Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Civil War and history buffs alike should make an assertive effort to visit a town called Fort Meade, located in interior Polk County in Central Florida. Fort Meade was named after General George Gordon Meade of Gettysburg fame, and would host such notable military figures as future Confederate Generals Ambrose Powell Hill and Stonewall Jackson, who would both be stationed at the Fort between 1850 and 1851. Fort Meade’s history dates back to 1849, when General Twiggs had proposed a permanent military road from the Atlantic coast at Fort Pierce to the Manatee River.
During the year of 1849, the recent Indian attack on Chokonikla, which left three men dead, alarmed frontier settlers living near the area (see my previous article “Kennedy-Darling Indian Trading Post at Hatse Lotka”). At the time of the incident, President Zachary Taylor had reached a decision: if the Indians would turn in the murderers, Indian removal would not be implemented. In addition, this road would be used to protect inhabitants living near Indian Territory. The military road would also separate frontiersmen and Indians who chose not to emigrate from the area. Lt. George Gordon Meade had been working on this military road for about two months when he realized that General Twiggs had made a great blunder.
The original road at Charlie Apopka Creek was not the Indian nation’s true northern boundary. Meade’s findings concluded that the true northern boundary ran up Bowlegs Creek on the eastern side and north of the mouth of Whidden Creek. If these findings were correct, the military road would have to be relocated more than ten miles north of the original proposed plan and the recent post built at Fort Chokonikla would have to be abandoned. This was not good news.
Lt. Meade would now have to report to General Twiggs of his findings, but first he would have to find a route more suitable for military travel and a site for a fort to protect the crossing of and at the Peace River. His new proposed route would commence at Fort Brookes (Tampa) traveling southeast over the Alafia river, and continuing east towards Hooker’s Prairie near the abandon fields of Talakchopco (Fort Meade). On December 13, 1849, with Lt. Meade’s military career at stake, Twiggs and five of his aids followed Lt Meade from Chokonikla towards Kendrick Branch and up towards higher ground in present- day Fort Meade.
In Canter Brown’s book Fort Meade, Florida he explains that, “The Riverbanks immediately above the branch were high and firm and overlooked an ancient Indian fort that had given generations of Creeks and Seminoles access to South Florida hunting grounds. The river coursed by with a stream only forty to fifty yards in width. Across its usually placid waters, the opposing or eastern bank opened, after a short passage through the river hammocks, into high, open land almost denuded of living trees.” General Twiggs, apparently in a shocking but blissful trance, proclaimed, “Here shall be Fort Meade.”
In 1851, due to sickness from malaria from mosquitoes in the summer months, the fort would later be moved from the Peace River to its present-day location at Third Street and Cleveland Avenue within the historic district. The new fort would be rebuilt under Lt. Ambrose Powell Hill’s guidance. During that period, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was stationed at Fort Meade and in his letter to his sister dated on March 1, 1851 and writing in Fort Meade, he spoke about the life there and in the surrounding area.
“Florida, so far as I seen it, is a vast plain with occasional slight elevations. It is covered with beautiful forests of pine, the yellow pine growing on the elevations and the pitch pine on the lowlands. The country is filled with lakes and swamps. The soil is very sandy and generally very thin. It produces corn and most northern productions, with the exception of wheat, rye, oats and barley, where the soil is good.
It produces most excellent sugar and cotton, but is peculiarly adapted to the growth of the sweet potato, which sometimes grows more than two feet in length and eighteen inches in circumference. But the profitable occupation here is raising cattle. Here cow and calf will cost ten dollars. All that is necessary is to buy a sufficient number, and turn them into the woods, hunt them up every year, mark and brand them. The owner neither feeds nor salts them. When the steers become three, four, five, six, and seven years old, they are sold from seven to sixteen dollars, and carried by Nassau Key West, or elsewhere for consumption. “
He continued, “There is plenty of game here such as deer and turkey; some bears, tigers and panther. I have just returned from an eight days’ scout, in which I saw deer in one forenoon. I could find no Indians. I travelled more than one hundred miles, without seeing a house. I like scouting very much as it gives me a relish for everything; but it would be still more desirable if have an occasional encounter with Indian parties.”
He also wrote, “I have been on several sugar plantations in Florida. They present the appearance of a large farm covered with luxuriant corn. Eatables here are very dear; eggs are from thirty-seven to fifty cents per dozen; corn between one and two dollars per bushel; hens fifty cents each, etc. I wish that I could not only see you every year, but every day.”
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson would spend almost seven months in Fort Meade before resigning from the US Military life to take a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute. Today the location of the old Fort is now called Heritage Park and can be visited daily during daylight hours. Please check our main website at www.peacerivervalleyflorida.com for a free walking tour of Fort Meade, Florida.
Sources: Canter Brown’s Fort Meade Florida
Virginia Military Institute historical records.
Posted by Indietop20 at 8:07 AM
Saturday, April 30, 2011
On April 7, 1864, a deadly skirmish occurred at Bowlegs Creek near Fort Meade, Florida when the Union Army, lead by Captain Green, raided the Confederate Cow Calvary. As the union soldiers marched up the Peace River, they burned homes and confiscated cattle, firearms, horses, and contraband. In this article, we will discuss the causes that lead to these events, including the occupation and burning of Fort Meade on May 19, 1864 by its own citizens.
