Florida Vacation, 1949
by Catherine E. Park

Left Deep River at 6:35 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 15, with meter registering 51,780 miles and the thermometer -18°. We were past Pembroke before broad daylight, crossed the U.S. border at the Thousand Islands Bridge before noon, and lunched outside Watertown where the temperature was 30°. Most roads had been centre-bare up to this point, except for some snowy stretches, some slush and thin ice persisted farther south, but after Syracuse the highway was dry and bare, after Binghampton, N.Y., even the fields were clear of snow, with just an occasional patch to show where drifts had lain.

Scranton, Pa, offering no tourist homes we went on to overnight in Wyoming, Pa, in a large, old-fashioned, white wooden (or frame) house, with the characteristic narrow-board lap siding of north eastern U.S. Industrial Pennsylvania has towns and cities along the highway as close as beads on a string.

On Sunday morning we continued through the smoke and mists of the beautiful Susquehanna River Valley, following the river to Harrisburg, state capital since 1812, then veered west toward historic Gettysburg. There are some unusual farm buildings in this long-settled area, for example a four-story chicken-house, and barns with second-storey overhanging an open ground-level section. One barn was white with round-topped, green-shuttered windows at three different levels, but arranged alternately in checker-board fashion.

All around Gettysburg where once raged the most decisive battles of the U.S. Civil War are monuments to different brigades which took part in those battles. Some roadsides are lined with them, while Cemetery Hill and the U.S. National Cemetery contain many more. It was during the dedication of the National Cemetery that Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg address. A memorial to this address, erected with the cemetery, has a bronze bust of Lincoln and two bronze plaques on one of which the address is reproduced in full. The address appears in stone and once more in bronze on the nearby memorial to Civil War dead.

Soon after crossing the state line into Maryland a young lad in a wayside restaurant, who asked, "What part of Canada is you-all from?" told us about his uncle at Restoule near North Bay and wished us a pleasant good-bye.

Several N.Y. & Md. towns still had Christmas decorations up, one an Xmas diorama at [its] main 4 corners. More than one Maryland farmer, to give his big barn the fashionable may-window effect, had painted white round-topped window shapes at least once over end and one side of the building. Pierced post rail fences [are] still in use. Rural Maryland with its fertile red-brown soil and prosperous farms, cattle out pasturing in the January sunshine, looked like a very pleasant place to live.

By Sunday noon, Jan. 16, 650 miles or 1½ days from home in Frederick Md., we had definitely left cold weather behind.

Soon we crossed the broad Potomac and entered the rolling lands of Virginia, less fertile terrain where the golden broom sage decorated fields and roadsides and our old friend the jack pine lent its cheery green. Here we saw little piles of ripe corn ears lying out in the fields between he shocks of corn stalks. Here too we noted orange gravel tarvia paving for the first time on the trip. There were numerous coloured people to be seen in Virginia; some whole communities are of coloured folk, in fact. Evidences of racial discrimination, unfortunately, are frequent. Unusual names: Shickshinny (town), Yellow Breeches Ck, Licking Run, Elbow Room drive in restaurant.

In Richmond, Virginia, capital of the South, or Confederacy in the 1860's, we visited iron-fenced Capitol Square with its beautiful government building and old bell-tower. The square itself was a tall knoll of velvety green turn where literally dozens of gray squirrels were playing, and foraging for the peanuts people three to them.

At Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a garage man phoned an acquaintance who drove to the filling station and guided us to his luxurious home for the night. Two nights before the M.P. from Exeter, Ont. and his wife had been similarly favoured. Mr. Broom seemed sure we would know this other Canadian couple because the Exeter man was the member for Ontario. Mrs. Broom at first described him as a member of the British parliament, but tried to find a more accurate term. The Brooms complained about the Canadian government restrictions which aim to keep American money in Canada. "I don't [know] why everyone thinks we are Santa Claus" said Mrs. B. in her broad southern accent.

Tobacco is the big crop in the Carolinas, and cotton another important one. Mules are frequently used on the sandy farms; we met two white ones pulling two black boys in a light wagon, and another dapple-gray one almost too covered with mud for his colour to be seen. Fences are uncommon, plenty of bush and swamp land.

