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The Land of Flowers Mid-century

Palatka hammock
Palatka hammock via Florida Memory

Florida 40 Years Ago

RANDALL’S REMINISCENCES OF THE LAND OF FLOWERS

Beckoning of the Unseen Hand-staging Across the Peninsula – Chronicles of a Dead Village with a Living Memory

For The Times-Democrat.

Some months ago I picked up a census bulletin of Florida and curiously scanned the report from a little settlement or village called Bayport on the Gulf coast. If anything the population, which was a mere handful, nearly forty years ago, has diminished. My interest in Bayport is founded upon some youthful experience, and I am not apt to forget the spot “while memory holds seat in this distracted globe.” Once, a few years ago, when in transformed Florida I had a great desire to revisit the scenes of my boyhood in the Land of Flowers, but circumstance, “the unspiritual god,” prevented.

land of flowers. I had a great desire to revisit the scenes of my boyhood in the Land of Flowers

I happened, about 1858, when residing in Baltimore, my birthplace, to be consumed with a “grand discontent,” which presumably, impels so many persons, great and small, to seek fresh fields and pastures new, for African or Polar discovery, for gold or glory, for the love of self or for the love of God. The motives for such movements are multiform just as the impelling agencies are as varied as contradictory. I saw, or thought I saw, in my boyhood after leaving college, that my birthplace was not favourable for my material development. Perhaps I was, even then, like a hero of Guy Mannering, stirred to action by the voice mysterious which says we must not stay, and by the providential hand that beckons us away. About this restless period there came to Baltimore, on a visit, a relative of my mother, who had long resided in Florida, and, being something of a local politician, was enjoying a small government position at Bayport for headquarters. This gentleman and kinsman, Mr. C. T. Jenkins, stimulated my imagination about Florida and stated that, if I cared to go there, he would do whatever he could for me. Meanwhile I ransacked a public library for knowledge of the State and really absorbed considerable historic and other useful information on the subject. My mind was fired with stories of Ribault, Ponce de Leon, Osceola, Coachocee and other conspicuous persons, who had, in different times and varied fashions, illustrated the lands. Pending any final determination to discover Bayport, my cousin gave me a letter of introduction to the then “king bee” of the Commonwealth, Senator David L. Yulee, asking him, if possible, to secure for me a government office. I called promptly on the Senator, who lived in comfort and some style at Washington, for he was a rich man, what we call “a man of affairs,” and he grew richer and richer, I believe, in spite of political retirement, war, reconstruction and the multitude of schemes devised by the knowing ones to pluck the traditional goose. Senator Yulee, at his leisure, answered my card in person. He was a rather short, sturdy man, with decided Hebraic countenance of an Oriental cast. The face [botchered] serious shrewdness and an absence of sunshine or humor. he made quick, frank work with my business, gave me no encouragement at all and dismissed me with frigid politeness. I was much galled at the time by this jejune experience of the Washington politician, not expecting that, in years to come, when Mr. Yulee was practically forgotten, and much afflicted, in spite of opulence, at the Federal capital, my intercourse with much greater men there would come later on, after tarrying at Jericho for the growth of beard. Mr. Yulee’s name was originally Levy, and I think that Charleston was his native place. There used to be some story about one of his progenitors having played a notable part in the Kingdom of Morocco, but how much truth or fiction there is in this I do not know. He certainly looked like a man who had a swarthy Semitic ancestor.

land of flowers. I ransacked a public library for knowledge of the State

When Senator Yulee, much against my will and quite indifferently on his part, saved me from becoming at the outset of my career, in the working world, a department clerk, I resolved to make a trip, if possible, to the State he partly represented. My dear mother, with many misgivings and much sorrow, helped me on the way. She gave me a diamond ring, one of the few left of many, and permitted me to dispose of it. I did not see her dear face again for six or seven years. A German-American merchant friend advanced me $75 on the bauble, and, at the age of nineteen, in rather delicate health, I started for Bayport, via Savannah, on an old-fashioned steamship. Though I had previously gone thousands of miles, by sailing craft, on an ocean voyage, and escaped sickness peculiar to the sea, I experienced on that venerable tub, with its convulsive motions, a sharp attack of the malady that, while it lasts, permits the sufferer to fear life more than death. I understand that a dose of one teaspoonful of chloroform in a tumblerful of water, taken when one goes on board ship, and, if necessary, repeated an hour afterward, is a specific remedy. I was well, however, when we steamed off Tybee and up the muddy and then shallow Savannah river. Incidentally I heard that, far up the river, there was a city called Augusta, and I was tempted to visit it, but did not yield to the seduction. Indeed, when I presently boarded the steamboat for inland passage to Palatka, on the St. Johns river, nothing was remoter from my thoughts than the possibility of my ever seeing Augusta, to which I was curiously led after much tribulation and numerous vicissitudes interspersed here and there with some happy times and some romantic episodes in Florida and Louisiana.

