Miami’s Master Suburb

Coral Gables started out as a family plantation with acres of grapefruit and avocado trees. By 1930, however, it had become a buzzing metropolis on the edge of Miami, with a flourish of Old World flair in its distinctive Mediterranean Revival architecture. Like most of the planned communities that emerged in Florida during the great boom of the 1920s, Coral Gables grew out of a vision–in this case one belonging to a young developer named George Merrick.

George Edgar Merrick, developer of Coral Gables (1926).

George Edgar Merrick, developer of Coral Gables (1926).

George Merrick arrived in Miami with his family in 1899. His father, Solomon Merrick, had been a minister in Duxbury, Massachusetts, but on the advice of a colleague in Coconut Grove he decided to move his family to Florida to try their hand at growing citrus on a 160-acre plot. Mrs. Merrick had wanted to name the plantation “Among the Pines,” but her husband preferred “Coral Gables,” a combined homage to both the local coral rock and the Massachusetts home of one of Solomon Merrick’s political idols, Grover Cleveland, which was called “Gray Gables.” The family decided to stick with the name Coral Gables Plantation, and soon it was being used in advertisements and signs.

The original Merrick homestead, named

The original Merrick homestead, named “Coral Gables” after “Gray Gables,” the Massachusetts home of Solomon Merrick’s political idol Grover Cleveland. The “coral” part of the name stems from the local coral rock used as a building material (1926).

Solomon Merrick died in 1911, leaving 25-year-old George as head of the family and manager of the Coral Gables property. Under the young man’s management the plantation grew to 1,200 acres and employed more than 40 workers, but George believed Coral Gables could be something more. Real estate in Miami and Coconut Grove was booming, with rapid new construction along Miami Beach and in suburbs along the outer edges of town. George was deeply interested in getting involved with the lucrative business of real estate development, and in 1912 he partnered with his brother-in-law to start a real estate firm. The following year the fledgling business combined with the Realty Securities Corporation, making Merrick president of the largest real estate and development company in Dade County.

An example of one of the many booklets being developed by Miami real estate developers in the 1910s and 1920s to entice northern buyers. This one was published by the Tatum Brothers Company to advertise their beachfront development north of Miami. Florida Collection, State Library (1918).

An example of one of the many booklets developed by Miami real estate developers in the 1910s and 1920s to entice northern buyers. This one was published by the Tatum Brothers Company to advertise their beachfront development north of Miami. Florida Collection, State Library (1918).

When George announced in 1918 that he planned to turn his family’s Coral Gables Plantation into a self-sufficient suburban village, many thought he had lost his mind. Even with Miami’s intense expansion, Coral Gables was still considered to be too far out of town, near if not in the Everglades. There were also other developments vying for the attention of home-seekers and real estate developers, namely Hollywood by the Sea, Hialeah and Biscayne Park. How would Coral Gables compete?

Busloads of potential home buyers make their way through the new suburban development at Hialeah (1921).

Busloads of potential home buyers make their way through the new suburban development at Hialeah (1921).

George Merrick remained confident that his idea would work if the quality of the product was exceptional and his advertising and marketing hit their marks. His aesthetic vision for Coral Gables drew heavily on his experiences traveling in the Bahamas and Cuba, as well as his affinity for Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, which had provided him with richly illustrated vistas of faraway Spain.  Of course, Merrick wasn’t the only developer smitten with the Old World at that time; Addison Mizner’s Spanish-style buildings in Palm Beach also influenced the young developer’s vision for Coral Gables.

“Amado,” the home of Charles Munn in Palm Beach. Designed by architect Addison Mizner, the house reflected the Mediterranean Revival style that influenced George Merrick’s plans for Coral Gables (photo circa 1919).

Merrick began hiring architects and engineers to work out the details for the new community, and the first concept drawings appeared in February 1920. To determine the names for the streets, he opened up his copy of Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra and selected Spanish place names like Asturia, Castille, Alcazar and Aragon. He bought the Mackinac Building at 158 E. Flagler Street in Miami from John Burdine to serve as the headquarters for the Coral Gables sales and development team.

Map of Coral Gables, including additions to the original planned community site (1934). Click or tap the map to view a larger, zoomable version of it.

Map of Coral Gables, including additions to the original planned community site (1934). Click or tap the map to view a larger, zoomable version of it.

Merrick and his associates began auctioning off lots in the new Coral Gables subdivision on November 28, 1921. Signs urging potential buyers to “follow the Golden Galleon” were posted all along Flagler Street in Miami to lead them toward the site, and costumed Spanish caballeros helped direct traffic to the original entrance to the development via Granada Boulevard.

Golden galleon promotional signage for Coral Gables (1921).

Golden galleon promotional signage for Coral Gables (1921).

The public response was overwhelmingly positive; over 5,000 people crowded into the unfinished subdivision to participate in the auction. Dr. Edward E. “Doc” Dammers, who Merrick had hired to be the main auctioneer and consultant for the venture, addressed the crowd from the back of a mule-drawn wagon. As each lot was sold, Dammers sent his partner off with the buyer to finish up the paperwork while he and the wagon moved on to the next lot to repeat the process. The purchasing terms were fairly simple–buyers chose a lot and a building plan, with prices starting at $5,785. If the buyer put down $500, he could finance the rest at $60 per month. In six days’ time, Merrick’s team had sold 300 lots for more than half a million dollars. George was so delighted with the results that he decided to pledge $10,000 for a public library and $100,000 for a college. This, of course, ultimately became the University of Miami.

Dr. Edward E.

Dr. Edward E. “Doc” Dammers auctioning off lots in Coral Gables from his mule-drawn wagon (1921).

The dramatic Granada Boulevard entrance to Coral Gables, with a tour bus entering through the main archway. This gate was designed by George Merrick's uncle, Denman Fink, and landscape architect Frank Button. It was completed in 1922 (photo also circa 1922).

The dramatic Granada Boulevard entrance to Coral Gables, with a tour bus entering through the main archway. This gate was designed by George Merrick’s uncle, Denman Fink, and landscape architect Frank Button. It was completed in 1922 (photo also circa 1922).

Once it was properly launched, Coral Gables continued to grow at a rapid pace. George Merrick and his associates had to establish their own tile and concrete block factories to keep up the necessary supply of building materials. By 1924, the settlement had its own volunteer fire department, woman’s club, Boy Scout troop and grammar school. The next year, Coral Gables was incorporated as a town, and Doc Dammers became its first mayor. The year after that, on February 4, 1926, the cornerstone was laid for the first building of what would become the University of Miami.

Baldwin residence at 2604 De Soto Boulevard in Coral Gables (1925).

Baldwin residence at 2604 De Soto Boulevard in Coral Gables (1925).

The Venetian Pool, also called the Venetian Casino, a striking feature of the original Coral Gables development. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 (photo circa 1925).

The Venetian Pool, also called the Venetian Casino, a striking feature of the original Coral Gables development. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 (photo circa 1925).

Crowd assembled for the laying of the cornerstone of the University of Miami's first building--the Merrick Building (1926).

Crowd assembled for the laying of the cornerstone of the University of Miami’s first building–the Merrick Building (1926).

The stage was set for a bright future. Even the collapse of the Florida Boom in the late 1920s failed to completely arrest the growth of Coral Gables. Today, the community continues as home to the University of Miami, as well as a center of international commerce. Numerous foreign consulates are located there, as are the corporate headquarters of Bacardi, Fresh Del Monte Produce and Capital Bank Financial.

Aerial view looking east over a section of Coral Gables (circa 1996).

Aerial view looking east over a section of Coral Gables (circa 1996).

The State Archives of Florida holds an extensive collection of photographs belonging to photographer William A. Fishbaugh, who George Merrick hired to help promote Coral Gables and other real estate developments in the Miami area. Browse the William Fishbaugh Collection on Florida Memory to find more historic images of the region during and after the Florida Boom.

Photographer William A. Fishbaugh in Dade County (1920s).

Photographer William A. Fishbaugh in Dade County (1920s).

For a more extensive treatment of George Merrick and the development of Coral Gables, we also recommend Arvah Parks’ recent book, George Merrick, Son of the South Wind: Visionary Creator of Coral Gables, published in 2015 by the University Press of Florida.

 

Researching Escambia County at the State Archives and State Library of Florida

Looking for books, photographs or historical records on Escambia County and its communities? The State Archives and State Library of Florida can help! The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations. These documents take many forms, including diaries, letters, meeting minutes, reports, photographs, audio recordings, films, memoranda, maps, drawings and more. The State Library is home to thousands of books, maps and other published materials relating to Florida’s history and culture. It’s also the official repository for published documents created by Florida’s state government agencies.

Many of these historical materials may be helpful for studying the history of Escambia County or the families who have lived there. The following is a selected list of materials from the State Archives and State Library that may be especially useful for this topic. It’s by no means an exhaustive list–just the highlights. Try searching the State Library’s online catalog or the State Archives’ online catalog to find more items relating to your research.

