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VIVA Florida 500 - State Park History Notes

Florida's 171 award-winning state park and trail properties are proud to join with the Florida Department of State in commemorating 500 years of Florida history throughout the year 2013. Visitors are invited to commemorate Florida's history with first-hand experiences of the eras and events that helped make the state into what it is today: a community of many diverse cultures.


Who would have guessed that a woman born in Washington, D.C., educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and writer for the Rochester Journal (New York) would end up in a farm house in the middle of an orange grove telling tales of cracker life in north central Florida. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings did just that and became one of Florida’s most well-known writers. After marriage and work at several newspapers while attempting to publish her writing, she purchased a 72 acre orange grove in Cross Creek, Florida, between Gainesville and Ocala, to settled in to write.

Her first novel, South Moon Under, was published in 1933 and was included in the Book of the Month Club and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. To research the story she lived with a moonshiner for several months and was able to capture a glimpse of the rich culture of north Florida - what is usually known as cracker culture.

Rawlings relates her struggle to get that first book published in her own words: "I tried to write what I thought they (editors) would be most likely to buy and all that brought me was rejection slips. Then in 1928 I had an opportunity to buy an orange grove in Florida and I bought it, left the newspaper and settled down to give all my time to fiction. Still the stories didn't sell. So I gave up. I thought the best thing might be to write poetry - that would satisfy the urge to create and would bother no one. I wouldn't have to worry much about getting it published. As there'd be very little chance of that and I could rule writing out as a means of income. But then I thought-just one more. And I wrote a story that seemed very far from 'commercial,' that - it seemed to me - no editor would want to buy. But that had meaning for me. It sold like a shot and I've had no trouble about selling since. Though I never have tried to write 'commercially.'"

This story was part of an article that appeared in the New York Times on Nov. 30, 1941 under the title “A Talk with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.” The story was by Robert van Gelder, the Editor of the New York Times Book Review, who published interviews with many prominent authors. This article provides a personal account of Rawlings’ writing. Rawlings said: “Writing is agony. I stay at my typewriter for eight hours every day when I’m working and keep as free as possible from all distractions for the rest of the day. I aim to do six pages a day, but I’m satisfied with three. Often there are only a few lines to show.”

The article also tells of her dependence on the neighbors for her stories, like the moonshiner in South Moon Under. Of The Yearling she said: “I needed some good bear-hunting scenes because I knew that they were to be part of the book. I told the old guide why I wanted to go on bear hunts and he took me out on a number of hunts and told me all the facts he could think of. All the people down there are very good in that way. They realize they are helping preserve a way of life that is passing ….”

To learn more about Rawlings, life visit her home at Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and check out the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society.

:  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings relied on locals to help her learn the cracker life for her books, Will Mickeus' family at Rawlings' Home, courtesy, Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings relied on locals to help her learn the cracker life for her books, Will Mickeus' family at Rawlings' Home, courtesy, Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project
Marjorie Rawlings at her gate 1930s, courtesy, Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

Marjorie Rawlings at her gate 1930s, courtesy, Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project


Silver Springs has been a famous Florida attraction since the late nineteenth century. At one point it was considered Florida’s largest and most famous attraction, that was before the arrival of Walt Disney World. Even before Europeans came to the Americas, Florida’s native populations lived, fished and otherwise used the waters and lands around the spring. Older Floridians have memories of this attraction in the 1950s and 1960s during its heyday.

Free advertising through travel writers has been the bread and butter of attractions since they started luring visitors. On November 20, 1955 an article appeared in the Greensboro Daily News (Greensboro, NC) with the title “Silver Springs Is Real Beauty Spot.” The article begins with the following: “Regardless of what you have heard, seen or read about Silver Springs, you will be unprepared for everything it offers. It’s truly a family attraction and should be the first place to visit in Florida on any general tour of the state.

At the time of this article, the attraction consisted of six major components. The article even provides an itinerary for the visitor. The first is the Glass Bottom Boats which were the signature experience featuring a “colorful storyteller” who showed you the underwater world of the springs. You would visit places like the Bridal Chamber, Garden of Eden, Catfish Hotel and Devil’s Kitchen. He would point out the prehistoric mastodon bones and amaze you with the fish who swim in “formation” and even thrill you with the fish football game. You could also tour the river and spring on the “Photo-Sub” where you could take pictures from an underwater perspective. Then you would take the “Jungle Cruise” speed boat ride down river.

The other attractions at Silver Springs included Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute. Here you learned about snakes and got to witness “milking” a snake for its venom for the production of anti-venom serum. The Carriage Cavalcade was billed as the world’s largest exhibit of horse-drawn vehicles and antique cars. The Deer Ranch was a large petting zoo, featuring lots of deer. The Seminole Indian Village was where a Seminole family demonstrated traditional Seminole ways. For its day, this attraction, like Disneyland which opened in July 1955, were models for the theme park we know so well today. They were designed to get keep visitors entertained for at least a full day and hopefully for two or three. To accomplish this, the attraction had to have enough offerings to keep the visitor occupied, unlike the single focus attractions like Weeki Wachee Springs.

On June 17, 1955 a fire destroyed the main administration building, soda shop and other shops on the property. But the article assured readers that the attraction was in full operation and plans for reconstruction were under way. In 1959, the new Tourist Center Building opened. This building was designed by nationally known architect Victor Lundy who was associated with the Sarasota School of Architecture. His progressive design received an award for Design in the Recreation Category from Progressive Architecture in 1956 and an Award of Merit in 1959 from the American Institute of Architects.

On October 1, 2013 the Florida Park Service assumed operations control of what is today Silver Springs State Park.

Glass Bottom Boats about 1950, courtesy Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

Glass Bottom Boats about 1950, courtesy Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

Ross Allen Milking a Snake, courtesy Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project

Ross Allen Milking a Snake, courtesy Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Project


A report in the Orlando Sentinel on the evening of June 27, 2001 related that on the evening of June 26, wreckage of an airplane was discovered by kayakers in Lake Louisa, near Clermont, Fla. Authorities initiated an investigation only to realize that the wreck was possibly older than 50 years old. The wreckage consisted of a twisted propeller, the radiator, the battery, part of a wing and other pieces. Thus began a long and arduous search for the story behind the mysterious remains of this airplane.

Before a week had elapsed, research by investigators and newspaper reporters solved the mystery. The plane was a P-51B Mustang that had crashed on Nov. 14, 1944 killing its pilot, 1st Lt. Dean R. Gilmore. The story emerged when a 1944 thank you letter surfaced that was written to Frank and Isabel Wright from Lt. Col. Ward Harker, commanding officer of Bartow Army Air Field. The couple was fishing on the lake that day and saw the plane crash. They later discovered and recovered the body of Lt. Gilmore.

On the day of the crash, Gilmore was leading a flight of four trainees on a low level navigation mission. The drill was to fly two laps around Lake Louisa. On the second lap, Gilmore’s plane went into an unexplained descent and crashed into the lake in a fiery explosion. Military investigators cleared Gilmore of responsibility, but never actually determined the cause of the crash.

Gilmore was born in Pennsylvania in 1921 and joined the Army Air Corps in June 1942. His flight training included several bases in Florida: Carlstrom Field near Arcadia, Marianna Army Air Field and Eglin Army Air Field near Panama City. In Aug. 1943, he was assigned to the 111th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. There he flew 91 missions in a camera equipped P-51B Mustang, designated an F-6A. Gilmore was credited with shooting down one enemy fighter. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission he flew during engagements with the Germans near the Abbey of Monte Cassino.

In memory of this pilot, a memorial was dedicated on Nov. 12, 2002 at Lake Louisa State Park hosted by the Florida Park Service and Lake County Sheriff’s office. The monument was dedicated not only to his memory, but to all the aviators who perished in Florida during the war. Gilmore’s nephew Charles and his daughter Karen Gilmore-Trimble attended the event. She later described the ceremony: “As the Chaplain began the benediction, we heard the hum of a Merlin engine heading towards us. Seconds later, Kermit Weeks roared overhead in a P-51D ‘Cripes A’ Mighty’, and gave us all quite a show .... As we watched the Mustang leave our sight, a beautiful American Bald Eagle appeared, circled and landed on the sand bar where the wreckage was recovered.” You can read more of this story thanks to the wonderful article by Martin Kyburz on the website, Swiss Mustangs.

In 2004, Jack Roush of Livonia, MI acquired the remains of Gilmore’s plane and over the next six years a P-51B was reconstructed using some of the parts from the crash and assigned the original serial number. The plane was constructed at Cal Pacific Airmotive in Salinas, Ca. and named “Old Crow.” That plane is in operation today in memory of another pilot, Bud Anderson.

This article is written in memory and honor of all our veterans, this week of Veterans Day when we pause to honor all of those who served.

1st Lt. Dean R. Gilmore, Italy, 1944, courtesy of Swiss Mustangs

1st Lt. Dean R. Gilmore, Italy, 1944, courtesy of Swiss Mustangs

P-51B L-5, in April 1944 and the plane that crashed killing Lt. Dean Gilmore, courtesy of Swiss Mustangs

P-51B L-5, in April 1944 and the plane that crashed killing Lt. Dean Gilmore, courtesy of Swiss Mustangsr


In August 1851, American newspapers were filled with stories about an American yacht America: “The English papers come to us filled with the details of an exciting contest, for superiority, between the yacht America owned by J. C. Stevens and Co. of New York, and a number of vessels belonging to the Royal Yacht Squadron off Cowes near the Isle of Wright, in England. The race occurred on the 22d of August, and resulted in the winning, with ease, by the America of the challenge cup, put up as a prize for all nations.” This race and the challenge cup mentioned in the article gave birth to the longest running sport competition in the world, the America’s Cup.

America was fast because of American ingenuity in sloop yacht design that put English design to shame. The famous yacht was sold by the American company to an English gentleman. She was renamed Camilla and changed hands several times before being sold by Englishman Henry Edward Decie to the Confederate States of America at the beginning of the American Civil War. She was used as a blockade runner and most likely was successful due to her swiftness.

In the late winter of 1862, the yacht was caught in the St. Johns River by the Union blockade and was scuttled in three fathoms of water in Dunns Creek off the St. Johns River near Palatka. Lieutenant T. H. Stevens, commanding the U. S. gunboat Ottawa, on  March 28, 1862, reported the following: "I returned this morning … from Dunns Creek with the yacht America, which after a week of hard labor … I succeeded in raising and bringing to this place (Jacksonville), where I shall keep her awaiting your further instructions. She is without ground tackle or sails and almost everything else but her lower masts, bowsprit, gaffs and some light spars.” He later returned to Haw Creek off Dunns Creek to raise the steamer St. Mary’s which had also been scuttled.

