Monday, March 17, 2014

Not To Be Missed

Well it is finally here! After several years of research the book I have been working on with Roy Laughlin and Robert Kronowitt is now completed and in print! The full title is Not To Be Missed, Cocoa's Architectural Heritage and Its People 1880-1950. It is quite a tome at 398 pages, and will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the historic structures in Cocoa. This book's premise is that history is all around us, influences our daily routines, and is a tangible, but often unrealized link to people long gone. As Roy states so well, "Houses, commercial, and public buildings are like a conch shell. They have survived the living animals that made them, and have the ability to persist indefinitely after their creators, like shells in coquina."
Front Cover
This book is the result of careful research that ranged from interviews with long time residents to an untold amount of consultation with original sources such as deed books and early newspapers. In many cases contemporary accounts of a structure's construction was found in the Cocoa Tribune so exact dates, builders and architects can now be assigned to previously anonymous buildings. These records also revealed the stories of our area's earliest residents and their level of involvement in creating the community we enjoy today. Every important section of Cocoa is included in this book with coverage on the business district, schools, the river front, the land boom neighborhoods north of town and the African American community.
In addition to all the information the book is illustrated with the wonderful sketches of artist Robert Kronowitt and many reproductions of original photos, advertisements and plat maps.
Back Cover
Not To Be Missed is available from Roy via email at notttobemissed.2001@gmail.com or for purchase at the Florida Historical Society or Travis Hardware in Cocoa Village. Other outlets for the book will likely be added over time.The price is $42.35 plus tax.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Man Remembered

As many of you will have heard Patrick Smith, beloved Florida author, passed away Sunday Jan. 26th, at the age of 87. Unlike many authors whose works are often not appreciated until after their deaths, Mr. Smith was lucky to have been well acclaimed during his life. A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee he was also a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and the recipient of numerous awards including the "Great Floridian" award personally presented to him by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Although Mr. Smith authored many books he is best known for "A Land Remembered" which is a multi-generational story of a Florida pioneer family. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to this wonderful book many years ago in elementary school by a teacher who made it required reading. While I was already fascinated by history, the ancient Egyptians, the pilgrims, architecture etc., I was until I read that book, fairly ignorant of the history that surrounded me in my every day life. To say that this book changed my life would not be an exaggeration.
Cover of my childhood copy
Although it has been years since I read it the last time, I remember vividly the book's depictions of cattle drives, hurricanes, howling panthers, mosquitos, the state's native peoples and much more. In a true example of the fact that books can mean different things to different people, one of the things that really stuck in my mind and boosted my interest in conservation, were the book's mentions of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. The mental image produced of  the bright blue Florida skies being filled with great flocks of brilliantly colored birds lent a tropical and exotic feel to the state that I hadn't thought of before. For those readers that aren't familiar with the story of the Carolina Parakeet, it is a sad one. Once prevalent across the United States, by 1860 the bird was rarely spotted outside of Florida. Deforestation, hunting for its plumage and to reduce its predation on southern crops led to its demise. The birds lived in huge noisy flocks, from 200 to 300 in number, and  were easy prey for anyone with a gun as when one member of the group was injured or killed the entire flock rallied around the fallen bird in a doomed attempt to save their comrade. Since modern knowledge of parrot behavior has shown us how intelligent and sensitive they are, the thought of seeing such a sight still makes me sick to my stomach to this day.
Audubon's print of the Carolina Parakeet

If you haven't read "A Land Remembered" I encourage you to do so and get better acquainted with the history of our great state. In addition to that classic, Mr. Smith wrote several other books that are equally interesting. Among them are "Forever Island", "The River is Home", and "Angel City", which was even made into a CBS movie of the week in 1980. All of these titles can be found within our Brevard County Library System.

Patrick Smith will be greatly missed and Florida's historical community will be forever grateful for his many contributions and the recognition he brought to important issues.

