Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Central Florida Trailblazers - February 20


Zora Neale Hurston

“Zora is young and vibrant and spirited. And exceedingly attractive.” An interview arranged to promote the release of her first-ever book, Zora’s published Richmond, Indiana interview of 1934 turned out instead to read more like the biography of a rising Eatonville, Florida star. The interviewer was obviously impressed, seemingly unable to say enough about the lively character of the new author.  “Spellbinding and bewitching is the personality of Zora Neale Hurston.”

Published in the Richmond Item of 14 November 1934, the interview had been arranged as part of the introduction of Zora’s first book. “She is the young author of a book called Jonah’s Gourd Vine,” the article said of the new fast-tracked book. Zora had mailed her completed manuscript to J. B. Lippincott & Co. publishing house on 3 November 1933. Lippincott, after receiving it on 6 November, mailed an acceptance letter on 16 November, merely ten days after receiving it. “The oldest publisher in the country,” said the article, “departed from a long-established custom of not publishing negro books in their eagerness to print Jonah’s Gourd Vine.

Zora Neale Hurston, 1935

The Zora Neale Hurston interview gave her birthplace as “Eatonville, in the first incorporated Negro town in the country.” Born June 1891, Zora was in fact a native of Alabama, although her family relocated to Eatonville when she was only two. “She attended grammar school in Eatonville and High School in Baltimore, Maryland,” said the article, “after which she attended Howard College.”

Zora entered a short story in a writing contest during her second year of college and won first prize. That entry also forever changed her life, as one of the judges happened to be Novelist Fannie Hurst (1889-1968), who after reading her story arranged a two-year scholarship for Zora at Barnard College. Another first; as Zora Neale Hurston became the first Black female ever to attend Barnard.

Zora’s “young, vibrant and spirited’ attitude had everything to do her continuous climb toward new career heights. Majoring in Anthropology, Zora, after graduation, was awarded a fellowship to study under Franz Uri Boas (1858-1842), considered the Father of American Anthropology. “Her study,” reported the 1934 interview, “was concentrated on the folk lore of her own race, collecting materials on music, tales, dancing, religious experiences, superstitions, and the like.”

Described as a story of love and community, Jonah’s Gourd Vine was loved by a community of book critics, earning the book’s author praise as one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.

Not usually referred to as a historian, Zora was able to write exceptionally well about her topic because of her research. Six years before the release of her first Novel, Zora had spent more than three months at Plateau, Alabama, home then to Cudjo Lewis, who at eighty-six years of age, was believed to be the sole-surviving slave captured in Africa and brought to America to be sold as a slave. That time spent with Cudjo also led Zora to writing Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.

Cudjo Lewis (1841-1935)

Zora Neale Hurston, an accomplished Author, Anthropologist, and Historian from Eatonville, Florida, died 28 January 1960. She was 69 years of age.    

Monday, February 12, 2024

Central Florida Trailblazer - 13 February 2024

Dr. Jerry B. Callahan (1883 - 1947)

 Read his life story and the word “Trailblazer” immediately comes to mind. Arriving in Orlando at the age of 23, at a time when the city still referred to itself as The Phenomenal City, Dr. Jerry B. Callahan, fresh out of Leonard Medical College of Raleigh, North Carolina, established the city’s first African American medical practice. Not only had he graduated from the first school of medical in the United States to offer a four-year curriculum in medicine, Leonard Medical, now part of Shaw University, had also been the first to open their curriculum to African American students.

When he arrived in 1907, Americans were just beginning to get acquainted with personal motorized automobiles. The horse and buggy remained the favorite form of local transportation for the ever-growing population. Orlando would be home to 3,894 citizens by 1910, and not until 1915 would The Dixie Highway set sights on the remote Orange County seat.

Within a year of Dr. Callahan’s arrival, the city’s slogan changed to The City Beautiful as the new doctor in town set out to build his Orlando medical practice. He purchased four town lots west of Division Street on 29 September 1908 – but eventually settled at 243 West Church Street, where I-4 now carries traffic across Church Street.

February 2013 Opening of the Dr. J. B. Callahan Exhibit. Left to Right, Grace Chewning of Orlando Remembered; Sara Van Arsdel, Ex. Director of Orange County Regional History Center; Mayor Buddy Dyer; Texann Ivy Buck, Exhibit creator and Orlando Remembered member. 