In 1863, Confederate General John C. Pemberton surrendered some 20,000 men at Vicksburg, Mississippi to Ulysses S. Grant, which cut off the supply of beef from Louisiana and Texas. The Confederate Army now needed its supplies to come from the east. The largest remaining supply of cattle was in the interior of Central Florida. Pleasant W. White divided the state into commissary districts and appointed Captain James McKay as the commissary agent. McKay, formally a blockade runner at the beginning of the war along with F.A. Hendry, Louis Lanier and Jacob Summerlin, would drive off cattle from Fort Meade to Bartow, Brooksville and Gainesville, finally reaching the railroad at Baldwin, Florida. By 1864, McKay was supplying beef to about three-quarters of the Confederate Army.
Many of the citizens of the Peace River Valley lived far away from the influence of the war, and many wanted nothing to do with the war itself. However, a good portion of the people living in modern day Polk, Hardee and Desoto Counties were Union loyalists. To make matters worse, many of the families that were divided on the Confederate-Union issues, including the question of slavery, had to choose sides, thus leading to political disagreements amongst neighbors and families. In fact, very few residents in and around the Fort Meade area owned slaves. As per the Polk County tax roll in 1861, only eleven men had slaveholdings with a total value of just $81,000.
Another issue facing the residents of the area was the elimination of the draft exemption for cattleman, by the Confederate Congress. In his book Fort Meade, Florida, Canter Brown explains that “on February 17, 1864, the Confederate Congress drastically revised its conscription law, eliminating the draft exemptions for cattleman” who were supplying food to the area. Furthermore, “The change unleashed squads of conscription agents determined to force all suddenly eligible ‘cow hunters’ into confederate service, and many individuals were forced to choose sides.” Consequently, many chose to join the Union Army.
As conscription agents began to hunt down nonexempt cattlemen for the Confederate Army, many the residents of the area began to seek refuge in Union-occupied Fort Myers. These new recruits would later form Captain Henry A. Crane’s (Union Army) Second Florida Calvary. The Union presence in Southwest Florida would soon reach Confederate Captain James McKay, who would find out about Crane’s intentions to destroy the Confederacy’s cattle supply efforts with help from Confederate traitors and Union sympathizers escaping the Confederate draft.
On February 10th 1864, a planned attack on Fort Myers was organized at Fort Meade, but it would be halted due to a Union attempt to seize Tallahassee. All Confederate troops were called to obstruct the Union march from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. On February 20th of 1864, the two armies would clash at the Battle of Olustee near Lake City. This would be one of the bloodiest battles in Florida history with close to 3,000 casualties and a Confederate victory. Though, the Confederate Army defeated the Union troops, most of the Peace River Valley was left unprotected and vulnerable to Union attack.
On February 22 1864, Fort Meade residents William McCullough, William McClenithan, and State House representative James D Green arrived at Fort Myers. The men informed Union officer Captain Henry A. Crane of the Confederate’s “great loss of provisions” and their desperate need of cattle and supplies at Fort Meade. Henry A. Crane was so satisfied with this intelligence that he appointed William McCullough and James Green as lieutenants for this splendid information and on March 13, 1864, Captain Henry A. Crane dispatched thirty troops under Green to seize the Confederate supplies and gather recruits at Fort Meade. By March 20th, Green’s detachment had increased to about fifty men (mostly Confederate deserters) and marched for Willoughby Tillis’ homestead south of Fort Meade, confiscating, horses, mules, and slaves. Consequently, Green’s detachment moved on to Confederate Thomas Underhill’s home killing him with two gunfire shots. Green’s troops seized corn, meat, contraband (slaves), and firearms before returning to Fort Myers.
Union Officer Captain Henry A. Crane was so pleased with Green’s results, that on April 2nd he order the men back to Fort Meade to capture (or kill if necessary) Confederates Willoughby Tillis, James Lanier, Francis A. Hendry, Jacob Summerlin, F.C.M. Boggess, John R. Durrance, Henry Seward, Streaty Parker, and to secure supplies, horses and contraband.
The Second Florida Calvary (Union) made it just fifteen miles from Fort Meade, when they were spotted by Confederate pickets. Confederate James McKay Jr., (Capt. James McKay’s son) was in charge of the battalion at Fort Meade, retrieved his forces and halted Union advancement at Bowlegs Creek. On April 7th 1864, Union and Confederates met in battle near present day Mt. Pisgah Road and Dishong Road, just two miles south of where US 98 crosses the Peace River. It was a brief skirmish that left Confederate James Lanier (a Fort Meade resident) dead and wounding Henry A. Prine (of Sucrum) in the foot. The Confederate Army retreated back to Fort Meade; however, the Union Army would lay siege to the Tillis’ homestead. Union soldiers then burnt the Tillis home and destroyed all of the Tillis’ family possessions. (See previous article, “The Battle of Peace River.”)
