Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lorenzo Dow Ross

Beside the winding road leading to the Weedon Island Preserve are two grave markers partially surrounded by a short, white picket fence. There's space for a car to pull over safely, and a interpretive sign to read as well.

Here are the graves of Lorenzo Dow Ross and his eldest son Percy. Lorenzo was born in 1836 in what became Tampa. A local boy, he fought in Florida's Indian wars and joined the Confederate Seventh Florida Infantry during the Civil War. After nearly two years as a prisoner of war in Tennessee, he came home to Ross Island, now part of the Weedon Island Preserve. Bad food killed Lorenzo in 1889, bad hunting killed Percy in 1886, and they came to be buried side by side.

Lorenzo and Percy Ross' tombstones have had some adventures, which you can read about in these articles from the St. Petersburg Times:

"Marking Time" (Dec. 10, 2006)

"The history behind one Floridian's headstone" (Sept. 19, 1998)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christopher Still at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art

"Coming Home," through January 25 at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, chronicles 30 years of artist Christopher Still's career. The title refers in part to Still's longtime connections to the museum and Pinellas County.

"Exhibit tracks evolution of artist Christopher Still" (St. Petersburg Times, October 26, 2008)

Christopher Still's murals in the House Chamber at the Florida State Capital

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


In 1955 Florida Power Corporation bought the northern part of Weedon Island and built a power plant there. The power plant property includes some of the prehistoric mounds, the former Weedon house site, and a 1930s movie studio. The power company used the movie studio as a warehouse until it burned in 1963. The power plant is now Progress Energy's Bartow Power Plant.

Here's a glimpse of the power plant through the mangroves along Gandy Boulevard:

If you were to take a few steps further towards the water and look to the east across Old Tampa Bay, you'd see the Interbay Peninsula, home to South Tampa, Port Tampa, and MacDill Air Force Base.

Squint a bit, and you'll see a very large airplane landing at MacDill AFB.

Today MacDill Air Force Base is home to the 6th Air Mobility Wing, U.S. Central Command, and the headquarters of the U.S. Special Operations Command, along with 51 other Mission Partners. Nearly seventy years ago it was a brand new base, training pilots for World War II. Base commander on December 7, 1941, was General Clarence Tinker, also known as the first Native American to become a Major General in the United States Army. Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma was named in his honor.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Teddy!

Officers of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment in Tampa, Florida, in 1898. From left to right: Major George Dunn, Major Alexander Brodie, Major General Joseph Wheeler, Chaplain Henry A. Brown, Colonel Leonard Wood, and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. (Photograph courtesy Florida State Archives)

Theodore Rossevelt was born in New York on October 27, 1858, which means that today is his 150th birthday!

A few years before he became the 26th president of the United States, Roosevelt spent a little time in Tampa with his Rough Riders, the men of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. The year was 1898 and the United States was at war with Spain. Tampa served as the point of embarkation, meaning that troops and supplies headed to Cuba passed through the city's ports. Tampa was still a small town, and the military logistics got gummed up, so there was time for Roosevelt to have dinner in Ybor City.

The Library of Congress website includes digital files of motion pictures taken of Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in Tampa.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Links on the Side

I've added a new sidebar section (on the right hand side, scroll down) with links to research resources. Here you can find digital books, maps, photographs, library catalogs, journals, and other materials that I have found useful. If you have a favorite research link that isn't listed here, please share it! If you know of a blog that would be a good addition to the blogrolls on the sidebars, please share that, too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grand Central Airport

In 1929 Fred V. Blair built Grand Central Airport on Weedon Island. In 1931, Eastern Air Transport began flights from this airport, with service to Daytona Beach on Curtiss Kingbirds, and service to New York on Curtiss Condors. The airport closed in the late 1940s, but the remains of the terminal and control tower building are still visible next to Weedon Island Preserve's parking lot.

Building the airport required clearing and leveling large portions of the island. Over the past 60 years gopher tortoises have worked hard to convert the former runway into scrub.

