Fort George Hotel and Start of a Movement

Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve


Hi everybody I'm ranger Fiona and I'm here at Kingsley Plantation. Today we're near the site of the old Fort George hotel in my background we've got some tall trees and vegetation we have green grass around the landscape and we've got clear blue skies today. I'm wearing a floor-length skirt a blouse that has long sleeves and a really high neck and I've got a boater hat on top of my head you won't find many women dressed like this on Fort George island today but if we took a journey back in time this is almost exactly what the women that were on the island would have been dressed like. Around the turn of the century entrepreneurs tried to take advantage of the natural beauty and the warm climate of the island and they tried to turn this into a weekend haven for local elites and also a refuge for northerners that were trying to escape the cold weather. So all of the fashionable elites of the time would have been dressed like this when they visited the island now the neat thing about fashion is that it tells part of a national conservation story we see history woven into the trends of the time the one thing that might look different about me if we traveled back in time is my hat if this were 1880 my hat may have had feathers on on the rim or I might if I had a lot of money and really wanted to impress my friends I may have an entire taxidermy bird on top of my head. Now this was a time when people became fascinated with the outside world they viewed nature as something that was integral to your health so if you were to visit somebody's house they might have a collection of bones, shells, feathers, they might have big bay windows that let in lots of natural light they may have a plant collection and this fascination with the outdoor world also translated into fashion which is where the plumed hat craze came into play. Now the problem with this fascination with plumed hats is that it exploited and plundered bird populations bird populations across the us but especially in Florida were absolutely decimated. If you were a plume hunter during this time you were making a lot of money because at one point plumes were worth more than twice their weight in gold but this was a bad thing for birds because if you were to walk down a street in any major city at that time you might see more birds on people's hats than you would have seen in the trees. In 1888 the Fort George hotel burned down and dreams of turning the island into a booming tourist economy faded away and around the same time we start to see a national conservation movement pick up steam people were reading about all of the destruction of native bird populations and some people were so disturbed that they decided that they would do something about it and two of these women were Boston socialites named Harriet Hemingway and Minna B. Hall the two decided that they would host tea parties and when they invited women over to these tea parties they would encourage them to boycott wearing plumed hats at the same time they encouraged them to join a society that would advocate for the protection of birds the two soon established the Massachusetts Audubon society and local state and national organizations soon followed and this is the same Audubon society that we know and is still active to this day. In the early 1900s birds began to gain some protection that were there were laws that were put into place that protected birds you see Theodore Roosevelt establishing the first wildlife refuge in the united states right here in Florida and states begin to imply employ game wardens the laws that protected birds were great but if you didn't have anybody there to enforce them it didn't really mean much because some wild areas in Florida were basically like the wild west one of these game wardens was employed in south Florida and his name was Guy Bradley while on the job trying to protect birds Guy Bradley was murdered by two plume hunters so he effectively lost his life for the cause the two that were accused of murdering him were acquitted of the charge and this made national headlines and it caused outrage across the country. Soon after in 1918 you see the introduction of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and this remains to this day one of the strongest protections for migratory birds luckily for us we have all of these early conservationists to thank for their work in helping to protect birds and today Fort George island is protected mostly as park service property so if you visit the island today you can see a lot of natural birds thriving in their natural habitat and the neat thing about this story is that this is a conservation story that was started by a few women organizing tea parties and we see over 400 local chapters of the Audubon Society to this day.


Discover a tale of conservation in the resort era of the island history.


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