Rhydon C. Dennette, Sr. Oral History
Rhydon Dennette, Sr. Oral History, Rhydon Dennette, Sr. ,Daniel Schafer, 1981
An oral history interview with a former employee of the Ribault Club
Transcribed by Ken Jones on March 1, 2009, at the National Park Service, Kingsley Plantation from Oral History Project dated 1981.
KINGSLEY PLANTATION STATE HISTORIC SITE
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
SUBJECT: RHYDON DENNETTE SR.
The following is a transcription of an oral interview that was conducted with Mr. Rhydon C. Dennette in 1981. The subject was interviewed at his home on Hecksher Drive. This oral history project was undertaken by the University of North Florida. A copy of the tape was given to Kingsley Plantation State Historic Site by Mr. Dennette’s son, Rhydon C. Dennette, Jr. in1989. Throughout the transcription, the initials of the persons speaking will be used for identification: Rhydon Dennette, Sr. (RDS) and because the identity of the interviewer was unknown, he was referred to as (INT) we now know him to be Daniel Schafer, UNF Professor.
INT: I was going to say, I’ll explain to you, first of all, what I’d like to do, but I want you to tell me then if you get tired at any time. Tell me and we’ll stop and work another time.
RDS: I won’t get tired.
INT: I’d like to, if you’d be able to have the time, to comeback for several sessions and talk with you about all of your life here on the island, the changes on the island that you’ve seen. But most important, about how you grew up on the island, about what you have done, your fishing on the island, your boyhood years, and how the island has changed. Everything about it that we can.
RDS: I can give you all the information that I can possibly give you ‘cause I can remember a long time back.
INT: Well, if you get tired today – let’s say, if we go forty-five minutes, if you get tired before that, we’ll stop.
RDS: All right.
INT: How you’re felling? Last time I was here, you were telling me how much the island has changed, where the houses used to be, and how the road is new and how the island has built up.
RDS: I can tell you all about that.
INT: Would you tell me that again on the tape?
RDS: Yes, I can. This road now was put here in 1927; you probably know that. That I don’t know. But where that road is there now, on the other side of that road, used to be all mud flats and oyster beds. You want to write it down?
INT: Um hm. Right where the road is now?
RDS: Just outside of the road.
INT: The other side.
RDS: You see those trees down there now? All those cedar trees and all?
RDS: Well, that was fishing country down there then. I’ve caught fish – thousands of ‘em – all up in that section in there.
INT: Across the road –
RDS: All the way down.
INT: -- and the cedars up there.
RDS: All the way down. That was all water, marsh grass and oyster beds. Sloughs. Our old house used to set right about where that road is now with a porch overlapping. There was a rock pile we had all the way around the house. You’d sit right on my porch at a big high tide and catch crabs, right on the porch I was born at a house right out there.
INT: So you were born in the house that would be –
RDS: An old house, yes.
INT: About where the flashing road signs are now.
RDS: Part of it was on the road there The old kitchen used to set – part of it – right here. The old bricks are down in the road now. You know in the old houses, the kitchens the kitchens used to be separate from the house.
INT: I see, it was a separate house.
RDS: That’s right.
INT: And when was that house built?
RDS: Oh my God, fella, I don’t know. That house was, I guess, a hundred years old, whenever it was torn down. This house has been here since, let’s see, 19 – 1897, 98, 99. This house has been here since 1904 right here.
INT: Sitting on this spot.
RDS: Right on this spot.
INT: And what year were you born, Mr. Dennette?
INT: So you were born in 1897 in the old house and it was torn down then in 1903?
RDS: Yeah, when they built this house, yeah, it was torn down. A lot of the old lumbers underneath this house – the sills are so old they used to drive pegs in them – to the nails -- pull them together. Some of them underneath the house here now. Some of them termites, they ain’t got no business touchin’ that, ‘cause they can’t touch it.
INT: And did your father have that first house built?
RDS: No. My grandmother Brown – she – Brown – my father was from Maine. Let me see now. Anyhow that house was there and they tore it down in order to get all the lumber we could out of it to build this house. And how they got the lumber down here, now let me tell you how the lumber come down. It was Cummer’s Mill. My brother and a couple of other fellas went up there and bought the lumber and rafted it, brought it down the river, untied it. That’s how it came down here. Now this house over here, next door, this is the LaMee house. This house over here is really older than this house. They used to set right out there, right about where the road is. And they moved it back. In those olden days, well not too terrible old, it was back in the late ‘20s, we used to go back and forth to town on the mail boat. Jacksonville. Leave here six o’clock in the morning and leave Jacksonville coming back two o’clock in the day to get here around six o’clock in the afternoon. Or else, we’d take a boat to go across to Mayport. You know that was a busy place over there at one time. That was where all the sailing vessels used to bring the coal for the Florida East Coast Railway. Big docks with railroad on ‘em, big coal shutes. And they used to run passenger trains down there. There was a terrible fine road, because they made a lot of money out of it, so the automobiles could get to come. Used to go through Pablo Beach over there and then down. Sometimes they’d run three or four trains a day.
INT: Why didn’t they take the coal right down to Jacksonville, Mr. Dennette?
RDS: Take the what?
INT: Why didn’t they take the coal right down the river and dump in at Jacksonville? And then go on?