Thank You Patrick!!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Family History Fair

On November 16th the Brevard Genealogical Society and the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa hosted our first ever Family History Fair. Our theme was, "Solve Your Family Mystery, Explore Your Family History." This free event was attended by over 200 people of all ages, and lots of volunteers in teal shirts, who all appeared to be having a good time!
Georgia and Dee at the entrance to the meeting room.
 We literally took over the library for the day! The main hall was filled with tables where we offered demonstrations of four different genealogical software programs, an Ask-An-Expert area and various informational tables from the DAR, SAR, Scottish Society, French-Canadian Society, and many more. Another meeting room was turned into a speaker's hall where we offered visitors the opportunity to attend four different lectures during the day on subjects as wide-ranging as beginning your genealogy, to learning more about the use of DNA in genealogical research. Our staff computer training lab was also put into use offering popular classes on using Family Search and Ancestry.com. Even the library's children's area was decorated for the day and staffed with volunteers who assisted our young attendees with completing artistic family trees, locating ancestor's home countries on maps and globes, and giving tips on interviewing family members.
David and grandchildren in the foreground with Mary and an SAR member.
Obviously an event like this takes a lot of planning and we have Georgia and David Ralston and their wonderful committee to thank for pulling this all together! I would also like to thank all those companies  and groups who provided goodies for our gift bags such as Community Educators Credit Union, Tourist Development Council, Cocoa Village Association and the Brevard County Historical Commission.
Hope to see even more of you next year!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Visit With Ponce De Leon

Historic Street View of San Juan
This is a big year for Florida, in fact the party has been going all year. Why you ask? This year marks the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Juan Ponce de Leon on Florida's east coast and his naming of our state.  On April 2, 1513, Juan Ponce de León landed on the east coast of Florida and became the first recorded European to set foot on the continental United States of America, predating European settlement in Jamestown, VA and Plymouth Rock, MA by 94 years and 107 years, respectively. Florida has the longest recorded history of any state in the nation. The Florida Department of State created the VIVA Florida 500 initiative to highlight the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present day Florida. The Viva Florida 500 commemoration is ongoing throughout 2013, and includes hundreds of events statewide, including many in Brevard County. One of these events is the creation and dedication of a time capsule that was given to the library system, and will be dedicated on October 22.

Me at Ponce's tomb in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

In the continuing spirit of cooperation and exploration, I embarked on my own voyage of discovery to Puerto Rico, originally called Boriken by the indigenous Tainos,  a few weeks ago. Fortunately for me I only had to drive to Orlando to catch a quick non-stop flight to San Juan on Jet Blue rather than to brave the dangerous Florida Straits during the peak of hurricane season. Actually I didn't even drive, thanks Chad!
And while poor old Ponce was met with hostile natives on his second visit to Florida in 1521 and was mortally wounded by a poisoned arrow, we were met by the one of the friendliest people you could ever meet, law student by day and Puerto Rican Don Juan by night, Saul Diaz. Saul is the brother of my amigo Dr. Emanuel "Manny" Diaz of Rockledge, who accompanied Alex and I on our trip. Saul drove us all over the island and gave us a good overview of its history. By the way, click on Dr. Manny's name above to view his interesting and helpful health/fitness related Facebook page!  
We met many friendly natives, unlike poor Ponce, and sampled way too much of the island's wonderful cuisine. The island itself is a wonderful mix of culture and nature as you can go from hiking in the beautiful rainforest of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest that belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, to eating at a tapas restaurant in Old San Juan, all within the space of an hour. Old San Juan is a vibrant mix of locals, tourists, inns, restaurants, shops etc. all guarded by the ancient forts. While I had heard of the famous El Morro, the fort that guarded the entrance into the harbor at San Juan, I also came to learn that there is an even more impressive second fort, San Cristobal, that covers 27 acres and basically wraps around the old city. Having been to our own Spanish fort at St. Augustine many times, I was taken aback by the much grander scale of these two forts. You truly do feel like an ant while standing on their walls, and the builders deserve major props for accomplishing such an immense construction project with the limited technology available in their day. It is also clear why these forts were never taken by invaders. I wonder why upon seeing them they just didn't turn around and sail back home! I of course have to mention that my people, the Dutch, came the closest when in 1625 they captured the city but not the fort. Close but no cigar, guys!
El Morro In Old San Juan

I think old Ponce would be pretty proud if he could come back and take a look at how Florida and Puerto Rico have grown and developed over the years since his death and the interesting relationship the two places still have with each other. Happy 500th birthday Florida and muchas gracias la isla del encanto!

