Wednesday, December 18, 2019

St. Augustine 1911

George Miller Brown in St. Augustine, 1911

George Miller Brown was a cautious, soft-spoken man whose long-anticipated trip from New York City to Florida would be his first voyage since he arrived at Castle Garden from Scotland in 1871.

An industrialist named Henry C. Flagler, who organized the Florida East Coast Railway Company, had made train travel possible from New York to Miami since 1896.

But George wanted to depart from the new Pennsylvania Station, an astonishing marble temple designed by McKim, Mead & White, which opened its bronze doors in November 1910.

There could be no grander way to go.  Construction had lasted seven years and the building, with its vast concourse and soaring staircases, occupied four city blocks between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Pennsylvania Excavation by George Bellows
(Brooklyn Museum)

In March 1911 George boarded a sleeper headed to St. Augustine.

He could afford the vacation, if that’s what it was.  He had done well thanks to advertising sales, a growing field to put it mildly.  George first worked for Alexander T. Stewart, who established the world’s first department store on Broadway in 1848.  It too was a marble palace, five stories high.

Then George leapt to the Gair Company, founded by a fellow Scot and Civil War hero to boot.  Robert Gair invented paper bags and corrugated boxes.  He became a millionaire and George Miller Brown – well, he made a small fortune.

Map of Henry C. Flagler's Florida East 
Coast Railway, circa 1911. A Key West 
extension had not yet been completed.

When I first saw the colorized photograph of George, I wondered if he went all the way to St. Augustine to pose with the oranges.  The image has such a deliberate quality. 

It’s possible that he wanted to see an air show presented by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, which would have been a pretty big deal.  Ever since an international air meet in Reims in 1909, Americans had flocked to the shows in Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

In St. Augustine, the pioneer aviators James J. Ward and John Alexander Douglas McCurdy flew their planes up and down the south beach and over Matanzas Bay. Sadly, Ward would crash five months after the exhibition, but McCurdy went on to play an important part in airplane manufacturing during World War I.

James J. Ward in the Curtiss Transcontinental Flyer 
just before his death in September 1911

The airshow surely interested George. But no one spent time in St. Augustine without paying a visit to Dr. Garnett’s Orange Grove. 

In 1911 when George traveled south, Florida’s main industries were real estate, cigars, oranges, and sponges.  Tourism was creeping up.

To capitalize on the visitors, during the early 1900s Dr. Reuben Garnett, a doctor from Missouri who moved to St. Augustine in 1882 in search of a Catholic community, opened an orange grove on his property.  He brought in ladders and encouraged visitors to pick the oranges and stroll along paths lined with palm trees and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

Another visitor to Dr. Garnett's Orange Grove poses 
for his picture by Lewis W. Blair, circa 1911

In 1910, in a masterstroke, he hired a photographer, Lewis W. Blair, who snapped souvenir pictures of the tourists.

And folks, George brought his photograph back to New York.

"A Spray of Orange Blossoms"
illustration from Florida East Coast Homeowner, 1911

1 comment:

  1. This post is so full of one degree of separation with my paternal family. My grandfather worked on the Florida train extension through the Keys, he was also transported by train from there to NY when he he was badly injured in a grain elevator accident in Cuba.
    My great uncle was a balloonist who died in a racing balloon accident in 1923 - struck by lightning.
    And of course, my Dad was in the paper bag business. I always wondered when they were invented.


The Widow Nolen at Harvard

    Illustration from Harvard Celebrities (1901) William Whiting Nolen orbited Harvard for the better part of 43 years. During much of tha...