My spirits lifted when I had snug passage on the steamboat, after escaping the wiles of an adventurous acquaintance, with small pecuniary loss. I was delighted with Savannah and the novel sights of semi-tropical slave States. I wondered what Providence had in store for me, and I built many castles in the air. In those days Col. Randolph Spalding was the great man most admired and talked about around the Sea Islands. Possibly he had just figured in some “affair of honor,” and I was gravely assured by some talkative gossip that in such matters Col. Spalding was a most valuable ally.

land of flowers. I was delighted with Savannah and the novel sights of semi-tropical slave States.

Our steamboat, despite occasional impediment, made very fair headway, and it was with a thrill of delight that I saw her nose pointed to the open sea and knew that the mouth of the St. Johns river was not far off. At sea I had a glimpse of the devil fish, a monster of those waters, and as we crossed the St. Johns bar marine birds of nearly every variety and incredibly numerous either darkened the air with their flight or had dress parade on the beach. Patent rifles or shotguns had not yet been invented for exterminating wild fowls and beasts, so Florida, a comparative wilderness, abounded superlatively in all manner of game common to this part of the continent.

land of flowers. In those days Palatka was a shabby village when contrasted with present splendour

The trip up the river to Palatka is still an enchanting one, and I, in that early period, hugely enjoyed my freedom and all the sights and sounds of nature calculated to stimulate a poetic fancy. In those days Palatka was a shabby village when contrasted with present splendour, and the tavern I slept at was a sorry barn compared with the palaces that have since replaced it. After breakfast next morning I was introduced to the stage driver, who also had charge of the United States mail. He was a young Irishman of stalwart frame and pretty well educated. He was a very amiable man, but resolute. He drove the stage, really a hack, from the St. Johns river at Palatka to Bayport, on the Gulf coast, a pretty long trip over sandy roads. I suppose that the tedious journey rather daunted me prospectively, but only for a moment, for I was young, eager and visionary and anxious to try what the world had in store for me. So Magrath and I started together overland, and what with my frequent questions and his gracious answers constituting time absorbing conversation, I managed to be patient. After travelling all day through a rather monotonous country, where settlements were few and far between, we halted for the night at the spacious cabin of a farmer near the Withlacoochee river and in the vicinity of Dade’s massacre. As we talked by the light of a pine knot fire hounds under the house emitted yelps of fear or excitement. I asked what was the matter and learned that wolves were prowling around. They had killed a calf in the cow-pen the night before, and had evidently returned for another bait. The hunting dogs did not evidently care to venture forth, and the farmer, though a keen sportsman, kept his place and preferred, apparently, to tell me his droll yarns and politely listen to some of mine. It was a pleasure in those days for people in the wilderness to meet strangers from outside civilization. Next morning the hack started early, and we expected to reach Bayport some time in the early nightfall. On the road we saw deer in some abundance, although many thousands had just died of the black tongue. Wolf and bear tracks were visible, I believe, to Magrath’s expert eye, but we saw none of these animals. Afterward, when I lived at Bayport, deer ran through the village, it was said betimes, panthers were killed or committed ravage in neighboring fields, and wagoners declared that they had to beat bear out of the road. We took dinner, I think, at Brooksville, which was the county site of Hernando, whose rolling, hammock lands, rich and productive, were then largely given to profitable cotton culture.

land of flowers. It was a pleasure in those days for people in the wilderness to meet strangers from outside civilization.

There is a railway belonging to my friend Mr. Plant that now terminates at Brooksville, but I suspect, unless the improbably should happen freakishly, steel track and locomotive will never, in our day, be pushed to Bayport, which, somehow, appears to be, even at the threshold of the tremendous 20th century, a hamlet that barely keeps from being actually dead.  Well, my spirits were somewhat dampened when I saw the poor place, in the gloaming, but I did not realize until the following day what was really in store for me, a child of civilization. My cousin, then an old bachelor, that is old to my youthful eyes, received me kindly. The one grand place was that of Maj. John Parsons who had accumulated a fortune during the Seminole war, and, being a practical as well as a highly educated man, was adding to it by stores and other commercial ventures on this coast. The Parsons house was a large one, substantially built, handsomely furnished and amply surrounded with a magnificent grove. The Major had married a niece of Commodore Decatur, a most estimable lady, whose brother and sister lived with her. Major Parsons had a nephew who was also one of the family. That night of my arrival there was a big party at the Parsons mansion. I went of course and had a fine time. I took for granted that all present were Bayport folks and, as some of the girls were very pretty and accomplished, I concluded that my lines had not fallen in such bad places after all. To my consternation, next morning, I had discovered that all of the bright young company had come from Cedar Keys and would take the steamboat to that place about noon. When they vanished my heart fairly sank within me. The whole prospect grew desolate, for, with the few exceptions I have mentioned, there was no congenial society at all and how I was to make a living, in such a quasi-barbarism, passed all understanding.

land of flowers. I interested myself in some rather remarkable persons whom I can never forget

However, I plucked up my courage by its drowning lock, and prepared for the best or worst. How I passed the time there, how I interested myself in some rather remarkable persons whom I can never forget, and how I emerged from the wilderness back again to civilization may be left to another occasion, when the reader, if he or she choose, after the manner of the serial novel, may continue the narrative, which, possibly, shall increase in interest. There was, all the time, a providential magnet drawing me to another sphere of action which largely determined the bent of my whole after existence in this world, and it may divert, if not instruct, some of my kind readers to learn how a fellow mortal was strangely, providentially guided in his earthly pilgrimage.