RDS: Oh my God, fella, listen, some of these schooners – they were four masts, some of ‘em five masts, a lot of three masted schooners. I’ve seen eight and ten anchored here in the river. Loaded with lumber waitin’ to go out, see. They brought coal and stuff in and they carried lumber back out. Have to wait here ‘til the wind got right. Then they’d go out. But the river wasn’t deep then, my friend. Big schooners out there – they couldn’t have gotten up there.
INT: How did the lumber then get down from – the mills were in Jacksonville primarily?
INT: Where were the lumber mills that the ships were loading at?
RDS: Cummer Lumber Company was – let me see now – you know where Trout River is up there?
RDS: Well, just about half a mile on the other side of Trout Road – a big Cummer Lumber Company. On that side of the river.
INT: And so would they then raft all of that lumber down to Mayport and then load it on the schooners?
RDS: I don’t know how they brought that lumber down to Mayport. Mayport was there before I was, but they was there, of course, it’s a lot bigger now. But I imagine that’s how they brought their lumber and all down to Mayport. They built up an enormous big dock up there. You see back in those days, those things couldn’t come in here – you see that going by now.
INT: Um hm.
RDS: He had a load of cars they got on there – them freight cars.
INT: The dredging of the river has changed it considerably then, since you were a boy.
RDS: Oh yeah. I guess so. You know in the olden days – ‘course I don’t remember this, but I know ‘cause my brother told me all about it – about the hotel that was on Fort George Island?
INT: Um hm.
RDS: They had a road that run across to that beach over there. They had a big bath house. Well, that was practically ocean there then, before they built the jetties up?
INT: Um hm.
RDS: Just like visiting the ocean. People used to come here from the North and stay down here during the wintertime. And they’d go right across, they had horse and buggies, of course, that’s all they had in them days.
INT: So there was no road out here then?
RDS: Oh no. Just a little shell road.
INT: People would come –
RDS: People who wanted to live on Fort George Island had a horse and buggy, of course, you know, and a little shell road. Right, just beyond that little bunch of – that tree right there?
INT: Um hm.
RDS: I’ve seen breakers breaking right up in there many a time. Many a time.
INT: Where did the road run then? Back up behind where your house is now?
RDS: Right along in front there. Right along in front there. Kind of wound in there and went on down that way to where the boats come in from Jacksonville, you know? To pick up their freight and feed and stuff and go back on the island.
INT: Where would the boat land when it came from Jacksonville?
RDS: Well, they had a big dock down here. The touring company used to tour these schooners, you know, and steamboats. They had another big dock down there and that’s where she used to land every morning and night. Right down there. All this stuff out here was nothing but mudflats and oyster beds.
INT: How did it get built up out here then, Mr. Dennette?
RDS: Oh it – up the St. Johns Road – dredges pumped it in.
INT: So the dredges would bring the -- what they got up from the bottom – would come and dump it over here?
RDS: Brought it here on pipelines. All this stuff. Now you take this creek that you come over from down here – Shad Creek?
INT: Um hum.
RDS: I remember ago there wasn’t one piece of sand between here and New Berlin. Not a piece, nothing but marsh grass and the creeks that go into it. I remember that, ‘cause I used to fish in there.
INT: So it kind of like – did it look then like it looks now back this way from the road – all marsh grass?
RDS: That’s right, it would be all marsh grass from the river on back to Sister’s Creek. There wasn’t one piece pumped there. The biggest part of the stuff came down here was when Heckscher built this road. He had the road pumped in from the river out there. All the way down and then they’ve been pumping back what’s there a long time.
INT: So those houses that line the river now are all sitting on what was pumped up by the dredges?
RDS: That’s right. Every piece of it. Every piece.
INT: Some of it would be – it would look kind of like a continuous movement of that marshgrass all the way out to the river is what it looked like when you were a boy.
RDS: It was, yes.
INT: It must have been a beautiful sight to see that.
RDS: Yes, it was in a way. You take, all right, Clapboard Creek, you know where that is up there. That’s a big creek. You went in through there, you know. And then Sisters Creek was in there and then Browns Creek. It was all through the marsh. There was absolutely no sand or anything up there at all.
INT: And the only way that then you could get back and forth was to go to the dock out on the river and take the river down. There was no way of land transportation –
RDS: Lord knows, all marsh and mud.
INT: When you were a boy, how did you get back to Fort George Island?
RDS: Well, they had a nice road up there, turned right around. You probably know it.
INT: The same road?
RDS: The same road, only that the creek came through there and had a nice little bridge over it. But they filled all that up, too, over there. You can see where that’s been filled up. That was all marsh, too. Every bit of it.
INT: Was that house that is called the Muncilna McGundo house – was that in one piece when you were a boy or was that all torn down like now?
RDS: Just about like it is. I don’t think it was ever finished. I don’t believe it was ever finished. I never heard of it being finished – I don’t know. It was built there for a Kingsley bunch, I believe, out there, if I’m not mistaken. Because he dug a creek right along where the front of that – where that building is you’re talking about, you can see it there. For them to get in there. But, my friend, I don’t remember it ever being –
INT: Like it is now, is what you saw.
RDS: Where the house is, all the way back along that canal back, nothing but big shell mounds and there was oak trees on it that big around. Beautiful country back in there. High, high mounds. And they dug it all out.
