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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

St. Petersburg as a 'health city'?

Dr. Van Bibber's article.
We’re revisiting the Walter P. Fuller files today. Previously we had discussed Fuller and pioneer developer C. Perry Snell. Now we’re looking at the folder on the well-known Van Bibber report.

Dr. W.C. Van Bibber was a physician of some national repute. He was the personal physician of philanthropist Johns Hopkins (for whom the university was named) and attended him when he died. He was nationally published and respected in medical circles.

In 1885, Van Bibber told American Medical Association members that he’d found the healthiest place in the world – Point Pinellas, Florida. In a report he delivered at the convention in New Orleans, Van Bibber advanced his theory that peninsulas are by their nature healthy places to be. He further reasoned that a peninsula on a peninsula was, therefore, even better. Van Bibber proposed nothing less than a “health city,” a world-renowned place that would heal the ill and infirm and raise the spirits of the rest.

A copy of Van Bibber’s report is contained in the Fuller files at Lighthouse Books, ABAA, along with other notes of Fuller’s research. It was printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association on May 16, 1885.

The report set off a frenzy of promotion and the tourist industry in the region was born. Van Bibber's son, Claude, and three associates, all doctors in Baltimore, bought land at Point Pinellas (where Eckerd College is now) in anticipation of the building boom that surely would follow.

Fuller concludes in a piece he wrote for Tequesta, the journal of the Historical Association of Southern Florida, that one of the associates, William C. Chase, must certainly have been the impetus behind the whole project. He suggests, perhaps kindly, that the enthusiastic Chase, must have “inspired” Van Bibber to reach his conclusions and give his report to the AMA.

In the end, it all came to nothing. The idea of a 'health city' gained no traction around the country and, eventually, the investors abandoned the idea. A land speculator, Roy Hanna, picked up the property in a tax sale but eventually lost it when he couldn't pay the taxes.

The city of St. Petersburg acquired the land, and when Florida Presbyterian College decided to move to St. Petersburg, the city could offer Point Pinellas as a location.

We'll revisit more of Walter Fuller's files in a later entry. Come back for a visit.

Monday, November 22, 2010

For the scientific mind 150 years ago

Scientific American, June 26, 1869
We've been reading four issues of Scientific American magazine, one from 1869, the others from the 1870s. They're from a collection by inventor and photo enthusiast Lester C. Hehn, about whom we had an article recently.

We didn't find much about photography in these issues (a photographic paper making process from 1874) but it's easy to see why an inventor would be interested in these treasures.

Here are articles on an eclectic collection of subjects from the details of making transatlantic undersea cable to the innerworkings of a then-new Italian ice cream maker for "confectioners and others whose business includes the manufacture of large quantities of ice cream, water ice, and similar delicacies."

Interestingly, the ice cream maker still had to be hand cranked, though electricity was being used to operate some machines at the time.

Here, too, are articles on scientific thought of the day: on a new design of bolt cutter, a safer steam generator, an improved medical inhaler, the latest known astronomy facts, a new method of cremation, a new turbine wheel, lessons from army ants of South America and so much more.

There is an account of the meeting of the National Academy of Science at the Smithsonian Institution. Among the deliberations: a report about Charles Babbage, the British mathematician who had died less than three years earlier. It seems that Babbage, who had originated the concept of a programmable computer, had suggested that "a machine might be made which would play a game of combination, such as drafts, provided the maker of the machine himself would work out perfectly the sequences of the game."

Logo for the magazine from 1870. Click image to enlarge.
The presenter, a Professor Fairman Rogers, suggests a tic-tac-toe (they called it tit-tat-too then). The object: "To show that such mechanism, applied to apparatus for registering physical phenomena or for performing geometrical or mathematical operations, may enable such mechanical devices to have a use much more extended than heretofore." But it would take more than a century to come up with Pac-man and Space Invaders.