The Union troops failed to control Confederate-occupied Fort Meade but would return later with reinforcement including the Second Regiment-- United States Colored Troops (USCT). On May 6, 1864, Union forces briefly occupied Tampa, while James McKay Jr.’s confederate forces were preparing for the first cattle drive of the year. McKay quickly gathered up his Tampa Confederate troops and marched towards Tampa, but the Union Army had already reached their goal of confiscating supplies, ammunition and dismantling a canon at Fort Brooke. When McKay reached Tampa, the Union Army had already withdrawn from the scene.
On May 13, 1864 five officers along with one hundred of the Second Florida Calvary and 107 black troops from the United States Colored Troops, headed for Fort Meade. Their mission was to relieve Union family members who had been captured at Fort Meade and to acquire the remaining confederate beef cattle. Union forces captured two Confederate pickets who informed them (the Union forces) of the planned ambush on the road to Fort Meade; therefore, the Union forces would instead cross Pease Creek below the mouth of Bowlegs Creek taking possession of Fort Meade without any resistance. Confederate troops drew a skirmish line with some sixty troops but retreated.
On May 19, 1864, Union forces (comprised of many of Fort Meade’s own citizens) burned Fort Meade destroying all buildings, except a log officer’s quarters, which would later be occupied by Captain Francis A. Hendry after the war. In the 1890s, it would be dismantled.
Photographs courtesy of Spessard Stone.
Fort Meade map courtesy of Canter Brown, Jr.
Friday, April 15, 2011
The small isolated island of Chokoloskee, Florida is a quant fishing town that is part of the Ten Thousand Islands, which in the late 19th Century was a haven for fugitives, criminals and murders. The area comprising the Ten Thousand Islands is a remote area of swamps, shell mounds and mangroves. It is also the location for where one of the grizzliest acts imaginable took place on an Indian shell mound just 90 miles south of Fort Myers, Florida.
The notorious blue-eyed and red-haired Edgar J. Watson of Scottish descent was born on November, 11, 1855 in Edgefield County, SC. Watson’s father, Lige Watson, was a penitentiary warden and a very violent man. He got into many knife fights, one which incidentally inflicted a knife wound around his own right eye. Subsequently, he became known as ‘Ring Eye.’ E.J Watson’s mother fled her malicious husband with Edgar and his sister Minnie, relocating to Fort White, Florida to live with relatives.
When Watson was a young man, he married his first of three wives and rented a farm but lost it after a tavern fight which resulted in an injury to his kneecap. Watson later left with his first wife for Arkansas when he was suspected of killing Belle Starr, a notorious female outlaw in 1889. Watson’s motive for the killing was his fear that Belle Starr would turn him into the authorities for a murder he committed in Lake City, Florida. In fact, he was even put on trial, however nothing came of it and he was acquitted. In 1891, he returned to Florida and killed a man in Arcadia, allegedly in self-defense.
Watson built a respectable two-story framed vernacular home around 1892 on his 40 acre parcel at Chatham Bend, about seventeen miles south of Chokoloskee, Florida. He had a farm and grew sugarcane, papayas, horse bananas, beans and sold his goods in Fort Myers and Key West. He was a successful farmer and to some, he was even a kind and pleasant man. He would occasionally travel to Marco Island, Fort Myers and even Tampa searching for vagabonds, migrants and wayfarer types that he would bring back to his plantation near the Chatham River in order to give them work. Locals believed his success was due to his ‘cheap’ labor as he never intended on paying them their wages in the first place. One thing is clear: none of these people ever seemed to leave Chatham Bend alive.
While in Key West, Watson had reluctantly got into a heated argument with an early Collier County pioneer named Adolphus Santini who he had met at an auction house. Watson cut the man’s throat. Santini survived, but barely. The incident would cost Watson just $900, a small price for almost taking a man’s life. In Monroe County, Watson purchased a parcel of land on ‘Lost Man’s River.’ However, a squatter by the name of Tucker and his nephew who refused to leave, would later be found dead at their campsite. When fingers began to point at Watson for the murders, he left for Fort White, Florida. There, he was nearly hung after a saloon fight which left two more men dead.
Watson had several fugitives living on his property including a man named Dutchy Melvin who was said to have killed a police man and took a liking to torching buildings. While Watson and Melvin were in Chokoloskee, another man by the name of Lesley Cox, the groundskeeper of Watson’s property, and an unknown person known only as ‘the nigger,’ were said to have murdered Hannah Smith and a man named Walker. When Watson and Melvin returned to Watson’s house near Chatham Bend, Cox and the man known as ‘the nigger’ would also end up murdering Melvin. Hannah Smith’s body was found floating in the Chatham Bend River near Watson’s property. She had been gutted so that her body would sink to the bottom of the river.
A black man who fled the island where Watson lived had arrived in Chokoloskee and began to speak about tales of murder at Chatham Bend. In her book The Everglades - The River of Grass, Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote that, “the story the Negro told was that he worked for Watson a long time and seen him shoot a couple of men. The Negro said he’d buried a lot of people on his place, or knocked them overboard when they asked him for their money. Watson was away, the Negro said. His overseer, named Cox, killed another man and the old woman [Hannah Smith] and forced the Negro to help cut them open and throw them in the river.”
