During World War II, Marjorie Barker left her home in Tennessee and traveled alone to Mexico City to marry her fiancee, Capt. Joseph P. Killebrew, an Army Air Corps bomber pilot. After several days of bureaucratic red tape, they were finally married on May 7, 1943. Their days together in Mexico were few. Joe had to return to duty in the Panama Canal Zone.
Shortly after they were married, Joe was assigned to Hayes, Kansas, for training on the new B-29 bombers. Marjorie joined Joe in Kansas for the few weeks of training before he was reassigned to China. During their time in Kansas, Marjorie met Lois, another pilot’s wife from Charleston, South Carolina. They became close friends – a bond that became even stronger after both husbands were killed. That friendship continued throughout their lives. Marjorie moved to St. Augustine, Florida, after the war – making it easier for the two women to keep in touch. Even after each remarried, it was not unusual for the two families to visit back and forth.
Our casual Florida lifestyle was very different from the structured society of Charleston, but it was fun to visit. I have many fond memories of casual visits and special events like debutante balls and weddings and still stay in touch with Lois’ children.
Little did we know back then that we had a family connection to Charleston that pre-dated the American Revolution.
In June of 1764, John Lewis Gervais arrived in Charleston with a letter of introduction by Richard Oswald, a wealthy Scotsman, to Henry Laurens. Gervais and Laurens already had something in common – both were Huguenots. Gervais was acting as an agent for Oswald to obtain farmland in South Carolina.
Gervais not only served Oswald’s interests, but also obtained his own grant of 5,000 acres in 1768 which he successfully developed and expanded over the years. In 1773 he married Mary Sinclair of Charleston. As was usual in those days, the Gervais family also kept a house in Charleston. John and Mary had nine children but only three lived to marry and have their own children.
Gervais was also involved in politics during the Revolution and as a Colonel in the Continental army he helped organize the defense of Charleston in 1780. Later he served in the Continental Congress and in the South Carolina legislature. He died in 1798 at the age of 57.
Of the three surviving children, two remained in Charleston. Claudia Butler Gervais married Robert J. Turnbull, the son of Dr. Andrew Turnbull who had built the New Symrna colony in Florida [see related articles below] and had moved to Charleston from St. Augustine. Paul Trapier Gervais married Martha Perry Jenkins and became an Episcopal minister in Charleston. Sinclair David Gervais married Katherine Olivia O’Keefe and moved the family – first to Mississippi and later to Texas. His descendants returned to Mississippi then on to Savannah, Georgia, and now down to St. Augustine.
One of those descendants, William Henry Barrett, Jr., married Marjorie Barker Killebrew and brought our Charleston connections together.
Heart and Soul of Florida, written by Elsbeth Gordon, looks at Florida’s “structures” and puts them into their historical context. It’s a look at Florida’s history through its buildings. These range from the pre-European Mount Royal to current religious and civic buildings – all beautifully represented in a number of photographs and illustrations. From the book’s description:
Gordon inspires the general and professional public to see Florida’s built environment as a rich continuum of history and identity that shaped and continues to impact Florida’s culture—from the mundane to the transcendent. These humanizing places, many of which endure permanently in the landscape, represent an “architecture of the soul.”
Elsbeth Gordon is a research associate at the Historic St. Augustine Research Institute and serves on the board of directors for the St. Augustine Archaeological Association. She is also the author of Florida’s Colonial Architectural Heritage.
In my teen years, nightlife revolved around two places – and both of them were drive-ins. One was a restaurant and the other was a theater.
Russell’s BBQ had a dirt parking lot shaded by a huge oak tree and the best french fries I ever put in my mouth. There were stools at a counter inside the restaurant, but most people ate in their car. Once the sun went down on Friday and Saturday nights, however, it became a social mecca for kids – a place to see and be seen. If you didn’t have a date, you went to see who else was loose. If you did have a date, you had to convince him to at least drive through so you could show him off. There was the occasional altercation, but in such a small town the police were never far away and things were settled quickly.
The San Marco Drive-In theater was already a fixture in town, but when our only walk-in theater closed (just as I was entering high school) the San Marco quickly realized they had a captured audience and immediately reduced their movie rental budget. After all, who went to the drive-in to watch a movie? I cannot name a single movie I watched there. If there was a movie that we REALLY HAD TO SEE, we would drive to a theater in Jacksonville to watch it.
Traffic at Russell’s was constantly changing throughout the evening, but the San Marco was a destination. And, while you were likely to find a number of cars with windows fogged up, the majority of kids were there to socialize. It wasn’t unusual to find groups forming between cars and around the snack bar. In the days before youth centers and teen nightclubs, this and high school dances were our primary forms of entertainment.
At both drive-ins the car was an important accessory. It was the era of the muscle car and while I don’t remember the names of some of the boys I had crushes on back then, I do remember their cars. The Oldsmobile 442 was cute – and surprised that I could handle a 4-speed. Then there was the home town boy with a Plymouth Barracuda fastback I met at a drive-in theater in Rome, Georgia, of all places. The Mustang Boss 302 was tall, dark and adorable but he was still carrying a torch for another girl.
