James Van Fleet and the Normandy Invasion

Early on June 6, 1944, a force of about 175,000 Allied troops began making their way ashore along the beaches of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France. This invasion, generally called the D-Day invasion or Operation Overlord, involved the coordinated efforts of 12 nations under the leadership of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The goal was to establish an Allied foothold in Adolf Hitler’s so-called “Fortress Europe” and roll the Axis forces eastward while Soviet troops closed in from the opposite side. Many Floridians participated in this daunting maneuver, including a man who had grown up in Bartow in Polk County and had been a classmate of General Eisenhower–Colonel James Van Fleet.

James A. Van Fleet (1953).

James A. Van Fleet (1953).

James Alward Van Fleet was born in 1892 in Coytesville, New Jersey, but almost immediately moved with his family to Bartow, where his father invested in phosphate mining. The Van Fleet phosphate venture didn’t pan out, but James’ father, William, supported his family by running a newsstand in the Bartow post office building. In his earliest years at school, James Van Fleet was close friends with the man who would be governor of Florida during most of World War II, Spessard Holland. He later recalled the two of them being dressed by their mothers for their first day of kindergarten–both wearing suits and bowties, but barefoot. Van Fleet began attending the Summerlin Institute in 1907, although he confessed he found it difficult to concentrate on his studies. Even at a young age, he was an avid outdoorsman and worked at a local grocery and as a mail carrier, which occupied much of his time. He also played for the Summerlin football and baseball teams until a back injury kept him on the bench.

James Van Fleet (left) and Spessard Holland (right) in Bartow, Florida (ca. 1910).

James Van Fleet (left) and Spessard Holland (right) in Bartow, Florida (ca. 1910).

The Summerlin Institute's 1909 baseball team. James Van Fleet is pictured in the middle row on the far right.

The Summerlin Institute’s 1909 baseball team. James Van Fleet is pictured in the middle row on the far right.

In 1911, Van Fleet received a congressional appointment from U.S. Representative Stephen M. Sparkman to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His cohort, the Class of 1915, was later nicknamed the “class the stars fell on” because so many of the members became generals. Both Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley were among them.

After graduating 25th in his class at West Point with the rank of Second Lieutenant, Van Fleet chose to become an infantry officer. “Infantry is the heart of the United States Army,” he later said. “Armor and artillery are powerful allies, but it is the infantry that seizes territory and holds it.” His first assignment was with the 3rd Infantry Regiment in New York, where he helped train civilian volunteers for potential service in the event of U.S. involvement in World War I. In 1916, the 3rd Infantry moved to Camp Eagle Pass on the U.S.-Mexican border to help contain unstable conditions stemming from the Mexican Revolution. Van Fleet also served as an instructor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and overseas with the 6th Division during World War I.

After the war, Van Fleet became an ROTC instructor at Kansas State Agricultural College, the first of several ROTC posts he would hold in the interwar era. In 1921, he was transferred to the University of Florida, where he commanded the ROTC cadets and served as head coach of the football team. He almost left the Army to accept a lengthy contract as head coach, but he eventually decided to stay in the military. Over the next few years, he served in a variety of roles–commanding troops in Panama, coaching the Army’s football team, serving another stint at the University of Florida, and supervising several camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.

James Van Fleet as commander of the ROTC cadets at the University of Florida. Taken from UF's yearbook, The Seminole (1922).

James Van Fleet as commander of the ROTC cadets at the University of Florida. Taken from UF’s yearbook, The Seminole (1922).

Van Fleet was in the process of transferring to Fort Benning, Georgia, for duty when Hitler’s army invaded Poland in 1939. After two years training the troops at Benning, he was elevated to the rank of colonel and given command of the 8th Infantry, 4th Division. When the 4th was retooled as a motorized division–designed to handle tanks, trucks, half-tracks and the like–he led his regiment through a lengthy series of maneuvers to train for combat. Colonel Van Fleet’s men were passed up for participation in the Allied invasion of North Africa, as was the entire 4th Division, but they didn’t have to wait much longer to join the fighting. In late fall 1943, the 4th was ordered to prepare to ship overseas. Their destination would be the heavily fortified western coast of Europe.

Although the plans for the invasion of Europe were under tight wraps, Van Fleet and his men had some idea of what to expect because of their extensive training. Some of that training took place in Florida at Camp Gordon Johnston, located in the Panhandle near Carrabelle. Here the soldiers practiced the best ways to launch an amphibious invasion, including the use of new amphibious vehicles like the DUKW (commonly called a “duck”) and LCVP (commonly called a “Higgins boat”). By the end of December 1943, the 4th Division had finished up its Florida training and was en route to England to prepare for D-Day.

Soldiers training for amphibious warfare at Camp Gordon Johnston near Carrabelle, Florida (ca. 1943).

Soldiers training for amphibious warfare at Camp Gordon Johnston near Carrabelle, Florida (ca. 1943).

Operation Overlord, as the invasion was code-named, called for five main invasion zones–Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. United States forces concentrated on Utah and Omaha beaches. Colonel Van Fleet’s regiment was assigned to Utah Beach and scheduled to land at 6:30 a.m. local time, the H-Hour of D-Day. As the transport ships chugged across the churning waves of the English Channel, soldiers battled seasickness and feverish anticipation for the fight to come.  As daylight began to break, Allied gunboats unleashed punishing artillery fire on the German beach defenses, providing cover for the invading troops. The initial deployment of men and equipment didn’t go off without a hitch–a few of the ships hit mines, some drifted away from their targets in the swift currents and many of the smaller boats stopped well short of the shoreline, forcing the troops to wade ashore just as the Germans were beginning to return fire. Colonel Van Fleet’s 8th Regiment ended up landing south of its assigned beachhead but were determined to make the most of their situation. By mid-morning, they had neutralized several German pillboxes (small concrete forts) and threaded their way through minefields, opening up an exit from the beach for the troops that would follow them.

For his leadership of the 8th Regiment during the Normandy invasion, Colonel Van Fleet was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also promoted to Brigadier General on August 1, 1944, and reassigned to assist in commanding the 2nd Division. In less than a year, he replaced General John Millikin as commander of the 3rd Corps in General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.

General Van Fleet continued to lead a distinguished military career after World War II. He served in Greece and Korea, commanding the 2nd and later the 8th armies as the United States fought on multiple fronts to contain the spread of Communism during the Cold War. He retired from active duty in 1953, arriving home in Florida to a triumphant welcome.

General James Van Fleet (right) with Loyal Frisbie (left), chairman of Polk County's

General James Van Fleet (right) with Loyal Frisbie (left), chairman of Polk County’s “Welcome Home” celebration in honor of the general’s return to Florida (1953).

General Van Fleet turned down several opportunities to run for public office, but did write and make  public appearances in support of various causes. He also operated a ranch and citrus groves near his home in Polk County. He passed away peacefully on September 23, 1992, six months after celebrating his 100th birthday.

For more information on the life and military career of General James A. Van Fleet, we recommend Paul F. Braim, The Will to Win: The Life of General James A. Van Fleet (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2001).

Using Tax Rolls for Family History Research

You’ve probably heard the tired old cliché that nothing in life is certain except for death and paying taxes. Roll your eyes if you must, but if you’re researching your family tree, you can make this reality work in your favor! Tax records are probably one of the most sorely underutilized resources in the genealogist’s toolbox. Much like census records, they provide lists of people living in a specific place at a specific time, with the added bonus that they’re created every year instead of every decade like the federal census. Moreover, they contain all sorts of information about each taxpayer’s property and occupation–anything that was being taxed at that time. Government officials used the information to determine how much to charge each citizen in taxes, but you can use it to help reconstruct an ancestor’s life and household.

An employee at the Leon County Tax Assessor's office helps a customer (1961).

