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Florida Frontiers “Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, and Zora Neale Hurston”

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Florida Frontiers “Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, and Zora Neale Hurston”
Ben Brotemarkle


We recently lost two significant contributors to our culture.

Poet, author, and performing artist Maya Angelou died on May 28, at the age of 86. Actress, playwright, and activist Ruby Dee died on June 11, at the age of 91.

These strong, influential, and talented women were both significantly influenced by Florida writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.

Both Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee contributed to the new book “Reflections from ZORA! Celebrating 25 Years of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities,” published by the Florida Historical Society Press.

Established in 1887, Eatonville, Florida is the oldest incorporated African American municipality in the United States. The town figures prominently in the work of its most famous resident, Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston was a celebrated figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and ‘30s, and arguably the most significant cultural figure to come from Central Florida.

Since 1990, The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) has produced the ZORA! Festival, presenting academics, artists, and other creative thinkers through lectures and panel discussions, visual and performing arts presentations, and a vibrant outdoor festival.

Both Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee were involved with the ZORA! Festival from the beginning.

Maya Angelou has written more than thirty best-selling books including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In 1993, she read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. She toured Europe in a production of “Porgy and Bess,” and recorded an album of calypso music. She was active in the civil rights movement, working with both Malcom X and Martin Luther King. She has written, directed, and appeared in feature films. She was Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest. While visiting Eatonville for the fifth annual ZORA! Festival, Maya Angelou praised the event:

“This festival has a singular importance. It is not a festival in New York City or in Hollywood. It’s not a festival in Chicago, or any of the big metropoli of the world. It’s in Eatonville, Florida. And it is singular in that the festival—its existence itself—educates. Without a person even having to come here, he or she is forced to recognize this was the first incorporated all black town in the United States. That’s fantastic to know. Many black people don’t know that there were any. Not to mention whites, or Spanish-speaking or Native American.”

Zora Neale Hurston is best remembered for her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the story of Janie Crawford and her attempts at self-realization. As an anthropologist, Hurston studied under the renowned Franz Boas. Her most important collection of folklore, “Mules and Men” was written in 1929 in Eau Gallie. Hurston also wrote dozens of short stories, essays, and dramatic works.

Actress Ruby Dee has appeared in numerous stage, film, and television productions, including the stage and film versions of “A Raisin in the Sun,” the film “Do the Right Thing,” and the screen adaptation of “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” As part of the first annual ZORA! Festival, Ruby Dee conducted an acting workshop at Rollins College. During a break in the workshop, she discussed what makes Hurston’s writings noteworthy:

“The thing that really intrigues about Zora is that she recognized that our intellectuals, our giant imaginations, our brilliant people weren’t necessarily the scholars and the middle class. She knew that found in the back woods are extraordinary people, who never heard of Ibsen, who are capable of putting the universe in perspective—genius storytellers who could put the elements of life into imaginative contexts, who might not be able to spell or read and write.”

Zora Neale Hurston died broke and largely forgotten in Fort Pierce in 1960. Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee, who both died recently with well-deserved accolades and recognition, helped to revive interest in Zora Neale Hurston’s work and preserve her legacy for future generations.

For more information read the book “Reflections from ZORA! Celebrating 25 Years of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.” The book includes contributions from Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Amiri Baraka, Alice Walker, N.Y. Nathiri, and many others.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers.” The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: Maya Angelou and Ruby Dee both contributed to the new book “Reflections from ZORA! Celebrating 25 Years of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.”
Photo 2 caption: ZORA! Festival founder N.Y. Nathiri (left) with Ruby Dee (center) and actress Elizabeth Van Dyke.


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Florida Frontiers “Cemeteries as Living History Symposium”

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Florida Frontiers “Cemeteries as Living History Symposium”
Ben Brotemarkle


After the loss of a loved one, a cemetery can be a place of quiet reflection, private mourning, and feeling more connected to the person who has passed away.

As years, decades, and centuries go by, cemeteries become outdoor museums, reflecting the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the societies that created them.

On Saturday morning, the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute (FHSAI) will present a symposium called “Cemeteries as Living History” at the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens in the Eau Gallie section of Melbourne.

Dr. Rachel Wentz, Director of FHSAI, will lead a discussion about why archaeologists study cemeteries and what can be learned from them.

