Ochopee, Home of the Nation’s Smallest Post Office

Florida’s unique history owes some of its splendor to great people and great visions. In many cases, however, the most interesting tidbits have happened when no one was expecting it. That’s certainly the case with Ochopee, home of the smallest post office building in Florida, and most likely the smallest in the United States. The people of Ochopee hadn’t planned to have such a cramped space for handling mail. If it hadn’t been for a serious tragedy, the tiny settlement might never have had such a distinction.

Map of Southwest Florida showing Ochopee and the nearby Gulf Coast. Naples is located northwest of Ochopee along U.S. 41 (1953 map - Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

Map of Southwest Florida showing Ochopee and the nearby Gulf Coast. Naples is located northwest of Ochopee along U.S. 41 (1953 highway map – Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida).

Ochopee got its start in 1928 when the James T. Gaunt family purchased a few hundred acres in Collier County on either side of what was to become the Tamiami Trail. The Gaunts were farmers, and they intended to set up a major tomato-growing operation. Farming on the edge of the Everglades was no easy task, of course. The family and their workers lived in surplus Army tents when they first arrived, which made the heat and mosquitoes a daily torture.

A view of the terrain near Ochopee, mostly marshes with a few heads of palmetto (1942).

A view of the terrain near Ochopee, mostly marshes with a few heads of palmetto (1942).

In the first year, the Gaunts and their business partners wrestled a real settlement out of the muck. They hired a large workforce to tend and harvest their tomatoes, mostly African-Americans from Miami and Georgia, with a few local Seminole families as well. The Seminoles lived in their own chickees near the company property, while the African-Americans typically lived in houses on the site. One of the workers’ quarters was called “Boardwalk” because for much of the year the only way to get between the houses was by boardwalk. Wages ranged between $1.00 and $2.50 per day, plus free utilities and health insurance.

Seminole workers in the tomato fields of the J.T. Gaunt Company - Ochopee (circa 1930s).

Seminole workers in the tomato fields of the J.T. Gaunt Company – Ochopee (circa 1930s).

By 1932, the Gaunt Company had a substantial village to serve their tomato farm, but it didn’t have a name. That year, the family decided to establish a post office, but they wanted something a little more special than “Gaunt” or “Gaunt Farms” for a name. According to one of the family members, Someone asked Charley Tommie, a local Seminole, what the native word for “farm” was. Charley replied “O-chopp-ee,” and the Gaunts decided that would be the name of their growing settlement. The post office was established in August of that year, and postal business was carried out in a corner of the company store.

One night in 1953, a fire broke out in the boarding house at Ochopee. It spread quickly to other buildings, and with the nearest fire department being miles away at Everglades City, residents were forced to fight the blaze with buckets of water from a nearby canal. Postmaster Sidney Brown was able to get his records out of the general store, but when the flames were finally extinguished, the building was a total loss. The next day, when the mail arrived, Postmaster Brown needed someplace to conduct business. A member of the Gaunt family pointed out a nearby shed used to store irrigation pipes and hoses, and with that the nation’s smallest post office building was adopted. Gaunt Company workers moved the building to a more convenient location, installed a counter and work space, and it was ready for service.

Ochopee Post Office (circa 1940s).

Ochopee Post Office (circa 1940s).

Since then, the Ochopee post office has been as much a tourist attraction as it has a place of business. The Florida Photographic Collection contains a number of photos of the building from various angles and at different times. Some visitors assumed the locals built the post office that size originally as a novelty, but Ochopee residents knew better. Their post office, like so many curiosities in Florida’s past, was an accident of history.

Postmaster Sidney H. Brown in front of the Ochopee Post Office. Brown managed to save the records of the post office from the fire that destroyed this building's predecessor in 1953 (photo circa 1960s).

Postmaster Sidney H. Brown in front of the Ochopee Post Office. Brown managed to save the records of the post office from the fire that destroyed this building’s predecessor in 1953 (photo circa 1960s).

Does a landmark in your community have a story like that of the Ochopee post office? Tell us about it by leaving a comment or sharing on our Facebook page!

 

Somebody Give That Cow a Bath!

Why in the world would someone want to bathe a cow? Better yet, why would someone bathe an entire herd of cows? They’re just going to get dirty again anyway. Yet for a number of years in the early 20th century, it was very common for cattle ranchers to lead their cattle, one by one, through a vat designed to douse them from top to bottom. The practice was called cattle dipping, and it had little to do with keeping the cows clean.

Chart illustrating the effects of ticks on cattle (1913).

Chart illustrating the effects of ticks on cattle (1913).

Cattle dipping was a major part of an all-out battle to eradicate Texas tick fever from Florida’s otherwise prosperous cattle industry. The fever, actually a blood infection caused by parasites, was spread through ticks, which presented a big problem for Florida ranchers, who still largely practiced the free-range system for cattle production. Rather than sticking to one fenced pasture, a rancher’s cattle might roam at will over miles of territory until their owner rounded them up. Branding kept the cattle from different ranches separate in cases where multiple herds mixed together. Under the circumstances, the cattle were bound to pick up ticks as they moved about in the woods, and there just wasn’t much to be done about it.