Dr. Jerry B. Callahan’s practice spanned four decades by the time of his death in 1947, and during these 40 years as an Orlando Physician, he established himself as a highly respected and surgeon. He was described by those who knew the man as an outstanding citizen, a champion of his adopted hometown of Orlando, and a charitable man forever eager to support worthy civic projects.

Praised by other Orlando physicians for his skill and ability as both a practitioner and surgeon, Dr. Callahan earned yet another first, the first Black surgeon to use the operating room at Orange Medical Hospital.

An Orlando downtown neighborhood west of I-4, Callahan was named for Dr. Jerry B. Callahan.

“Hundreds of friends,” reported Orlando Evening Star of 4 March 1947, filled Mt. Zion Baptist Church at Washington and Chapman Streets to say farewell to Dr. Jerry Basial Callahan, M. D. Born 1883 in South Carolina, he died 28 February 1947. For the many local citizens of Orlando who came to mourn his death, skin color meant nothing.

Dr. Callahan was survived by his wife of 33 years, Mattie (Muse) Callahan, the daughter of Merritt & Sarah Muse of Jacksonville, Florida. Mattie passed 7 March 1959 and was buried in Jacksonville alongside her husband.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Central Florida Trailblazer: 6 February 2024


 Bennye Jones Kinsler, upon retiring in 1991 after 58 years of teaching in Lake County, Florida schools, was quoted as saying, “If I had 58 more years, I would give them all to teaching.” She launched her career in 1932, during the Great Depression, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Sorrento, Florida. By the time of her retirement in 1991, Mrs. Bennye Kinsler was teaching mentally handicapped children at Tavares Elementary School. During her first 44 years as an instructor, Bennye Jones Kinsler was teaching in a segregated school system.


Teacher of the Year 1989

“A Special Education Teacher”

Tavares Elementary School

“I have commended Mrs. Kinsler as an excellent teacher,” said Robert D. Crawford, principal of Tavares Elementary Scholl in 1988. “She is knowledgeable of the subject material, has an unfailing love for kids and an understanding of their needs. She has dedicated her whole being to helping young people reach their potential. Her patience in this task is an inspiration to all who know her. Long hours, resources, sage advice are all freely given by Mrs. Kinsler in her drive to enrich lives.” Florida Governor Lawton Chiles and his cabinet recognized Bennye Jones Kinsler’s remarkable career in 1992.

Before integration, Bennye served as Principal of Cromartie Elementary School in Tavares, and in 1976, students of Cromartie moved to Tavares Elementary School. Named for William Reed Cromartie, an early leader in the Tavares Black community, the school itself no longer exists.


Tavares Elementary School

Florida Governor Lawton Chiles and his cabinet recognized Bennye Jones Kinsler’s remarkable career in 1992.

Born 17 March 1911 in Calhoun County, Georgia, Bennye came to Lake County, Florida with her parents. In 1932, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, and thereafter received a teaching certificate in September of 1936. Bennye married in 1935, to Clarence Dennis Kinsler – a teacher.

“This school and our school system,” said Principal Robert Crawford, “is a better place for kids because of the love, dedication, and talents of this unique individual.”

Tavares Trailblazer Bennye Jones Kinsler died 8 March 1999 at age 87. 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Florida Trailblazer - Bertha Honore Potter


Mrs. Potter Palmer was a Daughter Too! 

Above: Bertha (Honore) Palmer at right (1849-1918)

A Special Edition Blog Compliments of The Ladies Were Daughters Too

Conflicting Narratives

During the question phase of my presentation to the Sara De Soto Chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) recently, a member commented that their Society had been informed that the wife of Chicago’s esteemed Potter Palmer had “declined joining The Daughters of the American Revolution at the request of her husband.”

The comment was indeed appropriate, for I had just then informed the members that Bertha (Honore) Palmer had been the “first-ever NSDAR State Regent.” I had contradicted information previously supplied to the Chapter regarding the incomparable Mrs. Potter Palmer of Chicago and Sarasota, the woman described by VisitSarasota.com as “The Woman Who Tamed Wild Sarasota.”

Although I did respond by saying that I had full confidence in my statement, time, unfortunately, prevented me from doing justice in responding to her question. Therefore, for the Sara De Soto NSDAR Chapter members who attended my January presentation, and to those curious to know, this Special Edition blog is intended especially for you.

