The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
 
HTA Home Page | E-books | United States/20th Century | CONCLUSION

12: CONCLUSION

<< 11: DEPRESSION || TOC


A red glow slowly started framing the palm trees on the east side of the marsh until, finally, a great red ball of a moon showed bright and clear and beautiful. As the moon rose higher and higher, objects in the marsh became more easily distinguishable. First, Cabbage Creek became a silvery ribbon with its overflow of flood tide water, and then San Pablo Creek took on the appearance of a great silver snake. When the light of the moon reached the western shore of the marsh, it brought into bold relief a group of men sitting around a campfire and enjoying every minute of watching the Lord's handiwork.

    The marshes are a thing of beauty in the daytime with dead cypress trees still standing after more than a half century of torture by salt water intrusion. They have long since given up their hold on life but they still stand stark and bare against the sky. Two beautiful creeks run through the marsh which must be more than a mile across, and bird life teems everywhere. To the south of this is another creek that has played a big part in the history of this country. Altogether, it is a most beautiful and delightful spot. Hope it stays this way for the coming generations.

    The "Old Goats" were in session on this particular night. Their meeting place is on the banks of the marsh in the front yard of Fred and Mable Weaver's home. The camp ground consists of a hole in the ground approximately twenty-four inches wide and thirty-six inches long and twelve inches deep, all bricked up. There is a table, on which food is prepared and one luxury; plenty of webbed lawn chairs. The "Old Goats Club" could hardly be called a club since it has no president, no dues, and no membership roster. It has two rules: be on time, and no alcoholic beverages. This so-called club has been in existence for over thirty-five years and to my knowledge there has never been a harsh word spoken or even an argument. This, to me is wonderful since the members are not hand picked and anyone is welcome if he will abide by the two rules and enter into the spirit of everything.

    The club meets in a designated place at 3:00 PM and all of the members go to the country store together where they buy their food for the occasion. Every man is told to get anything he might want to eat and put it on the counter. Sometimes they do come up with a conglomeration that only an old goat could digest. Chocolate coated ants, fried grasshoppers, rabbi's delights, souse meat, extra sharp cheese, sweet onion, rye bread, butter, Ritz crackers, fig newtons, smoked oysters, jelly rolls, anchovies, (no caviar because it was not available), sardines; and then we buy the food! Usually, our main meal is prime aged rib eye steaks, and in the winter time, quite often we have hot chocolate topped off with jellyrolls or sweet crackers of some kind. It is a rarity indeed when anyone leaves there hungry. The bill is added up and everyone pays his equal share, usually about $3.00.

    Henry Dixson is our cook and sometimes a new member might question the highly seasoned food. The fact that Henry is color blind and can't tell red pepper from black pepper might have something to do with the seasoning. We like to tell the new members about the cook's job. It was in a sawmill camp and no one would cook until one poor soul was forced into the job with the stipulation that the first man to complain would have to take over the job. The food was terribly salty and one man started to complain, only to catch himself in time. "The food sure is salty, but that is the way I like it."

    The men eat, drink hot chocolate and talk all afternoon until the grill is thrown over a hot bed of coals just before dark and then the steaks are broiled. You can have your steak cooked anyway you like it, if you are lucky, but there is no guarantee on this. The safest way is to learn to like it as you get it, or cook it yourself by continually sampling it. There is something about that fresh air and wood smoke that makes food taste better. Then, too, it is difficult to tell how rare a piece of meat is in the dark, anyway.

    Most of the Old Goats have been hunters, and many of them bring their rifles and pistols for some target practice. Some excellent shots are in the crowd, but after supper, when the dishes are washed and the guns put away, comes the finest part of the day.

    The night is chilly and more wood is heaped on the fire until there is a good blaze going. Everyone relaxes in comfort as a great horned owl tells his troubles to the world at large. As the tide rises higher, the marsh hens begin to grumble as they have to move to a new spot; coons come out and play around the trees hoping someone will pitch them a handout. Armadillos come into the light but stay there only briefly.

    Some three hundred yards to the rear of our campsite is the old trail where Menéndez travelled up to Fort Caroline to pay an unfriendly visit to the Huguenots. To the south, is the old humpbacked bridge where you can see lights of cars crossing over from time to time. Yachts and barges are passing up and down the Intracoastal canal to the east of us. Altogether, it is really an inspiring place to be. The light from the fire lights up the faces of the men and there you can see what made this country great; strong faces with each man a rugged individualist and adventurer in his own right.