An employee at the Leon County Tax Assessor’s office helps a customer (1961).

The most commonly available tax record is the annual tax roll, a list of all the taxpayers (or their agents) in a county and a table showing the various kinds of property and activities they were taxed on for the year. Today’s tax rolls deal almost exclusively with real estate, which is certainly helpful, but the most descriptive rolls come from the early to mid-19th century because in those days the county tax assessor was responsible for collecting taxes on everything from land to professional licenses to household property.

Just like today, early county tax assessors would receive guidance from the state on how to calculate the taxes for the year, plus the necessary forms. He would then take inventory of the taxable property belonging to each head of household in the county. The tax collector would then be responsible for collecting the revenue. Sometimes the positions of tax assessor and tax collector were combined, and sometimes the county sheriff acted as both. No two tax rolls are exactly alike, even for the same county–the tax rates change from year to year, as do the categories of property and activity that were being taxed. Take a look, for example, at the column headers from these three tax rolls from St. Johns County:

This graphic shows the column headers from three 19th-century tax rolls from St. Johns County. Compare the headers to see how taxation changed over time. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida.

This graphic shows the column headers from three 19th-century tax rolls from St. Johns County. Compare the headers to see how taxation changed over time. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

So what can you do with these records? One of our favorite uses for tax rolls is to get a better sense of when exactly someone moved into or out of an area. Take John Toby of Monroe County, for example. John shows up in the 1850 federal census as a butcher living in Key West, but he’s missing from both the 1840 and 1860 censuses, and we haven’t yet been able to positively match him up with any of the other John Tobys who appear in records from other parts of the United States. John does, however, show up in multiple tax rolls from Monroe County on either side of 1850. By looking through the Monroe County rolls, we can get a better sense of when he arrived in Key West and when he left.

Excerpt from the 1849 tax roll for Monroe County showing an entry for John Toby. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt from the 1849 tax roll for Monroe County showing an entry for John Toby. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Looking through the tax rolls, the first time we see John Toby in Monroe County is in 1846. He didn’t have much at the time–no real estate, just one silver pocket watch. If his 1850 census listing is to be trusted, he was about 31 years old then. Moving forward in the records, we see him in the tax rolls for each year after 1846 through 1859. He does not, however, show up in the 1860 tax roll or any other roll thereafter, at least not for Monroe County. We can reasonably guess, then, that he lived in Key West from about 1846 to 1859, and then either died or moved someplace else. When a man dies, his name usually still appears on the tax roll for a year or two afterward while his estate is being settled, or sometimes his wife will appear on the tax roll instead as head of household. In John Toby’s case, neither of these occurred, so we can infer that John and his wife Mariam moved away from Key West around 1859. It’s no silver bullet, but this information could help us match our John Toby up with other John or Mariam Tobys that occur in other records, even if they don’t specifically refer to Key West.

An excerpt from an 1859 Monroe County tax roll showing John Toby once again, this time with much more property than he had ten years before. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida.

An excerpt from an 1859 Monroe County tax roll showing John Toby once again, this time with much more property than he had ten years before. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Another useful feature of tax rolls is their ability to show us how families change over time. Using John Toby once again as an example, we can follow his taxpaying years in Key West and see how his wealth and property grew the longer he operated his business. When he first appears on the tax rolls in 1846, he was only charged a head tax for himself and a small tax on his silver pocket watch. The next year, however, he was also taxed for a town lot valued at $200. By 1850, the assessed value of John’s town lot had increased to $300 and he owned one slave. He seems to have sold or lost the slave soon after that, but in 1856 he was taxed for a carriage or cart worth $20, horses and mules worth a total of $40, $50 worth of household goods and that same silver pocket watch, which was valued at $10 that year. Business must have been picking up for John, because the following year (1857) he had at least one slave valued at $300, and by 1859 he had two slaves with a total value of $1000 (see the excerpt from the 1859 tax roll above). These are small details, but when we look at how John Toby’s taxable property changed over time and combine that information with what we know from his 1850 census record, we start to get a clearer picture of what his life was like in Key West. It also gives us a sense of what kind of person we should be looking for when we search for John or his wife Mariam in other records.

Another valuable feature of 19th century tax rolls is the information they can provide about an ancestor’s occupation. For many years, license taxes were reported on the tax rolls, which means you can quickly scan to see who all of the doctors, lawyers, merchants and other professionals were in a given county in a given year. Other occupations can be determined by looking at a person’s taxable property. If someone was being taxed on a sawmill or $2,000 in cattle or $5,000 in merchandise, for example, you can safely guess at least part of what they were doing for a living. We can see lots of occupations represented in this excerpt of the 1851 tax roll from Leon County:

Excerpt of the 1851 tax roll from Leon County. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Excerpt of the 1851 tax roll from Leon County. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

One final feature that you may find useful is the tabulations page at the end of each year’s tax roll. One of the roll’s most important functions was to determine how much tax revenue the county would receive that year, as well as how much the county had to remit to the state. At the end of each roll, the tax assessor would write up a summary with totals for each category of taxation for the entire county. This is a great way to track how many people there were in certain occupations in a county at a given time, the total number of slaves, the value of land, etc. Here’s an example of one of those tabulation pages from Escambia County in 1854:

Data from the tabulation page of the 1854 Escambia County tax roll. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Data from the tabulation page of the 1854 Escambia County tax roll. Tax Rolls (Series S28), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

So where do you find these tax rolls? The State Archives of Florida holds a fairly large–though by no means exhaustive–collection of these documents for the early to mid-19th century. They have not yet been digitized, but they are open for public research. Also, if you know the specific tax roll you need, you can contact the State Archives’ reference staff at archives@dos.myflorida.com to request copies of the entire tax roll for a specific county in a specific year, or just the page with a specific person on it. Reproduction fees may apply; see our fee schedule for details. To see which tax rolls we have for the counties that interest you, visit the catalog record for Series S28 in the Archives Online Catalog. From that page, click the yellow folder icon to display a box listing of the tax rolls we have available in that series of records. The records are arranged alphabetically by county and then chronologically.

Counties also sometimes hold copies of tax rolls from the early to mid-19th century. Depending on the county, older tax records may be retained by the clerk of the courts, the tax collector or the property appraiser.

 

 

 

The Yellow Dog

Thinking back to our school days, most of us have at least a few memories that involve a school bus. Even if you had the good fortune to live close enough to school to walk, or could get a ride from Mom or Dad, school buses were a big part of the whole school experience. It’s how you got to those out-of-town football games, field trips and band competitions. It was a place where friendships were made, a few paper airplanes were thrown, and those not getting a coveted window seat learned just how long they could go without a breeze in the Florida heat. It turns out that school buses themselves have an interesting history here in Florida, one that reaches back even farther than the age of the automobile.

An early school bus drawn by two horses in Piedmont in Orange County (ca. 1900).

An early school bus drawn by two horses in Piedmont in Orange County (ca. 1900).

Florida’s first school buses were drawn by horses or mules rather than the growling diesel engines we’re familiar with today. Duval County is often credited with establishing the first horse-drawn school bus system in 1898, but it’s safe to say other counties likely had similar arrangements–or at least some of the local schools did. Teachers sometimes did double duty and drove the bus, picking up their charges every morning and then dropping them off in the afternoon on the way home. In at least a few cases, older students did the driving!

Horse-drawn school bus in Jacksonville (1898).

Horse-drawn school bus in Jacksonville (1898).

Once automobiles came onto the scene, it was only a matter of time before schools began using them to transport students. The first engine-powered school buses didn’t come from the factory looking like a school bus, however–they were converted from cars. In the earliest days of the automobile, a car body could be easily removed and replaced with whatever the owner needed–a flat bed, a series of benches for seating a crowd, or even an enclosed space for camping. So, when a local school district decided they wanted a bus, someone would remove the factory body from a Model T or similar car and add on a bus body. As school buses became more popular, companies started selling ready-made bus bodies, complete with special lights, door locks and a paint job. The Smith-Neil-Rivers Body Corporation in Jacksonville was one such company, but interestingly their standard color options didn’t include yellow–the choices were green or orange!