 

Available Online on Florida Memory

Florida Memory is free to use, requires no login and offers a robust search engine for finding what you need quickly. You can choose to search the entire site at once, or search or browse a single collection. Here are some of the best collections for researching Escambia County on Florida Memory:

 

Florida Photographic Collection – More than 205,000 digitized photos from the collections of the State Archives and State Library, including more than 5,300 images from Escambia County! Try searching for specific towns or landmarks, such as Century, Molino, Palafox Street or the USS Massachusetts.

Florida Map Collection – More than 300 maps of Florida dating from the 1500s to the 20th century. Some of the earliest maps in the collection show Pensacola, including a 1700 map of North and Central America drawn by cartographer Guillame de L’Isle, as well as a number of nautical charts showing Pensacola Bay.

Selected Documents Collection – These are items selected from collections throughout the holdings of the State Archives and State Library of Florida. More than 120 types of media are represented in the collection–everything from recipe cards to invitations to restaurant menus to paper currency, stocks and bonds, playbills, poems, posters and sheet music. In almost all cases, each item is drawn from a collection that has not yet been digitized on Florida Memory, so the records in this collection can be an excellent gateway for further research. Each item provides a description of its source to help you locate its parent collection in the State Archives or State Library. More than 30 items in this collection involve Escambia County, including a 1944 booklet for service members stationed in the area, titled Guide to Pensacola, Florida: The Annapolis of the Air.

1845 Election ReturnsFlorida held its first election for state officers in 1845. A total of 262 Escambia County voters participated, including 178 voters from Pensacola.

Confederate Pension Applications – The State of Florida granted pensions to thousands of aging or disabled Confederate veterans and their widows starting in 1885. This series contains the forms and correspondence associated with each Confederate veteran or widow who applied for a pension in Florida. A total of 431 applications are from Escambia County. That number doesn’t include Confederate veterans who may have lived in Escambia County during the war but later moved and applied for their pension from some other county.

Florida Auto Registrations, 1905-1917 – Did you know Leslie E. Brooks, who operated a real estate and mortgage business on Palafox Street in Pensacola, was the first person from Escambia County to register an automobile with the state? Would you have guessed that it only had 6 horsepower? Use these records to research some of Florida’s earliest automobile owners, including 627 from Escambia County.

World War I Service Cards – At the end of World War I, Congress ordered the military to create a brief service record for each person who served during the war and submit them to the adjutants general of each state. Florida Memory has digitized these service record cards—all 42,412 of them! More than 1,700 records document the service of soldiers who lived in Escambia County before the war.

WPA Church Records – The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression by establishing all sorts of useful public works programs and even research and writing projects. One of the WPA’s Florida projects was a complete inventory of every church in the state, along with a listing of available church records. WPA field workers completed 145 reports on individual churches, but there is also a list of church incorporation dates that may include additional places of worship.

 

State Archives Collections Available for In-Person Research or Phone/Email Requests

Florida Memory is growing every day, but it offers only a tiny fraction of the material available for research at the State Archives in Tallahassee. A complete research facility is open to the public, including a full staff of archivists to help researchers find the resources they need. In many cases, if your request is specific enough the Reference Desk staff can locate the records or information you are looking for and make scans or copies without you visiting the Archives in person. Staff members must limit their research to 30 minutes per request, however, so this may not be possible for more detailed inquiries. Visit archivesflorida.com to learn more about the State Archives’ policies, procedures and fee schedule for copy/scanning services.

The following is a list of archival collections containing a significant amount of material on Sumter County. Each link will take you to the collection’s catalog record in the State Archives’ online catalog, where you can view a listing of the boxes and folders it contains.

 

County and State Officer Directories, 1845-1997 (Series S1284)Since Florida first established a territorial government in the 1820s, the Secretary of State (Secretary of the Territory prior to 1845) has maintained a directory of state and county officials. The records for county officials are generally organized by county name, so it’s easy to quickly locate a list of the individuals who held county offices such as sheriff, county commissioner or justice of the peace at any given time in your county. In many cases, the State Archives also holds copies of a county officer’s commission from the governor, written oath and bond (if one was required). Read our blog, “Researching State and County Officers,” for more details on finding records documenting the service of individual county officers.

Election Returns by County, 1824-1926 (Series S21) – These are official election returns sent to the Secretary of State by individual voting precincts. The documents often show the names of the individuals who voted at each precinct. This is another tool for locating specific ancestors in specific places over time. Boxes 11 and 12 of this series contains scattered returns for Escambia County from 1826-1926.

Election Return Canvasses, 1865-2004 (Series S1258) – This series contains national, state and county canvassing reports for the State of Florida dating back to the end of the Civil War. These records are a valuable tool for studying the political history of a community because they show how many votes each candidate received in each election–the winners as well as the losers. The records are arranged chronologically, so canvassing reports relating to Escambia County elections will be located throughout the volumes.

First Bank and Trust Company of Pensacola Records, 1914-1998 (Collection N2000-21) – This series contains the records of the Banking, Savings and Trust Company of Pensacola (established in 1914), which was later renamed First Bank and Trust Company of Pensacola, and in 1966 became affiliated with Barnett Banks. The materials include historical records, financial ledgers, daily statements, draft registers, meeting minutes from the Board of Directors dating back to 1914, stockholders’ meeting minutes, stock certificates and a variety of other records.

Governors’ Records (Multiple Series) – The correspondence and subject files of Florida’s governors are excellent sources for understanding what was happening in a Florida community at a specific point in time. County and state officials, as well as everyday citizens, often write to the governor to discuss their concerns or ideas about important subjects or events. These records are typically organized alphabetically by topic or county in each governor’s records. The correspondence and subject files of Governor Farris Bryant, for example, contain four folders of material relating specifically to Escambia County. Governor LeRoy Collins’ papers contain another seven folders. There’s a separate collection (or series, in archives-speak) for each governor. Visit the State Archives’ Online Catalog and search for a specific governor to find the records you’re looking for, or visit our Guide to Florida Governors and the Florida Cabinet on Florida Memory.

State Defense Council Subject Files, 1940-1946 (Series S419) – The State Defense Council coordinated civilian defense activities in Florida during World War II. Every county and many major cities and towns had their own local defense councils, which worked closely with the state entity to manage tasks such as blackout preparedness, scrap collection, bond drives, food conservation, enemy aircraft observation teams, auxiliary policing and more. Box 17 of this series contains folders relating specifically to Escambia County, although the records are organized by topic as well as by county, so there’s likely much more useful information scattered throughout the records.

Tax Rolls (Series S28)These records document the taxable property of each household in the state over time. The records include tax rolls for Escambia County from 1845 to 1880, with some years missing.

 

State Library Resources

The State Library collects a variety of published resources relating to Escambia County and its communities. Items available online include links; items without links must be viewed in person. Those items may also be available at other libraries near you.

Ephemera File – This collection contains brochures, information booklets, fliers, programs, advertisements and other documents. Many relate to tourist attractions or special events and festivals. Three folders of material in this collection relate to Escambia County.

Vertical File – The State Library maintains an extensive collection of news clippings and other miscellaneous documents on a wide range of topics. The file includes folders for each of Florida’s 67 counties, including a large file on Escambia County.

Selected Books and Documents:

Bense, Judith Ann. Archaeology of Colonial Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Bliss, Charles H. Pensacola Harbor: Beautiful Views and Pertinent Facts Regarding the “Deep Water City” of the Gulf of Mexico; Pensacola Navy Yards, Pensacola Shipping, and Pensacola Fortifications. Pensacola: Charles H. Bliss, 1904.

Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston: Haunted America, 2010.

Bruington, Lola Lee Daniell. Rural Cemeteries in Escambia County, Florida, 1826-1950. Pensacola: L.L.D. Bruington, 1985.

Chipley, William D. Pensacola (The Naples of America) and Its Surroundings Illustrated: New Orleans, Mobile, and the Resorts of the Gulf Coast. Louisville: Courier-Journal Press, 1877.

Clune, John J. Historic Pensacola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

Coker, William S. The Spanish Censuses of Pensacola, 1784-1820: A Genealogical Guide to Spanish Pensacola. Pensacola: Perdido Bay Press, 1980.

Davis, Charlie. Growing Up in Pensacola: Personal Narratives. Gulf Breeze, FL: East Bay Publishers, 2009.

Florida Legislature. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Florida. 

Hoffman, Carl Timothy. The Early History of Pensacola. Pensacola: Pfeiffer Printing Co., 1980.

Hoskins, Frank W. The History of Methodism in pensacola, Florida: Its Rise and Progress. Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church South, 1928.

Manuel, Dale. Pensacola Bay: A Military History. Charleston: Arcadia Press, 2004.

Oaks, Frank J. The Port of Pensacola, 1877-1920. N.p., 1970.

Parks, Virginia. Pensacola in the Civil War. Pensacola Historical Society, 1978.

Parks, Virginia. Underground Pensacola. Pensacola Archaeological Society, 1989.

Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas. Industrial and Economic Survey of Pensacola, Prepared for the Junior Chamber of Commerce and Senior Chamber of Commerce, Pensaola, Florida. New York: Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas, 1927.

Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Pensacola on the Florida Gulf Coast: A Delightful Year-Round Resort. Pensacola: Chamber of Commerce, 1925.

Pensacola City Company. The City of Pensacola, Florida: A Future Commercial Emporium of the Southern States. Pensacola: The Company, 1870.

Pensacola Commercial Association. Pictures and Pointers about Pensacola: Best Place in Florida or Anywhere Else. Pensacola: The Association, 1911.

Robinson, Celia Myrover. Jackson and the Enchanted City: Stories of Old Pensacola. Pensacola: Pensacola Printing Company, ca. 1900.

Rucker, Brian R. Encyclopedia of Education in Antebellum Pensacola. Bagdad, FL: Patagonia Press, 1999.

Southern States Lumber Company. The Perdido Country: The Region Embracing the Highlands of Escambia County, Florida and Baldwin County, Alabama, Adjacent to the Gulf Coast. Pensacola: Southern States Lumber Company, 1903.

Strohl, Evan R. Cemeteries of Escambia County, Fla. Pensacola: West Florida Genealogical Society, 1986.

Thompson, Keith. Pirates of Pensacola. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005.

United States Post Office Department. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.  (This National Archives microfilm publication shows the dates of establishment and discontinuance of post offices, name changes, and appointment dates of postmasters. Escambia County’s post offices are on reel 1 of 3.)

United States Post Office Department. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950. (This National Archives microfilm publication includes applications for new post offices and periodic reports giving detailed descriptions of where post offices were located in relation to railways, roads and bodies of water. Escambia County post offices are included on roll 91.)

Wilson, Jacquelyn Tracy. Remembering Pensacola. Nashville: Trade Paper Press, 2010.

 

Dance Cards in the Archives

Has someone ever asked you to save some room on your dance card for them, or declined an invitation because their dance card was too full? These days, a person’s “dance card” is almost always a metaphor for their schedule, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries the meaning was much more literal. Formal dances were a popular form of entertainment in those days, and dance cards were an essential part of the etiquette that went along with them.

Dance card for an event given in honor of Miss Covington, Miss Ellis, and Messers Ellis in Tallahassee, 1926. From Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

Dance card for an event given in honor of Miss Covington, Miss Ellis, and Messers Ellis in Tallahassee, 1926, in Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

The concept was fairly simple. Women–and in some cases men as well–used dance cards to keep track of who they had promised to dance with throughout the evening. This was necessary for a couple of reasons. First, while today’s sound systems can play for hours on end without complaint, the music at 19th and early 20th century parties came from live musicians who needed a break now and then. As a result, there was usually only a specific number of musical selections planned for dancing. If you really wanted to dance with someone, you had to make sure you were on their schedule!

Dance cards also allowed a party-goer to be strategic in asking for a dance partner. At a formal event, each musical number was designed for a specific kind of dance, and the dancers were expected to not just have good rhythm, but also know the proper dance moves. If you didn’t know how to waltz, for example, you certainly wouldn’t want to sign up to dance a waltz with a partner you were looking to impress. You might sign up for a reel or a two-step instead, if those were your stronger dances. Dance cards helped by including the form of each dance next to its number on the inside of the card.

Inside of a dance card from a dance in Tallahassee in 1926. From Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

Inside of a dance card from a dance in Tallahassee in 1926, in Box 2, Folder 14, Meginnis Family Papers (Collection N2015-3), State Archives of Florida.

The cards could be simple, or they could be very ornate, depending on the occasion. A Valentine’s Day dance might feature cards in the shape of a red heart, while dances given in a particular person’s honor might have cards with the person’s monogram. Tiny pencils for filling in the cards were a common feature, usually attached to the cards with a loop of string or ribbon. Sometimes a lady would also use this to attach the card to her wrist.

Dance cards typically came with a few unwritten rules of etiquette, many of which would seem out of step with the times in today’s world. When it came to making dancing engagements, for example, men were supposed to take the lead. Ladies were supposed to wait to be asked. A lady could turn a gentleman’s invitation down, even if the spot was open on her dance card, but if she did it was generally considered impolite for her to accept another man’s proposal to dance that same number. It was also considered improper for a lady to dance every dance at a ball or party.

Panhellenic dance at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (ca. 1935).

Panhellenic dance at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (ca. 1935).

Dance cards still make an appearance now and then at formal occasions, but for the most part they’ve been relegated to scrapbooks and boxes of memorabilia from years gone by. Here at the State Archives, we often see dance cards included in collections of family papers. They’re a unique kind of source–both a snapshot of a particular occasion and a tool for exploring the social lives of Floridians in a very different era.

 

Dance card for Theta Ribbon Society Initiation Ball, 1923, in Box 8, Folder 2 of the Lively and Wesson Family Papers (Collection N2014-14), State Archives of Florida.

Dance card for Theta Ribbon Society Initiation Ball, 1923, in Box 8, Folder 2 of the Lively and Wesson Family Papers (Collection N2014-14), State Archives of Florida.

What are some of your favorite dancing memories? Leave us a comment, and don’t forget to share this blog with your friends and family so they too can take a quick dance down memory lane!

 

Researching Sumter County at the State Library and State Archives

Looking for books, photographs or historical records on Sumter County and its communities? The State Archives and State Library of Florida can help! The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations. These documents take many forms, including diaries, letters, meeting minutes, reports, photographs, audio recordings, films, memoranda, maps, drawings and more. The State Library is home to thousands of books, maps and other published materials relating to Florida’s history and culture. It’s also the official repository for published documents created by Florida’s state government agencies.

Many of these historical materials may be helpful for studying the history of Sumter County or the families who have lived there. The following is a selected list of materials from the State Archives and State Library that may be especially useful for this topic. It’s by no means an exhaustive list–just the highlights. Try searching the State Library’s online catalog or the State Archives’ online catalog to find more items relating to your research.

 

Available Online on Florida Memory

Florida Memory is free to use, requires no login and offers a robust search engine for finding what you need quickly. You can choose to search the entire site at once, or search or browse a single collection. Here are some of the best collections for researching Sumter County on Florida Memory:

 

Florida Photographic Collection – More than 205,000 digitized photos from the collections of the State Archives and State Library, including about 200 images from Sumter County! Try searching for specific towns or landmarks, such as Bushnell, Center Hill, or Dade Memorial Battlefield.

Florida Map Collection – More than 300 maps of Florida dating from the 1500s to the 20th century. The earliest map in the collection showing Sumter County dates to 1855, two years after the county was officially established. Sumter County place names on that map include Adamsville, Abrahamtown, Lake Eustis, Lake Yale, Lake Griffin and Pineboro.

1845 Election ReturnsSumter County was still part of Marion County when Florida held its first election for state officers in 1845. A total of 136 Marion County voters participated, including some from the region that would later become Sumter County.

1867 Voter Registration Rolls – In order to rejoin the Union following the Civil War, Florida was required by law to register all of its eligible voters (males over 21 regardless of race) and hold elections to choose delegates to a statewide convention, who would then frame a new state constitution. A total of 280 black and white individuals registered to vote in Sumter County.

Confederate Pension Applications – The State of Florida granted pensions to thousands of aging or disabled Confederate veterans and their widows starting in 1885. This series contains the forms and correspondence associated with each Confederate veteran or widow who applied for a pension in Florida. A total of 158 applications are from Sumter County. That number doesn’t include Confederate veterans who may have lived in Sumter County but later moved and applied for their pension from some other county.

Florida Auto Registrations, 1905-1917 – Did you know J.O. Fleece, founder of the Fleece Telephone Company, was the first person from Sumter County to register an automobile with the state? Would you have guessed that it only had 18 horsepower? Use this collection to research some of Florida’s earliest automobile owners, including over 70 from Sumter County.

World War I Service Cards – At the end of World War I, Congress ordered the military to create a brief service record for each person who served during the war and submit them to the adjutants general of each state. Florida Memory has digitized these service record cards—all 42,412 of them! Over 250 records document the service of soldiers who lived in Sumter County before the war.

WPA Church Records – The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided employment for millions of Americans during the Great Depression by establishing all sorts of useful public works programs and even research and writing projects. One of the WPA’s Florida projects was a complete inventory of every church in the state, along with a listing of available church records. WPA field workers reported on 80 churches in Sumter County, the oldest being the Adamsville Methodist Episcopal Church, reportedly established in 1850.

 

State Archives Collections Available for In-Person Research or Phone/Email Requests

Florida Memory is growing every day, but it offers only a tiny fraction of the material available for research at the State Archives in Tallahassee. A complete research facility is open to the public, including a full staff of archivists to help researchers find the resources they need. In many cases, if your request is specific enough the Reference Desk staff can locate the records or information you are looking for and make scans or copies without you visiting the Archives in person. Staff members must limit their research to 30 minutes per request, however, so this may not be possible for more detailed inquiries. Visit archivesflorida.com to learn more about the State Archives’ policies, procedures and fee schedule for copy/scanning services.