For more information: Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Florida: Southern Tampa Area. Includes photos and aerial views of Grand Central Airport.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weeden Island Preserve Fieldtrip

This week I took my class to the Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg. The class is a seminar, an interdisciplinary overview of the Humanities with Florida as a unifying theme. My students are freshmen in the University Honors program at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. This fieldtrip to Weedon Island was a chance to escape the classroom for an afternoon, and a chance to visit a place that is both a valuable natural resource and a valuable cultural resource. The Preserve is managed by Pinellas County Parks, and offers nature trails, interpretative exhibits, historic sites, Indian mounds, kayaking, birdwatching, educational programs, and more.

The design on the exterior of the museum is inspired by a prehistoric culture that flourished here a couple of thousand years ago, the Weeden Island culture, known for its elaborate pottery. This particular pattern would be Weeden Island Punctate, basically made by poking wet clay with the end of a reed or stem. The Weeden Island culture was found along the gulf coast from Tampa Bay northward and westward into southern Georgia and Alabama.

Jesse Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution named the site and the culture in the 1920s when he excavated the site. He was also, unfortunately, responsible for a spelling error. Archaeologists refer to the Weeden Island culture and the Weeden Island site, and Weeden Island pottery. That's Weeden with three e's. But the name of the island is actually Weedon Island, with two e's and one o. Technically speaking, the island's name originally was Weedon's Island, with a possessive apostrophe s. In the 1890s the island was a wedding present to Blanche Henderson and Leslie Weedon, a Tampa physician. The couple and their family used the island as a weekend retreat. A twist to the story is that Leslie Weedon was the grandson of Frederick Weedon, known to historians as the doctor to Osceola while the Seminole leader was imprisioned in St. Augustine. When Osceola died, Dr. F. Weedon prepared his body for burial, but for some reason kept Osceola's head separate.

Further Reading: The Weedon Island Story (pdf)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Florida News Stories

"Swamp Buggy fever...No antidote!" (Marco Eagle, October 19, 2008) "It was pure muck after the potatoes were dug up, perfect!"

"Using old curbs, Trilby house rises piece by piece " (St. Petersburg Times, October 20, 2008) "The Tudor-style stone cottage nestled on a bluff on a bend in the Withlacoochee River looks like something straight out of Harry Potter. With its English garden, tower, sun-faded blue columns and heavy front door handmade from 1,000-year-old pecky cypress hauled a century ago from a Florida swamp...."

"Woman returns to Breakers 65 years after her birth there" (Palm Beach Post, October 7, 2008)
"The Breakers 'a different world' for mom who gave birth there 65 years ago" (Sun Sentinel, October 8, 2008)

"Biscayne National Park celebrates 40 years" (Miami Herald, October 12, 2008)

"Distant Shores" (Biscayne Times) "Biscayne Bay may be our area’s most prominent feature, but just try getting close to it."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nature Photos from Pasco County

Here are a few photographs from a recent visit to Key Vista Environmental Park and the Anclote Gulf Park, including (in no particular order) an anhinga, pine trees, a brown pelican, a jellyfish, a pipefish, a fiddler crab, blazing star, and birds on powerlines.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marjorie's Outhouse

"The outhouse . . . stood on a direct line with the dining room windows. One fortunate diner might sit with his back to it. The others could not lift their eyes from their plates without meeting the wooden stare of the unhappy and misplaced edifice. They were fortunate if they did not meet as well the eye of a belated occupant, assuring himself stonily that he could not be seen." (from "The Evolution of Comfort," in Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings [Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942])

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park preserves or recreates Rawlings' house down to the minute details, including the gray paint on the screen door of the outhouse, intended to shield the user from view, but rather giving that unfortunate the appearance of a gray, mossy monster. There's even a red cloth flag, a system worked out by one of Rawling's guests to indicate when the outhouse was occupied. In Cross Creek, Rawlings recounts how she vowed to use any windfalls of money to pay for indoor plumbing, being disatisfied with the outhouse as well as icy outdoor showers in the wintertime. With the $700 she earned for Jacob's Ladder, she was able to install a bathroom: "The formal opening of the bathroom was a gala social event, with a tray of glasses across the lavatory, ice and soda in the bathtub, and a bouquet of roses . . . ."

