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 The State Archives collects and preserves unpublished materials, including records from government agencies and from private citizens, businesses, families and organizations.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.

 

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.

A Brush with the Black Death

If you thought bubonic plague only caused epidemics in medieval Europe, think again! Pensacola experienced an outbreak of the infamous disease in 1920 that resulted in at least seven deaths. The episode turned out to be a transitional moment for public health in the city, as local, state and federal officials took action to prevent future attacks.

A schooner loading lumber in Pensacola Harbor, ca. 1900. Ships like this one may have been the source of the rats (and fleas) that transmitted the bubonic plague to humans during the outbreak of 1920.

A schooner loading lumber in Pensacola Harbor, ca. 1900. Ships like this one may have been the source of the rats (and fleas) that transmitted the bubonic plague to humans during the outbreak of 1920.

Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, typically spread by infected fleas on small rodents like mice or rats. Vaccines don’t do much to prevent the plague, but it responds well to several kinds of antibiotics. Unfortunately, those medicines were not around in the 14th century when the bubonic plague struck Europe, resulting in the deaths of somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the population. The term “Black Death” is often used to describe this European outbreak, likely a reference to the dark lesions infected patients would develop under the skin as a result of internal bleeding. In reality, people at that time usually called the epidemic the “Big Death” or “Great Mortality.” After a series of later historians continued to use “Black Death” instead, however, the name stuck.

Bites from fleas like this one are typically responsible for transmitting the bubonic plague to humans.

Bites from fleas like this one are typically responsible for transmitting the bubonic plague to humans. Image courtesy of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The bubonic plague didn’t die with the Middle Ages. Outbreaks have occurred in every century since the Black Death, including as recently as 2017 in Madagascar. The plague outbreak in Pensacola was discovered by local physician Dr. Herbert Lee Bryans in June 1920 when one of his patients became very suddenly ill and delirious with fever. When the patient also developed a telltale “bubo” (a swollen and darkened gland infected by plague bacteria) near his groin, Bryans suspected something unusual and contacted the state bacteriologist, Dr. Fritz Albert Brink. After personally examining the patient, Brink quickly diagnosed the disease as the bubonic plague.

The World War I service card of Dr. Herbert Lee Bryans, the physician who first sounded the alarm in the Pensacola outbreak of plague in 1920.

The World War I service card of Dr. Herbert Lee Bryans, the physician who first sounded the alarm in the Pensacola outbreak of plague in 1920. Dr. Bryans served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was briefly on detached duty with the British Royal Army Medical Corps in England, Belgium and France. Click to enlarge the image.

To verify his suspicions, Brink took samples from the bubo, which he then injected into two guinea pigs. He also prepared slides to view under a microscope. All tests confirmed his original diagnosis. The guinea pigs quickly developed symptoms of plague and died, and the slides revealed bacteria consistent with Yersinia pestis. 

To stop the disease from spreading further, its source needed to be identified quickly. Bryans’ patient had not left Pensacola or been aboard a ship anytime recently, which ruled out the possibility that he had brought the disease into the city from someplace else. Still, several more cases appeared in June 1920. Since the modern bubonic plague generally cannot spread from person to person, this meant the source of infection had to be the fleas infesting local rodents.

Public health officials blamed rodents like this rat for harboring the fleas that transmitted the plague bacteria to humans.

Public health officials blamed rodents like this rat for harboring the fleas that transmitted the plague bacteria to humans.

Florida’s State Board of Health sprung into action, with support from the U.S. Public Health Service. The state officials already had a laboratory in Pensacola at the corner of Palafox and Cervantes streets, which became the control center for the eradication effort. Federal health authorities also brought in Hamilton, a mobile laboratory train car, to assist. The human plague victims were isolated and those who consented were treated with serum. Out of 10 total cases, seven victims died.

Flyer urging Pensacola citizens to cooperate with public health officials to help end the bubonic plague outbreak (1920).

