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Also I'm attaching a picture of the Arch Creek house of Asa Wilcox. Standing in front of the house in the middle are Asa Wilcox and his wife Mary Elizabeth Strong. Somewhere I have the names of the other people in the picture. I will have to do some digging - I'll get it to you later.
The Arch Creek Florida – Elmira Connection
by Louise JOHNS Neu
For many years I have wondered what led to the fact that my father’s family went to Florida every winter. I knew that the family was not rich so I thought it was strange that they would pack up and go to Florida every winter. It seemed even more strange knowing that my grandfather had died at the age of 49 when my father was only 13 years old and the family still went to Florida every winter. I remember my father telling about driving the family to Florida as just a young boy but not details of why they went or what they did.
I finally got the opportunity to do some research in Miami about a year ago and I feel that what I discovered should be shared with other people on the Tri-County Genealogical and History site.
In the Miami library I found the following book "Biscayne Country 1870 – 1926" by Thelma Peters published in 1981 by Banyan Books, Inc. Miami, Florida. In Chapter Eight of this book Mrs. Peters discusses "Arch Creek and the Prairie Farmers". It states that although NE 125th Street is currently the main business street of North Miami back in 1903 this area was the town named Arch Creek. The Arch Creek depot was built in 1903 and was the center of a community that included stores, packinghouses, a post office, church and school. The prairies attracted truck farmers. In the book is a picture of a sign when you entered Arch Creek – the sign reads "You are now in Arch Creek – First settled by people from Elmira, New York in 1899. The Elmira Grove, ½ mile North, is one of the largest and the first planted in Dade County." Mrs. Peters explains that from 1900 – 1926 Arch Creek grew as an agricultural community due partly to the efforts of Fred C. Miller who placed advertisements in Elmira and Northern Pennsylvania for "everyone his own grapefruit grove". Mrs. Peters says this of the Elmirans "they were thrifty middleclass people with a sense of adventure. A winter in Florida was still exotic to them and to their friends. To spend that winter without being out-of-pocket – that was the challenge. Raising a few acres of tomatoes was one way of doing this; tomatoes were seasonal and many of the wives enjoyed working in the packinghouses. By May the season ended and the Elmirans went north, where most of them owned homes. It was a good life while it lasted – except of course for the occasional droughts and freezes that made tomato growing something of a gamble."
Was I surprised as I read further into the chapter to find a picture of my Great Grandparents – Mr and Mrs Asa Wilcox – spending their first winter in Arch Creek (1901-1902) in a tent in an area called Orange Glade the year before joining the Elmira Colony at Arch Creek. It stated that they built a home on property they purchased at Arch Creek and planted pineapples and a citrus grove. Their daughter Pearl lived in that house her whole life and it now is one of the oldest homes in North Miami. I’m sure that when their daughter Mary’s husband died (my grandfather Johns) and she had 5 children to take care of – going to Florida in the winter to raise vegetables and make some additional money during the winter kept the family going. I’m sure the children as well as her parents worked together. This continued until Asa and his wife died at Arch Creek in 1924. Both are buried in Mosherville Cemetery, Wells Township, Bradford County, PA.
While at the library in Miami I discovered that their special collections area had some papers on Arch Creek so I took the time to go through the collection. Below is a wonderful account of one of the Elmirans – Mrs Florence Miller – gave of her first winter in Florida. I have copied her story and am providing it word for word below. I’d just like to say – how many of us would go on an adventure like this for our honeymoon!!!!!
My First Winter in Florida – by Florence Miller
In the spring of 1899 a New York State young man, Fred C. Miller, took an option on 350 acres of land at Arch Creek, Florida, owned by Florida East Railway.
In November of that same year he and my Cousin Will (Miller) loaded a freight card with what would be needed for farming, for clearing timber land, and for living in a wild unsettled country. Last to be loaded were 2 horses and a man to care for them; then the car was on its way.
Early in December, Fred and I were married, and with Cousin Will (Miller) took passage by boat from Baltimore to Savannah, thence by rail to Jacksonville. From there down, the train over the Florida East Coast Railway made regular stops to load on wood for engine fuel. It was not long before everything in the car was covered with wood ashes.