But they had to try. Texas tick fever was becoming a major drain on the industry’s profitability. Some farmers attempted to control tick infestations by keeping cattle and other farm animals out of a pasture for several months if an infected animal had grazed there. The idea was that if the infectious ticks had nothing to feed on for a long enough period of time, they would die and the fever vector would be gone.

Counties heavily involved in the cattle industry sometimes set up checkpoints to inspect animals for ticks before allowing them to pass, hoping to stop the spread of the fever-causing bugs. These methods had limited success. Ticks preyed on a variety of animals, both wild and domestic, so measures affecting only some animals would not protect healthy cattle from being bitten.

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (circa 1920s).

Tick inspection station at the Baker County line (circa 1920s).

Early on, a few farmers experimented with the idea of washing their cattle in some sort of chemical to discourage ticks from biting them. At first, ranchers considered it a far-fetched idea, but it proved effective with a little trial and error. Over time, an arsenic solution was adopted as the most efficient agent for protecting the cattle. So long as the solution was mixed correctly and the cattle did not stay in it too long, the cow would be safe, but any ticks attempting to bite it would be poisoned.

Cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County, while a man marks it to show it had been dipped (circa 1920s).

Cow making its way through a dipping vat in Duval County, while a man marks it to show it had been dipped (circa 1920s).

Cattle dipping appeared to be a viable solution for preventing Texas tick fever, except it was difficult to get every rancher in Florida to do it. Setting up the dipping vats was expensive, and rounding up free-range cattle to be dipped every few weeks was time-consuming. Many Florida ranchers at this time had small operations, and barely had the time and help to round up the cattle a few times a year, let alone every time they would require dipping. The tick fever threat was serious, however, and eventually the state stepped in.

The Legislature passed a law in 1923 requiring every cattleman in the state to comply with a full tick eradication program, which included dipping cattle every two weeks. The new law met with mixed reactions from the state’s cattle ranchers. Some believed the state’s actions would help save the industry, while others dismissed the entire affair as needless meddling. To make the cattle dipping requirement less onerous, the State Livestock Sanitary Board contracted with private companies to build dipping vats all across the state, so that even owners of smaller cattle concerns would not have as far to travel to dip their cows.

Dipping was still a chore, of course, and the records of the Livestock Sanitary Board at the State Archives are full of letters complaining about the inefficiency of the system at times. By the mid-1930s, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that conditions had improved enough that most areas could be released from quarantine.

Excerpt from a letter to State Veterinarian J.V. Knapp from High Springs farmer C.S. Douglass, dated Jan. 29, 1933. Douglass writes: "The tax payers are becoming awful sore over the reckless and unfair way this tick eradication work is being done and we are figuring on dipping the State Live Stock Sanitary Board if they don't build us a dipping vat in the area they claim to be infested with cattle fever ticks, or release us from dipping."

Excerpt from a letter to State Veterinarian J.V. Knapp from High Springs farmer C.S. Douglass, dated Jan. 29, 1933. Douglass writes: “The tax payers are becoming awful sore over the reckless and unfair way this tick eradication work is being done and we are figuring on dipping the State Live Stock Sanitary Board if they don’t build us a dipping vat in the area they claim to be infested with cattle fever ticks, or release us from dipping” (State Livestock Sanitary Board Tick Eradication files [Series 1888], Box 2, folder 3 – State Archives of Florida).

Most of the cattle dipping vats from the 1920s and 1930s have been filled in or removed, but the tops of a few are still visible. If you choose to give your cow a bath these days, it’s usually to get it ready for a stock show!

Remains of a dipping vat near Natural Bridge in Leon County (1980).

Remains of a dipping vat near Natural Bridge in Leon County (1980).

Cattle and other stock farming is still a major Florida industry. Tell us about your experiences with raising cattle or other livestock by leaving us a comment below or on Facebook!

 

 

When the Dam Breaks…

The threat of hurricanes and tropical storms is an inescapable part of living in Florida. To experience their wrath is to confront head-on the brutal power of Nature. Ask around, and many Floridians will be able to name the larger ones they’ve witnessed or heard of. Betsy, Donna, Andrew, and Charley usually make the list.

Some of Florida’s most destructive hurricanes, however, hit the state long before the National Weather Service began assigning names to tropical cyclones. One of the deadliest of these remains known to history only as the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.

Map showing flood damage to the Lake Okeechobee region by hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 (photo 1948).

Map showing flood damage to the Lake Okeechobee region by hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 (photo 1948).

Even with their inland location, the settlements surrounding Lake Okeechobee were vulnerable to flooding and storm surge. The lake itself was highly unstable, rising and falling by as much as a foot in a matter of hours depending on regional rainfall. Despite the danger, farmers coveted the land surrounding Okeechobee for the moist black soil it provided. To make the area viable for agriculture, canals and dirt levees were used to hold back the waters and reclaim the flood plain for planting. By the 1920s, avocados, citrus,  sugar cane, and other crops filled thousands of acres in the region.

