Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Florida Blog

There's a new Florida-themed blog: Genuine Florida. Gotta love the big pink shrimp in a top hat (see their Feb. 2 entry)!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Virginia Key Beach Park Re-Opens

Celebrate the Grand Re-Opening of Virginia Key Beach Park, established as a beach for African-American living in Miami in 1945!

"Freedom Beach" (Multi-media report from Miami Herald)

"Historic Virginia Key Beach Park truly is one of the special places..." (Miami Herald, February 17, 2008)

"Virginia Key Beach reopens with a splash" (Miami Herald, February 22, 2008)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Virtual Wanderings Through Florida

Various interesting sites I've happened across lately...

Miami: Reflections on the River. You can watch videos about the Miami River, and even make your own to add to the site.

Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions. 50+ homages to roadside attractions that have passed.

Historical Tampa. A Google Map showing former locations of historic buildings, site, and landmarks in Tampa.

St. Petersburg Times' Special Report on Spring Training in St. Petersburg

Spanish River Papers. Available through the Boca Raton Historical Society's website, pdf copies of their journal, dating from 1973 to 1993.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Florida News Stories

"What If?" (by Eliot Kleinberg, Palm Beach Post, February 17, 2008) "Florida has been the scene of several near-misses that would have dramatically changed history."

"Mud-spattered tales from the Forgotten Coast of Florida" (St. Catherines Standard, February 9, 2008) "Lash a dead deer or a couple gutted wild boars to the ATVs racks, and you could likely run for sheriff. "

"Miami in June" (Isle of Man Today, February 15, 2008) "After graduating from the University of Kent in June, a friend and I felt we definitely deserved a holiday."

"Vultures Settling Into Urban Areas" (Miami Herald, February 9, 2008) "The winter visitors rest on high-rise balconies and peck at the rubber around automobile windshields. They leave abundant whitewash, and on rare occasions have flown into jets at altitudes greater than 3,500 feet. They roost, and often dine, communally."

"A stylish tradition: Mr. I Got 'Em's spirit lives at the Saturday Morning Market." (St. Petersburg Times, February 9, 2008)

"First lady Laura Bush visits Everglades" (Miami Herald, February 7, 2008) "Airboat rides and snake shows weren't on the itinerary for first lady Laura Bush's maiden trip to the Everglades."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Our State Fair

For over one hundred years, Tampa has hosted the Florida State Fair. It's not so different from other state fairs, with rides, food on a stick, and 4-H clubs with sheep and steers. There's exotic looking chickens and rabbits, bleating goats, and cow milking demonstrations. Over on the other side, there's a guy carving wood with a chainsaw, just outside the exhibition hall where the Elvis impersonator contest is underway. There are pig races, a giant alligator, and spinning thrill rides. For just a few dollars you can throw a dart/ ball / ring and win an unwieldly stuffed animal.

In 1904 the South Florida Fair was organized to promote Tampa's economic resources and bring tourists to our fair city. For seven decades, the fair was held on the west shore of the Hillsborough River, near the Tampa Bay Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa campus. Eventually anew, larger fairgrounds were built in east Tampa, on Interstate 4, and this is where the fair has been held each February since 1977.

In other months of the year the fairgrounds host craft shows, horse shows, and concerts. Year round, Cracker Country is a popular school fieldtrip destination.

If you want to go, you'd better hurry -- Monday is the last day this year!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, Florida!

What to do in Florida on St. Valentine's Day? If you are going out for a romantic meal, how about a Valentine diner (if they don't have a table, try this one). If your personal life is a bit stormy at the moment, there's the Georges Valentine, which "broke apart on the rocky reefs just offshore from Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge" and is now a State Underwater Archaeological Preserve. Or if you're in a happy place and ready to take the plunge, there's Honeymoon Island State Park.

Ah, love is in the air in the Sunshine State.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Florida Videos on the Web

Neal Hecker, with Program Services at WPBT/Channel 2 in Miami brought this website to my attention: uVu, described as "uVu is a video sharing website and companion digital broadcast channel powered by WPBT Channel 2, South Florida’s PBS station. The website consists of video content created and submitted to the site by individuals, community groups and cultural/educational institutions, which allows the community to experience, at any time, the important happenings of South Florida."

Here's a few of the videos that caught my attention, but I'm sure you'll find your own favorites.

Roadtrip to Yoder's Restaurant

MiMo Architecture

Palm Beach's Famous Doorways

Florida's Key Deer

Tour of Versailles in Little Havana

Stone Crabs

Miami Bungalows

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Playing Hooky

We took a little time out yesterday afternoon for a round of minature golf, and a stop at Ben T. Davis Beach on Old Tampa Bay. There were plenty of shorebirds at the beach, including these Black Skimmers. (The baby alligators were at the golf course, not the beach.)

What these pictures don't show is that Ben T. Davis Beach is on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, near one of the messiest highway interchanges in Tampa, and close enough to Tampa International Airport that you'll want to wave hello to folks on landing planes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Distincive Apalachicola

The National Trust of Historic Places just released a list of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations, which includes Florida's Apalachicola. The City of Apalachicola is known for its oysters, but there is more to the story than just shellfish.

