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

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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