    Dan Hood from Albertsville, Alabama (on top of Sand Mountain), tells of back-breaking work in the fields and how he finally made it to the University of Alabama on a football scholarship. "One of the upper classmen, with a beautiful head of hair, continually harassed and paddled us until we had enough. We formed a committee to wait on the gentleman and on a dark night we caught him with no one else around. His head was stuffed in a pillow to keep anyone from hearing him and he got a thorough haircut with a pair of scissors. The irony of it was, that the gentleman never knew whom to thank for his haircut, but he did have suspicion enough to let us alone after that."

    Fred Weaver from St. Joseph, Missouri, tells of watching as Frank James, brother of Jesse, and his gang rode by on horseback. Frank had been pardoned after Jesse was killed and had become a more or less peaceful citizen. "My father moved us to California where we operated a farm, and then to Texas where we lived on a ranch. I can remember my mother baking the weekly supply of bread when a group of Indians came in and asked for the bread, only to be told that she did not have any bread for them. They took the bread but did not burn the house down." Fred worked in the oil fields and finally became a steam locomotive engineer out of New Orleans.

    Bob Perriott told us years before the Viet Nam confrontation that we did not have any friends in Indochina. He sat around the campfire and told us of this travels through that country as he saw it first hand. Such a pity that our politicians can't get down on the grass roots level with the people and know what is going on, and why.

    Henry Dixson was born in High Springs, Florida:

My father was killed in a train accident when I was nine and I never finished high school, but my mother was a school teacher and saw to it that I had some training. When I was twenty-two I went to Texas and became a Texas Ranger where I learned many things the hard way. The salary of a Ranger was $90.00 per month with a horse furnished and you furnished your own guns and food. For weeks at a time, you would be on the trail with nothing to talk to but your horse and that can get lonesome. If you wanted fresh meat, shoot a rabbit and cook it over a mesquite fire. We stopped rustlers and acted as a border patrol over the Rio Grande River. The rustlers seemed to like dark nights and we tried to be always prepared for them. It really was not a healthy occupation to rustle cattle when the Rangers were around. I was trailing an outlaw and had been trailing him for miles when he ambushed me and shot through my knee, killing my horse under me. The outlaw had every reason to believe that I was dead and was slow getting away from the place. Just one more mistake for the outlaw, they never could win for long.

    Captain W. B. Kimball, Port Captain of the Standard Oil Company tells of his experiences:

My ship put into Galveston after the flood and for several days we ran our evaporators all out to supply the people with drinking water. They would come on board and drink the water while it was still hot. That was a terrible sight. The mosquitoes became so bad that one man fell from the gang plank and the next morning when he was found it was too late; the mosquitoes had killed him. The sailors from an English destroyer boarded our tanker one night and asked for hot water to make tea. The boilers had just been cleaned with caustic soda and I'll bet that was some strong tea.

"Cap" saw the world and not always through a porthole.

    Colonel H. G. Sydenham, went around the world with the regular army. Mayo Buckley spent some miserable time in France during World War I. All of them had tales to tell and never a story that was not interesting. Elvin Watkins from Quanah, Texas tells this:

My father brought his goods into this little settlement in a covered wagon and started a store here immediately after the Civil War. The little town was named after Quanah Parker, the last of the famous, (or infamous), Indian chiefs. Quanah was doing all right with his burning and killing until he made the mistake of leading his band against a group of buffalo hunters armed with fifty calibre Sharps rifles. That was a bad mistake and one that he never overcame. After Quanah was conquered he was summoned to Washington for an interview with some government officials. In the interview, it came out that the Chief had eight wives and he was told to dispose of all but one. The Chief scratched his head for a minute and came up with a good answer—"You tell 'em!"

    Over the years, we have had almost any profession or occupation you would care to name and every one of them has contributed to our entertainment and knowledge. Guess you would call it a college degree on hard knocks. Sorry I was too stupid to take all of it in. Someone looked at his watch and said it is 8:30, and that broke up the party. Everyone headed for home smelling of wood smoke, garlic and onions, and to find out from his wife why he had stayed out so late. One thing for sure, the little lady would not have to worry about any of that group raiding the refrigerator that night.