JAMES R. RANDALL

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Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Encouragement for Prospective Florida Gardeners

Florida Photographic Collection
Colonel H.L Hart’s Garden via Florida Memory

Interesting letter from the South

Slave Labor and Slave ??? – Planting and Raising Cotton – Collection of the Sweet Potatoes – Climate, Soil and Productions of Florida – Sugar Cane – Tobacco – Fruit – Gardening, &c, &c

They have been planting cotton on this plantation since we have been here. My curiosity has led me, often, to go out and see the negroes work. They always seem pleased with our visits, and treat us with the greatest deference. The children appear to be special favorites with them. One was heard to say: “I wish Mistress would sell me to Miss Lizzie.” But I do not intend to write about the negroes this time, as I intend to tell how they raise cotton.

encouragement. They have been planting cotton on this plantation since we have been here.

The first thing that would attract your attention, would be the superficial manner of preparing the ground. You spend more labor in fitting one acre for wheat, than they do three for cotton. The soil is sandy, and easily cultivated. They first mark a field, or “list it,” as they call it. The lines are made with a how, about six feet apart: then turn a furrow on each side of the line with a plow, forming beds, on which the cotton is planted in hills, about six inches apart, so that the rows have a space of some five feet apart. You would think they might double the crop, by planting all the land, and planting the rows nearer together. I inquired why they left so much space. They gave several reasons; the first was, they have so much land there is no need of crowding. They do not use fertilizers, so they must allow more room for a given crop. Then there is a necessity for space between the rows of cotton and corn, so that the air may pass through freely, otherwise the hot sun would crisp the leaves, or “fire it,” as the negroes call it.

They tell me a cotton field requires attention from the time it is planted, in March, until it is all gathered, in October or November. The weeds must be all kept down with a hoe, as the side branches shoot out so near the ground a plow would injure them. The seeds of weeds will spoil the cotton, so they must all be destroyed before the bowls or buds of the plant begin to open. The bowls ripen first on the lower branches, and open successively, like the pods of the milk weed. We saw the short cotton in the Carolinas, as it was not all gathered when we passed through. The Sea Island, or long staple cotton, which they raise here, is far superior to that.

An agent of some of the manufacturing companies in England has been here lately. He says they consider the Florida cotton the best in the world. They use it for the finest fabrics, and the supply has never been equal to the demand. He urged the planters to raise more cotton, and to gather it in a perfect condition, and he said they could demand from seventy-five cents to a dollar a pound for it. One acre of good land planted to cotton, and well tended, will yield from three to four hundred pounds of the first quality, and as much more of the second. It will be very strange if the northern men leave Florida a wilderness many years longer.

encouragement. It will be very strange if the northern men leave Florida a wilderness many years longer.

I will tell you now how they cultivate  sweet potatoes – they are planted in the month of February in rows about five feet apart. The sprouts come up and run on the ground like a vine, from six to eight feet long. In June, their vines are cut off and laid on beds formed by turning two furrows together, as they do for cotton. The earth is then hoed on them in places about six inches apart. The potatoe vines thus covered take root, and make hills of large potatoes. The yield is astounding – often three and four hundred bushels in the acre.

I could tell you much more that would astonish you, for I observe something new every day. But I want to give you some condensed extracts from a report of the president of the Florida Railroad Company, Mr. [D. D. Yulee].

He gives information that is reliable and interesting – particularly that which relates to climate, soil and production. He says the meteorological statistics published by Surgeon General Lawson show that the climate of Florida is more equitable in temperature than any other part of the United States – that it even surpasses Italy. As regards healthiness, the vital statistics collected by the Government with the census of 1850, show that the Peninsula portion of Florida exceeds every part of the Union. The soil, he says, is generally very productive, and yields all the richest [staples]; that that portion of Florida lying east and south of Swanee River, he believes to be the most desirable planting country in the South. It produces the long staple, or Sea Island cotton of commerce, with a productiveness surpassing the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. And for the cultivation of the sugar cane, he thinks the climate superior to that of Louisiana or Texas. He says there are sugar lands enough in Florida to supply a large part of the consumption of the United States.

The tobacco grown here, is peculiar to this climate and soil; and commands in market from fifteen to seventy-five cents per pound.

encouragement. ripe tomatoes and green corn in April and May, and ripe peaches and mellons in June!

