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Pat Crisp

Pat Crisp

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Dozier School's Christmas Show Returns in Memories of Visitors

Adults who were children during the 1940s, 50s, 60s and into the 70s have a wonderful memory that comes back to them every year about this time. They love to tell stories about how they rode through the Boys' School to see the decorations each year. It was part of Christmas for everyone living in the area, and we all went more than one time per year!

Dozier School (known previously as the Florida Industrial School for Boys) presented a Christmas extravaganza on the South Campus each December. This display was the North Florida, Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia "Disney World" for the Christmas season.

Under the direction of Mrs. Karlene Owens, the school's Art Department's students and led by teacher Mrs. Dale Unger, painted and updated the plywood cutouts of nursery rhyme characters, religious themes, comical arrangements and Santa scenes which were provided by the students in the Woodworking Department of the school.

Of the 700 residents there, each year they all worked very hard to update, set up, string miles of colored lights, install sound equipment to carry the Christmas music throughout the South Campus drive-through area, and many were there to help with the hundreds of children who came each year to enjoy the presentation. It is stated that almost every resident and trade shop had a part in preparing and presenting the Christmas Extravaganza. The boys also decorated numerous Christmas trees throughout the area.

The little narrow gauge train, which is now at the MERE Project in a covered protective building, had several hundred feet of track which wound throughout the South Campus area, taking the children "up close and personal" to the Christmas scenes.

1956 figures, collected from traffic counters, showed that 65,944 persons went through the campus, up from 55,864 in 1955, 40,000 in 1954 and 25,000 in 1953. The figure for 1963 was 100,000 people.

"Santa's Toyland" was the main attraction, with a whirling merry-go-round. The pony, "Trigger", pulled a carriage full of children and a goat drawn cart carried children through the maze of decorations. The photos here show some of the artistic arrangements provided by the residents for the entertainment of those from Florida, Alabama and Georgia who looked forward to enjoying the fabulous arrangements the boys had spent hundreds of hours setting up each year.

The photos and information used in this article are taken from the January 12, 1957 edition of The Yellow Jacket, the newspaper published by the boys and instructors working in the Printing Department of the school.

The printing press and many of the decorations were given to the Chipola Historical Trust when Dozier was dismantled. The decorations were passed on to Main Street Marianna in hopes that they could be used at some point in decorating downtown Marianna at Christmas time.

A member of the Marianna Woman's Club told the members at their December meeting how exciting it was for her family when father would prepare the back seat of their car to make it comfortable for her and her brothers and they would drive from Crestview to Marianna each year to enjoy the Christmas display.  This was a most common occurrence for thousands of children during the 25 or so years the display was provided by the staff and residents of the school.

Chipola Historical Trust Publishes Book of Historical Articles

The Chipola Historical Trust announces that the articles which have been published in the TIMES each week have been transferred to a book form that will be available for sale December 2, 2013.  The collection will cover most of the articles published, beginning in June 2012, and continuing through the articles about Blue Springs and Merritt's Mill Pond, which were published in August 2013, with many historically significant photographs.

The cost of the books will be a $25 donation to the Chipola Historical Trust.

They will be sold in Marianna at the Jackson County Times office at 2866 Madison Street and at The Russ House (Chamber of Commerce and TDC office) at 4318 Lafayette Street, during normal office hours. Books may be ordered by mail. If they are to be mailed, the cost will be $30.00 each to cover postage.

Order Form is attached below in PDF format

Chipola Hotel Part 1

The original Chipola Hotel was built in the early 1880’s; probably about the time the rail line was completed from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River around 1883. Since Milton and Marianna were the only two stations on the line originally, there would have been a great deal of traffic from all around this area using the rail service. We should all recall that the roads were still just buggy and wagon trails, and automobiles were still in the planning stage. Getting any type of supplies to and from outside the area was very difficult. Until the rail service was completed, the rivers were used for transferring all kinds of products, livestock, and relocating families with all their “worldly possessions”. Rail service was a badly needed and appreciated addition to the quality of life in this entire region.