To learn more, I recommend:

Florida's Forgotten Coast: Life on the Apalachicola Bay, an Oral History project from the Southern Foodways Alliance

Apalachicola River--An American Treasure, by Clyde Butcher (University Press of Florida, 2006)

Voices of the Apalachicola, Edited by Faith Eidse (University Press of Florida, 2007)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Rainy Day at Tampa Bay Hotel

Even in a February drizzle, the historic Tampa Bay Hotel impresses me. I find it so easy to imagine the past here, ladies and gentlemen promendading on the veranda, waiting for the showers to pass. The leaves of the banana plant show the effects of a winter freeze, although it's warmer in Tampa today than it is in Philadelphia or Long Island. But as fancy as the iced gingerbread is on this building, what lingers in my mind is what went into making the walls.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was a major construction project in the 1880s. To say it was ambitious is putting it mildly. The new was barely worn off the railroad tracks to Tampa, and just hundreds of people lived here when Henry Plant thought of building a resort hotel on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Just where did he think they would find the men and materials for such an undertaking? Well, the men came from all over the country, but the logistics of was finding construction materials in a new frontier town was more difficult.

One need was shell for the concrete, and the builders found what they required where the Alafia River met Tampa Bay in the form of prehistoric shell mounds. Eating oyster and clam and mussells creates some trash. Shell mounds and shell middens are places where shellfish remains are discarded and accummulate, at times forming small hills. Often, other trash or refuse would get mixed in with the shell, such as bones from last night's dinner, or a broken bowl. If the mounds got big enough, they were useful as high pieces of ground, either a vantage point or somewhere out of the water. Today, archaeologists study and protect shell mounds, but in the lat 19th century, people all over Florida mined these hills for shell. The shell was used for road construction, or as in the case of the Tampa Bay Hotel, for making concrete. I wonder what was mixed into those walls along with the shell....

(Photo: Shell mound at New Smyrna, Florida State Archives, PR07602)

In another instance of resourcefullness, the Tampa Bay Hotel builders salvaged old submarine cable, selling the copper, but using the fiber and metal as construction materials. While I suppose you could look for comparisons to modern considerations of green construction or sustainability, they were really just making do with what they had at hand.

Transoceanic cable came to Florida shortly after the Civil War, through the efforts of the International Ocean Telegraph Company. The installation of telegraph cable was very important for south Florida, which in the 1860s was barely explored, much less settled, by the United States. Cable lines and railroads went as far south as Cedar Key, and that was it. South Florida was quite isolated from the world, and from knowledge of world events or markets that might provide needed capital. In 1867, the IOTC put up poles and telgraph wire from Cedar Key to Gainesville, and on to Lake City. The wire raced southward from Ocala to Dade City, then to Polk County and along the Peace River. Following the Caloosahatchee River, the wire reached Punta Rassa, where it connected with submarine cable from Key West. Another submarine cable connected Key West and Cuba.

Telegraph service in Florida began in 1867, and in following years IOTC added connection from Florida and Cuba to Jamaice, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad. The Florida - Cuba cable stayed in operation into the 1940s, and in the 1950s IOTC became part of Western Union.

In a 1989 journal article, Canter Brown, Jr., considered the impact of the IOTC cable on Florida, noting that while non-Florida contractors supplied materials, the company did created much sought-after jobs in south Florida. On a less positive note, Brown pointed out that the IOTC's early impact was limited by high prices it charged to send a cable -- "$4.00 in gold for transmitting a ten-word message from Lake city to Cuba" -- which was out of reach for the average Floridian. Brown considered the cable company's most significant impact to be from the roads it built along the wire's route. "Wire Road" became a major north/south corridor for pioneers settling south Florida in the late nineteenth century.

So when I look at the Tampa Bay Hotel, I think of both the historic events that took place within its walls and the history that went into its walls.

If you'd like to visit the Tampa Bay Hotel, your best option is the Henry Plant Museum. The museum now offers handheld audio tours, and an exhibit about Gasparilla's history.


Plant's Palace: Henry B. Plant and the Tampa Bay Hotel, by James Covington (Harmony House, 1990)

"The International Ocean Telegraph" by Canter Brown, Jr. (Florida Historical Quarterly, 1989, Volume 68, Number 2, Pages 135-159).

Friday, February 01, 2008

Preservation Grants

From the Library of Congress,

Foundation Grants for Preservation Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Downloadable -- FREE -- as an Adobe Acrobat document.

"This publication lists 1,725 grants of $5,000 or more awarded by 474 foundations, from 2003 through 2007. It covers grants to public, academic, research, school, and special libraries, and to archives and museums for activities related to conservation and preservation." Using this resource, you can find out who is giving grant money, where, and for what purpose.

I found this link in the monthly Heritage News e-newsletter from the National Park Service, which can be read online, or emailed to you.