A great variety of fruit can be grown here, and it is a very fine vegetable gardening region, in winter, as well as summer. The value of this capability of soil and climate, does not seem to be properly estimated here. There are but few gardens cultivated for market. If some of the industrious Dutch or English gardeners we have in Syracuse, would come here, they could make fortunes in a short time, sending early vegetables and fruits to Charleston and New York; green peas in January, new Irish potatoes in March, ripe tomatoes and green corn in April and May, and ripe peaches and mellons in June! to say nothing of the strawberries which blossom and ripen their fruit all winter. If the steamers ran directly from Jacksonville to New York without detention, you might see many of these Florida fruits and vegetables in Syracuse in good condition. – C.

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Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Saving Florida From the Indians

timucua indian chief consults a sorcerer
Timucua Indians via Florida Memory

The late attack and murders committed on Indian Key

FLORIDA. – The late attack and murders committed on Indian Key by the Seminoles of Florida, is an additional and horrible item in the catalogue of woes to which it seems that ill fated country, is destined; and excites, as it should the wonder and astonishment of the people at the cool indifference of the Government in relation to this long pending and costly war.

There seems to be an impression on the minds of some people that every misfortune is attributable to the administration, and those who are opposed to the party in power, really hesitate to complain, for fear that unworthy motives may be attributed to these constant attacks on rulers; but we submit to the Secretary of War, who, as a citizen and a public officer long in the service of his country, has many warm friends, whether the whole manner of prosecuting this war – which is entirely under his direction – is not calculated to do serious injury to the character of his country, as well as his own personal reputation? A handful of savages in Florida has cost the people of this country, in a war of five years, nearly twenty millions of dollars; the arms of the United States have, in a great measure, been sullied by repeated discomfitures with the Indians; and what is worse, they gain strength and boldness, and massacres of a shocking character will render Florida a wilderness in a short time. There appears to be no energy, no activity, no zeal in the department in relation to the only war, and that a small war, which is now carried on in Florida. A few small vessels of war, cruising in the neighbourhood of the Keys, would have protected the inhabitants from invasion, and the division of the present army into squads of one hundred or more, spread over the country, would have kept the marauders in check. At all events, there should be a concert in action between the army and local authorities of Florida: the war never will end if it is the interest of one party to carry it on, and the interest of another party to terminate it. The most effective steps would be to require the Government of Florida to convene the Council, and to transmit to Washington the most efficient plan to terminate the war, and, if feasible, to invest the Governor with ample powers to carry it on to a successful issue. – If militia, or hunters, or marksmen from the West, or bush-fighters, are necessary, employ them and pay them liberally in money and land. Let the people of Florida, friendly to peace, take this matter in hand, and let the Governor come to their aid efficiently – let the entire system of managing this war be changed – recall the Commissaries who are making fortunes, and let the people of Florida procure the supplies at the cost of the Government, and the Indians will soon disappear.

saving florida. the war never will end if it is the interest of one party to carry it on, and the interest of another party to terminate it

The Secretary of War should not permit himself to retire from office, without doing something in this business, to retrieve the disasters we have met with in this contest with the Indians. –  N.Y. Star

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Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Advice to Women in the Florida Wilderness

This letter is sensible

arch oak
Arch Oak via Shorpy

This letter is sensible, for the writer, Mrs. A. D. Hill, is carried by her sincerity into the perfectly practical advantages of the move:

“Eve up to Date – I advocate short skirts provided laced-up-at-the-side leggings are worn with them, something like the huntsman leggings ones sees in the gun-store windows, and as my husband wears on outing excursions, only they should be made from a softer fabric than canvas. While living on the Florida coast I wore such leggings on outing occasions and can vouch for their comfort and practical utility; besides, one’s shoes look much smaller peeping out from under the leggings; they are easily put on and fully protect the stockings and shoes from dust and wind, and can be made by any lady, by using one of her old stockings as a pattern, cutting away the foot, opening outside of the leg, and allowing for hem and lap, where it laces. The inclosed sketch gives my idea, as I have tried the short skirt with leggings, but only in the solitude of Florida’s wilderness, as I dared not brave the unchristian criticism of civilization. I found them pleasant to wear, cheaply made and above all other considerations, they are perfectly modest and proper.”

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Marsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

The Dangers of Steamboating

22868071994_60fd0dea14_b
A Walk Along the Kissimmee River. Via South Florida Water Management District.

Florida Desperado

Desperate Fight with and Escape of a Cattle Dealer.

By United Press over Private Wire.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., April 8. – A special from Kissimmee City to the Herald gives an account of the exciting events resulting in the capture of Ralph Willingham, a rich cattle owner and noted desperado of the Southern Florida wilderness. Willingham went aboard a steamer trading on the Kissimmee river and lakes and demanded of Captain Pearce by what right he ran a steamer on those waters. The Captain gave a civil answer, but was attacked by the gigantic Willingham who would have killed him with his bowie knife but for the interference of the crew. After a bloody struggle in which two of the crew were wounded, Willingham was overpowered and bound. Redding Parker, a brother-in-law of Willingham and also a desperate character, was asleep in the lower part of the boat during the struggle. On learning of Willingham’s capture he made a desperate effort to release his friend, and it required another fierce combat to subdue him. He afterward escaped from his captors, swam ashore and escaped. Captain Pearce took his prisoner to Galando, the county seat, to claim a standing reward of $2,500 for the outlaw. Willingham, who is known as the cattle king of South Florida, insolently boasts that his great wealth will enable him to buy his freedom. He is said to be guilty of five murders.

florida desperado. Willingham was overpowered and bound.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Ormond-by-the-Sea, 1897: A Yankee’s Paradise

ormond by the sea
Sailing on the Beach, Ormond, Florida. Via Shorpy

What a Connecticut Yankee Has Done.