    We were given cause to be glad when we took our young nephew. Hank Brewer, to the Old Goats Club. He enjoyed it equally as much as anyone. To everyone's surprise, he was as well-versed on history as any member there. Don't sell our young people short. They have plenty on the ball and they love their country. When I hear people criticizing the church and many other organizations, I have to tell them that they are right—because if they were any better, I could not get into them.

    Most people who live in a rural or semi-rural section have heard the plaintive call of the whippoorwill, but very few have ever seen one. In the woods at night your lights will sometimes shine in his eyes; much like it does in the eyes of a deer. I have heard them all of my life but have seen very few. I hope that my home never gets too close to the crowd to keep me from hearing the whippoorwills. It is already too crowded to hear the big owls and I miss them. Some years back, when I had to stay in bed for a while, the owls were lots of comfort to me. Being born with adventure in my soul, the sound of a Hoot Owl or the blood-curdling cry of a horned owl still gives me a wild, exhilarating feeling and transports me to far away places.

    Standing on top of St. Johns Bluff and looking toward Mayport and the Naval Base can give you a sense of pride when you realize that you are looking into the very cradle of civilization in this country. There have been many changes since 1562, some of them good, some of them not so good, all depending on how you look at it, but the Naval Base has been a very definite asset to the community.

    The turning point that would make this section great was in 1852. Dr. Abel Seymour Baldwin secured an appropriation to begin jetties to control the shifting of sand in the bar. This appropriation was kept alive after the war and today some of the biggest ships come across the bar; thanks to continual building up of the jetties and doing plenty of dredging.

    Several people have been drowned while fishing from the jetties and Mrs. Joan Hood tells her story:

Dan and I had taken our little girl, Hilda, on a fishing trip across the rocks of the jetties. While Dan went farther out on the rocks to fish, Hilda and I stayed on top of a big rock and watched the waves smash into it. The tide was coming in and a big wave washed over us pinning Hilda between two rocks. No matter how hard I pulled, there was no way to budge her and I had almost given up when another wave came over and freed her. If I did not believe in miracles before that day I have believed in them since.

    It's rather gruesome to look down on Sherman Creek as it flows out of the Naval Base and under the bridge on Mayport Road. Had wondered how the creek got its name and now I believe I know. General Sherman, the man who burned his way through Georgia, was in charge of having the St. Johns bar surveyed in 1853 and somehow, his name lingered on. We have much to be thankful for in the great number of good men from the north who settled here after the war, and I'm sure they are thankful for making such a wise choice.

    The Mayport Base continues to grow and one would suppose that as long as there is such an intense enmity in the world, there is no choice but to be prepared. Hope some maniac or moron does not step on the wrong buttons some day and cause an unprecedented traffic jam before the Pearly Gates.

    Mayport, with its Naval Base, is now among the bigger cities of Florida, yet the town is not now incorporated and does not have too many niceties of the "Bold New City."

    The old J & MP Railroad left a trail for a new power line and there have been talks of building a highway down the right-of-way, but so far as I know nothing has started yet. This road would run through some historic country including the site of St. Johns Town of St. Johns Bluff, where there was a town of over fifteen hundred people at one time.

    Up Seminole Road, they are building condominiums and apartments on the ocean front and it seems likely that eventually the ocean front will be very well built up from Burnside to St. Augustine, I'm not sure who will furnish police and fire protection to some of this property but I suppose the owners know. At least, there should not be any friction fires there now. My first acquaintance with a friction fire was during the depression with "an overdue mortgage and a premium due insurance policy rubbed together quite often causing a conflagration," so I've been told.

    Things are improving all over now and one of my friends said that he knew things were getting better. "People are speaking to me now who have only owed me one year!" Hope we don't lose our motivation now that things are easier to obtain, and with much less labor. As the man asked the guide, "Will a lion hurt you if you carry a torch?" It all depends on how fast you carry that torch.

    The town of Atlantic Beach was incorporated in 1910 and has had a consistently good government since that time. The Continental Hotel was built in 1901 and burned to the ground in 1919. It was located on the ocean front at the end of Plaza Avenue and was one of the most beautiful hotels in this entire country. The structure was of wood with wide porches and rocking chairs all around the porch. There was a big putting green out front where the northern visitors could sharpen their game. There were three hundred fifty rooms in this hotel and even at the low prices of that day; it must have cost a considerable amount to stay there.