INT: And these were Indian mounds?
RDS: Yeah, I imagine they were. I imagine they were.
INT: But that would be back behind where that house is.
RDS: That’s right. All the way back almost to what they call Pepper Island back there.
INT: You said there’s a creek that Kingsley dug that runs out right –
RDS: Right in front of where that tabby house is.
INT: I know where it is. Did you hear people say that Kingsley had done that or some of the old black people –
RDS: No, no. No, I did not. But I just imagined –
INT: That was your imagining. Well, it is – it does certainly stand out when you see it. That the creek comes through.
RDS: Oh yeah, yes it does, I know. I don’t know – who was the first one that owned it?
RDS: Yeah, I guess McQueen was the first one.
INT: And then McIntosh, in the Spanish period. A man named Tucker owned it in the British period.
RDS: Now, who did – I don’t – I’ve got that somewheres – all that stuff – got it packed away in a damn cedar chest and then –
INT: But you could go by wagon or by horse then from your house all the way back onto the island.
RDS: Yeah. You know the cemetery was over on Talbot Island. You probably know that.
INT: I’ve been there. You told me about that some time ago.
RDS: Well, anybody who was buried over there had to be taken in a boat around Sisters Creek and then go that way.
INT: So you’d go back up behind Kingsley House.
RDS: Go through Sisters Creek over to Talbot Island. I’ve been there many a time.
INT: Was there a house by the cemetery when you were a boy?
RDS: Oh yes. Pretty close to the cemetery. The Lattimers. And I’m going to tell you a story about that. You take the Lattimers, the Houstouns, the Falanas, and the Lathams. Now the Lathams I don’t know too much about. They lived on the north end. Christopher lived on the north end too. Now, Falana, they had a farm over there. Lattimers had a farm over there. Houstoun had a farm over there and here’s what they done. They used to go to Talbot in the summertimes and plant these gardens, you know, and they raise hogs and cattle. And they come back here in the wintertime; they had their farms over here, too. Come back here in the wintertime, so their children would go to school. Had a teacher down here and all. Boarded down here. And then when school was out, on Talbot they’d go. All of ‘em.
RDS: Well, the house that I remember – well, I remember the Falana house too – the Lattimer house and the Houstoun house were down on this end. The Lattimer house was the closest place to the cemetery. I guess about, oh, I’d say, a quarter of a mile from the cemetery this way in there. Well, that stayed there a long time – people lived there. But eventually they went! But that’s what they done. They were all bar pilots you know, every one of ‘em.
INT: They were all bar pilots, I see. So when you said they had houses here, did you mean that they had houses up on Talbot Island and on Batten Island near you?
RDS: Oh sure.
INT: Was this called Batten Island then?
RDS: This is Pilot Town.
INT: Pilot Town.
RDS: you’ve heard the word, haven’t you?
INT: Uh huh.
RDS: I try to tell people about that and they say they’ve never heard that and I say, well, there’s a lot of things you’ve never heard of. You see, I explain to ‘em about this stuff out in front here – anything like that? It’s impossible! They just can’t visualize it.
INT: So when school was on and the Houstouns and Lattimers lived near you and then they’d go up on to Talbot?
RDS: Yeah. The old Lattimer house was next door to this one that way. And the Houstoun house was nextdoor to them. Next door up.
INT: Right next to the Daly house was the Lattimer and then Houstouns?
RDS: Yeah, the Lattimers come first after the Daly house and the Houstouns was right close to them next. And then there was Edwards had a place there, but he didn’t have anything to do with this I’m telling you.
INT: Where was the school then?
RDS: Nice schoolhouse just after you turn the corner up there. You know to turn the corner up there –
INT: To go to Fort George?
INT: Uh huh.
RDS: Well, after you turn the corner and get up there about, I guess about a quarter of a mile, they had a nice schoolhouse – they had a bell – well, they used to have entertainments in there. Nice blackboards in there, stage and all. But after this – all this stuff come along and all, they started moving out, children going somewheres else. They had a lot of people here.
INT: So this is where you went to school then, in the building right up here?
RDS: Yes, I did. I went to school in Jacksonville, too.
INT: Where in Jacksonville did you go to school?
RDS: I went to the – what’s that high school there on Market Street? Is it Market Street? Yeah, Duval.
INT: The old Duval High?
RDS: Tenth grade was as far as I could get, ‘cause I had to work.
INT: So this school was only for grades one through nine? Or –
RDS: One to eight.
INT: One to eight. And then you went to Jacksonville. Did you board in town or did you go back and forth?
RDS: No, I had a sister lived in there. Mrs. Sterrit. So I went up there with her. But I had to leave. Couldn’t help it.
INT: And then you came back out here and worked?
RDS: No work down here. I worked at sea most of my life. I got chief engineer’s license. Any damn steamer boat big!
INT: Oh, you were at sea.
RDS: Yeah, I went to sea. I was in the Clyde Line – oh, I don’t know how long. I guess, well, I stayed there ‘til I got my first license, which was a third assistant. I came back here and went on these tugboats and I got a second assistant. And then they wanted me to continue work on these tugboats and I had to have it changed to a chief, see, a certain horsepower. But they wrote underneath the second assistant, of any kind of horsepower – that’s my regular license. So I gave it up. I went down to Kiawah, to Kiawah for about six weeks just after the war. I got tired of that and I got this job and I come back up to the Ribault Club and I stayed here for thirty years. Thirty years.