Correspondence of The Courant.

Hotel Ormond, Ormond, Fla., April 14.

“Why don’t the northern papers say something about Florida?” inquired a gentleman from “The Hub” at the breakfast table of the Ormond this morning. “I come here every night, and naturally search my Boston papers for correspondence from Florida resorts, but I look in vain.”

“Perhaps,” we replied, “with the variety of weather they are having in New England at present, the North is a bit jealous of the South in the matter of spring climate, and thinks it just as well not to mention that farther down the coast there is an average temperature of 70 degrees, with balmy breezes, flowers in bloom and gardens at their best.”

ormond by the sea. an average temperature of 70 degrees, with balmy breezes, flowers in bloom and gardens at their best.

However that may be, the Boston man’s remark was a suggestion that perhaps the Connecticut people who have visited this charming spot, and the many more who would have come if they could, might be interested in a few lines from Ormond, and an accompanying story of what one Connecticut man has been doing down here for the past twenty years.

We have been a month in Florida, and have traversed the length of the east coast, 360 miles from Jacksonville to Miami. We have seen all the beautiful hotels of the Flagler system, stopping at the Moorish palaces in St. Augustine, the Royal Poinciana at Palm Beach, and the Royal Palm at Miami. And, lastly, at the closing week of the season, we have come to lovely Ormond, and find it the most home-like, the most restful and altogether enjoyable of them all.

Ormond-by-the-Sea, fifty miles south of St. Augustine, is also Ormond-on-the-Halifax, the town lying on the west bank of the Halifax, and the hotel on the peninsula, half a mile wide, between the river and the ocean. The Halifax is really an arm of the sea, a tropical lagoon, its banks fringed with groves of palmetto, orange, oak and pine. Hotel Ormond fronts the river, its yellow towers and balconies peeping through the picturesque groves and shaded pathways of its ample grounds. Its wide plazzas invite the visitor to “Cease to think, and be content to be,” and its doorways swing side to a home-like hospitality, dispensed by its courteous proprietors, Messrs. Anderson and Price, the one a New Englander, the other a Kentuckian. The lobby bright with pots of ferns, flowers and palms, with a big Dutch fireplace where an oaken log glows on cool evenings, is the favourite indoor resort. In the office hangs a portrait of James Ormond, an English officer in the Bahamas, to whom the Spanish government gave in 1790 a grant of land, covering the town which bears his name. Here he settled and cleared large sugar plantations. Two ruined chimneys, used for sugar boiling, mark the site of these plantations, and are objective points for one of the delightful drives for which Ormond is famous. The roads here are hard and smooth, of marl and shell deposit, and one may drive for miles through the shaded hammock or along the beach, without ploughing through any tiresome sand. The beach, one of the most beautiful on the Atlantic coast, is, at low tide, a broad, smooth boulevard, where the horses’ feet resound as on a pavement, and where the wheel hardly leaves a mark; an ideal stretch of twenty miles for the bicycle or the carriage drive.

ormond by the sea. The roads here are hard and smooth, of marl and shell deposit

En passant, Florida may give us a lesson in the use of the wide tire. All the carriages here have wheel tires from two to three inches in width, which roll smoothly without sinking in the track, improving rather than cutting up the roads. A picturesque drive takes us to Daytona, largely a New England settlement, seven miles to the south, and called the prettiest village in Florida, with its handsome homes and shaded avenues. Going south, the drive is through the hammock, shaded by oaks and palmettos, and pines so tall that their “tiny tops seem close against the sky.” Returning by the beach, the surf rolls in on our right, and wild ducks, flocks of snipe and little fiddler crabs watch for their pray after each receding wave. Near the hotel is a neat Episcopal Church, with a rectory adjoining. Here service is held weekly during the tourist season. The Rev. John T. Huntington of Hartford is a frequent preacher here. A favourite drive with the tourist is seven miles to the north to “Number Nine,” the plantation of C. A. Bacon, a veteran of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, wounded at Hilton Head and a living example of what Yankee pluck, brains and energy will do without other capital.

