Florida Frontiers Articles

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.

“Come in, and welcome to my home,” says an animatronic version of John G. Riley, talking to students at the Riley House Museum. The life-sized robotic figure speaks from behind Riley’s desk, hands gesturing, mouth moving, and eyes blinking as he tells visitors about Florida history.

“I was just catching up on my passion, reading. You know there was a time when a man like me was not allowed to read. You see, I was born into slavery on September 24th, 1857, right here in Tallahassee.”

John G. Riley was an educator and entrepreneur in Tallahassee’s African American community.

“He lived to 1954, so he was 97 years of age,” says Althemese Barnes, founder and executive director of the Riley House Museum. “He lived to experience much change in those 97 years. After slavery... click title or here for the full article

Brevard County history enthusiasts and fried fish lovers have a lot to look forward to this Saturday.

The Fifth Annual Eau Gallie Founders Day and Fish Fry will be held February 7, from noon to 4:30 pm on Highland Avenue, featuring a History Tent, a variety of vendors, and live music. Evening activities begin at 6:00 with music provided by a series of DJs. The event is co-hosted by the Eau Gallie Arts District and Eau Gallie Rotary Club.

The Fourth Annual Merritt Island Pioneer Day will be held on February 7, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, at Sams House at Pine Island and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, both located on North Tropical Trail. The event features Living History Demonstrations, arts and craft vendors, live folk music, and a Fish Fry Dinner with seatings at 4:30 and 5:3... click title or here for the full article

Henry Plant was extending his railway system into the small pioneer settlement of Tampa, Florida, in the 1880s. In addition to making Tampa more accessible by rail, Plant expanded the port and built luxury hotels in the area.

This new infrastructure enticed Cuban businessman Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his cigar manufacturing operation from Key West to the Tampa area, establishing Ybor City.

Ybor’s friend, Gavino Guitierrez, had suggested that the Tampa area would be a great place to build an expansive new cigar operation. After visiting Tampa, Ybor agreed.  “So he came up and he bought 40 acres, and started to lay out the plans for his cigar town,” says Elizabeth McCoy, curator of programs and education for the Ybor City Museum.

As Ybor built his city based... click title or here for the full article

In the late 1800s, it was very fashionable for women to wear bird plumes, and even entire bird carcasses, on their hats. This fashion trend led to the beginning of the conservation and environmental movement in Florida.

“The conservation movement in Florida began with a specific aim. It was a group of people who were alarmed about the fact that wading birds were being slaughtered in the Everglades for their feathers, which were sold to hat manufacturers in the North,” says Gary White, author of the book Conservation in Florida: Its History and Heroes.

“Since then, it’s broadened to include many other areas (such as) concern about invasive species, protection of the land itself; not only the birds and other wildlife but the land itself that they depend on for habitat. There... click title or here for the full article

The Key Marco Cat, a part feline, part human wood carving, is one of the most intriguing Native American artifacts discovered in Florida.

In 1896, archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing led an excavation on Marco Island that uncovered the six-inch-tall Key Marco Cat along with thousands of other Calusa Indian artifacts. The excavation was one of the first formal, organized archaeological expeditions in the state.

In addition to the Key Marco Cat, Cushing’s team excavated vibrantly colored ceremonial masks and other carved objects, identifying the Calusa as one of the most artistic tribes to inhabit Florida prior to European contact.

“Because they lived in this very rich environment with the estuary system, the fish was plentiful, the shellfish was plentiful, so they d... click title or here for the full article

Since 1906, hundreds of people have gathered at the water of Tarpon Springs each January 6th to watch young men compete to find a submerged wooden cross. The unique Epiphany celebration is one example of the Greek culture that is still prevalent in Tarpon Springs.

In the city of Tarpon Springs you can listen to Greek music played on a bouzouki, try the pastry baklava, have a meal of lamb stew or a Greek seafood dish, sip the licorice flavored alcoholic beverage ouzo, and enjoy many other aspects of traditional Greek culture.

You can see the Neo-Byzantine style architecture of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, and watch the sponge divers unload their catch on the city dock downtown.

Tarpon Springs has the largest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the Uni... click title or here for the full article

2014 marked the 450th anniversary of the French in Florida, recognizing the establishment of Fort Caroline in 1564.

2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the Spanish establishment of St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in North America.

The Spanish sent Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to Florida to wipe out the French Huguenots, and reclaim the land for Spain. Menéndez attacked Fort Caroline, killing everyone except the women and children, a group of musicians, and a few French soldiers who claimed to be Catholic. A hurricane helped the Spanish cause by sinking a fleet of French ships led by Jean Ribault.

Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, spent the summer of 2014 searching for the lost fleet of Jean Ribault... 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 only surviving daughter, Juanita Evangeline Moore, was working in Washington, D.C. in 1951, and was scheduled to come home for the holidays on December 27th, aboard a train called the Silver Meteor. She did not hear the news about h... click title or here for the full article

The Jewish Museum of Florida is housed in two adjacent Art Deco buildings that originally served as the first synagogue and Jewish school in Miami Beach.