A wooden-bodied school bus on Okeechobee Road in Fort Pierce (1925).

A wooden-bodied school bus on Okeechobee Road in Fort Pierce (1925).

Inspection certificate for a Chevrolet Six truck modified to serve as a school bus in Jefferson County (1934). Click or tap the image to see a larger version.

Inspection certificate for a Chevrolet Six truck modified to serve as a school bus in Jefferson County (1934). Box 1, Folder 13, Jefferson County School Board Records (Series L46), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to see a larger version.

As more people bought cars and speed limits began to creep up, the safety of these early wooden-body school buses came into question. In the 1930s, state education authorities began to get more involved in regulating school transportation programs by requiring inspections and setting qualifications for bus drivers. In 1934, the State Board of Education adopted a recommendation from State Safety Director Asher Frank requiring that all school buses be painted orange with SCHOOL BUS in black lettering. That same year, the board decreed that by June 1, 1935 all school buses in the state would have all-steel bodies. In 1938, the state began requiring buses to have that familiar extendable STOP sign on the left side. A Jacksonville company made 1,102 of them for $3,028 and distributed them to the counties.

Clay County bus in Green Cove Springs (ca. 1965).

Clay County bus in Green Cove Springs (ca. 1965).

Certificate of physical fitness for Jefferson County bus driver Mrs. Pearl Walker Williams (1948). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Certificate of physical fitness for Jefferson County bus driver Mrs. Pearl Walker Williams (1948). Box 1, Folder 13, Jefferson County School Board Records (Series L46), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Although school bus body styles have gotten a few updates over the years, not to mention air-conditioning, the general concept remains the same. Over time the orange color prescribed by the state morphed into the bright yellow we know today. On a couple of occasions in the 1950s, bills emerged in the Legislature calling for school buses to be painted red, white and blue, both as a nod to patriotism and as a safety measure. Yellow won the day each time, however, and as a consequence the buses have earned the nickname “yellow dog” rather than…  well…  whatever you would nickname a red, white and blue bus.

What’s your favorite school bus memory? Share this blog on social media and include the most interesting place you remember traveling on one of Florida’s good old “yellow dogs.”

 

 

 

Boom and Bust in Boca Raton

Addison Mizner is in many ways the personification of the great Florida real estate boom of the 1920s. He was a gifted architect with a knack for mixing Old World charm and fashionable opulence, a style he incorporated into a wide variety of buildings in Palm Beach and Boca Raton. He was also a real estate developer, prone to the same excesses that characterized land sales and promotion in those days. For a brief period in the mid-1920s, he was at the center of everything bright and hopeful about Boca Raton, his “dream city” as he called it. Shortly thereafter, he was also at the center of one of its worst setbacks.

Painted portrait of architect Addison Mizner (ca. 1920s).

Painted portrait of architect Addison Mizner (ca. 1920s).

Mizner was born into a prominent family near San Francisco in 1872. In 1889, his father was appointed U.S. minister to the Central American states, which took the family to Guatemala City. Young Addison developed a keen interest in the Spanish architecture that surrounded him, which would later find expression in the buildings he designed. In those days, architects generally got their training through apprenticeships rather than formal degree programs, and Addison Mizner learned the ropes by working under Willis Polk of San Francisco. He eventually set up a firm in New York City that provided both architectural services and a supply of Spanish artifacts he had purchased from Europe and South America.

Business slowed to a crawl during World War I, and a combination of family and health problems did nothing to help Mizner’s situation. In 1918, however, he received a fateful invitation from Paris Singer (son of the famous and wealthy sewing machine manufacturer) to visit Palm Beach to recoup. While there, Singer and Mizner would often walk along the beach, which in those days was almost completely undeveloped. Mizner would conjure up grand visions of Moorish towers and cool, shaded courtyards–enticing enough that Singer actually bought up property and asked the architect to try to bring some of these ideas to fruition.

Exterior of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (1920).

Exterior of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, designed by Addison Mizner (1920).

Dining room at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (ca. 1928).

Dining room at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (ca. 1928).

Mizner’s first building in Palm Beach, the Everglades Club, was a resounding success. Originally intended as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers and sailors, the proposed building morphed into a sumptuous resort once the war ended. Mizner had trouble finding workers who could make the kinds of tiles and ironwork his designs called for, but in a pinch he would step in and teach the men himself, to the amazement of local observers. The club opened in 1919 and quickly sold 500 memberships at premium prices. James Deering, Joseph P. Kennedy, Henry C. Phipps, and others among America’s rich and powerful were early members, with Paris Singer as president. Having seen the grandeur and exoticism of Mizner’s designs, Palm Beach’s upper crust began calling on him to build fashionable homes for them. Between 1919 and 1924, the architect built more than 30 grand houses in the area, becoming a millionaire in the process. He established his own works for producing the tiles, furnishings and replicas of ancient artifacts that were key to his Mediterranean style.

Home of Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite in Palm Beach, designed by Addison Mizner and completed in 1923 (photo ca. 1928).

Home of Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite in Palm Beach, designed by Addison Mizner and completed in 1923 (photo ca. 1928).

Mizner’s fame in Palm Beach grew with each new creation, but he had his mind set on a much more profound project located just down the coast. On May 5, 1925, the newspapers reported that a new company, the Mizner Development Corporation, would soon build a fabulous new Ritz-Carlton hotel in Boca Raton, flanked by villas, gardens and golf courses. This puzzled local observers, since Boca Raton was only a small farming community at this time, but Mizner quickly let them in on what he was thinking. The village would become “the first tailor-made city in all the world,” according to the advertisements. Everything from the streets to the waterways and landscaping would be harmonized into one seamless, coordinated paradise reserved for the rich and powerful. This would require land, of course, so Mizner’s company bought up two miles of frontage on the Atlantic Ocean and 1,600 acres of adjoining inland property. Money would be necessary as well, and Mizner had it, thanks to the connections he had made in Palm Beach. Senator T. Coleman du Pont of Delaware, the Vanderbilts, the Duchess of Sutherland, steel magnate Henry Phipps of Pittsburgh and Congressman George Graham of Philadelphia were some of his most prominent investors.

Map showing the grand vision for Addison Mizner's development project at Boca Raton, with the Atlantic Ocean at the top of the map (1925). This map was included in an elaborate promotional brochure. Click or tap the image to view a larger version of the map and the complete brochure.

Map showing the grand vision for Addison Mizner’s development project at Boca Raton, with the Atlantic Ocean at the top of the map (1925). This map was included in an elaborate promotional brochure. Click or tap the image to view a larger version of the map and the complete brochure.

Construction began in 1925, and the little town of 100 souls quickly ballooned to more than 2,000 as builders and real estate salesmen came to transform Boca Raton according to Mizner’s vision. One of the first facilities to go in was the Camino Real, a grand boulevard 219 feet in width, with 20-plus lanes and extravagant landscaping. The Mizner Corporation’s administration building went in next at the corner of the Dixie Highway and the Camino Real. It was both a place of business and a work of art, its design inspired by El Greco’s house in Toledo, Spain. More than 40 homes were built, most in what is now called the Floresta section of town. Mizner also designed Boca Raton’s city hall, an airport, two golf courses and a church in which he installed his brother, an Episcopal minister.

Mizner Development Corporation bus in Miami. These buses were used to tour prospective buyers around the Boca Raton development and sell them on buying a lot (1925).