Flier urging Pensacola citizens to cooperate with public health officials to help end the bubonic plague outbreak (1920). Box 1, Folder 22, Florida Health Notes Photographs (Series 917).

Meanwhile, city, state and federal authorities launched an all-out effort to eradicate the rodents responsible for harboring the infected fleas. The public health experts captured, examined and disposed of over 35,000 rats and mice from June 1920 to July 1921, carefully studying the fleas that came with them. The program’s final report gives 211 as the largest number of fleas found on a single rat, although the average was closer to about 10. City officials encouraged the public to do their share by trapping rats, covering them in oil to kill the fleas and turning them in to the public health experts for processing.

Map showing the locations of rats and humans found to be infected with bubonic plague bacteria. Both categories of infected cases are numbered in order of their discovery.

Map showing the locations of rats and humans found to be infected with bubonic plague bacteria. Both categories of infected cases are numbered in order of their discovery. Box 1, Folder 9, State Board of Health Subject Files (Series 900).

Wherever rats infected with plague bacteria were found, a team followed behind to clean up whatever conditions had made the property attractive to them. The eradication program ultimately used 1,228 pounds of cyanide and 1,854 pints of sulphuric acid to fumigate buildings. The team also demolished seven houses and hauled 280 truckloads of trash and debris to the city dumps. The city government did its part to prevent future rodent infestations by passing new ordinances requiring business owners and residents to ratproof their buildings. Plank sidewalks, which offered rats and mice a convenient space to live, were outlawed and replaced with stone, brick or concrete. Under the new laws, incoming ships had to attach rat shields to their mooring lines, and ramps and gangplanks leading from the ship to the wharf had to be taken up when not in use.

Pensacola’s brush with the bubonic plague was brief, but it still cost the city seven lives. Local citizens took the matter seriously, however, and acted quickly in ways that ultimately made Pensacola a safer, healthier place to live and work.

If you enjoyed reading about this episode in the history of Florida’s public health, check out our online exhibit, Pestilence, Potions, and Persistence: Early Florida Medicine.

Sources:

John Kelly. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

 

 

Dirigible Flights Over Pensacola

On July 2, 1900, the first Zeppelin flight took place near the city of Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance in southern Germany. Although the dirigible flew for approximately one hour and 15 minutes, it was difficult to steer because there was almost no directional control. The sliding weight mechanism, which controlled vertical movement, malfunctioned during the flight and caused the LZ-1, as the airship was known, to land on the lake’s surface. Unable to move on its own, the airship had to be towed back to its shed. This anticlimactic maiden voyage didn’t deter Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin from improving his design and neither did subsequent crashes of roughly 10 airships between 1900 and 1913. By the time Germany entered World War I in 1914, Zeppelins had developed into a reliable form of transportation in Germany; they were even used to transport passengers between cities.

The USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) flying over Miami, 1925. Photo by G.W. Romer. This rigid airship was built by the Zeppelin company of Germany and given to the United States as reparation for World War I.

When the war started, the German army took control of three Zeppelins and eventually expanded the fleet with airships from other manufacturers. Britain, France and Russia also each had their own fleet of airships during the war. Airships were used in combat to observe enemy troop movements and artillery, but airships also threatened civilian populations. In early 1915, Germany began using airships to conduct raids over England. Count Zeppelin had intended his airships to be used in war, yet the Zeppelins themselves were ill-equipped for this purpose. Though the airships were a frightening sight, the threat of enemy fire almost certainly spelled disaster for an airship during the war. Some airships were even accidentally shot down by their own side; and gusts of wind could easily throw the airship off course resulting in bombs being dropped miles from their intended target. But, as the war continued and airship designs became more advanced, raids by airships were more frequent and deadly.

