Save the Capitol!

With its candy-striped awnings and ornate art glass dome, Florida’s old capitol is an architectural reflection of a bygone era, as well as an excellent example of a grassroots historic preservation effort.  For over a century, the building served elements of all three branches of government. Over time, however, Florida outgrew its capitol, and in 1977 a new twenty-two story building was erected just behind it.  The old capitol building was first slated for demolition, but when Tallahassee locals discovered the state’s intent to raze one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board quickly mobilized a resistance, urging Floridians to preserve their history and “Save the Capitol!”

View of the east front of new Capitol with old capitol in front - Tallahassee, Florida

A mid to late 1970s view of the east front of new capitol with old capitol in front, just as those engaged in the preservation battle would have seen it (1975-1979).

Perhaps some 1970s legislators were blind to the important symbol of a democratic state government, but from 1839 until 1977, the old capitol bore witness to numerous important milestones in Florida’s history. Two years after establishing  Tallahassee as the capital of the sparsely populated Florida territory in 1824, three log cabins were built for conducting government business.  But by the following decade, the territory seemed destined for statehood, and  Governor Richard Keith Call asked the legislature for a larger space in 1839. The new brick and mortar statehouse proved a worthwhile investment when it was completed in 1845.  In that same year, Florida became the twenty-seventh state to join the Union and  first elected governor, William Dunn Moseley, was sworn into office beneath the new capitol’s east portico, commencing the state’s history.

Florida's Capitol before addition of dome - Tallahassee, Florida (circa 1870s).

Though taken sometime in the 1870s, the above photograph captures the old Capitol’s original 1845 appearance, before the addition of a small cupola in 1891 and then the familiar dome in 1902 (circa 1870s).

In an effort to accommodate a growing state government, Florida’s capitol underwent a series of structural changes. However,  its current appearance was restored to honor the 1902 work of Frank Pierce Milburn, who added a stately copper dome.

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after 1902 - Tallahassee, Florida

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after Milburn’s 1902 additions – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1902 and 1922).

Further renovations occurred in 1923, 1936, and 1947. Despite physical alterations, the capitol remained a firm symbol of democracy as Florida’s political landscape continued to evolve into the twentieth century.

Replica of Liberty Bell displayed during Savings Bond drive in June 1950.

A replica of the Liberty Bell displayed during a savings bond drive at the old capitol highlights the structure as a physical centerpiece of government action in Florida (June 1950).

However, by the early 1970s it was clear that Florida government had outgrown its Tallahassee headquarters.  Thus, the 1972 Legislature appropriated funds for a new, mammoth capitol complex, intending to destroy the old capitol after finishing the project. When it finally opened in 1977, a faction of politicians, including Governor Reubin Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker, remained in favor of the original demolition plan, but an unexpected backlash would challenge the proposed action.

Representative Bill Nelson with a toy bulldozer - Tallahassee, Florida (18 May 1977)

Nelson to the rescue! Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, throws his body in front of the “first” bulldozer to show up at the old capitol. Nelson made the statement earlier in the session that efforts to save the old capitol had so frustrated him that he felt like he would throw his body in front of the first bulldozer that showed up to begin to raze the historic structure. Nelson was true to his word as Reps. Hill and Haben wound up a toy and started it down the aisle of the house chamber (18 May 1977).

Nancy Dobson, a historian and Director of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, spearheaded the opposition, enlisting the support of Secretary of State Bruce Smathers.  Soon, legislators, academics, and the interested public began expressing their indignation over the  idea of eliminating such a significant historical landmark.  ”If the political powers within the state decide to destroy the building in which they themselves have a sentimental and historical involvement, what will be their attitude toward other preservation efforts in the state with which they may have little or no personal relationship?” Dobson questioned.

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson - Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Like many other historic preservation campaigns,  the race to save the Capitol was led primarily by female activists.  Their work culminated in an event orchestrated by Mrs. Bruce Smathers.  On March 30, 1978 “Save the Capitol Night,”  hosted guests at the site for music, tours, and an opportunity to sign a petition in favor of preservation.  Kicking off the festivities, a local folk  band performed on the steps, encouraging audiences to  ”save that grand old southern lady on the hill.”  Ultimately, the campaign was a success, and the old capitol, restored to its 1902 appearance, opened as a public museum in 1982.