Mizner Development Corporation bus in Miami. These buses left Miami every day to take prospective buyers on a tour of Boca Raton and convince them to buy a lot (1925).

Mizner and his associates coupled this feverish construction with equally enthusiastic advertisement, to the tune of millions of dollars’ worth of print ads and brochures. This, plus widespread recognition of the Mizner name for his work in Palm Beach, generated some astounding early sales numbers. The Mizner Development Corporation sold $14 million in lots the first day they were on the market. Within six months, the company had cleared $26 million in cash payments, and that was just the down payments.

Real estate men working quickly in a Boca Raton office. When the Mizner Development Corporation first opened up Boca Raton for sale, his agents often worked late into the night processing paperwork for the sales (1925).

Real estate men working quickly in a Boca Raton office. When the Mizner Development Corporation first opened up Boca Raton for sale, his agents often worked late into the night processing paperwork for the sales (1925).

But there was trouble in paradise lurking just beneath the surface. Like so many real estate developments during the Florida boom, the financial underpinning of Mizner’s grand scheme for Boca Raton was risky at best, and some parts were even illegal. The corporation was making money, but it was also spending money–fast. To raise additional capital, Addison Mizner and his brother Wilson would sometimes buy up stock in local banks and then take out loans from those same banks, putting their directors on the board of the Mizner Development Corporation to ensure they would benefit from the proceeds of their loans.

One panel from a Mizner Development Corporation brochure published around 1925. The company frequently referred to its list of well-known investors to inspire confidence in the enterprise. Click or tap the image to view the entire brochure.

One panel from a Mizner Development Corporation brochure published around 1925. The company frequently referred to its list of well-known investors to inspire confidence in the enterprise. Click or tap the image to view the entire brochure.

Then, in the fall of 1925, Mizner took a step that proved to be one step too far. Well before ground had even been broken on some of the largest and most expensive components of the Boca Raton development, Mizner’s company began attaching a “Declaration of Responsibility” to the bottom of its advertisements. “Attach this advertisement to your contract for deed,” the addendum read. “Every promise made by the developers of BOCA RATON is made to be fulfilled, and this caption is your protection.” Essentially, the company was guaranteeing that all parts of the proposed resort town would be completed as planned, and that lot buyers would make a large profit on their investment. This had a nice ring to it, of course, but it also exposed the corporation and its backers to tremendous liability. When he found out about this, Senator duPont (still chairman of the board) was outraged and demanded the resignation of Wilson Mizner and Harry L. Reichenbach, the public relations man who had come up with the so-called Declaration of Responsibility idea. When these demands went unheeded, duPont resigned from the board. Addison Mizner handled the defection badly, and in the process of defending Wilson he managed to drive off four more directors from the board in the space of a week. These events were very widely discussed in the press, and the negative publicity began to have a chilling effect on sales.

Boca Raton real estate office on Ocean Drive. With the boom in danger, many of the surrounding lots would go unsold for years (1925).

Boca Raton real estate office on Ocean Drive. With the boom in danger, many of the surrounding lots would go unsold for years (1925).

Addison Mizner would have one more glittering triumph before these events really caught up with him. On February 6, 1926, the Cloister Inn opened in Boca Raton with exquisite fanfare. The Cloister was the smaller of the two resorts included in Mizner’s grand plan, having “only” 100 rooms, but it was still a masterpiece. It featured vaulted ceilings, 14-karat gold leaf columns and luxurious furnishings and appointments that earned it a reputation for being the most expensive 100-room hotel ever built. The banquet celebrating its opening was a popular social event for America’s upper crust. “Royalty, Wall Street wealth, the most famous film stars of the day and the ranking hierarchy of Palm Beach and Bal Harbor rubbed shoulders in the throng,” historian Henry Kinney later wrote of the event, calling them “jeweled to the hilt and furred to the teeth.”

A cloistered passageway at the Cloister Inn in Boca Raton (ca. 1928).

A cloistered passageway at the Cloister Inn in Boca Raton (ca. 1928).

The celebration was short-lived. The drop-off in sales after the brouhaha with the board never reversed, and in fact it indirectly exposed other real estate developments to scrutiny and helped burst the broader Florida real estate bubble. Mizner’s businesses went bankrupt, and many of his greatest plans for Boca Raton never made it past the drawing board. He returned to his architectural practice for a few years until poor health forced him into inactivity, followed by his death in California in 1933.

Interior view of the Boca Raton Hotel & Club, formerly the Cloister Inn (ca. 1980).

Interior view of the Boca Raton Hotel & Club, formerly the Cloister Inn (ca. 1980).

Despite the overall failure of Mizner’s Boca Raton project, some aspects of his opulent vision still anchor the architectural landscape of the community today. Shortly after the Mizner Development Corporation collapsed, the Cloister Inn ended up in the hands of Philadelphia financier Clarence Geist, who added a few features to the hotel and converted it into the Boca Raton Club. Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts now operates the resort. Many of the houses and other buildings Mizner designed also still remain, both in Boca Raton and Palm Beach. Their charm is matched by their historic significance as artifacts of the tumultuous Florida boom.

Try searching the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory for more early photos of Boca Raton, and check out these resources to learn more about Addison Mizner and his grand development schemes in South Florida in the 1920s:

Jacqueline Ashton. Boca Raton Pioneers and Addison Mizner. Boca Raton: J. Ashton Waldeck, 1984.

Caroline Seebohm. Boca Rococo: How Addison Mizner Invented Florida’s Gold Coast. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2001.

Raymond B. Vickers. “Addison Mizner: Promoter in Paradise.” Florida Historical Quarterly 75, no. 4 (Spring 1997): 381-407.

 

 

 

The Grapefruit League

Some people celebrate the beginning of spring because it brings warmer weather and blooming flowers. Other folks are just glad it’s time for major-league baseball to get started! Here in Florida, our baseball season begins a little earlier than it does in most of the rest of the country, because more than a dozen professional ball clubs come here to do their spring training. This tradition has been going on for more than a century now and has earned itself a uniquely Floridian nickname–the Grapefruit League.

Brooklyn Dodgers doing calisthenics during spring training in Vero Beach (1949).

Brooklyn Dodgers doing calisthenics during spring training in Vero Beach (1949).

The Washington Capitols were most likely the first professional ball club to do their spring training in Florida. They spent three weeks in Jacksonville in 1888 practicing for the upcoming season on a field near Confederate Park. The Capitols finished last in the National League that year, so we might reasonably question whether they got their money’s worth out of the trip, but at least the weather was probably better than it would have been back home. At any rate, the Capitols started a trend. The Philadelphia Phillies spent two weeks in Jacksonville the following year, and more teams followed. By 1920, four major league teams were regularly training in Florida; at the end of that decade the number was up to ten. That’s not counting the number of minor league teams that came either to train or to make their permanent home here.

Major League baseball players at Stetson University in DeLand. L to R: Chicago Cubs pitcher Lew Richie, Boston Braves outfielder Jim Murray, Chicago Cubs catcher Jimmy Archer and Chicago Cubs outfielder and first baseman Bill Hinchman (1913).

Major League baseball players at Stetson University in DeLand. L to R: Chicago Cubs pitcher Lew Richie, Boston Braves outfielder Jim Murray, Chicago Cubs catcher Jimmy Archer and Chicago Cubs outfielder and first baseman Bill Hinchman (1913).

The exact origin of the name “Grapefruit League” is a little uncertain, but most historians attribute it to an event during the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring training in Daytona Beach in 1915. According to one version of the story, outfielder and notorious prankster Casey Stengel threw a Florida grapefruit at his manager, Wilbert Robinson, which earned spring training its nickname. Other versions involve an airplane and an aviatrix named Ruth Law, who Stengel convinced to fly low over the Dodgers’ practice field and throw out a baseball, which the outfielder bet that his manager couldn’t catch. Law agreed to her part of the scheme, and Robinson accepted the bet, but when the pilot made her flyover, she threw out a large grapefruit instead of a baseball, splattering Wilbert Robinson in the face. Apparently Ruth had flown up without bringing a baseball with her, so she went for what seemed like the next best thing. Far-fetched? Maybe so, but by the 1920s the name “Grapefruit League” was widely used in the press to describe spring training in Florida.