Although Rawlings did acknowledge that she was better off at her house than were many of her neighbors when it came to water, her desire for convenience and comfort are echoed by Ma Baxter's wish for a well in The Yearling. And as Rawlings had to postpone her bathroom to pay for mortgages, car repairs, and poor citrus crops, so did Ma Baxter have to wait for her well:

"Ever' spring, I'd figger to git your Ma a well dug. Then I'd need a ox, or the cow'd bog down and perish, or one o' the young uns'd put in and die and I'd have no heart for well-diggin', and medicine to pay for. Bricks so turrible high--When I begun diggin' oncet, and got no water at thirty feet, I knowed I was in for it. But twenty years is too long to ask ary woman to do her washin' on a seepage hillside." (Penny Baxter to his son Jody, in The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)


Further reading about outhouses:

"Honor has outhouse restorer over the moon: Historic latrine in Cocoa to be rebuilt near church" Florida Today, September 6, 2008

"Bushnell man finds opportunity in outhouses " St. Petersburg Times, September 21, 2008

Florida Outhouses, by Kevin McCarthy, 2002

Nature Calls: The History, Lore, and Charm of Outhouses, by Dottie Booth, 1998

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eatonville, a Town in the Southern-most State

The New York Times has been running a series of articles about the state guides published in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. This week they visited Eatonville, a small town in central Florida. Eatonville is the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States, and was the childhood home of Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote the town's entry in the Florida guide.

"In a Town Apart, the Pride and Trials of Black Life" New York Times, September 28, 2008

Florida; a Guide to the Southern-most State (Federal Writers' Project, 1939)

The WPA Guides: Mapping America, by Christine Bold (University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Pygmy Rattlesnake

A couple of weeks ago I pulled into my mother's driveway and noticed something laying on the concrete. At first I thought it was a unusually large earthworm, then perhaps a young snake. Carefully, I gave the snake a nudge with a stick, and indeed, it was deceased. Perhaps a lawnmower encounter. Not long ago we'd had to gently eject a young black racer the cat brought into our breakfast nook, but this driveway snake had spots, so that wasn't it.

Since the snake wasn't hurting anything, the question of its parentage became a mystery deferred. Until this week when Eva at The Flying Mullet wrote about her first encounter with a pygmy rattlesnake. Fortunately -for the snake - her story had a better ending.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, John Gorrie

Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of the first air conditioning machine, would have been 206 years old today. For his contributions to medicine and making life in the South bearable, he has a state park and two schools (one in Jacksonville and one in Tampa) named after him. A statue of Dr. Gorrie represents Florida in Washington D.C. as part of the National Statuary Hall.

"Improved Process for the Artificial Production of Ice" U.S. Patent Number 8080, issued May 6, 1851

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Paynes Prairie

I moved to Florida after what had been up to then a lifetime of living in Texas. The shift from the big city of Dallas to the much smaller city of Gainesville was abrupt in many ways, but one of the most unexpected adjustments to be made was to get used to the trees that are EVERYWHERE! I couldn't see anything. Out West, if you're driving along the highway, you can see houses and farms and towns way before you get there. In the East, houses and farms and towns tend to be surprises because of all the vegetation shielding them from view. Within a few weeks at UF, I felt claustrophobic while outdoors. Until one afternoon when I went for a drive south of town and all that foliage parted and I emerged onto Paynes Prairie.

What a relief it was to see the horizon again!

My undergraduate botany and ecology courses in Texas focused on tall grass prairies rather than wet prairies, so it was bewildering to walk along the boardwalk into the prairie and be over water and amongst non-grassy plants. Spotting a herd of buffalo heightened this sense of being out of synch with time and space. Nevertheless, over the next several years, the prairie gave me a place to exhale.

Good thing I didn't live there when it was all one big lake.

For more information about Paynes Prairie:
Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna, A History and Guide, by Lars Andersen (Pineapple Press, 2003)

Friends of Paynes Prairie

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Florida's larger-than-life 19th governor, died on this date in 1910. He is still remembered for his efforts to drain the Everglades, a task which had daunted many a prior titan. However, as he saw it, man could conquer nature, for after all, "Water will run downhill!"

"Napoleon of the Everglades," by Gary Mormino, Tampa Tribune September 14, 2008

For further reading:

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Florida's Fighting Democrat, by Samuel Proctor (1950, reprinted 1993 by the University Press of Florida)

The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise, by Michael Grunwald (2007, Simon and Schuster)