Miami had been having a siege with yellow fever and was still quarantined, so on reaching Lemon City, a Miami suburb, we were told that we had gone as far as allowed. However, the train crew were immune, so they took the train on into the city.
It was 11:30 that night, with a beautiful moon, when we stepped off carrying our luggage, and made our way over a slippery sand road, through a vast expanse of scrub palmettos, quite some distance to the hotel. The building appeared to be of recent construction, just a framework sided with unpainted boards.
Mother Carey, the wife of the owner, opened the door to us, carrying an uplifted candle. She immediately informed us that she had a bed for the lady; after many changes a bed was provided for all.
I was grateful to find a pitcher of clean water, a bowl and a pail in our room. Will had been assigned to a room with four others, so he brought his watch and purse to us for safe keeping. Then all was quiet until 5:00 the next morning when Fred and Will took the northbound train to look for our freight car.
At breakfast, served by Father Carey, with portions of his egg still clinging to his beard, I found some interesting people waiting to get into Miami. Among them was a Mrs. Berry from Kentucky, who later built a home at Ojus; also Frederick Morse, a Miami real estate dealer, who informed me that Florida was no place for women, just fit for men and dogs. Later, however, he gave me valuable advice and assistance in many ways.
Mrs. Berry and I visited all the nearby fruit groves, finding everyone friendly and wanting to treat us to many tropical fruits hitherto unknown to us. We soon had quite a collection in our rooms. Captain Pierce, a retired Sea Captain who lived nearby and was caring for a tomato patch on the beach, invited us to go with him on his sailboat. He furnished us with pails, which we soon filled with shells. They were beautiful, with bright, fresh colors, plentiful and of great variety. I filled the dresser drawers in my room with them not knowing that they were inhabited. In a short time I was wiser, and carried my shells outside.
The only houses on the beach were the House of Refuge, where a family lived who were prepared at all times to assist in any wrecks, and a building which housed the emergency boat. For convenience in launching, a long ramp extended to the water. The Refuge family were caring for a citrus grove on the mainland.
After a few days, Fred came after me. They had located the freight card on a siding a couple of miles south of Arch Creek, as Arch Creek had no station or siding. With the horses and heavy wagon they had hauled the freight to the campsite.
At camp I found a large tent containing a living room and dining table on one side, kitchen on the other, separated by a closet and cupboard. Pine logs covered with boards made the floor, and the sides were boarded up a couple of feet. Canvas tent sides were hooked to the canvas roof and hung over the board sides.
Two tents provided sleeping quarters for the family and one for the colored help, with a log shed covered with pine boughs for the horses. A water barrel was kept filled by a force pump.
The men were soon ploughing and planting potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Rough lemon seeds were planted for stock on which to bud grapefruit.
Clearing of timberland came next, to get ready for a citrus grove. The acreage was partly covered with pine trees and palmettos, suitable for citrus growing, and the lower land, the prairie, was suited to vegetables.
The prairie was overflowed yearly by the Everglades, the border of which was only a few miles to the west. This yearly overflow washed out all acid left in the soil by the tomatoes, making it possible to grow the same crops on the same soil year after year. At all times the water was only a few feet below the surface. A curduroy road, built of logs covered with soil, crossed the prairie to make a useable road during the rainy season. The roadside ditches were filled with minnows, which we caught with a dipnet and used for bait when fishing from the Natural Bridge.
This location was called Arch Creek because of the nearby creek, which had its origin in the Everglades and was fed by springs along its way until it reached the rock ledge. There the banks were high and covered with oaks and air plants. The Natural Bridge was arched under for passage of the water, and the highway passed over. The creek was full of fish and alligators. Nearby was a large pile of conch shells, showing that the Indians had been there.
A short distance west of the bridge was an elevation, into which we dug. We found skeletons buried on a level in a circle, head in and feet out. An apparently perfect skull would crumble when exposed to the air. There were shells on the skeletons, flat shells arranged as a necklace would be, a large one on the breast and smaller ones toward the neck. Each shell had two holes, as for a cord or string, but whatever had held them was gone.
To keep our colored help contented and willing, I prepared a simple but nourishing meal for them twice daily, which they carried to their table at their tent. One day I overheard one of them say, "Such rich food am making me fat."