Flag Officer S. F. DuPont responded to Stevens’ report with a commendation for this actions. Although only 11 years after the famous race, some Americans already viewed the yacht as an important American treasure. DuPont wrote: “The historic interest which attaches to this vessel and the incidents attending her career up to the time of your remarkable capture and recovery of her, make me very anxious to get her safely to Port Royal where I propose to refit her and send her North.” America was refitted and served with honor as a Union blockader throughout the war. Following the war, she served as a training vessel at the U. S. Naval Academy, was sold into private hands, was later returned to the Naval Academy where she fell into disrepair and in 1945 was destroyed in a snowstorm

Dunns Creek is the namesake for one of the newest Florida state park, Dunns Creek State Park which is presently being developed, including a beautiful picnic area on the banks of Dunns Creek. While the actual location of the recovery of America along the creek is unknown, it is still of interest that this state park is in the vicinity of such a momentous story in yachting history.  The 32nd running of the America’s Cup begins September 7, 2013 in San Francisco.

Yacht  America,  Wikipedia

Yacht America, Wikipedia

U. S. Ottawa, courtesy, U. S. Naval Historical Center

U. S. Ottawa, courtesy, U. S. Naval Historical Center


“The greatest future lies before this delightful spot of any place in the South or Southwest to-day, and bids you come and invest while he opportunity to secure a site is within the reach of everyone.” The alluring sentence opened an advertisement in a Kentucky Newspaper on August 12, 1910 about lots for sale for $100.00 on the island of Cayo Costa in Southwest Florida. Today much of the island of Cayo Costa is Cayo Costa State Park, but remnants of this development remain in private hands.

General Agent George W. Land of Bradenton ran advertisements all during 1910 in many northern newspapers with eloquent assurances claiming that “This is not a fake, nor a cheap backwoods subdivision....” He assured purchasers that the island paradise was “absolutely free from malaria and this key is completely surrounded by the purest and deepest of deep sea water.” This sales project came as southwest Florida became more accessible with the completion of the C.H. and N. railroad to Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island to the north across Boca Grande Pass.

Cayo Costa was identified in 1849 as a potential site for coastal defense. In 1882, northern two miles of the island was established as a military reservation. Eventually this reservation included a quarantine station, marine hospital, and three pilot’s houses.

At the time of the advertisement there were people living on the island along with a school and post office. They were mostly fishermen working in the Spanish Padilla Settlement and the Burroughs Ranch that were founded before the Civil War. Spanish fishing operations were first reported in the Boca Grande area in 1765 when it was reported the fisheries supplied fish to Havana and other Spanish settlements during Lent.

Tervio Padilla who came to Key West from the Canary Islands about 1872 established a trading operation between Key West and Charlotte Harbor. He eventually moved his family to the island. When the military reservation was established, Padillia moved his family operations to the southern end of the island. After the Spanish American War, Padilla shifted is business to commercial fishing. This operation continued to be operated by his children from the island until the operation was relocated to Pine Island.

Park sign welcomes visitors to Cayo Costa State Park

Park sign welcomes visitors to Cayo Costa State Park

A visitor's umbrella, chair and cooler are placed atop the white sandy beach near the beautiful blue waters of the state park

A visitor's umbrella, chair and cooler are placed atop the white sandy beach near the beautiful blue waters of the state park


It was before daylight on August 7, 1840, when Indian war cries and gunfire erupted on Indian Key. Hester Perrine described the incident: “Father, Mother, Sarah and myself sprang from our beds at the same time, while the Indians were firing at the chamber windows, and the glass falling …. We then went into the cellar, passed through the bathing room into a small place … my father had evidently retreated to the cupola, which was entered by a heavy trap-door. Soon we heard pounding at that door with the most horrid yells … when it gave way, their yells were like demons; and it was then that their most cruel and heart-rending work was accomplished-the massacre of my dear, lamented father.”The life of Dr. Henry Perrine was ended. He was a noted botanist who came to Florida and Indian Key in 1838 to experiment with tropical agricultural crops.

Before the day was over the community on Indian Key was destroyed. All but two buildings were burned, the island ransacked and goods stolen. The island’s boats were taken to carry the goods away to Indian camps in the Everglades. Many of the residents were killed including Perrine. Hester Perrine, her mother, sister and brother escaped by hiding in that cellar and the adjacent turtle crawl while their home above burned.

The island became a center of wrecking and salvage operations in the Florida Keys shortly after Florida became a territory. The reefs along the keys had claimed ships since the days of the Spanish Treasure Fleets. Merchant vessels traveling between the northeast and the Gulf coast had to pass that way and would many times be blown on the reefs or run up on a reef from a navigation error. Salvage laws made it lucrative for the wreckers to profit from the lost cargoes. By 1828, the key had become home to five or six families and single men with houses and a store.

Jacob Housman was one of the most well known of these wreckers. In 1830, he began purchasing property on Indian Key and eventually became the dominant merchant and owner of much of the island. An 1833 article in the Washington Daily National Intelligencer describes the place: Indian Key is a place of rendezvous for the Wreckers …. Here they procure their supplies of provision, stores, etc. … (the vessels) get underway every morning about 3 or 4 o’clock, run out to the reef and cruise up and down all day, in search of vessels …. They return toward night and anchor near the shore… (the key) contains twenty or thirty small houses and one large building …. This establishment has in connection a billiard table, nine pin alley , etc. The Wreckers amuse themselves, when ashore, in playing various games.” These wreckers had a reputation of at times facilitating groundings by altering the few navigation aids in the area. There was also fierce competition to get to the best and most lucrative wrecks. While making a good profit, these seafarers also saved lives by rescuing the victims.

Life on the island paradise came to an end for a time with the Indian raid. Today the ruins of many of the homes are preserved on Indian Key by the Florida Park Service as the Indian Key Historic State Park.

Image of Dr. Henry Perrine's Home on Indian Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Image of Dr. Henry Perrine's Home on Indian Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

1840 Map of Indian Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

1840 Map of Indian Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


For years and years, cannons, naval relics and other artifacts of the Spanish Colonial period had been discovered and retrieved along the beaches in Indian River County, just south of Sebastian Inlet. Nearby it was reported that a Spanish galleon was buried in the sands of the beach. Many believed that these remains were from Spanish treasure ships, others thought they were remains of Spanish exploration.

In late 1941 or early 1942, Charles D. Higgs, a local historian, decided to investigate these reports and proceeded to examine the area south of this shipwreck. In 1942, he wrote in the Florida Historical Quarterly “quantities of bones-animal and some human, were observed … A little poking around revealed iron spikes, clay-pipes, and a peculiar assortment of pottery sherds.” He went on to report: “the prevalence here of several varieties of Chinese porcelain fragments from the same period has proven most enigmatical.” Higgs concluded that this area was likely the remains of an early Spanish settlement, possibly an outpost of the St. Augustine garrison or of Ponce de Leon’s second Florida landing. In 1946, Hale G. Smith, assistant state archaeologist for the Florida Park Service, suggested that the site was actually the remains of the Spanish Plate Fleet Wreck of 1715. The fleet was devastated by a hurricane on July 31, 1715, which destroyed all but one ship, killed hundreds and scattered Spanish treasure along the Indian River coast. Which was it?

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the mystery was solved. Kip Wagner became interested in the stories of silver coins washing out of the beaches south of Sebastian Inlet. After World War II, he began searching for some of these coins and eventually found a few. He continued to search for more remains and soon began to find silver coins. In 1959, Kip organized the Real Eight Company to formally begin the search for the wrecks and the camp of the survivors of the 1715 Wreck, which by this time he was convinced they had located. Wagner obtained a nonexclusive salvage lease from the State of Florida to explore and salvage wrecks along a 50 mile stretch of coast south of Sebastian Inlet. The lease provided that Wagner would give the state 25 percent of what he found. By 1964 his company had teamed up with Mel Fisher’s Treasure Salvors, Inc. to continue his explorations. By the end of that year, the partners had reportedly recovered more $3 million of gold, silver, jewelry and artifacts. Salvage companies under contract with the State of Florida continue to find artifacts and other material from the fleet to this day.

In March 1966, Robert McLarty offered to donate to the Board of Parks and Historic Memorials 300 feet of ocean front property for a museum and archaeological research. It was believed that this was part of the site of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet Survivors Camp which was later confirmed by archaeologist Carl Clausen, acting on behalf of the state. That offer was accepted and the state constructed the McLarty Treasure Museum which is today a part of Sebastian Inlet State Park and houses some of artifacts recovered by Wagner’s efforts and tells the story of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet’s tragic demise.

Stock Certificate from the Real Eight Company, From StockLobster, Antique Stock and Bond Certificates

Stock Certificate from the Real Eight Company, From StockLobster, Antique Stock and Bond Certificates

1855 Kip Wagner Uses a $15.00 Metal Detector Searching for Treasure; From 1715

Kip Wagner Uses a $15.00 Metal Detector Searching for Treasure; From 1715


It was summer in South Florida in 1836, better than six months after Major Francis Dade and his command were defeated by Seminole Indians which marked the effective beginning of the Second Seminole War. Most of the action was centered in central and southwest Florida. The depredations by the Seminoles had extended into South Florida. Indians had attacked settlers in Fort Lauderdale in January and then on July 23 Cape Florida Lighthouse (constructed in 1825) was attacked by a band of Seminoles estimated to number 40 or more.

Cape Florida was a spit of white sand bounded by mangroves and a beach named Key Biscayne. The lighthouse complex consisted of the brick structure, a wooden residence and kitchen along with other support buildings. John W. B. Thompson had been left in charge of the station along with his African-American assistant Aaron Carter. After the Fort Lauderdale attack, settlers along the Miami River evacuated the settlement for Key Biscayne but did not remain there and many went to Key West. So by July, the lighthouse caretakers were isolated and alone.

About 4 p.m. on that day, as Thompson was leaving the kitchen he saw Indians about 20 yards away.  Quickly he and Carter took refuge in the brick lighthouse. They barely got the door shut before the Indians caught up. Firing muskets from the upper windows, they kept the Indians at bay until dark. At the point, the Indians set fire to the door and lower window. The men retreated to the top of the lighthouse. In the melee, the oil tank inside was penetrated and oil spilled everywhere. Flames eventually reached the stair and crept upwards.

Meanwhile the two men had covered the scuttle, but the flames eventually broke through. The flames grew intense as the lamp and glass enclosure shattered, spreading glass everywhere. The men retreated to the walkway that surrounded the lantern. The heat on the metal surfaces became so hot that the men began to literally roast. Thompson later described his experience : “my clothes on fire, and to move from the place where I was would be instant death from their rifles; my flesh was roasting and to put an end to my suffering, I got up, threw the keg of gunpowder down the scuttle, instantly it exploded and shook the tower from the top to the bottom.”  The explosion destroyed the remainder of the stair, but the fire came back.