“They provide information on social structure, social stratification, technology,” Wentz says. “We get a lot of information from grave good assemblages, what people are buried with. Even the position of the body, how the grave is constructed, tells us a lot about belief systems within societies.”

Walk through a Florida cemetery that is more than fifty years old and it becomes readily apparent how various historical periods are reflected there. You can see people segregated by race, ethnicity, and religion, even in death. The very wealthy in life may be remembered with an ornate mausoleum, while a hard working but economically disadvantaged person may not even have a headstone.

As a bioarchaeologist, Dr. Wentz studies bones. She points out that skeletons found in ancient cemeteries are an essential part of archaeological studies.

“They give us information as to past diet, lifestyle, disease processes. We can trace the origins of diseases by studying skeletons.”

In addition to learning about what burial practices, and the burials themselves, can tell us about a society and its culture, participants in the “Cemeteries as Living History” symposium will be given an overview of historic Florida cemeteries. Ben DiBiase, Director of Educational Resources for the Florida Historical Society, will discuss historic cemeteries in Pensacola, St. Augustine, and Key West.

Although it was probably in use by the late 1700s, St. Michael’s Cemetery in Pensacola was officially recognized by the King of Spain in 1807. “It’s one of the oldest historic cemeteries in Florida, with over 3,000 known burials,” DiBiase says.

In St. Augustine, Catholics were buried at the Tolomato Cemetery in the 1700s and 1800s, with the last burial taking place there in 1884. The Huguenot Cemetery was where Protestants were buried between 1821 and 1884. “And of course, there’s the St. Augustine National Cemetery,” says DiBiase, “where there are a number of soldiers who were buried in the nineteenth century, including those who were killed in the infamous Dade Massacre of 1835.”

Over 100,000 people have been interred in the Historic Key West Cemetery, which is still in use today. DiBiase says that “In the nineteenth century, Key West was one of the largest cities in Florida because of its location as a trade port.”

As part of the symposium, DiBiase will lead a tour of the Houston Family Cemetery that is part of the Rossetter House Museum complex. “The Houston’s came to Brevard County in the mid-nineteenth century,” DiBiase says, “just before the American Civil War. John Carroll Houston is actually the oldest known burial in that site. He died in 1885, and his headstone is still there.”

Other workshops have been held recently providing information about the proper care and maintenance of historic cemeteries. While that information will also be covered on Saturday, FHSAI Director Rachel Wentz says that this symposium is different.

“We’re going to be looking at historic cemeteries and prehistoric cemeteries in a broader perspective,” Wentz says. “It’s going to be more of an engaging discussion on the role of cemeteries in modern life and in research.”

Cemeteries can help us feel more connected to those who have recently died, and they can help us to learn more about our distant past.

The Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute will present the “Cemeteries as Living History” symposium on Saturday, June 21, from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Historic Rossetter House Museum and Gardens, 320 Highland Avenue, in the Eau Gallie section of Melbourne. Admission if free, but a $10 donation is suggested.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers.” The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: More than 100,000 people have been buried in the historic Key West Cemetery.
Photo 2 caption: A volunteer uses “best practices” to clean a headstone in the Houston Family Cemetery in Eau Gallie.



Florida Frontiers “Florida Cattle”

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Florida Frontiers “Florida Cattle”
Ben Brotemarkle


Even where urban sprawl has enveloped large portions of the Florida landscape, Florida cattle are never too far from view. Traveling the major interstates, highways, and particularly rural roads throughout the state, herds of cattle can be seen grazing on even small patches of land. White birds called cattle egrets often stand on or near the cows, eating ticks, flies, and other insects attracted to the large mammals.

Cattle first came to Florida with the Spanish.

After Ponce de Léon gave our state its name in 1513, he returned eight years later to establish a colony in Southwest Florida. The Calusa Indians, known for their colorful ceremonial masks and intricate wood carvings, attacked Ponce and his entourage, repelling the settlement attempt. Ponce later died from wounds he received in the attack.

As he was forced to flee the Calusa, Ponce de Léon abandoned a herd of Andalusian cattle he had brought to help feed his colonists. Those animals are believed to be the first domesticated cattle in North America.