After the rumors began to circulate about Watson’s murders, a group of men embarked for Watson’s sugar cane plantation and found the grizzly remains of human skulls. More than 50 skeletons would later be found near and around his island home. Cox managed to escape and was never seen or heard from again. On October 17, 1910, a hurricane swept through Collier County while Watson fled to Fort Myers for shelter. Watson then contacted Sheriff Frank Tippens to arrest Cox for all of the dead bodies found on his remote property; however, the Lee County Sheriff would not get past Marco Island before turning back due to the bad weather.
Watson then purchased some shot-gun shells from C.S. Smallwood’s general store and headed for Chatham Bend to kill Cox himself. He returned on October 24, 1910 to the general store and was confronted by an armed posse comprised of fisherman, farmers and merchants. Watson claimed to have gunned down and drowned Cox in the swamp, showing his hat as evidence. Apparently, Smallwood had sold Watson wet shot-gun shells that were rendered useless so the crowd didn’t believe him. Old man McKinney asked Watson to drop his gun but Watson refused and attempted to fire at the men. The group fired back, riddling his lifeless body with bullets, then proceeded to drag his bloody corpse behind a boat at Rabbit Key and buried him in a shallow grave near a mud bank. However, before meeting his final resting place, the rope used to drag his body behind the boat was then tied to a mangrove tree and Watson’s body was left there for days until it was finally reburied at the Fort Myers Cemetery.
Watson’s home on the Chatham River would remain unharmed for many years. In fact, a woman who lived there was said to have gone crazy, burning every tree on the property. She had burned them all except an extremely robust Poinciana with snake like roots, which still remains on the property today. The property is now part of Everglades National Park and is only assessable by boat. The house no longer stands (it burned in the 1940’s), but the cement cistern, a sugarcane syrup cauldron and some farm machinery remain.
Posted by Indietop20 at 2:20 PM
Thursday, March 31, 2011
When walking through this quaint Victorian town of Cassadaga, it’s difficult to not admire its historic wood-framed vernacular buildings and its old streets lined with century-old oak trees. Cassadaga is located in the pristine “lake and hill” country of Central Florida in Volusia County. Many of its Victorian dwellings date to Cassadaga’s inception in 1894, when George P. Colby donated thirty-five acres to the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association. In 1991, Cassadaga was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1875, George P. Colby, instructed by his Indian spirit guide Seneca, was advised to head south to establish a community where thousands of believers could assemble. Colby set off to Florida traveling south on the Saint Johns River, arriving at Blue Springs, Florida located in Volusia County. The following morning Colby, in a trance-like state, was led by his spirit guide through uncharted woods where the spiritualist community would later be settled. Seneca had prophesied a utopian land of lakes and bluffs during a séance in Lake Mills, Iowa. It was the seventy-five acre tract of land, for which Colby would later file a homestead claim in 1880, that would become home to southern Spiritualists. At the time, Florida was hardly much more than a frontier swamp land with old overgrown military roads from the previous Seminole Indian Wars that were still barely passable. Seeking a warmer location in Florida would not only be a bit daunting due to its flora, but also because of its southern religious conservatism.
“Spiritualists who found themselves ‘marginalized’ in their native north might have expected to harmonize even less with southern religious culture, which was dominated by Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism,” wrote John J. Guthrie in his chapter entitled “Seeking the Sweet Spirit of Harmony” from Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community. Guthrie continues, “Yet despite their unorthodox faith, they [the Spiritualists] were steeped in a set of Protestant American traditions that ranged from capitalism to republicanism.” On January 29, 1893, Harrison Barrett, the future president of the National Spiritual Association of Lily Dale, New York, announced a meeting in DeLeon Springs, Florida. Thus, in February of 1893, a crowd of almost 600 people gathered for the Sunday meeting in DeLeon Springs.
Many came solely for the peculiarity of the event, wondering what Spiritualism entailed. In fact, Guthrie noted that even “a correspondent for The Record, went to investigate the authenticity of Dr. W.S. Rowley, a ‘spirit telegrapher’ from Cleveland. Using an ordinary battery with a Morse Key sounder, Rowley gave one of the ‘most remarkable demonstrations ever witnessed in a public assembly.’ According to the journalist, unseen operators ticked off long messages from the spirit world without Rowley’s hands ever touching the keys.” Speeches were given by George Colby himself, as well as many others, including A.B. Clyde, “the great silver-tongued orator from Ohio.”