The United States Navy’s lighter-than-air program started developing airships later than Germany and the rest of Europe. Lighter-than-air crafts, such as blimps, balloons and airships, use lifting gases to help the craft rise above the Earth’s surface (as opposed to heavier-than-air crafts, such as airplanes and helicopters, which use other features to help them rise). After Count Zeppelin’s flight in 1900, the United States began to gather information about the design and the materials used in the Zeppelin’s production. Though the U.S. Navy was unable to produce a rigid airship like the Zeppelin until the USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) in 1923, they had been developing nonrigid airships years before the U.S. even entered WWI. In fact, the U.S. Navy’s lighter-than-air program began with nonrigid airships. The difference between rigid and nonrigid has to do with the structure of the dirigible: the shape of a rigid airship is defined by its metal framework, whereas nonrigid airships will deflate without the pressure of the gases.

A U.S. Navy balloon being prepared for ascent in Pensacola as part of the lighter-than-air program, April 15, 1916. Balloons were used to monitor enemy troop movements and gather intelligence during wars dating back to the 18th century.

The development of the nonrigid airship for the U.S. Navy surpassed that of the rigid airship. In 1915, a contract was awarded to the Connecticut Aircraft Company for the Navy’s first nonrigid airship. By 1917, the U.S. Navy had its first nonrigid airship, the DN-1. The DN-1 would make its first flight at the recently constructed Naval Air Station Pensacola (NAS Pensacola). Just a few years before, Pensacola had been selected as the site of naval aviation training. In April 1917, the DN-1 arrived in Pensacola, and the airship completed its first flight on April 20.

The DN-1 outside of its hangar at NAS Pensacola, April 27, 1917. The floating hangar was designed specifically to house the DN-1.

During the dirigible’s maiden voyage, the DN-1 sailed above Santa Rosa Island, circled over Pensacola, and then returned to the naval air station. The next day, the Pensacola Journal reported that the first flight was a “perfect success” and described how the airship exceeded expectations. Other accounts, however, said the ship was too heavy and leaking air.

Story from the Pensacola Journal about the DN-1’s first flight, April 21, 1917. Click for full story. Image: University of Florida Digital Collections.

The DN-1 was damaged after a few flights and eventually broken up. The floating hangar that was designed specifically to house the DN-1 was repurposed ashore as a hangar for landplanes until the 1920s.

The DN-1 entering its floating hangar after a test flight at NAS Pensacola, April 27, 1917.

The United States continued to develop its lighter-than-air program during the interwar years, as did the rest of Europe. During World War II, the U.S. Navy used airships to monitor the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in an effort to spot enemy submarines. After WWII, the airship faded into obscurity as the military allotted more funding to develop heavier-than-air aeronautics. By the mid-1960s, the Navy’s lighter-than-air program had come to an end.

Read more about Florida’s role in WWI in our online exhibit. For more information about the history of airships, see the following sources:

Althoff, William F. Sky Ships: A History of the Airship in the United States Navy. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1990.

Beaubois, Henry. Airships: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. New York: The Two Continents Publishing Group, Ltd., 1973.

Botting, Douglas. Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Clarke, Basil. The History of Airships. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1961.

Payne, Lee. Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of the Airship. London: Thomas Yoseloff Ltd, 1977.

Mardi Gras in the Sunshine State

Think Mardi Gras is something that only happens in New Orleans? Think again! Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” has been celebrated in many parts of the world at one time or another, including right here in Florida. And it isn’t a recent phenomenon. Some Florida towns were holding Mardi Gras celebrations over a hundred years ago.

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras celebrants in Milton in Santa Rosa County, complete with royalty. Milton celebrated its first Mardi Gras 100 years ago this year (photo 1916).

Mardi Gras, for all its characteristic decadence, actually stems from religious origins. It is the final, culminating day of the Carnival season on the Christian liturgical calendar. Carnival season extends from Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day) to the beginning of the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, which occurs about six weeks prior to Easter Sunday. Since the Lenten season typically involves a sober regimen of self-denial and penance, Carnival season and Mardi Gras serve as an opportunity to eat richly and celebrate joyously (hence the “fat” part of Fat Tuesday) before things get more serious.