Carter died from the heat and Indian musket fire. Thompson was severely burned, but survived the night. The Navy sloop Motto was on patrol in the area and was anchored nine miles away. The crew heard the explosion and tried to approach the key, but could not get in until the next day. They rescued Thompson from the top of the lighthouse and evacuated him to Key West. He later reported “I am still in the land of the living, and am now in Charleston, S. C., where every attention is paid me-although a cripple I can eat my allowance and walk without the use of a cane.” The restored lighthouse can be visited today in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park , where you can learn more if its history and enjoy one of Florida’s finest beaches.

Sketch of Cape Florida Lighthouse, April 1838 by Capt. J. R. Vinton, U. S. Army; University Digital Archives

Sketch of Cape Florida Lighthouse, April 1838 by Capt. J. R. Vinton, U.S. Army; University Digital Archives

1855 Nautical Chart Showing Key Biscayne and Cape Florida, U. S. Office of Coast Survey, Historic Chart Collections

1855 Nautical Chart Showing Key Biscayne and Cape Florida, U.S. Office of Coast Survey, Historic Chart Collection


It was a clear day with light east and southeast winds in Havana, Cuba on July 13, 1733. The port was busy as 20 ships prepared to set sail for a trip to Cadiz, Spain. On board were gold, silver, tanned hides, spices, tobacco, porcelain and jewels along with routine cargo and passengers. The trip would take six to eight weeks and pass through the Canal of the Bahamas, the area of the Gulf Stream between Florida and the Bahamas. Many of these ships would never reach Cadiz.

By July 14, the fleet was between the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. A storm was building and the ships were struggling. A report dated August 20, 1733, contains the following description: "the wind freshened and came out of the North which it maintained until morning on the 15th when it was blowing a hurricane the likes of which we had never seen. The storm swung and the ships, which were now headed south, went to the North and all were dismasted and at God's mercy. Most of the people did not expect to live through it. The ships all grounded from the time of the evening prayer until the morning of the 16th." This was the destruction by a hurricane of what today is known as the 1733 Treasure Fleet.

One of those ships, the San Pedro, was flooded and its passengers and sailors were forced to seek refuge on the poop deck until they were rescued on rafts. It carried 16,000 pesos in Mexican silver and crates of Chinese porcelain. The ship came to rest southwest of Indian Key, now managed as Indian Key Historic State Park. Today the San Pedro is the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park. The refugees from that ship and the others that were wrecked established camps on many of the islands, including Indian Key and Upper Matecumbe, to await rescue.

When he received confirmation that the fleet was wrecked, on July 22 Cuba's governor The Marques de Cavecas, sent nine ships to rescue the survivors and salvage the cargoes. The governor reported: "I have not stopped providing supplies, divers and armed ships of war, without reserving any of what was found in this port." The salvage operations involved refloating and rigging ships that were salvageable. The others, including the San Pedro, were burned to the water line. This would conceal the ships from other salvors and provide access into the holds to retrieve the freight. More gold and silver was recovered from the wrecks than had been recorded on manifests. This is an obvious indicator that valuables were being smuggled to Spain, above and beyond the recorded cargo.

The ship lay hidden, or at least not recognized for more than two centuries until treasure seeking divers began to locate the ships from the 1733 Treasure Fleet along the Florida Keys. Unlike the wrecks of the 1715 fleet, near Sebastian Inlet, the 1733 wrecks have not yielded significant amounts of artifacts, a testament to the success of the Spanish salvage operations. Today you can visit the San Pedro to help you better understand the nature of shipwrecks in Florida waters.

The San Pedro, a reproduction of a painting by William Trotter, William Trotter Lighthouse Maritime Studio

The San Pedro, a reproduction of a painting by William Trotter, William Trotter Lighthouse Maritime Studio.

1733 Salvors Map for the Treasure Fleet, from the Florida Division of Historical Resources

1733 Salvors Map for the Treasure Fleet, from the Florida Division of Historical Resources.


On Wednesday morning, July 3, 1946 more than 70 men, women and children boarded a bus for Florida, their destination Camp Helen. The travelers were all employees and families of the Avondale Mills plant at Sycamore, Alabama. They were headed to the company's new camp facility located west of Panama City for some fun in the sun on the Gulf of Mexico. Camp Helen is now Camp Helen State Park.

Avondale Mills operated textile mills in Alabama and other states from 1897 until 2006. Its president Braxton Bragg Comer (former Governor of Alabama) and his successor, son Donald Comer, built and grew the company to a peak of 8,500 employees and consumed 20 percent of the state's cotton crop. The company employed about 1,020 African-Americans. Donald Comer took an interest in his employee's welfare. This took the form of the provision of company housing, healthcare, schools, improved sanitation, libraries, employee pensions, a dairy and poultry farm and libraries. The company even published its own newspaper, The Avondale Sun.

One of the employee benefits was recreation. The company built recreation facilities and supported athletic teams. Camp Browning on the Coosa River was the first employee camp that offered boating and other outdoor activities. In summer 1932, the company arranged for use of Davis Beach on St. Andrews Sound, east of Panama City where they erected tents for company employees. It was reported that "Despite the hogs and sand flies, which were plentiful...this group had a great time." The next year the company purchased land near a post office named Belle Isle, just west of Davis Beach. An article in The Avondale Sun in 1933 is typical of the experiences of the campers: "Quite a group of the Sylacauga party hiked to Crooked Island Friday returning with plenty of shells. Others fished at Farmdale and caught a nice string of speckled trout."

World War II military activities forced the camp to close. Following the war, the company sought a new location. In November 1945 the company purchased 100 acres on the gulf and Lake Powel, west of Panama City. This became the new Camp Helen. The company made significant improvements and operated the camp until it was acquired as a state park in 1987. More than 3,000 employees and famiy members visited the camp in 1947. It continued to be the summer place to be as bus load after bus load made the annual trip to the beach. African-American employees went at separate times, but used the same facilities. Campers from the Birmingham mill reported their experience which was typical: "As soon as we arrived in Camp we got in our bathing suits and walked down for a swim. It was always nice to walk down to the beach. The cool breeze and the hot white sand just made you want to run there and back, and the good old salty water tasted so good and my how it would burn your eyes. After Supper Wednesday night we all played games and did the Grand March and other games as "Jump the Book," "Pass the Ball," and later those who wanted to danced. About 9:30 everyone was tired and ready for bed." Thousands of Alabama residents surely have fond memories of their days at Camp Helen.

First Camp Helen

Scene at First Camp Helen, 1933, from The Avondale Sun.

Cabins at Camp Helen

Cabins at the Camp Helen, 1946, from The Avondale Sun.


A recent article in the Miami Herald tells the story of Gabe Spataro and his role in bringing a replica of the Christ of the Abyss sculpture by Guido Galletti to America and eventually to waters off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The bronze replica was located in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park until a boundary shift in 1975 placed it in the sanctuary.

Spataro was a restaurateur in Chicago who became interested in scuba diving in the 1950s. Spataro was a member of the Underwater Society of America. Carl Hauber, president of the society, told Spataro that the replica was being created in Italy. Dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi had decided to donate the replica to the society and it was decided to display it at the convention in Chicago.

Hauber wrote a letter to the Florida Park Service asking that the replica be placed at the park. Spataro appeared before the February 1962 meeting of the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials representing the society and its request. The board adopted a resolution that instructed state park director W. A. Coldwell "to examine and advance the processes necessary to that end." The board also agreed to send the Assistant Director to the August convention to show a movie of the park. The board finally approved the placement of the statue at its October 1963 meeting.

The statue arrived aboard the SS Extravia and was exhibited at the convention at the Palmer House in Chicago. It was stored at Chicago's O'Hare Airport awaiting the decision by the park board. Once that decision was made, arrangements had to be made to get it to Florida. No money was available for the transport. The Otter Diving Club in Orlando helped with transportation. A Naval Reserve unit used a training flight to move the statue to Orlando. In January 1964 it was moved to the Florida Keys to the Art McKee museum on Plantation Key.

With help from John Pennekamp, who was managing editor of the Miami Herald and a park board member, more help was secured for the project including donations from sources in the Florida Keys. With a small budget of $2,500, the staff at the state park worked in secret to find a location on the reef and then to install the sculpture. The concrete base was built using bags of concrete transported by boat to the site and placed by divers. After the bags were placed a base was constructed at the park and later lowered into place. The statue was filled with concrete and was set in August 1965.

There were concerns at the time that the structure might not survive a hurricane and the answer would soon come. On September 8 Hurricane Betsy struck Key Largo as a Category 3 storm. The statue was not affected.

The official dedication of Christ of the Abyss was held on June 29, 1966. While formally not in the state park, visitors can still visit the site on one of the many snorkel, dive or glass bottom boat excursions conducted by the park concessionaire.

A Diver Visits Christ of the Abyss in the 1960s, Florida Park Service Archives

A Diver Visits Christ of the Abyss in the 1960s, Florida Park Service Archives

Christ of the Abyss is Lowered into the Water, Florida Park Service Archives

Christ of the Abyss is Lowered into the Water, Florida Park Service Archives


During the mid-18th century, the southern British colonies viewed Spanish Florida as a problem, mainly because the Spanish government was offering freedom to slaves who left plantations in Georgia and the Carolinas. In 1739 war broke out between Great Britain and Spain known as the War of Jenkins' Ear, during which much of the conflict was waged in the Caribbean and Colonies.

Colonial Georgia's Governor James Oglethorpe initiated an attack on St. Augustine in May 1740. On June 13, British troops led by Colonel John Palmer occupied Ft. Mose, which had been abandoned by African-Americans shortly before the British arrival. Fort Mose was the first free African-American settlement in what is now the United States. It was established in 1738 as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose along with an African-American militia company lead by former slave Francisco Menendez. Later in June, Spanish units, including the newly formed African-American militia attacked and overran the British troops who occupied Fort Mose.

Thomas Jones, a British soldier, in a deposition in 1741 concerning the fall of Fort Mose, testified that "on the fifteenth (June), two hours before Day ... the Enemy attacked in four Parties. That the Gate was defended a quarter of an hour only by the two flankers .... after which the enemy entered, sword in hand ...."

In a letter dated July 6, 1740 Florida's Spanish Governor Manuel de Montiano discussed the same event: "I have now to inform your Lordship, that at eleven o'clock on the night of Saturday the 25th of June, there sallied from this place, 300 men to attack the fort of Moses, which was executed at daybreak on Sunday morning (June 26th). Our people passing over it, with the impetuosity of such a violent charge, that it fell, leaving 68 dead, and 34 were made prisoners."

