Wild Grapes, Happy Creek, and Travis Hardware: Week of July 31st

Hello again! I have a fairly long update post this week with links to 3 new oral histories for you to view!

This week I have been working on three oral histories. The first is finishing up the Lucy Mae Seigler video from last week. I’ve really enjoyed working on this interview because it highlights the importance of the church community in the life of the local people, in this case Mims. Many people have mentioned how the church and the home were the cornerstones of life, so it was nice to see an interview that focused on that element. I especially enjoyed the story of Lucy Mae creating wild grape jelly from grapes that showed up in her yard after Hurricane Charlie in 2004. Lucy Mae took this as a sign from God, so she decided to pick the grapes in order to make jelly for her family and friends.

  • It is a really great story, and I encourage you to watch Lucy Mae Seigler’s oral history by clicking here.

The next oral history that I’ve been working on is for a woman named Evelyn Briggs Smith. Evelyn is the descendant of two pioneer families in the north Merritt Island area, the Briggs and the Beneckes. This oral history has a lot of really entertaining personal stories and information concerning the pioneer lifestyle of Brevard’s earliest settlers.

The Benecke family came from Germany to homestead in Merritt Island on a place called “Happy Creek” in “Happy Hammock.” The area was named for the moonshine that use to be distilled on its shores, making everyone, well, happy! Evelyn discusses how her family was both tough and resourceful in order survive among wildcats, rattlesnakes, alligators and hurricanes! (Floridians don’t mess around!) Evelyn’s mother Lena even use to catch baby alligators to sell to northern tourists! (Can you imagine that?) Other interesting stories include a boy cousin named June, eating sea grapes and sea turtles, and swimming in phosphorescent lagoons!

Here are some photos from the Happy Creek area circa approximately 1900 provided by Evelyn’s cousin, Ray Benecke, to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Click here to visit the source page of the following images:

Please also take a look at these small articles about the Briggs and Benecke families in the Brevard County Historical Commission’s official publication, the Indian River Journal.

Click here to access the issue of the Indian River Journal from Fall/Winter 2016, which contains the following clippings:

Happy Creek

Happy Creek and Briggs

Like all oral histories, there were plenty of names that needed to be checked for spelling and accuracy. However, I lucked out with several names in this history due to their unusualness. I’ve come to appreciate finding unusual/uncommon names since they’re often easier to research. For instance, in this interview there was an individual mentioned named Zannie O’Berry (never mind her male cousin June!). While I had to ensure a correct spelling for Zannie, it wasn’t too much trouble since there was only one person with such an unusual name living in Brevard County! These instances make the research part of my job fun.

  • Check out the really interesting oral history of Evelyn Briggs Smith by clicking here!

Finally, I started a third oral history for a gentleman named Roy Wall. This video was slightly challenging due to his age at the time of the interview; unfortunately, he had a bit of a hard time hearing the questions and sometimes got off track. Roy was born in 1889 and was 103 at the time of this interview! He lived to be a very impressive 106 years old and I’m very thankful he was interviewed before he passed away.

Roy was a distinguished Mason, served for 16 years on the Rockledge City Council and was also a member of the Cocoa Chamber of Commerce. Today Roy Wall Boulevard in Rockledge, FL is named after him.

He worked in Brevard as a banker during the Great Depression, and witnessed first hand the difficult times that followed when the banks closed. In 1936 he began working at the Travis Hardware Store in Cocoa, Florida. The Travis Hardware Company began in 1885 as a boat selling items up and down the river. The company is still family run and in operation toady over 130 years later! Roy discusses how much he enjoyed working at the hardware store and his deep admiration for its owner, S.F. Travis. Mr. Travis was well-known for his generosity and his upright and honest business practices.

Here are a couple of recent photos I took of the Travis Hardware Company in Cocoa, Florida. It’s only a short walk from where the Historical Commission is located at the Central Reference Library. They still do a lot of local business and they often attract tourists visiting downtown Cocoa Village.

  • Please check out Roy Wall’s oral history by clicking here!

That wraps this week, until next time!

-Heather Pierce

Property Deeds and Panels: Week of June 19th

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a productive week at the Brevard County Historical Commission. I uploaded two new oral history projects to the YouTube channel. You’ll remember I’ve been talking about Roy Roberts Jr. and Jack Salmela; they are both now up and available to watch! Please check them out:

Click for Roy Roberts Jr.