Interest and serious settlement in sunny Florida did not abate. The Spiritualist Association was appointed by a commission to select a central terminal for the new winter camp. Cities such as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs and St Augustine where investigated by representatives. Civic leaders in DeLeon Springs had offered the Spiritualists the same tolerance, twenty-five acres of land, and a two-hundred-room brick hotel, so that they would locate the spiritualist camp within the city limits. Only after all possible options were considered, did George Colby suggest that the committee visit his property. Two women, mediums Emma J. Huff and Marion Skidmere, were the only ones who accepted Colby’s invitation to visit his site in Florida. Both women were responsible for founding the Lily Dale Spiritualist congregation in New York. It must be noted that “Spiritualism,” a term coined by Horace Greeley, would offer women a distinguished opportunity to “acquire a public position in religious life.” In fact, the majority of mediums of the 19th Century were women, and women still dominate the field. The two female mediums, Huff and Skidmere would also play a crucial role in founding Cassadaga. Colby’s site made a great impression on them and in March of 1894, it was chosen by the committee. The winter camp in Florida would be named Cassadaga (a Seneca word meaning "Water beneath the rocks") in honor of its sister camp in Cassadaga, New York.
In order to fully understand Spiritualism’s beginnings, we must understand the changes that occurred during the antebellum period of United States. The catalyst behind Mormonism was started in the 1820’s by Joseph Smith who claimed special contact with the spiritual realm and gathered followers who considered him a prophet. There was the establishment of John Humphreys’ ‘free love ideology’ and community at Oneida, and William Miller’s prophecies of the end of the world in 1843. New sciences of memorization and phrenology were the proponents of modern spiritualism. In 1849, the Fox sisters claimed to have summoned spirits which attracted attention from Quakers and other seeking reconnection with their dead loved ones. Eventually they were inundated with the likes of P.T. Barnum, who cordially invited them to display their mediumship at his hotel during the summer of 1850. Horace Greely endorsed the Fox sisters and wrote about their rappings (telegraphic communication with the dead) in his newspaper.
However, with great sensationalized national attention would later result in mere controversy. In 1888, Margret Fox (of the Fox sisters) would later confess that the strange rappings heard in early séances had been a hoax. However, she withdrew her statement the following year. The reputations of the sisters were ruined and within five years, all three Fox sisters were dead. Historian Ann Braud purported that “once mediumship demonstrated a potential for monetary gain, ‘fraudulent mediums imposed themselves on the public, and some indeed profited from deception.’”Bret E. Carroll in his A Historic Overview of American Spiritualism claimed, “Within a short time, such literary luminaries as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Harriet Beecher Stowe were investigating séances.”
During the late 1840’s, a shoemaker by the name of Andrew Jackson Davis was used as a subject in a hypnosis experiment for William Levingston, an early predecessor of hypnosis. While in a trance, Davis began recounting clairvoyant visions and unconventional medical remedies. Davis and Levingston began traveling together garnering a large following all over New England. By 1844, Davis was claiming wisdom from the spirits such as the ancient physician Galen and the 18th Century Swedish scientist, turned mystic, named Emanuel Swedenborg.
Spiritualism owes some of its influence to French Socialist Charles Fourier, who suggested that social and spiritual harmony could be obtained through reorganizing human society into small commonalities based on natural laws of attraction. In the United States during the 1840’s and 50’s, followers formed phalanxes applying his principals, though most would be short lived communities.
Today, local mediums own the buildings at Cassadaga, but the land is owned by the Association managed by a board of directors. Lease agreements were arranged in 1895 to insure the town’s building integrity. One can make appointments with more than two dozen different Reiki doctors, mediums, psychics and spiritual healers whose phone numbers are available at the Camp Bookstore (Andrew Jackson Davis Educational Building circa 1905). At Cassadaga, one can also make reservation for the Encounter Sprits Tour or the Nighttime Orb Photography Tour. Make sure you bring your digital camera for the latter event. Candle light healing services take place on the second Friday of each month at the Colby Memorial Temple, or one can attend a Sunday service that recognizes all religious sectors.
The town is filled with historic framed vernacular and stick-styled homes that radiate energy, and you will see many psychics sitting on their front porches drinking lemonade and sipping herbal tea. Some of the historical landmarks in the town include Brigham Hall built by Fred Brigham in 1897, Harmony Hall circa 1897, a frame vernacular building once used as a boarding home, and George Colby’s home built in 1895, which is of a gothic style, also donning a distinct crossed gabled roof.
There are a plethora of historic homes on the northeast side of Cassadaga that were built around 1895-1899. Most of Cassadaga’s architecture is located within the community, and dates from about 1895-1927. All residences are occupied by working mediums or psychics. One mile to the north of the city in Lake Helen, you will find a beautiful array of homes boasting the following architectural styles: Queen Anne Victorian, Colonial Revival, Folk Victorian and stick style. Many of these homes date back to the early 1880’s.