The official records of the event seem to be in conflict about the actual date of the attack. This is one of the problems historians face in researching early history. The reason for the discrepancy is that Great Britain and Spain used different calendars. The Georgian calendar used today was adopted by most Catholic countries, including Spain, in 1582. Great Britain, which used the Julian calendar, did not adopt the Georgian calendar until 1752. There was an 11 day difference between the two calendars, so the Spanish date is what we use today. What is known as the Battle of Bloody Mose occurred on June 26, 1740.

Spanish troops consisting of 300 regular troops with militia, Indians and the free African-American militia mounted a surprise attack on Fort Mose before dawn on June 26. There was confusion among the troops. An example of the confusion in the attack is in the official British report on the incident where Thomas Jones ran "into the fort and got all the Indians together in one Flanker, there being a great hurry and confusion amongst the men, some being dressed and some undressed." The battle was brutal, hand to hand combat and resulted in the later destruction of the remainder of the fort and its abandonment. Shortly after, Governor Oglethorpe's troops abandoned the siege.

The site of Fort Mose is now a National Historic Landmark that recognizes its role as the first African American free settlement and the story is told at Fort Mose Historic State Park. On Saturday June 22 the fourth annual commemoration of this battle will take place at the park.

18th Century Map Showing Fort Mose, courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project

18th Century Map Showing Fort Mose, courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Project

Free black Spanish colonial soldiers, Florida Park Service Exhibits

Free black Spanish colonial soldiers, Florida Park Service Exhibits


The following is an account of a shipwreck in 1748 off Cape Florida, near present day Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which is reproduced in part for this week's history note. This narrative is thought to be the first African-American autobiographical publication in America:

Taken from A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man,---Servant to General Winslow of Marshfield in New England, 1760 (spellings are as they were printed):

"We sailed from Plymouth in a short time, and after a pleasant Passage of about 30 days, arrived at Jamaica; we was detained at Jamaica only 5 Days, from whence we sailed for the Bay, where we arrived safe in 10 Days. We loaded our Vessel with Logwood and sailed from the Bay the 25th day of May following and the 15th Day of June, we were cast away on Cape Florida, about 5 Leagues from the shore; being now destitute of every Help, we knew not what to do or what Course to take in this our sad Condition ...

"After being upon this Reef two days, the Captain order'd the Boat to be hoisted out, and then ask'd who were willing to tarry on board? ... the mate, with Seven Hands besides myself, were order'd to go on Shore in the Boat,... we stood toward shore and being within Two Leagues of the same, we espied a Number of Canoes ... we presently saw an English Colour hoisted in one of the Canoes, at the sight of which we were not a little rejoiced, but on our advancing yet nearer, we found them ... to be Indians, of which there were Sixty; ... they soon came up with and boarded us, took away all our Arms, Ammunition and Provisions ... then made for the sloop ... killed Captain Howland, the Passenger and the other hand; we saw the whole Number of Indians advancing forward and loading their Guns upon which the mate said, 'my lads we are all dead men,' and before we had got around, they discharged their small arms upon us and killed three of our hands ... upon which I immediately jumped overboard, chusing rather to be drowned rather than to be killed…. In three or four minutes after I hear another volley which dispatched the other five ... one of the Canoes padled after me, and soon came up with me, hawled me into the Canoe, and beat me most terribly with a Cutlass ... then set the vessel on fire, making a prodigious shouting and hallowing like so many Devils. .... After we came to the Shore, they led me to their Hutts, where I expected nothing but immediate Death, and as they spoke English were often telling me ... that they intended to roast me alive. But for the providence of God ordere'd it otherwise ... They kept me with them about Five weeks, during which time they treated me pretty well ....

Briton escaped, you can read the rest of his account by following this link.

The Cover of Hammon's Narrative, from the Library of Congress

The Cover of Hammon's Narrative, from the Library of Congress

Portion of a 1760 Map Showing Cape Florida, from the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, Univerity of Alabama.

Portion of a 1760 Map Showing Cape Florida, from the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, Univerity of Alabama.


Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is well known for the ornamental gardens developed by Alfred B. Maclay and his wife Louise between 1923 and 1944. The gardens were donated by Louise Maclay and her children to the Florida Park Service in 1953 to preserve the gardens for the people of Florida. In 1992, lands around Lake Overstreet which had been owned by the Maclays, but not part of the original donation, were added to the park. The gardens are not the whole story of this land.

Settlers moved into the Tallahassee area shortly after Florida became a territory from Georgia and South Carolina intent on establishing plantations. The land that comprises the state park today has a history of agricultural production that spans nearly 120 years. On May 31, 1853, Robert Hall acquired a small portion of his family's plantation to add to lands and slaves he acquired in 1846 from his father Major William H. Hall's estate. William Hall had amassed a plantation of more than 1,200 acres. Following his death, his wife managed the property until her son came of age in 1846 when she began transferring the land to Robert until it was all transferred by 1856. Triel Ellen Lindstrom in her thesis, describes the plantation: "Major William H. Hall, his wife Jane Kenan, and their eight children settled on land around lakes to the north of town bought during frenzied sales of newly opened public land, their thirty-eight slaves clearing, planting and transforming wild frontier into tame and gentile plantation country."

Immediately after Robert Hall consolidated the property, he sold it to Mariano D. Papy, the Minorcan Attorney General of Florida. Papy operated the Hall plantation with 47 slaves and continued to raise cotton, subsistence crops and livestock. In 1863, Papy had 500 acres under cultivation and 200 head of livestock with a cotton gin, ditches and ponds and 12 slave cabins. After the Civil War, Papy, like most planters, arranged for former slaves to live as tenants on the plantation either by paying rent or by paying Papy shares of their crop profits.

Between 1870 and 1873, Papy sold his Lake Hall/Overstreet lands to six African-American families who continued to cultivate cotton and raise livestock. Starting in the late 1800s early 1900s, landowners with large holdings in the area including the children of the Hall/Overstreet owners, sold to wealthy northern whites seeking land for quail hunting plantations. Georgia O. Law and her husband John, a retired insurance executive, reassembled the Hall/Papy lands. They built many of the barns and the Maclay house that are on the park today. African-American tenants continued to live on the property and farm or provide labor for the new owners including the Maclays. African-Americans had a presence and worked that land for more than 130 years, much longer than the life of the gardens. Referring to the long involvement of the African-American community with the park lands, Lindstrom sums up the story best: "... slavery, tenant farming, plantation employment, land ownership and state employment are not discrete histories of the park, but rather different aspects of the same history, that of a singular community whose membership and fortunes shifted over time."

African-American Tenant House on the Hall/Overstreet Lands, ca. 1930s; courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida.

African-American Tenant House on the Hall/Overstreet Lands, ca. 1930s; courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida.

African-American Workers for the Maclays, ca. 1920s, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

African-American Workers for the Maclays, ca. 1920s, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida.



Author's Note: If readers haven't figured it out yet, each week's note is tied to a date in Florida history that falls in that week. This week is an exception because we had two very significant dates from the first week in May: the John Gorrie story and the first Florida Folk Festival. So this week we talk about the Florida Folk Festival.

On May 8, 1953 the All Florida Folk Festival opened at the Stephen Foster Memorial Grounds in White Springs. The program was sponsored by the All Florida Folk Festival Association, the Stephen Foster Memorial Commission and the Florida Federation of Music Clubs. The commission was established in 1939 to develop a memorial to Stephen Foster. The Stephen Foster Memorial Grounds were opened in 1950 along with the Stephen Foster Museum at what is today Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.

Sarah Gertrude Knott produced the All Florida Folk Festival in 1953 and 1954. She was the founder and director of the National Folk Festival which began in 1934 in St. Louis, Missouri. By 1953, Sara Knott was the acknowledged authority on the development of folk festivals. The purpose of these festivals was to present and celebrate America's diverse heritage. Different ethnic and racial groups performed on one stage or event, which was unheard of in other American performance venues at the time.

The program for the 1953 festival summed this up: “Until recent years newer American citizens were encouraged to cast aside old homeland cultures and customs and become 100 percent Americans. Now, however, it is generally recognized that it is highly important for us to cherish and keep flourishing all the heritages of our people of diverse background to give us better understanding of our own neighbors as well as more genuine appreciation of the people of the world to whom we have suddenly become neighbors."

The first morning of the festival featured a conference which included panel discussions on various folklore topics including "What is Folklore?" lead by Edwin C. Kirkland, a folklore professor at the University of Florida.

The three-day run opened each day with a Town Crier and dancing by Seminole Indians. The Bud Taylor Dancers from Steinhatchee presented American Square Dances. Ballads collected in Folk Songs of Florida, by Alton C. Morris of the University of Florida were performed by various presenters. African American folk tales were told by Annie Tomlin of White Springs. Minorcans from St. Augustine presented Eastern traditions and a Spanish dance group from Tampa's Ybor City preformed traditional Spanish dances. The Suwannee River Playboys, Jamboree played fiddle and marimba tunes. A group from Masaryktown did Czechoslovakian dances. African American turpentine songs were performed by Charlie Tate and family from White Springs. Dr. A. M Sorensen and Freida Carter, New Port Richey, performed Scandinavian dances and music. Jewish songs were presented by the Jewish Center of Jacksonville while Mrs. Sidney Goodwin and her daughter Jennene performed Danish religious folk songs.

This festival continues today as the longest running state folk festival in America. Visit and enjoy the 2013 Florida Folk Festival at White Springs, May 24-26, 2013.

Bette Manucy, St. Augustine, Performs Traditional Dance at 1953 Festival, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Bette Manucy, St. Augustine, Performs Traditional Dance at 1953 Festival, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Seminoles Billy Osceola, Billy Bowlegs III and Creek Indain Fred Barber at 1954 Festival ; courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Seminoles Billy Osceola, Billy Bowlegs III and Creek Indain Fred Barber at 1954 Festival (Listen to the 1954 festival); courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


Go to the beach today and you will find people from all walks of life and ethnic origins. Blacks and whites share the same beach and parks. Not so in our recent past. During the 1920s, African Americans were generally not welcomed to mix with white beach goers. African Americans in Broward County in the 1920s used various segregated beaches for recreation. In 1927 the Fort Lauderdale Daily News noted that one of the community's major concerns was a place for African Americans to go to the beach. The city subsequently ordered that they be confined to the uninhabited beaches north of the city limits, in an area now known as the Galt Ocean Mile. Over the next few decades, as development expanded, African Americans shifted to visiting different remote beaches.