Click for Jack Salmela

I also began editing a new oral history this week from the archives. This was for Mary Elizabeth (“Beth”) Scobie. She comes from a well known family who settled in the north part of the county in the 1800s. She is a charming woman who talks a lot about the early days in the Titusville area as well as her family’s fishing business and many personal memories. I sent the video off to be transcribed and began the editing process. I will hopefully be posting her interview next week.

In the meantime, you can take a look at a section about the Scobie family from one of the Brevard County history books produced by the Historical Commission!

I also edited my first full panel interview. This interview is hosted by Wes Houser, a politician and business man in Brevard, and features Dave Nisbet and Joe Wickham, two prominent County Commissioners. These two men were extremely influential in the development of Brevard County and have really valuable perspectives. I’ve sent this off to be transcribed and am hoping  it turns out well, since this is the first project I’ve sent to them with more than two speakers.

Editing the panel interview in Adobe

Next I will be continuing to work on the additional oral histories we have on Joe Wickham. Joe Wickham spent about 30 years in politics in Brevard County and even has a park and road named after him: Wickham Road and Wickham Park. (Which will be instantly familiar to anyone who lives in Brevard). He was particularly influential in building roadways and getting a strong mosquito control program.

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Named after Joe Wickham

The other interesting thing that happened this week is that I was able to watch Mr. Boonstra research property records for a historic home in Rockledge. A patron requested to find out who the first owner was, which meant looking up records in our microfilm collection. We were able to piece together clues to find out that the home was built in 1907 by the brother of a well known figure in Brevard, Hiram S. Williams. The man’s name was J. C. Williams, and by using Ancestry.com we were able to see his name was John, as well as find his birth year of 1846.

John C Williams listed as Hiram S. William’s brother
John C. listed below his brother in the census


While I was waiting for some oral histories to finish uploading and converting I did some more research on my own and found some more records on John C. Williams. He lived in New Jersey and died there in 1913. I used clues such as the name of his mother and sister, who lived with him at the time of the 1900 and 1910 census, to confirm his identity.

I’m still not sure why he was building a home in Florida when it seems that he was residing in New Jersey…perhaps a summer home or investment? However, while there are still some unanswered questions, I’m still really enjoying this type of genealogical work.

I’ll be continuing my work on the panel interview and additional Joe Wickham interviews next week!

Until then, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Many Mosquitoes: Week of June 12th

Hi everyone,

This week I was able to finish editing and submit the oral histories of Roy Roberts and Jack Salmela for transcription. Both have come back this week so I am working on finishing the edits so they can be posted to YouTube ASAP.

Roy Roberts was a citrus farmer and and land developer whose father served as a county sheriff. Roy lived in Scotsmoor, Florida in his childhood home, which he actually physically moved to its current location after the U.S. government forced him, and many others, to sell their land when they began developing the space program at Cape Canaveral. His interview had some interesting stories including his father’s experience arresting individuals behind illegal moonshine operations and some stories of the early pioneer days in the county creating a homestead.

Jack Salmela lived in Sebastian, Florida and worked for many decades at the Brevard County Mosquito Control District. As one can imagine, mosquitoes are a HUGE problem in Florida. So, Jack’s work was extremely important in this county. He even won several awards for his environmentally conscientious methods of implementing mosquito control. One of these was the Conservation Service Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Department of Interior to private citizens.

I’m becoming accustomed to encountering names of people and places I am unfamiliar with when working with these oral histories, but discovering the correct spellings and locating information always feels like a treasure hunt. Using Ancestry.com I was able to locate several individuals mentioned in my current projects. For instance, I was able to confirm the name of Roy’s childhood school teacher Mrs. Lillian Hutzler using the 1930 U.S. census. I love making these discoveries because it feels like I’m plucking these people right out of history; each discovery brings a real rush of excitement! I feel like I’m saying “You’re not forgotten!”

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Lillian Hutzler was a school teacher in Orsino (part of Merritt Island, Florida)
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Ancestry.com helps you understand old documents if you are not skilled in reading cursive or if a document is difficult to read.

Sometimes I wonder what records will be left of me when I’m no longer living. With the internet, things may be easier for future genealogists and researchers, but I’m sure the excitement will still be the same.

In other news, Mr. Boonstra and I were able to find a new picture for the banner of the Brevard Historical Commission’s YouTube channel! Last week I just put up a default image, but now it has an image of a 1920’s golf course in Rockledge, Florida. I’m so happy that we now have a real piece of Brevard’s history headlining our page! Check it out by clicking here!

