Monday, January 18, 2016

Preserving Sources for Future History Detectives

A recent editorial in the Punta Gorda Herald  pointed out the dangers of people having mythic conceptions of what has happened in the past. The author contends that textbooks frequently scrub embarrassing truth from the history being taught.  

It is without doubt that secondary and tertiary sources of information regardless of intent will often omit or distort in some way the facts of history.  Written history often over summarizes and like any story told is interpretive - the product of the filters of its authors.  

This is why it's so essential to have access to sources that are primary - as close to the actual events as possible.  Articles written, deeds recorded, diaries, notes taken, correspondence exchanges in the course of business or personal all provide clues to the past.  While even these sources can often be somewhat filtered by their recorders by their purpose or viewpoint, they are as close as we can get to the actual facts of the past.  It is only in preserving these precious sources and providing access to them that today's and tomorrow's  detectives of history - students, researchers and those who just plain want to know can uncover truths that may have been scrubbed from more contemporary materials and texts.  

The Punta Gorda History Center through the efforts of Vernon Peeples and those who will continue his mission will identify, collect and preserve those sources for future history detectives.   

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Time in a Bottle - Stuff Out of the Archive

Vernon Peeples stored a significant part of his collection in a large study lined with book cases. The tops of those cases were adorned with a curious bottle collection that Mr. Peeples would frequently talk about when we visited.  The bottles, he said, he had found along Charlotte Harbor and collected from the time he was a young boy in the 1930s. Examining the bottle collection more closely as we unpack the boxes containing over 100 of them reveals glass  pointers to the history of the early Florida frontier.

The bottle pictured above was one of many remedies hawked in the 1800s to cure the various ills that plaqued people of the day.  Bitters became very popular in the South during the Civil War when Union soldiers were told the concoction would protect them from the maladies in the swamps and bayous.  Simon Herrmann was the maker of the Old Hickory Celebebrated Stomach Bitters.  He was born about 1832 in Germany and arrived in Louisiana in 1863.   He came to New Orleans and entered the staple dry goods, boots and shoe business under the business name Herrmann, Levy & Company.  Around 1884 or 1885, is when the first Old Hickory Celebrated Stomach Bitters was made based on a patent on 12 February 1885.  It's probable that early settlers many of whom were former Union soldiers were frequent imbibers of Old Hictory which had a very high alcohol content.

Prickly Ash Poke Root Potassium PPP was manufactured by one of largest druggists of the late 19th century headquartered in Savannah.  Since it was purported to cure just about everything from malaria to rheumatism, syphllis and menstrual problems, it is likely to have been widely available in Punta Gorda through the turn of the century.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hey Look At This - Stuff out of the Archive

Every day as we continue to process materials from the Vernon Peeples collection volunteers uncover fascinating pieces of Punta Gorda history and call out " hey, look at this."  It occurred to us that our followers might be interested in some of the items we are accessioning so time to time I will be writing a post on what we are finding in collections as we process them.  Today, for instance, we processed:

- the photo you see above of Trabue (before it was Punta Gorda) taken from the Hotel Punta Gorda (most likely in 1886).  It appears to be where Hurricane Charley's and Gilchrist Park are today.  In the background the recorder refers to a freight wharf on the horizon -- this was probably the Long Dock.  
- an original court document from Kelly B. Harvey's lawsuit vs. Issac Trabue

- A document fining Issac Trabue for vagrancy because he continued to occupy land he had dedicated to the City of Punta Gorda which had become a public park

- An actual newspaper from 1912 - with the headline of the sinking of the Titantic

- A book that was essentially a register of the day to day activities of a Florida Plantation mostly accounting for slave activities.  One noted the transfer of ownership of slaves with a marriage of an owners daughter.

- a map of the city streets of Punta Gorda from 1936

These are but a few of the fascinating things uncovered -- in one day!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Punta Gorda Did its Part in the WWII Era

This year, 75 years after the U.S. entered World War II, the Punta Gorda History Center will bring back the era in Punta Gorda's history which had a lot to do with Punta Gorda's subsequent development. Many who were stationed and made to feel welcomed  here during the war years returned in their later years to make Punta Gorda their home.

In November of 1943, the following notice appeared in the Punta Gorda Herald:

Greetings to the Army! Punta Gorda became an army town this week as troops moved in to prepare for activation of the new airbase here.

It was a spectacular change from the quiet community of a week ago when 10 lonely soldiers arrived to do some of the ordinary jobs. Streets that had not been crowded, except on Saturday nights, are filled with soldiers and their families.

Speaking of families, the statement that the United States Army is 'the marrying-est army in the history of the world' is evident here.

A very large percentage of the men apparently are married, and many of their wives and children are here with them. Rooms and apartments throughout the city and suburbs have already been snapped up. Real estate and rental agencies are urged that more rooms and apartments be made available.

There also was quickly shown a serious shortage of eating places. Steps already are underway to open more restaurants.

We have the greatest opportunity in our history to serve a group of soldiers -- and at the same time leave a favorable impression with them that will carry into the post-war period and bring them back as visitors.

Ultimately over 5,000 officers and enlisted men were stationed at Punta Gorda Army Airfield at one time, many of whom saw Florida for the first time and vowed to come back. And, in fact, did just that.  The post war development of Punta Gorda and Charlotte County can be largely attributed to the existence of the Punta Gorda Base.