INT: So you returned right to your island.
RDS: General superintendent of the Ribault Club. I could go where I wanted, do whatever I wanted to do. Just take care of it, that’s all.
INT: Where did you -- when you worked for the Clyde Lines – did you go with those passenger lines then from here to New York?
RDS: Yeah, that’s right. Leave here on Sunday afternoon two o’clock, go in to Charleston next morning I guess about ten o’clock, and we leave Charleston that same afternoon, which would be Monday afternoon. Tuesday and Wednesday – New York on Wednesday.
INT: And then you’d come back?
RDS: We’d stay there two days and come back here. Then we’d stay in Jacksonville for a couple of days and nights – that’s where I got married – on the Clyde Lines.
INT: Oh, in Jacksonville?
RDS: Nope, Savannah.
INT: In Savannah – your wife is from Savannah?
RDS: No, my wife is from Statesboro.
INT: Statesboro, Georgia.
RDS: She had a sister in Savannah, though. Husband was a big lumberman. She had another sister down here – Daisy’s husband was a lawyer. We worked together for I think about two and a half years. There ain’t no use in waiting no damn longer.
INT: No. What were the Clyde Lines like then? Were they like the tourist ships today that they’d have dances?
RDS: Oh, they used to come loaded – both ways. Goin’ out of a room in the nighttime – there were three of us. I was ordered in the Clyde Line at first, and there were three of us in the room. There were a big settee across the room that way and the bed’s this way and, my God, you had to keep your door locked.
RDS: Yeah, damn women and all. I told ‘em, get the hell out of here.
INT: And they were all coming down here as tourists?
RDS: Oh Lord yes. Yeah. Do you know what? You know what the passenger fare was on that ship back there in the 19 – really the 1920’s. ‘Cause I went up there myself to New York. I was going to catch a ship going across to somewheres else. But when I was going up, I knew the first assistant engineer on that ship he says if you want a job on that ship, say, you got it when you get to New York, ‘cause one of them fellas I’m going to let go – I don’t like him. I said, well, I’ll sure take it. And I stayed right there and I would have liked to stay there, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand that freezin’ weather. Nearly killed me; I had to go in the hospital up there. So I had to come home and like it or not, I didn’t go back anymore. So when I got this job down here – I stuck to that, too.
INT: When you were a boy, did you swim across the river?
RDS: I have swam across it many a time.
INT: But was it a wider river than it is now?
RDS: Yes, probably a little bit wider, yes. I and another boy up there – Napolean Broward, his daddy was a pilot, too, they had a nice home up there. Then that big other home up there – Napolean – L. Napolean Broward lives in it yet.
INT: He’s the son of the governor?
RDS: Yeah, that’s it. He used to come down here and that Montcalm – Montcalm Broward’s son was called Napolean, too and we were very good buddies. We use to come down here. We’d go get in that damn water and swim over there and play baseball over there with those kids over there ‘til late in the afternoon and come on home.
INT: Swim back then?
RDS: Many a time.
INT: Where was the baseball field then?
RDS: Right straight over in front of you. Right over in front of you.
INT: Where the base is today?
RDS: No, this side towards this river here. No, where that base is down there. I’m going to tell you about that. There wasn’t no base, there was just – the river used to curve until – there was a big sand bank out in the middle out there and on this side of it was a big black buoy. It was a channel – to mark the channel, you know? And the other part of the river run down through that slough and along the side of the jetties. And we used to fish down in there. But when the Navy bought that thing down there they blocked it all the way around and made a regular lake in there. You’ve probably been down in there.
INT: Yeah, I’ve seen the lake. But the ball field then –
RDS: It was right across here. Over here.
INT: And what is there now where the ball field was, is there anything now?
RDS: I don’t know. I guess there’s houses there. There’s a boat ramp over there and it was pretty close to that. And Daniel built a big home – there were two or three homes built in there. I don’t know – I haven’t been around Mayport in a long time. The only way we went – we used to go across in the car on the ferry and go down and fish in a place down there.
INT: When you were a boy then did you do a lot of fishing in the waters around here?
RDS: Yeah, I fished for several years – gill net fishing. I got a lot of that while I was at the Club out there, too, when the Club closed, you know.
INT: Uh hmm.
RDS: I could do whatever I wanted to – I was boss. Shad fish.
INT: You’d just string a gill net across the river and let them swim into it?
RDS: No. With the shad fish, when I was over there, you’d go down the river and let the tide drift it up and take it up and take it up before it got too far, see. Then go back and put it in the depth. Now a gill net has strings for different things. Where the oyster bed was, put one part of the net there and run out around the oyster bed and go under the – pound it out, you know – run the fish out? Oh my God, man! Fish ain’t here like they used to be.
INT: You’d pound the fish out of the oyster beds, you mean?
RDS: Pound ‘em from off the shore – let ‘em out into the net.
INT: Oh I see, you’d stick the net then out away and then you’d drive them out into the net.
INT: How would you do it -- pounding what?
RDS: Take your oar. Put your oar on the bottom.
INT: On the bottom of the boat?
RDS: No. The bottom of the oar on the bottom of the bottom.