There is an update on the practical use of velocipedes, as the early bicycles were called. Seems messengers in Paris were sent to run dispatches from the stock exchange to the central telegraph bureau, a six-mile trip that took 25 minutes and cost the sender 50 cents. The article tells about a high profile trial in which Parisian newspapers hired messengers on bicycles to dispatch developments. The article notes that carrier pigeons were used, too. On a clear day with the birds able to get their bearings, the feathered couriers were quicker. So much for new technology.

One article rails (pun intended) about the false economy and safety issues connected with railroads cutting corners in the interest of saving money. The article concludes, "Pity 'tis that railway managers have not been quick to understand that the 'penny wise' are frequently the 'pound foolish;' that the best is always the cheapest in the long run."

All in all, a fascinating read.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A long line of Walter Scotts

Xenophon. Published in Geneva, 1613. Click to enlarge.






The book is about the Greek soldier and historian, Xenophon. The man who wrote it was a French Huguenot minister who fled persecution in his homeland and went to Geneva. The man who owned it was a Scottish nobleman who probably read it as a child.

The original full burgundy calf cover bears the armorial crest of the owner, Walter Scott, the 2nd Lord Scott of Buccleuch, a village in the Scottish-English borderlands. The book is in French and was probably used by young Walter in his traditional studies of the classics. It was published in 1613. It is part of the our collection of rare and unusual books.

The younger Scott had a lot to live up to. His father, also Walter, (they came from a long line of Walters) was the 1st Lord Scott of Buccleuch. He had a nickname, Bold Buccleuch (say BUH-clue), and a reputation to match it. Walter, the father, was a famous border reiver.

As far back as the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were frequently at war. Clans that lived in the border region of Scotland often had their livelihoods disrupted. It was a wild frontier existence. To survive, border clans became raiders, and they weren't too particular who they robbed, be they English or Scottish, just as along as they weren't fellow clansmen.

The reivers tradition continued for centuries. The crowns of England and Scotland tolerated them sometimes and exploited them other times. Some reivers ended up fighting as mercenaries for one king or another. To some they were loveable rogues, to others no better than the Mafia of a much later era.

One of the most infamous reivers was William Armstrong of Kinmont, known as Kinmont Willie. On a truce day in 1596, called so English and Scots could negotiate treaties and other deals, Kinmont Willie was taken prisoner, against the terms of the truce. He was held in Carlisle Castle.

The Scots, incensed by the breach, gathered a posse of eighty men and rode to the castle. They were led by Walter Scott of Buccleuch, the first Lord Scott. They surprised the English, rescued Kinmont Willie and rode to safety across the border.

 Sir Walter Scott, the author and a kinsman of the border reiver Scotts, transcribed a local folk ballad called Kinmont Willie and published it in a book of Scottish border songs many decades later.

As for Walter Scott, the owner of this book, it's not really certain when he was born, although it was thought to be sometime before 1606. He married Lady Mary Hay in 1616. He had a military career as commander of the regiment in service to Holland in 1627. He died in London in 1633.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Of Walter P. Fuller and C. Perry Snell

Click on image of clipping to enlarge.
Developer Walter P. Fuller was a raconteur, politician, author, editor and historian. For a time, he worked closely with pioneer developer C. Perry Snell and they became good friends.

Fuller once worked as a reporter and then later as city editor for the St. Petersburg Times. He collected extensive files about St. Petersburg and wrote a definitive history of the city. He wrote another about Florida's real estate boom, an era that he knew first hand. He also was a real estate developer and built the Jungle Prada area. 

Fuller once wrote a laudatory profile of Snell. It was published in the campus newspaper at Ogden College in Bowling Green, KY, Snell's hometown.

In 1942, Snell and his wife, Carolyn, were visiting Bowling Green and a reporter got wind the former resident was in town. By then, Snell was well known as a real estate entrepreneur, though his fortunes had somewhat diminished at the time.

