Floridiana Articles

Floridiana: Stories from Florida's Remarkable Past is an ongoing series of articles that use the extensive collections of the State Archives and State Library of Florida to illustrate the rich and varied history of our state. Photographs and illustrations, maps, film footage, sound recordings, letters, diaries and other sources combine to tell the story of the Sunshine State in a unique and engaging way.

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  • July 30, 2019
    Florida's State Archivists
    Florida's State Archivists
    A short history of the State Archives of Florida and its leaders.
    By Florida Memory
  • July 30, 2019
    Watermelon slices ready for a watermelon eating contest at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs (1986).
    The Watermelon Special
    When the weather is hot and you're craving something sweet but refreshing, there's nothing like a big slice of Florida watermelon. That's true whether you happen to be in Florida or on the other side of the country, so an important part of Florida's watermelon industry has always been adequate transportation. These days, Florida watermelons usually get where they're going by truck, but it hasn't always been that way. In the old days, well before the age of expressways and 18-wheelers, trains were the main way of getting watermelons from the farm to faraway markets. At peak harvest time in June and July, the supply of watermelons often exceeded the capacity of ordinary trains to handle the crop. The solution? Enter the "watermelon special."
    By Florida Memory
  • June 27, 2019
    The Mermaid, one of the
    Under the Spring
    What's the best way to explore a cool, crystal-clear Florida spring? Usually, we recommend getting up close and personal by swimming in it yourself, especially during hot weather. There are other ways, of course. Glass-bottom boats, for example, have plied the waters of Florida springs for more than a century, allowing visitors to glimpse into their underwater worlds without needing a change of clothes afterward.
    By Florida Memory
  • June 30, 2019
    An employee at the Leon County Tax Assessor's office helps a customer (1961).
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • June 6, 2019
    James A. Van Fleet (1953).
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • May 5, 2019
    An early school bus drawn by two horses in Piedmont in Orange County (ca. 1900).
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • August 16, 2019
    Excerpt of an undated survey plat showing the overlapping land claims of William Williams, William Panton and Thomas Forbes (ca. 1825). Box 34, Folder 7, Confirmed Spanish Land Grants (Series S990), State Archives of Florida. Click or tap the image to view the entire plat and the complete Spanish land grant dossier submitted by the heirs of William Williams.
    The Fountain of Youth
    You've probably heard the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction. That could be said of De Leon Springs in Volusia County, which has long been reputed to be the Fountain of Youth that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was searching for when he came to Florida in 1513. It turns out this was a bit of creative myth-making–old Ponce never made it quite that far inland. That being said, De Leon Springs is still a naturally beautiful spot with a fascinating past.
    By Florida Memory
  • May 3, 2019
    Exterior of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach (1920).
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • April 19, 2019
    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 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.
    By Florida Memory
  • March 4, 2019
    Caroline Brevard's written appeal for a state repository of Florida's historical documents. Ca. 1900.
    Why We Celebrate American Archives Month
    Every October, the State Archives of Florida joins with archives throughout the country to participate in a month-long dialogue about what an archive is, who archivists are, and why it matters to the average American citizen. Archivists are a passionate group of professionals dedicated to the faithful preservation of the historical documents that make up state, local, and national histories. Some of the stories living within these records can have far-reaching impacts on the modern people looking at them, and an archivist's work is driven by the responsibility to provide public access to these potentially life-changing materials. Throughout Archives Month we will be sharing some of our best life-changing stories from the State Archives of Florida vault. But, in order for archived records to change lives they, too, must have a physical repository to call home. With that in mind, we've put together a brief history of how the State Archives of Florida came into existence and why it matters.
    By Florida Memory
  • February 28, 2019
    Edna Giles Fuller of Orange County, the first woman elected to the Florida Legislature (1929).
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • February 7, 2019
    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.
    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.
    By Florida Memory
  • September 18, 2019
    Sign advertising Spook Hill in Lake Wales (1953).
    The Legend of Spook Hill
    The weather is getting cooler (finally), and it's almost time for Halloween–that special day for thinking about all that's creepy, crawly, scary and mysterious. We think it's the perfect time to take a look at a curious tourist attraction in Central Florida that doubles as one of the state's most unusual (super?)natural phenomena, Spook Hill.
    By Florida Memory