Florida Frontiers Articles

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Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Newspaper Articles of the Florida Historical Society is a weekly newspaper article covering history-based events, exhibitions, activities, places and people in Florida. The newspaper articles premiered in January 2014. We explore the relevance of Florida history to contemporary society and promote awareness of heritage and culture tourism options in the state.

When you read the terms “digital history” or “digital humanities,” you might think of online access to scanned primary source documents such as journals, photographs, or maps. While that’s important, there’s much more to digital history.

“We can interact with the public in a way we couldn’t before,” says Connie Lester, director of the RICHES Project in the public history program at the University of Central Florida, an interdisciplinary effort that records and preserves the documents and stories of Florida communities, businesses, and institutions.

“The public then becomes involved in the collection and interpretation of the history,” says Lester. “The digital tools allow us to do that. The digital tools allow us to... click title or here for the full article

On Christmas night 1951, a bomb exploded under the Mims home of educator and civil rights activist Harry T. Moore. The blast was so loud it could be heard several miles away in Titusville.

Moore died while being transported to Sanford, the closest place where a black man could be hospitalized. His wife Harriette died nine days later from injuries sustained in the blast.

The couple celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on the day of the explosion, and Harriette lived just long enough to see her husband buried.

The Moore’s daughter, Juanita Evangeline Moore, was working in Wa... click title or here for the full article

The small town of Palatka, Florida is about 60 miles south of Jacksonville, 45 miles east of Gainesville, and 29 miles southwest of St. Augustine. It’s the home of St. Johns River State College and the Florida School of the Arts, headquarters of the St. Johns Water Management District, and the site of Ravine Gardens State Park.

A quiet little town today, Palatka has a rich and colorful history.

“I’m a fifth generation on my mother’s side, born and raised in Palatka,” says Larry Beaton, historian of the Putnam County Historical Society. “My great-great grandfather was Robert Raymond Reid, who was the son of the fourth territorial governor,... click title or here for the full article

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade drove through Dallas, Texas.

President Kennedy spent the week before his death in Florida.

After a short stay at his family’s winter residence in Palm Beach, Kennedy toured the NASA facilities at Cape Canaveral before visiting Tampa and Miami.

On his last day in Florida, President Kennedy met with Florida historian and Catholic priest Michael Gannon. As the first and only Catholic American president, Kennedy was particularly interested in Gannon’s area of expertise, Catholicism in Spanish Colonial Flori... click title or here for the full article

Tradition holds that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, as English Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts shared a bountiful harvest with their Native American neighbors.

The first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Florida.

Fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, colonists in St. Augustine shared a feast of thanksgiving with Native Americans.

Florida historian Michael Gannon, who died on April 10, 2017 at the age of 89, found documents supporting Florida’s claim to the “real” first Thanksgiving celebration.

... click title or here for the full article

People often think of history as permanent, unchangeable, and irrefutable; a static set of facts that can never change.

Contrary to popular belief, history is constantly changing.

These revisions of history become necessary when new primary source documents are discovered that contradict long held assumptions, or well-known primary sources are reevaluated with fresh eyes and new conclusions are reached. Over time, societal norms evolve and change, providing historians different lenses through which to view the past.

Sometimes, particularly with local histories, ideas about the past can... click title or here for the full article

The British controlled Florida from 1763 to 1783, encompassing the entire American Revolution. Florida remained loyal to England and King George III throughout the conflict.

The last naval battle of the American Revolution took place off of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783. Two American ships, the Alliance and the Duc de Lauzun, were on a mission to bring 72,000 Spanish silver dollars from Cuba to the American colonies to pay the Continental soldiers.

The American ships were intercepted by three British ships, the Alarm, the Sybil, and the Tobago at Cape Canaveral.

“I think in my arti... click title or here for the full article

On Sunday, October 29, hundreds of people gathered at the Cocoa-Rockledge Garden Club to wish George “Speedy” Harrell a happy 90th birthday. The venue was full all afternoon as family and friends came and went to the “open house” style event that featured refreshments, a slide show of images featuring Harrell, and, of course, birthday cake.

Harrell was seated in a rocking chair at the center of the room, greeting a steady stream of well-wishers.

While his actual birthday is September 28, Harrell decided to postpone his birthday celebration so that relatives from Texas could join the festivities.