From the Capital City to the Windy City:

My Sarasota presentation was about the similarities of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA) founders and the organizers of the NSDAR, a talk based on snippets from my new book, The Ladies were Daughters Too. The MVLA had been formally established in 1858, whereas the NSDAR was founded in Washington, DC in 1890. Both organizations were to be national in scope with each founded by patriotic women having lineal family ties with the founders of this great Nation.

Although founded in the District of Columbia in October 1890, the first NSDAR State organization and the first NSDAR Chapter were established 700 miles west of DC in Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago, the first NSDAR Chapter, and Illinois, the first DAR State organization, were each formed on 16 March 1891. Twenty-eight Chicago ladies attended an organization meeting for both the State and local Chapter on that date. The first of 28 names listed in the 17 March 1891 news article about the NSDAR Society’s was “Mrs. Potter Palmer.”

Chicago Meeting of 16 March 1891 

“Mrs. Frank Osborne presided over a meeting of Chicago ladies, who assembled at the World’s Fair headquarters yesterday to form a Chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution." Among (28) ladies listed as present at the meeting was "Mrs. Potter Palmer.”

“They were all descendants of men who fought in the Revolution. The first work to be done will be to secure an extensive collection of revolutionary relics for the Exposition.” 

“Mrs. Potter Palmer is Regent of the Illinois organization, and Mrs. Frank Osborne has been made Regent of the Chicago Chapter.”

Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1891” 

Important takeaways of this Chicago Tribune article, released the very next day of the organizing meeting to establish both the Chicago and Illinois organizations, are this:

1.      Mrs. Potter Palmer was identified as Regent of the Illinois organization.

2.      The meeting took place at the World’s Fair Headquarters.

3.      The Daughters of the American Revolution planned to have an exhibit at the World’s Fair.

Membership in the NSDAR grew quickly after the founding of the Chicago Chapter, and for good reason: Exposure! The birth of the Illinois State DAR organization and the Chicago DAR Chapter coincided with Bertha Palmer becoming the head of a World’s Fair sub-organization called Lady Managers, women from every state in the Union taking part in the planning of the Chicago World’s Fair Exposition of 1892-93. The two organizations were in fact founded, as the article above said, "at the World's Fair Headquarters."

The Women's Building, Chicago World's Fair Exposition 1892-93

Exhibit 72 of The Ladies were Daughters Too

There were 117 World’s Fair Lady Managers in all, women who were NOT representing the NSDAR but rather ladies working for the Lady Managers Committee funded by the United States Congress. Although introduced to the DAR organization when the Chicago Chapter and State organization were formed, it seems the DAR organizers decided to separate themselves from the government funded World’s Fair organization of Lady Managers.

At a meeting of 30 April 1892, reported the Great Falls Tribune: “It was decided that it will not be feasible for The Daughters to have a colonial exhibit at the Columbian fair.” The reason for a change of heart was that the Lady Managers were to have the exhibit in the Women’s Building – all paid for by taxpayer money. In what appears to be a prudent move, Mrs. Potter Palmer, President of the Lady Managers, surrendered her Illinois State Regent position to Mrs. Frank Osborne, aka Effie (Reeme) Osborne.

A Gala Chicago Celebration

Planning for Chicago’s World’s Fair had begun with an all-male organization. A 'World Exposition,' the organizers of the Fair had huge plans from the start, a World’s Fair celebration coinciding with the 400th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in the New World. Congress became a partner in the Fair, as funds were approved in DC to support Chicago’s extravagant affair.

Although women’s suffrage was afoot in the 1890s, men continued to exclude women from such matters as voting and making decisions at the World’s Fair. The very reason the NSDAR exists today is because men denied the ladies memberships in the Sons of the American Revolution, organized one year prior to the creation of the DAR. A group of women thereafter decided to form their own organization. Despite the formation of Lady Managers’ who were not to have decision making authority – they made decisions. Big decisions!

And the reason the Lady Managers made decisions about the World’s Fair was because of their leader, Bertha (Honore) Palmer. The resolve and persuasive powers of Bertha were no match to the male dominated planning committee. “Mrs. Potter Palmer” became a tough lady to say no to, including for the Congress, who granted a request of $400,000 to build the extravagant free-standing Women’s Building shown above, Exhibit 72 of my book, The Ladies were Daughters Too. 