The two-story hotel was a very large rectangular wooden building that filled the corner of Caledonia Street and the back side of the large open area known as “The Plaza”. The native stone wall was around the property just as it is today, except where it was removed later for the new building. There was a picket fence that ran the length of the entire block, east to west. For many years there were only wagon tracks running in front of the hotel, mostly a short cut across the area from “down the hill” to the business district of the city. Historians say that the original name of the hotel was the Edwards Hotel but we have no records of the timing of the change in the name.

This late 1800’s photo was the local Hunting Club gathering for a hunt. Obviously, the hotel was a community treasure for Marianna citizens and those in the surrounding areas. The older hotels still surviving in our area, such as in De Funiak Springs, Colquitt, Georgia, and other nearby cities, have a charm that just cannot be duplicated today.

Jerell Shofner tells us in his Jackson County, Florida – A History, that J. C. Corcoran had come from Chicago to make his home in Marianna around 1920, with many fine ideas and a very successful earlier career. Having married a Greenwood girl in 1908, he saw great promise in this area of Florida. He was dubbed “The Flagler of Jackson County”, by Marianna Mayor, Chester Horne, comparing him to the Flaglers, Firestones, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, among others who had caught the Florida investment fever in the Florida Peninsular in the 20’s. He began to invest heavily in several enterprises. Not only was he financially solvent, but he had other wealthy friends who were interested in investing in Jackson County.

Corcoran saw financial promise in the lime rock industry in Jackson County and his first large undertaking was the Marianna Lime Products Company. The rock was used for building purposes, with a number of new buildings in the area having been built from the rectangular stones which were very strong when dried out. The First Bank building, now owned by the City of Marianna, was one of the most impressive lime stone buildings of that era. Many buildings in Marianna today are built from those blocks which were sawed from the lime deposit lying just below the surface of Jackson County soil, just as it is today. One very old site, on which Corcoran lived for many years, is just north of the city off highway 73, with other areas of the county also very rich in the same product. This site and others are being mined very actively today.

Sub-surfacing of the new roads in the area was becoming a very profitable industry and Corcoran and his friends were in the right place at the right time to furnish the lime rock needed for US 90 which was being paved from Pensacola to Tallahassee. There were also roads being paved from Panama City to Cottondale, and most of the smaller cities in the area were now being served by paved highways.

In the early 20’s, as automobiles made the people of the area more mobile, and as the main roads, such as US 90, were being paved, it became obvious that with few places to stay overnight between Pensacola and Tallahassee, there was a need for a nicer “Inn” in our area.

Corcoran’s next project was the construction of the Chipola Hotel. It was a 5-story, 75 room building which cost about $450,000 to build in 1925. While it replaced the old frame rectangular building, the original building was carefully moved south and east on the same property as is seen within the native stone walls today. It was remodeled over the years and was used as an overflow hotel to the new building. Many locals rented apartments there and the building was used very effectively until about 1950 when it was torn down.

This photo is taken from the area which had been recently cleared of a very large home sometimes used as apartments, and other buildings, readying it for the construction to begin for the new Marianna Post Office, which was completed in 1927. You can notice how prominent the hotel was during all those years. M.L. Dekle’s General Store is seen on the right side of the photo. It is also very obvious in this photograph how “Main Street” (later Lafayette Street) just ran directly into the buildings as it approached Caledonia Street. The Chero-Cola sign was facing Market Street.

The process for moving this very large structure was very interesting. Not only did they have to move the very large building back on the lot, they also needed to move it to the east on the rear of the lot, in the area of the storage buildings and the parking area as are there today.

Cap Pooser relates how his father, Wankard Pooser, told of the big challenge. He told Cap that he and his father, Lucious Bellinger Pooser, preparing to move the building, set their “dead man’s timber” (this was the name for the anchor from which the entire project operated) and prepared the turnstile that would move the round “roller timbers” under the building rolling it back ever so slowly on the lot, making room for the new building being planned.

He tells that his Father told him of how his Grandfather would take a sledge hammer and hit the rolling timbers in just the right place to make them move in the proper direction, both to the south of their previous location, and then to the east. It has been told over and over that one mule was doing the pulling on the turnstile making the logs move exactly as directed. The moving of the huge building was a feat which has been a “marvel” for everyone who has known about the gigantic and difficult task of moving the building so the new Chipola Hotel could occupy the same location as the original. Wankard Pooser was a man who wore many hats. At different times in his life, in addition to being “THE building mover” in the area, he taught school, was a State Legislator for two terms, owned the Times Courier for a time, and published a very interesting spasmodically produced local publication, The Bumblebee, among many other ventures. Wankard’s philosophy for his work and his logo was: “When an Immovable Object Is Met By an Irresistible Force.”