Occasional levee breaches and flooding reminded residents that their protection from the Okeechobee waters was tenuous at best. In September 1928, the lake was already high owing to heavy recent rains. When reports began coming in over the radio that a serious storm was lashing Puerto Rico, however, many locals decided they didn’t have much to worry about. If the levees and canals had performed their duties thus far, they would be just fine. And who knew? The storm wasn’t even guaranteed to come their way.

Hillsboro Canal settlement near Chosen, Florida during a period of high rainfall (1922).

Hillsboro Canal settlement near Chosen, Florida during a period of high rainfall (1922).

But it did. About 7:00pm on the evening of September 16th, what would become known as the Okeechobee Hurricane roared ashore near West Palm Beach packing winds of up to 145 miles per hour. Moving northwest across the state, the storm pushed the swollen waters of Lake Okeechobee against its banks. The earthen dams design to hold back the lake failed, sending a wall of water through the communities of Belle Glade, Pahokee, and Chosen. High winds ripped roofs from buildings, while flood waters either lifted entire houses up and carried them away or caused them to disintegrate completely.

Wreckage of homes and cars after hurricane (photo likely 1928).

Wreckage of homes and cars after hurricane (photo likely 1928).

When morning came, the scene was one of unimaginable loss. Entire portions of towns were flattened or mangled. Property damage amounted to about 25 million dollars, but the cascading costs of the catastrophe would be felt for years to come. Worse still was the human cost. At least two thousand people perished in the flood, but the exact number was difficult to determine. Bodies were found in ditches, in trees, anyplace the swirling waters might have carried them. Farmers reported finding the skeletons of the hurricane’s victims in their fields even years later.

Accounting for everyone and burying the dead was one of the most pressing matters in the first few days after the storm passed, but it was difficult work.  The storm victims’ remains deteriorated quickly under the punishing Florida sun, making identification increasingly impossible. At first, carpenters quickly assembled simple wooden coffins to receive the dead, but the number of bodies was too great. Eventually, workers were forced to load bodies onto trucks, and they were taken to mass graves in West Palm Beach. One grave was dug for whites, another for African Americans. Eventually, even this method was insufficient, and the workers turned to cremation as the only means available to dispatch the deceased with dignity. Meanwhile, survivors came together to bid their friends, neighbors, and loved ones goodbye in a mass funeral at West Palm Beach.

Makeshift coffins stacked alongside the road between Belle Glade and Pahokee after the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.

Makeshift coffins stacked alongside the road between Belle Glade and Pahokee after the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.

Funeral service for hurricane victims at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach (1928).

Funeral service for hurricane victims at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach (1928).

President-elect Herbert Hoover visited the Okeechobee region shortly after the hurricane to survey the damage, and upon taking office he tasked the Army Corps of Engineers with helping to prevent the disaster of 1928 from recurring. The State, for its part, created the Okeechobee Flood Control District to cooperate with federal agencies.  A new series of dikes, floodways, and gates emerged to handle future flooding, although for years this was a work in progress. In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers spearheaded the construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which now almost completely encloses Lake Okeechobee. Former President Hoover spoke at the dedication.

One of several floodgates installed to prevent catastrophic failures of the levees holding back Lake Okeechobee (1967).

One of several floodgates installed to prevent catastrophic failures of the levees holding back Lake Okeechobee (1967).

Former President Herbert Hoover addresses the crowd at a ceremony dedicating a new dike for Lake Okeechobee in his honor (1961).

Former President Herbert Hoover addresses the crowd at a ceremony dedicating a new dike for Lake Okeechobee named in his honor (1961).

Hurricane season begins June 1st and lasts until November 30th. For more information on how to prepare yourself, your family, and your home for a tropical storm, check out the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website at floridadisaster.org.

For more on historic Florida hurricanes, visit our Hurricanes photo exhibit on Florida Memory.

Statue commemorating the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 in Belle Glade (1987).

Statue commemorating the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 in Belle Glade (1987).

 

The Beatles Are Back!

Fifty years ago, the Beatles played their second and last Florida show as a band at the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  This was a particularly exciting and dramatic time for Floridians and for the Beatles.  The band’s movie, A Hard Day’s Night, had recently premiered in the United States. Record breaking crowds were screaming at their shows while millions of viewers were swooning and shaking their Beatle wigs in front of the television. “Beatlemania” had taken hold in Florida and across the country. Yet this particular show was nearly canceled due to Hurricane Dora, racial segregation and the illegal sales of live Beatles footage. Recently, the State Archives and Florida Memory was privileged to receive never before seen photos of this nearly doomed event along with an eyewitness account from beginning to end.  Read on as Annette Ramsey shares about the Beatles, her father’s dedication to getting her to the show despite the bad weather, and these incredible Fab Four photos.

Annette Ramsey:

I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and loved them! Especially Paul! My dad found out that they were going to tour the U.S. and would be performing at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. So he bought tickets from a radio station. Our tickets cost $4.00 each and we sat in the bleachers. For $5.00 you could sit in front of the stage!