February: Black History Month Trailblazers

March: Women's History Month Trailblazers 

A Perfect Place at a Perfect Time:

Understanding how the World’s Fair played an important part in the initial development of the NSDAR is to fully appreciate how the NSDAR membership increased so rapidly throughout the United States during the 1890s.

“When we review,” said Mrs. Potter Palmer in September 1891, “the gradual steps by which we have slowly gained one point after another – from the directory a superb building, from Congress favorable legislation, and from the commission the right to take charge of all the interests of women at the Exposition – we must feel that we have been upheld and sustained for the accomplishment of a grand purpose; that we have a mission to fulfill which we must regard as scared, and that to its accomplishment we must bend our untiring energies.”

The Lady Managers of the World’s Fair were not serving as members of the NSDAR, but many returned home after the fair to help organize NSDAR chapters throughout the country. And while Bertha (Honore) Palmer only served as Illinois State Regent of NSDAR for only a brief time, her role as the first-ever State Regent is indeed irrefutable. Her powerful influence gave relevance to the National Society, for which Mrs. Angell is but one shining example.

Sarah (Caswell) Angell (1831-1903)

Exhibit 74: The Ladies were Daughters Too

Mrs. Angell, more properly identified as Sarah Swope (Caswell) Angell, represented Michigan as one of the 117 Lady Managers of the World’s Fair. After the Fair ended, Sarah returned home to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she organized the Ann Arbor Chapter of the NSDAR, a chapter that is today known as the Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

It seems unlikely in this author’s view that Bertha Palmer ended her involvement in the NSDAR at her husband’s request. Potter Palmer had already achieved success and seems to have supported his wife’s every endeavor. It is more likely that Bertha relinquished her role as Illinois Regent to concentrate her time on a demanding position with the World’s Fair. In that capacity, Bertha not only traveled to DC to testify before Congress, she also traveled the World convincing other nations to have Exhibits in the Women's Building at the Chicago World's Fair.

Mrs. Bertha (Honore) Palmer survived husband Potter and in time became a prominent figure in the story of Sarasota, Florida. Widow Bertha Potter acquired 75,000 acres in Manatee County (Sarasota County did not yet exist), acreage that had been part of Hamilton Disston’s four million acres. First acquired from Disston by Scottish investors in the 1880s, the 75,000 acres were then acquired after Florida's Great Freeze of 1894-95 by investors associated with Joseph H. Lord of Orlando, Chicago, and Sarasota. 

The Ladies were Daughters Too is available at Amazon


Having left an indelible mark on the Windy City, Widow Bertha (Honore) Palmer migrated to Florida, where she made magic once again. Bertha the snowbird, however, is a remarkable story all its own, part of which is told in my book, To Sarasota, with Love, Orlando.


I invite you to check out my entire Central Florida history collection

Books by Richard Lee Cronin

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Florida Trailblazer: William W. Woodruff

William Washington Woodruff (1831-1841)

 Imagine an orange grower of 1860 turned State politician, a fellow 30 years of age, riding astride a scrappy mule as he journeyed ever so slowly 115 miles along rugged Florida dirt trails between Sanford and Gainesville, and you will have successfully conjured up a glimpse of William Washington Woodruff of Fort Reid, Florida.

One of two little-known Orange County residents of 1860, William Woodruff, in January 1861, traveled to Tallahassee to take part in Florida’s Secession Convention. His role as a delegate at the convention transformed Woodruff into one of the most widely known citizens of his day. As for the other little-known delegate from Orange County – Isaac N. Rutland - not so much.

Nancy (Galloway) Woodruff - Beck

William Woodruff, born 1831 in Mississippi, came to Orange County’s Mellonville in the 1850s to live with his father, Elias Woodruff. Elias had been appointed the first postmaster at the Lake Monroe village of Mellonville on 31 March 1846. The father and son also established a citrus grove of 40 acres, a historic parcel which became known as “Woodruff Place.”

In 1860, William Woodruff and Isaac Rutland, two of only several young men residing in all of Orange County, were chosen to serve as delegates representing Orange County at the Secession Convention. Both men voted NO to Secession at the convention, two of only seven delegates to oppose Florida leaving the Union. Both men then remained in Tallahassee to write a new Florida Constitution, and afterwards, each then enlisted in the Home Guard, a local Orange County Calvary regiment charged with protecting Central Florida from a possible Union invasion.