Landmarks and private historic homes in Lake Helen/Cassadaga
Anne Steven’s House/Clauser's Bed & Breakfast circa 1895
Harmony Hall (1150 Stevens St.) circa 1897
Brigham Hall (1145 Stevens St.) circa 1897
S.J. Andrews House (306 N. Lakeview Ave.) circa 1888
John Mills House (294 N. Lakeview Ave.) circa 1885
Clinton Gunby House (272 W. New York Ave.) circa 1885
Frank and Edwin Stoops/McGill House (340 W. New York Ave.) circa 1896
John Porter Mace House (214 S. Euclid Ave.) circa 1886
Ellis Blake House (186 S. Euclid Ave.) circa 1894
Idylwild Cottage (225 W. Garden St.) circa 1887
First Congregational (Church 107 S. Euclid Ave.) circa 1889
Blake Memorial Baptist Church (134 N. Euclid Ave.) circa 1894
Gould House (176 N. Euclid Ave.) circa 1888
Franklin Nettleton House (212 N. Euclid Ave.) circa 1894
Willard Hopkins House (226 N. Euclid Ave.) circa 1890
Thaniel Snover (N. Euclid Ave.) House circa 1893
Hopkins Hall (192 W. Connecticut Ave.) circa 1897
Residence (212 S. Lakeview Ave.) circa 1888
Lake Helen and Historical Trails, by Steve Rajtar and John Stephen Hess (1999)
Cassadaga The South’s Oldest Spiritualist Community, by John J. Guthrie, Jr., Phillip Charles Lucas, & Gary Monroe, Inc.(University Press of Florida 2000)
Posted by Indietop20 at 5:38 PM
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Many hauntings tend to be associated with human tragedy; although, this isn’t always the case. However, the Old County Courthouse has had its share of tragedy. There is said to be possibly six entities haunting the old Polk County courthouse, but in order for us to understand the paranormal activities that have occurred here, we must first indulge in the courthouse’s rich history.
At first sight, you probably would not imagine this beautiful majestic courthouse to have spirits roaming its hallways. With its spectacular grand facade and gleaming tower, the idea could make one apprehensive to even conclude that it may be haunted, let alone by six ghosts. My intentions are not to convince the reader of such; instead, I would like to invite you to judge for yourself, based on the history that this courthouse has experienced throughout the years.
The City of Bartow is located just 39 miles east of Tampa and 50 miles southwest of the greater Orlando area. Bartow was originally established in 1851 and is also known as the “City of Oaks and Azaleas.” Bartow can trace its roots to Fort Blount and Reidsville when the city was later renamed Bartow in 1862 in honor of Francis Bartow, the first Confederate brigade general to die in combat during the American Civil War.
Three courthouses have stood on the same square, bounded by East Main and Davidson Streets, Broadway and Central Avenue. On June 15, 1867 the county commissioners awarded the contract for construction of its first courthouse to John McAuley of Fort Meade for a sum of $3,800. A second structure was erected in 1883-4, built by J. H. Thompson, at a cost of $9,000. The present building, erected in 1908-9, was designed in the Classical Revival style by E. C. Hosford, and built by Mutual Construction Company of Louisville, KY at a cost of $83,900. This courthouse is still in use as a museum and historical library.
Our first investigation involves an event in the town’s history that occurred all the way back in 1886.
Who were the Mann brothers?
By 1885, there was not a single saloon in Polk County; however, with a multitude of new settlers from the North where prohibition was not as popular, the majority of registered voters from Lakeland, Bartow and Fort Meade now agreed to have seven saloons established in the area. One of those saloons opened in Bartow in 1885 by Johnson, Daniels & Co., yet before this occurred, the proprietors employed Dan and Lony Mann to gather up enough signatures for the pro-saloon petition in exchange for a share of the profits. However, things would not proceed as simply as that. (See Canter Brown Jr.'s Florida's Peace River Frontier)
Dan Mann had a propensity for alcohol, a hotheaded temper and had fled town after a knife fight with his brother-in-law, nearly killing him. On May 15, 1886 the two brothers, who owned a 20 acre orange grove in Winter Haven, returned to collect their dues, only to be refused payment by the saloon proprietors. The Mann’s had threatened the saloon keeper and angrily dispatched off to the local store and purchased a package of .32-calibre cartridges for their guns. The men then went back to the saloon to take things into their own hands. The town Marshal, W.S. Campbell, was summoned to stop the odiously tempered men and to arrest them. While the two men resisted, “Happy Jack” McCormick, a night watchmen, dashed at Dan’s buggy to seize it. In a heat of rage, Lony pulled out his pistol and shot Jack McCormick in the left ear nearly killing him. Marshal Campbell was not so fortunate: Dan had shot him in the heart, killing him instantly. The Mann brothers fled.
Sheriff R.P. Kilpatrick summoned a posse of men to capture them. Meanwhile, a half mile out of town, the Mann’s buggy hit a tree stump, overturned, and as a result, the crash seriously injured one of the brothers. They were later spotted by T.S. Hull who held them until the posse arrived and returned the men to Bartow to await their punishment.
Crowds gathered around the 1883 courthouse, vociferating and screaming “Lynch them. Kill them.” Cantor Brown states in his Florida’s Peace River Frontier, that “crowds grew more violent when the Marshal’s wife and young children were brought to view ‘the [Marshal’s] dead corpse lying in the street.’”
The Sheriff was notified that the Mann’s would be lynched by the angry crowd-- a mob of two-hundred embarked for the city jail. Within hours, the Mann’s were transported to a nearby oak tree on Main Street located in front of the old 1883 courthouse. The angry mob began to string up Dan when Lony suddenly attempted to escape but was subsequently gunned down, hung and displayed in front of the courthouse. Allegedly, the bodies were later hung from the second story inside the old courthouse for several days.