The following is a list of archival collections containing a significant amount of material on Sumter County. Each link will take you to the collection’s catalog record in the State Archives’ online catalog, where you can view a listing of the boxes and folders it contains.

 

Sumter County Tax Assessment Rolls, 1892-1931, 1934-1935 (Series L31)

This series contains the tax assessment rolls from 1892-1931 and 1934-1935 maintained by the Tax Collector’s Office of Sumter County, Florida.  The ledgers contain a statement on all persons and property within Sumter County that were subject to taxation.  The records include the following information: description of the land to be taxed, the name of the owner, and the amount of tax due. Tax rolls can be very useful for verifying that an ancestor lived or at least had business in a certain county at a certain time.

Diaries of William Terrell Eddins, 1901, 1908-1915, 1937-1942 (Collection M99-1)

William Terrell Eddins (1887-1959) moved with his family from Mississippi to Florida in 1894 or 1895, 10 years after the railroad was extended from Wildwood to Tampa.  They settled on a farm near Edenfield, a railroad siding about two miles north of Bushnell, living in a wood slab house which was a typical home for Florida pioneers of that time. As a young man, Eddins worked on the family farm and at the sawmill in Edenfield and aspired to became a teacher and a writer. He taught school at Barberville (1910-1911), White City, near Fort Pierce (1911-1913), and Green Cove Springs (1916-1917).  Following his army service in World War I, he was elected Superintendent of Schools for Sumter County, serving in that post for 12 years. Later he served as Postmaster in Bushnell until his retirement in 1957.

This collection consists primarily of personal pocket diaries kept by William Terrell Eddins from 1908-1915 and again from 1937-1942.  Eddins began keeping daily diaries in January 1908, just prior to his 21st birthday.  The brief entries mostly discuss the daily activities of Eddins and his family and friends and Eddins’ observances of people in Edenfield and Bushnell communities. Subjects discussed include working the farm and at the sawmill; teaching school; playing ball; hunting; church and prayer meetings; picnics, dances, and other social events; courtships of Eddins and his siblings; treatment of illnesses and injuries; and local weather conditions. Occasional entries note incidents perhaps indicative of local racial tensions; other entries contain terse references to national or worldwide events. In addition to the daily diaries, the collection includes one volume consisting of brief notes concerning Eddins’ experiences and acquaintances during his army service in Europe, ca. 1918-1919.

County and State Officer Directories, 1845-1997 (Series S1284)Since Florida first established a territorial government in the 1820s, the Secretary of State (Secretary of the Territory prior to 1845) has maintained a directory of state and county officials. The records for county officials are generally organized by county name, so it’s easy to quickly locate a list of the individuals who held county offices such as sheriff, county commissioner or justice of the peace at any given time in your county.

Election Returns by County, 1824-1926 (Series S21) – These are official election returns sent to the Secretary of State by individual voting precincts. The documents often show the names of the individuals who voted at each precinct. This is another tool for locating specific ancestors in specific places over time. Box 40 of this series contains scattered returns for Sumter County from 1853-1926.

Election Return Canvasses, 1865-2004 (Series S1258) – This series contains national, state and county canvassing reports for the State of Florida dating back to the end of the Civil War. These records are a valuable tool for studying the political history of a community because they show how many votes each candidate received in each election–the winners as well as the losers. The records are arranged chronologically, so canvassing reports relating to Sumter County elections will be located throughout the volumes.

Governors’ Records (Multiple Series) – The correspondence and subject files of Florida’s governors are excellent sources for understanding what was happening in a Florida community at a specific point in time. County and state officials, as well as everyday citizens, often write to the governor to discuss their concerns or ideas about important subjects or events. These records are typically organized alphabetically by topic or county in each governor’s records. The correspondence and subject files of Governor Farris Bryant, for example, contain four folders of material relating specifically to Sumter County. Governor LeRoy Collins’ papers contain another five folders. There’s a separate collection (or series, in archives-speak) for each governor. Visit the State Archives’ Online Catalog and search for a specific governor to find the records you’re looking for, or visit our Guide to Florida Governors and the Florida Cabinet on Florida Memory.

State Defense Council Subject Files, 1940-1946 (Series S419) – The State Defense Council coordinated civilian defense activities in Florida during World War II. Every county and many major cities and towns had their own local defense councils, which worked closely with the state entity to manage tasks such as blackout preparedness, scrap collection, bond drives, food conservation, enemy aircraft observation teams, auxiliary policing and more. Box 47 of this collection contains folders relating specifically to Sumter County, although the records are organized by topic as well as by county, so there’s likely much more useful information scattered throughout the collection.

Tax Rolls (Series S28)These records document the taxable property of each household in the state over time. The records include tax rolls for Sumter County from 1853 to 1877, with some years missing.

 

State Library Resources

The State Library collects a variety of published resources relating to Sumter County and its communities. Items available online include links; items without links must be viewed in person. Those items may also be available at other libraries near you.

Ephemera File – This collection contains brochures, information booklets, fliers, programs, advertisements and other documents. Many relate to tourist attractions or special events and festivals.

Vertical File – The State Library maintains an extensive collection of news clippings and other miscellaneous documents on a wide range of topics. The file includes folders for each of Florida’s 67 counties, including a large file on Sumter County.

Books and Documents:

Bushnell Boosters Club. Sumter County, Florida: A Brief Review of Its History, Resources and Opportunities. Bushnell, Fla.: Bushnell Booster Club, 1930.

Florida Daughters of the American Revolution. Pine Level Cemetery, Oxford, Sumter County, Florida. Florida Daughters of the American Revolution, 2001.

Florida Legislature. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of Florida. 

Greer, William E., Mrs. Graves of Confederate Soldiers Located in Sumter County. Center Hill, Fla.: L. Sumner, 1990.

Looking Back, Sumter County: A Brief Essay on Sumter County. Bushnell, Fla.: Sundial Print Shop, 1981.

Richmond, John F. Sumter County, Florida: Its Situation, Climate, Soil, Productions, People, Transportation Lines, Lakes, Rivers; Its Inducements to Settlers and Tourists, and Its Advantages in General. Philadelphia: Press of McCalla and Stavely, 1882.

Sloan, Russ. Lake & Sumter Counties: Florida’s Heartland. Leesburg, Fla.: Lake-Sumter Community College, 2009.

Sumter County Board of Public Instruction. Teacher’s Manual for the Public Schools of Sumter County, Florida. Sumterville, Fla.: Times Job Print, 1899.

Sumter County Florida Land Company, Inc. New York: South Publishing Co., n.d.

United States Post Office Department. Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.  (This National Archives microfilm publication shows the dates of establishment and discontinuance of post offices, name changes, and appointment dates of postmasters. Sumter County’s post offices are on reel 3 of 3.)

United States Post Office Department. Reports of Site Locations, 1837-1950. (This National Archives microfilm publication includes applications for new post offices and periodic reports giving detailed descriptions of where post offices were located in relation to railways, roads and bodies of water. Sumter County post offices are included on roll 98.)

 

 

 

 

Rejoining the Union

It was May 10, 1865. The Civil War was over; General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House in Virginia the previous month. Telegraph lines were down all over the South, and many Floridians didn’t trust what they were hearing about the defeat of the Confederate Army. The ones in Tallahassee had little choice but to believe, however, when Brigadier General Edward Moody McCook came to town that day to accept the surrender of the remaining Confederate troops in Florida.

Governor John Milton, who had led Florida through much of the war, was dead. His successor, State Senate President Abraham K. Allison of Gadsden County, was now in charge, but what would happen to Florida now? Duly elected representatives of the people had signed an ordinance of secession in 1861 declaring the state a “Sovereign and Independent Nation.” Would Florida automatically become a part of the United States again? And if not, on what terms could it rejoin?

Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861 by 62 of the 69 delegates who attended a convention in Tallahassee to determine whether Florida would secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln (Series S972, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it and see a full transcript.

Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861, by 62 of the 69 delegates who attended a convention in Tallahassee to determine whether Florida would secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln (Series S972, State Archives of Florida). Click the image to enlarge it and see a full transcript.

Unfortunately, the United States government was a little unsure about this issue as well. President Abraham Lincoln had viewed Reconstruction after the war as something the executive branch would handle. The way he saw it, the Confederate states had never really left the Union in the first place; they were just temporarily in the hands of disloyal rebels. Once loyal governments were back in control, the states would effectively be back in the United States. Lincoln devised what he called the Ten Percent Plan to establish a process for making this happen. To rejoin the United States, a state would need 10 percent of its electorate (as of 1860) to take an oath of allegiance and for the state government to form a new constitution that:

  1. Abolished slavery.
  2. Repudiated any debts the state had incurred during the war.
  3. Repealed the state’s ordinance of secession.

Lincoln’s plan never got very far–John Wilkes Booth assassinated the president before any state had met the requirements for readmission. That left Lincoln’s vice-president, Andrew Johnson, in charge. Johnson, himself a Southerner, favored his predecessor’s approach, but he faced serious opposition in Congress to such a lenient set of readmission requirements.

Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (ca. 1860).

Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (ca. 1860).

Meanwhile in Florida, Governor Abraham K. Allison wanted to take advantage of Johnson’s sentiments and normalize relations between his government and the U.S. as quickly as possible. Without consulting General McCook, he commissioned five representatives–David Levy Yulee, John Wayles Baker, Edward Curry Love, Mariano D. Papy, and James Lawrence George Baker–to confer with the president about readmission. Allison also summoned the state Legislature to convene on June 5, 1865, and set June 7 as the date for electing a new governor.

Letterbook Copy of David Levy Yulee's Commission from Governor Abraham K. Allison to Confer with President Andrew Johnson - May 12, 1865. Governors' Letterbooks (Series S32), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the complete document and transcript.

Letterbook Copy of David Levy Yulee’s commission from Governor Abraham K. Allison to Confer with President Andrew Johnson – May 12, 1865. Governors’ Letterbooks (Series S32), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the complete document and transcript.

Governor Allison’s actions shocked Florida’s Unionists, who had figured they would be closely involved in rebuilding the state’s relationship with Washington. General McCook was caught off guard as well, so he asked his superiors for instructions. As much as President Johnson had hoped to readmit the former Confederate states quickly, Allison’s actions went too far too fast. McCook received orders not to recognize any local or state government. The general placed the entire state under martial law on May 22, and Governor Allison was arrested and jailed, along with a number of other top state officials.

General Edward Moody McCook, who arrived in Tallahassee on May 10, 1865 to receive the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida.

General Edward Moody McCook, who arrived in Tallahassee on May 10, 1865, to receive the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida.

President Johnson appointed William Marvin of Key West as provisional governor on July 23, 1865. Marvin was given authority to handle civil affairs, but the state remained under martial law. He called an election for October 10, 1865, to choose delegates for a constitutional convention at Tallahassee, which was to begin later that month. Although a considerable faction of the Republican Party in Congress had made it clear they wanted African-Americans to be able to vote in these elections, President Johnson didn’t make the idea more than a suggestion in his instructions to the states, and Florida did not permit its black citizens to vote. As a result, the convention was made up of most of the same people who had been in charge before the war, and their ideas about the place of African-Americans in society had not changed.

The framers of Florida’s new constitution accepted the 13th Amendment ending slavery, repudiated Florida’s war debt and agreed to annul the ordinance of secession. They did not, however, grant African-Americans the right to vote. Moreover, the new legislature established a series of laws–called Black Codes–relating specifically to the behavior of African-Americans. They were similar to the slave codes that had been in force through the end of the war. This pattern was repeated across all of the former Confederate states, which gave Northerners the impression that the South meant to retain as much of slavery as they could.

Florida's 1865 Constitution (Series S58, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document with transcript.

Florida’s 1865 Constitution (Series S58, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document with transcript.

Congress reacted to these developments in two ways. First, the sitting members refused to seat newly elected delegates from the former Confederate states. Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution grants each house of Congress the power to judge the qualifications of its own members, which made this action possible. Congress also passed a civil rights bill establishing African-Americans as citizens and placing certain rights under the protection of the federal government, essentially invalidating the Black Codes. President Johnson vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode his veto. When some lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of the new law, Congress reinforced it by drafting the 14th Amendment, which would make many of the same principles part of the Constitution itself.

Of the Southern states, only Tennessee ratified the 14th Amendment. This further demonstrated to Northerners that the former Confederate states would have to be compelled to accept the new political rights they envisioned for African-Americans. The 1866 election resulted in a Congress with all the necessary votes to override a presidential veto on this subject, so lawmakers took control of the process the following spring. On March 2, 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act over President Johnson’s veto. The act reestablished martial law in every former Confederate state except for Tennessee. It also declared their governments “provisional” and set up a new process for readmitting them to the Union. To qualify, a state would have to:

  1. Register all of its eligible voters, meaning all males 21 years of age and older, without regard to race or color.
  2. Hold elections for delegates to a constitutional convention.
  3. Frame a new state constitution guaranteeing males 21 years and older the right to vote without regard to race or color.
  4. Ratify the 14th Amendment.

Florida began registering voters according to the new rules in August 1867. Ossian Bingley Hart of Jacksonville, who would later become governor, was appointed to supervise the registration process. Many former Confederates chose not to register, even if they were qualified, perhaps out of a feeling of futility or sympathy for friends who were disqualified from registering because of their involvement with the Confederate government. At any rate, Hart’s registration drive resulted in 11,148 white voters and 14,434 black voters, who went to the polls without incident in November 1867 to select delegates for a constitutional convention.

Excerpt from the 1867-68 Voter Registration Rolls completed in compliance with the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Rolls for 19 Florida counties survive, and are searchable on Florida Memory. Click or tap the image to view the collection (Series S98, State Archives of Florida).

Excerpt from the 1867-68 voter registration rolls completed in compliance with the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Rolls for 19 Florida counties survive and are searchable on Florida Memory. Click or tap the image to view the collection (Series S98, State Archives of Florida).

Republicans had the majority this time around, but they were divided into factions, which resulted in a colorful series of events at the convention in 1868. They did manage to produce a constitution, however, and an election was held to choose a new slate of state officers. Harrison Reed, a Wisconsin native who had come to Florida on a federal appointment during the war, was elected governor. He was inaugurated on June 8, 1868, and the Legislature ratified the 14th Amendment the following day. On July 2, Governor Reed wrote the following note to John T. Sprague, the colonel supervising Florida’s second Union occupation, announcing that Florida had met the requirements for readmission to the Union:

Letter from Governor Harrison Reed to Colonel John T. Sprague announcing that Florida had met the requirements for Florida to be readmitted to the Union. Box 4, Folder 6, Governors' Correspondence (Series S577), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Governor Harrison Reed to Colonel John T. Sprague announcing that Florida had met the requirements for Florida to be readmitted to the Union. Box 4, Folder 6, Governors’ Correspondence (Series S577), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it and read the transcript.

Congress received a copy of the new state constitution and officially readmitted Florida to the Union on July 25, 1868. This was only the beginning of Reconstruction, of course. Considerable challenges lay ahead both inside and outside the halls of government. The Sunshine State was, however, officially part of the United States of America once again.

 

 

 

Goober Peas

Peanuts are a tasty Florida treat, whether you prefer them boiled, roasted, or as creamy peanut butter. These tiny legumes have been with us for a long time, and a look into their history reveals lots of surprises.

Boiled Florida peanuts (1988).

Boiled Florida peanuts (1988).

Surprise #1: Peanuts aren’t nuts, at least not technically. Although the familiar peanut species (Arachis hypogaea) has a shell just like other “nuts,” it actually belongs to the same family of plants as garden peas and beans. That’s why you’ll often see peanuts referred to as “goober peas.” The “goober” part originates from an African word for the plant, nguba.

Archaeological evidence suggests the peanut originated in South America before European explorers carried it to other parts of the globe, including the British North American colonies. Virginia farmers cultivated multiple varieties of the plant as early as the 1780s.

During the Civil War, soldiers became familiar with the peanut as a tasty treat while marching across Virginia, and many veterans brought it back to their home states and experimented with crops of their own. The humble peanut even became the subject of one of the war’s most iconic songs, titled “Goober Peas.” Here’s a recording of that song from the Florida Folk Festival, as well as the lyrics to the first verse:

Sittin’ by the roadside on a summer’s day, chatting with my best mates passing time away,
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees, Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eatin’ goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eatin’ goober peas!

At first, Florida farmers only grew large crops of peanuts for animal feed and hay, with a small portion of the produce going for roasting or sweet treats like peanut butter and peanut brittle. In the early 20th century, however, two factors emerged that convinced planters of the peanut’s value for other uses.

The first was the widespread devastation to Southern cotton crops caused by the boll weevil. Cotton was valuable for both the fluffy stuff that went into making textiles and the oil that could be pressed from the seeds. When boll weevil infestations began threatening the source of cotton seeds for making oil, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began recommending peanuts as an alternative crop. Like cotton seeds, peanuts express an oil when pressed, which can be used in both lubricants and food-grade salad oils and shortening. Planters hoped peanut oil might keep the oil presses of the South going if the supply of cotton seeds should fail completely.

World War I was a factor as well, causing a jump in the demand for edible oils. As the price of peanut oil began to creep upward, the Pensacola News Journal declared that peanut oil was just as certain a source of wealth as petroleum!

Peanut hay in the process of curing in Holmes County (ca. 1890s).

Peanut hay in the process of curing in Holmes County (ca. 1890s).

The boom in peanut oil prices leveled off after World War I, but a few companies stayed in the game into the 1920s. Brown & Company of Portland, Maine, for example, bought up 64,000 acres of land in the Everglades and tried to establish a processing plant on an island in the middle of Lake Worth in Palm Beach County. The plant didn’t work out so well, but the island is still known as Peanut Island today!

Excerpt of a topographical map showing Peanut Island in the middle of Lake Worth just north of Palm beach and West Palm Beach. Map courtesy of the US Geological Survey (1946).

