Mrs. William Bliss Oral History
Mrs. William Bliss Oral History, Mary Bliss, Susan Payment, and Kathryn Tilford, 1989.
The recollections of Mary Bliss who visited her relatives on Ft. George Island throughout the 1920’s
Transcribed at National Park Service, Kingsley Plantation by Emily Palmer on February 27, 2009 from a 1989 transcribed interview.
KINGSLEY PLANTATION STATE HISTORIC SITE
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
SUBJECT: MRS. WILLIAM BLISS
The following is a transcription of an oral interview that was conducted with Mrs. William Bliss on July 13, 1989. The subject was interviewed at her home at 1849 Mallory Street in Jacksonville, Florida, by Museum Guide Susan Payment and OPS Worker, Kathryn Tilford. Throughout the transcriptions, the initials of the persons speaking will be used for identification: Mary Bliss (MB) , Susan Payment (SP) , and Kathryn Tilford (KT).
SP: Just for the tape, if you could please state your name.
MB: I’m Mrs. William Bliss and I was Mary Lewis Manning and my grandmother had the house on Ft. George that the Chappelles live in now, and that’s where I used to go as a child.
SP: And what is the address of that house?
MB: I don’t know. You know where Mrs. Chappelle lives. It used to be the first house of the island when you –before they built those others—after you left the church.
SP: And you were born in Duval County? And have lived here all your life?
MB: I was born right here in Jacksonville.
SP: And you association with Ft. George Island is just as a—
MB: Through my grandmother.
SP: A family vacation spot more or less?
MB: We used to just go down on weekends, mostly just Sunday, and spend the day with her, because she was down there and in the early days we used to go down – drive to Mayport and take a fishing boat over and a man on the other side with a horse and buggy would meet us. And she had a little marsh tacky named Allie that was let out in the summer just to roam in the marshes and then he was caught every winter.
SP: He was one of the horses that was captured on the island?
MB: One of the wild ponies, yes.
SP: And what year was this in, may I ask?
MB: Well, I was born in 1917 and this was practically any time after that.
SP: I see.
MB: And, ‘cause she lived down there—she moved to Jacksonville about 1909 or 10, I guess, and with my aunt, Mrs. Hal Adair and would go down there in the winter. And she—they had a little cottage in the back that she had a servant that lived down there with her. And we used to go down almost every weekend. And after Hecksher Drive was built we’d drive down and spend weekends with her.
SP: You could go overland. But how long did it take you to get there roughly, by boat and then by car—how much time?
MB: Oh golly, in those days it took along time.
SP: Forever huh?
MB: Even after Hecksher Drive was built it took awhile.
SP: What was her house like at that time?
MB: Why I haven’t been in it since Mrs. Chappelle’s been in it, except once years ago and I imagine it was much the same. It was a little house and had a front porch and nice back porch with a big swing and a small living room and two bedrooms—three bedrooms---downstairs. They didn’t have flush toilets in those days—they had a little place on the back porch. And the kitchen was separate. The kitchen and dining room was a separate building.
SP: Out back of the house?
MB: But she connected them with a big porch on the back, which I presume is still there.
SP: That’s interesting.
MB: And then there was a little house on the back for the servants and a barn for the horses. And then back in the sort of swamps they had a vegetable garden. And in those days the ponies roamed the area and pretty much kept down the underbrush and you could really walk almost all over the island. There were snakes. I remember they had a snake tree that came over the road and the snakes would go up there and shed their skins in the spring. And you could see the skins hanging down. And just before you go to the house there was the creek came in sort of close to the road and that’s where she planted her oyster bed. And we would go and collect oysters and she’d get clams from the fishermen and have clam chowder and oyster roasts almost every Sunday when we came down there.
SP: Was there electricity in the house?
SP: How about plumbing? Was there any running water in the house?
MB: I think they had running water. Yes, they had running water, in fact they had a water connection with Nelmar, which was the old Blue house, the big house.
SP: Victor Blue’s house?
MB: He had a well. I think she just had a pump well. But she did have a connection from their house and there was another house in between her house and the Blue’s house called the Rectory which was where the minster from the church lived.
SP: And was that an active church at that point?
MB: Oh yeah, in fact my aunt Mrs. Adair was married down there. And everybody went down on a boat from Jacksonville and then they walked down from the landing to the wedding.
SP: Have you been to that church lately?
MB: Yes, I was there when they rededicated it.