On May 14, 1946 the Negro Professional and Business Men's League, Inc. appeared before the Broward County Commission with a petition requesting "a public bathing beach for colored people in Broward County." A committee was appointed to study the situation, which was still working on the issue a year later. In 1949 the City of Ft. Lauderdale commission again tried to address the need for a county-owned "colored beach." The county commission again organized a committee to look into the matter with no result. In 1952 the Fort Lauderdale Hotel Association appeared before the county commission to support the long running campaign of the African American community to secure a dedicated beach for recreation.

In 1954, the Broward Public Recreation Association purchased property known as the Kline Tract, located south of the channel entering Port Everglades. In September the association deeded the property to the county as a beach "primarily for our Negro residents." Unfortunately, there were no facilities and the beach had no road or bridge for access. It was not until 1956 that the county arranged for a glass bottom boat ferry for beach access. William G. Crawford, Jr., wrote in his history of the county's "colored beach" that Clarence Glasco, Jr., an African American life guard at the beach, reported that "the greatest usage was on Thursdays and Sundays" due primarily to the schedule of [black] working hours during the winter season. Still, there were no tables, no rest rooms, no shelter, no water and no road access.

In July and August 1961, African Americans; lead by Eula Johnson, president of the local NAACP and Dr. Von Mizell, who had spearheaded the petition to secure beach access for African Americans in the 1940s; conducted wade-ins on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Legal wrangling, resulting in a lawsuit filed against the NAACP to force the wade-ins to stop, extended into the next year. The county lost the suit and the beaches were soon desegregated.

In 1965, a road was finally completed to the colored beach which eventually became known as Broward Beach. In 1973, the Florida Park Service acquired the beach and it later became known as John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. Ironically, Lloyd was the Broward County Attorney during the years that the "colored beach" was acquired and was instrumental in its purchase.

African Americans at Broward's Colored Beach, from Separated Waters, an exhibit developed by the Old Dillard Museum

African Americans at Broward's Colored Beach, from Separated Waters, an exhibit developed by the Old Dillard Museum

Wade in on Fort Lauderdale Beach, from Separated Waters, an exhibit developed by the Old Dillard Museum

Wade in on Fort Lauderdale Beach, from Separated Waters, an exhibit developed by the Old Dillard Museum


On May 6, 1851 the United States Patent Office issued a patent to one John M. Gorrie of New Orleans, Louisiana for an "improved process for the artificial production of ice." The patent was pre-dated to August 22, 1850. This granting of this patent was a ground breaking event that eventually made living in sub-tropical places like Florida more feasible because of the advent of air conditioning, which would develop from the processes implemented in the first patented steam powered ice machine.

It is puzzling why Dr. Gorrie's home was mentioned as New Orleans. There is no record of Dr. Gorrie as a resident there. He was in fact a resident of Apalachicola, Florida where he developed his famous ice machine.

The only source of ice in the south was from the north where it was harvested from frozen lakes in large blocks and shipped to the south. Apalachicola, being the third largest cotton port on the Gulf coast at the time, was directly connected by ship to New York and other northern cities. So ice was available there. Gorrie was one of a number of physicians who subscribed to the practice of using ice to cool rooms to aid in reducing fevers. This was important in places in the south like Apalachicola where malaria and yellow fever were common. He began looking for a less expensive means to obtain ice rather than depending on the periodic shipments from the north.

Gorrie started with a well know principle for forming ice discovered by Scotsman William Cullen in 1756 which involved the use of evaporating ether in a vacuum. A 2002 article in the Smithsonian's History and Archaeology best describes the process, "When a liquid evaporates into a gas, it does so at a particular temperature, which varies depending on the amount of pressure it is under. As it evaporates, the liquid extracts heat from the surroundings, cooling them. Likewise, when a gas is compressed, it is heated, when the pressure is removed, and the gas expands, it absorbs heat, cooling its surroundings."

Gorrie wrote: "If the air were highly compressed, it would heat up by the energy of compression. If this compressed air were run through metal pipes cooled with water, and if this air cooled to the water temperature was expanded down to atmospheric pressure again, very low temperatures could be obtained, even low enough to freeze water in pans in a refrigerator box."

By around 1842 Gorrie had a working prototype and began using its product to cool the rooms of his fever patients. In March 1852, William A. Wood, as Dr. Gorrie's representative, left Apalachicola for New York where an anonymous investor was prepared to finance the manufacture of a commercial size machine. An article from the Augusta Constitutionalist in 1852 stated:"the application of the principle on a larger scale as the Invention of Dr. Gorrie is designed to do, is a startling novelty." As the machine was completed, his investor died and it was auctioned off. It still existed in New York at the time of Gorrie's death on June 29, 1855.

To learn about his story and visit a monument to his accomplishment visit the John Gorrie Museum State Park in Apalachicola, Fla.

Portrait of John Gorrie, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Portrait of John Gorrie, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Model of the Steam Ice Machine, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Model of the Steam Ice Machine, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


It was 4:00 a.m. and John James Audubon could not sleep. He was consumed with getting out on the water and searching for birds. A torrential subtropical rain fell the morning of April 28, 1832 as he was suspended in a hammock on the veranda of a house on Indian Key. The key is now Indian Key Historic State Park located in the middle of the Florida Keys. The key was the first county seat of Dade County and owned by John Housman who operated a salvage business.

That morning, Audubon roused his companions and was on the water in search of birds by 6:00 a.m. Audubon wrote: "I was determined to not lose a day, the guns were mustered, we made our way to the boats, and pushed off through a gentle shower in quest of unknown birds." Not long after leaving the dock, the party saw Terns on a sand bar. Audubon described his method of catching specimens to use as models for his illustrations of American birds: "The birds were not shy, so then we obtained the opportunity of firing two guns at them, when we leaped out, and on wading to the shore picked up thirty-eight Roseate Terns and several of another species." As disturbing as it is to us today, it is a fact that Audubon shot large numbers of birds in his effort to collect specimens to examine, describe and paint. He gave many accounts of his use of firearms and even small cannons to obtain birds. This was his first encounter with the Roseate Tern which he would later paint that day. Two days before, he obtained specimens of the Florida Cormorant in much the same way.

Audubon arrived at Indian Key aboard the U.S. Revenue Cutter Marion on April 25. He began his Florida tour in late 1831 when he arrived in St. Augustine. He spent six months along the St. Johns River and the east coast of Florida. Going to Charleston, South Carolina, he secured passage on the Marion and sailed on April 19, 1832 to Indian Key. He remained in the keys until May 10.

Audubon tells of his first view of the Florida Keys: "Our vessel once over the coral reef that every where stretches along the shore like a great wall, reared by an army of giants, we found ourselves in safe anchoring ground … With what delightful feelings did we gaze on the objects around us!- the gorgeous flowers, the singular and beautiful plants, the luxuriant trees. … The birds which we saw were almost all new to us; their lovely forms appeared to be arrayed in more brilliant apparel than I had ever before seen …. "

During Audubon's six months in Florida he documented 52 birds new to him. These creatures and others would be featured in his third volume of "The Birds of America." Perhaps just as important was the descriptions he gave of Florida in his letters, journals and other writings. Through these we have obtained important insights into the Florida of the 1830s.

Roseate Tern, courtesy of

Roseate Tern, courtesy of

John James Audubon, Wikipedia

John James Audubon, Wikipedia


Edgar A. Mearns reported that on April 23, 1901, he collected the male specimen of a small sparrow, 132 mm long, on the Kissimmee Prairie about seven miles east of Alligator Bluff. He described the bird: "Similar to Coturniculus savannarum passerinus (Wilson), but smaller, with larger bill, longer tarsus, and much darker coloration above, paler below; chestnut of upper surfaces much reduced in amount, and replaced by black; lateral dark areas of crown almost solid black; spotting of nape and scapulars almost black; interscapular region much blacker than in Coturniculus savannarum passerinus." The collection of this bird was on what is today Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.

The little bird that Mearns collected and identified was designated a new sub-species, Coturniculus savannarum floridanus, or more commonly known as the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. He noted that the range of the sparrow was mostly limited to the Kissimmee Valley and particularly numerous on the Kissimmee Prairie. Today the bird is listed as federally endangered, largely because its range is limited to a rare habitat known as dry prairie and due mainly to the severe loss of that habitat in the area. It is a short-lived bird that faces many challenges and survives today in three isolated locations all with declining populations.

Mearns was a surgeon and major in the United State Army. He became interested in birds at an early age, writing down notes on birds at age 10, collecting birds at 16 and publishing his first paper when he was 22. In 1883, he helped organize the American Ornithologists' Union and received his commission in the United States Army in December of that year. From his first deployment to Fort Verde, Arizona and every other assignment, he would spend his leisure time collecting and recording information about the plants and animals of the area. An example of his penchant for looking at his assignments as an opportunity to explore new lands he wrote of a chance to accompany the exchange of two cavalry regiments between Arizona and Texas: "I was given the first choice to go on this expedition, and gladly accepted for the sake of the information which I expect to acquire of the fauna and flora of the southern part of Arizona and New Mexico." Using his assignments along with his travels during time off, it is estimated that he recorded more than 60,000 measurements of birds alone in his many field catalogs.

Florida became a focus of his studies while visiting the state for health reasons. At the end of 1900, he was granted several months of sick leave during which he visited Florida. It was during his stay in camp in the Kissimmee prairie region that he discovered the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. His work was so well known that he was assigned to active duty to accompany President Theodore Roosevelt on his 1908 African safari. Mearns passed away in 1916, leaving a huge scientific legacy. He authored about 125 articles and manuscripts and had more than 50 new species named for him and three genera. Most important to us was the identification of that little bird, the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.

Edgar A. Mearns, from The AUK

Edgar A. Mearns, from The AUK

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, from the Florida Park Service Files

Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, from the Florida Park Service Files


"We have in our sanctum an earthen bowl that was dug from the mounds on Hontoon Island in Lake Beresford. The vessel measures 34 inches in circumference and is 6 inches deep. It was found about three feet below the surface, surrounded by small shells." This account appeared as a reprint from the DeLand Echo in the Florida Times Union on April 5, 1884. This discovery was one of many that have been made over 150 years in what today is Hontoon Island State Park. The first account of mounds on the island appears to have been by William Bartram who possibly visited the island in 1774 during a visit to nearby Beresford Plantation.