Today, in the rotunda area of the courthouse, the staff and some visitors have reported feelings of despair as well as strange cold spots. Apparitions of two men roaming about the courthouse are believed to be the Mann brothers.
Another incident occurred in the basement boiler room when an explosion took the life of a male operative who was working in one of the four rooms. Many employees and museum visitors have reported unearthly and agonizing screams, but much to their dismay, there have been no explanation as to the source of these activities. Some suspect it’s a residual haunting of the unfortunate man’s disembodied spirit reliving his tragic demise in the explosion.
On the first floor in the criminal courtroom, many have experienced unexplained cold spots, although, it is inconceivable to identify any supernatural beings who might occupy this room. Many criminals have been inscribed in the books of the old courthouse’s roster, including those who faced life sentences or even death.
Flickering lights and cold spots have been observed in a room containing ancient Native American artifacts housed on the first floor. An apparition of a young lady wearing a white antique dress has been observed by many people near the second floor bathrooms and on the third floor. She could be one of several women who had a strong attachment to the building, but it is not clear who she is or why she haunts the old building.
The Murder of Judge Chillingsworth
During the early morning of June 15, 1955 two men broke into the circuit judge’s oceanfront home in Manalapan, Florida. The judge and his wife Majorie were bound, assaulted, and then dragged to a boat on the beach. The two men tied weights on Marjorie Chillingworth and threw her into the turbulent ocean water. The judge, though bounded, jumped overboard into the water attempting to save his wife. When he was caught, the men attached an anchor to him and then watched as he sank beneath the waves.
One of the killers, Floyd “Lucky” Holzapfel, described the judge’s last words: “Remember, I love you," while his wife replied, "I love you, too," before she was discharged into the ocean. Holzapfel and Lincoln were tried in the old courthouse, along with Joseph Alexander Peel Jr. (once West Palm’s only municipal judge), who would later be charged with organizing the murder.
In the original section of the 1909 courtroom, cold spots are felt and people have claimed feeling something grazing against them. It is believed that the source of this presence might be that of Judge Chillingsworth. It is rumored that the judge watches from the front of the courtroom as his accused killers are repeatedly sentenced, reliving his tragic event. Many years later, it has been said that seaweed was found inside the courtroom where the trial once occurred.
Posted by Indietop20 at 4:05 PM
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Small towns carry dark secrets, as with this tale about Avon Elwood North, a mortician, who murdered his business partner, Bettie Albritton in 1951. Locals claimed that when business was slow, he'd just make more business. Tales of poisoning, embalming and expedient burials ran rapid through the community, gaining media attention from all over the nation, including Time magazine. The 1890's funeral home, where these sinister acts may have occurred, still stands today on the southwest corner of Broadway and Oak Avenue, in historic Fort Meade, Florida.
Avon Elwood North of Lake Wales, Florida, and business partner I.W. Albritton opened up a morticians practice in the old Fort Meade home in the late 1940’s. However, on January 1951, I.W. Albritton died, leaving his business dealings with his wife Bettie Albritton. In June of the same year, North visited Mrs. Albritton’s home, a wood-framed cracker dwelling in rural Fort Meade. Also present, were Mrs. Albritton’s seventeen year old son and a farm hand, when she had suddenly fell ill. North told the two boys to head into town to get an ambulance, but by the time they returned with medical attention, Mrs. Albritton was on the floor dead.
North said, “Mrs. Albritton had suffered an attack and fallen from her chair,” according to reports published at the time in the St. Petersburg Times. North had arranged Albritton’s funeral, including the embalming and was buried within 4 days. However, just days prior to her untimely death, she had changed her will, making North the sole benefactor of her $50,000 estate, which raised great suspicion.
A.E. North would later be arrested for first degree murder just days after Mr. Albritton’s death. The case was sensationalized by the media and newspapers. Rumors began to spread of poisonings, expeditious embalming, speedy burials and murder. An anonymous old timer quoted the following: “Well, I know there were more victims, not everybody knows that, but I do.” Apparently, when business was slow, A.E North allegedly made extra business by resorting to murder; although, this has never been proven but suspected. If true, this would make Avon Elwood North Fort Meade’s only serial killer in a town where a single murder occurs less than every seven years.
To make matters worse, Rev. Andrew Tampling, a pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Meade, and Stanley Myers, North's father-in-law were arrested and charged with attempting to tamper with a witness’s testimony. W.A. Arnold had testified to seeing bruises around Albritton's neck during the funeral arrangements. Tampling and Myers offered to pay Arnold $3,000 if he would make an affidavit that the testimony was extorted from him and that he was instructed by prosecutors in what to say.
North's appeal, which cited the meal blessings by the clergy as a source of influence over the jury, had reached first the State Supreme Court, then finally the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to reverse the court's decision.