Leaflet containing the 1963 Florida Grapefruit League schedule of exhibition games. Click or tap the image to see the complete leaflet.

Leaflet containing the 1963 Florida Grapefruit League schedule of exhibition games. Click or tap the image to see the complete leaflet.

Spring training typically lasts about 6-8 weeks. Players work on fundamentals like batting, fielding, bunting and sliding to fine tune their methods and strengthen their bodies before competitive play begins. Managers and coaches watch the players closely as they work to see who will do the best job in each position and who ought to make the team’s final roster. It’s also a good opportunity to give the fans a taste of what they can expect to see during the regular season. Teams play a series of exhibition games during spring training, drawing big crowds eager to get a sneak peek of their favorite players or the newest recruits. This has historically made for some interesting headlines, considering most of the spring training towns don’t have ball teams of their own. In 1928, for example, the Philadelphia Athletics played the St. Louis Cardinals in Avon Park, the Philadelphia Phillies in Winter Haven and the Boston Braves in Fort Myers!

Babe Ruth at bat in a spring training exhibition game in Miami (1920).

Babe Ruth at bat in a spring training exhibition game in Miami (1920).

Early on, Florida towns recognized the potential benefits of hosting spring training and began taking steps to lure the major league teams their way. In 1913, a group of Tampa baseball enthusiasts raised more than $4,000 to entice the Chicago Cubs to train in their city.  The Cubs enjoyed their experience and ended up signing a contract with the city to return for the next five years. A little farther south, Bealls department store founder and baseball enthusiast Robert M. Beall, Sr. convinced the St. Louis Cardinals to relocate their spring training operation to Bradenton in the 1920s. The team joined forces with the city to construct a $2,000 stadium at McKechnie Field, which opened in 1923. Soon towns across the state were competing to win the winter business of America’s baseball clubs, promising newer and better fields and guaranteed gate receipts for exhibition games. One of the newest spring training facilities is CoolToday Park in North Port in Sarasota County, completed in 2019. The project cost $140 million, $21.2 million of which came from Sarasota County, with another $4.7 million coming from North Port’s city coffers.

Cincinnati Reds exhibition game at Al Lopez Field in Tampa (ca. 1970).

Cincinnati Reds exhibition game at Al Lopez Field in Tampa (ca. 1970).

Florida communities have long been willing to invest this kind of money in the spring training business because it generally comes with a big payoff. A team’s expenditures can reach into the millions of dollars during their month-long stay in the state. After all, it takes a small army of coaches, managers and support staff to keep the operation going, and they all have to eat, sleep and spend their off-time somewhere. Then there are the fans–thousands of them who come to watch their favorite ball teams in the exhibition games. Many are local baseball enthusiasts, but plenty of fans come from out of state to get an early look at the players and speculate on how the final rosters will shake out. All of this enthusiasm for baseball translates into valuable tourist income for the cities that host a team for spring training.

Fans getting autographs from members of the St. Louis Cardinals during spring training in St. Petersburg (1977).

Fans getting autographs from members of the St. Louis Cardinals during spring training in St. Petersburg (1977).

Florida’s state government has recognized this reality for a long time as well and actively encourages the state’s spring training industry. Every year since 1947, for example, the governor has hosted a “Baseball Dinner” for the teams and the press representatives who travel with them. The state has also advertised exhibition game schedules to help visiting fans plan their trip to the Sunshine State.

Program for Governor Millard Caldwell's Second Annual Baseball Dinner, held at the Tampa Terrace Hotel on March 20, 1948. Click or tap the image to see the complete program.

Program for Governor Millard Caldwell’s Second Annual Baseball Dinner, held at the Tampa Terrace Hotel on March 20, 1948. Click or tap the image to see the complete program.

Don’t forget to share this post with the baseball fans among your friends and family, and include your favorite memory involving baseball in Florida!

 

 

Susan’s Journey

Have you ever passed by a beautiful old house, a rusty car or a sailboat up on blocks and wondered, ‘What was that thing like when it was new? Who used it, and what did they use it for?’

The staff members of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey must have had that feeling in 1938 or so when they happened upon the dry-rotting remains of the Susan, a 14.7-foot fishing sloop sitting in the sun in a vacant lot in Key West. The point of their survey, designed as a relief work project during the Great Depression, was to compile the history of boats and shipping in Florida and publish a book out of it. The book never came to pass, but the staff still managed to take lots of photos and measurements of historic boats up and down the Florida coast and to trace their histories by talking with locals. They had their work cut out for them with the Susan; her story ended up stretching back more than a century!

Technical Drawings of the Sloop Susan, ca. 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Technical Drawings of the Sloop Susan, ca. 1938 (Series S2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The Susan, which likely started out its life either with a different name or no name, was originally built in the Bahamas in 1830 by a farmer living on Current Island, just northeast of Nassau. According to the information gathered by the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, the boat cost about $150 to build, and was made from a combination of pine and oak, with iron fittings. The builder designed Susan for fishing, but in practice he used the boat to carry home produce from his fields on a neighboring island.

Excerpt from Colton's Map of the West Indies (1855), showing the location of the Bahamas in relation to Florida. The approximate location of Current Island is indicated by the red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

Excerpt from Colton’s Map of the West Indies (1855), showing the location of the Bahamas in relation to Florida. The approximate location of Current Island is indicated by the red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

By 1860, the farmer had gotten involved with the pineapple trade, and business was booming. He decided to build himself a larger boat, and he sold the Susan to John Alden, a commercial fisherman in Nassau. Alden operated the boat for 18 years before selling her to a wealthy resident of Nassau named “Tinky” Sturrup, who mainly wanted a vessel to use for exploring the nearby islands.

Deck plan of the Susan drafted by Henry Lechner of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, circa 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Deck plan of the Susan drafted by Henry Lechner of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, circa 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

A violent storm in 1895 prompted Sturrup to give up pleasure boating, and he sold the vessel to John Francis Pierce, Jr. of Key West for $100. Pierce was a commercial fisherman who had lost two of his own boats in the same storm that shook up Mr. Sturrup. It also appears that the two men may have known each other prior to the sale. John Francis Pierce was born in the Bahamas, and his brother in law was Robert G. Sturrup. It is unclear whether Robert was the “Tinky” who had acquired the boat from John Alden. At any rate, Pierce sailed the boat back to Key West by himself and used it for years to fish for grouper, yellowtail and snapper. It’s also likely that Pierce was the man to actually name the boat Susan. His wife, who was also born in the Bahamas, was named Susan A. Pinder.

During this latter phase of the boat’s life, Susan performed admirably under some tough conditions. A number of strong storms battered Key West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but none managed to seriously damage the sloop, not even the 1909 hurricane that destroyed 400 structures and killed at least 17 people, including men working on Flagler’s Over-the-Sea Railway. As the water began to rise ahead of that storm, Pierce floated the Susan three blocks up Petronia Street near his home and tied her down. When the skies cleared, buildings had been smashed and the streets were filled with debris, but the old sloop was fine to continue its service.

West end of Caroline Street in Key West after the 1909 hurricane.

West end of Caroline Street in Key West after the 1909 hurricane.

John Francis Pierce, Jr. died in 1922, and the 92-year-old Susan passed to his son, Ernest, who continued to use the boat for commercial fishing. The vessel was finally beginning to show its age, however, and in 1925 it was hauled onto shore and stored in a vacant lot, where it remained until the Florida Merchant Marine Survey discovered it in the 1930s.