Excerpt of a topographical map showing Peanut Island in the middle of Lake Worth just north of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. Map courtesy of the US Geological Survey (1946). Click or tap the map to enlarge it.

While the market price for peanuts may shift from time to time, Floridians seem to have always appreciated their value for entertainment. Newspaper reports from the early 20th century often mention party games involving the tiny legumes. In 1905, for example, young Ethel Crosby of Ocala gave a “peanut party” for her little friends, with all of the festivities involving peanuts in some way. There was a peanut hunt, much like an Easter egg hunt, as well as a “peanut walk,” which required the children to carry as many peanuts as they dared on the blade of a knife and walk as far as possible without dropping them. The Boy Scouts of Troop 3 in Pensacola held a similar contest in 1911, except in their version the boys had to scoop up the peanuts in a spoon held between their teeth and carry them to a distant bucket.

This particular race has enjoyed some serious staying power. Even in recent years, festivals celebrating and promoting agriculture have featured peanut relays of one form or another, like this one from Agriculture Day in 1986:

Representative Irlo

Representative Irlo “Bud” Bronson, Democrat from Kissimmee, passes a peanut to Representative Chance Irvine, Republican from Orange Park, as the two work together for the House of Representatives team during an Agriculture Day competition honoring the peanut industry (1986).

Isn’t it funny how the smallest and most common objects can have such complex histories? Share this post on social media and tell us about your favorite historical tidbit!

 

History Beneath the Waves

There’s an important piece of Florida and United States history located about a mile and half southwest of Pensacola Pass in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s not much to see on the surface, just a couple of rusty cylinders that look as though they might have once been the foundation for a platform or a beacon of some sort. They’re just the tip, however, of something much more significant lying beneath the waves–the final resting place of one of the United States’ oldest battleships, the USS Massachusetts.

A portion of the submerged USS Massachusetts, located southwest of the entrance to Pensacola Bay (1993).

A portion of the submerged USS Massachusetts, located southwest of the entrance to Pensacola Bay (1993). Box 5, Folder 18,  Archaeological Sites and Activities Slide and Video Recordings – Bureau of Archaeological Research (Series S2318), State Archives of Florida.

The Massachusetts (BB-2) was launched in 1893 as part of the United States’ new “Steel Navy.” Naval vessels were becoming faster and more deadly as the technology behind guns and engines improved. Congress realized a strong navy was critical to national security, so in 1890 it authorized the construction of three steel-hulled, armored battleships powered entirely by steam. These ships, termed the Indiana class, included the Indiana, the Massachusetts and the Oregon. The Massachusetts was built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia; the keel was laid on June 25, 1891, and the completed ship was launched on June 10, 1893. Officially commissioned by the Navy in 1896, the battleship was 350 feet long, 69 feet wide at the center and had a draft of 24 feet. Its top speed was 15 knots, and it featured two 13-inch guns and eight 8-inch guns along with smaller armaments.

The USS Massachusetts in harbor (circa 1918).

The USS Massachusetts in harbor (circa 1918).

After being fitted out at Philadelphia, the Massachusetts was assigned to the Navy’s North Atlantic fleet and spent several years traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard on maneuvers. The ship’s first military action came during the Spanish-American War in 1898. On May 31 of that year, the Massachusetts  joined the Iowa and New Orleans in firing on the Spanish warship Cristóbal Colón off the coast of Santiago, Cuba. The Massachusetts missed out on the rest of the ensuing battle, having been forced to steam over to Guantanamo Bay to refuel. On July 4, the ship helped sink the Spanish cruiser Reina Mercedes and later steamed over to Puerto Rico to help transport troops during the U.S. occupation of the island.

The so-called

The so-called “black gang” of the USS Massachusetts, nicknamed for their blackened faces and clothing resulting from long days shoveling coal in the ship’s boiler room (circa 1918).

The Massachusetts had a relatively short service period, coming along in a time when naval technology was improving rapidly and older ships quickly became obsolete. It did have its high points, however. It was one of the first ships to have a permanent wireless telegraph system aboard, the installation being supervised directly by the inventor of the wireless telegraph, Guglielmo Marconi. During a European tour in 1911 it marked the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary of England with a 21-gun salute on behalf of the United States. The following year, the Massachusetts had the honor of offering a similar salute for President William Howard Taft during a review of the fleet at New York City.

The USS Massachusetts band (circa 1918).

The USS Massachusetts band (circa 1918).

The Massachusetts was decommissioned in 1914 (actually for the second time), but the outbreak of World War I led naval authorities to put it back into service as a gunnery practice ship for reserve crews training off the Atlantic coast. The ship returned to Philadelphia after the war, where it was decommissioned permanently and struck from the official Navy List. With no more missions to complete, the Navy offered the Massachusetts to the War Department, which decided to use it for target practice for coastal defenses near Pensacola. In January 1921, the Navy towed the ship around the tip of Florida and anchored it just outside the entrance to Pensacola Bay. The first attempt to scuttle the ship backfired when naval authorities realized the spot they had chosen was too shallow, and the ship had to be painstakingly refloated and moved to deeper water.

Map showing the location of the USS Massachusetts in relation to Pensacola and Santa Rosa Island. Included in an informational brochure on the USS Massachusetts published by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources in 2013.

Map showing the location of the USS Massachusetts in relation to Pensacola and Santa Rosa Island. Included in an informational brochure on the USS Massachusetts published by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Army set up coastal artillery pieces at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and Fort Barrancas on the mainland and aimed them at the sunken ship. For 12 days they fired on the Massachusetts, stopping periodically to study the damage done by different kinds of ammunition shot from various angles. By the end of the month, the tests were complete, and the ship was abandoned with parts still protruding from below the waves of the Gulf.

A diver explores part of the wreckage of the USS Massachusetts (1993).

A diver explores part of the wreckage of the USS Massachusetts (1993). Box 5, Folder 18,  Archaeological Sites and Activities Slide and Video Recordings – Bureau of Archaeological Research (Series S2318), State Archives of Florida.

Despite having been underwater for nearly a century, the USS Massachusetts has been an uncommonly useful shipwreck. During World War II, student aviators from Naval Air Station Pensacola used the ship for target practice, and parts of its superstructure were harvested for urgently needed scrap metal. It was declared a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 1993 and has become a popular site for both diving and fishing. Amberjack, cobia, grouper and snapper are just a few of the game fish that make their home in the decaying hull of the Massachusetts.

Looking for more information and photos relating to Florida shipwrecks? Try searching the Florida Photographic Collection, and visit the Florida Museums in the Sea website, a fun, easy way to learn more about Florida’s twelve Underwater Archaeological Preserves.

The Vine That Ate the South

If you’ve spent much time driving around North and Central Florida, chances are good that you’ve seen vines take over a few trees and power poles. It happens. Plenty of vines like Virginia creeper and wild grapevine love Florida’s climate and are all too happy to climb up a tree or pole to get a little closer to the sun. One vine in particular, however, has developed a reputation for being almost evil in its quest to grow and thrive, choking out anything that stands in its way. Kudzu (Pueraria thunbergiana) has in recent decades been drubbed as “the green menace” and “the vine that ate the South,” with tendrils that allegedly grow so fast they can outwalk a human. While we doubt kudzu really has nefarious intentions, it certainly is an invasive plant, and it has a history almost as complex as its bewildering carpet of vines and leaves.

Kudzu has overtaken this field near Lamont in Jefferson County (2018).

Kudzu has overtaken this field near Lamont in Jefferson County (2018).

Kudzu is native to Asia, where both Japanese and Chinese farmers have used it for centuries as food for livestock and ground cover to prevent erosion. It most likely first came to the United States in 1876, when representatives of the Japanese empire brought along a few cuttings to show off in their exhibit at the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia. The vines were hardy and the leaves were attractive, so visitors were delighted to take home a few plants for ornamental use. Southerners appreciated kudzu’s potential as an erosion control agent, and soon it was sprouting in valleys and gullies all over the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

A kudzu leaf, photographed off South Barber Road near Lamont in Jefferson County (2018).

A kudzu leaf, photographed off South Barber Road near Lamont in Jefferson County (2018).

While kudzu may have possibly entered Florida before 1900, it really burst onto the scene just after the turn of the 20th century, thanks to the diligent boosterism of a Chipley photographer and planter named Charles Earl Pleas. An Indiana native, Pleas and his wife, Lillie, had grown kudzu near their home to serve as a shade vine. When the plant began to creep out onto the lawn–as kudzu tends to do–Pleas dug it up and threw it onto a trash heap near the barn. Determined to survive, the vines took root and began to cover the trash pile and the nearby building.

Then, something unexpected happened. Pleas noticed that all kinds of farm animals, from hogs to horses, seem to enjoy eating the vine. He wrote the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find out if kudzu was known to be poisonous, and the agency responded that it was not, although they also doubted livestock would eat the plant. Seeing that kudzu’s potential as forage had not yet been realized, Pleas and his wife launched a veritable kudzu crusade, promoting the vine as a miracle solution to the South’s long-standing need for a cheap, hardy yearlong food crop for livestock.

