Book Review-Florida East Coast Railway

Florida’s East Coast Railway written by Seth H. Bramson

Bramson, Seth H. Florida East Coast Railway (FL) (Images of Rail). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2006. 128 pages, b/w photos. ISBN 9780738543413, $21.99.

The lure of the railroad is still strong in both old and young. The lure for author Seth H. Bramson is almost incurable. For those in Florida the railroad of note is the Florida East Coast Railway for which Mr. Bramson is the official historian.

What railroad enthusiasts will find here is standard Arcadia Publishing fare. 128 pages loaded with black and white photos. The descriptions of the photos are certainly adequate but not in depth due to space restraints.

Subjects include the Key West extension, boom and bankruptcy, World War 2, the end of bankruptcy, the nearly decade long union strike and management at the time of publication.

For the goal of this book it is certainly top notch. The photos are reproduced well which is not always the case in Arcadia titles. The majority of photos are from the author’s collection which in some cases could be a problem but not here. Bramson’s collection is rivaled only by his knowledge of the subject.

If you are looking for a “history” of the Florida East Coast Railway I would suggest look for the author’s book Speedway to Sunshine: The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway. I would also suggest a visit to Mr. Bramson’s website.

Recommended for those with an interest in rail history or those who live in a town served by the FEC.


Book Review-Totch: A Life in the Everglades

Totch: A Life in the Everglades

Brown, Loren G. “Totch”. Totch: A Life in the Everglades. Gainesville, University Press of Florida 1993. B/w photos. 269 pages. ISBN 9780813012285, $17.95.

Totch tells the story of Loren G. Brown. Brown gained the nickname Totch from his namesake Loren McCoy. McCoy was nicknamed either “Tots” or “Tosh” and the name evolved into Totch.

Totch was raised in south Florida spending the majority of his youth around Everglades City and also Chokoloskee Island. His father held jobs ranging from taxidermist to coffee shop owner. By age 13 young Totch had purchased his first boat and by 14 was working as a professional fisherman.

At age 18 Totch married the 14-year-old Estelle Demere (the Queen of the Everglades as she is referred to many times). They started a family, dealt with the tragedy of the death of a child, and suffered through World War II. Totch served in the Army and was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war Totch spent a lot of his life as a fisherman and we read about his exploits and adventures.


Totch and his dog “Troubles.” Every dog the Brown family had was named Troubles.

The problem is Totch does not come off as a likeable or sympathetic person to me. Much of his life was spent on the wrong side of the law including illegally hunting alligators and also running drugs from South America. To me his half-hearted apologies rang hollow. His adoration of his wife also didn’t come off as completely authentic either. Totch also had much to say about scientists and the National Park Service. Having lived in the area he, of course, felt he knew more than they did. The two sides had different goals so who knows which was correct.

It is important to remember that this story comes from a different time and place than any of us are familiar with. That said there were millions of law-abiding citizens who lived through the same hard times that Totch and his family did.

I didn’t find this to be the most engaging book I have read recently but it did keep moving. For those wanting to read about a man who lived in the wilds of south Florida or to read about what life might have been like in the early 20th century in Florida this is a book to consider. While not for everybody this is a book that anybody wanting to learn about the Everglades should take a look at. After all, it is written by a man who live in the area for almost his entire life.

Brown died in 1996. An online memorial to him can be found here.

Book Review-Central Florida Thoroughbreds

Central Florida Thoroughbreds

Johnson, Charlene R. Central Florida Thoroughbreds: A History of Horses in the Heart of Florida (Sports History). Charleston, The History Press. 2014. 176 pages, 167 pages of text. Index, bibliography, b/w photos. ISBN 9781626190757, $19.99.

Take a drive through Marion County, Florida and you will see many beautiful horse farms. With the geography and climate of the area it would be easy to think that these farms, and winning race horses, have been here for a long time. That isn’t the case however and in her new book Central Florida Thoroughbreds, author Charlene R. Johnson sets out to tell the story of how the area came to be home to more than 400 farms, more than 35,000 thoroughbreds and is an economic engine generating more than $2 billion in overall impact.

With the legalization of parimutuel gambling in June 1931 as a way to raise tax revenue the industry was set to take off. Johnson discusses early pioneers in the state such as Carl Rose, Jimmy Bright, Elmer Heubeck, Joe O’Farrell and others. The constant thread of Kentucky breeding versus Florida breeding runs throughout the book especially as Florida horses begin to have more and more success on a national stage.