In the 1860s Jefferies Wyman, who was later the first director of the Peabody Museum in Philadelphia, visited Hontoon Island. Wyman spent the winter in Florida during that decade visiting various mounds along the St. Johns River, including Hontoon. Wyman provides an extensive description of the resources on the island and the river in his account in Fresh Water Shell Mounds of the St. Johns River, Florida (1875). One of his descriptions is as follows: "Of all the mounds we have examined none have yielded more abundant fragments of earthen vessels and bones of animals than the one on the left bank described above. The front washed by the river gives a large surface for inspection, much larger than could be had from mere excavation. The pick can be struck into but few portions of this front without turning out either a bone, a piece of charcoal, or a fragment of pottery, and it is a matter of indifference whether the uppermost or lowermost parts are examined." C.B. Moore, (see note from Week of March 18) also visited this place but was not allowed to conduct any excavations, but probably made surface collections.

An important find that is associated with Hontoon Island was a large owl totem recovered from the St. Johns River near the island by Victor Roepke in June 1955. It was the largest wooden Native American artifact recovered in Florida at the time. Two additional carvings were recovered from the river near the island in 1977, a pelican and otter.

These discoveries lead to a seven expeditions in the 1980s under the direction of Dr. Barbara Purdy of the University of Florida. Her team's work demonstrated more than ever that wet sites have the potential of yielding important organic evidence, besides bone and pottery, of those who lived in Florida before Europeans arrived.

Starting in 2003, Dr. Ken Sassaman of the University of Florida led several field schools on the island to; among other things; obtain a complete topographic map of the island. The work in part attempted to tie locations of the mounds and features described by Wyman to accurate locations. The project also established that the island is ringed on all sides by manmade material.

Hontoon Island State Park has contributed much information about the lives of Native Americans in Florida, including fine examples of their art and culture. Visit the parks visitor center to learn more about this rich archaeological site.

Mound on Hontoon Island being excavated in 1893, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Mound on Hontoon Island being excavated in 1893, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Owl Totem recovered in 1955 near Hontoon Island, courtesy of Florida Anthropologist

Owl Totem recovered in 1955 near Hontoon Island, courtesy of Florida Anthropologist


Those growing up on Walt Disney and John Wayne movies have vivid memories of the log frontier fort with the army inside under attack by whooping Indians. While most movies are fiction, the reality of military life during an Indian war is one place where fiction meets life. Fort Foster was a log frontier fort constructed in December 1836 as a supply depot for army forces trying to force removal of Seminole Indians to the West. It also defended a key bridge over the Hillsborough River that was on the Fort King (present day Ocala) road connecting Fort Brooke (present day Tampa). A reconstruction of this fort is open to the public at Hillsborough River State Park.

During the reconstruction of the fort, there were discussions about what it looked like. Contemporary sketches from the period indicated that at least some of the forts in the Florida war resembled the forts seen in western movies with palisades of spiked, upright logs with blockhouses either on all four corners or on two opposite corners. Eventual archaeology and a map of the fort from 1836 verified that indeed the fort was similar to those “movie” forts.

On March 24, 1837 Brevet Major Richard Augustus Zantzinger of the 2nd Artillery Regiment arrived at Fort Foster to relieve the command of navy Lieutenant Thomas L. Leib. Lieb had arrived at Fort Foster in early January 1837 with a detachment of sailors and marines to relieve a previous command. Shortly after his arrival, Leib’s command came under attack. Leib wrote that the Seminoles had “fired into the fort” and “The moment they fired, they yelled and departed.” Later, Seminoles tried to burn the Hillsborough River bridge and Leib reported “The discharge of one of our field pieces, and a volley of musketry, put them to flight not however without returning the charge.” Zantzinger’s command consisted of mostly artillery personnel from the 1st and 2nd Artillery Regiment consisting of some 180 men. With this many men it was not possible to house all the troops within the fort so most were camped outside the walls in tents protected by palmetto roofs.

While Indian attack was always a threat, as with many wars, sickness was the real enemy. Beginning in April, the assistant surgeon at Fort Foster, J. H. Baldwin reported that “the number taken sick has been much increased. This is not surprising when we consider the number of causes conspiring to render this post unhealthy. In addition to . . . the river we are surrounded by marshes, which when exposed to the sun, must be a fruitful source of miasmatic inhalations.“ Based on this and later reports, the men encamped outside the fort were moved to a drier area, 7.5 miles away. In early June all troops at Fort Foster were removed. It was reoccupied in October only to be abandoned forever at the end of May 1838.

Fort Apache used in the John Wayne Film of the same name and the TV show Rin Tin Tin, from

Fort Apache used in the John Wayne Film of the same name and the TV show Rin Tin Tin, from

1836 Map of Fort Foster, from the National Archives

1836 Map of Fort Foster, from the National Archives

Present DayFort Foster

Present day Fort Foster

Word of the day: Miasmatic: (mahy-az-mat-ik) - A poisonous atmosphere formerly thought to rise from swamps and putrid matter and cause disease.


On March 18, 1903, Archaeologist Clarence B. Moore was in the middle of the first of three field seasons excavating the mounds at Crystal River Archaeological State Park. Moore arrived in the area on or about March 11 on his steamer Gopher to begin mapping and excavation of a mound and other sites located in what is now a National Historic Landmark. Moore had been working his way down the upper west coast of Florida since January of that year visiting a number of reported Native American archaeological sites.

Moore was not a formally trained archaeologist, but made significant contributions to the knowledge of archaeological sites in the southeastern United States. After retiring from his family business at age 47, he devoted the next 25 years to his study of southeastern archaeological sites. He built an 85' stern wheeled steamboat named Gopher in Jacksonville in 1895. It was his primary method of reaching the sites. He is acknowledged as a significant and respected amateur archaeologist. He kept detailed notes and was a prolific writer of articles about what he found during his travels. Most of notes are still available today.

Early 20th century archaeology was certainly not as advanced and sophisticated as today's profession. Moore relied on reports from locals about possible mounds. He describes locating the Crystal River complex by seeing "a great, symmetrical shell heap" on the left side of the river as you went upstream. North and east of this shell mound was a large sand mound approximately 70 feet by 10 feet 8 inches. Moore describes the method he used in excavating this mound: "Eighteen men, with four men to supervise, dug seven days, demolishing the entire mound and going through much of the elevated ground surrounding it." Using this method, Moore located about 225 burials along with many artifacts including some with very unusual decoration.

Moore returned two more seasons to Crystal River in 1906 and 1918. Moore hired local labor to do the physical work and it was not always easy to find help. On Jan. 25, 1906 he wrote in his journal "Reached Crystal River this evening from the north and went aboard Gopher which lay a short distant below the town. . . . Spent all day at anchor near Crystal River having decided it was impossible to secure labor for the mound on a day when the circus was in town." During the second year his crew excavated the remaining portions of the sand mound, locating even more burials and artifacts.

The Crystal River complex was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. In spite of Moore's report that he demolished the main mound, many important features remain to this day, preserved as one of Florida's premier and most famous archaeological treasures.

March is Florida Archaeology Month. Floridians are encouraged to learn more about archaeology and Florida's rich cultural history.

On Friday, March 22, at 8 p.m., visitors have the opportunity to see the mounds at Crystal River Archaeological State Park in a different light. Moon Over the Mounds features a guided walk on a .75-mile paved side and short grassy trail with an archaeologist or volunteer. Free but donations are welcomed by the Friends of Crystal River State Parks.

C. B. Moore, courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network

C. B. Moore, courtesy of Florida Public Archaeology Network

Moore's Map of Crystal River Site, from The Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

Moore's Map of Crystal River Site, from The Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia


On March 12, 1909 the steamer Frances lost power off Flagler Beach due to a line fouled in her propeller. The line was removed and the Frances continued her trip. The next day a gas launch was disabled in the same area and towed to Ormond Beach. Edwin A. Lapp was the man who provided assistance to both of these vessels. He was the keeper of the Bulow House of Refuge, a unit of the United State Lifesaving Service (USLSS). Ten houses of refuge were built in Florida between 1875 and 1886. They stretched from Biscayne Bay on the south to the Bulow House of Refuge on the north. The site of Bulow is located on the beach at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach.

The houses of refuges were unique to Florida. The USLSS operated lifesaving stations and lifeboat stations with crewed boats dedicated to actively assist with rescuing crews and passengers from shipwrecks along the American coastline. The houses of refuge were intended to be places of shelter for victims along the Florida coast. In 1886 the USLSS published "Instructions to Mariners in Case of Shipwreck" which included the following description of the facilities: "Houses of refuge are supplied with boats , provisions and restoratives, but not manned by crews; a keeper, however, resides in each throughout the year, who after every storm is required to make extended excursions along the coast with a view of ascertaining, if any, shipwreck has occurred and finding and succoring any persons that have been cast ashore."

Bulow House of Refuge was constructed in 1884 and was known as Smith's Creek House of Refuge until about 1903 when the name was changed to Bulow House of Refuge. Lapp was the second keeper; its first keeper was William Wallace. Lapp's and the other keepers' families lived in the house and were prepared with food and other necessities for up to 25 stranded survivors of shipwrecks or to provide aid to vessels and their occupants in other ways.

Some examples of assistance provided at Bulow can be gleaned from reports from the keeper to the USLSS. "A man lost his way, provided food and shelter." "Gas launch Dart, engine was disabled, towed Dart to Daytona." " Sloop, no name, owner ran her ashore ½ mile S of station during night because of heavy and dangerous seas. Upon reaching her found one man seriously ill w/fever and took him to station where he remained (for nearly a month). Keeper assisted in launching the sloop which proceeded to Indian River."

In the late nineteenth century the coast of Florida was sparsely populated and there were no coastal roads below Daytona. If you were wrecked or disabled along the coast you were on your own. The Houses of Refuges, including Bulow, were an oasis in the wilderness where stranded travelers could get shelter until they were deactivated in 1915.

Bulow House of Refuge as a US Coast Guard Station after 1924, from Florida Park Service Files

Bulow House of Refuge as a US Coast Guard Station after 1924, from Florida Park Service Files

Portion of a 1905 Nautical Chart indicating the location of the House of Refuge, courtesy of the US Office of Coast Survey, Historical Map and Chart Collection

Portion of a 1905 Nautical Chart indicating the location of the House of Refuge, courtesy of the US Office of Coast Survey, Historical Map and Chart Collection


It was chilly and foggy on the morning of March 2, 1865 at the Confederate defenses at St. Marks where a small unit of three soldiers was stationed. The old Spanish fort, now San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, was awaiting an expected invasion by Union troops. To the southwest was the assault fleet including the naval steamers Mahaska, Honduras, Magnolia, Stars and Stripes, Spirea and Fort Henry and the schooners O. H. Lee, Matthew Vassar and Two Sisters near the Ochlocknee River Buoy. The fleet was commanded by Lieutenant Commander William Gibson. Aboard the USS Magnolia and USS Honduras were the 99th U. S. Colored Infantry, units of the Second U.S. Colored Infantry and units of the Second Florida Cavlary (dismounted). Four days later these troops would engage Confederate forces, including cadets from the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) at the Battle of Natural Bridge, reenacted every March at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park.