    The Florida East Coast Railway served this hotel and there were sidings where the Vanderbilts and Whitneys left their private cars while visiting the hotel. There really was no satisfactory way of getting to Atlantic Beach by any means other than the train. There was a trail cut from Jacksonville to the beach in 1907, but that is all it was. The first car to attempt the trail took several hours and almost did not make it at all.

    There was a wide brightly lighted promenade from the hotel down Ocean Boulevard to what is now Atlantic Boulevard where the tourist could stroll when the tide was too high to walk on the beach. The golf course was in the general location of the present Selva Marina course. The Plaza Avenue ran into the golf course and it was here that an Army Camp was built for World War II. Up until 1913, there was no income tax and the fact that the wealthy now had to share with the government might have had some influence on the lessening of visitors to the hotel. But the main reason was because of extending the railroads to south Florida where the climate was warmer.

    The 1930 census shows that Atlantic Beach had seventy-six permanent residents and that Jacksonville Beach, which included Neptune Beach at that time, had four hundred and nine.

    The entire community started growing after that until today it is estimated that we have some fifty thousand people in and around here. Both Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach have been blessed with some good law enforcement officers. Jack Russell of Atlantic Beach did an excellent job until his death, and now his son, Eddie Russell, is carrying on the family tradition in Jacksonville Beach.

    Marshall Jimmy Jarboe is about to celebrate his fortieth year as Marshall of Neptune Beach and what a good job he has, and still is, doing. Before the war he rode a motorcycle but during the war his mount was a horse. Law and order were kept even during the blackouts. Very little goes on in Neptune that Jimmy does not know about, but like all good law officers, his hands are partially tied by this new and strange interpretation of the law. You were safe to walk the streets of most any city until this strange malady hit our land.

    Neptune Beach was part of Jacksonville Beach until 1931 when Neptune seceded because Jacksonville Beach was unable to offer any services at all to Neptune Beach. There was one street where you could cross from Third Street to First Street and you had to be careful not to get stuck in the sand at that. This was in what is now Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach was not much better. The fact that Jacksonville Beach had put sewerage over much of the close-in property and defaulted on the bonds might have had some bearing on the decision to secede.

    Willie Jensen of Neptune Beach tells his story:

In 1919, my dad was told that he had consumption and would have to go to either Florida or Arizona. Since he had already been to Arizona, he decided to come to Florida. We left New York in a 1916 Cadillac and landed here in Neptune where we met Pete Clarson. Things were tough here and Pete sold us our present location of a hundred and fifty feet on First Street with a big two-story house on the property all for $600.00.

    There were no improvements of any kind on the beach and the approaches were so sandy that you had to have help to get on and off the beach. A.A. Stoddard, who ran a garage next door, would get you on and off for $2.00. It was worth it, for the beach was fifteen hundred feet wide and smooth.

    We ran a store where Ed Smith Lumber Company is now and sold chickens, turkeys, rabbits, and a general line of groceries along with water, kerosene and shine. Some people objected to sulpher water; you had to have kerosene to cook with because there was no electricity most of the time; and the Eighteenth Amendment had taken away legitimate whiskey. It was my job to drive to Palm Valley and pick up the moonshine from some of the boys. They would put it over the fence and I would put it in the car. There was no ice house here so ice was brought from Jacksonville in an old Army Truck. This truck supplied both the Beaches and Mayport, and it was a rough day when the truck broke down and failed to get here.

    It cost fifteen cents for a round trip on the Florida East Coast Railway to South Jacksonville for a school kid. Boy, what a time we kids had on that train. Hope the kids today have made an improvement over us. The old 6-6-6 remedy was going strong and a kid was afraid to get sick, for he might have to take a dose, and was it bitter.

    George Carrol was a developer here and there were no lots being sold anywhere so he had to give up. My dad gave him $15.00 for the water works and some time later gave the works to the town of Neptune Beach. The garbage disposal was easy, one man and one wagon did the job nicely. Ecology did not enter in this deal. We did accumulate some land in swapping groceries and shine for lots.