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey's Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey’s Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

So the day of the concert came. It was September 11, 1964. I was 9 years old at the time and my dad was 39. A hurricane was predicted to come through…Hurricane Dora… and it did come the day before the concert. Because of the destruction my dad and I could not drive to Jacksonville as we had originally planned. My dad said to my mom “We have to find a way to get Annette to the concert and once we get there, we can figure out how to get back.” So my dad found a friend of a friend who had a commuter plane and he happened to have two seats available. It was my first plane ride! The Beatles plane landed right before ours and ours was still in the air but you could see them walk down the steps. The women in our plane took their shoes off and started beating them against the windows of the plane! Daddy was scared to death! When our plane landed everyone tried to run after the Beatles! But they were long gone.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville's George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville’s George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville. The Beatles did not sleep at the hotel and nearly canceled their show in opposition to racial segregation in the city (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville (September 11, 1964).

Since we had arrived several hours before the concert, my Dad decided we should go downtown and have dinner. He was in the mood for a nice steak! So we went to a restaurant that happened to be across the street from the George Washington Hotel. While we are waiting for our meal my dad saw a reporter with a badge that said “Tampa Times.” At the time we had two newspapers in Tampa, the Times and the Tribune. So Daddy asked him if he had seen the Beatles. He said yes that he had covered an interview with them across the street at the George Washington Hotel. He was a photographer and his name was Vernon Barchard. He said he would show us where they were going to come out. Of course I wanted to go right then but Daddy was going to have his steak! After we finished eating we went across the street with Vernon to the parking garage at the George Washington Hotel. After what seemed like hours to me (but really wasn’t) they got out from the elevator and they were literally pushed against the wall by all the screaming fans. Vernon positioned himself to take a picture and my dad held me on his shoulders. When Paul came out Daddy pointed at Vernon and said “Tell Paul to smile and take the picture.”
It was very hard for the Beatles to get into their car and leave. Female fans jumped on the car and beat the windows with their shoes like on the plane!

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

I don’t remember how we got from the parking garage to the concert. We may have taken a cab? And I don’t remember any of the opening acts. The Beatles portion of the concert was late because photographers had been traveling around taking unauthorized film footage of them. The band wouldn’t start until they left. We sat in the bleachers. Our tickets cost $4.00 each. The bleachers shook because the women stamped their feet and you could hardly hear the Beatles because of the screaming! I have read that their set only lasted 37 minutes. It seemed longer to me.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

The Beatles on the windswpt stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out "Beatles" were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

The Beatles on the windswept stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out “Beatles” were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

After the concert we met Vernon at a pre-arranged place and he drove us back to Tampa. A week later he mailed me these photos. I am happy to share the photos with other Beatles fans. I am planning to return to Jacksonville in October to see Paul McCartney. My dad said he’ll pass this time and let me go with my husband!!

***

If you have photos, film footage or great memories of the Beatles in Florida please contact the State Archives.  We would love to share your memories with the rest of Beatle fandom and the world!

 

Next Stop – Wauchula!

Florida Memory extends its congratulations to the city of Wauchula, which was recently named Florida’s Main Street program of the month for September 2014. The town, which now serves as the seat of Hardee County, dates back at least to the 1880s when the railroad first pushed through southwestern Florida. The name Wauchula itself appears to be a little older, as many authorities agree it derives from the Creek word watula, meaning “sand hill crane.”

Map from the 1890s showing the location of Wauchula between Fort Meade and Arcadia on the Florida Southern Railway (State Library of Florida).

Map from the 1890s showing the location of Wauchula between Fort Meade and Arcadia on the Florida Southern Railway. U.S. Highway 17 follows roughly the same route as this railroad once did (State Library of Florida).

The town was still part of DeSoto County when the first post office named Wauchula opened in 1888. The settlement had been known as “English” for at least a few years beforehand, likely named for Eli English, who operated a small store about a mile south of the present downtown area. According to records from DeSoto County, Wauchula was originally incorporated on June 9, 1888, although the act was not validated by the state until 1903. In 1921, when DeSoto County was divided up into several parts, Wauchula became the seat of the newly formed Hardee County.

Hardee County Courthouse, not long after its original construction (photo circa 1920s).

Hardee County Courthouse, not long after its original construction (photo circa 1920s).

Since its establishment, Wauchula has been a regional center of commercial activity, especially agriculture. In honor of Wauchula’s achievement as this month’s featured Main Street program, we have selected a few images from the Florida Photographic Collection depicting some of the city’s earliest Main Street scenes.

A street scene from downtown Wauchula, taken from the 1974 location of the Masonic Hall (photo circa 1905).

A street scene from downtown Wauchula, taken from the 1974 location of the Masonic Hall (photo circa 1905).

A Memorial Day parade heading down Main Street in Wauchula. According to a note accompanying the original image, this was the last parade in Wauchula to be held on dirt roads in the town (1915).

A Memorial Day parade heading down Main Street in Wauchula. According to a note accompanying the original image, this was the last parade in Wauchula to be held on dirt roads in the town (1915).

Beeson Brothers' Drug Store on Main Street in Wauchula. This firm was established in 1905 when W.B. and Dr. J. Mooring Beeson, the latter a graduate of the Medical College of Alabama, set up shop with a stock of no more than $50 worth of drugs (photo circa 1905).