The Magnolia had departed Key West carrying the 99th on Feb. 22 and stopped at Cedar Key to take on the Second U.S. Colored Troops and the Second Florida Calvary units. The Honduras picked up other units of the 2nd US Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, near present day Fort Myers. The plan was to land the troops near the St. Marks lighthouse on March 4 and march them to Newport to cross the St. Marks River. On March 3 the fog lifted and the invasion fleet weighed anchor and went to sea to avoid being detected by Confederate spotters. The ships returned after dark and attempted to cross the St. Marks bar. A gale came up, forcing the ships to remain beyond the bar. It was not until the morning of March 4 that the ships could approach the lighthouse. The Spirea and Honduras ran aground as they approached Light House Island. The troops were not unloaded until late that afternoon. Such were the difficulties of landing an invasion force during the Civil War. In addition to the troops, their artillery, horses, wagons, equipment and ambulances were also unloaded that afternoon.

The Confederates had been preparing for the attack. Shortly before the Union fleet arrived, the fort at St. Marks was fortified with guns from the Confederate gunboat Spray. The Confederate forces also sank a flat-boat to block the river below Port Leon, just south of Newport. At the time of the invasion they were also preparing pens of mortised logs filled with stone to create a channel where sharpened pine logs would be placed facing down river to prevent boats approaching the port. It appears these preparations were never completed.

This brief description provides a glimpse of the activities surrounding the arrival of the Union troops and some of the shore side preparations by the Confederate forces for the invasion. The engagement at Natural Bridge resulted in Union troops withdrawing from the field and eventually returning to garrison duty in and around Fort Taylor in Key West.

Cadets from the West Florida Seminary, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Cadets from the West Florida Seminary, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

USS Mahaska, courtesy Naval Historical Center

USS Mahaska, courtesy Naval Historical Center


On Feb. 27, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson detonated an explosive charge to initiate the construction of the Florida Cross-State Barge Canal. In his remarks Johnson said "God was good to this country. He endowed it with resources unsurpassed in their variety and their abundance. But in his wisdom the Creator left something for men to do for themselves. …Today we accept another challenge. We make use of another resource. We will construct a canal across northern Florida to shorten navigation distances between our Atlantic and our Gulf Coasts. When this canal is completed, it will spark new and permanent economic growth. It will accelerate business and industry to locate here on its banks. It will open new recreation areas."

With this explosive charge and speech, the construction of the canal was started in Florida. A short seven years later, President Richard M. Nixon ordered construction on the canal stopped in response to an outcry from environmentalists lead by Marjorie Harris Carr. They were concerned about damage to the Ocklawaha River and related environmental areas. It was not until 1991 that the project was fully de-authorized.

The idea of a canal across Florida was proposed as early as 1567 by King Philip II of Spain. The king was surely hoping to find a safer passage for his gold bearing ships than the one around Florida. A canal was also proposed in 1818 by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun again to reduce losses from shipwrecks and piracy. On March 1, 1861 the Florida Railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Key opened, creating an overland shipping route in place of a canal.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated emergency recovery funds to begin work on the canal, but in response to protests about damage to the aquifers in Florida the project was cancelled. In 1942 it was reauthorized as a national defense project, but funds were never authorized for construction.

President John F. Kennedy authorized planning for the canal to begin in 1963 resulting in the initiation of construction in 1964. The objective of the project was the same as in 1567, a route across Florida to shorten time and provide for a safer route for ships leaving the Gulf of Mexico headed to North Atlantic ports. Many regard the campaign to stop the canal in the late 1960s as the root of Florida's environmental movement.

Following de-authorization in 1991, the disposition of the land that had been acquired for the canal became a political issue in Florida. Ultimately the property became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway which is today managed by the Florida Park Service, named after a leader of the movement to stop the canal's construction.

An interesting footnote is that Florida did get a canal across the state 370 years after King Philip II proposed it when the Okeechobee Waterway was completed, creating a water route for boaters across Florida from Fort Myers to Stuart.

President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks at the ground breaking for the Florida Cross-State Barge Canal, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks at the ground breaking for the Florida Cross-State Barge Canal, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Construction Barge on the Florida Cross-State Barge Canal, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Construction Barge on the Florida Cross-State Barge Canal, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


"As we approached the battlefield, the cannonading became positively terrific, and drowned all other noises. ... After standing some time, firing away at the enemy whom we could just see between the trees, the colors advanced and the whole line followed with a cheer. At this the rebels opposite were seen to break and run." This is an account by Captain Robert Ralsten Newell of the advance of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment onto the battlefield at the Battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864. The 54th was one of three African American units that participated in the largest and most significant Civil War battle in Florida.

The Battle of Olustee was fought just west of Lake City near the railroad station of Olustee. The site is now Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park where the battle is reenacted each year (this year Feb.16 & 17). Federal troops commanded by General Truman A. Seymour met Confederate troops commanded by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan on the morning of Feb. 20. Approximately 5,000 troops were involved on each side. Seymour's troops retreated from the field in defeat after a three-hour battle.

In addition to the 54th Massachusetts, the 8th United State Colored Troops and the 35th United States Colored Troops (1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers) participated in the battle. African American soldiers were controversial on both sides during the war. Many thought them inferior and unable to hold their own in battle. The 54th, which was the first African American regiment organized in the North, proved this idea to be incorrect. During the regiment's first engagement against Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina in 1863 they lead an assault losing their commander and half their men killed, wounded or missing. They never retreated while waiting for reinforcements to arrive.

The 8th were the first African American unit in the field that day at Olustee as part of Hawley's Brigade. The 35th and 54th were held in reserve and were called in at the end of the battle to cover the retreat. A report in the Boston Journal describes the action of the African American troops: "All these troops went into the fight in fine style. The 54th Massachusetts sustained the reputation they earned at Fort Wagner, and won the commendation of all who saw their splendid behavior. They fought like tigers … and so did the 1st North Carolina … never shrinking, never cringing. The 54th Massachusetts (colored) went into the fight with a cheer. They fought gallantly and lost heavily, all the accounts we have seen concur in giving the praise only due to brave and courageous troops to the Negro soldiers." A report praises the African Americans at Olustee in the Nashville Daily Union: "They went up at the double-quick when our advance was nearly destroyed and saved the left from being turned, in which case the whole force would have been annihilated."

The African Americans were not the only heroic soldiers in the battle, but their role here is a very important example of freed men battling to free their brethren from slavery. There were nearly 2,000 casualties in the battle including 296 killed between the two sides. In February we celebrate the many contributions of African Americans in our history and the many soldiers, white and black, who fought that day at Olustee, especially those who suffered or died.

Members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, taken from the Website of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company A, reactivated in 2008 as the Massachusetts National Guard's ceremonial unit

Members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, taken from the Website of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company A, reactivated in 2008 as the Massachusetts National Guard's ceremonial unit

An 1894 Lithograph Depicting the African American troops at the Battle of Olustee, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

An 1894 Lithograph Depicting the African American troops at the Battle of Olustee, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


An article in the February 16, 1906 Ocala Star Banner, reported that work would soon begin on a construction camp at Bahia Honda, in the vicinity of what is now Bahia Honda State Park, for Flagler's Oversea Railroad. A reporter, N. B. Clausen, from the Philadelphia Inquirer toured these camps in the winter of 1906 and gives us some insight into the workers and their living conditions.

Twelve construction camps were in operation between Key Largo and Key West. Approximately 3,000 workers were housed at the camps including 750 African Americans. The camps were segregated as was the work. The African American workers were tasked mostly with clearing vegetation and right of way while the white workers did the concrete and rail work. The only outside contact was by company boats that transported workers to and from Miami and provided supplies. Clausen stated, "They are cut off from civilization even more so than a mining camp in the Black Hills of Dakota fifty years ago." Pay averaged $14.00 per month after deductions for food and incidentals. Workers received an advance for the cost of transportation to Jacksonville where they were transported on the Florida East Coast Railroad's trains to Miami.

Camp number 8 was located on Windley Key near what is now Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. The workers were housed in tents and were reported to be in good spirits. Many of the workers reported that after nine weeks they only had saved enough to get back home. The camps were supposed to be free of liquor. However, entrepreneurs brought boats to nearby keys and sold whiskey for a reported $5.00 per quart. The consumption of alcohol along with gambling resulted in many of the men not saving much of their wages.

Clausen visited Camp No. 9 on Indian Key which is now Indian Key Historic State Park. There were 220 men housed there. The principal complaint of the workers was about the food. Clausen described the food as "average construction camp 'grub.'" The typical meal consisted of lima beans and pork, Irish potatoes, bread, coffee and apple sauce. Supply boats arrived with food supplies about three times a week and brought fresh meat. Other meals included sausage, tripe, cabbage and porridge.

Both the workers and management reported that many men recruited from up north came hoping for a nice warm winter, only to find the working conditions very hard. There were frequent outbreaks of typhoid fever. One veteran worker stated: "The men that went back home did not come down here to work; they wanted to get out of the cold weather. " Of 5,000 workers recruited, only about 3,500 ever made it to the camps and many left soon after. Many refused to board the trains once they got to Jacksonville. It was the hard work of both white and African American men who made the railroad and ultimately the highway to Key West a reality.

Camp No. 9, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Camp No. 9, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Camp No. 8 at Windley Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Camp No. 8 at Windley Key, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


An 1882 letter to the editor of the Key West Democrat protesting an article implying that a recent freeze had killed the vegetable crop noted that a freeze on Feb. 6, 1882 had done only "slight" damage in a few locations. The author went on to describe the Manatee County area as "the garden spot of Florida." Following the Civil War, central and southern Florida were marketed to northerners as places where winter vegetables could be raised. The expansions of the railroads and the manufacture of ice made it possible to ship produce to the north in winter and Florida was a prime target for this new industry. It is during this time that the origins of Florida's winter vegetable and fruit industry began.

In the same article, its author suggested that if you wanted to go into the vegetable cultivation business, you should go on "Cofield Plantation" were the lands are "thoroughly adapted to the culture of early vegetables." Cofield Plantation refers to the plantation originally developed by Major Robert Gamble, Jr. The remains of the plantation were acquired by George Patten in 1873 from Robert M. Davis and John C. Cofield, who had purchased the tract from Gamble in 1858. Patten then began selling small tracts of the property, hence the reference in the above article to the Cofield Plantation as a good place to go if you want to raise vegetables.

Major Gamble of Tallahassee, described in his own words, how the plantation on the Manatee River began, "In 1844 I carried ten of my negro men to the river and commenced operations . . . I found myself again living on the frontier there being no white face between me and the Everglades . . . Upon my arrival I found the dense hammock tenanted by intelligent men nearly all mechanics of great skill . . . the nearest town, a mere village, was Tampa some forty miles to the north."