SP: Good. They did a very nice job.
MB: It was lovely. In fact, that old lamp over there in the corner over there came from Ft. George Island. That was one of the lamps from my grandmother’s house.
SP: The one with the globe on it.
MB: And it was just lamps, no electric lamps. What else?
SP: What would you say would be your earliest recollection of being on the island?
MB: Well, probably when I was about six years old.
SP: Were there other children in the area as well? Or did you just go out with your family?
MB: We went out with the family. Of course the Blues had children and my aunt would bring her children down. I don’t know that there were many living on the island other than the Blues.
SP: But you had plenty of playmates and that sort of thing?
MB: Well we didn’t spend that much time down there. You know, we’d just go down and spend weekends, so it was mostly old folks and us.
SP: And the Rollins’ had moved out at that point? They were no longer living there? Just the Blues were on the island?
MB: I don’t think so.
SP: What sort of things did you do for entertainment?
MB: Gathered oysters. Walked in the woods. Fed and rode the wild ponies.
SP: How large were these ponies? I’ve never seen them. I understand they’re up on Cumberland Island now.
MB: Well, they were like a small horse. Not a real big horse, but they were bigger than what you’d think of as a pony. They pulled the carriages.
SP: Between a Shetland and a regular horse?
MB: Uh huh.
SP: But you weren’t really frightened with them?
MB: No. No, they were all tame. And everybody, of course, let them go in the summer and caught them again in the winter.
SP: When they needed transportation, huh? Needed taking care of in the winter?
MB: Right. ‘Cause the roads weren’t paved, they were just oyster shell. And the causeway there as you leave and go on actually to Ft. George from Batten Island it was marsh on either side then, it had not been filled in.
SP: There was a causeway then, because I know we’ve found some posts and that sort of thing to that effect.
SP: In addition to the Blue’s house and your grandmother’s house and obviously the Rollins’ house or Kingsley Plantation house—what other structures were on the island that you can remember?
MB: Well, that Rectory. And that was—there was some stone work someplace. Mr. Bean had a place which was down near where you are. And I frankly can’t remember. There weren’t too many.
SP: Do you remember playing on the plantation grounds at all? Did you go check it out?
MB: And we used to go and play like we were in the stocks and things down there in the old garage- in the old barn, whatever it was.
SP: That’s where the stocks were at that time? How about any other buildings on the plantation grounds that you remember in addition to the barn?
MB: I remember when they built the ones you all live in.
SP: The Clubhouse?
MB: The Clubhouse. And my uncle, Thomas Eberhard, ran it for a few years.
SP: I didn’t realize that was your uncle.
MB: Uh huh. And of course his daughter just died last year and she could have told you more than I could because she would spend time down there.
SP: Was your family members of the Army-Navy Club in any way? Were they connected?
SP: And did you generally have to be a retired officer?
MB: Well, my father was, but I don’t know whether you had to be or not.
SP: It seemed like that was what made up the bulk of the membership.
MB: Maybe to really live there or something. I don’t really know. And then of course the Ribault Club was built before that, wasn’t it? I think so.
SP: The Golf Course Clubhouse? I think it was built in ’28 or ’27.
MB: When was the Army-Navy Clubhouse built?
SP: ’23 – the Army-Navy Clubhouse—or just a little bit before and from what we understand the Clubhouse burned to some degree. Do you remember that at all?
SP: In about ’33—1933. It was rebuilt to some extent to how it looks today. But, of course, it has been divided.
MB: I don’t remember that. I know they were always terrified of fire.
SP: Yeah, exactly.
MB: Everybody down there. Well, then, of course, those little cottages were built about the same time.
SP: In the 20’s and 30’s? Yeah, they’re still a number of them. I don’t know if you know Nancy Lutz. She lives right on the boundary of the plantation there.
MB: Right and uh, I guess the other cottages where the Knaurs lived and all were built about the same time as the other club—the Ribault Club.
SP: And obviously, you took part in a lot of activities that had to do with the Army-Navy Club?
MB: Well, I was still just a teenager—I mean a high school student—in those days, so I didn’t do much in the way of activities down there—like parties and things—but my family used to go down there.
SP: But your parents did? What sort of things went on there in addition to the Army-Navy Club—the Ribault Club was also a private club, I take it?
MB: Uh huh, it was mostly Northerners.
SP: Oh really?
MB: I mean some of the people here belonged to it, but the people who came down and stayed were all Northerners.