Florida thoroughbreds such as Needles, a sickly horse that ultimately won the 1956 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Dr. Fager and later Affirmed, the first Triple Crown winner from Florida are discussed in detail. Breeding stock and the development of strong bloodlines was key for Florida to earn the respect of the bluebloods from Kentucky.

While the industry continued to grow the period of the 1970s and 80s was considered a boom time. Land and horse prices continued to rise. Specialty industries such as equine veterinarians flourished and feed stores popped up to fill the needs of the many farms. Changes to tax laws and shifts in foreign exchange rates led to a large crash in the late 1980s. Many large farms folded and jobs were lost. Out of this ruble the industry changed: smaller farms took the place of the massive acreages from before and pinhooking, the art of buying a young horse with the intention of reselling it as it matures, became more common. The advances of the internet have had multiple effects on the industry. Information is available immediately rather than having to wait for industry newspapers and magazines. On a negative side for the industry gambling faces more competition as entertainment options, including online gambling, have increased. While the Kentucky Derby is still massively attended more localized tracks have seen attendance and revenue tumble with much consolidation having taken place.

While not a difficult book to read I found myself often losing track of names both human and equine. As with all History Press titles this one is well illustrated with vintage and modern photos. The bibliography is less than one page and there are no notes. For anybody interested in a primer on the thoroughbred industry this is a book you should give consideration to. You can’t do better for the price.


World War I-Lee Wheeler Pitzer

Born January 1, 1900 to parents George R. and Cora E. Pitzer, Lee Wheeler Pitzer lived just 18 years but in that short time made an impact on almost everybody he met.

Lee’s father, George R., ran the profitable Pitzer Furniture and Hardware, Co. located in New Smyrna. In 1910 the business had $10,000 in capital stock. This financial freedom allowed Cora to travel to her home state of New York on a yearly basis. Lee would join her during the summer and return in time to start school in the fall. They would leave Jacksonville and take a boat to New York City and then head to Rochester for vacation.

Lee was what might be called an all American boy. He was quite popular and according to the local newspaper was quite an athlete. In 1916 while attending high school he and others participated in a track and field meet held in Gainesville. It was reported that he did exceedingly well and it was lamented that track was not a more important sport because he could achieve great things.

In addition to his athletic abilities Lee was an ambitious student who was often on the high school honor roll and graduated in 1918 with high honors. Lee was active in social activities while in school and was a member of the Literary Society, where he served as Sergeant at Arms. He was also a participant in several plays including his senior class play, Home ties, a rural play in four acts, in which he played the role of Harold Vincent. Religion was also important to Lee and he was an active member of Trinity Methodist Church.

Lee held himself to a high standard and had a goal of attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. While a senior in high school he was notified of a being a first alternate for the entrance exam which he took on April 16, 1918. Despite not attaining entry Lee continued to pursue education.

In October 1918 Lee entered Akron University as part of the Student Army Training Corps. Her he started a course of study in civil engineering. By Thanksgiving however Lee was sick and in early December his family received a telegram from the University telling of his serious illness. His brother George arrived before Lee’s passing but despite her best efforts his mother arrived too late. Ever the brave young man it was reported that when asked if he would like a minister to pray with him he replied: “It’s all right with me” before repeating the phrase “Jesus, lover of my soul” before breathing his last. It was determined that a case of influenza, which developed into pneumonia was responsible for Lee’s untimely passing.


The headstone of Private Lee Wheeler Pitzer. Edgewater-New Smyrna Cemetery. Photo: the author.

The body of Lee Wheeler Pitzer was accompanied back to Florida by his brother George and his grief-stricken mother. The family was met by a squad of members from the local home guard company who remained with the body until burial. Funeral services were held at Trinity Methodist Church, with services led by Reverends T. L. Klutz, R. A. George and B. F. Green. The body was laid to rest, with full military honors including three volleys from a firing squad and the playing of Taps, in what was then known as Hawks Park Cemetery, now Edgewater-New Smyrna Cemetery. In a sad reminder of the potential lost, a telegram in March 1919 arrived with word that Lee was again chosen as an alternate to take the Naval entrance exam to be held in April.