Between 1844 and 1858, when he sold the property, Gamble developed the plantation into a 3,300-acre sugar production facility with a large sugar mill, warehouse, saw mill and a 10-room, columned mansion. At one point, 190 slaves worked the property and lived in 57 houses. Cofield and Davis continued to operate and expand the plantation until 1862 when they were forced to leave due to the Civil War. During the war, the mill fell into disrepair, either destroyed by Union troops or local residents. Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin is thought to have used the house as a hide out from pursuing Union Troops. It is believed that he escaped to the Bahamas and eventually to England. The mansion survived the war and a devastating hurricane in 1921. The United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased and saved the mansion in 1925 and turned it over the Florida Park Service in 1949 for a state park, Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park.

Gamble Mansion Damaged in 1921 Hurricane, Florida Park Service Collection

Gamble Mansion Damaged in 1921 Hurricane, Florida Park Service Collection

Confederate Veterans Visit the Restored Gamble Mansion in 1927, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Confederate Veterans Visit the Restored Gamble Mansion in 1927, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


A little over a month after Major Francis Dade’s command was attacked by Seminole Indians (see Week of January 7), the sugar plantation known as Bulowville near today’s Ormond Beach, Florida was destroyed by Seminoles on or around January 31, 1836. The remains of the sugar mill are now Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park. Dr.  J. Rhett Motte described finding the remains of the plantation’s headquarters, “We resumed our march through heavy sands and occasional swamps . . . when the ruins of Bulow’s noble mill and mansion pointed out our resting place for the night . . . .On our left arose through the calm twilight of a summer’s eve the ruined arches and columns of the once stately sugar mill while before us lay a smoldering, ashy heap, the only vestige to show where once stood the hospitable mansion, before the dark demon of ruin commenced his riots.”

John J. Bulow inherited the plantation from his father, Charles W. Bulow in 1823. Over the next 13 years young Bulow expanded Bulowville into one of the most successful plantations in East Florida with more than 2,200 acres in cultivation with sugar and cotton, the large sugar mill and saw mill, and a nice home many times described as a mansion. Between 300 and 400 slaves worked the plantation and resided in 40 houses.

At the time of the Dade incident, bands of Seminoles were threatening attacks in many locations in Florida including along the east coast among the plantations from New Smyrna north to Fernandina.    On December 28, 1836 Major B. A. Putnam, Company A of the East Florida militia, known as the Mosquito Roarers occupied Bulowville as the unit’s headquarters from which they could defend the nearby plantations. Upon their arrival, Bulow strongly protested their occupation of his plantation. -It is believed that Bulow had good relations with the nearby Seminoles and feared the presence of the troops would trigger an attack. Putnam reported that Bulow “continued to fire upon us with a four pounder, charged with powder . . . .” A witness reported that Bulow was so rude that the “officers took possession of his house and would not admit him to their mess at his own table.”

After several engagements with increasingly larger and larger bands of Seminoles, reportedly in the hundreds, the Mosquito Roarers abandoned Bulowville, evacuating the many local residents who had sought refuge on the plantation. It was after this that the Indians attacked the defenseless property and destroyed Bulow’s 13 years of work, never to be restored.

Two LSTs advance on Utah Beach carrying 4th Infantry on D-Day

A portion of Bulow Sugar Mill Ruins shortly after becoming a state park-1954 courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Balloon over Carrabelle

Major Benjamin A. Putnam, Commander of the Mosquito Roarers, courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


A headline in the New York City newspaper The Sun on Jan. 23, 1912 read "Key West Rejoices in Honor of H.M. Flagler-Great Celebration Marks the Arrival of First Trains on Oversea Railroad." This referred to the arrival on Jan. 22, 1912, of the first ever train to Key West. An estimated 10,000 people greeted the train carrying Henry M. Flagler, scion of the Florida East Coast Railroad and a hotel empire, Florida's Governor Albert W. Gilchrist and many of Flagler's friends and business associates.

Flagler first conceived of the 120-mile railroad in 1899. It took 12 years, three major hurricanes and the lives of many workers to achieve the wonder of Flagler's "Oversea Railroad." A 1906 hurricane with reported 125 mile per hour winds washed a houseboat with more than300 men onto the reef. Men from the boat washed up on the shores of Cuba days later. Bridges under construction and equipment were swept away like toys. In spite of these setbacks, Flagler's dream came true on that day in January 1912.

The celebration lasted two weeks. Two additional trains arrived shortly after the first. The second train carried a Congressional delegation and foreign dignitaries. A third train brought the public who had purchased tickets to be among the first to arrive by train in Key West. There were speeches, dinners, balls, gaily decorated homes and businesses throughout Key West.

The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage State Trail today crosses the concrete bridges built for the railroad; Bahia Honda State Park has a segment of the Bahia Honda Bridge accessible to the public; and Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park is the location of a quarry fossilized reef material used to help construct the engineering marvel.

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 at 11 a.m., staff and living historians at Bahia Honda State Park will reenact the excitement of the first train to Key West. Visitors will gather on the Gulf side of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge and "meet" Henry Flagler and other travelers to learn about this era.

Henry Flagler's Train Arrives in Key West, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Henry Flagler's Train Arrives in Key West, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Bahia Honda Railroad Trestle Under Construction, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida

Bahia Honda Railroad Trestle Under Construction, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida


On Jan. 16, 1943 the 3rd Engineer Amphibious Brigade completed training in combat boat and support operations at Camp Gordon Johnson near Carrabelle, Florida. The gulf beach at Bald Point State Park was designated as one of the areas (the others were on Dog Island and at Carrabelle Beach) where landings were practiced for eventual amphibious assaults during the latter part of World War II. The 3rd Brigade was assigned to the camp to provide boat transport and logistics support for the combat troops being trained for amphibious assaults. After training operations ceased in late 1943, the brigade was reassigned to the Southwest Pacific where a number of its divisions saw action.

During World War II, Florida was one of the major centers for troop training for the American military with 172 separate military installations in the state. Many places that would eventually become state parks were used for training and/or defensive operations and are too numerous to name in this short essay. For example, part of the land were Jonathan Dickinson State Park is located was known as Camp Murphy and was a top secret radar training facility. Nearby Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park was used as a practice bombing range.

The objective of the training at Camp Gordon Johnson was to provide an opportunity to mount full scale amphibious landings complete with all the support that would be needed for those assaults. In earlier training in other parts of the country, the training areas were so small that only parts of an invasion force could train at one time which did not allow commanders to completely understand the logistical problems inherent in these complicated actions. During those exercises, today's beautiful, quiet beach at Bald Point resembled a true battlefield with explosions, obstacles to interfere with the landing craft, barrage balloons floating above, hundreds if not thousands of troops firing rifles and running and crawling across the beach as landing craft circled offshore waiting for their turn to unload their human cargo. The camp operated from Oct. 15, 1942 through late 1943.

Many of the units that trained at Camp Gordon Johnson later saw action. The 38th Infantry Division went ashore at Normandy on July 22, 1944. The 28th Infantry Division saw combat throughout the Philippines. The 4th Infantry Division trained at the camp in September 1943 and would later spearhead the Normandy Invasion on Utah Beach. This division sustained more than 22,000 combat casualties on its march through Europe and had four members earn the Congressional Medal of Honor including its assistant division commander Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. It is certainly possible that some of those men who went ashore and lost their lives on D-Day, crawled and walked on the beach at what is today Bald Point State Park, thus forever linking that land to one of the most pivotal events in world history.

Two LSTs advance on Utah Beach carrying 4th Infantry on D-Day

Two LSTs advance on Utah Beach carrying 4th Infantry on D-Day.

Balloon over Carrabelle

Balloon over Carrabelle.


On Jan. 11, 1839, after 41 days, 56 delegates meeting in convention approved Florida's first constitution. The convention met in St. Joseph in western Florida, which was founded in 1835 and by 1837 had become the most populous town in the state with 6,000 inhabitants. As with many political gatherings, the delegates had several contentious issues. Delegates from east Florida, west Florida and middle Florida came with varying views including whether Florida should pursue statehood or become two states. They were also concerned about two controversial issues: slavery and state support of banks. The presiding officer, East Florida Superior Court Judge Robert Raymond Reid, remarked "that each of us had… become imbued with and attached to his own views; that some of us had pledged ourselves to particular doctrines before the people; that there were sectional interests, and even personal feelings to perplex and annoy us." Another writer said that during the convention "Fierce and angry discussions, stormy and turbulent debates arose…" In the end, compromise, the leadership of Reid and level heads prevailed. Florida got its constitution.

The United States Congress ratified the new constitution in 1845 and Florida became a state. By that time, the booming town of St. Joseph had been destroyed and abandoned by a yellow fever epidemic and a hurricane, not to be resettled until the early 20th Century as Port St. Joe. On Jan. 11, 1923, a monument was dedicated in the town in honor of the delegates. The story of St. Joseph and the First Constitution Convention is told at the Constitution Convention Museum State Park.

First Page of a copy of the Original Constitution, the signed original being lost

First Page of a copy of the Original Constitution, the signed original being lost

Robert Raymond Reid served a chairman of the convention

Robert Raymond Reid served a chairman of the convention.


On Jan. 1, 1836, the last of three wounded American soldiers staggered into Fort Brooke in Tampa. These men were privates John Thomas, Ransom Clarke and Joseph Sprague, who were the only survivors of 102 officers and men under the command of Major Francis L. Dade who were attacked by Indians on the Fort King Road north of Fort Brook on December 28, 1835. Clarke and Sprague would relate the story of the attack of more than100 Indians and African Americans just north of the Withlacoochee River. These Indians and allied African Americans, led by Chief Micanopy, were part of a faction of Florida Indians who had decided to resist their removal from Florida to Arkansas and eventually Oklahoma. This event was the first battle of the Second Seminole Indian War which would last until 1842 and be one of the costliest in American history. It is also the most notable and storied military action in Florida history.

This battle remained fixed on the public's conscience into the 20th Century when in 1921 the Florida legislature authorized the purchase of the battlefield as a memorial to Dade and those who were killed during the battle. In 1922, a memorial was erected at the park that is today Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. Between 1922 and 1949 the park was developed and managed through the Dade Battlefield Commission and in 1949 became a state park. On January 5 and 6, the 33rd reenactment of this famous battle will be held at the park.

Artist rendition of the battle, Do Your Best, by Jackson Walker

Do Your Best, a painting by Jackson Walker

A monument built at the site in 1922

This monument was erected at the park in 1922. It no longer exists.