When the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came to Southwest Florida in 1539, he also brought herds of cattle with him. As de Soto moved north through the center of the state, many of the cows strayed and were left behind.

Some of the abandoned Spanish cows roamed free, while others were bred and domesticated by Native Americans in Florida.

As pioneer settlers came to Florida in the mid-1800s, establishing a cattle industry here seemed prudent.

During the Civil War, Florida became the primary supplier of beef to the Confederate Army. Jacob Summerlin, known as the “King of the Crackers,” was one of the most successful cattlemen in the state. Many families still active in Florida’s cattle industry can trace their roots back to men who raised cattle during the Civil War, including Jack Yates, Henry Overstreet, George W. Bronson, and Isaac Lanier.

The Central Florida town of Kissimmee was a focal point for the state’s thriving cattle industry even before the war, and it remains so today.

The railroad came to Kissimmee in 1882, expanding cattle exportation. The citrus industry and tourism benefited from the railroad as well. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, steamboat traffic on the Kissimmee River also aided the local cattle industry. In the early twentieth century, Kissimmee cattlemen overcame livestock parasites such as stomach worms and the Texas fever tick.

The Florida ranchers successfully bred the Spanish cow descendants with Brahman, Angus, and Hereford stock.

The Florida Cattlemen’s Association was formed in Kissimmee in 1934. The group addresses cattle industry concerns such as promoting the sale of Florida-grown meat and fighting what they see as adverse legislation.

In 1938, the Kissimmee Livestock Auction Market was established to sell cattle on a weekly basis. An arena was constructed next to the Auction Market, where the first Silver Spurs Rodeo was held in 1944.

It is estimated that about one thousand people attended the first Silver Spurs Rodeo. The modern facility used today seats ten thousand.

The traditions of performing the Quadrille on Horseback and other rodeo skills are passed from one generation to the next in Kissimmee. On “Rodeo Day,” students in Osceola County get the day off from school to allow participation in the event.

The town of Kissimmee is best known today as the next-door-neighbor of Disney World. Highway 192 in Kissimmee is a seemingly endless series of hotels, T-shirt shops, discount malls, and themed restaurants.

Just beyond the neon and chaser lights of Highway 192, the cattle industry is alive and well in this historic community.

The 133rd Silver Spurs Rodeo was held June 6 and 7. The National Barrel Horse Association Florida State Finals are June 19-22 at the Silver Spurs Arena.

For more information on the cattle industry in Florida, past and present, visit the Osceola County Welcome Center and History Museum at 750 N. Bass Road in Kissimmee.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers." The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: The Silver Spurs Rodeo Horseback Quadrille performed in Kissimmee, features representatives from Florida’s historic cattle industry families. This photo by H.W. Hannau is from the 1960s.
Photo 2 caption info: Young girl with a cow in 1953, at the Heart Bar Ranch in Kissimmee.



Florida Frontiers “St. Mark’s Episcopal Church”

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Florida Frontiers “St. Mark’s Episcopal Church”
Ben Brotemarkle


Today, parking in downtown Cocoa can be at a premium when services or special events are held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

When the church was first built in 1886, many in the congregation would arrive by water, mooring their boats on the banks of the Indian River. It’s just a few steps from the river’s edge to the front door of the church. Others would walk to church from homes along the river.

The first meeting of what would become St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was held on June 2, 1878. The Right Reverend John Freeman Young, Bishop of Florida, and Dr. William H. Carter of Holy Cross Church of Sanford, gathered the founding members of the church at the home of A.L. Hatch in Rockledge. Dr. Carter later moved to Tallahassee, but services continued to be held by various priests.

The church was originally called St. Michael’s, in recognition of St. Michael the Archangel.

In 1884, Mrs. Lucy Boardman, a frequent visitor to Cocoa and Melbourne from her winter residence in Sanford, donated funds to Bishop Young for the construction of Episcopal churches near the Indian River. Mrs. Sarah O. Delannoy donated the land where St. Mark’s sits today.

According to an historic marker erected by the Brevard County Historical Commission in 2010, Gabriel Gingras designed the board and batten Carpenter Gothic church. Early Cocoa residents William Booth and William Hindle designed and installed the church’s woodwork.