In his memory the New Smyrna Beach High School Literary Society published a proclamation in honor of “our beloved classmate” and the school flag was flown at half-mast for a week.

To quote a December 20, 1918 memorial to the young soldier: “Disease mustered him out here, but God has mustered him in there, where he will serve a better cause under a better captain.”



1910 United States Census

New Smyrna News-various issues 1916-1919

World War 1 Enlistment Records available online


Southeast Volusia County World War I Project

July 28, 1914 was the start of a war that became known as the Great War and later World War I. By the time fighting ended in November 1918 there were close to 40 million casualties with over 9 million dead, mass destruction had occurred throughout large parts of the earth leaving people homeless and hungry, and as a result many countries were broken apart only to be formed into new ones.

Southeast Volusia County proudly played a role in sending men to the United States armed forces. In recognition of World War I, I am going to attempt to piece together the history of many of those locals who served during the war. With the help of online databases and other sources I will try to provide information on the men who left our small peaceful area potentially to see battle in lands they would never have seen otherwise.

If you have a relative who is from the Southeast Volusia County area and they were a participant in the Great War please get in touch. I would love to hear and share their story. I would be grateful for any photos you could share of these men. You will receive full credit in the photo caption.

The war lasted over four years and this project may very well go that long or longer depending on the what I find, my free time to work on this and the number of men I end up researching. If there is somebody you are interested in please let me know and I will see what I can find.

I hope you enjoy this series and please let me know what you think.

Are You Ready For Some Football

All this soccer (sometimes called football but not too often in the United States) had me thinking…ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL? Well I came across a neat little article in the October 27, 1938 New Smyrna Beach Daily News that should help get your mind racing toward college pigskin action. The transcript is below.

Erskine Captain

Jack Herring, graduate of New Smyrna Beach High School and the son of Mr. and Mrs. F. H. Herring of Coronado Beach, is captain of the Flying Fleet Erskine College football team, which will play the Stetson Hatters in Deland Friday night.

Herring, who has played well in the backfield this year, is a Senior at the college and is playing his second year for the school. He is known as a shifty runner and a good defensive man.

Erskine has defeated Stetson for the past two years.


Erskine may have been riding a two-year win streak against Stetson but the Hatters came out strong and won the 1938 contest by a score of 33-14. Overall for 1938 Stetson had a good year with a final record of 6-2-1.

Brady Cowell, Stetson University football coach 1935-1948.

Brady Cowell, Stetson University football coach 1935-1948.

The coach for the Hatters was a gentleman by the name of Brady Cowell. Cowell was no stranger to head coaching. Cowell was born in 1899 and attended Kansas State Agricultural College where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. Cowell coached high school football for two years before moving to take the head coach position for the University of Florida freshman team. He later served as an assistant coach for the UF varsity team and also coached their basketball team.

By 1935 Cowell was in Deland serving as head football coach for the Stetson University Hatters; a position he held from 1935-1948. He also served as athletic director at this time. He coached the men’s basketball team on three different occasions as well. Despite hanging up the cleats in 1948 Cowell continued as Stetson athletic director until 1968. He was later elected to the Stetson Sports Hall of Fame and is also a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame (even though they have his name spelled incorrectly on their website).


2013-09-19 16.30.18

Photo of Jack Herring from the October 27, 1938 New Smyrna Beach News.

As for Frederick Jackson Herring; he was born on January 23, 1915 to Fred and Hilda (Ellenberg) Herring. Fred and Hilda were married in Lowndes County, GA on August 10, 1912. Fred became employed by the Florida East Coast Railway and the family moved with regularity. In 1920 the family was living in St. Augustine and Jack had an older sister named Hilda and a younger brother named Alvis.  By 1940 Jack was married to Elizabeth Boleman, who was born March 4, 1920, and they were living as boarders at a home in Greenwood, South Carolina. Jack was working as a bank teller with an income of around $1,200 a year.

Jack passed away on December 7, 1972 and Elizabeth passed away on August 30, 1992. An online memorial for Jack is here. A memorial for Elizabeth, who later remarried, is here.


Brother Wilson Alvis passed away in 2007 and is buried in Jacksonville, FL. An online memorial is available here. His rather long obituary from the April 27, 2007 Chronicle Tribune is posted below.