After the close of the war, Mr. Bacon took up a government grant of three-quarters of a mile front on the peninsula between the Halifax and the ocean. In 1876 he left New Britain for his new home, arriving in the Florida wilderness in March, with 50 cents in his pocket. He built a palmetto hut, five miles from a human habitation, and began clearing his ground, working all day, and often by moonlight. Deer, bears, possums, ‘coons and owls were his only companions. Mr Bacon named his camp “Number Nine,” from Jim Fenton’s camp in the story of “Seven Oaks” by J.G. Holland. His first house, to which he brought his wife, was covered with cypress shingles made by himself from logs brought ten miles on a raft. The frame of the house was built from the deck plank of the West India steamer Vera Cruz, wrecked off Ormond in 1880, and three of the doors are from the steamer’s cabin. Mr. Bacon gathered a large amount of useful stores from the wreckage, and buried the bodies washed ashore.

ormond by the sea. Deer, bears, possums, ‘coons and owls were his only companions

His first business venture was the setting of a half acre of seedling orange trees, which in two years netted him $1,600. He has kept on working and clearing, until now he has a fifteen-acre orange grove, under high cultivation, fine seedling nurseries, an established business in canned fruits, and a beautiful garden, with plants and shrubs from every corner of the globe. The late freeze made disastrous work with his orange grove, but, with his true wife for a help-meet, he works bravely on. His 50 cents has become $50,000 – counting property and yearly profits. He has just built a pretty new house, in colonial style, and as we admired the polished mahogany finish of hall and staircase, he told us that the wood was washed ashore from a South American vessel after a storm. He showed a field of Para grass from which he gathers a crop of eight tons to the acre, a crop maturing in six weeks. We also saw a Yankee apple tree, which, losing all reckoning in the Florida climate, was exhausting itself with two crops a year.

Mr. Bacon is still a New Englander at heart, with a genial manner, and an inexhaustible fund of stories. Visitors are all welcome, but especially those from his own state, to whom he is proud to relate that he fought for the Union under General Hawley, was in thirteen battles, three times wounded, and is still hale and hearty. – J.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Antics of the Great Horned Virginia Owl

great horned owl
Horned Owl. Via Archive.org

Who-Who!

I heard a bird singing the other night. It introduced itself as “Who-who! who-who!” That was the whole burden of its song as it sat there on the summit of a tall pine tree.       

The moonlight was very brilliant, as it always is in Florida, and the outline of the great bird stood out sharply against the sky. It did not look at all like “the little cherub that sits up aloft.” In truth, its aspect was the direct opposite, for two horn-like spurs stood up over its head, and a distinct tail hung down below the branch on which it sat. Without doubt, these significant looking horns, feathers though they be, have as much to do as its gruesome cry with the dread in which many people hold the great-horned Virginia owl. I have never met any one yet who enjoys that uncanny “Who-who! who-who!” in the middle of the night.

great horned virginia owl. the outline of the great bird stood out sharply against the sky

Not long ago two carpenters, who were new to the sights and sounds of our Florida wilderness, became involved in a quarrel with some of the old settlers. The former slept in a little log cabin in the woods, and that night they were roused from their slumbers by an appalling sound, a deep, hollow voice calling “who-who! who-who!”

It was close by, and the next moment the signal, as the carpenters believed it to be, was answered from the other side. Then they felt sure that their enemies had come to attack them. Seizing their guns they clambered out one of the side windows and crept softly away into a clump of palmettos. They were badly demoralized. Again came that blood-curdling cry, again its answer, and then two of the big horned owls flew over their heads and the “who-who! who-who!” died away in the distance.

The men looked at each other, had a hearty laugh and went back to bed. The joke was too good to keep to themselves, so one day they told it.

Another man had a comical experience in this line, not long afterwards. He had been to town and imbibed rather more liquid refreshments than was good for him. Consequently he lost his way in the dark. He was sober enough, however, to begin to shout, hoping that some one would hear and answer him.

           “I’m lost I’m lost!” he shouted; and presently came an answering call:

            “Who-who? who-who?”

            “I’m lost! I’m lost!”

            “Who-who? who-who?”

            “What’s matter who? It’s me, Tom Smith, and I’m lost.

            “Who-who?” 

“It’s me, Tom Smith, I tell you!” interrupted the irate wanderer. “Can’t you tell a feller the road without askin’ his name? Say, what yer doin’ up in that tree, anyhow? Come down out o’ that, ‘stead o’ sittin’ up there sassin’ folks!”

For by this time he had traced the answering voice to a tree by the roadside, and when a neighbour who had been enjoying the fun, revealed himself, the angry man was treating the supercilious owl that sat up aloft with some very energetic language.

Even the Indians, fierce and savage and heedless of danger as they are, have a wholesome fear of the great horned owl. They dread that weird “who-who! who-who!” even knowing whence it comes. They call its source the “Death owl.” Let an Indian hear its hollow, resounding call, and at once he whistles to it, or, if not in sight, towards the direction whence the sound proceeds. Then he listens in intense, breathless eagerness. If the owl repeats the cry, the savage goes on his way rejoicing. But if there be no answer to his whistle the Indian bows his head in resignation, and moves slowly away in the full belief that he has heard his summons to a speedy death.

great horned virginia owl. fierce and savage and heedless of danger as they are

No one who has heard that melancholy cry coming out of the stillness of a dark night is likely to forget it. Many a time in the by-gone days of Indian warfare has a sudden call to arms in the dead of night been drawn forth by the startling cry of “who-who! who-who!” But you must not suppose that this is all the great horned owl is capable of in this line. It has other nocturnal solos and one of these is an excellent imitation of the half-suffocating screams of a person who is being throttled. I heard not long ago of two newcomers here in Florida who bravely rushed out into the darkness, rifle in hand, to rescue a supposed victim from a murderous assault. They found no one, of course, and were further mystified by hearing the same distressed cries proceeding from the air above them. Looking up, they traced the shadowy outline of a large horned owl sitting on the peak of their house.     