Dr. S.B. Carpenter, Rector of Holy Cross Church of Sanford, visited Cocoa once per month to oversee construction of the church. Although it was not quite finished, the first service was held in the new church on Christmas Eve, 1886.

The church’s tower bell, called “Michael,” was cast in New York in 1888.

In 1890, the name of the church was changed from St. Michael’s to St. Mark’s, in recognition of support provided by St. Mark’s Church in West Orange, New Jersey.

Although St. Mark’s has undergone significant additions and renovations over the years, most of the original interior woodwork and stained glass remains intact.

Many of the beautiful stained glass windows in St. Mark’s are dedicated to early founders of the church. For example, one panel is dedicated in memory of Arch Deacon William H. Gresson, who was born August 1846 and died June 1921.

Another window was created in memory of Emma J. Hardee, who was born October 6, 1847, and died May 16, 1915; and Florence H. Gingras, born May 16, 1870, and died November 6, 1913.

Sarepta E. Hartman, born May 9, 1839, and died December 9, 1924, is also remembered with a stained glass window. Another is dedicated to Cora M. Cook, born 1858, and died 1915.

When St. Mark’s was renovated in 1925, great care was taken to maintain the integrity of the original structure of the church. Stucco was added to the exterior, giving the building a Mediterranean style very popular at the time. Where additional woodwork was added to the interior, it closely matched the original.

With the addition of its first Rector, the Reverend William Loftin Hargrave, St. Mark’s was raised to “parish” status in 1938. Reverend Hargrave was later named Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of South Florida and Bishop of Southwest Florida.

In February 1942, the Emma Cecilia Thursby Memorial Fellowship Hall was completed, providing space for community gatherings. Thursby was a popular opera singer in America and Europe in the late 1800s and a professor of music at the Institute of Musical Art, now the Julliard School, in the early 1900s. Thursby and her sister wintered in Cocoa.

St. Mark’s Parish Day School, known today as St. Mark’s Episcopal Academy, was established in 1956. Since then, education has been a primary focus of the church.

The most recent renovations to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church were in 1994, when the worship area was expanded to its present capacity, and in 2012, when pews modeled after the originals were installed.

While fewer people walk to church or moor their sailboats nearby as they did in 1886, the full parking spaces around St. Mark’s each week indicate that the church is as vital a part of the Cocoa community as ever.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers.” The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Cocoa.

Photo 2 caption info: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Cocoa in the early 1900s.

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Florida Frontiers “The Peter Demens Story”

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Florida Frontiers “The Peter Demens Story”
Ben Brotemarkle

Peter Demens lived in Florida for only eight years, but his time here is memorable.

While living in Longwood, just north of Orlando, Demens constructed buildings on the campus of the state’s oldest private college, established a railway connecting Central Florida to the Gulf Coast, and gave the city of St. Petersburg its name.

Peter Demens was born Pytor A. Dementyev. Although he was an orphan by age 4, Demens was well provided for by his wealthy family in Russia. Demens was raised by his maternal uncle, a nobleman named Anastassy Alexandrovich Kaliteevsky. He grew up with a full staff of servants living on two inherited estates, one near Moscow and one near St. Petersburg. By age 17 he was managing his family estates.

In 1867, Demens entered military service under Alexander II as a lieutenant. Four years later he retired as a captain and returned to controlling his family’s business interests.

When Czar Alexander II was murdered and the more authoritarian Alexander III came to power, Demens became outspoken about his liberal, anti-czarist political views. He was exiled from Russia and came to the United States in 1880.

Demens claimed that he was “forced to flee Russia” before the military raided his estate, but some historians have concluded that his departure from his homeland was more likely prompted by his participation in a scandal involving the embezzlement of funds from the government.

Whatever the reason for Demens leaving Russia, he set sail for New York in May 1881, with $3,000 in his pocket. During the voyage Demens learned English from a textbook. By the time he arrived in New York, Pytor A. Dementyev had become Peter Demens.

Demens spent only one day in New York before boarding a train bound for Jacksonville. He wanted to start an orange grove there, but thought the land was too expensive. Demens continued south to less developed, and less expensive territory in Central Florida.

Peter Demens settled in Longwood. He bought an eighty acre orange grove and one-third interest in a sawmill. Within two years, Demens bought out his partners in the sawmill and acquired a contract to build the station houses for the South Florida Railroad.