Pleas wrote glowingly about kudzu for newspapers and pamphlets, praising its high nutritional value and the ease with which it could be cultivated. It could grow up to a foot a day in early summer, for a total of up to 60 feet of new growth in a single growing season. Soon others in Florida, including State Chemist Rufus E. Rose, were promoting kudzu as both a superior feed crop and an instant solution to erosion. And if the vine overgrew its welcome? “It is an easy matter to get rid of Kudzu if desired,” wrote Edward B. Eppes of Tallahassee in 1913. New plants only sprouted from the crowns, he pointed out, so mowing down the crowns with a plow during the heat of summer would be enough to kill the plant dead. “For this reason,” he wrote, “there is no danger of Kudzu ever becoming a pest.”

Cover of a pamphlet titled "Soil Improving Crops," distributed by the Florida Department of Agriculture in 1948. The image features a field and tree overtaken by kudzu which, in the context of soil conservation, actually had some positive aspects. The State Library's State Document Collection contains many books and pamphlets on soil conservation efforts throughout the 20th century.

Cover of a pamphlet titled “Soil Improving Crops,” distributed by the Florida Department of Agriculture in 1948. The image features a field and tree overtaken by kudzu which, in the context of soil conservation, actually had some positive aspects. The State Library’s State Documents Collection contains many books and pamphlets on soil conservation efforts throughout the 20th century.

For a while, Eppes’ evaluation was spot-on. Floridians and their neighbors throughout the South used kudzu as feed and as ground cover to hold the soil in place on hillsides and in gullies. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service began officially recommending it to farmers in 1935, and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted innumerable cuttings along public roadways and railroad embankments. As late as 1944, the federal government paid farmers to cultivate kudzu, hoping it would both preserve the soil and make money for struggling American farmers still reeling from the effects of the Great Depression.

Kudzu vines growing on an embankment along a railroad near Tallahassee (1961).

Kudzu vines growing on an embankment along a railroad near Tallahassee (1961).

By the 1960s, however, the vine’s reputation had taken a dive. The Pensacola News Journal noted that it had a new nickname– the “cuss you” vine–because it had turned out to have some unfortunate qualities. Yes, kudzu was a good cover crop, but turn your back for just a moment and it might overtake another planted field, and even the barn beyond it! If conditions were right, it could even choke out young pine trees, destroying valuable sources of lumber and pulpwood. The vine snaked its way into everything, taking over unoccupied dwellings, gardens and even utility poles, occasionally shorting out electrical lines. In 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which had earlier been one of kudzu’s biggest cheerleaders, declared it a common weed and began experimenting with means for eradicating it.

Local and state officials in Florida did what they could to stem kudzu’s green tidal wave as well. Santa Rosa County passed an ordinance in 1996 imposing fines on property owners who allowed kudzu vines to creep onto their neighbors’ land. Hillsborough County opted to use herbicides to beat back the vines. Tallahassee’s Parks and Recreation Department contracted with a sheep farmer to bring hundreds of lambs down to Florida to chow down on the woody growth.

Kudzu still covers millions of acres of territory in the southeastern United States, but is now under somewhat better control. Some people have even used the vine for basket weaving, confections and kudzu cigarettes! Most Floridians, however, prefer to keep the so-called “green menace” as far away as possible.

Woman weaving a basket from kudzu vines at Tallahassee Market Days (1986).

Woman weaving a basket from kudzu vines at Tallahassee Market Days (1986).

What are some of the most unusual plants in your Florida community? Let us know by leaving us a comment, and don’t forget to share this post with your friends and relatives!

Making Miami Modern

The Giller Building, located at 975 West 41st Street in Miami Beach, was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 29, 2018. Built in 1957, the structure is named for its architect and first occupant, Norman Myer Giller, who made the building into a focal point for the architectural style he helped to make popular, Miami Modern.

Giller Building, located at 975 W 41st Street in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of Max Imberman (2017).

Giller Building, located at 975 W 41st Street in Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of Max Imberman (2017).

Norman Giller was born in 1918 in Jacksonville but spent much of his childhood in Miami Beach and Washington, DC. He worked for a Washington architect right out of high school before taking a position with the U.S. Navy in Key West. With World War II on the horizon, Giller was transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers’ offices in Jacksonville to help design buildings for military bases in Florida and Georgia. Up to this point, his training had come on the job rather than from school, but Army rules required him to seek an architecture degree. Giller complied and graduated from the University of Florida in 1945.

Norman Giller (left) and Al Sutton (right) in Miami Beach (1944).

Norman Giller (left) and Al Sutton (right) in Miami Beach (1944).

After the war, Giller opened up his own architectural firm in Miami Beach. Business was booming–the war had forced most construction projects to the back burner, but once peace was restored the demand for new buildings skyrocketed. Even as a young architect just starting out on his own, Giller quickly landed more than a hundred clients. “The phone would ring,” he later recalled. “I’ve got a piece of property and I want to build an apartment building, I want to build a house, or I want to build some stores.” In those busy early days, Giller remembered having seven associates working on a single table to draw up plans.

Record of Registered Architects maintained by the Secretary of State (Series S1195). Norman Giller held certificate #1515. State Archives of Florida.

Record of Registered Architects maintained by the Secretary of State (Series S1195). Norman Giller held certificate #1515. State Archives of Florida.

From the beginning of his career, Giller was an innovator, even when it came to the technical details of design. Once during the war, the Army assigned him to build housing for a base in South Florida, and while the plans called for heating units, there was no plan for air-conditioning. Giller read up on a central heat and air-conditioning system that would do both jobs for one cost and convinced the military to use it. He was also one of the first architects to use PVC plumbing rather than traditional metal pipes, which tended to corrode and fail quicker when exposed to salt air and coastal soils.

Giller designed everything from nightclubs to banks to synagogues, but he is best remembered for his work on the hotels and motels that helped make Miami Beach a world-class tourist destination in the postwar era. He later noted that what architectural historians now call “Miami Modern” didn’t seem like anything special at the time. “Everybody was just designing what we called contemporary architecture of the time,” he said. “When you’re doing that, you’re not saying, ‘Gee, I want to design a [Miami Modern] building or an Art Deco building.'”

The Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, designed by Norman M. Giller (circa 1960).

The Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, designed by Norman M. Giller and built in 1955 (photo circa 1960).

Miami Modern had its own look and feel, however. It reflected the optimism of post-World War II America, combined with an abiding faith in progress and reverence for Miami’s tropical qualities. Architects designing in this style used vivid colors, curved lines, glass walls, glass tile, colorful Formica surfaces and floating staircases to transport the visitor into the hopeful future many Americans felt was already coming their way. Giller brought this style to bear on large hotels such as The Carillon, as well as many smaller establishments of “motel row,” including the Thunderbird and Ocean Palm motels in Miami Beach. Most of these retained the traditional two-story floor plan–the four-story Thunderbird being a notable exception–but Giller took steps to incorporate some of the features that made his larger projects more exciting and comfortable. He eliminated interior hallways, instead having guests reach their rooms using covered walkways with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing in the background. Brilliantly colored and whimsically shaped facades attracted the tourist’s attention from the highway, while the same shapes and colors repeated throughout the rooms and common areas.

View of the Thunderbird Resort Motel on Miami Beach, designed by Norman Giller. This promotional brochure includes images from throughout the building, illustrating Giller's innovative architectural techniques (State Library Ephemera Collection).

View of the Thunderbird Resort Motel on Miami Beach, designed by Norman Giller. This promotional brochure includes images from throughout the building, illustrating Giller’s innovative architectural techniques. Click or tap the image to enlarge it (State Library Ephemera Collection).

The Giller Building is an adaptation of this style for an office environment. Giller built the original four-story structure in 1957 to house his growing architectural firm and a few additional tenants. The construction of the nearby Julia Tuttle Causeway in 1961 inspired Giller to expand the building with a six-story addition for more offices and tenants. The entire edifice is a celebration of the Miami Modern style that Giller helped promote, including floating staircases, glass tile mosaics on the exterior, and plenty of plate glass doors and windows.

Floating staircase inside the Giller Building (2017).

Floating staircase inside the Giller Building. Photo courtesy of Max Imberman (2017).

Norman Myer Giller passed away in 2008, but monuments to his architectural contributions can still be found across Florida and throughout the Western Hemisphere. He designed motels in Key West, Jacksonville, Georgia, New Jersey, and even Canada, government buildings at Kennedy Space Center, and public facilities throughout Latin America. He was heavily involved in local civic affairs, chaired the South Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects and received a number of awards and other honors for his work.

Is there a building in your Florida town that qualifies for listing on the National Register of Historic Places? Visit the Division of Historical Resources’ website to find out more about submitting a nomination!

Researching State and County Officers

Do you have an ancestor who served in public office at the county or state level? Are you trying to determine who was sheriff or tax collector or county judge at a certain point in your county’s history? Good news! The State Archives can help you get some answers!

