Welcome to Florida Time, a weekly column about Florida history: from the Fountain of Youth and Walt Disney to the Miami Riots, the extent of Jim Crow, the mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs, the moon landing and more.
Readers: Nearly everything you think you know about Florida is wrong!
Most people in Florida are from somewhere else, and they come with little or no knowledge of their adopted home and its history. What they do know comes from a mishmash of sources, legitimate and otherwise. As a result, people will swear to the following verities, all of which are incorrect:
Juan Ponce de León was searching for the Fountain of Youth.
The state got its name, Spanish for “flowers,” because Spanish explorers saw flowers on the beach.
During the American Revolution, Florida was a Spanish possession and so was not involved.
Florida was neutral in the U.S. Civil War.
Modern Florida sprang in 1964 from the forehead of Walt Disney.
All of this is by way of introduction to a new feature that will appear weekly in this newspaper and the 22 other GateHouse publications across Florida, from the Panhandle to Sarasota to West Palm Beach. It's called “Florida Time.”
I am a South Florida native, a reporter for four decades — most of that at the Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach — and the author of 10 books about Florida and Florida history. I have also lived in Tampa, Gainesville and Orlando, have been in all 67 counties, and have written stories from across Florida.
Since January 2000, I’ve penned a weekly history Q&A column, “Post Time.” which covers the history of Palm Beach County and the “Treasure Coast.” With the Post now part of the Gatehouse family, today we start a second series of columns that will cover the history of the entire state.
Read more: Fraser family keeps Fountain of Youth history alive
From the archives: Micanopy fort finally about to emerge from history’s shadows
Here’s where you come in.
When Florida became an American possession two centuries ago, its population was about 5,000. Really. At the beginning of the 20th century, it had a little more than a half million. At the start of World War II, just a million. In 1970, when this writer was a teenager bicycling around the Miami suburbs, the number was up to 7 million. It since has jumped to more than 20 million residents. You don't need to be an algebra professor to conclude that nearly everyone in Florida, whether by age or date of arrival, has only a brief relationship with the Sunshine State. (Note: This is the first and last time this column will use that cliché nickname to describe Florida.)
Over the years, the second favorite inquiry I’ve received from a reader of the history column is something like, “I just moved here, and I am enjoying learning about the area.” The first favorite inquiry: “I just moved here, and I have a question.”
So send us your questions!
We hope this column will help you actively participate and learn about the place that’s now your home.
Eliot Kleinberg is a staff writer for the past three decades at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and the author of 10 books about Florida (www.ekfla.com). Submit your questions, comments or memories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name and hometown. Sorry; no personal replies.