INT: Oh I see. Right on the bottom
RDS: They can’t sort of stand noise off the bottom you know. Beating it on the boat – don’t do no good at all.
INT: But the vibrations from the bottom bring ‘em up and away?
RDS: That’s right. That’s right. Oh, I’ve caught thousands and thousands of pounds of trout.
INT: And then you’d use them primarily for your own use – or would you sell them?
RDS: Sell them. You bet, man. Sell ‘em.
INT: Where would you sell them?
RDS: Oh, that market there on Panama – there was one particular place I went to. Oh, I don’t remember the name of it now. Turn left off, see – Trout River Bridge, go down Talleyrand – there were several markets down there. I had no trouble selling ‘em.
INT: How did you get down there then, Mr. Dennette?
RDS: By car.
INT: You’re talking about after the road was built then.
RDS: Yeah. Oh before the road come, when I was a youngster, we used to do a lot of fishing, too. Now here’s how we had to do it: fish all night long and sit in a boat. Before the boat come over here, used to, had a bunt. You know what a bunt is? Pull those strings off it and string ‘em up.
INT: Oh yes.
RDS: Try to make a three pound string. We’d catch fifty to two hundred strings nearly every night you go fishing. Sell ‘em on the boat, meet the boat when she comes back down here and they give you the money.
INT: They were sold in Jacksonville then – at the market.
RDS: Oh yes, right there at market right there at Ocean Street, where we used to go.
INT: So the ship master would – acted as your business agent in a way.
RDS: Oh yes, they get so much, you know.
INT: That would be the big main boat – the mail boat that went to town?
RDS: Yes. Yeah.
INT: What kind of fish?
RDS: Mostly trout. In the wintertime when we fished for shad, I’ve seen her make two different trips to carry shad – there were so many of them.
RDS: I’ve seen ‘em piled up on her forward deck that high.
INT: And you’d catch ‘em the same way with the nets out away from the shore?
RDS: You can’t catch ‘em that way with a gill net – no. A gill net is made for trout – you got a three inch mesh. A shad net has a five inch mesh. Five inch wide.
INT: But you were fishing the same way then before the road was built.
RDS: Oh yes.
INT: As you did after.
RDS: Oh yes, sure.
INT: What about the waters back in behind – like if you go around Fort George Island – there are all those marsh grasses and little streams that come in – did you fish those, too?
RDS: Well, there’s one big one that they call Garden Creek almost up to where the inland waterway is. Right where it meets Fort George Inlet.
INT: Um hmm.
RDS: And it goes – turns left and comes all around Fort George Island. Finest oysters in the world used to be in there.
INT: But they’re gone now?
RDS: Oh no, they’re plenty of ‘em in there, but this guy who got ‘em all from the state and rent it.
INT: How does that work?
RDS: I don’t know. The lease –
INT: Oh I see, they lease it from the state.
RDS: They lease it. Yeah, they’re not supposed to lease it – a natural oyster bed, but they do it. It don’t bother me none. If I wanted oysters, I know where plenty of oysters are. Somebody just brought me this morning –
END OF TAPE, SIDE A
RDS: No, the island has changed quite a bit. This used to be the runway for ducks comin’ down in the fall of the year. You never see one no more. They’ve changed their flyways. On account of the coast all being built up, you know. They got nothing to light on. I have seen ‘em by the tens and tens of thousands in the daytime. Flocks after flocks going’ south. And the geese in the nighttime – moon lit night – hollerin’ goin’ over. Oh man. The place around here – you could kill all the ducks you could’ve possibly wanted.
INT: Where would they land? Back in the marshes?
RDS: Well, a lot of ‘em did, yeah, but a lot – we had a lot – we had what was called a Big Alligator Pond there – on the end of Fort George Island. When they built that Club out there, they built that basin out in there and pumped all that stuff in and they completely closed it up. And nothin’ back there now but a mess. Pine trees and brush, all those things. Over on Talbot Beach what they call the – well, I forget the name – it was all ponds in behind the sand hills up there. I’ve seen ducks so damn thick in there – I’m not kidding you – excuse me for saying damn – that they darken the air when they fly up.
RDS: That’s the honest to God’s truth. They darken the air when they fly up.
INT: Every year they’d come down and would they come back north the same way? So you’d –
RDS: Every year. No. No. I never seen ‘em go back this way. They must’ve went the other way. But this is where they used to come.
INT: They came right down along the coast then.
RDS: The came right down along the coast. You never saw such a thing. The marshes back here was loaded with ‘em. Now this LaMee that – this biggest house you see over here – now that’s the oldest house on the island. But it’s been over-hauled. Fellow by the name of Fosset bought that house and moved it over on his lot. Rebuilt it. That’s an old house. Now I don’t know how old it is, but I tell what they found in it when they were over-hauling it. They found a couple of these – what they call grape shot – that these man-of-wars used to shoot, you know?
RDS: Oh yeah. I don’t know what become of ‘em. Captain Foley saved those things and I don’t know what become of those things. Oh we found – I found – one about that long, about that big around. Right out here – they’re still there as far as I know. Back of the Blue’s place, you know where that is? Bassetts?