Rev. Wilson Alvis Herring Born on December 6, 1917 and died on April 22, 2007. Son of Frederick H. Herring and Hilda Rebecca Ellenberg Herring, longtime residents of New Smyrna Beach, FL. After a long life of ministry and service including pastorates, child care work, teaching and mechanical work, Wilson Alvis Herring went to his loving Heavenly Father early on April 22, 2007 from Franklin, Indiana. He was ordained a Baptist minister in Florida in 1948 and held several pastorates in California. His life goal was in the child care field being an Assistant Superintendent, Executive Director and Field Representative of Children’s Homes in four different locations. He held a teaching credential in the State of California and taught the educably mentally handicapped in public schools at the middle school level. In 1941, Alvis graduated with an AB degree from Stetson University in Florida where he also enjoyed participating in Stetson’s concert choir and student opera presentations, returning to his alma mater for a 50th anniversary reunion in 1991. He studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville Kentucky, taking classes in Bible, missions, and theology, which were so enriching and maturing for a young preacher. During this period of time, he pastured a rural church in southern Indiana.Courses for premedical requirements were taken at the University of Louisville and at Little Rock Junior College, Arkansas, in view of becoming a medical missionary. Later, Alvis took classes in education through Fresno State University, California, and obtained one of the last lifetime teaching credentials the State of California issued. At various times during his life, he worked as a journeyman electrician on federal and commercial construction installations including the Naval Base at Key West, Florida and Hanford Engineer Works in Washington State. He retired from First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida as a cabinet-maker. Alvis and Barbara traveled during retirement years, steamboating on the Mississippi River and cruising to Alaska and through the Panama Canal. It was their pleasure to motor through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina as well as the highlands of Vermont and New Hampshire for the colorful fall season. Out of doors was a delight, beginning with being a counselor and waterfront director at boy’s camps. Swimming and diving were a very special part of his life from childhood. Camping, fishing and hiking with his family were some of his pleasures. He loved Bible study and reading, singing and joking with family and friends. Alvis was predeceased by a sister, Hilda E. Welch, husband E. W. “Bud” Welch and brother, F. Jackson Herring, wife Elizabeth B. Herring. His devoted wife of 64 years, Barbara Nininger Herring survives him as do his sons and daughters, Jack C. Herring, wife Janice Dugger Herring of Whiteland IN, Beverly Jill Helson, husband Ron Helson of Ojai CA, Rebecca L. Doll, late husband Thomas Doll, and Kevin Neal Herring, wife Colleen Wirz Herring all of Bakersfield CA. Also remaining are grandchildren Kimberly Anthony of Indianapolis, Julie Hughes of Charlotte NC, Erin Doll of Salt Lake City UT, Phillip Doll of Arroyo Grande CA, Mathew Doll, Michael Herring and Barbara Herring all of Bakersfield CA. One granddaughter, Lisa Lynn Lockhart formerly of Greenwood IN, is deceased. His living family also includes 7 great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A memorial service is pending at Church of the Lakes, Nineveh Indiana with Rev. Bruce Bendinger officiating.





Book Review-The Barefoot Mailman

Pratt, Theodore. The Barefoot Mailman. Port Salerno: Florida Classics Library. 215 pages, ISBN 0912451327, $8.95.


The Barefoot Mailman written by Theodore Pratt.

Each state has certain books and authors that are forever associated with it. When you think of Florida there are several authors that immediately come to mind: Patrick Smith, Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, and John D. McDonald are certainly up there. After having read The Barefoot Mailman I would suggest that Theodore Pratt be put in that category as well.

This quick reading story focuses on Steven, a young man who has just taken over a mail route in southern Florida in the era before trains made transportation easier.

Throughout the book we meet many characters who help advance the story. We see Steven develop as a man as he matures both in work and in love. There is a love triangle that along with shady land development play major parts of the story. The island of Hypoluxo and its rightful owner are determined as well.

As a historian I was interested in the history/story of what a barefoot mailman did and how. Much of that is covered as are the dangers of the job both natural and human. The book tells some of what early south Florida must have been like though I have no doubt there was literary license taken.

Overall this is a good book that is easy to read. While maybe not the best written book ever and character development could have used some work I never found myself being bored or just wanting it to be over. For a fiction book that is more than half the battle. This is a book that should be on the shelf of anybody with an interest in Florida history or fiction.