Beeson Brothers’ Drug Store on Main Street in Wauchula. This firm was established in 1905 when W.B. and Dr. J. Mooring Beeson, the latter a graduate of the Medical College of Alabama, set up shop with a stock of no more than $50 worth of drugs (photo circa 1905).

Interior of the Carlton and Carlton Bank in Wauchula. The bank was originally established in 1904 in a corner of the Wauchula Hardware Store. The bank moved into a building of its own in 1909, and in 1915 it was incorporated as the Carlton National Bank. Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton was part of the Carlton family who established the bank (photo 1904).

Interior of the Carlton and Carlton Bank in Wauchula. The bank was originally established in 1904 in a corner of the Wauchula Hardware Store. The bank moved into a building of its own in 1909, and in 1915 it was incorporated as the Carlton National Bank. Florida Governor Doyle E. Carlton was part of the Carlton family who established the bank (photo 1904).

Wauchula is one of many Florida communities represented in the Florida Photographic Collection. Search for your community by using the search box at the top of the page. Also, take a moment to learn more about the Florida Main Street Program from Florida’s Department of State.

Not Our First Rodeo

Lots of people associate the idea of a rodeo with the American West – Texas, Oklahoma, someplace dusty, hot, and dotted with cacti. And while rodeo is most certainly a big hit out west, it has deep roots here in the Sunshine State as well. Florida, after all, has been home to a thriving cattle industry for centuries. Native Americans and the Spanish were raising cows as early as the 1500s, long before organized ranching arrived in what would become known as the American West. As new settlers arrived and the era of Spanish ownership came to an end, the herds remained, changed hands many times, and continued to serve as a valuable source of food and trade.

Drawing of the

Drawing of the “cow ford” that eventually became the site of Jacksonville. This particular section of the St. Johns River was used for the purpose of fording cattle as far back as the late 18th century (drawing circa 1800s).

Rodeo developed partly out of the practical needs of a farm or cattle ranch, and partly because the tasks involved naturally lend themselves to competition and spectacle. Roping, herding, and branding cattle, breaking wild horses, and overall dexterity in the saddle were all basic needs of even the earliest cattle ranch hands. The events of modern rodeos are closely related to these traditional skills.

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

Aside from serving as a demonstration of skill, rodeos have a strong social element that brings together communities like few other traditions can do. In cities and towns where the surrounding region is highly involved in the cattle industry, rodeos are held frequently, and are designed for the entire family to enjoy. Floridians as far south as Homestead and as far north as Bonifay have special annual rodeos with a lengthy past. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, for example, originated in 1928 when the local American Legion post was looking for a fundraiser for a new building. Post officials invited all the local families, including the Seminoles located nearby, to attend a rodeo and parade to raise money for their cause. A band from Wauchula provided music, and even Governor Doyle Carlton rode in the procession. The first rodeo was a smashing success, and even with the arrival of the Great Depression, the people of Arcadia kept up the tradition of holding rodeo events each year. It still continues today.

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

One of rodeo’s most admirable aspects is its inclusiveness. While the crowd may roar at the spectacle of an adult rider using every ounce of strength to stay atop a bucking bull, there’s just as much enthusiasm for the large number of events held especially for the kids. From rodeo’s earliest days, children have been earnest competitors, demonstrating their horsemanship, roping skills, and overall athleticism in a variety of ways. Older kids with a little more size and experience may compete in junior versions of the same events as adults, while a few events are just for the small fry. At Arcadia, for example, youngsters can participate in the “calf scramble” and “mutton bustin’” challenges. In the calf scramble, an entire army of kids are unleashed on the arena where calves adorned with bandannas have been placed. Those participants who successfully chase down a calf and remove its bandanna are declared the winners. In the mutton scramble, young riders hold onto the backs of sheep as they scurry about the arena. Whoever stays on the longest wins.

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

A young man participates in a

A young man participates in a “calf scramble” at a rodeo in Lakeland. This version of the calf scramble had an interesting twist. If a participant could catch the calf and get him over the finish line, he got to keep it (1947).

These are just a few of the hundreds of images in the Florida Photographic Collection pertaining to the rodeo. Is there a rodeo event near your community? Tell us about your favorite rodeo experiences by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).

Gospel to Go: Circuit Riders on the Florida Frontier

It’s a cool Sunday morning in the sandy scrub of North Florida, with dew still on the ground and the sun just getting up over the trees. It’s 1847. Church is about to start, but it’s nothing like what most of us would think of when we think of church today. There is no church building; there’s only an arbor to shield the worshipers from the sun, a few crude benches, and a space at the front for the preacher. Moreover, the preacher arrives on his horse just before the service is to begin, because he does not live in the same community as his congregants. In fact, this is only one of half a dozen settlements he will visit in the course of a month.

Portrait of Rev. James Holland of Leon County, a circuit riding minister (circa 1880s).

Portrait of Rev. James Holland of Leon County, a circuit riding minister (circa 1880s).

This was the experience of worshipers who were ministered to by circuit riders, preachers who traveled from place to place offering religious services to settlers in far-flung corners of the Florida frontier. Sometimes called “saddlebag preachers,” these ministers typically traveled on horseback or sometimes in a wagon if the roads permitted. The communities they served comprised a “circuit,” sometimes with a permanent church headquarters in one of the larger towns. In the territorial and early statehood periods, with transportation difficult and communities spread far apart, circuit ministries were an efficient way of reaching the population. Circuit riding is particularly associated with the Methodist faith, although other denominations have used similar methods to reach their followers at various times.