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

The Myth About Dusty, Musty Archives

Have you noticed how often news articles and blog posts refer to archives as dusty, musty places filled with similarly dusty, musty collections? Here are a few quotes perpetuating the dusty, musty myth about archives:

“I lifted the lid of a sere and dusty gray box; a box unexceptional among shelf upon shelf of sere and dusty gray boxes…”

“An archivist enters, pushing a cart that bears a dozen dusty gray boxes.”

“…the search happens in finding aids, the archival stacks, and the dusty boxes.”

“When people think of archives at all, they think of mouldering files in forgotten basements…”

“Leaving Cloister of Dusty Offices, Young Archivists Meet Like Minds”

“Musty Archives Shed Light on Democracies at War”

Invoking the name of T.R. Schellenberg, a revered mid-20th century American archival theorist and writer, one archivist responded to the seemingly endless litany of dusty mustiness with this Tweet,  “Whenever you use ‘musty’ [or 'dusty'] in an article about Archives, the ghost of Schellenberg kills a kitten.” (Brad Houston, University Records Archivist, University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee, @herodotusjr)

Houston’s response, though couched in humor, affirms a truth rarely revealed in the quest for a snappy headline or catchphrase: archives and the collections they preserve are usually pretty darn clean. As these shots of our storage areas show, one would have to search long and hard to find the dust and must so ubiquitous in those articles and blog posts.

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Well-organized rows of shelves at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida's colorful past (2014).

No dust here! Only neatly labeled boxes containing original documents from Florida’s colorful past (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Another view of the stacks at the State Archives of Florida (2014).

Occasionally an archives will acquire a collection that was not stored in clean conditions and requires cleaning or rehousing. If researchers are provided access to such a collection before that work is done, they might indeed encounter some dirt or dust. Or a very small or severely understaffed and struggling archives might lack the resources to perform such work. But those are the exceptions. Far more typical are the well-maintained collections and facilities that disprove the myth of the dusty, musty archives. Come visit us – we promise you won’t get dirty!

Did you know you can search the holdings of the State Archives of Florida from your own computer anytime? Check out the Archives Catalog to find out what we have on your favorite Florida history topic.


Edmund Cottle Weeks

The nation’s existential crisis of civil war brought to the forefront many individuals who were mature, tested, and ready to act as leaders for both sides. After four years of trial by combat, many U.S. officers chose to remain and to make a life in the South. They brought to the former Confederacy a leavening of Union sentiment, Republican politics, and a strong desire to enforce the Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts which followed their victory.

Edmund Cottle Weeks, a merchant seaman and officer, U.S. Navy and Army officer, and Republican politician, was among those tasked with wrestling Florida back into the Union. His life in Florida would be clouded by a charge of murder, but also by an ascent to the pinnacle of state politics during the era known as Reconstruction.

E.C. Weeks

Born in Massachusetts in 1829 and educated at private schools in Connecticut, Weeks was a world traveler prior to his enrollment at Yale College, where he spent less than a year. He then studied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. After three years he failed to finish the course there as well.

Three years experience before the mast earned Weeks the billet of ship’s Master in the trading firm Wallace, Sherwood, and Company. In this endeavor Weeks now followed his father’s trade.

When the Civil War began Weeks enlisted and was assigned as an acting officer in the U.S. Navy. His conduct under fire earned positive mention in reports. In 1863, repairs idled his ship and brought orders to lead amphibious raiding parties in Louisiana. His transfer to the Army soon followed.

In the summer of 1864, Army officials at Key West raised a regiment of U.S. volunteer cavalry for service in Florida. Week was placed in command of the unit, however, a delay in his commissioning allowed for a period of dissent to arise in the regiment. The resulting problems culminated in a court martial for Weeks, who was charged with murdering a soldier under his command while encamped at Cedar Key. Even though the court martial brought to light charges of drunkenness against Weeks, he was eventually exonerated. The murder charge followed him for the rest of his days in Florida.

His cavalry unit, the 2nd Florida Cavalry, was brigaded with the Second Infantry Regt USCT during the events surrounding the Battle of Natural Bridge, which occurred south of Tallahassee in March 1865. This combined force attempted to take the bridge at Newport but was repulsed, which necessitated the movement to the “natural” bridge further upstream on the St. Mark’s River. The battle ended in a Confederate victory that ultimately prevented Union troops from capturing Tallahassee during the war.