Unfamiliar trees now began to appear along our way, pines with bushy tufts of long thin needles, trees with little balls dangling from their winter-bare branches, balls with hook-shaped scales all over their surfaces, trees with flaring buttressed trunks standing in a swamp with cardinals flitting through their branches, magnolia trees, bamboo(?), evergreen oaks, trees clotted with mistletoe or draped in trailing vines, and from Walterboro south, palm trees. Spanish moss much in evidence from S.C. south.

Followed N.B. car a little way but it got ahead of us for third time when we stopped at the wayside store selling S.C. pecans and candy made from them.

The S.C. soil is so sandy that the broad Santee River runs yellow-orange with it.

The swampy flatlands of S.C. merged into the still swampier flatter lands of Fla. Our genial little overnight host at a Jacksonville tourist home told of interesting and beautiful sights of his state which we must be sure to see, including an avenue of moss-draped live oak in St. Augustine which he described as 'plum pretty', evidently his highest term of praise. We found friendliness and hospitality in good measure in Jacksonville, abbreviated Jas or Jax ville.

St Augustine had the oldest wooden schoolhouse in U.S. to show, with life-size plaster figures of scholars and school masters as they were in '86 & when the school was last used. An old water-powered mill stood near by ins huge grinding-stones still in place, also a forge where hand-wrought iron articles were apparently made. Fringe-topped surreys with coloured drivers were on hand to give visitors rides.

The marine studios at Marineland showed the wonders of ocean life through the port-holes of huge tanks, each called an oceanarium.

We were in Daytona Beach area at low tide, so drove on the beautiful, hard, moist sand of the beach speedway.

Melbourne, Fla. Took us in for our fourth "night abroad." Here a lady from Minneapolis, on hearing that we were from Canada, exclaimed, "Why, we're neighbours".

Wednesday of our roving week took us to the McKee Jungle Gardens, where we got the low down on may tropical and sub-tropical plants, also a new type grove warmer which throws out enough heat to protect one acre of surrounding trees from frost.

We strolled shoe-less on the sands of picturesque and fashionable Palm Beach, for an initial sun bath. No bathing was permitted that day because of the strong wind which meant a high surf running and a dangerous undertow.

Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale farther spit pm the coast were gay with carefree holiday crowds. Surf bathing and surf fishing were being enjoyed at both places and at many points in between where there were cottages or where there was just a path through the low windblown shrubbery to the open beach. A row of narrow islands and peninsulas parallels the mainland for many miles and on these is the continuous sand beach that make [the] east coast of Florida one gigantic playground all winter long. Villas, apartments and hotels get closer together the farther south you go until you reach Miami, a huge sprawling city of summer homes, joined by three causeways to a large inland called Miami Beach. This island is build up almost solidly with hotels, apartments, restaurants, few if any stores, and swimming pools. The hotels with their varying architecture and light-coloured plaster finish-white, cream, buff, green, or pink-make a unique and interesting picture. Palm trees are interspersed everywhere, particularly the twisted, often tilting cocoanut palm which is so typical of Florida.

We drove around Star I., an exclusive park-like residential area, with beautiful villas fronting on the water half-hidden be screens of palms. We stopped to let a boat through at the McArthur Causeway lift bridge, then returned to Miami itself and on southward, often along avenues of banyan trees, or through acres of tomato fields, or miles of open pine groves with tall grass and small scrub palms for underbrush.

When we reached the Oversea Highway along the Fla. Keys we traveled between thickets of low trees or swamplands or arms of the sea and finally between the Atlantic O. & the G. of Mex. Fine bridges ran from island to island. On Upper Matecumbe Key near Tea Table Bridge we stopped for a sunbath and to gather some interesting shells on the clay and coral shore. The sand in the shallows contained a large percentage of shell fragments. Even some of the rock in that part of [the] world is built of shells pressed together through the centuries. We noticed when comparing the two bodies of salt water stretching away to opposite horizons, that the G. of Mexico looked a much greener blue than the Atlantic. Hopeful fishermen & fisher women were busy on nearly every bridge. The telephone lines ran along both sides of the highway, sometimes with poles standing, well braced, in shallow water, sometimes taking to an undersea cable alongside a bridge or long viaduct.