Rev. Dwight F. Cameron, Jr. with his horse and buggy. Cameron was a circuit riding minister in Volusia County in the early twentieth century (1916).

Rev. Dwight F. Cameron, Jr. with his horse and buggy. Cameron was a circuit riding minister in Volusia County in the early twentieth century (1916).

The services at each station on the circuit might take place in a private home, a public building like the local courthouse, or under a “brush arbor,” a humble and temporary shelter that could be erected and expanded quickly. Later, as many communities expanded and their families became more prosperous, permanent church buildings began replacing the temporary brush arbors of earlier years. Better roads also made it easier for families living far away from established churches to come into town to worship. Over time, the circuit rider began to disappear as ministers were appointed for individual churches.

The United Methodist Church of Middleburg in Clay County, with congregants outside. The church was originally built in 1845. The photo dates to the 1880s.

The United Methodist Church of Middleburg in Clay County, with congregants outside. The church was originally built in 1845. The photo dates to the 1880s.

The concept of open-air “camp meetings” and other religious services is still an attractive one for many, however, and modern versions still appear today. As a nod to the significance of this old Floridian tradition, several reenactments of a typical brush arbor church service have been performed at the annual Florida Folk Festival over the years.

Reenactment of a brush arbor church service at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs (circa 1960s).

Reenactment of a brush arbor church service at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs (circa 1960s).

What’s the oldest church in your county? Did you know that Florida Memory has digitized the records of a WPA survey of more than 5,500 of the state’s churches? Visit the WPA Church Records collection, and search the Florida Photographic Collection to see if we have pictures of any of the churches in your community!

 

 

Early Dentistry in Florida

OUCH!!! Going to the dentist doesn’t generally fall on many people’s list of favorite things to do, but like it or not it’s a crucial part of maintaining oral health. Moreover, dentists in the twenty-first century have technology available that makes oral care much, much more comfortable and safe than it was in earlier days. Today we take a broad sweeping look at the dental profession in Florida from territorial days to the modern era.

Dentist Charles N. Clark with a patient at his office at 93 Market Street in Apalachicola (February 1899).

Dentist Charles N. Clark with a patient at his office at 93 Market Street in Apalachicola (February 1899).

Probably the most profound difference between dentistry today and the profession in the early nineteenth century is that prior to about 1840 dentists were not really considered professionals or doctors. They were tradesmen, much like barbers, midwives, or blacksmiths. Their education came not from a university or dental school, but from apprenticeships with older, experienced dentists.

Perhaps the lack of formal dental school training came from there also being a lack of standardized equipment or technique for the young dentist to learn. Before dentistry became organized as a profession, each dentist made his own drugs, if indeed he used them at all. He made his own equipment, or used whatever was available. Replacement teeth came from animals or from the deceased. Antiseptics or anesthesia? With the slight exception of whiskey, forget about it.

Page from the journal of physician Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, giving a recipe for a treatment for "facial and dental neuralgias," essentially toothaches. Davidson began keeping the journal in 1843. Click on the image for a full transcription.

Page from the journal of physician Dr. John M.W. Davidson of Gadsden County, giving a recipe for a treatment for “facial and dental neuralgias,” essentially toothaches. Davidson began keeping the journal in 1843. Click on the image for a full transcription.

As was the case with many professions during the nineteenth century, dentists began communicating with one another, establishing best practices, and sharing their techniques with one another. The founding of the world’s first dental school in Baltimore, Maryland in 1840 was followed by more openings around the country, and dentists soon were able to distinguish themselves with degrees marking them as formally trained professionals.

Some of the first professional dentists in Florida included Dr. Andrew Brookins of Jacksonville, Dr. Edward Dinus Neve of Tampa, Dr. James Chace of Cedar Key, Dr. William H. Bracey of Gainesville, and Dr. J.M. Baggett of Dunedin.

In 1883, Dr. James Chace of Cedar Key met with other dentists from around the state and laid plans for a professional society of dentistry that would help create and maintain standards for ethical practices. The Florida State Dental Society was founded the next year with twenty-five charter members, and they immediately set to work urging the state government to pass laws regulating the practice of dentistry in Florida.

The Society was successful; in 1887 the state legislature passed an act creating a Board of Dental Examiners and making it illegal to practice dentistry without a certificate of the board’s endorsement. Practicing without a license became a misdemeanor punishable by fine, although curiously the law stipulated that teeth could still be extracted by anyone regardless of whether they had received any sort of dental training.

Dr. E.N. Atkins with a patient - Blountstown (1917).

Dr. E.N. Atkins with a patient – Blountstown (1917).

The application process for a certificate was fairly simple, even into the early twentieth century. Applicants were questioned about their attendance at dental school, whether they had practiced dentistry elsewhere, whether they had been convicted or indicted in any felony cases, whether they were addicted to “the liquor or drug habit,” and whether they had ever been prosecuted for illegally practicing dentistry. If the answers to these questions appeared to be in good order, the Board of Examiners would subject the applicant to an exam, part written and part clinical. If the applicant passed both portions, he would be issued a certificate.