After the war, Weeks returned to the vicinity of Tallahassee where his attempt to run a cotton plantation ended badly. The debt he acquired from this investment soon soured his reputation, with many locals claiming he was in default on his loans.

E.C. Weeks

Weeks operated as a Republican politician and garnered the attention of powerful Republican officials in the Reconstruction government. The struggles among and between Republicans and Democrats resulted in frequent changes in government as state officials jockeyed for position. In one battle, Governor Harrison Reed lost his Lieutenant Governor and appointed Weeks to that vacant post.

This appointment created a fire storm in the Florida Senate, and Weeks left the position but continued to be politically active. Later, he served as a Leon County commissioner and sheriff, and as a Representative in the Florida House. During this period, he unsuccessfully campaigned for Governor and U.S. Senate.

After U.S. forces supporting Reconstruction withdrew from Florida, the Republican government, and its officials, fell to the Democratic Party. The Army had provided former slaves and federal officers with protection while they exercised or enforced their newly won civil rights. These people were now exposed to the backlash created by the loss of the war and the armed occupation that followed.

In 1890, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Florida resigned in frustration, citing an inability to enforce the laws of the United States in Florida. Weeks accepted appointment to the position from President Benjamin Harrison. In that same year the widowed Weeks married a Tallahassee widow, Elisabeth Hunt Craft, and made his residence in the house now known as The Murphy House on Park Avenue in Tallahassee. This home became a refuge for freedmen and whites seeking sanctuary from gangs and mobs seeking to drive them back into subservience.

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Weeks Surveyor General of Florida. Two years later ill health forced him to resign. He died in Tallahassee on April 12, 1907.

For an archivist, it was an engrossing opportunity to become familiar with such a character from our nation’s Passion play. We are all familiar with Lincoln, Davis, Lee, and Grant as the towering figures of those years. To be responsible for the archival preservation of one man’s history, slight as it may be in terms of the written record, as he enacted his part in that epoch has been rewarding.

Weeks resurfaced at the State Archives of Florida when his descendant brought to us several of Major Weeks’ commissions as a Florida or United States official. These recently donated materials have joined State Archives Manuscript Collection M74-22, which contain boxes and volumes of official and family correspondence, and operations records, that provide some small insight into the life of a sea rover, naval/army officer, “radical” politician, law enforcement officer, and family man.

Thank You to Our Friends at the Riley House!

The African-American photo identification event, held yesterday at the State Archives, was a great success. Several folks from the community helped us identify images of African-American life in Tallahassee from the 1950s and 1960s. Special thanks to Althemese Barnes and the John G. Riley House and Museum for helping to organize this important event!

Over one hundred images were identified. For example, we learned that future NFL star and Chicago Bears legend Willie “The Wisp” Galimore (far right) appears in this photo along with three still unidentified Florida A&M football players.

Willie "The Wisp" Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

Willie “The Wisp” Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

… And this photograph of Griffin Junior High School beauty queens, including Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Founding Executive Director at the John G. Riley House & Museum.

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

New Accession Spotlight: 1926 Miami Hurricane Letter

Collections Management staff at the State Archives of Florida spends much of their time bringing new collections into the Archives and readying them for public access. Though the majority of our holdings document the activities and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government, the Archives also preserves and makes available papers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials created by private individuals and organizations.

Despite the fact that our most recent manuscript donation consists of only one item, its provides a strong first person account of significant events in Florida history. This prompted staff to quickly digitize and transcribe the item for inclusion on the Florida Memory website.

Excerpt from a letter describing the 1926 Miami Hurricane

The donation consists of a single hand-written letter describing hurricanes that hit southern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the twelve page account details Kaye’s activities both during and in the aftermath of the storms.

Excerpt from page 3: "There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall in the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside."

Excerpt from page 3: “There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall. In the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside.”

Kaye began with a brief account of the October 21st storm before plunging into the events of September 18th and the days that followed. While it is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, especially during her walk across the causeway and to Hollywood in search of “her folks.”

Do you have original materials related to significant people, places, or events in Florida history? Learn more about donating them to the State Archives of Florida.