Their dog had rushed out with them, and presently the owl ruffled up its feathers, drooped its wings and barked angrily, as clear and true a bark as that which the astonished dog sent back in return. This barking is an accomplishment that the owl delights in, especially in winter nights or when it sees a dog, toward which animal it shows a decided antipathy.

great horned virginia owl. barking is an accomplishment that the owl delights in

The great horned owl has a healthy appetite of its own, and disdains nothing, whether “fish, flesh or fowl;” squirrels, ducks, rabbits, rats, mice, weasels, chickens – all are eagerly captured and devoured.

But it has one favourite tidbit, over and above all others – it dearly loves the wild turkey. That bird, however, is a wise one, like unto the owl itself, and is always on the alert. The owl has small chance to capture it except by seeking out its roosting place and then pouncing on it suddenly from above, before it has time to awaken. But even so the owl does not always come off the victor in this sly little game. The wild turkey is a light sleeper, and is not often caught napping. Roused by the rushing wings of its swooping foe it often outwits the owl in a comical way. Down goes its head, up goes its tail; the latter spreading flat over its back like a shield.       

The owl alights with swift impetus on the stiff, slippery tail-feathers, and takes a regular toboggan slide down the sharply inclined back of its intended victim, shooting off into the air. Before it has time to turn or recover from its amazement at this queer turn of affairs, the turkey is off, hiding safely in the underbrush, and, as we can well imagine, indulging in a hearty laugh over its crestfallen foe. – Philadelphia Times.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Early Story of the Fountain of Youth

ponce-de-leon
Ponce de Leon. Via American Gallery.

Florida is the land of wonders

Florida is the land of wonders, despite its wild morasses, its alligators, and its sterility in places. A recent and remarkable event there has raised the question, does Ponce de Lewis’ [sic] fountain of growth really exist? The circumstances, as brought out in a triple trial, are these: During the war, Fred. Halsemann, an old planter of Hillsboro county, fled at the approach of the Federal fleet, with his wife and child of five years. The wife got separated from the husband and child and wandered back home. Three years later, a man of about thirty, apparently, and a boy of five, came up to the house and joyfully greeted the lady, but were beaten and driven away. In the scuffle, however, a picture of the lady fell from the man’s pocket, and he explained that he was her husband, but that in his wanderings had fallen into a spring, and was at once changed from and old man to one of apparently thirty. He plunged his son in, but it merely seemed to check his growth.

early story fountain of youth. Florida is the land of wonders

After a few days the man reappeared, and reported that the child had died of fright and because of the beating he had received. Suit was at once instituted by the man for the recovery of his property, and three trials were had, the jury disagreeing each time. He rested his claim on the intimate knowledge of the history of the family, on the likeness of the child to the one taken away, and on his ability to point out the spring. He failed in the last item, – not remarkably, as few could surely locate points in a Florida wilderness. At the late election, the man was shot, thus ending the contest.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

Changing the Landscape One Tree at a Time

picking oranges in leesburg florida.jpg
Picking oranges in Leesburg, Florida. Via Florida Memory.

Orange Groves and Settlements – Spring Garden.

It seems Chicago enterprise is accomplishing most wonderful results in Florida. The following article, taken from the Florida Agriculturist, of De Land, Fla., shows how a Chicago citizen can make a Florida wilderness both inviting and exceedingly productive.  

Seven years ago, Maj. George H. Norris, of Chicago, perceiving at once the valuable advantages of the locality, purchased a tract of 7,000 acres, a goodly portion of which is as fertile land as was ever turned by plow. A large part, too, consisted of dense hammock, – so thick with a luxuriant growth of majestic oaks, with cedar, cypress, hickory, and shrubbery of all kinds, gracefully festooned with the beautiful gray Spanish moss, as to obscure the sun while walking underneath. Scattered through this hammock here and there are acres of orange-trees in countless numbers, from the lofty tree, hoary with age, to the youthful sapling, and down to the little tender shoot, so thickly growing under the shade of the surrounding growth as to form a carpet of verdure like a field of young grain.

changing the landscape. thick with a luxuriant growth of majestic oaks, with cedar, cypress, hickory, and shrubbery of all kinds

With the ready instinct and courage of a thorough business man, Maj. Norris cut at once into the heart of this hammock, and opened up these different patches of wild orange groves, and, selecting the best trees for budding, thinned out the rest to give them room to grow. The work was Titanic, and the expense great, but the reward is already being realized, and before long will be most ample. Seven years ago he purchased a trackless, virgin hammock; now he has vigorous, thrifty orange groves, numbered from one to eleven, with roads and paths cut from one to the other. A large number of these trees, twenty or more feet high, not one older than a seven-year’s bud, are as fine a grove as we have ever seen, and are yielding remarkably well. Three years ago his four-year-old buds began to bear, and from these comparatively recent beginnings he last year shipped over 100,000 oranges. His lemon trees, too, are rapidly maturing, and for the many he has already shipped he has received handsome returns.        