An example of an application for examination by the State Board of dental Examiners. This application was made by William M. McRae of Live Oak in 1910 (Box 4, Series 394, State Archives of Florida).

An example of an application for examination by the State Board of Dental Examiners. This application was made by William M. McRae of Live Oak in 1910 (Box 4, Series 394, State Archives of Florida).

At the turn of the twentieth century, even with improvements in technique, tools, and dental education, practicing dentistry required a bit of innovation and willingness to think outside the box. Many dentists had offices in town, much like we usually see today. Transportation, however, was often problematic and inconvenient for many Florida residents living on farms and settlements far away from the larger towns, and so many dentists often took to the roads in wagons, automobiles, and even boats to reach their patients. In the following quote, Dr. Alton B. Whitman of Orlando describes his method for treating “remote” patients around the turn of the century.

“The patient sat in a high-back rocking chair which was padded with pillows and quilts and propped into position with pieces of stovewood under the rockers. The work was usually done on the porch for good light. Sometimes, for extracting [teeth], two straight chairs were placed back to back. The operator’s left foot was put on the seat of the chair back of the patient, and his knee became the headrest, which afforded very good control.”

Dr. F.H. Houghton of Palm Beach developed his own method for getting to the patients who needed him most. In 1898, when he began his practice, the population of Palm Beach was too small to support Houghton’s business, but the residents along the Halifax, Indian, and Hillsborough rivers still needed plenty of dental work. The good doctor solved the puzzle by building a boat 153 feet long and 20 feet wide, on which he constructed several rooms outfitted with all the necessary equipment for practicing modern dentistry. Houghton aptly named his floating office the “Dentos.”

Dr. Houghton's floating dental office, the

Dr. Houghton’s floating dental office, the “Dentos,” (circa 1910).

Over time, dentistry standards became more intricate and rigorous, and dentists’ offices began looking more like they do today. The early history of Florida dentistry is, however, a reminder of how dedicated  practitioners of the profession were to doing the best they could with what they had.

What was going to the dentist like when you were young? Do you remember dental practices from that time period that are no longer in use? Tell us about it by leaving a comment.

A Prickly Tale: The History of Pineapples in Florida

Cube it, slice it, shred it, juice it, grill it, cook it. Pineapples are a delicious treat or compliment to any dish. Today, many people think of Hawaii as the pineapple capital of the United States, but did you know pineapples were cultivated in Florida before Hawaii was even a U.S. territory?

Florida pines

Florida pineapples

The earliest pineapple cultivation in Florida started in Key West in the 1860s. Benjamin Baker, known as “King of Wreckers” for his engagement in the business of salvaging ships, grew pineapples on Plantation Key, typically shipping them by schooner to New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Around the same time, a Mr. Brantley was producing pineapples on Merritt Island.

Pineapples being transported on a sailboat.

Pineapples being transported on a sailboat (Between 1890 and 1910)

By 1899, the industry had expanded rapidly, thanks in part to the southward extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Pineapple plantations could be found across Florida, including in Lee, Volusia and Orange counties. Despite freeze issues, there were an estimated 1,325 acres of pineapple plantations in Florida, producing 95,442 crates of fruit.

Pineapple field in Winter Haven (Between 1880 and 1900)

Pineapple field in Winter Haven (Between 1880 and 1900)

 

Pineapples in transport - Volusia County, Florida (191-)

Pineapples in transport – Volusia County, Florida (191-)

Though the industry seemed to be on the rise, troubles began around 1908. Although Florida growers produced over 1.1 million crates of pineapples that year, Cuba produced 1.2 million crates and flooded the market. Cuba could also ship pineapples at a cheaper rate than Florida.  And there was more…

In 1910, portions of crops along Indian River plantations began to show signs of failing. A “red wilt” was rotting the roots of the pineapple plants, causing them to die. The disease quickly spread to entire fields. Add to that a lack of proper fertilizer due to World War I in Europe and freezes in 1917 and 1918, and the industry seemed to have disappeared.

R.A. Carlton, an agricultural agent for the Seaboard Air Line railway attempted to revive pineapple production in Florida in the 1930s, but the industry was never able to fully recover.

 

George S. Morikami and Al Avery holding prize pineapples

George S. Morikami and Al Avery holding prize pineapples (1966)

What is your favorite way to enjoy a delicious pineapple? Tell us about it by leaving a comment!

Mmmmm… Swamp Cabbage!

You may be aware that the noble sabal palmetto is Florida’s state tree, but did you know you can eat it? And we’re not just talking about a survival tactic. From Wakulla and Apalachicola in the north to LaBelle and Immokalee in the south, Floridians all over the state have made a tradition out of preparing the hearts of these trees as a tasty dish called swamp cabbage.

Sabal (or cabbage) palms located in Levy County, Florida. Note that swamp cabbage is typically harvested from the trees when they are much younger, before they develop their rough gray trunks (photo 2010).