The Congregation Beth Jacob opened in 1929. A larger synagogue was constructed next door in 1936, and the original building served the Jewish community in other ways.

By 1995, the synagogue had moved back into the smaller building, and the Jewish Museum of Florida occupied the larger space. In 2005, the synagogue dissolved, and the museum expanded into that building.

The museum restored both Congregation Beth Jacob buildings, saving them from demolition.

Long before the Jewish Museum of Florida came into existence, founding executive director Marcia Jo Zerivitz began a quest to collect and document Jewish hi... click title or here for the full article

Last Friday’s test flight of the Orion capsule takes America one step closer to reestablishing manned missions into space. 

A new monument at Space View Park in Titusville provides the opportunity to reflect upon this country’s last manned space program.

The Columbia was launched for the first time on April 12, 1981, beginning NASA’s 30 year space shuttle program.

Planning for the shuttle program began in 1972, but it was the launch of Columbia nine years later that made the program a reality.

By coincidence, the launch occurred on the twentieth anniversary of the world’s first manned space flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

The first shuttle had a two-person crew. Experienced astronaut John Young was joined by rookie astronaut Robert Crippen.

... click title or here for the full article

Christmas 1837 was not particularly festive for a group of U.S. Army soldiers marching through what is now east Orange County. Instead of celebrating with their families, the soldiers built a fort on the St. Johns River.

A replica of Fort Christmas is located in the rural community of Christmas, about ten miles west of Titusville.

Even before Florida became a Territory of the United States in 1821, the government had shown interest in acquiring the land from Spain. The fact that runaway slaves sought refuge among the Seminole Indians provided an excuse for the U.S. to invade Spanish controlled Florida.

Beginning in the 1700s, the Seminoles, an offshoot of the Creek Indians, fled colonial expansion to the north, settling in Florida. As pioneer settlers began moving i... 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.

“Not until 42 years later would English Jamestown be founded,” says eminent Florida historian Michael Gannon. “Not until 56 years later would the Pilgrims in Massachusetts observe their famous Thanksgiving. St. Augustine’s settlers celebrated the nation’s first Thanksgiving over a half century earlier, on September 8, 1565. Following a religious service,... click title or here for the full article

Visitors to Mount Dora’s Lakeside Inn relax in rocking chairs on the hotel’s 200 foot long veranda, enjoying warm Florida breezes.

People have been doing this since 1883.

“This hotel had been solidly operating for almost 20 years before Walt Disney was even born,” says Lakeside Inn’s current owner, Jim Gunderson.

Originally called the Alexander House, Lakeside Inn was built by Civil War veteran James Alexander and his business partners John Donnelly and John MacDonald. At the start of Florida’s tourism industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many hotels and inns were built throughout the state, but Lakeside Inn is one of just a few that have survived from that era.

At first, it wasn’t easy for tourists to get to the hotel.

“The typical way for nort... click title or here for the full article

American war veterans and the conflicts they participated in are well represented in the archive at the Library of Florida History in Cocoa.

The Joseph Marshall Papers detail the activities of a Loyalist regiment in St. Augustine during the American Revolution of the 1770s and ‘80s.

The archive houses the East Florida Constitution, created as a result of the United States invasion of Spanish East Florida in 1812, during the Patriot War.

There are dozens of letters and journals from the Seminole Wars of the 1800s, including the journal of Jacob Mott, a U.S. Army Surgeon stationed in Florida.

Numerous Civil War documents from the 1860s include letters from Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and future Florida governor Francis P. Fleming.

The library’s co... click title or here for the full article

A pair of tattered, well-worn boots with holes on the bottom and scrapes on the side is on display in the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee.

The boots belonged to “Walkin’ Lawton” Chiles, one of Florida’s most respected and influential politicians.

During his four decade career in the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida State Senate, the United States Senate, and as a two-term Governor of the state, Chiles worked for transparency and accountability in government, health care reform, children’s health and education, and successfully fought the advertising practices of the tobacco industry.

Chiles first gained widespread notoriety by walking the entire state during his 1970 campaign for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. He walked 1,003 miles over 91 d... click title or here for the full article

More than five centuries ago, Spanish conquistador Ponce de León used celestial navigation to guide his ships to the land he would name La Florida.
Today, the Hubble Space Telescope provides us with incredibly detailed images of celestial bodies that Ponce could have only imagined.

With the event “A New Era of Discovery” to be held November 14 at the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science in Cocoa, the Florida Historical Society recognizes more than 500 years of exploration with a special showing of the Jackson Walker painting They Called it La Florida, and the new exhibition “Eye on the Universe: The Hubble Space Telescope.”