It’s not surprising that the man I married was also driving a muscle car when we first met – many years after those drive-in days. Some things just never change.
. . . since Ponce de Leon paid his first visit to Florida. We’re having a party this week to celebrate that momentous event!
Old St. Augustine: A Story of Three Centuries (1886):
Don Diego de Quiroga y Losada, the governor of Florida in 1690, finding that the sea was making dangerous encroachments upon the shores of the town, and had reached even the houses, threatening to swallow them up, and render useless the fort which had cost so much to put in the state of completion in which it then was, called a public meeting of the chief men and citizens of the place, and proposed to them that in order to escape the danger which menaced them, and to restrain the force of the sea, they should construct a wall, which should run from the castle and cover and protect the city from all danger of the sea. The inhabitants not only approved of his proposal, but began the work with so much zeal, that the soldiers gave more than seventeen hundred dollars of their wages, although they were very much behind, not having been paid in six years; with which the governor began to make the necessary preparations, and sent forward a dispatch to the home government upon the subject.
The council of war of the Indies approved, in the following year, of the work of the sea wall, and directed the viceroy of New Spain to furnish ten thousand dollars for it, and directed that a plan and estimate of the work should be forwarded. Quiroga was succeeded in the governorship of Florida, by Don Laurenano de Torres, who went forward with the work of the sea wall, and received for this purpose the means furnished by the soldiers, and one thousand dollars more, which they offered besides the two thousand dollars, and likewise six thousand dollars which had come from New Spain, remitted by the viceroy, Count de Galleo, for the purpose of building a tower, as a look-out to observe the surrounding Indian settlements. Whether this tower was erected, or where, we have no certain knowledge. The towers erected on the governor’s palace and at the northeast angle of the fort, were intended as look-outs both sea and landward.
The statements made in reference to the building of this wall, from the castle as far as the city, confirms the opinion previously expressed, that the ancient and early settlement of the place was south of the public square, as the remains of the ancient sea wall extend to the basin at the Plaza. The top of this old sea wall is still visible along the center of Bay street, where it occasionally appears above the level of the street; and its general plan and arrangement are shown on several old maps and plans of the city. Upon a plan of the city made in 1665, it is represented as terminating in a species of break-water at the public square. It is unnecessary to add that the present sea wall is a much superior structure to the old, and extends above twice the distance. Its cost is said to have been one hundred thousand dollars, and it was building from 1837 to 1843.
In the year 1700, the work on the sea wall had progressed but slowly, although the governor had employed thirty stone-cutters at a time, and had eight yoke of oxen drawing stone to the landing, and two lime-kilns all the while at work. But the money previously provided, and considerable additional funds was requisite, resembling in this respect its successor. The new governor, De Cuniza, took the matter in hand, as he had much experience in fortifications. The defenses of the fort are spoken of as being at the time too weak to resist artillery, and the sea wall as being but a slight work.
Reynolds, Charles B. Old St. Augustine A Story of Three Centuries. Thomas and Georgine Mickler collection. St. Augustine, Fla: E.H. Reynolds, 1886. <http://purl.fcla.edu/fcla/tc/fhp/CF00001708.pdf>.
Azaleas, Cherokee rose and Confederate jasmine have been blooming for a while. Our lemon tree is just beginning to bloom and the smell is divine.
I love old glass. It’s probably an inherited trait because most of my current collection comes from my mother’s family. From heritage crystal and cut glass to various vintages of souvenir glasses to old medicine bottles, I treasure it all. I also have a very nice collection of old glass insulators – like the blue one on the right in this photo.
Glass insulators originated before the Civil War with the advent of the telegraph. Something was needed to keep the wire from grounding out against the wooden poles and glass was the answer. There were all kinds of insulators developed over the years. Although there is a large community of collectors, most varieties are a dime a dozen these days – including all of mine. I still love them – the shapes and colors add interest to a displayed collection of bottles and a touch of nostalgia.
One of our local shopkeepers has found a way to turn these dime-a-dozen insulators into a fun collectible. He adds squiggles and swirls of wire with all kinds of glass beads to make a quirky object d’ art he calls an alien signal receptor. For those too young to know what a glass insulator is, these are unique – and very cool – souvenirs of their trip to Florida. I’m amused to watch these pieces of whimsy fly off his shelves.
When we decided to build our bottle tree, we knew from the beginning that there was only one thing that could top our masterpiece – our own version of an alien signal receptor. Over the years, the honeysuckle and wild grape have destroyed the “orbits” of the various
beads satellites circling the mother ship, but the blue insulator still reigns from its place of honor in the back yard.
The church that is now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine was not built until after the American Revolution and Florida returned to Spanish control. Previous parish churches were destroyed during British attacks. The first Mass in this church was celebrated for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1797. It wasn’t until 1870 when the Diocese of St. Augustine was created that this church would become the Cathedral for the new diocese. Unfortunately, a fire in 1887 would destroy this church too, but a nationwide fund-raising campaign rebuilt it with the additions of transcepts and the bell tower seen here.