Still, the newspaper wanted to do an interview. Snell suggested that the editors secure the profile that had been published in the college paper a few years earlier. They did so and asked Snell if he thought it would be okay to republish it. Snell gave them permission to publish it without Fuller's name on it.

Snell sent Fuller a letter recounting the Bowling Green episode and saying the editor had suggested doing so because "the first thing some of the wise crackers here would say, 'Wonder how much Snell paid Fuller, etc.' I thought I knew you well enough to say, go ahead."

Fuller, the inveterate collector, had extensive files on St. Petersburg subjects. Snell's letter is part of the Fuller files collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA, as is a clipping about Snell's death. From time to time, we'll discuss other items in the Walter Fuller files.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An inventor/photography buff's legacy

Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and Vice President Henry Wallace in a 
1940s photograph from Hehn's collection. Click images to enlarge.
When Lester C. Hehn passed away last year at age 85, he lived in a house in the middle of the woods in Sarasota County near Englewood. He had accumulated a large collection of vintage photographs.

Before he retired to Florida, Lester Hehn led an interesting life in a small town on Long Island about a half hour from the city, where he invented and manufactured devices that made life in the darkroom easier.

Lester Hehn was a 1947 graduate of MIT and kept in touch with his old school with generous donations. He prospered with his own firm, Lester C. Hehn Engineering, located in Port Washington, N.Y.

He invented an enlarging meter that helped photographers determine the density of their negatives. He sold the devices to photographers all over the country for $39.95 and a money-back guarantee. Then he proceeded improve upon his invention and also create other devices darkroom technicians found useful. There was a write-up about one invention of his in the June 1961 issue of Popular Mechanics.

1903 Brownie poster is part of collection.
Lester Hehn satisfied his yen for all manner of things related to photography by collecting ephemera and vintage photographs. Included in his collection, for instance, is a vintage 1903 poster advertising a Kodak Brownie. There are, of course, boxes and boxes of vintage photographs. Example: a 1940s era photograph of Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and Vice President Henry Wallace. Hope and Wallace are wearing aprons. Not sure what the occasion is. We’ll revisit some more of the photographs in the collection later.

One interesting item in the collection is a three-ring binder that offers a history of Hehn’s devices and a little explanation about them.

The notebook also contains a letter of endorsement for one of Hehn’s devices. The letter is from Stephen W. Plimpton, a one-eyed Boston photographer who became prominent there in the 1960s.

In the back of the notebook are envelopes from various countries, including Paraguay, Argentina, Jamaica, El Salvador, Pakistan and Tahiti. To each are affixed postage stamps from the various countries, all postmarked in the 1960s.

We’ll discuss some of the other items in Lester Hehn’s collection later. Check back with us.

Oh, and Lester’s Hehn’s wooded property? Sarasota County recently was negotiating to purchase it to add to the county’s park land.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Photo with a history and a mystery

Who are these people and what were they doing in Orlando? Click on the photo to enlarge it.
We came by this interesting item at a book fair in Chicago. It's a photograph apparently taken on January 16, 1908 in Orlando. That was a Thursday. Nothing else is known about it. Were they in town for some sort of ecclesiastical convention? Perhaps.

By then Florida was pretty well established as a winter getaway. The railroads and steamship lines of the two Henrys–Flagler and Plant–had been bringing tourists to the state for a couple of decades. The Congregational Assembly had been running Rollins College in nearby Winter Park for 24 years.

A convention of clergymen in Orlando? Why not?

There are at least 40 people in the picture, about half of them men. Several of the men wear clerical collars, and one in front appears to wear vestments of a clergyman. Right behind him is a woman who appears to be dressed as a nun.  Some of the men are in business suits.

Except for the nun, the women appear to be wearing dresses typical of the era and large hats with flowers or bows on them.

They are posed in front of an archway typical of a church but not much is visible of the shake-sided building.

Who these people are and what they were doing in Orlando remains a mystery for now. 

Any ideas? Let us know.

This is part of our collection of antique photographs.

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