William Woodruff narrowly escaped being captured by the Union Army in May 1864 at Cook’s Ferry, near Lake Jesup. He reportedly swam across the St. John’s River to safety. As a member of the Home Guard, William was able to return home to his wife Nancy (Galloway) at times during the War. Two Woodruff children were born during the War, and another two after.

William Washington Woodruff died in 1872. Widow Nancy (Galloway) Woodruff remarried, to Charles Beck, a subject for a later 2024 Trailblazer. 

The Rutland Mule Matter, Florida's Civil War Historic Novel

Seven Honorable Floridians, The Seven Delegated who voted NO! 

Both will be available at Pine Castle Pioneer Days, February 2024

Ethel State Park Grand Opening, March 9, 2024

And Amazon.com  

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Florida Trailblazer: Robert R. Reid II

 Robert Raymond Reid II (1789-1841)

The namesake of Fort Reid (Mellonville Road east side of Sanford) was Robert Raymond Reid II, Florida’s Territorial Governor from 1839 until his death from typhoid fever in March 1841. Reid II was soon mistaken by surveyors with several Reed’s who came to Florida, including Florida's Governor Harrison Reed, who served from 1868 thru 1873.

Reid II spoke in favor of allowing the Army to wage war as they saw fit when the Second Indian War began to drag on. The Army showed their appreciation for his support by naming Fort Reid in his honor. Named in 1842, surveyors showed it as Fort Reed as early as 1846 – locking in the confusion throughout Florida’s history. The survey section below is borrowed from my 2015 book, First Road to Orlando.

1845 Government Survey showing "Fort Reed."

"First Road to Orlando" Exhibit

Robert R. Reid II was the father of Robert R. Reid III, the merchant of Palatka who traveled in 1867 to the wilderness of Orange County to submit the low bid of $900 at a Sheriff’s auction for 113 acres of what we now know as downtown Orlando. Thirteen years after acquiring Orlando at auction, Reid III, in 1880, paid to resolve the land dispute between himself and the Patrick clan, a dispute that threatened to have the railroad bypass Orlando.

First Road to Orlando (2015)

Reid III is indeed an important name in the fascinating story of 19th Central Florida, a story I first wrote of in 2013 in ‘First Road to Orlando,’ and a fascinating history expanded upon in my 2023 book, ‘Orlando: A History of the Phenomenal City.’

Orlando: a History of the Phenomenal City (2023)

Available at Pine Castle Pioneer Days, 24 & 25 February 2024

Ethel State Park Grand Opening, 9 March 2024

And at Amazon.com

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Florida Trailblazer: Hannah (Huestis) Adams

Hannah (Huestis) Adams of Tangerine, Florida

0109 Hannah (Huestis) Adams

Hannah (Huestis) Adams is the first Central Florida pioneer to be highlighted throughout the year 2024 in my Florida Trailblazer series. As I write this post a blizzard is burying much of Iowa in snow, so it is easy to understand that, especially in the 1870s, Iowans might choose to escape the winter and spend their winter months in Florida. The Adams family did just that!

One can read a lot about her husband, for Hannah (Huestis) Adams was the wife of Tangerine, Florida founder Dudley W. Adams. Hannah and her sister Bessie were rugged Central Florida Frontierswomen as early as 1875. But there were no railroads in Central Florida then, so they came to Lake Beauclair south of the present town of Mount Dora overland. They became Tangerine snowbirds even before the neighboring town of Mount Dora was founded.

Dudley W. Adams (1831-1897)

Why Hannah and her clan endured the difficult journey to tough it out in Central Florida is likely best explained by a poem written by her husband Dudley: 

"In the radiant, the magic glow, 

reflects itself in the lake below; 

The rainbow clouds have each shining fold, 

richly embroidered around the gold, 

O! Where on earth is a scene more fair 

than a sunset view on Lake Beauclair?"

Dudley and Hannah of Tangerine, Florida are featured in my book, "Mount Dora: The Lure. The Founding. The Founders." (2021). Tangerine of Orange County was so close to Mount Dora of Lake County that residents often thought of themselves as Lake County citizens. 

Available for purchase at the Tavares History Research Center
121 E. Alfred St., Tavares (Open Tuesday & Thursday 10-2)
Pine Castle Pioneer Days Festival February 24 & 25, 2024
Ethel State Park Grand Opening, March 9, 2024 
And at Amazon.com