Sams House: Week of July 24th

Hello!

This week I continued where I left off from last week, working on Isaac Houston and Martha “Pat” Woelk’s oral histories. Isaac Houston’s video has been quite a challenge due to its length. At 2 hours long with a transcript just under 21,000 words, there was a lot of work to be done in getting it ready to post.

Thankfully, the interview is very interesting and contains a lot of important information about segregation and integration in Brevard County. As both an educator and a member of the Black Community, Mr. Houston had a great perspective on these events.

  • The link for Isaac Houston’s YouTube video can be found here.

Martha Pat Woelk’s oral history deals with the history of the LaRoche and the Sams families, which are both her relations. This interview is unique because it tours the viewer around the Sams House property and gives a personal perspective. The Sams House is a historic home that was built in 1875 in Eau Gallie, Florida and then transported via the Indian River to its present location in Merritt Island in 1878. I was astounded to learn that the entire home was dismantled and reassembled in order to accomplish this. When you think of a house, you generally consider it a permanent structure!

Here is an excerpt from the YouTube description I am writing to provide some context:

The focus of this interview primarily concerns the Sams house, located in Merritt Island, where this oral history was filmed. The home was originally built in 1875 by John Hanahan Sams, who came from South Carolina after the Civil War to set up a homestead in Florida. Pat was the last of the Sams family to live in this historic home, and she has much to say regarding the history of its architecture and landscaping features. Included in this discussion is the unique story of how the oldest building on the homestead property, which was originally constructed in Eau Gallie, Florida, was disassembled in 1878 and moved by raft up the Indian River to its current location in Merritt Island. A second, two-story home was also built on the property by 1888, and the land and properties were occupied by Sams’ descendants until 1995. The house is currently a Florida Heritage Site sponsored by the Brevard County Historical Commission, The Brevard County Tourist Development Council, and The Florida Department of State.

As you can see, I had to do a little research to find out more about the families and the history of the home. The wonderful thing is that it remains as a historical site that you can visit today! In fact, it is the oldest standing home in Brevard County. The area also contains a lot of Native American artifacts and beautiful local wildlife.

You can visit the Sams House at: 6195 North Tropical Trail on Merritt Island, FL 32953.

  • Here is a link to an article about the house from the Florida Historical Society.
  • Here is a link to another website with some more information about the Sams House
  • And here is a link to the official Brevard County webpage about the property and the surrounding conservation area. [The site is currently part of Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program.]
Both-Sams
Sams House/Property Today (Click to link to the photo’s source at the Florida Historical Society’s Blog)
  • The link to the Martha Pat Woelk YouTube video can be found here.

I also started another oral history this week for a lady named Lucy Mae Seigler. She is another member of the Black Community who talks about her family and life in Mims, Florida.

(Mims is in the northern part of Brevard County and is also where Harry T. Moore, the Civil Rights activist I wrote about previously, was murdered in his home. If you are in the area, you can visit the Harry T. Moore Cultural Complex at: 2180 Freedom Ave.
Mims, FL 32754 . Check out their webpage here.)

Lucy Mae is a deeply religious woman who discusses at length the importance of the Christian faith to her life. This interview focuses primarily on her family history and the fellowship and community she found at the Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church of Mims. This video is currently being transcribed and will be edited for accuracy and posted online next week.

Finally, I have the line up for the next two oral histories I will be working on, which I will have more information on in next weeks’s post!

As always, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

The Long and Short of Interviews: Week of July 17th

Hello, everyone!

I started off this week with an interesting assignment. In our archives we have a set of three very short interviews conducted in 1992 by Junior Achievement members of Brevard County. These three interviews are of three very influential business men in Brevard County: Al Trafford, Homer Denius, and Al Neuharth. These men were being featured as laureates in the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame.


I was involved with Junior Achievement programs in high school and college, so I was excited to see a project of theirs pop up in our archives. The only disappointing thing was that the interviews were very brief, only 10 min or less per subject. That made the editing easier of course, but I am told we don’t have any longer interviews on record for these individuals, which is unfortunate.

Here is some background info on these men based on the YouTube descriptions I wrote:

  • Al Trafford was a native of Brevard, from an early pioneering family. He attended the College of Business Administration at the University of Florida and returned home after graduation to work in real estate. Al served as realtor, broker, President, and Chairman of Trafford Realty. He also acted as Director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Director of the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce, served as President of Brevard County Board of Realtors, President of the North-Central Brevard Board of Realtors, and served on the Board of Governors of the Florida Association of Realtors, among numerous other business and charitable positions throughout his life.

 

  • Homer Denius earned a degree in Electrical Engineering while working for the Crosley Corporation and co-found Radiation Incorporated, with his colleague George Shaw, for the purpose of research and development in conjunction with the space program. In 1967 his company would merge with Harris-Intertype Corporation, which still operates in Brevard County today. He was also a lifetime member of the Board of Trustees at the Florida Institute of Technology and was awarded an honorary doctorate for his contributions to engineering and technology.