Digitizing the Governor Milton Letterbook (Part One)

Reunited, and It Feels So Good…

On July 10, 2013, volume one of Governor John Milton’s letterbooks returned to Tallahassee. The mostly dis-bound, fire-damaged letterbook resided in Florida’s capital city on at least two separate occasions prior to this year when the Florida Historical Society lent it to the State Archives for digitization.

The State Archives holds part two of Milton’s letterbooks, which covers the period from 1863 to 1865, but this is the first time in a long time that both volumes have been in the same location. The story of how these two letterbooks were reunited in Tallahassee reveals the often circuitous route taken by historical documents, from the time of their creation until they find a permanent home.

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

Letter from John Milton to Jefferson Davis, November 1861

The most obvious distinguishing feature about volume one of Milton’s letterbook is the fire-damaged pages. The fire in question occurred at the residence of William Hall Milton, grandson of John Milton, in Marianna, Florida, in about 1912. According to W.H. Milton, the fire burned many family papers, but a tin box preserved the letterbook and a few other documents tucked safely inside.

In 1937, W.H. Milton came into contact with Daisy Parker, a student at the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (FSCW). Parker was in the process of writing a senior paper on John Milton and somehow became aware of the singed papers in Marianna.

Kathryn Abbey, a professor at FSCW, wrote to Watt Marchman, a professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, about Parker’s discovery. Marchman, a member of the Florida Historical Society (FHS), contacted W.H. Milton about adding the letterbook to their collections. Milton agreed to the proposal, and promised to have the letterbook forwarded to Jacksonville (then the home of the FHS) upon the completion of Parker’s research.

The letterbook arrived in Jacksonville on July 1, 1937. It is not known whether Parker consulted volume two of Milton’s letterbooks, which at the time resided at the State Library in Tallahassee, or if she ever submitted her senior paper.

And so it was that one Milton letterbook left Tallahassee for the second time since its creation during the early years of the Civil War.

By 1979, the FHS collection, including volume one of Milton’s letterbooks, had been transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa. Archivists overseeing the FHS collections contacted the Bureau of Archives and Records Management (BARM) in Tallahassee about exchanging copies of the letterbooks to aid researchers at both institutions. In the summer of 1979, an agreement was made and the two repositories swapped photocopies of their Milton letterbooks.

Since the exchange of photocopies in 1979, researchers at both institutions (FHS later moved to Cocoa, Florida) have enjoyed access to the complete John Milton letterbooks, though with one volume at both sites being in the form of photocopies.

Because of the fragile nature of the fire-damaged portions of the letterbook, few researchers have had access to the volume one originals. This will remain the case, but through digitization researchers can now see the originals online, burnt edges and all.

Careful high-resolution scanning of the originals will ensure the continued integrity of the documents as well as make them available online via the Florida Memory website. The digitization of this project is ongoing and should be completed in the summer of 2014.

Stay tuned for future posts on interesting finds in the charred pages of John Milton’s first letterbook…

FHS Digitization in Progress…

Each year, the Florida Memory team selects one large archival collection for digitization and addition to the website.

This year, our friends at the Florida Historical Society in Cocoa loaned us two collections from their holdings for digitization. The first is Governor John Milton’s letterbook from 1861-1863. The second collection includes correspondence and other documents related to two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call and his daughter Ellen Call Long.

We will scan the original documents, such as the one below, and make them searchable through an online database. This process will take about one year, with the collection going live in the summer of 2014.

Image from John Milton's Letterbook, 1861

Image from John Milton’s Letterbook, 1861

This series of blog posts will chronicle the digitization of these remarkable collections and highlight significant documents discovered along the way.

Stay tuned for the second installment, which examines the journey of Governor John Milton’s letterbook to Tallahassee… for the third time.

The Koreshan Unity Collection: A Final Look Back (Part 11)

In December 2011, we began a 15-month journey with the Koreshan Unity, a journey that carried vestiges of New York State’s mid-19th century “burned-over district” west to the bustling streets of late 19th century Chicago, and then south to the untamed frontier of southwest Florida at the turn of the 20th century.

The journey was guided by an extensive collection of archival records created and maintained by the Koreshan Unity for over a century; personal letters and journals, religious writings, legal and financial records, publications, and many thousands of photographs documenting the Unity’s founding and founders, their beliefs, and their dream to establish a New Jerusalem against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Koreshan Deed, 1895

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