RDS: Right back in them soft meadows right there. I found another one down here on this – as you go across this creek down here on what we call – we used to call it Little Fort George – found one there. And a whole bunch of us got together down there one day and we piled up enough palmettos on that thing – oh that high. And set ‘em afire and run like heck. Never did go off though. Never did go off. Had the caps and all ‘cause I saw. That one in back of Bassetts is loaded too. I couldn’t find that one though – not now.
INT: You said that there used to be a lake on Fort George Island – or a pond.
RDS: Yes, what we call Alligator Pond and brother, it used to be full of alligators.
INT: And then the ducks would come in there?
RDS: Oh –
INT: Would ducks and geese be mixed together or would they fly separately?
RDS: No, the geese – the geese didn’t stop here very much. The geese kept on going. But the ducks – let me tell you what I done there at Alligator Pond, and I was a youngster too. I had a brother that used to go on – he was much older than me, he’s dead now. But anyhow, we went out to that pond one morning. He dad done a little fishing there that night – him and another person – a cold night – and he saw this enormous big bunch of ducks circling that pond. And they all went down in that pond – every one of them. Must have been a thousand of ‘em, I guess. And he come home and he says “Son, I want you to go with me tomorrow morning.” I was only about that high. I said “All right.” We had an old ten gauge shotgun. Now I want you to listen to this. This is the only story true that I ain’t got to tell you no story because I saw it. We walked down the side of the hill up there—there were sheep on one side. We walked down there and he said, “Now don’t make no noise because I know them things are in here.” We got round that corner of a pond down there and looked down at that big pile of water up in there and I swear, the sun was beginning to glitter on ahead and we headed in and he said, “We’ll sit right here just a minute.” And after a while they started coming over where we was. He said, “I’m gonna get ‘em now.” He took that gun in hand and he killed eleven – one shot..
INT: With a sixteen gauge shotgun?
RDS: No! Ten gauge.
INT: A ten gauge. Oh, that big powerful shotgun.
INT: Eleven of ‘em.
RDS: Eleven of ‘em.
INT: My, and these were Mallards?
RDS: Every one of them. They were about half and half. Half drakes and half hens. And brother, when they lifted out of that pond – I don’t know what it sounded like. But they didn’t come back in there.
INT: What did it look like? Just – like the whole world was filled with –
RDS: I tell you what, the truth, it’s a sight I’d have given anything in the world to see the – to have a movie camera. The sun was glittering on them green hedge, you know. You never saw such a sight. God didn’t have enough of them days like that. We wouldn’t have had it anyhow.
INT: Whereabouts was that pond located?
RDS: Well, you pass the Ribault Club you go by the Ribault Club Lounge, and there’s a road that leads you right straight down to it. Now there’s going to be a house built on the right hand side. Fellow by the name of Register built a place in there. Beautiful home. Not where the – but back of his place is a road. In fact we had it all cut out in there. Lots and all down in there. I guess it’s all growed up now though. But that’s how it went down. Right to this end of the pond. And that pond, I guess, was – oh, that pond was as long as from here to that post down there. Wasn’t too wide. And at the other end where them ducks had lit there was an enormous pile of water. A lot of it had weeds growin’ in it, you know. But that was a mess I’ll tell you.
INT: Did you ever hear of how that pond was put there? Was it built by someone?
RDS: No, I don’t think so. No, that was the olden days. So much, so much that I can see out there, I know it was water at one time – I know that. N. B. Cove, full of marsh grass, end of the woods up there – I know that was all water one time. Maybe a couple hundred years ago or three hundred years ago. I don’t know.
INT: Well, at one time, this guy John McQueen had a water-powered cotton gin on Fort George Island. Did you ever see any remains of that?
RDS: Yes, I’ve seen it all. I could tell you exactly – well, I couldn’t tell you – I couldn’t explain it to you now, but I”ll tell you where some of it – that fellow that took my place out there – he went out to where it was and he brought two or three pieces up to the Ribault Club. Yes, I’ve seen it.
INT: Pieces of the cotton gin?
RDS: Yes sir.
INT: You talking about Mr. Jones?
RDS: No, Mr. Jones – I know him well, too. No – now Jones may have been the one that showed Mr. Browning, the fellow that took my place at the Club. Now it could have been. ‘Cause I know Jones has prowled that island, I know that. I was out there one time—yeah, I know it was him—him and another fellow—they went down there. You know, there’s two old tombs down in there. You heard about that?
INT: I’ve heard about ‘em. I don’t know where they are.
RDS: They’re down on number six fairway—six or seven. Oh, number seven fairway—down almost to the Fort George River end over in the bushes about that far. Used to be roads—used to be a little wagon roads all through that island on account of the hotel out there. But I’m goin’ to tell you something, brother, there ain’t nobody buried in them things, because I’ve been to the bottom of ‘em.
RDS: Both of ‘em. Somebody had found those things and had plates put on ‘em. I think it was the Ribault Club that took them off. Some kind of Houstoun. My family was—nobody was buried in them tombs. Nobody, I was going to tell you about Jones. I got so I liked him and I do think a lot of him right now. If he’s still going.
INT: Yes. I’ve met him one time, but he’s still going.