One of his most successful experiments was to remove to a better location, and in grove form, 130 large and old trees, some just ready to bloom and bear. But very few seemed even wilted, and he maintains many will bear well in two years. With incredible toil and cost he has had cleared and fenced some 300 acres, and has had budded, with the choicest varieties of oranges and lemons, thousands of trees. This is going on annually; every year more acres cleared, more thousands of trees budded. Maj. Norris is an enthusiastic and sturdy advocate for budding on sour stock, and his remarkable success seems to warrant his belief. Scattered all through the hammock are vast numbers of old sour orange trees, twenty-five to fifty feet high, still loaded, as indeed they are the year round, with their acceptable fruit.          

In the midst of these eleven groves on the shore of Spring Garden Lake, a beautiful sheet of water, Maj. Norris has erected a large drying and packing house, capable of holding 50,000 oranges at one time. A novel and we should think a useful feature connected with this establishment is the new way of having the drying racks work on pivots, so as to bring the fruit into more easy access for handling and drying.

changing the landscape. a beautiful sheet of water       

The settlement proper of Spring Garden is a cluster of some score or more houses, extending over quite an area, each surrounded by its thrifty orange-grove, and nearly every one showing evidence of taste and no small architectural skill. The main avenue is five and three-quarters miles long and a hundred feet broad, along the centre of which is planted a row of oak and magnolia trees that in time will make it one of the finest boulevards in the country. Another runs parallel to this of equal length; and five others cross these, sixty-six feet wide. It is estimated that an entire homestead (160 acres) is taken up in these different avenues.        

To accommodate tourists, casual visitors, and permanent boarders, a pretty and picturesque as well as commodious hotel, with a fine, vigorous orange-grove in front, has been completed and opened for guests by Mr. E. M. Turner, of Chicago, fitted up most tastefully, and replete with home accommodations and comfort. Every effort seems to be made by the host and his hospitable wife to supply the wants of their guests. Some of the many attractions for visitors may be found in the hunting and fishing, and also in a magnificent natural medicinal spring, so large as to afford a volume of water, escaping in a strong stream of several feet [fall], or sufficient power to run a large mill or factory. Our time was too limited to explore this famous spring, so its description must be left for a future number.       

Seven years ago this settlement was a forest; now the following are some of the families of respectability, education, and refinement, who have made it their residence or have invested in groves, each having their grove in a more or less stage of development: Prof. Stone, Massachusetts, twenty-five acres: J.G. Shapley, Chicago, fourteen acres; the Rev. Mr. Bardwell, Des Moines, la., six acres; Mr. Bliss, American Publishing House, Hartford, Conn., six acres; Mr. Greggy Homer, Mich., five acres; Messrs. Hall & Hammond, Chicago, fives acres; Maj. Norris, six acres, and ten more clearing on his house-lot; Col. Weikiser, Chicago, ten acres; Mr. Haynes, Illinois, a very fine grove of twenty-two acres, coming into bearing; Mr. Maynard, Massachusetts, ten acres; Mr. Dyer, Massachusetts, five acres; Mr. Lyman, ten acres; Mr. Buell, Utica, Ill., ten acres; Mr. Bredow, Michigan, five acres; Mr. Drury, Massachusetts, seven acres; Mrs. Boutell, Michigan, five acres; Mr. Wheeton, Massachusetts, seven acres; Messrs. Barnett & Kimball, Massachusetts, ten acres; Mr. Delano, Chicago, twenty acres; Mr. Hart Norris, Chicago, five acres; Norris, Kelly & Co., forty acres; Mr. Hyman, Canada, thirty-two acres in oranges and give in choice lemons; Fred Norris’ five acres; McKee & Co., New York, six acres; Mr. Morse, Massachusetts, five acres; Mr. Clark, Massachusetts, five acres , – making a total over 400 acres in orange-groves, every acre of which, in a few years, will be in full bearing. Of great assistance to the progress of this settlement is the time saw-mill on Mr. Mekeel’s lot, under the efficient management of Mr. Conkling.

changing the landscape. Seven years ago this settlement was a forest     

On our return we could not refrain from passing through the groves of Hart Norris and Mr. Hyman. The stupendous work that has been done on Mr. Hyman’s rich hammock place, particularly in clearing away the enormous oaks and dense underbrush, required a pluck and industry of no ordinary kind.          

All over the State are just such prosperous settlements and beautiful orange and lemon groves as well as profitable fields of smaller fruits.

marsanneMarsanne Petty conducts historical research about 18th century southern United States and environmental history. To get more great updates and original history, sign up at The Southern Sage. To get her to help you with your own research project, email mapetty[at]gmail.com.

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