This 1928 photograph is taken from the current Post Office site, showing the Pan-Am Service Station in the location of the Edward Jones Office today. Hershel Malloy, father of Pat Crisp, is shown pumping gas. The right side of the photograph shows the 1921 Confederate Monument is in place, “The Plaza” has been completed with curbing and landscaping, and the new Chipola Hotel is completed. Right behind the Chipola Hotel Sign you can see the original hotel sitting very proudly in its new location, where it would reside for the next 25 years.

To be continued next week with the very interesting story of the new Chipola Hotel, completed in late 1926, and how it became the Chipola Apartments.

The Russ House Story

Joseph Russ built The Russ House in 1892-1895 for him and his mother as his father had died in 1883. Sadly, she only lived two years after the house was completed. In the next 100 years, FIVE generations of the Russ Family would live in the house!

Joseph Russ’s father was a very successful planter and merchant who had come to the area in the 1820’s as the county was being settled. His store, in the center of the block across from the gazebo in Confederate Memorial Park, bears his name on the top of the building today, just as it did in the 1800’s.

Joseph had two sisters and they all three lived with their families on the property nearby. Joseph took over management of the businesses and property at his father’s death.

At this point in time there were many acres of the Russ property adjoining the house location. From Russ Street to Daniel Street and all the way to Kelson Avenue, and some land lay on the south side of Lafayette Street. It was a very large piece of city property.

There were all sorts of out-buildings and houses for those who worked in the home and on the property. Mr. Russ had a taxi service, and Mrs. Lou Alice Clark tells of living on the property during the 1920’s as her husband drove one of the taxis and she helped care for the Russ grandchildren. There were gardens on the property and a gazebo covered with wisteria vines, lots of flowers and trees and wonderful landscaping.

Around 1910 the house was remodeled in the neo classical style we see today. The house was painted pearl gray, with a teal roof, shutters and trim. The house also had a porte cochere (portico) about where the east steps and driveway are now. It had railings around the roof and was used an an extension to the second floor porch. This was not returned when the house was restored in 2000. The front porch was an important part of the house. The porch was furnished just like a room in the house. With no air-conditioning, this was often the coolest place at the house in the summertime.

The house became in great disrepair over the years and appeared that it was unpainted for many years before 1995. During those years, one would have had a difficult time convincing school children and some locals that the house was not haunted. Some who have worked there during the night in recent years might agree that “it could be.”

About 1990, the fifth generation of the family made the Russ House his home as Merritt Dekle, great-grandson of Joseph Russ, came to Marianna. He was living there during the negotiations with the City and State grant people. He and his sister, Maggie Lang, are direct descendants of the Russ family.

Thanks particularly to the efforts of Robert and Kaye Trammell, the State grant was given for the purchase of the house in 1995 and the restoration was completed in 2000. At the same time, there were some Department of Transportation (DOT) funds which could be used to restore contaminated gas station sites, as the east most corner of the property, which had been sold by another owner, was a Junior Food type store with gas pumps which had greatly contaminated the soil in the area over the years. Under the beautiful Russ House Commons is a very complicated decontaminating process which ran constantly from 2000 until May 2011 when it was determined that the process could be discontinued. Approximately $2,000,000 of State funds were spent to get the house and the park as we see it today.
Merritt Dekle best tells the story of the house: “My great grandfather, Joseph Washington Russ, Jr. built the Russ House for his mother, Mary (Beman) Russ. His father Joseph W. Russ, Sr. died in 1883. The Russ Family owned a large parcel of land on Lafayette Street, and the home of several family members were built within this area, forming a compound of sorts.

Mary Beman Russ died in 1897, and in 1899, he married Bettie Erwin Philips. Their only child, Frances Philips Russ, was born to them the following year.

I grew up hearing the stories of the golden years at the Russ House, or, as we called it, “the Big House”. As an only child, my grandmother, Frances Dickerson, whom we called “Big Mama”, had the childhood of a little princess. Marianna was a quiet bucolic town at the turn of the century, and the people there were close-knit and caring; everybody knew everybody, it seemed. The Big House, and the other old homes that lined Lafayette Street at the time, made wonderful playgrounds, and though Marianna was a sleepy town, there were plenty of things to do.

