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

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.]
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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

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

Working with Wickham: Week of June 26th

Hello,

This week I’ve been working mainly on getting our three different oral histories with Joe Wickham, a former Brevard County commissioner, edited and ready to be posted to YouTube and the county website.

One of these interviews is the panel I mentioned last week, which features another county commissioner, Dave Nisbet. The transcript came back rather quickly for it being almost two hours long. However, that means I’ve been working on a 36 page transcript, yikes! This type of editing is certainly tedious.

Another challenge this week has been the oral history of Joe Wickham from 1995. This interview contained severe amounts of electrical feedback noise, which is very irratating to the listener.

I spent some time researching the Adobe Premiere program I use to edit videos to learn how to reduce this. After some trial and error I was able to learn about filters for the audio track that help reduce this kind of background noise. This type of noise is called “blue noise,” and can be reduced in video editing programs. I had to use the “expert” mode of the program, which is less intimidating than it sounds, to apply these effects to the audio track. Although the result is somewhat “tin can” sounding, at least the dialogue seems somewhat clearer and the buzzing sound is decreased.

Removing blue noise in Adobe Premiere Elements for Wickham’s oral history

I’m really glad I’m able to increase my computer skills while on this internship, including how to work with video editing programs. Since so much of the content we view is online, I know it is important to understand how such content is made and published from both a personal and work perspective.

I also made the final edits on the transcript for Mary Elizabeth Scobie this week, wrote the YouTube description and got it uploaded to YouTube!

  • Click Here to watch Scobie’s oral history on YouTube!

Writing YouTube descriptions is always tricky because they have to strike a balance of being informative, but not too wordy.  When I watch the oral histories I jot down important topics or themes in the video to help me write the description later. Many times there are similar topics, like mosquitoes(!), but having an “idea cloud” in my notes from editing the video often comes in handy when organizing my thoughts. 

My messy editing notes including the topic of MOSQUITOES! (Very common in Brevard oral histories)

Similarly, the right tags must be used to help others on YouTube find the video when searching. This may seem silly, but tagging information is really important for making it easily accessible. I see this both in archive work (such as finding aids and indexes) as well as with social media sites, like YouTube (and this very blog on WordPress)!

The above photo is from my notes on the third oral history of Joe Wickham, which is from 2000. He is older here than in the other interviews we have. It’s interesting to see his more reflective approach to the questions he is asked as he provides the audience with his hopes for the county he had so much influence in building. 

That’s about it for this week. I will hopefully be uploading all three oral histories containing Joe Wickham for the public in the near future!

Thank you as always for reading. 

-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