The Boca Chica Naval Air Base sported 3 huge blimps and dozens of smaller air craft, many black with silver markings.

At 3:35 p.m. Jan. 20, 1949 and mileage 53809 we started back northward and homeward from our farthest point south, a stop sign on the ocean front street corner.

After a rainy but comfortable night at Homestead we continued north and west through Everglades National Park. Our route lay often along canals where many water-fowl were playing about or feeding. The flat, open swampy land, all reeds and rushes, was alive with blue heron and the beautiful white heron or egret, while dozens of hawks and buzzards circled and sailed in the sky above.

Seminole Indian villages with palmetto-thatched huts appeared at intervals along the way, each with a stand for selling Indian-made souvenirs. Flat boats with high chairs for driver and passengers and propellers & rudders operating in the air were another feature along the canal for a short distance. Hedges of Australian pine made a screen along many miles of canal. Scattered slash pine, much of it dead characterized the wooded part of the Everglades. Palms, palmetto(?) and riverside shrubs, air-plants parked on trees were all part of the wild landscape. Brush fires had left their mark here and there. We passed several that were still burning but apparently not causing great concern.

At the Everglades Reptile Gardens, crocodiles and alligators of all sizes basked in concrete-floored pens, snakes poisonous and non-poisonous, panthers, bears, cranes, owls, herons, etc. were caged for exhibition. A wall picture showed how a poisonous snake can be milked of its venom for the making of anti-snake bite serum.

Bonita Springs Shell Factory held us for an hour or more watching the processing of shells and admiring the finished products.

Sarasota had the fabulous Ringling Art Museum to show, excellent beaches of white shells and, strewn tons of shells and shell fragments not yet ground into sand, and the winter quarters of one of the world's largest circus businesses, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey.

Lakeland, midway between the east and west coasts of the Florida Peninsula was our longest stop. Here friends had reserved a room for us next door to their rooming-place. We joined the Tourist Club of which they were members and what a program of activities this club had to offer! We saw picturesque Florida Southern College, and several near-by towns and attractions, but for the most part we spent a week with the Tourist Club. Tuesday brought an entertainment evening by the Glee Club of a coloured High School. Wednesday a "chatsew" and evening card games, Thursday an indoor picnic followed by a dance, and cards again in the evening, while the Sat. night euchre party wound up the week's affairs.

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater where we enjoyed a splendid beach, and Tarpon Springs of sponge-fishing fame all came in for their share of attention. The Carillon concert from the famous Singing Tower in the Bok gardens was a special treat, and we found the Tampa Bay or Davis Causeway a fine place for a picnic dinner.

Everywhere we were surrounded by palms, orange groves, banana plants, papayas, Spanish moss, live oaks & many other sub-tropical plants, with the Florida mocking-bird making music in our backyard. One day it was our privilege to gather several bushels of Oranges from the tall heavily-laden trees of a large grove (i.e. orchard) near Lakeland, a delightful experience in that land of plenty and sunshine.

A memorable Sunday evening was spent at the First Baptist Institutional, a church with a coloured congregation and pastor. A special program of music and readings had been arranged, forming their monthly missionary program, so that the theme song "Sweet Hour of Prayer" and the taking of the offering may have been the only regular features we witnessed. The congregation and choir, group by group, filed by a long row of tables where church officers stood behind collection baskets, and each individual placed his or her offering in one of the baskets. It was counted as it was received. During this time the triple choir sang lustily, unaccompanied, a rhythmic gospel chorus, finishing after marching back to their places in the low choir loft which extended across the entire front of the church. Two baby grand pianos stood below the choir platform and these were played in unison during the chorus numbers, also for prelude (and postlude, I don't doubt). We left just before the business meeting which followed the offering ceremony. What the mimeographed program called Invitational hymns was a responsive chant, primitive, weird yet, incredibly, harmonious in spite of every part seeming to extend beyond the entry of the succeeding part so that a smoothly sustained volume of music welled up right to the end of the line of words, and the words themselves were all but indistinguishable except when the minister chanted before each response echoed his words.