RDS: I watched—I saw the car go by. I kind of watch that place for the Club on account of fire, see. And I found his car up there—he’d gone down the fairway over in them bushes back there. And I wasn’t goin’ to go in there with him. So I took my book and I wrote a note. I says “You’re trespassing on private property”—he’ll tell you about it if he remembers it—I says “If you don’t come by the Ribault Club and see me,” I says, “you’re going to be arrested.” He come by. He come by. We had a long talk. I told him I kinda watch that course pretty darn close out there. I tell you all the times at night, I’ve gone up in my car. Well, anything you want to know, my friend?
INT: Well, how about if you’d think back to when you were a boy and started going to school up here. Can you remember who your classmates were and your teacher and what the school day was like?
RDS: Yeah. Went to school in the morning—I think it was eight o’clock. And leave two thirty, I’m pretty sure it was. Oh my God—there was me, my two sisters, there was three of the LaMees, three of the Falanas, I think there was three of the Lattimers and there was three of the Houstouns and the two Broward boys—Montcalm and Napolean—not this Napolean.
INT: His father?
RDS: No. Napolean Broward—the one that was governor and this one I’m talking about were brothers. Well, anyhow that Montcalm, his two sons Montcalm and Napolean used to go to this school, too. Now that there was a good bunch of people—I don’t know how many. Fifteen or more.
INT: And did you have the same teacher all through the years?
RDS: Well, yeah, yeah.
INT: Same teacher.
RDS: Yeah. Comes out here and boards, you know, during the winter.
INT: Do you remember the teacher’s name?
RDS: Yes. There’s two of ‘em. There’s one of them we used to board in that old house out there. Mrs. Lipscomb. I ran into her—I don’t know if it was her brother or related to her, a Lipscomb—in Jacksonville about thirty five or forty years ago. I didn’t tell anybody, but we had a long talk. There was a Mrs. Rhydnor. R – H – Y – D – N – O – R.
INT: I – I didn’t—
RDS: R – H – Y – D – N – O – R. Almost spelt like my name.
RDS: Now, the rest of ‘em. I don’t—there was a couple of ‘em—but I don’t remember their names.
INT: So they’d come down during the winter months, you said.
RDS: That’s right. Teach school.
INT: When would they first come? What month in the year?
RDS: September, I think. Around the first of September.
INT: And then how long would school last?
RDS: I can’t answer, ‘cause I can’t remember to tell you the truth. Just—they were regular school months.
INT: Until spring?
RDS: Yeah, oh yeah.
INT: And then after that your friends would go back up to Talbot and—
RDS: Yeah, the Houstouns, the Lattimers and the LaMees—not the LaMees—the Falanas—they had a big bunch of cattle over there and raised hogs and planted their farms over there, too.
INT: Would there be anybody on Talbot Island year round?
RDS: On the north end—Lathams lived up there. And before the Lathams came there, the Christophers lived up there. You’ve heard of the Christophers?
INT: Yes, I have. But they lived year round up there then?
RDS: Yes, they did. Yes, they did.
INT: Did you ever see the houses at the north end?
RDS: Oh yeah, sure have.
INT: What did they look like?
RDS: Oh, nice wooden house, nice, just one story—wasn’t up in the air. I don’t know exactly when they tore that down—not too terrible long ago. I was real grown when they tore it down. Back in those days, my mother, me and my two sisters, my brother. My brother used to shad fish in the summertime. We’d have these big sailboats—they called “skip jacks”—you may have heard of ‘em, I don’t know. But we had a sister that lived in Fernandina and we used to go visit with her in the summertime for about a month. And how we would go we’d get in that boat—put our whole lot of things in that boat now—sailboat—that’s all it was—a sailboat. ‘Course you had oars and in dead calm you couldn’t row it, but anyhow, we’d go up to Sister’s Creek and sail to Fernandina. And when we’d get ready to come back, my brother would come over there and pick us up and that’s the way we’d come back.
INT: How long would it take you—to go up from here?
RDS: Well, it didn’t take as long as you’d think. We’d leave here early in the morning and as a rule, in the summertime, these breezes, like it is now—comes in, see—we’d go—we’d make it to Fernandina in a day.
INT: That day, before it got dark you’d be up there.
INT: What if it was a calm day with no wind—you’d just stay home?
RDS: We wouldn’t leave, we wouldn’t leave.
INT: Would you stop along the way at anyone’s house or docks?
RDS: No. You’d have to stop and go on once in awhile. A lot of little islands around there, you know. Comin’ back—the same way. He’d try to get—this is when we’d have a northeast wind or somethin’, see. He’d beat that thing all the way to Fernandina and when we come back, brother, hecked up fair wind all the way. But that’s how we got back and forth to Fernandina.
INT: How big was the sailboat then? Just enough to hold three or four people?
RDS: About nineteen—right about eighteen or nineteen feet long. Big mast. Big sails. Plenty of room.
INT: Do you remember how you got that sailboat? Or where it was built?
RDS: Oh yeah, my brother did it all. He used to go to a man by the name of Milton, owned this big fish market and he used to furnish them boats or you could buy ‘em, see. And he’d take off so much for the fish you’re selling to him and my brother owned the boat, now, and he eventually had an engine put in it. But everybody—that’s all they done was shad fishing. I’ve seen fifty and sixty boats at a time with them sails up beating back up rivers off New Berlin, full of ‘em all down there. Had to go back home. Oh, they were a sight to see, I’m telling you.
INT: I bet. So your brother bought the boat then from Mr. Milton.