Barefoot mailman and foot passengers as depicted in West Palm Beach post office mural. Courtesy: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Book Review–The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet

Taylor, Thomas W. The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet: A History of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse.  Allandale: Self Published, 1993. Bibliography, b/w photos. 53 pages. ISBN 9781885853004.

Cover for the book The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet.

Lighthouses have continued to hold the interest of a large number of Americans. Just look at the number of items available for sale with lighthouse images on them. The image doesn’t even have to be a real lighthouse to make it sell.

In The Beacon of Mosquito Inlet, author Thomas W. Taylor gives a very brief introductory history to the tallest lighthouse in the state of Florida. Brevity is both a blessing and a curse.

The brevity of the book is a blessing in that it can be easily read in one sitting. For those looking for just a brief primer on the lighthouse this is perfect. There is not a large amount of detail to bog a reader down. There are some photos included with quality varying probably due to the original. I think this brevity is the goal of the book and if so it succeeds.

For those looking for more in-depth information however this is not going to satisfy. While the “killer inlet” legend is discussed there is more to be told and the stories included could have been told in more depth. The first lighthouse from the 1830s receives a brief discussion. The building of the current tower is covered but again there could have been more. I would have liked to know more about the keepers. There is a nice listing of keepers and assistant keepers that I found to be valuable but more information on these men would have been appreciated. The daily life and chores of keepers receive brief mention but a discussion of these chores and the isolated life that the keepers led early in the lighthouse’s history should have been included. The lives of children receive mention but again the history of these youngsters would have put a lot of insight into what it was like to live the life of a keeper and family. A more technical covering of the types of lights should have been included. The electrification of the tower and the effects of it are only glanced at as is the importance of the tower during World War II. The story of the tower being reactivated seems to have needed a more in depth discussion.

For what it is this booklet covers the basics. I doubt many readers, including many who say they are interested in lighthouses, would be looking for too much more. There is however a segment of the market that would appreciate an updated and more in depth treatment of this Volusia County landmark. From what I have found this may be the only work on the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse around. As for availability it is a bit tough to find and does not appear on the website for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. If you live in Volusia County check your local library or request it through inter-library loan.

American Aero Services Open House


The entrance to American Aero Services.

On January 4, 2014 American Aero Services hosted an open house, inviting the folks of New Smyrna Beach and the surrounding areas to visit and see what they are all about. From their website AAS is “A restoration and maintenance facility serving the WarBird community for over 28 years. Aircraft, Military Vehicles, Armor, Missiles and Rockets. Complete restorations, repairs, maintenance and annual inspections.” After having visited the site it is easy to see how they have been in business for so long. Owner Gary Norville has put together a great team of mechanics and anybody else who is needed to bring a vintage plane back to life.

One of the many restored planes on display during the Open Hangar Day at American Aero Services. Photo: Robert Redd

One of the many restored planes on display during the Open Hangar Day at American Aero Services. Photo: Robert Redd

It was neat to get to see some of the planes they have worked on and to see what goes into the restoration effort. Also onsite is a small but interesting museum that has flight and war related items. To see photos of some of the planes that were on display please click here. I need to go back and buy a shirt at the museum.

This is a really neat and hidden gem located at the New Smyrna Airport at 1501 Airway Circle. If you are in the area you should stop by and see the museum. The rest of the property will probably be off limits but check their website or Facebook page for information on future Open Hangar Days.

Stephen Crane Boat Crash

Stephen A. Crane

Stephen A. Crane


SS Commodore

Today marks the anniversary of the SS Commodore sinking off the coast of Ponce Inlet in 1897. Aboard during this accident was a young Stephen Crane. Three men made it to shore including Crane. Crane spent time at Lilian Place and later penned the story The Open Boat (available free online here.).

I have not done enough research on this to write a post I am comfortable with. Fellow blogger Denny Bowden has a very nice post that I can recommend. If you are interested in reading more on the subject please click here.


books and lectures

Volusia History

Retracing Florida's Past

Civil War Florida

Discussing the history of Southeast Volusia County featuring the cities of New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Oak Hill, and others in the area.

Pacific Paratrooper

This site is Pacific War era information

Confederate Book Review

Discussing the history of Southeast Volusia County featuring the cities of New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Oak Hill, and others in the area.

Southeast Volusia History

Discussing the history of Southeast Volusia County featuring the cities of New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater, Oak Hill, and others in the area.