SP: And Heckscher was from the North.
MB: Right, right.
SP: But you don’t have any stories of wild parties or anything like that?
MB: (laughing) No, I’m afraid not. I was a little too young.
SP: Oh dear.
MB: Sorry about that. Maybe my sister could remember. She used to go down there and she was just a little bit older. I’ll ask her next time I see her.
MB: If I hear of any wild tales I’ll let you know.
SP: That would be interesting, What do you know as far as occurrences or happenings in the other islands as far as Big Talbot or Little Talbot Island?
MB: Well, there wasn’t much over there in those days.
MB: I know we used to go over there, you know, go over in a boat, just across the water there and walk across and go swimming in the ocean, but that’s about the only thing that I remember about that. But there was nobody over there that I can remember.
SP: And you never went over to Big Talbot?
MB: Well, just to go swimming.
SP: That was about it? How about Amelia? Was it that developed at that time?
MB: I don’t know.
SP: Did you get up to Fernandina at all?
MB: Oh we used to go up there and go to the sand bar and eat oysters. (laughs) But no, not very much. We just didn’t have the time.
SP: How do you think the island and the surrounding area has changed over the years? What are your impressions?
MB: Well, just more building and much more undergrowth. It’s just like a little jungle when you get back off the road. It used to be, really, you could just walk every place. When they did away with all the horses and the wild pigs and things, that kept all the debris down.
SP: And they took the horses off?
MB: You know there was a scare of some kind of disease that the horses and the wild pigs got. And they did away with them somewhere. I don’t know, they may have moved them up to Amelia, I don’t know. But they took them off that area. I guess it was hoof and mouth disease or something.
SP: Could have been. How about the McGundo House, you know, the tabby ruins?
MB: Well, it was always just a ruin.
SP: Always just a ruin?
MB: Uh huh. And the slave quarters were always just ruins—in those days.
SP: Even when you first started going out there?
MB: As far as I can remember.
SP: Were there any blacks living on the island at all when you were there?
MB: I really don’t know. There were fishermen who lived on that back road. But whether they were black or white, I don’t know.
SP: Did your grandmother have black servants?
MB: Yeah, she did. She had black help.
SP: And that was a live-in person?
MB: Yes, and the Blues did, too. But they were not slaves.
SP: Right. Of course not. (both laugh) We understand that after the war a number of slaves, the former slaves and their children, became servants or help for the families that moved in or lived at the Ribault Club.
MB: Well, my grandmother took hers down from here. But they didn’t live down there during the summer. In fact, they were my aunt’s servants that she took down, I think.
SP: Did your grandmother have screens on her house at all?
SP: There was screening. But it was still pretty awful out there in the summer as far as the bugs?
MB: Well, she just never was there in the summer. I don’t know. I presume it was.
SP: I see.
MB: Mosquitoes and sand flies. The gnats, I think, were as bad as the mosquitoes.
SP: So her season there roughly lasted from September through April or May?
MB: Just the cool whether.
SP: Then she went back to the city.
MB: Uh huh.
SP: Well, I know your husband voiced some concerns about the changes going on at Fort George, but what perhaps would you like to see occur?
MB: Well, I just think its just so lovely that it ought to stay like it is. I just hate to see a lot of building going on. The Fairfield plans were just so gigantic that that’s what we wanted to stop, I think.
SP: Are you a member of the friends of Fort George? Did you take part in that?
SP: Well, we appreciate that.
MB: We went to the party the other night and it was a lovely party.
SP: Good, good. So you’re familiar with all the other folks. As a matter of fact, I think it was Billy Arnold who gave me your name and address.
MB: You’ve talked to them too?
SP: I’ve met his wife, I’ve never met him. She mentioned to me that she wanted to buy Kingsley Plantation one time when it was up for sale in the ‘50’s, and perhaps have it as a private house, but he talked her out of it. He didn’t think it was worth it at the time. But as far as any construction, you’re against that?
MB: Well, any big construction. Any condominiums, that kind of thing. I don’t think I would like to see that.
SP: And as far as the private holdings, you believe those should be maintained by the families or it’s up to the families to do that?
MB: Right. If anyone would like to build down there.
SP: But you don’t have any plans to build on your property?
MB: I don’t think so; we don’t. Whether one of my children will ever want to, I don’t know. We have one child who’s just bought a place up in Amelia because they’re great golfers and they said the golf course down here was just terrible.