Demens was also hired to construct buildings on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park. Established in 1885, Rollins College is the oldest private college in Florida. (DeLand University was established two years earlier, but became Stetson University in 1889.) While photographs from the 1880s show the buildings at Rollins to be attractive, college administrators deemed them to be “quite deficient” upon their completion.

While living in Longwood, Demens also received a contract to make railroad ties for the Orange Belt Railway. The track would run from the south side of Lake Apopka and continue to the Tampa Bay area. After many financial setbacks, the track was completed and Demens was given the railroad charter instead of payment.

With control of the railway, Demens decided to name the new town at the end the line after one of his childhood homes in Russia, St. Petersburg.

Today, Peter Demens is remembered with a monument and historical marker in Demens Landing Park, site of the first railroad pier in St. Petersburg. Remembered as a founding father of the city, Demens also built the first hotel there, the Detroit.

Building the railroad left Demens in debt, and he sold it in 1889. He left Longwood for North Carolina and later moved to California. Beginning in 1904, Demens helped hundreds of Russians immigrate to California. Many of those immigrants were members of the Molokan Church, a Protestant denomination that split from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Peter Demens died in California in 1919, but he played an integral role in the growth of Florida in the 1880s.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers.” The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: Peter Demens constructed some of the original buildings on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park in the mid-1880s.
Photo 2 caption info: Orange Belt Railway Engine 7.
Photo 3 caption info: Peter Demens.


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1  Florida Folklorist Peggy Bulger

2. Joseph Marshall Papers from American Revolution

3. Windover Archaeological Dig Textiles

29:00 minutes (26.55 MB)

Florida Frontiers “The John H. Sams Homestead”

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Florida Frontiers “The John H. Sams Homestead”
Ben Brotemarkle

Life in Eau Gallie just wasn’t working out for John H. Sams and his family.

Sams and his wife Sarah had followed other family members from South Carolina to Eau Gallie, establishing their own homestead in 1875.

The 36 year-old Sams built a cabin for his wife and five children near the home of his cousins in the LaRoche family. For three years, Sams tried to establish a successful orange grove, but failed. He had no better luck with other crops he attempted to grow. In 1878, Sams decided to move his family to Merritt Island, because “it looked more like South Carolina.”

Sams didn’t just pack up his family’s belongings to make the move north. He packed up the entire house itself.

In November 1878, Sams dismantled his three-room cabin piece by piece, placed the sections of his home on a raft, and floated it up the Indian River to Merritt Island.

Today, the 1875 Sams Family Cabin serves as an education center in the 950-acre Pine Island Conservation Area, owned jointly by the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program and the St. Johns River Water Management District. Visit the property and you can still see the Roman numerals that Sams placed on sections of his cabin to help with reassembly.

Part of the education center features displays about the original inhabitants of the area. Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric human habitation on the property from about 5,000 BC to 2,500 AD. Ice Age fossils discovered on the property demonstrate that mammoths, mastodons, giant tortoises, and other large prehistoric animals lived and died there long before the Sams family arrived.

John H. Sams was a much more successful farmer on his new Merritt Island property. He and his LaRoche cousins thrived with their citrus, sugar cane, and pineapple crops. The family shared their prosperity with the community, which they named Courtenay after the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Sams family helped to establish St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Courtenay, a congregation that remains active today. Before the original church was built, services were held in the Sams cabin.

In 1880, John H. Sams was named the first Superintendent of Schools in Brevard County, adding to his stature in the community. Sams served as superintendent until 1920, while managing his agricultural business at the same time.

By 1888, Sams position in the community and his expanding family prompted him to build a new, two-story home. Perhaps because he had gone to so much effort bringing his cabin to Merritt Island from Eau Gallie, he constructed his new house directly adjacent to the original family home on the property.

The 1888 Sams family home has a wraparound porch, an office on the first floor where Sams kept track of his business interests and superintendent duties, a family room with a fireplace, three bedrooms upstairs, and a metal roof.

John H. Sams died in 1923 at the age of 84. Members of the Sams family lived on their Merritt Island property continuously from 1878 until 1996, when the land was purchased by the EEL program.