Since even good things must end we had our last dip in the Gulf, our last sun-bath, and headed north again. Lovely Silver Springs with its unique spring-fed river of air-clear water and it's beautiful gardens, and Citra, where we say through an orange-packing plant were our last two important stops in Florida.

Savannah, Georgia sold us a night's lodging and a nearby sugar refinery provided an interesting guided tour through its sticky steam and deafening roar of machinery and rushing streams of sugar, water, bone char, etc. Four floors to inspect with everything from coarse raw sugar down to the bagged and boxed product was to be seen. With 500 employees the Dixie Crystals refinery puts out fifty carloads of refined sugar products per day.

In historic Charleston, South Carolina, we inspected old St. Philip's church with its Honour Roll for those who fought as Confederates in the Civil War and its old burying-ground, with tombstones dating back as far as 1718. This oldest stone, a well-carved slab of slate, commemorated a general who served under King William III of England and a Lord Proprietor of the Province of Carolina. The Province of Carolina was originally granted by Charles II to eight English noblemen called the Lords Proprietors. Hence the names Charleston and Carolina, from the Latin equivalents of Charles, i.e. Carolus.

Rural S.C. afforded a snapshot of an ox pulling a wagon, not a common draught animal in these parts according to the old Negro who was the driver o the ox; and afforded also a basket of sweet-grass, pine needles and palm fibre from the centre of some palm tree. Negro women sat making these baskets along the highwayside and displaying their wares on racks to sell to passing motorists. Coloured youngsters played about nearby. At one stand there was a shelter made of old pieces of sheet-iron and shaped like a tent. The coloured people often have very shabby homes and even shabby schools but almost every home has its front porch and the coloured women, we were told, keep them spotlessly clean inside. Usually these little wooden homes are perched up on post supports with perhaps only the supports, the brick chimney and the porch steps touching the ground. Probably they avoid termites better when so built.

S.C. had many small tobacco kilns on the farms, each with a slope-roofed porch on one or more sides. A series of tall earth mounds here and there probably showed a method of storing potatoes.

Wilmington, N.C. our next overnight stop had a park with a winding lake or pond, thousands of moss-hung cypress trees, their feet always in water or mud, their flaring "knees" showing a high water mark. There were also blooming camellias, japonicas, daffodils, and flowing shrubs we could not name. The azalea season hadn't come that far north, evidently, as yet (early Feb.) but Wilmington has an azalea festival every April. Robins, flickers and bluebirds in N.C. replaced the mocking-birds we had seen farther south.

N.C. is peanut country. Great truckloads of raw peanuts in sturdy sacks go rolling from the farms where the nuts are grown, dug, stacked to dry & machine picked to the cleaning plants where dirt, sticks, etc. are removed by machinery and the peanuts shelled, if desired. Next they go to the packaging plant to be roasted in large revolving ovens. The peanuts in shells roast about an hour, [and are] cooled, inspected and packaged. Those without shells are given 3 min. at 250°, a process called blanching. Then they are air-cooled, husked by heavy rubber rollers and sent to cookers where they are deep-fried in hot peanut or cocoanut oil for 8½ min., drained, and salted, ready for packaging. In Edenton, where we were shown through a peanut-packing plant, there were no prepared peanuts on sale at the grocery store where we stopped, only raw seed peanuts @ 30¢ a lb. shelled. Unshelled peanuts sell as harvested for 11½¢ a lb. on the farms.

Jamestown and Williamsburg, in Virginia, give one very definitely a glimpse into the past, for an Jamestown I. (there is no town there now, but a memorial park) the earliest permanent English colony in the New World as founded in 1607. A tiny settlement with its palisade protected for, ably managed by Capt. John Smith and later not so ably by some of his successors grew to be capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia & so continued for nearly a century. The house of Burgesses which met in Jamestown church in 1619 was the first group ever to meet as a representative government on this continent. For more than one reason, then, U.S. regards Jamestown as the cradle of the nation, the cradle of the American way of life. The tower of that old Jamestown church is still standing, a memorial church is attached to it and houses the ruins of the foundations of the first & second churches on that site. One sees in the park or church memorials to Princess Pocahontas who brought food to the starving settlers, to Concho, an Indian boy who warned them of an Indian uprising, to Capt. John Smith, to Rev. Robt. Hunt who celebrated the first Protestant communion in the New World. The Hunt Memorial Shrine has a bronze plaque depicting that first communion service, and a stone altar and altar rail in front of it. Holly, vines and cedars help to beautify the spot. A concrete sea wall was build some years ago to keep the James R. from washing away any more of Jamestown I., and in the process of this work the foundations of several homes and the old State House were unearthed. These are now patched up with concrete for all to see. The earthworks of one of Lee's forts, fating from Civil War days, are also in the park.