The town of Neptune got its name more or less out of a case of necessity. Mr. Dan G. Wheeler, Sr., had a home in 1922 on the present location of the Sea Turtle Inn, and rode the train daily from the beach to Jacksonville in the summer months. He was forced to go almost to East Mayport and walk back because there was no station near his home. Tiring of this, he asked a railroad friend how he could get the train to stop near his home. He was told that if there was a station the train would have to stop. At his own expense, he built a station, named it Neptune and had the train stop almost in his back door. Judging from the number of stops between the city and the beach there must have been many people in the same circumstances as was Mr. Wheeler.

    At one time there was no school, no church, and very few problems in Neptune, but times have changed this. Now we have churches, schools and some problems but, hopefully, none that can't be worked out.

    Ruby Beach was the first name given to the present site of Jacksonville Beach. This was in 1884, the same year that the J & A narrow gauge railroad was completed to the beach. Some time later, the name was changed to Pablo Beach and this name was incorporated in 1907. The name Pablo Beach was changed to Jacksonville Beach in 1925. As of now, I know of no contemplated change in the name.

    In 1886, the Murray Hall Hotel was built in Ruby Beach. This was a beautiful structure, but being of wood, it burned soon after its construction. There have been other hotels here, but none to compare with the Murray Hall, except the Continental, which was in Atlantic Beach.

    We had a bank here. The Bank of Pablo, until it failed one day in 1929, along with so many other banks about that time.

    Our boardwalk was burned in 1930 and the ocean pier some time later. The depression laid a heavy hand on all of the beaches and it is just now beginning to recover. It is almost unbelievable that prosperity should have hit us smack in the face, but that is the way everything looks now. Hope somebody or something does not pull the string.

    Talked to Bill Streeter this morning. He came here in 1911 and, at one time, was a policeman. There were about a hundred people here and he knew them all. His memory is not as keen as it was, since he is now eighty-three years old, but he still remembers plenty. The present police department is a far cry from the one of 1911, and is a thoroughly efficient one well run by Chief Paul Brown.

    The Warren Smith Cemetery takes its name from one of our early engineers. Born in Connecticut, he really accomplished great deeds here. Being a refrigeration engineer, he helped to keep the beaches cool wherever refrigeration was installed. Just one of the great succession of men who have given of their time and talents to our beaches.

    They must have made a new discovery over at FSU, creating good football players without hard work. All I can say is, if it works, I was born fifty years too early. To me, discipline is one of the greatest words in the English language and without it we are not going anywhere that we would be proud of.

    Things are changing everywhere, and sometimes I get confused: college students refusing to make an affidavit to support the hands that feed them. It cost more to keep a wagon in repair than it does a car. Over in Alabama we ordered "red eye gravy" and the waitress told us they put coffee in it to get the color. I believe her now.

    One of our customers bought some redwood and asked for someone to ride shotgun for him while he carried it home.

    Kids with plenty of money carrying bed rolls around and sleeping on the ground just to get the feel of the old hard times.

    It is becoming more difficult all the time to tell the difference between luxury and necessity.

    It takes less time to fly around the world and more time to get to work every day.

    Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron getting threatening letters just because they are good athletes.

    You can't spend a dime without a penny for tax.

    What did we do with all of that time we saved by moving from prairie schooners to jet airliners?

    It costs almost as much to support one congressman as it did to support the entire government during George Washington's time.

    Science is still trying to find out why some small towns produce so many more outstanding men than do other towns.

    It has been said that you cannot back into prosperity. However, I saw two enormous men slowly backing up the beach, pulling a seine filled with fish from the ocean . . . Bought any fish lately???

    Over the past forty years I feel that I have been privileged to see more beauty than many people will ever see. The beauty of the sun as it bursts out of the ocean to begin its daily trip through the Heavens of our great country; the beauty of the yellow moon as it slowly leaves its watery bed until all of the land is bathed with a silvery sheen; the awesome beauty as a tropical storm lashes our shores; the unmatched beauty of a red sunset framed in a forest of palm trees; great flights of geese passing overhead in V formation; the beauty of a band of wild horses in full flight; the old Spanish trail to Mayport where the live oak limbs, covered with Spanish moss, entwine overhead to form an arboreal of purest beauty.

    It has been my happy pleasure to love and live in this country of beauty, and I just hope that it will not be spoiled for the future generations.


<< 11: DEPRESSION || TOC