SP: On Fort George?
MB: Uh huh.
SP: Yeah, it’s in very poor condition.
MB: But they might change their mind later on.
SP: You don’t golf, I take it?
MB: No. We don’t golf. We don’t do much of anything anymore. We’re getting too old.
SP: And you have how many children?
SP: And have they become accustomed to going out to Fort George?
MB: No, not very much. We were away for so long and we came back here in’64…
SP: You moved out of the area?
MB: Uh huh. My husband went in the Navy in WWII and got out at the end of the war and then he was asked to come back in for a year and ended up staying about sixteen years more. So we were gone a long time. That’s when my family sold the house to the Chappelles. They couldn’t go down much anymore. They were getting old.
SP: During WWII roughly, it was sold?
MB: Well, after the war, but Mrs. Adair’s children were away and we were all away and neither of them were using it. And there was vandalism and so they just took the place over.
SP: You had a problem with vandalism?
MB: Not a whole lot. But it was beginning. Some of the other places had vandalism.
SP: Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but out there we do have it.
MB: We just were unhappy when they sold it, but nobody was here to do anything about it, so they did. And I think she’s been a great addition to the island down there. She seems to take great interest in everything that’s going on. Very active with the church.
SP: Yeah, I’ve met her at the church as a matter of fact, she takes care of it. I spoke with her about the restoration of the church.
MB: We’ve been down there for several services, but the last one was the rededication.
SP: Is there a priest or minister in residence there? Does he come out on weekends?
MB: I think he just comes out. In fact, the one who did the service that day was the chaplain for the police force here. And he was real cute and I think he probably does it a lot.
SP: An interesting choice.
MB: Maybe that’s his Sunday work when the policemen are off duty, I don’t know. (laughs)
SP: What other stories are you familiar with about the island that perhaps we haven’t heard?
MB: Well, I don’t know. Of course, the Blues always had a pool and we would go down there and swim and it was sulphur water. And we used to do that almost every weekend if it wasn’t too cold. And they always had big oyster roasts and they had ponies to ride. They had a – when their boys got bigger—they had a little apartment over the garage and they would have some good parties in that. Let’s put it that way. Bill could tell you more about Victor’s parties than I could.
SP: When the Kingsley house was there, what sort of things were said about it? Did you know anything about Kingsley Plantation? You knew it was an old plantation house?
MB: I’m just a little vague on that. I really don’t know. Of course, we would go down there, but it was not, of course, open.
SP: Right, since it was part of the Club.
MB: Did they use it as part of the Club? I think they lived in that and put people up in the area that you live in now.
SP: Right. The main house was used kind of as a guest house, guest quarters. And they used the barn or carriage house as some sort of storage area, but they put a concrete floor in it and when the state took over they broke up the concrete floor. But there was one in there when the property was turned over to the state in 1955.
MB: I just remember that it was always beautifully kept, the grounds and things were always nice.
SP: When it was the Club? How about any old graveyards on the island? Are there any that we don’t know about? Of course there are the tombs, back in the woods there.
MB: There used to be a couple of trees that had markers on them—marble markers on them. You know, just a little round thing with “this is so and so’s tree” or something. But I don’t know what happened to those.
KT: On the plantation part?
MB: No, just back in the woods before you get to the plantation.
KT: You know Gertrude Rollins mentioned having markers put on trees, but I always assumed it was in the plantation yard, for her—
SP: Every kid in the family had a tree.
MB: Well, this is it. Just had a child’s name on it.
SP: Well, it’s a possibility that’s what it’s from.
MB: But I don’t think they were on the plantation.
KT: Well, that’s just what I was thinking when I read it, I pictured it. I’m sure that’s it.
MB: But they were just little marble markers like you would put on a tombstone or something.
SP: That’s interesting. That’s probably what they’re from then.
MB: Did she have one of them?
SP: From what we understand. Were you familiar with Gertrude Wilson?
MB: Old Mrs. Wilson? Well, she was a friend of my mother’s. I just knew her…as a child. It was your mother’s friend.
SP: How about the Gibbs family? Are you familiar with them at all?
MB: Well, I still see Mariah. She lives right over in the Beau Rivage.
SP: Oh really? And how exactly, I know the Gibbs family is quite extensive, I get them extremely confused. She is…
MB: George Gibbs’ daughter.
SP: Oh okay. I have met George Gibbs IV who is roughly in his early 30’s.
