Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Noble deed and other deeds, indeed

Detail of deed issued to W.E. Noble.
John C. Williams probably knew he’d made a good deal when he offered Peter Demens’ Orange Belt Railroad 250 acres to put the terminus in St. Petersburg instead of in the town that became Gulfport.

It was 1888, and Williams owned nearly 1,700 acres he wanted to sell. Demens, an aristocratic Russian political exile who was investing in Florida projects, completed the railroad line and the first locomotive arrived on June 8, 1888, bearing a shoe salesman from Savannah as the only passenger. Williams plan, though, would bring plenty of feet that needed shoes, and, more importantly for Williams, people who wanted to buy property.

By the end of the year, Williams was selling off his lots and finally seeing a return on an investment he’d made a decade earlier. Among those sales was a lot purchased by W.E. Noble in October 1888.

Signed by the Williamses.
Williams sold Noble Lot 10 in Block 24 in the St. Petersburg platbook. Selling price? $300. Williams and his wife, Sarah, signed the deed on Oct. 8, a Monday–for the Williamses, a great way to start the week. Things moved in a much more leisurely pace in those days,  though. The deed wasn’t recorded with the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office in Tampa until four months later.

That deed is part of the Walter P. Fuller collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA, as is another legal document we’ll discuss in a minute.

When Williams made his deal with Demens’ Orange Belt Railroad, he effectively cut out Hamilton Disston, a wealthy Philadelphian who was developing the south Pinellas peninsula, among other real estate projects. Disston had changed the name of the village there to Disston City and had nurtured the railroad project as it struggled across the state, helping Demens get financing at critical times to overcome construction delays and other difficulties.

Peter Demens
Disston dreamed of building a major seaport at Disston City. But when Demens’ railroad reached Tarpon Springs, the Russian demanded more acreage than Disston’s board of directors was willing to give to seal the deal so Demens turned to discussions with Williams.

The area Disston was developing, today called Gulfport, had been home earlier to fishing rancheros and small farms. To the east of there and south of present-day downtown St. Petersburg, a Seminole War veteran, Abel Miranda, settled on Big Bayou in 1857. Miranda fished and hunted and lived with his wife, Eliza Ann.

When the Civil War came, settlers in the Pinellas peninsula were drawn into the conflict. Miranda was a rabid Southern sympathizer. He sabatoged Union supporters who tried to take provisions to Union forces stationed at Egmont Key. He was suspected in the murder of a known local Unionist, Scott Whitehurst. Miranda called Whitehurst a cattle thief who took stolen Confederate beef to the forces at Egmont, according to Ray Arsenault in St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream, 1888-1950. In an effort to bring Miranda to justice, Union sailors raided Miranda’s farm in 1862.

Early settler John A. Bethell in his History of Pinellas Peninsula (1911), tells the harrowing tale of the attack on Miranda’s farm, Miranda’s flight with this family across the peninsula to today’s Maximo Moorings area, then a dangerous voyage in a leaky boat across Tampa Bay to Gadsden Point and safety. Miranda left the area after that but returned in 1866 after the war was over and became a cattle rancher. He didn’t resettle on Big Bayou, though, because he feared he could be attacked again should the war resume. Miranda and his wife settled about two miles inland.

Eliza Ann Miranda signed contract.
Miranda lived until 1900. Ten years before his death, though, Eliza Ann, entered into a contract with John C. Williams to buy a lot on Block 24, not far from the lot Williams and his wife, Sarah, had sold to W.E. Noble. Eliza Ann Miranda signed the document dated Oct. 21, 1890 to buy Lot 13. This document is stated to be a duplicate contract and is also part of the Walter P. Fuller collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The contract is for $250 for the lot. It stipulates that the owner will make 18 equal semi-annual payments (a nine-year commitment) of $25 each and will pay 6 per cent per year on the unpaid balance. It further stipulates that the owner will build a house on the lot on a one-foot brick foundation and will paint it. Williams believed that unpainted houses made the community look unkempt. The debt could be paid off at any semi-annual payment date, at which time a warranty deed would be produced, according to the contract.

John and Sarah Williams
John C. Williams died two years later, well before the contract was completed. He left his estate to his second wife, Sarah, but a dispute arose over the will. Williams had deliberately cut his first wife and his ten children out of the inheritance.

“My children not having loved nor cared for me as it was their duty, it is my will that none of them shall receive any part of my estate,” Williams was quoted as saying in his will. Walter P. Fuller wrote in St. Petersburg and Its People that the dispute was resolved out of court. Williams’ first wife received $6,000, two-thirds of the estate was divided equally among eight of Williams’ children. Sarah received one-third of the estate.

Pbotos: Peter Demens and John C. and Sarah Williams, St. Petersburg Museum of History. Deeds and contracts, Lighthouse Books, ABAA files. | Please click on photos to enlarge them.

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