... click title or here for the full article

There’s something distinctly Floridian about watching shrimp boats trawling our coastal waters, particularly in the northeastern part of the state. Shrimping and shrimp boat building have been an important part of the culture of St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach for more than a century.

“Mike Salvador was a fisherman, he was a mariner, he was an entrepreneur,” says maritime historian Brendan Burke, co-author of the book “Shrimp Boat City: 100 Years of Catching Shrimp and Building Boats in St. Augustine, the Nation’s Oldest Port.” “In Fernandina in the first decade of the twentieth century, he assembled what I would consider to be the greatest maritime chapter in Florida’s state history.”... click title or here for the full article

Florida Frontiers is the name of this column. It’s also the name of a public radio program, podcast, and public television series produced by the Florida Historical Society. In all its forms, Florida Frontiers celebrates the diverse history and culture of our state.

The second annual Florida Frontiers Festival will be held Saturday, October 21, from 11am to 5pm on the grounds of the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science, 2201 Michigan Ave., in Cocoa.

The event will feature a day of Florida music, demonstrations including Highwayman artist R.L. Lewis, vendors, food, a beer garden, and a children’s area with a “bouncy house” and ga... click title or here for the full article

Many people are familiar with the work of writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, and the historic significance of the town of Eatonville, Florida, but that was not true 30 years ago.

In 1987, the town of Eatonville celebrated its centennial as the oldest incorporated African American municipality in the United States. That same year, community organizer N.Y. Nathiri attended a public hearing about the proposed widening of Kennedy Boulevard into a five lane road. Listening to the discussion, Nathiri realized that the project would destroy her historic hometown.

“There are three ways that you destroy a community,” says N... click title or here for the full article

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) has announced that Friday, October 6, is the deadline for members of the public to submit proposals for changing our state’s constitution.

That same day, historian and author Mary E. Adkins will give a free presentation called “The Same River Twice: Florida’s 1968 Constitution from Mid-Century Draft to 2018 Revision” at 7:00 pm in the Library of Florida History, 435 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa.

“We are very grateful to the thousands of Floridians who have participated in the CRC process either by attending our public hearings or submitting their own proposed changes to the Fl... click title or here for the full article

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Within an hour of FDR’s speech on December 8th, 1941, Congress voted to bring the United States into World War II.

A recording of FDR’s address to Congress can be heard as you enter the “Florida Remembers World War II” exhibit, on permanent display at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

“Florida’s role in World War II was really transformative,” says Bruce Graetz, senior museum curator. “Florida was a relatively rural area before World War II. There was a large influx of servicemen for training during the war, industry like ship buil... click title or here for the full article

Texans are dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. Powerful hurricanes have impacted Floridians on multiple occasions.

The hurricane of 1928 was particularly devastating to residents of south Florida.

“When you talk about Florida, you have to talk about hurricanes,” says Eliot Kleinberg, author of the book “Black Cloud: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928.”

Kleinberg first heard about the hurricane of 1928 while working as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post. “In 1988, for the sixtieth anniversary of the storm, I was sent out to Belle Glade to cover a commemorative event. The more I tal... click title or here for the full article

The life of a soldier who fought in Florida during the Second Seminole War is chronicled in detail in the new book “The Army is My Calling: The Life and Writings of Major John Rogers Vinton, 1801-1847,” by John and Mary Lou Missall.

The married co-authors are best known for their first book, “The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict.”

“I got interested in it while I was working on my Master’s degree through California State University,” says Mary Lou Missall. “I wanted to do my thesis on some aspect of Florida history.”

Realizing that there was a lack of scholarship on the... click title or here for the full article

About 1,000 years ago, agricultural communities were established in what would become the Southeastern and Midwestern United States, and the Mississippian culture flourished.

Keith Ashley is an archaeologist and research coordinator at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Ashley’s research is demonstrating a link between Native Floridians and the thriving Mississippian culture.

Ashley and his research are featured in the latest episode of the television series “Florida Frontiers,” airing this month on PBS affiliates throughout the state. The program is also available online at myfloridahistory.org.

... click title or here for the full article

Before the annual presentation of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination” begins, Lady Gail Ryan engages audience members, finding out where they are from and leading them in a high spirited “sing along” of Florida songs including “Where the Orange Blossoms Grow” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Down the Shell Road.”