The Susan is just one of many vessels from all over the state that were carefully documented by the Florida Merchant Marine Survey. The State Archives holds many of the records produced in the process, including short histories, pen and ink sketches, schematic drawings and deck plans, and a partial census of registered boats in service in 1938. Take a look at the collection to see if your Florida county is represented!

A Place Called Spuds

When we think of potatoes, we often think of Idaho. Years of good marketing have helped us make that connection in our minds. But would you believe that Florida also has a long history of potato farming? It’s true! Potatoes have been an especially popular crop in northeastern Florida around Palatka and Hastings. One community in St. Johns County was so enthusiastic about growing the tasty tuber that it adopted a very potato-ish name, Spuds.

Excerpt of a tourist map of St. Johns County showing Spuds and other communities between the Florida East Coast Railway and the St. Johns River (ca. 1940). Click or tap the image to view the complete map.

Excerpt of a tourist map of St. Johns County showing Spuds and other communities between the Florida East Coast Railway and the St. Johns River (ca. 1940). Click or tap the image to view the complete map.

The community was originally called Holy Branch and populated by several families of Minorcans, descendants of workers brought to Florida in the 1700s by a Scotsman, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, to work on his plantation at New Smyrna (details on that here). A post office was first established at Holy Branch in 1886, with Albert I. Rogers as postmaster.

Excerpt from an 1892 map by Rand, McNally & Company showing Holy Branch, later known as Spuds, in St. Johns County. Click or tap the image to view the complete map.

Excerpt from an 1892 map by Rand, McNally & Company showing Holy Branch, later known as Spuds, in St. Johns County. Click or tap the image to view the complete map.

In the 1880s, a railroad line opened between East Palatka and St. Augustine, which helped open up the region for industry and large-scale agriculture. By the early 20th century, truck farming – especially potato farming – was a major industry in the area, and the population had ticked up to about 120. Joseph Minton, who came from one of the more prominent local potato-farming families, applied for a new post office in 1911, and decided to give the community a new name – Spuds.

Group of men grading potatoes (1920s).

Group of men grading potatoes for marketing (1920s).

But potatoes weren’t the only product in town – far from it. While lots of acreage around Spuds had been cleared for truck farming, there was still plenty of virgin yellow pine forest in the area, which made it perfect for the timber and turpentine industries. In fact, there was even a “Spuds Turpentine Company” that operated throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Small aluminum coins the company paid to its employees in lieu of cash (called “scrip”) still pop up in auctions from time to time.

A worker collects sap drained from a pine tree to distill into spirits of turpentine (ca. 1900).

A worker collects sap drained from a pine tree to distill into spirits of turpentine (ca. 1900).

These days, the community of Spuds is little more than a wide spot in the road on State Road 207. A few crumbling remains of the old turpentine operation can still be found out in the woods, as well as fragments of old buildings belonging to some of the early inhabitants. The post office is long gone; residents either get their mail from Hastings or Elkton. Perhaps the one thing that hasn’t changed is the potatoes – there are still several large farms in the area.

Susan Deen, Florida Potato Queen in 1962, poses in a field in Hastings, just down the road from Spuds, with a sack of Florida potatoes (photo 1962).

Susan Deen, Florida Potato Queen in 1962, poses in a field in Hastings, just down the road from Spuds, with a sack of Florida potatoes.

What kinds of crops are grown in your corner of Florida, and how has that industry shaped the local history? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below, and share this post with friends and family on social media.

The First Florida Women in Public Office

We’re getting close to some major anniversaries regarding women’s suffrage here in the United States. June 4, 2019 will mark 100 years since Congress approved the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. August 18, 2020 will be the centennial anniversary of the date when enough states had ratified the proposed amendment to make it effective. We tend to focus on how these momentous events forever changed voting rights, but there’s another related victory that deserves some attention as well. Beginning in 1920, many more women began serving in public office at the state and county level, a trend that is well documented in records available from the State Archives of Florida. Today’s blog explains a bit about the history of women in public service and offers some tips on how to find the first women from your Florida community to run for election or serve in office.

Edna Giles Fuller of Orange County, the first woman elected to the Florida Legislature (1929).

Edna Giles Fuller of Orange County, the first woman elected to the Florida Legislature (1929).

First things first: 1920 wasn’t actually the start of women voting in Florida, nor was it the start of women serving in public office. By the time the 19th amendment was ratified, several Florida communities had already granted women the right to vote in municipal elections. Fellsmere (then in St. Lucie County) was the first to do so, having put the necessary language in an amendment to its town charter, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Park Trammell on June 8, 1915. Here is the relevant clause from Section 35 of the charter (Chapter 7154, Laws of Florida):

Every registered individual, male or female, elector shall be qualified to vote at any general or special election held under this Charter to elect or recall Commissioners, and at any other special election… 

Activists for women’s suffrage vowed to build on this victory, and soon other Florida towns adopted similar changes to their charters. By November 1919, a total of 16 towns in 10 counties allowed women to vote in municipal elections, including Fellsmere in what is now Indian River County; Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Dunedin and St. Petersburg in Pinellas County; Aurantia and Cocoa in Brevard County; Orange City and DeLand in Volusia County; West Palm Beach and Delray in Palm Beach County; Florence Villa in Polk County; Miami in Dade County; Fort Lauderdale in Broward County; Moore Haven in DeSoto County; and Orlando in Orange County.

Cast from a play put on by members of the Koreshan Unity in Estero, Florida in favor of women's suffrage. The play was titled

Cast from a play put on by members of the Koreshan Unity in Estero, Florida in favor of women’s suffrage. The play was titled “Women, Women, Women, Suffragettes, Yes” (ca. 1910s).

Empowered to vote, a number of women began running for public office in these towns, and in some cases they were victorious. Marian Horwitz of Moore Haven was elected mayor on July 30, 1917, the first woman to serve in that role in Florida. It was an unusual case in that it was the town’s first mayoral election since incorporating in June, and Mrs. Horwitz was directly petitioned by every single registered voter in town to accept the position. Even the two men who had earlier been competing for the nomination bowed out when her name was put forward. Mrs. Horwitz initially refused the nomination, but eventually accepted and characterized it as a way for women to take on tasks that would free up men to support the United States’ efforts in World War I. “I once felt that a woman could not measure up physically to the work of handling public affairs,” she told the press after a few days in office. “In less than a week I have changed my mind.”

Marian Newhall Horwitz, later O'Brien (1917). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Marian Newhall Horwitz, later O’Brien (1917). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