MB: Mariah might have some old stories.
SP: I think perhaps it is her that he’s mentioned to me that she has a number of things up her sleeve.
MB: Well, she might. Why don’t you call her? Mrs. Conroy Ford, and she lives in Beau Ridge, the highrise. She gets nervous around crowds, but I think that you could talk to her –just two on one. She might have some good stories, I don’t know.
SP: Can you think of anyone that we might want to talk to – in addition to—
MB: Most of them are dead.
SP: You have a point there. Well, most of the people that remember the island—the period that we’re interested in—are older folks or they may have passed on.
MB: You’ve got the Gays, I guess. Have you got Dottie Gay yet, taped her?
SP: No, you’re the first person, believe it or not.
MB: Dottie Gay might have some stories. Some of the Milams. The Milams had the house on the hill.
SP: The Betts’ house—the Castle?
MB: Yeah—wasn’t that the Milam’s house?
SP: I believe so, before it was the Betts’ house. And I haven’t talked to Judge Gay yet. But we need to get in touch with him as well.
MB: The Knaurs have the place down there. She was a Barnett. They might know which Milam.
SP: Judge Gay and his family have the place just off the golf course—is that right? He uses it as a weekend home.
MB: I think they live there.
SP: Is that right?
MB: The young one. His father is sort of infirm. I don’t know how his mind is, but he can hardly walk. And his wife is up in the mountains, I think, now. But he ought to know something else.
SP: I noticed I’ve been by recently and there’s a child’s swing set in the yard.
MB: They have a couple of children they’ve adopted.
SP: I didn’t think it was the older Mr. Gay.
MB: He’s getting a little infirm.
SP: Do you remember what I refer to as the Betts’ house or what is known as the Castle? Do you know when it was built?
MB: I think all of those were built just about the same time as the Club.
SP: The late 20’s, early 30’s? We were fairly sure that it was built around then and parts have been added on to it.
MB: Yeah, they’ve added a big area onto it. And then after the crash, you know, the’29 crash, everything just went to pieces down there. A lot of people just never came back.
SP: Really? The visitation really dropped off?
MB: That’s when the Barnetts and the Knaurs and people like that got these other little cottages. For just nothing.
SP: Things fell off quite a bit?
MB: People just never came back from the North.
SP: From the North? But was it still heavily populated by people who lived in this area that just went up there during the wintertime—would you say?
MB: I don’t know, I really don’t. But it was just a lovely club and it’s a shame that it’s been neglected so.
SP: Yeah. Do you remember what the inside looked like? On the Ribault Club?
MB: A lot like it does now. It had prettier furniture. (laughs)
SP: It had a lot of furniture. From the descriptions that I read, they said it was furnished in a variety of antiques, which were purchased or donated by members—that sort of thing—but from what we understand the furniture was sold off a number of years ago.
MB: I presume so.
SP: There’s really nothing left of it now. You don’t have any photographs or anything else of Fort George or the Club?
SP: Unfortunately their files are all gone. They’re either destroyed or thrown away. They really don’t have anything left.
MB: I know Dena said she saw the book that the guests signed and she almost stole it. And she didn’t and she hadn’t been able to find it since.
SP: She was a little concerned about that and she has talked to me about that, but we really haven’t been able to locate it either. She does know where the plaques off the McIntosh tombs are and we’re in the process of contacting a man that lives on Fort George that was given the plaques for safekeeping, more or less, when the Club was changing hands.
MB: How many people still live along the back road there? You know, on the water where the fishermen used to live, do many people still live there?
SP: Where the Betts’ house or the Castle is—in that area?
KT: The shell road?
MB: The back road that leads up—yeah, the shell road—that leads up to the plantation.
KT: I don’t know.
MB: Not the new houses that have been built. There used to be a lot along the creek.
SP: Right. It’s difficult to say.
KT: There’s a few drives that go back towards the water…
SP: The Creech’s. Bobby and Jeannie Creech, I think is their last name, live in the back there. I would say six to ten, probably more not than that. Because I think there’s a grand total of 21 private places on the island. There’s a gentleman building a house just around the bend from the slave quarters next to the little red house that I thought was by your property. It’s just the other side of your property. That’s up for sale and to the right of this gentleman’s building a house. But he’s been at it for quite some time.
KT: They haven’t been working in it in a long time.
SP: Yeah, the foundation’s been laid and nothing’s been done on it the past couple of months.