It was a full day’s trip to Miami, where we drove for supplies. In Miami were the Royal Palm Hotel at the mouth of the Miami River, the First National Bank, the Presbyterian Church, and others. Among the stores were the E. B. Douglas dry goods, Budge’s hardware, Sewell’s bakery; over Burdine and Quarterman’s were the offices of Mr. Blackman publisher of The Florida Homeseeker, and of Frederick Morse, real estate.
Across the river from the Royal Palm Hotel was the home of the Brickell family. They owned a thick hammock extending from the Bay to the Cocoanut Grove Highway. In these woods were wild oranges, lemons, and orchids growing on trees.
A bridge crossed the river at Avenue D. From there on a narrow, hard surfaced road, bordered with a dense growth of tropical trees and shrubs, led to Cocoanut Grove.
At Cocoanut Grove were a few houses. At the edge of the Bay was a bubbling spring of fresh water, and out in the Bay, some distance from shore, a water pipe had been driven, with a pitcher pump on top, where boats could stop for fresh water.
Some days we shopped at Lemon City dock, where a boat came weekly with groceries from Key West.
The road through the Little River prairie might turn out to have been planted with tomatoes since last we traveled it; in that case, we just went around. If a bag of fertilizer had been dropped near the road, it was left for the owner to find; no one took what did not belong to him.
In the spring the big flies came as big as bumblebees. The horses suffered from their bites, one of which would cause a stream of blood to run down a horse’s leg. Fertilizer bags were often converted into pants for the horse’s protection. Mosquitos grow so annoying at times that it became necessary to make bed curtains or mosquito netting.
When the potatoes were ready to dig, tomatoes and cucumbers ready for shipment, a severe storm came raging from the ocean across the Bay, carried away one house and caught under our canvas roof, lifting it and wrapping it around a pine tree.
The Carey Hotel was no longer in demand, so we packed what we would want another year and stored it in the building. We loaded the rest, including the vegetables, the horses, and the man to care for them, and the car homeward bound.
This honeymoon trip of more than 60 years ago was, in a sense, a successful experiment in inter-racial living, and what in later years would have been just another pleasure trip proved to be the first of many happy years in Florida.
Hi Joyce, - We hope to contact you or someone from Tri Counties Genealogy & History. Our Historian/Archivist, Jacki Biggane would like to very much correspond with you. She is not on line. However, follows here mailing address or use our web site e-mail and we will get it to her. The site is http://www.geocities.com/archcreek The e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
340 N.E. 129th Street
North Miami, FL 33161
We know a little of the Elmira connection and have early articles on their farming at Arch Creek. I live in Miami and the street next over was named Elmira at the turn of the century when some people came from there for the winter. There is what is called the Elmira Club House, a wood frame home from that period, that is still standing, although it is in poor shape. Unfortunately Miami does not really look after our first buildings. It was built when Miami was only a couple of years old. Any photos of either place that can be copied we would love, and gladly remit costs.
Looking forward to hearing more on these two places. Sincerely, - Burnham Neill, Arch Creek Trust, Greater North Miami Historical Soiciety
Dear Ms. Tice
A member of the Greater North Miami Historical Society came upon your site and found it very interesting and directed the rest of us to it with our computers. We are a bunch of older folks, so there was not to many with computers.We have some other photos of the house in our files. Today it is owned and occupied by a couple who are members of the GNMHS.
I grew up in the Arch Creek/ City of North Miami area. The house was just around the block from where I lived. The Kalch family lived there when I was kid. ( I am 76). It sounds like they may be cousins of yours, The Kalch kids were Pearl, Lester, and Margaret. The name Pearl was the reason I said they may be cousins. Pearl Kalch has passed on; Lester is a PhD at the University of Florida and Margaret lives in central Florida.
From the local history here, we know that the Kalch family were from up north and inversely Mr. Kalch and other men who had roots north of the Mason-Dixon line and were in the "Winter Tomato" business went north to work as carpenters, plumbers, and miscellaneous other jobs in the off season. The States, "Florida's Photographic Collection" has several photos from the twenties dealing with tomato industry and the people that lived in the Arch Creek area. We (the GNMHS) are still compiling information on the area.
I am reasonably familiar with area, if you have any questions in the future; I will try to get the answers.
Board of Directors
Greater North Miami Historical Society.
||First Added to the Site on 04/05/2003
By Joyce M. Tice
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