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

Mardi Gras in Pensacola (1977).

A wide variety of colorful rituals and traditions have developed around this basic concept, many unique to the cities in which they were born. Common Mardi Gras activities include parades, costume balls, colorful decorations, and the designation of “royalty” to preside over the festivities. When Apalachicola celebrated its first Mardi Gras in 1915, for example, the event was reigned over by King Retsyo. Ten points if you can guess the significance of King Retsyo’s name!

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola's first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

King Retsyo ascends to his throne during Apalachicola’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1915.

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Apalachicola Mardi Gras parade (1915).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Lester Buer and Myra Franc Kaplan dressed in costume for Mardi Gras celebrations in Pensacola (circa 1916).

Pensacola was perhaps the first Florida city to observe Mardi Gras, holding its first celebration in 1874. A group of leading local socialites formed a Mardi Gras “krewe” called the Knights of Priscus Association to organize the festivities. The tradition fizzled after a few years, but was revived with gusto in 1900. Pensacola continues to celebrate Mardi Gras annually.

Pensacola’s Mardi Gras celebration of 1900 included the crowning of King Priscus, better known as local attorney Alexander Clement Blount, II.

Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities all over Florida, featuring a blend of time-honored traditions and new ideas. Apalachicola, for example, recently instituted a Mardi Gras parade featuring both citizens and their pets. The event is spearheaded by the Krewe of Salty Barkers, adopting themes like “Barkaritaville” and “Woofstock” to guide both two- and four-legged participants in their costume choices.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola's Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

One of the merrymakers at Apalachicola’s Mardi Gras parade organized by the Krewe of Salty Barkers (2015). Photo courtesy of the Krewe of Salty Barkers.

Farther down the peninsula, Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park offers an annual Mardi Gras event patterned after the popular New Orleans version of the festival. Hollywood also holds an annual Mardi Gras celebration titled “Fiesta Tropicale.” It originated in 1935 as the “Festival of Nations.” These are just a few examples; Florida towns from Dunedin to Lake Wales to Leesburg regularly celebrate Fat Tuesday with enthusiasm.

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Mardi Gras celebration at the American Legion in Tampa (1926).

Does your Florida community do something special to celebrate Mardi Gras? If so, we want to know about it! Leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to share this post on Facebook and Twitter!

A Home for Higher Learning

It’s hard to imagine Tallahassee without Florida State University or Gainesville without the University of Florida, but how did they get there? Believe it or not, at one time these institutions existed only on paper, and could have been located anywhere in the state. Multiple towns competed for the honor of hosting them, and the Legislature had to make some tough decisions to choose homes for Florida’s first institutions of higher learning.

Florida’s elected representatives recognized the value of higher education early on, but failed to translate their enthusiasm into action during the territorial era. In 1823, the territorial council voted to set aside two townships’ worth of public land to raise money for a seminary of higher learning. In 1836, Governor Richard Keith Call appointed a 14-member board to plan for a University of Florida. Very little concrete action materialized from these efforts, however, and Florida became a state in 1845 still lacking a state college of any kind.

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call (ca. 1840).

Floridians lamented the state of their educational system. Georgia had had a public university since 1785, while the University of Alabama had been open since 1831. Meanwhile, Florida’s young men and women were obliged to travel outside the state to finish their training, or not receive it at all. In January 1851, the Legislature took action by establishing two seminaries for teacher training, one for each side of the Suwannee River. Beyond this one directive, the act was silent as to where the two schools should be located. The Legislature would have to make that choice once the options were clearer.