RDS: Oh yeah.
INT: Paid for it in fish.
RDS: Yeah, he bought the boat. He had several of ‘em.
INT: And when you went up to Fernandina, would you—well, I want to ask you—was—did Mr. Milton make the boats himself?
RDS: No, no, he had them made. What he called skip jack boats.
INT: Do you know who it was that built them?
RDS: Oh, dear God, no. I don’t know. So many people built ‘em. I don’t know. No, I was too young in them days to—he had the boats long time afterwards, ‘cause he bought two different ones after that with oars in ‘em.
INT: So you’d pack a lunch then when you went up to Fernandina?
RDS: Tackle up?
INT: Would you pack a lunch? Take a lunch to eat along the way?
RDS: Oh dear God, yes. Everything.
INT: What sorts of foods would be in the lunch?
RDS: Canned goods. Like sardines, beans. Loaves of bread. And I’ll tell you something else—I saw bread sell for six loaves for a quarter, brother! How about that!
INT: When was this, during the…?
RDS: When I was a little fella.
INT: When you were a boy?
RDS That’s right. Six loaves of bread for a quarter!
INT: And who made them—one of the ladies here on the island?
RDS: Oh no, no they were from a bakery in Jacksonville. Same boat used to bring it down here. There were two or three stores in Mayport, see. And they brought down all the food to Mayport in the stores over there. There was a saloon over there, too. In fact there was two of them. They brought that bread down—the captain said “Sell the bread out!” Six loaves for a quarter!
INT: Can you tell me where on Talbot Island the houses used to be located?
RDS: My friend, I don’t—there ain’t no way in the world I could tell you. I could probably show you where they were located. But I don’t know whether I could or not because it’s grown over so bad—I’m scared to death of rattlesnakes, boy.
INT: If I bring my map along next time, could you find it on the map—do you think?
RDS: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can.
INT: I’ll bring my map next time and have you show me that. But there are a lot of ruins on Talbot Island—a lot of old tabby structures that are there—one that is quite tall.
RDS: Yes. Down on the right hand side coming from the cemetery.
INT: What was that used for, Mr. Dennette?
RDS: I—I think they were stables—don’t know which one had ‘em down there, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they were. Pretty sure that’s what they were. You’ve seen all the pictures of the old hotel on the island, haven’t you?
INT: No, I’ve seen—well, just the pictures that are at Jacksonville University that are in the library there.
RDS: Have they got the hotel picture there?
INT: I don’t think so. I can’t remember. Whatever they have at the downtown public library and Jacksonville University, but there are not very many pictures. There’s very little that they have.
RDC: Well, I’ve got a picture of that hotel out there. Beautiful picture. All the names were of the people that—what you call ‘em—owned it—
INT: Oh yeah.
RDS: Oh, that long. I’ve also got a picture of those slave quarters out there when they were livable.
INT: Oh, I’d love to see that sometime.
RDS: Well, there’s no way in the world I could show you today because—but I’m goin’ to tell you though before you leave, I’ve also got a picture through the back of that island where there’s nothing but those palm trees. You know the bunch of palm trees on the back of that island?
INT: Uh huh.
RDS: Perfectly clean on both sides. Taken not too long after…well, anyhow. There was nothing but them trees. Must have been planted. I know the island was planted one time. I know that. Because I’ve heard my mother say that her mother used to live in the old brown house that was over her, anyhow, that you could stand right here and look right at the Homestead at Fort George Island.
INT: “The Homestead” meaning where the Kingsley house is--?
RDS: That’s right.
INT: You could see it. It was all clean across.
RDS: You could see right from the island here. That’s how the island growed up. Now—since then, you know.
INT: When you were a boy was it heavily wooded, or was it still clear?
RDS: Oh yes. Oh good Lord, yes.
INT: So it was never farmed then in your lifetime?
RDS: No. No. Only two or three people out there had, well, I’d say a regular farm. Old darkie by the name of Drummond used to live on the back road—he had a—oh I guess—place big as from here to that cedar tree over there. He used to plant in there. Actually the only one that I remember though—
INT: And Talbot—pardon me—
RDS: Talbot’s where they done the farming.
INT: But at—on Talbot Island, were they putting crops or is it just cattle, when you were growing up?
RDS: Oh no, they were putting in crops, too.
INT: What kind of crops did they grow there?
RDS: I swear I’m not going probably to answer that because I don’t know.
INT: But it was farmed?
RDS: Yes sir, it sure was. I imagine it was corn, stuff like that, was one of the main things so they could feed the cattle and hogs and things, you know. I don’t know..
INT: Uh huh.
RDS: Probably raised everything they were going to eat anyhow.
INT: Well, shall we stop for today?
RDS: Yeah, I think we’d better, because I got so damn much I gotta try to do. See all this stuff here gotta come off of here. Gotta get that son-in-law of mine down here and I’m gonna put him to work. I just had this yard cleaned up day before yesterday and I had a ditch cleaned out in the back down there—cost me $75.00.
INT: So you’ll put the son-in-law to work?
RDS: Oh yeah, well he does that when he come down. He works. He doesn’t fish.
Did You Know?
There is a formal partnership between the National Park Service, Florida Park Service, and City of Jacksonville called the Timucuan Trail State & National Parks. More...