One of the primary responsibilities of the secretary of state (or territory prior to 1845) is to keep track of who has been officially appointed or elected to each office, both for the state and its various counties. This information is documented in several kinds of records here at the State Archives, which can come in handy if you’re researching a local history topic or the life of an ancestor who was a public servant.

To explain the kinds of records we have available and how to use them to research a specific person, let’s start with an example. Let’s say you know you have an ancestor named J.W. Applegate who lived from around the 1830s to about 1919, and you’ve always heard he was either a member of the school board or the superintendent of public instruction in Clay County, but you don’t know exactly when.

 

Step 1: Consult the State and County Officer Directories (Series S259 and S1284).

The easiest way to begin is to look for the person in the State and County Officer Directories. These are a series of bound ledgers containing lists of county and state officials. Series S259 covers the Territorial Era and the early years of Florida’s statehood, while Series S1284 runs roughly from 1845 to about 1989, overlapping slightly with Series S259. Each entry lists the officer’s name, date of commission, election or appointment, and remarks explaining how their term of office ended. Usually their term simply expired according to law, but sometimes the person resigned, died, moved away from the state or was removed from office by the governor. After about 1870, the volumes also list the person’s post office address, which can be very handy if you’re tracking down an ancestor who gave the census takers the slip! Here’s an example of what the ledgers look like:

Volume 7 of the State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284).

Volume 7 of the State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284).

Returning to our example, let’s look for J.W. Applegate. The volumes in Series S259 and S1284 are arranged chronologically, so let’s look at volumes from when he was at about the right age for public service, maybe his 30s and 40s. Lo and behold! Here we find him listed in Series S1284, Volume 7, which covers the period from 1871 to 1889. It looks like he actually held more than one office during this period:

Page from Volume 7 of Series S1284 showing commission data from officers of Clay County in the 1870s. J.W. Applegate shows up with two different commissions, one as county treasurer and one as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Page from Volume 7 of Series S1284 showing commission data from officers of Clay County in the 1870s. J.W. Applegate shows up with two different commissions, one as county treasurer and one as superintendent of public instruction (Click the image to enlarge).

Just from this one record, we can see that J.W. Applegate held two commissions in the 1870s, one as superintendent of public instruction and one as county treasurer. We also can see that he lived in Green Cove Springs at the time. For his commission as superintendent of public instruction, we get the date of his actual commission, as well as the day his written oath of office was filed with the Secretary of State. For his term as county treasurer, we get a little more. Since county treasurers had to be bonded, we can see the date his bond was received by the Secretary of State. In both cases, we get the length of time he was to serve, verification that he had paid his taxes, and some information about how his term ended. Applegate’s term as county treasurer expired according to law, meaning someone was elected to take his place. He resigned, however, from his position as superintendent of public instruction, and in this case we don’t get the date that occurred.

What else can we learn?

 

Step 2: Find the person’s commission.

In many cases, the State Archives has more than just an index entry documenting a person’s public service. We also usually have a copy of the person’s commission, their signed oath of office, and a copy of their bond if it was required by law for them to have one.

Let’s start with the commission. This is simply the governor’s official notice to a state or county officer that they are confirmed in office and can begin exercising their duties. Here’s the one J.W. Applegate received when he became superintendent of public instruction for Clay County in 1874:

J.W. Applegate's commission as Superintendent of Public Schools for Clay County, in Volume 4 of the Secretary of State's Record of Cmmissions (Series S1285), State Archives of Florida.

J.W. Applegate’s commission as superintendent of public instruction for Clay County, in Volume 4 of the Secretary of State’s Record of Commissions (Series S1285), State Archives of Florida.

Commissions for public officers were recorded in different ways over time, so tracking one down can take some digging. Here are the catalog records for the record series where most commissions may be found:

Series S1285: Commissions for State and County Officers, 1845-1900
Series S1286: Commissions for State Appointed Officers, 1898-1964, 1969-78
Series S1287: Commissions for County Appointed Officers, 1901-1951
Series S1288: Commissions for County Elected Officers, 1898-1963, 1969-78, 1989-2004
Series S1289: Commissions for Officers Elected to Ad Interim Positions, 1906-1935
Series S1290: Commissions for Senate-Confirmed Officers, 1913-1963
Series S623: Commissions for Judges, 1935-1942

If you’re looking for a commission that falls outside these categories, contact the State Archives Reference Desk for further assistance.

 

Step 3: Find the person’s oath and bond (if applicable).

All public officials typically had to sign an oath swearing to uphold the state constitution and discharge the duties of their office to the best of their ability in accordance with the law. The signed oaths were filed in the office of the secretary of state, and many are available in the State Archives’ collections. Here, for example, is the one J.W. Applegate signed after he was elected superintendent of public instruction for Clay County in 1874.

Oath of Joseph W. Applegate, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Clay County (1874), in Box 3, folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Oath of J.W. Applegate, superintendent of public instruction for Clay County (1874), in Box 3, Folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Additionally, in some cases state law required a person to be bonded if he was going to be handling money or financial transactions on behalf of the county. Applegate was not required to be bonded for his position as superintendent of public instruction, but he did need a bond to be county treasurer, and here it is:

Bond of Joseph W. Applegate, County Treasurer - Clay County (1873) in Box 3, folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

Bond of J.W. Applegate, county treasurer – Clay County (1873) in Box 3, Folder 2, Oaths and Bonds of State and County Officers (Series S622), State Archives of Florida.

 

Most oaths and bonds for county and state officers between 1845 and the mid-20th century are found in Series S622, with a few exceptions. Oaths and bonds for notaries who held office between 1845 and 1897, for example, are in Series S16.

 

Step 4: Check for related documentation about the person’s service.

While the county courthouse is your best bet for finding records relating to the work a person did while serving in a county office, the State Archives sometimes has a few additional helpful documents. In J.W. Applegate’s case, for example, we see from his entry in the State and County Officer Directory that he resigned his post as superintendent of public instruction, although we’re not given a date. Sometimes we can get a few clues as to why a person may have resigned from their position by determining the date of the resignation and checking to see if their letter of resignation to the governor has survived.

There are two main ways to find out when a person resigned from a county or state office. One is to look at the State and County Officer Directory and see if the secretary of state’s office made a note in the “Remarks” column dating the event. In Applegate’s case, we only get the fact he resigned. The second method is to look for the governor’s acceptance of the resignation. Luckily, governors from 1868 to 1975 kept track of all the resignations they accepted in a single set of volumes contained in Series S260. The 10 handwritten volumes in the series are essentially in chronological order and many have indexes.

Those records can tell us when a person resigned, but what about why? For that information, the best source is the officer’s own explanation in a letter of resignation. Resignation letters can be found in one of several places depending on the time period. For mid-to-late 19th century cases like our friend J.W. Applegate, the best place to start is Series S1326which includes letters of resignation written to the governor and filed by the secretary of state, as well as notices from the governor that he had removed an official by executive authority. This series is far from exhaustive, but it contains some interesting insights into 19th century politics and the lives of public servants from that era, which we explored in a recent post titled ‘I Quit!!!’ In the case of Mr. Applegate, no letter of resignation was available to document his decision to quit the role of superintendent of public instruction, but there is a letter from the governor announcing his decision to remove Applegate from his other job as county treasurer:

Letter from Governor George Franklin Drew to Secretary of State William D. Bloxham announcing several removals from office for Clay County (January 11, 1877). Found in Box 1, folder 3 of Resignations and Removals (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Letter from Governor George Franklin Drew to Secretary of State William D. Bloxham announcing several removals from office for Clay County (January 11, 1877). Found in Box 1, folder 3 of Resignations and Removals (Series S1326), State Archives of Florida.

Even though this document doesn’t give us a clear reason for Applegate’s departure from either the office of county treasurer or superintendent of public instruction, we can use a little historical context to make an educated guess. Notice the date of this removal notice from Governor Drew – January 11, 1877. Drew had just been voted into office as the first Democrat to serve as governor since the end of the Civil War. Applegate, as well as everyone else named in the letter, had been appointed by Drew’s Republican predecessors during Reconstruction.  The political divide between the two major parties was acrimonious during this period, and upon taking office Drew took every opportunity he could to remove his political opponents from power. This caused, as you can imagine, a considerable amount of paperwork in the form of removal notices and new commissions, oaths and bonds, which are well documented in the State Archives collections. Considering J.W. Applegate was removed at the same time as the entire Clay County Board of Commissioners right after Drew took office, he was almost certainly part of this purge. Additional research in the papers of Governor Drew or local sources in Clay County would help verify this hypothesis.

Researching in These Records

The records described in this blog are all open for public research here at the State Archives, or you can contact the State Archives Reference Desk to verify an officer’s dates of service or get copies of their commission, oath, or bond if it has survived. When you call or email, make sure you include the person’s full name, the county they served in, the office you think they served in, and as close as possible to the dates they would have served. If you aren’t sure about the dates, have the person’s birth and death dates ready – that will at least narrow down the search. Consult the State Archives’ fee schedule to find out the cost of receiving copies or scans.