The capital of Virginia was moved to Williamsburg after the burning of Jamestown in a rebellion, then later to Richmond, farther inland, which is the present state capital. The Williamsburg State House or Capitol fell to ruin but has now been restored along with much of the town to look as much as possible as it did in Colonial Days. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. millions have made possible this unique historical project. The parliamentarians of Jamestown drew up most detailed specifications for their new Capitol to be build at Williamsburg, & from those specifications, about 200 years later, the present replica was built, correct in every possible detail, even to the green table and cushion coverings. Williamsburg has even been granted permission to fly over its colonial Capitol the British flag of 17th & 18th centuries, the one combining the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew only, the flag that was in use when the original Capitol stood on those self-same foundations in the early 17 hundreds.

Other restored buildings are the Walter Raleigh tavern, the beautiful governor's palace, the old public gaol complete with gaoler's living quarters, cells, pillory and stocks, and many residences and shops. Authentic antiques are used for the furnishings almost entirely. The only reproductions we saw in the main exhibition bldgs were two massive glass chandeliers in the palace ball room, made to match a third antique chandelier and the handwoven drapes of golden yellow silk in the dining-room of the Walter Raleigh tavern. The drapes in the palace ballroom were hand-woven brocade of dark red silk and were over 200 years old. No wonder our hostess (i.e. guide) begged us not to touch them. All the lady attendants wore 18th century costumes, white cap with a velvet bow at the back, and side-hoop dresses with broad white ruffles at neckline and sleeve-edge. These side hoops were worn at waist level, so that the material of the dress fell in soft gathers from a hidden horizontal ring 10 or 12 in. in diameter. The effect made each hostess look as if she were walking between two covered baskets. A capacious pocket could easily be concealed under either of a lady's shelf-like hoops. The costumes of the men on duty featured cocked hats, cloaks, knee breeches, white stockings and buckle-trimmed shoes.

The U.S. federal capital had many treasures to show. The soaring simplicity of the Washington monument, the austere pillared grandeur of the Lincoln memorial faced each other at apposite ends of a reflecting pool several blocks long. The art and architecture of the Capitol and the Library of Congress were both varied and exquisite. The White House and Washington's early home at Mt. Vernon were only glimpsed from the outside. Official Washington is made up of acres and acres of gov't bldgs. All square built of massive white stone, with pillars and domes to ornament the more important ones, and beautifully carved friezes, capitals, and roof-edges to be seen on many of them. The National Museum of Art, a new bldg., is as lovely as any of the older ones. Its corridors are floored in black and white marble , the rotunda dome is patterned after the Pantheon in Paris and supported by enormous columns of black marble (imported in rough form from Italy, finished in Vermont), an exquisite polished bronze statue representing Mercury is poised on one foot over the great gray marble fountain in the rotunda as if leaping through the air and there are two beautiful garden courts, under sky-light glass with palms and giant ferns. There are about 100 rooms in this art museum, housing masterpieces of art and sculpture from everywhere. We heard a lecture on a Michelangelo statue and another lecture aiming to introduce visitors to the different groups of pictures on exhibition. Three or four artists were at work that day, doing marvelously skilful copies of famous old paintings.

After Washington we had only a shopping stop in Scranton, Pa. and an overnight in Syracuse N.Y. before we were back at our own borders, reading the "Welcome to Canada" sign at the 1000 Islands crossing, and it did feel good, in spite of frost-heaved roads, to be back in our own country. Soon we had completed a trip of nearly 4800 miles with only two slight delays for car trouble to record, and a whole host of pleasant memories to enrich us through the years.