The Florida House in Washington, D.C. owns the Walker painting depicting Ponce’s 1513 landing in Florida, and is loaning the work to th... click title or here for the full article

Florida’s Highwaymen artists have been recognized with numerous exhibitions in major museums, several books, and a television documentary.

Even with this widespread notoriety, amazing stories about pennies on the dollar sales of Highwaymen paintings still surface.

Someone’s sister-in-law buys a Highwaymen painting of a bright red Poinciana tree at a garage sale for $25. The work is worth $2,500.

Someone who doesn’t know what they have sells a large Highwaymen beach scene worth $3,500 to a friend-of-a-friend for the cost of the frame alone.

For those who know what they are looking for, great Florida paintings by Highwaymen artists are occasionally found being sold at their original 1950s prices.

The Highwaymen artists are a group of largely self-taught... click title or here for the full article

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined the lives and careers of innocent people in the 1950s, fueled by Cold War-era paranoia about the possible communist infiltration of America.

The Florida legislature had its own version of McCarthyism called the Legislative Investigation Committee, popularly known as the Johns Committee.

Organized in 1956 by state senator and former Florida governor Charley Johns, the Johns Committee investigated what it labeled “subversive activities” in state colleges, civil rights groups, and suspected communist organizations.

The Johns Committee tried but failed to link communism to the NAACP.

By 1961, the primary focus of the Johns Committee was to remove homosexual teachers and students from Florida universities.

Students and te... click title or here for the full article

Some of the world’s most powerful leaders have made important decisions while staying in a relatively modest residence in Key West, Florida.

Seven Presidents of the United States have stayed at the Harry S. Truman Little White House. The home bears Truman’s name because he was the one who most fully utilized the facility while in office, spending nearly six months of his presidency in his second home.

“It’s somewhat unique,” says Robert Wolz, executive director of the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum. “The only location quite similar would be Camp David,” the presidential retreat in Frederick County, Maryland.

Truman’s presidency saw the end of World War II with the use of atomic weapons on Japan, the founding of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan to reb... click title or here for the full article

Two venerable institutions that celebrate the past are facing a brighter future together.

Today begins a new era for both the Florida Historical Society and the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science as the oldest cultural organization in the state takes ownership of an outstanding local museum.

The facility is now also the home of the Florida Historical Society Archaeological Institute.

“I’ve been connected with the Florida Historical Society for almost twenty years now, and this is the most exciting event I’ve seen happen,” says FHS President Leonard Lempel. “This museum is a tremendous new edition to the Florida Historical Society. I’m just real excited about all the opportunities it presents.”

The Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science was e... click title or here for the full article

Florida is known around the world as the home of major theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World, and Busch Gardens. There are smaller theme parks here as well, including Marineland, Weeki Wachee, Gatorland and Dinosaur World.

The state tourism agency Visit Florida estimates that 94.7 million tourists came to Florida in 2013, most of them visiting at least one theme park.

Cypress Gardens was Florida’s first theme park. Created by entrepreneur and professional promoter Dick Pope in Winter Haven, Cypress Gardens opened on January 2, 1936, and closed on September 23, 2009.

Dick Pope was a flamboyant and successful promoter. His marketing efforts led to Cypress Gardens appearing on the covers of hundreds of magazines and in newspaper photographs acr... click title or here for the full article

One of the first Florida novels ever written remained unpublished for more than 150 years. For nearly five decades, the hand written manuscript was preserved but forgotten in an archive at Rollins College.

Wenxian Zhang is head of Archives and Special Collections at Rollins College in Winter Park. While doing an inventory of the Florida Collection in 2004, Zhang came across a hand written manuscript by the unpublished author Cyrus Parkhurst Condit.

“The manuscript was a gift to Rollins from Frederick Dau, author of the 1934 book Florida Old and New,” says Zhang. Dau donated the Condit manuscript and many other items to Rollins in 1955.

When Zhang rediscovered the Condit manuscript, he shared it with Maurice O’Sullivan, Professor of Literature at Rollins and a recogn... click title or here for the full article

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.

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

“The main reason to do black and white is because the colors are so vibrant you can’t see the image,” Butcher says. “Black and white shows the oneness of nature. Without the whole system, nature doesn’t work, and I think the black and white brings a reflection of that in the work so you can actually see the landscape. You don’t just see the color.”

Butcher’s work has been... click title or here for the full article

More than 200 white people wielding baseball bats and ax handles chased African Americans through the streets of downtown Jacksonville, trying to beat them into submission.

It was August 27, 1960, a day that became known as “Ax Handle Saturday.”

The violent attack was in response to peaceful lunch counter demonstrations organized by the Jacksonville Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The attack began with white people spitting on the protestors and yelling racial slurs at them. When the young demonstrators held their resolve, they were beaten with wooden handles that had not yet had metal ax heads attached.

While the violence was first aimed at the lunch counter demonstrators, it quickly escalated to inclu... click title or here for the full article