But it wasn’t just municipal positions that women were filling in those days before the 19th amendment. Many women also served in county and state positions, especially boards and commissions pertaining to issues where at that time a woman’s perspective and instincts were thought to be uniquely useful. Several women, for example, served on the state’s public school textbook selection committee, the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners and commissions in charge of planning for historic buildings and memorials. Records of commissions for court reporters and county probation officers also show a number of women in the ranks.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing where Sarah E. Wheeler of Lakeland was commissioned as a member of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners in 1913. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing where Sarah E. Wheeler of Lakeland was commissioned as a member of the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners in 1913. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Women could also be appointed to major county offices. A common practice that lived on long after women gained the right to vote was for a woman to be appointed to complete her husband’s term in the event that he died while in office. That’s what happened in the case of Mary Jane Curry, for example, who became Monroe County’s treasurer in 1915 when her husband William died about six months into his term. Mrs. Curry was officially commissioned by the governor as her husband’s ad interim replacement, and she continued to serve until she was replaced by a newly elected successor in 1917. Other women were appointed to positions in their own right, such as Mamie Jarrell of Micanopy, who was appointed several times to the post of Marks and Brands Inspector for Alachua County.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing appointments for both William and Mary Jane Curry as county treasurer for Monroe County in 1915. Note that the record shows William died in office, and Mary Jane was appointed shortly thereafter to succeed him. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing appointments for both William and Mary Jane Curry as county treasurer for Monroe County in 1915. Note that the record shows William died in office, and Mary Jane was appointed shortly thereafter to succeed him. Volume 12, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Now let’s look at how to determine who the first women were in your Florida county to serve in public office, or at least run for office. The State Archives holds records pertaining to women in both categories. First, if a woman from your county was appointed to a county or state office (like Mamie Jarrell) or elected in her own right from 1920 onward, she would have received an official commission from the governor, countersigned by the Secretary of State. The State Archives holds the record copies for many of these commissions (Series S1285, et al), as well as a set of handwritten state and county officer directories (Series S1284), which function like an index to the commissions. One way to look for early elected or appointed women from your county is to look through these directories for names of female citizens. Here’s an interesting example from the first slate of county officers appointed to serve Collier County when it was established in 1923. On the page, we see that two women were among the appointees, including Mrs. T.C. (Mamie) Barfield as Superintendent of Public Instruction and Nellie Storter as Supervisor of Registration.

Page from the Secretary of State's officer directory showing the first officers appointed for the newly created Collier County in 1923. Two women are among the appointees. Volume 14, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Page from the Secretary of State’s officer directory showing the first officers appointed for the newly created Collier County in 1923. Two women are among the appointees. Volume 14, State and County Officer Directories (Series S1284), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The state and county officer directories (Series S1284) are open to the public for research here at the State Archives, and our Reference Desk staff can also do a limited amount of research in the books if you have a specific person or range of years in mind. Once you find an index listing for a commission that interests you, we can determine if the State Archives also has a copy of the officeholder’s actual commission, signed oath of office or bond. See our blog post titled Researching State and County Officers for details.

Commission of Eleanor H. Floyd as tax assessor of Franklin County. Floyd was elected to the position just months after women nationwide gained the right to vote in 1920. Volume 15, State and County Officer Commissions (Series S1288), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Commission of Eleanor H. Floyd as tax assessor of Franklin County. Floyd was elected to the position just months after women nationwide gained the right to vote in 1920. Volume 15, State and County Officer Commissions (Series S1288), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The State Archives’ Florida Memory team has also recently embarked on a project to digitize the state and county officer directories from the 1820s up through 1989. Digital volunteers from across the state have been helping with this exciting and valuable project by transcribing the handwritten data to make it searchable. If you would like to learn more about how to help, even at a distance, contact Archives Historian Dr. Josh Goodman at Josh.Goodman@dos.myflorida.com.

But wait, there’s more! The state and county officer directories are helpful for finding women who were actually appointed or elected to public office, but there were many, many more who ran for election and did not win their races. Luckily, even their candidacy can be documented using records available here at the State Archives.

After each primary and general election, a canvassing board for each county writes up an official report showing the names of the candidates who were on the ballot for each office and how many votes they each received. This report is then forwarded to the Secretary of State, who retains the election results and lets the governor know who to commission for each office. The State Archives holds a virtually complete set of these reports dating back to 1865. You can look through these canvassing reports to see not only who was elected to each public office, but also all of the candidates who ran against the winner and lost. This would be a useful tactic if you wanted to find the first women in your county to run for local office, regardless of whether they won or lost. Here’s an excerpt, for example, from the canvassing report for Palm Beach County for the general election of 1920, the first in which all women in the state had the right to vote. Agnes Ballard, who incidentally was Florida’s first registered female architect, is shown winning the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Excerpt of a page from the 1920 general election canvassing report for Palm Beach County. Agnes Ballard is shown as having received the largest number of votes for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Volume 22, Canvassing Reports (Series S1258), State Archives of Florida.

Excerpt of a page from the 1920 general election canvassing report for Palm Beach County. Agnes Ballard is shown as having received the largest number of votes for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Volume 22, Canvassing Reports (Series S1258), State Archives of Florida.

The canvassing reports (Series S1258) are grouped into volumes by election year and then by county. They are open to the public for research here at the State Archives. You can also contact the Reference Desk if you have questions about a specific race or if you are looking for a specific person.

With the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment upon us, now is an excellent time to do some research on the women in your county who have run for and served in public office. Take advantage of the resources available to you here at the State Archives, and let us know how we can help.

 

So You Wanna Be a Doctor

Your physician or surgeon is definitely someone you want to be able to trust, but how do you know you can? Since Florida’s earliest territorial days, the government has required medical professionals to demonstrate their qualifications and be licensed in some way. The rules have changed a lot over the years, however, which makes for some interesting reading.

Pages from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, describing treatments for various diseases (Collection M81-24, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to see a larger version of the image and a transcript.

Pages from the journal of Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, describing treatments for various diseases (Collection M81-24, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to see a larger version of the image and a transcript.

After Andrew Jackson formally took possession of West Florida on July 17, 1821, he immediately began passing ordinances laying out a new set of rules for the territory. In September, he issued an ordinance “for the preservation of health in the city of Pensacola” establishing a Board of Health for the city and granting the board powers to license physicians and make rules regulating the practice of medicine. When the territorial legislative council met for the first time the following year, the members passed an act establishing new boards of health in both Pensacola and St. Augustine, although the new law did not specifically say whether the boards would license physicians or not. They did, however, specify that all persons practicing law or medicine within the territory would pay $10 in licensing fees. That was a lot of money in the 1820s! The silver lining? Doctors were not liable for jury or militia duty.

Starting in 1824, the territorial legislative council got a little more serious about qualifications for doctors. That year, the council passed an act requiring anyone practicing medicine to file with the local county clerk either a copy of their diploma and a “certificate of moral character” or a certificate showing he had studied physiology or surgery for at least two years, either at a college or under the supervision of a reputable doctor or surgeon. If a prospective doctor went this latter route to be licensed, he also had to get the endorsement of two county judges.

An Act to Regulate the Admission of Physicians and Surgeons to Practice in This Territory, 1824 (Series 222, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

An Act to Regulate the Admission of Physicians and Surgeons to Practice in This Territory, 1824 (Series 222, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

On December 31, 1827, the legislative council established a territory-wide board of health called the Medical Board, initially consisting of Richard Weightman and William H. Simmons of St. Augustine, Robert A. Lacy of Key West, William D. Price and Lewis Willis of Tallahassee, Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, William P. Hart of Jackson County, and C.Y. Fonda and John Brosnaham of Pensacola. All physicians wanting to practice medicine in Florida were supposed to come before the board for examination to be granted a license. If the applicant had a degree from “some regularly established medical university within the United States,” however, he did not have to take an examination.

Home of Dr. Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, one of the first members of Florida's first territory-wide board of health, the Medical Board (1899).

Home of Dr. Malcolm Nicholson of Gadsden County, one of the first members of Florida’s first territory-wide board of health, the Medical Board (1899).

The Medical Board proved burdensome to many would-be applicants, since by law it was to meet exclusively in Tallahassee. In 1831, legislators rectified the situation by abolishing the board and offering physicians three routes to a medical license. An applicant could either (a) file a diploma from a medical college with the local county clerk, (b) file a certificate of competency signed by two licensed Florida doctors, or (c) file evidence of having completed “one course of lectures” at “some medical college,” accompanied by a certificate of competency from just one licensed Florida doctor. This certainly made getting a medical license easier, although there were still cases where some prospective physicians had trouble meeting the requirements, as we see with the following case involving Dr. John W. Robarts of Tampa. Robarts had no medical degree, yet 166 Hillsborough County residents asked the legislature to grant him a special license in 1854. Why he was unable to obtain a certificate of competency is not known, although there are other cases where a doctor who relied on herbal or other alternative methods found it difficult to get this kind of support from fellow physicians.