Today, visitors to the Sams Homestead at 6195 North Tropical Trail can enjoy learning about local history through the exhibits in the Sams Cabin Education Center and the 1888 Sams House. The 1875 cabin is the oldest standing home in Brevard County.

A roughly circular concrete path behind the cabin features outdoor exhibits that take visitors on a walk through time, from prehistory to the present. Trails winding throughout the property are available for hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers.

Earlier this month, teenager Ben Sams constructed and installed campfire benches and a bike rack at his great-great-grandfather’s homestead as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Life in Brevard County worked out well for the Sams family after all.

For more information on the John H. Sams Homestead and other local historic buildings, visit the Florida Preservation Blog by Lesa Lorusso at www.myfloridahistory.org.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00. The show can be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: The 1888 Sams House in Merritt Island’s Pine Island Conservation Area.

Photo 2 caption info: The 1888 Sams House was built in Merritt Island directly adjacent to the 1875 Sams family cabin, which had been transported by water from Eau Gallie.

Florida Frontiers “Jules André Smith and the Maitland Art Center”

Florida Today 16

Florida Frontiers “Jules André Smith and the Maitland Art Center”

Ben Brotemarkle


Artist, architect, writer, and World War I veteran Jules André Smith intended to move from Stony Creek, Connecticut to Miami, Florida, to enjoy a peaceful retirement. As he traveled through Central Florida in 1932, Smith saw a beautiful sunset on Lake Sybelia in Maitland and decided he needed to go no further.

By 1937, Smith had designed and built an artist’s colony called the Maitland Research Studio, which included one of only three art galleries in the state of Florida. An example of Fantasy Architecture, the design of the compound included a unique juxtaposition of Mayan and Christian imagery.

Today, Smith’s whimsical buildings are known as the Maitland Art Center.

In 1880, Jules André Smith was born in Hong Kong to American parents. His father was the captain of a naval ship. When Smith was four years old, his father died at sea, and he and his mother moved to Germany. A few years later the family relocated to New York and eventually settled in Connecticut.

Smith’s first love was art. His mother did not consider this a serious way for her son to make a living, so he earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in architecture from Cornell University. Smith never stopped creating drawings, engravings, and etchings. His art ranges in style from the realistic to the abstract, which might explain the functional yet fanciful architectural elements incorporated into the Maitland Art Center.

After college, Smith received a fellowship to study art in Europe. He was the first of eight artists selected by the U.S. government to go to France in 1918, to record military activities through his drawings and sketches. After World War I, Smith published one hundred of his drawings in a book called “In France with the American Expeditionary Forces.”

Smith designed the Distinguished Service Cross that is still awarded today.

In 1924, Smith lost a leg as the result of an ignored injury he received during officer training seven years earlier.

While living in Connecticut after the war, Smith designed theater sets for the Parish Players. His experience as a set designer led Smith to write and illustrate a book called “The Scenewright” in 1926. By the early 1930s, Smith had grown tired of the cold northern winters.

In Maitland, Smith became friends with Broadway actress Annie Russell, a professor of theater arts at nearby Rollins College. Smith designed sets and costumes for theatrical productions at the college. Russell introduced Smith to Mary Curtis Bok, who would later become Mrs. Efram Zimbalist, Sr.

Smith and Bok shared a passion for the controversial “modern art” that was developing in the early twentieth century. Bok offered to build Smith a laboratory studio where he could experiment with art. Smith envisioned an artists’ compound where he could invite prominent American artists to live and work.

The compound Smith designed consists of art studios, living quarters, and a gallery.  For twenty-two years the compound was the winter residence of well-known artists such as Ralston Crawford, David Burlick, Ernest Roth, Milton Avery, Arnold Blanch, Doris Lee, and Harold McIntosh.

Across the street from his compound, Smith built an unusual courtyard, garden, and roofless chapel.

A curious blend of Mayan and Christian imagery can be found throughout the complex maze of courtyards and hidden gardens connecting the twenty-two buildings of Smith’s artists’ colony. A stone carving of an Mayan warrior can be found on the opposite wall from a relief sculpture of the Holy Family.

An eclectic group of artists lived and worked at the compound every year from 1937 until Smith’s death in 1959. The buildings were dormant for ten years after that and in danger of being demolished. In 1969 the property was purchased by the city of Maitland, and in 1971 the compound was reopened as the Maitland Art Center.

