Saturday, October 30, 2010

1896 Senate race: Sound familiar?

If you think this year's race for the Florida's open seat in the U.S. Senate is contentious, you should have seen the 1896 election. There are similarities. That race 114 years ago pitted conservative railroad and corporate interests against a populist liberal candidate. There was lots of political maneuvering going on. The rivalries were bitter indeed. And one candidate pulled out to prevent his rival from winning. A little background:

W.D. Chipley
W.D. Chipley may have been to Pensacola and the Panhandle what Henry B. Plant and Henry Flagler were to the rest of the state – the railroad moguls who made things happened and weren't inclined to let local or state public officials stand in their way.

Plant and Flagler certainly had their moments in having things their way politically but William D. Chipley may have won the top honor for Tammany Hall-style machinations.

Chipley was born in Georgia, educated in Kentucky and served as a Confederate officer during the Civil  War. He was wounded twice and was taken prisoner by the Union. After the war, Chipley became involved in the management of several southern railroads companies, including Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad, which he joined in 1881.

Wilkinson Call
Chipley became vice president and superintendent, and also served as the company's general land agent. The company had a 2.8 million-acre federal land grant to build a railway from Pensacola to Chattahoochee. That was a half-way point to unite east and west Florida by rail. It would give the Pensacola area access to the extensive Atlantic seaboard rail systems.

But Chipley wanted more. He wanted to company to basically own most of the Florida Panhandle. He planned to accomplish that by securing a large pre-Civil War land grant given to a railroad that had already gone out of business.

Chipley inserted himself into Florida politics to make sure things went his way. He became chairman of the state Democratic Executive Committee, a position that gave him significant influence over selecting legislative candidates with pro-railroad leanings.

Stephen Mallory II
Enter the man who was to be Chipley's archrival: liberal U.S. Sen. Wilkinson Call. He was the nephew for former territorial governor Richard Keith Call. The liberals had a litany of charges to level against the railroad special interests. They called the land grants "land grabs." They accused the railroads of using discriminatory freight rates and excluding Florida ports in shipments of citrus and phosphate.

In 1888, when Call introduced a measure in the U.S. Senate calling for the forfeiture of all expired land grants and opening them to the public for homsteading, it was the last straw. For Chipley, it became personal. He targeted Call. In a New York Times account of a speech in Fort Myers in 1890, Chipley accused Call of lining his pockets with public money, stealing land from poor negroes and having unsavory banking connections. He tried to block Call's reelection in 1891 to a third term with a lot of back room politicking. Call won anyway.

But it wasn't over yet. The railroad was completed. Chipley had accumulated a political power base. In 1896, he decided to run against Call himself. He rallied the state's newspapers in his bid to unseat Call. He tried to divide the liberal bloc by declaring support for populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. He even hinted that he'd support a state railroad commission.

Voting in the legislature took 25 ballots. Legislators switched their votes back and forth. It appeared to be a real cliffhanger but on the final night of balloting it looked like Chipley would win. In late-night haggling, liberals convinced Call to drop out in favor of moderate liberal Stephen Mallory II of Pensacola. That was enough for Mallory to win, keeping Chipley from becoming senator.

Publicly, Chipley said he'd accomplished his mission, to get Call out of office but privately he raged that all that vote switching had robbed him of his victory.

The bitter campaign may have taken its toll on Chipley. He died about a year later.

Information from Gene Burnett's Florida's Past: People & Events That Shaped the State, Volume 2, History of the Confederates Memorial Associations of the South and The New York Times, was used in this report.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pan Am flies Key West to Havana

University of Miami Libraries
Members of the Pan Am flight and ground crew with the General Machado.

On this day in 1927, Pan American Airways began mail service from Key West to Havana using its own aircraft, a Fokker F-VIIa Tri-motor.

To comply with U.S. government requirements, the company had actually started the mail service nine days earlier with a chartered seaplane. It couldn't use its own plane because the airport at Key West wasn't ready for its plane.

The Oct. 28 flight carried 28 sacks of mail weighing 722 pounds. It left at 8:25 a.m. piloted by Hugh Wells and arrived in Havana an hour and 20 minutes later. The plane was named the General Machado, after Gerardo Machado, a war hero who was president of Cuba when the flight took place.

Passenger flights to Havana started three months later on January 16, 1928.

Historian Allen Morris wrote that "because of prohibition the champagne christening of the maiden flight that day had to take place in Havana rather than in Key West.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Henry B. Plant was born in 1819

Ebyabe | Wikipedia
When Plant opened the Tampa Bay Hotel, he invited Henry Flagler attend. Flagler responded, "Where is Tampa." Plant answered, "Just follow the crowds, Henry, just follow the crowds."

Today is the birthday of railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, who built a system of steamships and railroads that ran from Jacksonville to Havana, Cuba. He built the Moorish-style Tampa Bay Hotel that eventually became the University of Tampa and the Belleview Biltmore near Clearwater.

Henry B. Plant
Plant was born in 1819 in Branford, Conn., to Anderson Plant, a well-to-do farmer, and Betsey Bradley Plant. His father died when he was six years old but his mother remarried and the family moved to New York and, eventually, to New Haven, Conn. He attended private school.

His grandmother wanted him to become a clergyman and offered to pay for him to go to Yale College but  the impatient young man became a captain's boy and, eventually, a deck hand on a steamship instead.

Plant married Ellen Elizabeth Blackstone in 1842, and he worked for the Adams Express Company, handling express parcels. He ran the company's New York office. In 1853, Ellen was told she needed to move to the South for her health. They visited the then-tiny town of Jacksonville, where Plant saw the possibilities for future development. In fact, a rugged trip to St. Augustine convinced him transportation was needed in the area. To get to the ancient city, he had paddle a dugout canoe up the St. Johns River and hike through the forest. The guide lost his way and they had to spend the night out under the stars. Only a few years later, Plant made such a rustic trip unnecessary.

During the Civil War, the owners of the express company transferred the company to him, fearful they would lose it to the Confederacy if they remained in control. Plant organized the Southern Express Company in 1861 with southern stockholders. The company collected tariffs and transferred funds as an agent for the Confederacy.

After the war, southern railroad were ruined and many railroads were in bankruptcy. Plant bought railroads at foreclosure sales and began building a transportation system. In 1882, with Henry Flagler's help, he organized the Plant Investment Company, resurrected several small railroads, and provided service across Florida.

The line ended in Tampa, where he established a new steamship line to Havana. For $2.5 million, he built the Tampa Bay Hotel in the style of a Moorish palace, with distinctive minarets. He also built the Victorian style Belleview Biltmore near Clearwater. He built eight hotels in all, but his favorite with the Tampa Bay Hotel.

Plant City in eastern Hillsborough County is named for him as is Henry B. Plant High School in Tampa. Bradley Junction in Polk County is named for his mother.

The Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa is dedicated to his life.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yes, an alligator could eat your dog

Tampa Bay's Channel 10 reports on a 50-pound Keeshond that was eaten by an alligator on Saturday. It shouldn't be surprising. It's what alligators do. They see small dogs (and children) as food. In Florida, it's a fact of life. Around alligator habitat, be watchful.