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

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

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