 

  • Al Neuharth moved to Brevard County after founding the Florida Today Newspaper in 1966. He is best remembered for his extensive work in media, including founding the first national newspaper, the USA Today in 1982. He eventually become President and Chief Executive of Gannett Corporation, which would serve as the platform from which he created the first national newspaper. Al worked in many positions, including working as a reporter with the Associated Press, serving as City Editor of the Miami Harold, and acting as Chairman of the Freedom Forum, which champions free speech. A bestselling author, Al wrote numerous books, including his popular autobiography titled, Confessions of an S.O.B. He decided to build a mansion in Cocoa Beach due to his love of the Space Coast.
Vintage Photo of Al Neuharth

While the interviews are short, I definitely recommend checking them out! As you can see, these were very influential men in Brevard County.

Next, I also started working on a new oral history for a gentleman named Isaac Houston. Thankfully, this interview is much more substantial, about 2 hours! He has a lot to say about being part of the Black Community in Brevard, including witnessing integration of the school system in the early 1960’s.

He talks a lot about his work in the education system, but he also worked in administration at NASA and was the music director at his church.

Editing and taking notes on Isaac Houston

Finally, I sent one more new oral history off to be transcribed. It was for a woman named Martha “Pat” Woelk. She is a descendent of the Sams and LaRoche families, early pioneers of Brevard County. She was the last resident of the historic Sams House in Merritt Island, which was built in 1875. The interview is unique because it follows Pat around the property as she describes what she remembers about its history.

 

That’s about it… Until next week!

-Heather Pierce

Wrapping Wickham: Week of July 3rd

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! I hope you all had a lovely holiday.

Due to the Fourth, it was a short week at the Historical Commission. However, I was still able to get a lot of things accomplished!

The biggest news is that I was able to get all THREE Joe Wickham interviews up to YouTube, including the one where he is a panelist alongside Dave Nisbet. (I should clarify, while I’ve obviously been focusing a lot on Joe Wickham this week, Dave Nisbet and Wes Houser also have a lot of interesting things to say in the Early Times in Brevard Panel!)

Here are the links:

Please check them out! They are a great portrait of some of the leading innovators and visionaries of Brevard County.

So obviously, the transcript for the interview with Joe Wickham from 2000 came back over the weekend, which means I started the week correcting it as the final Wickham transcript.

I found out that Joe Wickham actually died less than two months after this interview was filmed in 2000. I knew he seemed to be in frailer health compared to the previous two interviews, but it was sad to hear he passed away so soon after this footage was shot. It just reminds me of how important it is to record these oral histories before these individuals’ stories are lost.

While doing a final review of the transcripts, my supervisor Mr. Boonstra was able to find an inconsistency with a date provided in the County Commissioner panel. In the interview they state that the newspaper in Titusville, Florida, the Star Advocate began in the 1800’s when a Mr. Hudson purchased it. However, it didn’t actually take on the Star Advocate name under Mr. Hudson until after he moved to Florida in 1925. In this case, I was directed to add a footnote to the transcript since the actual date is quite a bit different than what is stated in the interview.

I’m really thankful Mr. Boonstra takes the time to double check these transcripts since he has much more background knowledge than I do about the history of the county.

To investigate further, I used the Library of Congress to see the recorded publication dates and found a start year of 1926 for this incarnation of the paper. This matches with the oral history we have on record for the Hudson family, which states they arrived in Florida in 1925.


While there may be some historical inaccuracies in oral histories, the purpose of this type of project is to preserve the memories of the interviewee from their own perspective. Thus, things may get a little hazy. However, since someone may use these oral histories as research material, I brought it up to Mr. Boonstra that it may be helpful to have a sort of disclaimer on the website indicating the purpose of the project and reminding viewers/listeners that oral histories may not be 100% historically accurate.
Here’s the little disclaimer I wrote for this purpose:

The purpose of this project is to preserve memories and personal accounts as they are remembered by the individual. Please note that the nature of oral histories are subject to the limitations of human memory, and as a result these interviews may contain some error of facts or dates as they are presented. The provided transcripts are as faithful to the recorded interview as possible and are therefore not guaranteed to be completely free from historical inaccuracies.

In other news, I also had the chance to sit and watch the front desk and answer the phone for a little bit while Mr. Boonstra was out of the library. While I’ve become accustomed to working in the back with the archives, it was good to get some experience with the public!

For instance, an older couple came in on Monday looking for some specific articles from the Florida Today. While I wasn’t equipped to handle their request on my own, I was able to take their information and direct them on how and when to come back and complete their research. I think it’s really beneficial that I’m able to develop some of these customer service skills while I am completing this internship.

In fact, I’m two months into this internship and feel like I’m really learning a lot! Not just about necessary research, editing, and office skills, but also about the county I live in. I’ve been so involved with working on these oral histories, it almost feels like a mini history course!

Just look at this growing pile of edited (and re-edited) transcripts! (I definitely need to recycle these soon!)

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That’s it for this week. Thank you very much for reading!

-Heather Pierce