Several towns throughout the state took this as their cue to make it very clear why they should be chosen as the site for one of the new seminaries. Several of their petitions to the Legislature have survived and are now part of Record Series 2153 at the State Archives of Florida. In recommending themselves, the petitioners focused on the healthfulness and convenience of their location. Pensacola’s advocates, for example, argued their proximity to the Gulf and points west would attract students from neighboring Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and perhaps even the West Indies. Ocala’s petitioners pointed to their position near the geographic center of the peninsula and the number of stage roads in the area as reasons for the town’s worthiness.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries.

Memorial to the General Assembly of the State of Florida from the citizens of Pensacola, asking that the state seminary west of the Suwannee River be located in Pensacola (1847). Note this petition actually preceded the 1851 act creating the two seminaries. Click the image to enlarge it.

The committees writing these petitions realized, however, that it would take more than a few beautiful descriptive phrases to sway the Legislature. To sweeten the deal, they included offers of land, buildings, and even cash to strengthen their case.

East of the Suwannee River, Ocala in Marion County and Newnansville in Alachua County were the main contenders for a seminary. The Ocala petitioners offered to give the state 16 town lots in Ocala valued at $5,000, plus $1,600 cash, as well as the buildings then being used by the East Florida Independent Institute. The Institute had been established in 1852 by a New Englander named Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury, who went by the name S.S. Burton in Florida. Newnansville did not yet possess anything like the East Florida Independent Institute had to offer, but in their petition the citizens of the town pledged $5,000 toward constructing new facilities. The Legislature ultimately selected Ocala as the site for the state seminary east of the Suwannee, which after a series of transformations and a relocation to Gainesville became the University of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 - Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida.

Petition to Establish the East Florida Seminary in Alachua County, ca. 1852 – Box 3, folder 55, Territorial and Early Statehood Records (Series 2153), State Archives of Florida. Click image to enlarge and view transcript.

West of the Suwannee, Pensacola and Tallahassee were locked into a similar competition. Pensacola’s citizens promised to provide whatever land was necessary to build a seminary, but Tallahassee went much farther. The mayor and city council pledged to donate $10,000 to the cause, made up partly of $7,000 worth of land and buildings already under construction, plus the remainder in cash. City officials also offered to grant the institution an annuity of $1,500. Citizens of nearby Quincy in Gadsden County chimed in with a similar offer of the buildings used by the Quincy Academy, but the petitioners did not commit any specific amount of cash to the project, let alone an annuity. The Legislature chose Tallahassee as the site for the state seminary west of the Suwannee, which ultimately became the Florida State College for Women and later the Florida State University.

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

First building at the West Florida Seminary (ca. 1870).

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school's football team was taken in 1899.

Few folks know that Florida State University had a football team well before the school became coeducational (again) in 1947. Prior to its reconstitution as the Florida State College for Women under the Buckman Act in 1905, the West Florida Seminary was coeducational and football was a school sport. This photo of the school’s football team was taken in 1899. The team members are sitting on the steps of College Hall, the seminary’s main building, which stood from its construction in 1891 to 1909, when it was replaced by Westcott Hall, which still stands today.

What state institutions are located near your Florida community? Do you know how long they’ve been around, or how they came to exist? The State Library & Archives is home to a wealth of information on this subject – search Florida Memory, the State Library Catalog, and the Archives Online Catalog to learn more.

A Cloud of Suspicion

As the United States moved closer to breaking ties with Germany and its allies during the First World War, citizens across the country took steps to separate themselves from all things German. Foods with ties to German culture received new names. Hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches.” Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage.” Teaching the German language, playing German music, and even speaking in German were banned in some areas. Violators of these restrictions often found their loyalty to the United States questioned.

Read more »

The Legend of Sam Story

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

A Brand You Can Trust

Not everyone thinks of the Sunshine State as being cow country, but in reality Florida has been in the cattle business for about five centuries. When Juan Ponce de Leon arrived on his final mission to Florida in 1521, he brought Spanish Andalusian cattle with him to help provision the growing settlement he hoped to establish on Florida’s Gulf coast. Even after the settlement failed, the cattle remained and multiplied.