Time Magazine reported the following statement on Monday, January 25, 1954: “The Supreme Court refused to reverse the murder conviction of Florida Undertaker A. Elwood North, found guilty of bludgeoning and strangling his business partner, Mrs. Betty Albritton. North appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that an evangelist had been permitted to say grace twice at the dining table of the jury that convicted him. The preacher had read from Psalms and Proverbs, North contended, and might have prejudiced the case with references to 'destruction of the wicked'"--thus influencing the jury's decision to convict North for his "wicked" ways.
North was executed by electric chair in 1954, proclaiming his innocence up until his death. According to Cinnamon Bair’s research, A.E. North had written a letter to his wife stating that "others are going to someday clear my name and let the public know that the life of an innocent man was taken." The letter was released by North’s wife after his death.
Posted by Indietop20 at 12:33 PM
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Women, Teaching, and the Importance in Education in the Late 1890’s: The Summerlin Institute, Bartow, Florida
The Summerlin Institute was founded by Jacob Summerlin in 1867. Originally constructed as a wood-frame building, it began to deteriorate in the mid-1880s, and was soon replaced by a substantial brick building. The Summerlin Institute had high quality educational equipment for the times, including 12 botanical microscopes, a four-inch telescope valued at $250, survey instruments, and electrical mechanisms. When the new Summerlin Institute was completed in 1889 at a cost of $20,000, it was the only brick school south of Jacksonville. By 1901 enrollment had reached 470; a majority of the registered students were women.
Canter Brown writes in his Peace River Frontier, “The old Summerlin Institute constructed in 1867, had begun to show it’s age. In 1884 it was ‘a rickety old frame building,’ containing only the rudest furniture and a promiscuous lot of pupils ranging from infancy to manhood.” On May, 12, 1887, Jacob Summerlin laid the corner stone for his new institution. Crowds came from as far north as Orlando and at even greater distance from the Charlotte Harbor to witness the event. Dr. W.F. Yocum would be the school’s first principal.
Two of the Institute’s most enterprising faculty members included Miss Rowana Longmire and Miss Maud Schwalmeyer, who were progressive teachers in their own right. In a time when women’s rights were far from equal to that of their counterparts, and in an era predating women’s suffrage, these women, as early as 1894, were teaching the sciences, chemistry and advanced English.
In the 1899 Biennial Report, the Superintendent of Public Instruction in the state of Florida is quoted as saying: “One of the chief factors in the recent progress of the school [Summerline Institute] has been the admirable primary work of Miss Schwalmeyer, one of Col. Parker’s trained teachers, and the best results must follow such good early training.”
In her 1904 essay, “Child Study and Primary Methods,” Miss Maud Schwalmeyer spoke passionately about the need for psychological and pedagogical studies. She spoke at the Southern Educational Association’s annual meeting and purported the following: “Let us begin with form study. All representation begins with the six geometrical forms. This knowledge coupled with childish joys of creating or representing things in everyday life, is used in the first steps of symbols. If these form lessons are connected with early lessons of the reader by association, a child learns a whole word in the same time and with the same effort required to learn a single letter. Hence, we have the successful word method in print and script.” It was a brilliant essay at the time.
In terms of Miss Longmire’s contribution to teaching, the following is noted in “The School Journal of 1898” about her: “Tuesday afternoon Miss Rowena Longmire read a paper ‘Observations on Children’s Reading.’ She asserted that reading is a means of development for the teacher as well as the pupil. It brings the teacher and the pupil together than does any other study. It often wins unruly pupils.” Miss Longmire was a true advocate for reading.
Miss Schwalmeyer articulated her own views on education in 1904, stating that, “Again, instead of filling the minds of little children with beautiful things in the texts of the best authors, we have boiled down all the mythology and nearly all of the English classics in simple prose for children, until little is left for them in the original, except ‘Paradise Lost.’ When primary curricula contains biology, chemistry, ethics, hygiene, evolution, astronomy, history, manual arts, mythology, music, arts, etc., there is a direct violation of the law of ’stimulus through newness or curiosity,’ and takes away the interest that should be excited when a text book of a new subject is taken up.” Her essay was very courageous, questioning the educational structures and boundaries of her time.
Miss Longmire and Miss Schwalmeyer were forerunners of early Victorian feminism at the “Turn of the Century” and were distinguished teachers. Rowena Longmire, along with Miss Maud Schwalmeyer, would later leave the Summerlin Institute at Bartow in 1905 to become founding members of the Florida State College for Women (FSCW) Alumni Association.
Through the Buckman Act of 1905, the state legislature reorganized higher education in Florida, establishing a school for female students in Tallahassee, FL. In 1947, the Legislature designated Florida State College for Women as coeducational, later changing the name to The Florida State University. The Longmire Building located on the Florida State University campus was constructed and named in honor of Miss Rowena Longmire in 1938.
In conclusion, women’s involvement with education in the Peace River Valley was substantial and evident in the late 1890’s. In fact, the Summerlin Institute was known as one of the most progressive schools in the county and the state, with women comprising the majority of the graduating classes. My sole purpose of this article is to enlighten my readers of the role of women and their importance in education in what was still a frontier town. I am regretful that my sources were limited, as much of history in those times was written mostly by men.
Posted by Indietop20 at 11:48 PM