sam Story available. It’s based on information the author learned from his father, who was one of the original pioneers of Walton County and may have met Sam Story. Read more »

Higher Learning in the Panhandle

When you think about major colleges and universities in Florida, where does your mind travel? Gainesville? Tallahassee? Miami? Pensacola? These days, higher education can be found in every corner of the state, but you may be surprised to learn that in the 1910s, 20s, and early 30s one of the liveliest institutions in North Florida was located in the Panhandle in De Funiak Springs. It was called Palmer College and Academy.

McIlwain Hall at Palmer College (circa 1915).

McIlwain Hall at Palmer College (circa 1915).

Palmer wasn’t the first institution of higher learning in DeFuniak Springs. Florida’s state normal school for white students was located there from its founding in 1887 to 1905, when the state’s institutions of higher learning were reorganized under the Buckman Act. This was the same act that created the University of Florida (initially known as the University of the State of Florida) and the Florida State College for Women.

With the normal school gone, leaders in De Funiak began wondering what they might do to replace it. The pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. F.L. Higdon, recommended the town act fast to find a way to use the property before the state decided to dispose of it. He envisioned a religious school that would include both the high school grades plus colleagiate work. With the aid of Presbyterians around the region, Palmer College soon emerged. It was named for Benjamin Morgan Palmer, a Presbyterian leader in New Orleans.

Women's basketball team at Palmer College (1913).

Women’s basketball team at Palmer College (1913).

Palmer advertised itself as a place for both local youth and the children of Northerners who wished to “shield their children from the rigors of a Northern climate.” As of 1913, tuition for both the Academy (the high school section) and the College was $30.00 per semester. Room and board in the dormitories was $54.00 per semester. Piano, voice, elocution, or art instruction could be tacked on for an additional $24.00 per semester. Books and laundry were extra, and students were responsible for bringing their own linens.

Palmer’s curriculum included all the basics, including English, math, biology, history. The college also offered Greek, German, French, and Latin. All students participated in chapel services, and Bible study was part of the normal student schedule.

Palmer College students on a picnic (1915 or 1916).

Palmer College students on a picnic (1915 or 1916).

Our favorite State Library resources on Palmer College are the yearbooks. The students wrote much of the material, which allows the readers a window into what it was like to be a young student in the 1910s and 20s. The components of the yearbooks aren’t so different from today, but the humor certainly is. Take, for example, these entries from the “Senior Class Will” of the Class of 1925:

“To the Sophomore Class we bequeath our knowledge of Geometry with our grades; some may need them.”

“I, Ethel Penton, bequeath to Edna Singletary my privilege of town days, hoping that she is as lucky with results as I have been.” (Permission to leave the college grounds was strictly controlled.)

I, Dan Hughes, bequeath to Melville Jennings and Pug Wilson, my good looks, hoping that it is equally divided.”

The yearbooks also report on the students’ social activities. Parties were common, but they were generally formal affairs given either by local community groups or by student organizations like the “Wallace Bruce Literary Society.” Marshmallow roasts, picnics, and occasional excursions by automobile were favorite outings. Some of the games the students played during these activities included “King William,” “Follow the Leader,” “Post Office,” and “Bunco.”

Cover of the 1925 Palmera yearbook for Palmer College, part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

Cover of the 1925 Palmera yearbook for Palmer College, part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

Palmer College closed its doors after the 1935-36 academic year, but its history remains preserved in the yearbooks and other print materials produced by the school. Palmer is just one of the many schools for which these items have made it into the State Library & Archives of Florida. Search the library catalog to see if we have resources for learning more about a historic Florida institution near you.

Creepy, Crawly, Froggy Florida Filmmaking

Does the threat of environmental destruction frighten you? Are you horrified by toxic waste and fearful of what it might do to the wildlife in Florida’s swamps and forests? If so, you might consider skipping the trick-or-treat routine and watching a good scary movie like the 1970s croaker, Frogs. Read more »

Chautauqua in Florida

What do you do if it’s 1902 and you’re dying to know something about this Panama Canal everyone keeps talking about? Or maybe you want to hear some good music, something better than that small-town band you’ve heard a hundred times this year already. Maybe you’ve been wondering what it’s like on the other side of the Earth, or how electricity works, or the latest theories about those atom thingies.

Your options in 1902 would be limited. Most of our present-day methods for satisfying the desire for information and entertainment simply didn’t exist at that time. There was, however, an institution that aimed to bring the world to the public in the form of a traveling show. They called it “Chautauqua.”

Program sheet for the first annual session of the Florida Chautauqua at DeFuniak Springs (1885).

Chautauqua was a nationwide adult education movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was named for the small town in western New York where the concept originated. Orators, musicians, actors, and other performers traveled around the country in circuits, putting on shows in large cities and small towns alike. They stayed from a few days to a few weeks depending on the gate receipts and the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The shows usually featured a combination of singing, orchestral music, lectures and “elocution,” comedy, and inspirational speeches. Sometimes the speakers would illustrate their talks with lantern slides, creating the closest experience to world travel many Chautauqua attendees would ever have. Local arrangement committees usually contracted with a Chautauqua management company to schedule the show, which would then be heavily advertised through newspapers and handbills.

A handbill describing the program for a chautauqua event at DeFuniak Springs (1885).

A handbill describing the program for a Chautauqua event at DeFuniak Springs (1885).

Traveling Chautauquas were generally held in large tents set up on the outskirts of town, but the institution became so popular in some Florida communities that local citizens raised funds to build permanent auditoriums for holding the events. Lakeland, Arcadia, Mt. Dora, and DeFuniak Springs are a few examples. As Chautauqua grew and the annual timing of the shows became more regular, families would come from miles around to camp and attend. Often a member of the traveling company would be in charge of devising activities for the children. Sometimes the children produced a show of their own to present to the adult audience toward the end of the Chautauqua series.

A chautauqua hall at Mount Dora, surrounded by the tents of families attending the show (circa 1886).

A Chautauqua hall at Mount Dora, surrounded by the tents of families attending the show (circa 1886).

Lakeland citizens gather around their new chautauqua auditorium. The building opened on November 6, 1912 with a capacity of about 1,700 (photo circa 1912).

Lakeland citizens gather around their new Chautauqua auditorium. The building opened on November 6, 1912 with a capacity of about 1,700 (photo circa 1912).

In a world without the Internet, television, or even radio, this sort of cultural experience was nothing short of thrilling for many participants. Particularly good orators sometimes gained the same sort of fame enjoyed by today’s movie and television stars. Even speeches themselves could gain immense popularity. Temple University founder Russell Conwell was well-known for an inspirational speech entitled “Acres of Diamonds.” He reputedly gave the speech over 6,100 times, mostly on the Chautauqua circuit.

A chautauqua chorus - Mt. Dora (1889).

A Chautauqua chorus – Mt. Dora (1889).

We still have lectures and live performances, of course, but we certainly don’t depend on them as our forebears once did. Most folks aren’t even familiar with the word “Chautauqua,” let alone its history as a way of connecting people with the world. One slight exception is the Florida Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs, which still hosts periodic cultural events throughout the year.

Speaking of connections, Florida Memory is proud to be your gateway to the history and culture of the Sunshine State. What’s something you’ve learned on Florida Memory that you never knew before? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below or on Facebook!