Petition signed by 166 citizens of Hillsborough County asking the legislature to issue a special license to Dr. John W. Robarts (Series 2153, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Petition signed by 166 citizens of Hillsborough County asking the legislature to issue a special license to Dr. John W. Robarts (Series 2153, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the complete document.

This system continued with relatively few changes for more than half a century, but over time concerns about “quack” doctors and harmful patent medicines led the state government to get even more deeply involved. The growth of the state and its far-flung geography played a role as well. In 1881, legislators passed an act creating six boards of medical examiners headquartered in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Key West, Ocala and Tampa. The boards were to examine any persons not possessing a medical degree who wished to practice medicine, surgery or obstetrics in the state. If the applicant passed the examination, he was to enter a copy of the board’s certificate into the records of his local county clerk.

The 1881 law required the six boards to examine applicants in five key areas: anatomy, operative and minor surgery, obstetrics, diseases of women and children and “the general laws of health.” The State Archives holds copies of minutes from the meetings of the examining board based in Pensacola (Series S1321), which contain some of the questions they asked each applicant in the 1890s. Here are a few examples, some of which really show their age. How many can you answer?

  1. Give the effect of chloroform on the system.
  2. What are the antidotes for strychnine poisoning?
  3. State the object of the circulatory system.
  4. What are the symptoms and treatment of smallpox?
  5. What is formed when you combine in a prescription potassium iodide and bichloral mercury?
  6. How may it be known [in the process of delivering a baby] that labor has begun?

In 1889, legislators revamped the system and began requiring all doctors to have a medical degree and sit for an examination. In 1905, they abolished the six separate examining boards and established a statewide Board of Medical Examiners, which still operates today as the Florida Board of Medicine. The questions have gotten a little more complex, as today’s doctors can attest, but the object is the same–to protect the public and maintain a high standard of quality among Florida’s health care professionals.

Doctor and nurse examining a patient at the FSU infirmary in Tallahassee (1959).

Doctor and nurse examining a patient at the FSU infirmary in Tallahassee (1959).

Is there a doctor somewhere in your family tree? Check out our webinar on researching your ancestor’s occupation to learn how to find out more!

 

 

Sawing Logs

Florida’s economy was still mostly agricultural in the late 1800s. The Civil War had ended slavery, but that system was replaced by sharecropping and tenant farming, in which many former slaves–and a number of white citizens as well–rented patches of land in exchange for a “share” of the crops they grew on them. For Florida’s many small freehold farmers who owned their own land, the norm was to produce what they needed to be comfortable, as well as enough of a cash crop like corn or cotton to cover their general store debts and their annual taxes to the county and state. In all of these systems, cash only came in a couple of times per year when crops were harvested. As a result, farmers relied heavily on credit from their landlords and local merchants, and after paying them off each year there was often little if any cash left. Many times, a farmer’s crop wouldn’t even cover his debts, and he might even go so far as to mortgage the next year’s crop to satisfy his creditors. Droughts, bad storms, insects and production shortfalls could easily wreak havoc on a farmer’s plans under these conditions.

Wagons unloading cotton at the Seaboard Air Line depot in Lloyd in jefferson County, Florida (ca. 1890).

Wagons unloading cotton at the Seaboard Air Line depot in Lloyd in Jefferson County, Florida (ca. 1890).

So what could you do if you were a farmer who wanted to make a little extra money to get ahead? The options were few outside the cities, but there was one natural resource that Florida had plenty of that farmers learned to take advantage of in the late 1800s–timber. Even 30 years into statehood, Florida’s government still held title to a tremendous amount of land, which was generally covered with thick stands of valuable timber. Cedar, cypress and yellow pine were the most sought-after varieties. In the late 1870s, the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, which managed these lands for the state, came up with a plan to license private individuals to cut timber on state lands for a small fee. The earliest records from this system are held by the State Archives in Tallahassee, and have recently been digitized and made available on FloridaMemory.com. Besides helping us better understand the so-called “stumpage system,” they may also be useful for researchers working on family trees with ancestors living in Florida in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Cover of the volume in which the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund recorded the permits they issued for cutting timber on state lands (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

Cover of the volume in which the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund recorded the permits they issued for cutting timber on state lands (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

First, some background. The stumpage system came into being after several state officials and county sheriffs warned the board in 1879 that private citizens were trespassing on state lands to cut cedar timber, particularly in Levy, Lafayette and Taylor counties. The German pencil magnate Eberhard Faber had established a cedar slat factory on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key) around 1855, and by the 1870s the company was shipping upwards of a million cubic feet of trimmed cedar annually for the purpose of making pencils. Faber originally got the wood from his own extensive timber holdings in the vicinity of the factory on Atseena Otie, but over time the nearby wood supply was exhausted. With cedar in high demand, Floridians living close to the Gulf coast or along the Suwannee or Withlacoochee rivers saw an opportunity to make some extra cash. There were almost no railroads in the area at this time, and carting the logs over land to Cedar Key would have been impractical, but if a seller could float the cedar logs down a creek or river to the Gulf and then raft them to Cedar Key, he could sell them for a good price.

Workers gathered outside Eberhard Faber's cedar mill on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key). Photo circa 1890s.

Workers gathered outside Eberhard Faber’s cedar mill on Atseena Otie (Cedar Key). Photo circa 1890s.

The problem was that these Floridians weren’t just cutting the cedar trees from their own land. As officials told the Internal Improvement Fund trustees, there were a number of cases where a citizen either started cutting on his own land and simply went outside his boundaries, or just willfully cut trees from state lands. It wasn’t hard to do in those days, of course. Very little land in North Florida was developed at this time, practically none of it was marked and the state did not regularly patrol its holdings because they were so extensive.

At its June 11, 1879 meeting, the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund decided to allow private citizens to cut timber on the state’s land, but only if they paid a “stumpage” fee. For cedar and palmetto, the rate would be 10 cents per cubic foot. For pine and cypress it was 50 cents per cubic foot. Moreover, no cedar could be cut unless the log would make an 8-inch square when dressed. To get permission to begin cutting, a citizen simply let the Commissioner of Lands and Immigration know where he wanted to cut timber, what kind of timber it was and where it would be taken, promising to pay a state timber agent the appropriate amount of stumpage. The Commissioner would then issue a permit like this one:

Permit for John Bennett of Lafayette County to cut cedar logs in the vicinity of the Esteenhatchie (Steinhatchee) River, 1879 (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida).

Permit for John Bennett of Lafayette County to cut cedar logs in the vicinity of the Esteenhatchie (Steinhatchee) River, 1879 (Series S 1814, State Archives of Florida).

Once the permit was issued, the Commissioner of Lands and Immigration entered the data into the ledger in the manner shown below. Here’s where the genealogical significance comes in. These records not only describe where the timber was being cut, but they also show where the timber cutter lived. In doing so, the records pinpoint the specific location of specific people at specific times–a very helpful data point for family history research. Even better, many of the applicants for timber cutting permits were farmers whose activities would not have been documented in many other records, especially not in the late 19th century. If you were to find an ancestor listed in this ledger, you would have not only a data point showing where the person was living at a certain time, but also some insight into how they made their living in the 1870s and 1880s.

Example page from a register of timber permits (Series 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

Example page from a register of timber permits (Series 1814, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view the entire book.

These records cover a short period of time and a limited number of people, but they’re an excellent example of why the State Archives of Florida is an essential part of the genealogist’s toolkit when tracing family history in the Sunshine State. Sources like these can be combined with other records to help you form a more complete picture of who an ancestor was and what they did during their lifetime in Florida.

Got a question about the many records we have at the State Archives? Email the Reference Desk at Archives@dos.myflorida.com, or give us a call at 850-245-6719.