KT: I think they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop or something at the Club, I don’t know.
MB: Who lives at the little red house that’s up for sale?
SP: It’s up for sale and I don’t think it’s being lived in at all now. I see somebody that shows up every once in a while to cut the grass and that sort of thing. But from what I understand, it was a younger couple that lived in it and I met a lady that came out to the Plantation to visit with her family, that had lived in the red house in the 1940’s . And she said it was hooked up with an intercom system to the Clubhouse and that it had been built as a member’s house to the Ribault Club.
MB: Well, I can’t remember the name of the person who built it and I used to know.
SP: Really? Well, that house is up for sale and there’s another more modern home up for sale just the other side of the church. Tudor style house. (to KT) Can you think of anything you’d like to ask Mrs. Bliss?
KT: I have a question that I’m interested in. You said the marsh ponies were there when you were a child and visited and I just wondered what other kind of wild life you remember seeing on the island.
MB: Well, there were the wild pigs—hogs, or whatever—and never terribly many birds. I don’t remember seeing terribly many birds. I know when the Rollins’s left that property as a bird sanctuary, my family just whooped and said where were the birds? (laughs)
SP: You were kind of surprised.
KT: Where were they going to get the birds from?
SP: They brought ‘em in, huh? (kidding)
MB: I don’t know.
SP: Well, for some reason we do seem to have a large variety of birds out there now. Perhaps they came in.
MB: That’s great.
SP: Also a large supply of painted buntings, birds which you’re probably familiar with.
MB: Really. I haven’t seen them down there.
SP: What about bobcats, were there any bobcats? Or Florida panthers in that area?
MB: No, just snakes. A lot of snakes. And mosquitos. Lots of sand flies. But I don’t remember too many wild animals, except the ponies.
KT: Those were probably very important to a child. That was the main activity is sounds like.
SP: And would you say there were a great number of these ponies running around. Were they all over the place?
MB: Well, not that many, but a decent sized herd.
SP: I’ve never seen them. I’ve been meaning to go up to Cumberland to check them out. They sound neat. I’m sure—
MB: You’ve never been to Cumberland?
SP: No I haven’t.
MB: Well, you should. That’s kind of fun.
MB: Uh huh. We used to go up there when we had a boat and they would still let you tie up there without charging an arm and a leg. (laughs)
SP: That’s the unfortunate part today, isn’t it?
MB: But if you go, try to take a bicycle so you can really get around the island, ‘cause it’s fun.
SP: Okay, that’s a good idea. The Mayport Ferry that was put into operation, about when –would you say?
MB: I have no idea.
SP: Do you think the Dame Point Bridge has helped you to some degree, as far as getting over to the Northside? Are you pleased to see it?
MB: Well, from here we don’t use it too much. But we did go out a month or so ago on that ship that left from Blount Island and went up to Montreal. My son took us to the ship and it was over at Blount Island and he took us over from the Southside and over the bridge to see the ship and that was kind of fun. But we would never have found it –how to get on it—to the bridge from the Southside just by ourselves.
SP: You just usually go up 95 to Heckscher to get there? Well, do you think you’ll pass all this information on to your grandchildren or your children?
MB: I’ll let you write it up and let them read it.
SP: Okay. We’ll be pleased to do that.
MB: Our children, as I say, go up to Amelia or up to the mountains. Or when they don’t go any place, they go to the beach.
SP: Andyou have, how many children, I’m sorry?
MB: We have four children and eleven grandchildren.
MB: One of them is in Miami with three children, but the others are mostly here.
SP: How about your immediate family, do you have brothers or sisters?
MB: I have just a sister, and she doesn’t live here.
SP: I see. She obviously remembers the plantation and everything.
MB: I’ll ask her about it. I hope to see her this fall sometime. They’re up in the mountains.
MB: She lived in California for about 35 or 40 years. She finally came back to Florida, remarried, and they go up to the mountains in the summer. But they live in south Florida, so we don’t see her too often. But I’ll try and ask her.
SP: And have your grandchildren been out to Kingsley, do you know, to the Plantation?
MB: I don’t know.
SP: Do they live in the area?
KT: Bring them out and we’ll give them a tour.
MB: Mostly they’re pretty little still. But the ones that are big enough, I’ll have to see that they get out there. My children love to go out there, but they just don’t have any place to go to now, except as a tourist.