In 1982, the Maitland Art Center was placed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.

Today the Maitland Art Center keeps Smith’s dream of promoting contemporary American art alive by offering art classes and workshops, providing work space for resident artists, and presenting exhibitions in the gallery.

The sunsets on Lake Sybelia are still beautiful.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers.”  The show can be also heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

Photo 1 caption info: This roofless chapel is part of the artists’ colony created by Jules André Smith in 1937. Today the compound is the Maitland Art Center.

Photo 2 caption info: Jules André Smith.

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Florida Frontiers “The State Capital of Florida”

Florida Today 15
Florida Frontiers “The State Capital of Florida”
Ben Brotemarkle


The Historic State Capitol in Tallahassee is now a museum. The more modern Capitol Building stands behind it.


Today, it takes about three hours to get from St. Augustine to Tallahassee, heading north on I-95 then west on I-10. To get to Pensacola, you just stay on I-10 for about another three hours.

The fact that Tallahassee is located approximately half way between St. Augustine and Pensacola is why it is our state capital.

Looking at a map of our state, it would seem logical for the capital to be in Orlando, or some other centrally located city. While it takes only three hours to get from Pensacola to Tallahassee, the drive from Miami to the state capital is almost seven hours.

If you are leaving Key West for Tallahassee, plan on a full day of travel lasting just under ten hours. In the same amount of time it takes to drive from Key West to the state capital, you could drive from Tallahassee to Houston, Texas.

According to the 2010 United States census, the most populous area of Florida is now Miami-Dade County, with 2,496,435 people. Florida’s least populated area is Liberty County, with just 8,365 people. Liberty County is adjacent to Leon County, home of Tallahassee.

When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, the population distribution was much different.

In 1821, Miami did not exist, and only a few Bahamian families had accepted Spanish land grants along the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. Key West was privately owned by a man named Juan Pablo Salas.

Under Spanish rule prior to 1821, Florida was divided into two regions on either side of the Apalachicola River. The capital of East Florida was St. Augustine, and the capital of West Florida was Pensacola. Most settlers lived in the northern portion of Florida, with Seminole Indians scattered throughout the peninsula.

The Legislative Council of the new Florida Territory first met on July 22, 1822 in Pensacola. The members of the council from St. Augustine had no interstate highways to help them navigate Florida’s undeveloped terrain. It took the delegates fifty-nine days traveling by water to reach the meeting site.

The second Legislative Council session was held in St. Augustine and it wasn’t much easier for the members from Pensacola to reach their destination. The journey took them twenty eight days.

It was decided that in the future, the meetings should be held at a location approximately half-way between St. Augustine and Pensacola. The abandoned Apalachee Indian settlement of Tallahassee was selected.

The Florida Territory’s first Capitol Building in Tallahassee was a simple log cabin. Just in time to coincide with Florida being named a state in 1845, a new brick Capitol was completed. That structure is still at the center of the Historic State Capitol Building.

Many alterations and additions have been made to what is often called “The Old Capitol.” In 1902, architect Frank Milburn added the classical style dome. In 1923, Henry Klutho added two new sections and a marble interior. In 1936, a north wing was added as a chamber for the House of Representatives and in 1947, a south wing was added to the building to serve the Senate.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the Florida Legislature discussed the possibility of moving the capital from Tallahassee to a more central location to better serve the state’s steadily growing and geographically diverse population.

In 1967, serious consideration was given to moving the state capital to Orlando. This inspired opponents of the move to spearhead the construction of an expansive new Capitol Complex in Tallahassee. In the mid-1970s, construction began on the Capitol Complex that includes a twenty-two story executive office building.

With construction of the new Capitol buildings, Florida Governor Reubin O’D. Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker wanted the Old Capitol to be demolished. Secretary of State Bruce Smathers led the effort to save the Old Capitol Building, resulting in a restoration of the structure to its 1902 appearance.

The building opened to the public in 1982 as the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. Exhibits, photographs, artifacts, and multi-media displays document the history of Florida government from the territorial period to the present.

Seeing the museum is worth the drive.

Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers."  The show can also be heard online at myfloridahistory.org.

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