“Come early,” Ryan says. “The pre-program begins the minute the audience arrives. Music will help tell about historical events with songs the audience can sing.”

The tenth annual production of “Mosquitos, Alligators, and Determination” will be held this weekend and next, with matinee performances at 2:30 pm, August 5, 6, 12, and 13 a... click title or here for the full article

Beginning Saturday, July 29, the exhibition “Florida Before Statehood” will be on display at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science, 2201 Michigan Avenue, Cocoa. The opening event begins at 2pm with a presentation by historian Ben DiBiase, director of educational resources for the Florida Historical Society.

“It covers Florida history from the Ice Age to the modern day,” says Madeline Calise, museum manager at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science. “We take a look at Spanish exploration, early settlers and their challenges, the mission period of Florida, the British period, and a little bit about all the flags that Florida has flown under and the impacts that those di... click title or here for the full article

A visit to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in the rural community of Cross Creek is like a trip back in time to the 1930s. The home there is furnished just as Rawlings had it when she was writing her Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Yearling,” her autobiography “Cross Creek,” and other works depicting the lives of Florida Crackers.

Rawlings’s typewriter and notes sit on a table on the front porch, along with her ashtray and a pack of Lucky Strikes cigarettes, as if the writer has just gotten up to get a glass of iced tea from the kitchen.

Each room of the house contains furniture and personal items that belonged to Rawli... click title or here for the full article

Renowned Florida photographer Clyde Butcher suffered a stroke on May 6, which affected his speech and coordination on his right side. Butcher’s rehabilitation is going well, and he expects to be back at work in the fall.

The black and white photographs of Clyde Butcher allow us to look at the natural Florida in a different way.

When most people think of Florida’s natural environment, an explosion of color comes to mind. We imagine multiple shades of green in a Florida swamp, bright red Poinciana trees, and the turquoise waters of the Gulf Coast. We picture the oranges, purples, pinks, and blues of the Florida sky.

... click title or here for the full article

Every Fourth of July, Floridians celebrate Independence Day with cookouts, hometown parades, and of course, fireworks as America’s victory over the British in the American Revolution is commemorated.

Not all American colonists supported the war, though. Many remained dedicated to King George III and England. As the American Revolution progressed, these Loyalists became refugees and were forced to flee the colonies.

From 1763 to 1783, Florida remained under British control; so many Loyalists came here from the American colonies to the north.

On December 17, 1782, as the end of the Ameri... click title or here for the full article

The Cross-Gulf Travel Theory proposes the idea that the ancient Maya came to southwest Florida when devastating droughts occurred on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico as early as the ninth century, and that they ended up around Lake Okeechobee.

The Maya may have believed that they were following their god to Florida.

Images of the Oculate Being can be traced in ancient cultures from South America to Mexico. Different cultures separated by distance and time develop a very similar deity who is usually pictured flying, has what art historians call “goggle eyes,” and is associated with agriculture, particularly the growing of corn.

... click title or here for the full article

The Apollo 11 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral on July 16, 1969. Four days later, humans walked on the surface of the moon for the first time.

A team of thousands was required to make that lunar mission a success. Dr. Al Koller was a member of that team, working in the Firing Room.

“I served as the remote eyes for the top management of NASA and the stage contractors for the operations at the launch pad three miles away,” says Koller. “We did that using sixty-one video cameras, all black and white, mounted on the pad service and at all key levels of the 363 foot-tall launch tower. My job was to direct the camera crew by selecting the right cameras to keep track of the key technical work underway and to provide the best possible video views of any troubleshooting taki... click title or here for the full article

When Juan Ponce de León sailed into the mouth of the Miami River in 1513, he encountered a large Tequesta Indian village.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés attempted to convert the Tequesta to Christianity, establishing a short lived mission at the village in 1567. Another failed mission was established there in 1743. The Spanish could not persuade the Tequesta to abandon their ancient belief system.

The native people of Florida were almost completely wiped out by unfamiliar diseases brought by the Europeans.

“With weakened tribes, the Spanish borders of Florida were fully breached by the English who instigated Creek raids as far south as Key West, enslaving thousands of Indians for the plantations of the Carolinas and Georgia,” says archaeologist Robert S. Carr. “By 1763, w... click title or here for the full article