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Drunken Sheriff and Other Tales of Mayhem

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Greg Pallone of Channel 13 News for a story he was doing on Jesse Doucette a new Brevard County Sheriff's Deputy that is a descendant of one of our county's earliest Sheriffs, Mills O. Burnham. If any readers recognize that name is probably for the fact that he was the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse keeper for most of his life, but he was also the first Sheriff of St. Lucie County from 1845-47, which was renamed Brevard County in 1855. 
Capt. Mills O. Burnham
Courtesy of the Florida Memory Project

As part of the interview Greg asked me what I thought the differences were between crime in Burnham's time and now, and I had to say that, "not much really." Although he had none of the benefits of modern crime fighting, such as state of the art weapons or DNA analysis, he and his fellow nineteenth century sheriffs were faced with some real doozies of crimes. There was cattle rusting, river smugglers, the horrible Packwood murders, train robberies, justifiable homicides, suicides and just about everything else you can think of.

Although Burnham served with distinction and without incident some of his successors did not fare so well. In 1887 Guptill Hoyt of Titusville was shot and killed by Charles R. Cook because someone in Hoyt's house was playing the piano too loudly, really? After a jury indicted Cook the Sheriff E. H. Covar failed to arrest him until he was forced to do so by the citizens, as he was drunk and apparently intimidated by Cook's friends. These friends then tried to break Cook out of jail and with the Sheriff drunk, the deputy scared, the mayor absent and the Town Marshall favoring Cook's side, a posse was formed to defend the jail. In the aftermath of this "hot mess" Sheriff Covar was forced by the governor to resign and in one of those laugh at loud moments Covar acknowledged being drunk but stated that someone had spiked his drink!

Burnham Memorial Window at St. Garbiel's
Episcopal Church in Titusville
Courtesy of Polly Schuster
In something reminiscent of the "Wild West" lack of action on the part of authorities occasionally led to the public taking matters into their own hands, as in the case of a Mr. Weaver who infuriated the good citizens of Titusville in 1892 when after drinking and gambling away all his family's money he tried to get his wife to recoup the family fortune by entering a house of ill repute. Mrs. Weaver refused and upon learning of his actions the town's citizens were so angry that they publicly horsewhipped him at noon on Main street and drove him out of town. Mrs. Weaver, "a widow of some means and excellent standing,"  was grateful for her kind treatment and thought she might stay and make her home in Titusville.
The murder of two women and two children in 1891 at Packwood's place south of New Smyrna in which the victims were shot and had their throats slashed could probably have been solved easily through DNA evidence as one of the ladies fingernails were dark with blood from defending herself. Instead the aimless investigation went on forever and at least one poor African-American was hung by his thumbs in a failed effort to make him confess.
In any case I don't think the crimes of today are too very different from those of the last century, but Sheriff Burnham's progeny will certainly have better technology available with which to solve them.
Good luck Jesse!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Find Your Family At The Library

While the Brevard County Library system has been at the forefront of genealogy research for many years, with genealogy collections at the Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne libraries, starting today patrons will be able to access Ancestry Library Edition, free of charge at ALL seventeen library branches. Although this service was offered in the past, it fell victim to budget cuts. Due to the high demand from all of our patrons interested in researching their family history we were determined to bring it back to you as soon as possible, and here it is!!! Ancestry is the world’s most popular consumer genealogy resource and contains over seven thousand databases and 200 billion images. These databases cover individuals from North America, the UK, Europe, Australia and more. Here you can unlock the story of your family with sources like censuses, vital records, immigration records, family histories, military records, court and legal documents, directories, photos and maps, with new content being added daily.

Brevard County Beach Day in the early 1900's
from the collection of the Brevard Historical Commission

There will be no charge to access Ancestry. Patrons will need only a valid library card to logon to the public computers in the library.

For those interested in learning how to research their family further, the Brevard Genealogical Society will be offering a beginning genealogy class on Saturday, July 13 from 9:30am to 3 pm at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa. There is a $20 materials fee and pre-registration is required. For more information visit the BGS website at http://www.flbgs.org or call 633-1794.