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A screenshot of the new icon and banner for the YouTube page. (Recognize these names?!)

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I plan on having the Roberts and Salmela interviews up on YouTube and the website early next week, so please look forward to that!

I’m still hoping to work on an oral history from scratch, including researching questions and being present for the interview process. I know Mr. Boonstra is looking into potential candidates, so I hope something will work out. I think it would be a great learning experience about how history is put into action!

That’s about it for this week, thanks for reading!

-Heather Pierce

“Moore” to Come: Week of June 5th

Well, hello there!

It’s been a good week at the Brevard County Historical Commission. I started off by finishing up the editing of Edward Poe’s interview transcript. Unfortunately, the transcription we got back was not the best; it contained numerous errors and overlooked several phrases, which is why our revision process is so important. One problem was the omission of sentence starters like “And…” or “Well…”  as well as typing out full words such as “them” when it was spoken as “’em” or “you all” instead of “y’all.”

Although these words and spellings aren’t necessary to understand the information, including them ensures the transcript is true to the voice of the person being interviewed. Spoken language contains lots of unnecessary words and phrases, but since the transcript is a record of a spoken conversation, it needs to include such words and speech patterns in order to be as true to life as possible. (This was also a problem in the Mercer King interview that needed to be corrected).

Thankfully, Mr. Boonstra and I were able to make the necessary corrections to ensure it was as accurate as possible before posting to the county’s website. (By the end, I think it was actually one of the best I’ve worked on in terms of verifying names and references.)

Here is the link to Edward Poe’s interview on YouTube: Edward Martin Poe Interview.

This internship definitely reinforces my researching skills since I am often digging into multiple places for pieces of local history. I definitely have a big crush on Ancestry.com by this point! The census records are awesome resources for finding family member names, occupations, and place of residence.

For instance, it allowed me to verify the name of a dentist in Titusville mentioned in Mr. Poe’s interview. It also allowed me to find the full name of a person present for Victoria Raymond’s interview, “Kitty” Hay. Since she was only referred to as “Kitty,” I used the name of her mother, Lucille Hay (who was mentioned in the interview), to find the census record for her family. This confirmed that her given name was “Katherine” and “Kitty” was a nickname. I used clues such as her father’s occupation as a surgeon and her two siblings being twins (indicated in the record as being the same age) to verify I had the correct census record.

The census record from Ancestry.com displaying the correct spelling of Dr. “Lichtenberger,” a dentist in Titusville, FL mentioned in Edward Poe’s interview.
The census record indicating “Kitty’s” full name as “Katherine Hay” for the Victoria Raymond interview.

Victoria worked at the Naval base in Melbourne during World War II and one of the interesting things I learned from editing her interview is that there were German prisoners of war kept in the county! I had no idea. She said they were very happy to be kept in Florida’s warm climate as opposed to being sent to Russia!

She also had some interesting stories about her work at Brevard County’s first radio station, WMMB, including about how she went on to cofound a new local station, WMEG. She was even able to interview the first astronauts in the Mercury Program!

Here is the link to the Victoria Raymond Interview on YouTube.

Finally, I began the editing process of the interview of Evangeline Moore, the daughter of the Civil Rights pioneers Harry T. Moore and Harriette Moore. The Moores were tragically killed in 1951 when a bomb was placed under their home in Mims, Florida. As an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida I read the book Before His Time by Ben Green in my capstone class: “History and Historians.” The book details the life of Harry T. Moore and his important work with the NAACP and the Progressive Voter’s League to advance the rights of the black community.

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The Moore family’s story is a very important thread in Brevard County’s history, and I am excited to get to work on this oral history. The only downside is that the interview is done in a panel format, meaning there is a lot more editing to do than in a normal one-on-one situation. The quality of the video is also very low. So we are reaching out to the Florida Historical Society, where I did my previous internship, to see if their resources contain a better version of the recording. Thus, this project will be somewhat waiting on the shelf for now. However, I hope to work more on this project soon.

In the meantime I also gave the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page a small facelift by adding banner art and an icon to the page. Here is a link to the channel with all the videos completed so far. I am hoping to locate a better, historical photo for the page soon, but for now it looks a little less bare!

Finally, I converted a new oral history from DVD, the interview of Roy Roberts. So, I will be working on his video next week.

Thanks as always for reading!

-Heather Pierce