SP: Right. We get a lot of people that bring their out-of-town guests out and have been coming out for 20 or 30 years.
MB: you know we found a thing the other day. Let me go see if I can find it. That Harriet Philips wrote about it.
MB: (returning with paper) This is really interesting, but since you all didn’t know her, you wouldn’t appreciate it. Not too much about this area, it’s mostly about life in South Carolina. (going through papers)
SP: I see.
MB: Here’s Fort George Island: “Mother thought nothing of taking me out of school for several months each winter in the early grades to visit Jacksonville and Fort George. Aunt Louise’s home was Hickory Lodge and it’s still there. Education was defiantly not stressed for females. Before leaving by the Southern Railroad, Mother and I were always motion sick and stayed flat on our backs for the entire pullman ride. My then current teacher would be asked to mark in each book how far that she expected me to go under my Mother’s tutelage. No matter, I was always behind when we returned to Chester. It is still a wonder to me that I can read and write. When I was sent off to boarding school a few years later, Mother said, ‘Have a good time,’ but she never told me to study. It was a real accomplishment to get from Riverside in Jacksonville to Fort George. This was the procedure: Get downtown by a car or street car. Take ferry to south Jacksonville, drive or take train to Mayport. Have it previously arranged with Johnny Johnson to meet and row you across the mouth of the St. Johns River”—see this was the way we used to get there –“notify Aunt Louise in advance so Mally, her wonderful black man from Darlington, South Carolina, would hitch Allie to the wagon, come to Pilot Town to drive you three miles to Hickory Lodge. Alexander was a wild marsh tacky that thundered across the island for most of the year with the rest of the herd. Now you simply go north on I95, take the Hecksher Drive exit and make the trip in less than an hour over the bridges that connect the various small islands. But today the glamour has disappeared. There was the Hessie boat that made the trip a couple of times each week and also carried mail. It was very exciting. Mother caught me once telling fellow passengers that I was the only child saved from the Titanic. Those were the kind of dreams the Hessie boat experience manufactured—for want of a better word. After leaving Pilot Town the oyster shell road, laid by the Indians, went first by the ruins of the Tabby House, which history claims Kingston built for his Indian mistress. Then came the little Episcopal Church where my cousin Marie and Hal Adair were married near Hickory Lodge. Next was a larger house owned by Dr. and Mrs. Stolenworth, then the Rectory, which Mother later bought…” I don’t remember that, oh –“then the Rectory which Mother later bought. Next – last was Nelmar, home of Admiral Victor Blue and wife Nellie. The other half of the name Nelmar was Marion Terry, Nellie’s sister. I can remember the Admiral resplendent in his beautiful full length Navy cape. At the far end of the island was the Kingston Plantation, which Admiral Blue turned into the Army and Navy Club. But that was a good deal later. Now it belongs to the state of Florida and has records of Don Juan McQueen who owned Fort George through a grant from the Spanish government in St. Augustine. This thing of reminiscing can be time consuming.” (laughs) Well that tells a lot.
SP: Yeah, it does.
MB: Did you get all that?
SP: I hope so!
MB: But she spent a lot of time down there, a lot more than we did, I mean actually living there.
SP: And she’s no longer living?
MB: No, just she died last year.
MB: She is Harriet Philips.
SP: She was an Eberhard?
MB: She was Mr. Eberhard’s daughter.
SP: That’s interesting.
MB: It’s really a great little story, but that was the only thing about Fort George.
SP: And did she write this down basically for her friends?
MB: She took a course out at JU and had to write something and this is what she wrote.
MB: And it’s just really interesting.
SP: It’s wonderful.
MB: But it’s a great memory of her childhood. We used to go to their place in South Carolina, so it’s fun for us.
SP: She’s from Chester?
SP: I know exactly where that is. I have a very good friend from Chester and friends from Cheraw which is right in the area.
MB: In fact, when she died she wanted her ashes spread on the old plantation up there.
SP: Oh really?
MB: So we did it. Had a hard time finding it, but we found it.
SP: What’s left of it?
MB: Well, the old house was gone. It burned years ago. Somebody had built a new little place on it and gave us permission to spread the ashes.
SP: That’s good. That’s nice though that you could go along with her wishes.
MB: Well, I can’t think of much of anything else.
SP: Well, I think you’ve provided us with a lot of information.
Did You Know?
Painted Buntings return to nest within the boundaries of the Timucuan Preserve each year in late April. More...