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What in the World is a Zouave?

Imagine it’s October 1861. You’re a Confederate soldier from Florida, encamped along Pensacola Bay. One afternoon, your commander says to get your equipment together and prepare for a night attack against Wilson’s Zouaves on Santa Rosa Island.

Fine, you say, but what in the world is a zouave?

Portrait of Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, commander of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as

Portrait of Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, commander of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as “Wilson’s Zouaves.” Note that Wilson’s attire here is not that of traditional zouave soldiers (circa 1860s).

In this particular case, the Zouaves were soldiers from the 6th New York Volunteer Infantry, which had been sent to the Pensacola area to defend United States military installations, including forts McRee, Pickens and Barrancas.

The term zouave is French, first used to identify regiments in the French Army populated by recruits from the Zouaoua tribe in Algeria. The first French zouaves appeared in 1831, and were distinguished by their unique uniform. The soldiers wore open-fronted jackets with baggy trousers, often colored red.

Wilson’s Zouaves, named for Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, were organized in New York City. The “Zouaves” title appears to have been more of a nickname in this case, as images of the 6th New York Volunteers show its members dressed in standard military uniforms. The regiment left New York in June 1861 aboard the steamer Vanderbilt and headed for Pensacola Bay.

Map showing Fort Pickens and the encampment of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as Wilson's Zouaves. Included as an illustration in Gouverneur Morris, The History of a Volunteer Regiment, being a succinct account of the organization, services, and adventures of the Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers In fantry, known as Wilson Zouaves (1891).

Map (click to enlarge) showing Fort Pickens and the encampment of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as Wilson’s Zouaves. Included as an illustration in Gouverneur Morris, The History of a Volunteer Regiment, being a succinct account of the organization, services, and adventures of the Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers Infantry, known as Wilson Zouaves (1891). This rare book is part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

In Florida, an uneasy peace had settled between the Union forces stationed at Fort Pickens and the Confederates holding the mainland along Pensacola Bay. The Confederates had sunk several vessels in the channel leading from Pensacola Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, to stave off a large-scale Union invasion. The federals had retaliated by setting fire to a large dry dock and other naval repair facilities in the area. They also burned the Confederate blockade runner Judah as it sat anchored in the harbor.

Camp of the Sixth New York Volunteers on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Camp of the Sixth New York Volunteers on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

By this time, Wilson’s Zouaves were encamped on Santa Rosa Island, just east of Fort Pickens. General Braxton Bragg, at that time commander of Confederate forces in Pensacola, ordered an assault on the Union-held fort. General Richard Anderson had responsibility for carrying out the attack. Just after midnight on October 9, 1861, Anderson and a force of 1,200 Confederate soldiers crossed Pensacola Bay in two steamers and landed on Santa Rosa Island, far east of the Zouaves’ camp. Anderson divided his men into three columns and began marching west toward the New Yorkers.

The Sixth New York was indeed surprised by Anderson’s tactics. The camp was awakened when some of its pickets fired their guns in warning, and the Union soldiers put up a fight, but ultimately they fell back to Fort Pickens.

Image depicting the battle between the Sixth New York Volunteers (Wilson's Zouaves) and Confederate forces under General Richard Anderson on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Image depicting the battle between the Sixth New York Volunteers (Wilson’s Zouaves) and Confederate forces under General Richard Anderson on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Once Anderson’s attack began, Union commanders were able to send for reinforcements, which eventually forced the Confederates to retreat to the mainland. Fort Pickens remained in Union control, as it would until the end of the war. Wilson’s Zouaves, in the meantime, continued to serve in the Gulf region. Some companies stayed close to Pensacola, while others were sent to Louisiana.

For more information, check out our learning unit on Florida in the Civil War in the Online Classroom. Also, don’t forget the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge is coming up on March 6, 2015. The Florida Memory Blog will feature historical documents relating to the battle throughout the week of March 2-6.