Sabal (or cabbage) palms located in Levy County, Florida. Note that swamp cabbage is typically harvested from the trees when they are much younger, before they develop their rough gray trunks (photo 2010).

Everglades guide George L. Espenlaub prepares a pot of swamp cabbage (photo circa 1950s).

Everglades guide George L. Espenlaub prepares a pot of swamp cabbage (photo circa 1950s).

The tradition of eating hearts of Florida palm trees likely predates the arrival of Europeans in North America. Captain Hugh Young, Andrew Jackson’s topographical engineer, sketched out a few remarks on the subject in his notes regarding the territory between the Aucilla and Suwannee rivers in 1818. He wrote:

“In the cypress swamps between Assilla and Sahwanne there is abundance of cabbage palmetto. [...] It rises with a single stem to the height of forty feet and supports at the top a large mass resembling an immense pineapple, from which project a number of three-sided stems three or four feet long with leaves like the low palmetto but much larger and without prickles. The vegetable substance from which the stems and leaves are supported has in its center a white brittle mucilaginous mass composed of the centre folds of the leaves forming it, which may be eaten raw and when boiled has a taste somewhat like parsnips. In times of scarcity the Indians live on it, and it is said to be wholesome and nutritious.”

We at Florida Memory are still somewhat concerned about Captain Young’s use of the word mucilaginous to describe something edible, but overall his description is fairly accurate, and those of us who have had swamp cabbage  agree it is tasty.

Painting of territorial governor Andrew Jackson (circa 1821).

Painting of territorial governor Andrew Jackson (circa 1821).

As incoming settlers learned about swamp cabbage and began experimenting with it, it became a favorite side dish, especially in sparsely populated areas where the sabal (or cabbage) palmetto was more prevalent. In modern times, swamp cabbage can still be found on the menus of restaurants serving traditional Southern cooking. It is typically prepared by slicing up the heart of a section of palmetto trunk, called a “boot,” and then stewing it with spices and salt pork or some other seasoning meat. The finished product is grayish-green in color, and pairs well with fried fish, pork, or other traditional Florida entrees. Swamp cabbage can also be enjoyed raw, and often appears in salads by the more refined name of “heart of palm.”

Many Florida communities consider swamp cabbage something worth celebrating. Each year at the Florida Forest Festival in Perry, locals celebrate their forestry heritage with a parade, fireworks, live music, and the world’s largest free fish fry. Often, the menu has included swamp cabbage. Down south in Hendry County, residents of LaBelle hold a festival each year devoted to nothing but swamp cabbage, even choosing a Swamp Cabbage Queen to reign over the festivities. In Cedar Key, heart of palm salad served with fresh fruit and a scoop of pistachio ice cream is a favorite traditional restaurant menu item.

Miss Sherri Lynn Woosley, 1971 Swamp Cabbage Queen for the LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo from the festival's program for that year, which is part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

Miss Sherri Lynn Woosley, 1971 Swamp Cabbage Queen for the LaBelle Swamp Cabbage Festival. Photo from the festival’s program for that year, which is part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

A heart of palm salad as prepared by the Seabreeze Restaurant in Cedar Key. The tartness of the heart of palm is complemented by the sweetness of fresh fruit and the pistachio ice cream in the middle. Photo courtesy of Jamie Griffin (2014).

A heart of palm salad as prepared by the Seabreeze Restaurant in Cedar Key. The tartness of the heart of palm is complemented by the sweetness of fresh fruit and the pistachio ice cream in the middle. Photo courtesy of Jamie Griffin (2014).

Tasty as swamp cabbage may be, the cooking and eating of it is the easy part. Cutting through layers of tough palmetto fibers to get to the edible “boot” without damaging the tender flesh inside is much more difficult. The following images from the Florida Photographic Collection illustrate the method used to harvest swamp cabbage.

Here, we see Ralph O'Brien of Tampa chopping away the

Here, we see Ralph O’Brien of Tampa chopping away the “straps,” which are actually the bases of the fronds or leaves of the tree. This must be done at an angle so that the axe does not become lodged in the inner “boot,” which can spoil the tender flesh inside (photo 1982).

Once the straps have been cleared away from the

Once the straps have been cleared away from the “boot,” the weight of the remaining attached fronds will cause it to break away from the tree. Here we see Ralph O’Brien chopping off the remaining fronds to make the boot easier to carry (photo 1982).

 

The outer layers of the

The outer layers of the “boot” are tough, bitter, and inedible. Here, we see Ralph O’Brien carefully splitting successive concentric layers of the boot to get down to the edible flesh at the center (photo 1982).

Once enough layers have been removed from the

Once enough layers have been removed from the “boot,” the remaining outer layers may be removed with a sharp knife. Here we see a Lafayette County woman working her way down to the edible flesh of the boot, which she then will slice into a bowl of cool water. The water temporarily prevents the swamp cabbage from turning brown (photo 1983).

Are you ready to try this Florida delicacy? Whether it’s eaten raw on a salad or boiled down with a generous helping of seasoning meat and black pepper, Florida’s state tree is both beautiful and a tasty treat with a long and storied past.

What are your favorite traditional Florida dishes? Tell us by leaving a comment, and don’t forget to share our post on Facebook!