When she was in her late teens, Big Mama had a beau named Mercer Treadwell, and when he asked for her hand in marriage, she was heartbroken when her parents withheld their permission, stating that he was not “good enough for their little princess.” This event held an ironic twist some ten years later. A couple of years later, she married a young Texan named George Dickerson. Dickerson was a professional baseball player for a major team, the Cleveland Americans, and a strikingly handsome man. His career as a ballplayer, however, came to an end when he was drafted for service in WW I. Like many soldiers who served in that war, he was exposed to mustard gas, and the effects of that exposure plagued him throughout his life. They married upon his release from the service, and moved into the Big House with her parents. There were plans to build their own home on the land directly west of the Russ House, but these plans never came to fruition.

The wedding of Frances Phillips Russ and George Dickerson took place in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, as had most of the marriages in the family before and since. The wedding was held at ten o’clock on a warm July evening to escape the sweltering heat of summer, and the wedding reception was held afterwards on the grounds of the family home. I have heard memories of the reception recalled by the older members of Marianna ever since. The main vision that had lingered in their mind’s eye for all of these years was that of the illuminated Japanese lanterns that were festooned from the branches of the oak trees, creating the illusion of an oriental garden.

My grandparents had two children over the next six years, my mother Bettie Russ Dickerson, and her brother, George Clark Dickerson, Jr. It was at this time, in 1920, that the nursery was added to the house to accommodate the children. All was happy in the Big House during these years and for a time, this new generation of children enjoyed the same idyllic childhood as my grandmother had experienced. But this generation had but a brief glimpse of that glory; events to come brought a dark veil over the following years.

In 1925, Bettie Russ was diagnosed with a malignancy and her husband took her to hospitals in New Orleans, Birmingham and Atlanta in a desperate attempt to save her life. These attempts were all in vain however, and six months later the household faced the unspeakable grief of her death. Big Mama always said that her father never really recovered from the loss of his beloved wife, and his interest in his business and his properties waned in his bereavement.

Four years later, Big Mama’s own grief turned to anger when her father decided to marry the aunt of her old sweetheart, Mercer Treadwell. The Treadwell name that her father deemed unsuitable for her was apparently suitable enough for him, and he married Wilma Treadwell and brought her into the home.

About the same time, the family fortune that had enabled the Russ family to build an impressive home was lost during the financial aftermath of the Crash of 1929; my grandfather’s despondency led him to take his own life.

The impact of her father’s suicide plagued my grandmother for the rest of her life. Such an act is never rational, but I cannot imagine that Joseph Russ could have ever foreseen the impact his act of depression would leave on his cherished daughter. Big Mama and her step-mother were co-executrices of the estate. With no liquid assets to pay off the accumulating debts and taxes they were helpless to fend off the deluge of debtors with which they were faced.

During the late 1920’s, property owners had been required to pay for the paving of the streets that bordered their properties. This expenditure had been daunting enough at the time, but under the current circumstances it was overwhelming. The City of Marianna placed a lien against the property for settlement of the paving costs and eventually foreclosed on the lien. The property, which originally extended from Russ Street to Daniels Street, all the way back to Kelson Avenue was subdivided into separate parcels and sold at auction to satisfy the debt. Only the greatly diminished lot on which the Russ House stood was salvaged. The once vast land holdings of the Russ Family were auctioned of piece by piece on the steps of the Courthouse for the next few years.

At the age of 29, my grandmother found herself an orphan, broke and saddled with the horrific debts from her father’s estate; in addition, she now faced the possibility of being homeless as well. Big Mama managed to take on yet another debt and get a mortgage to buy her half of the home from Miss Willie, a mortgage she spent the next two decades paying off.

The years that followed were difficult ones; her already fragile marriage to Dickerson had unraveled completely in the last few years and as she faced the dilemma of how to support her family. His health had been unpredictable since his years in the service. She knew she could not depend on him for any support in the dilemma she faced, and so at this point they separated, and Dickerson returned to Texas. The divorce was not finalized until 1937 however, just three months before his death from tuberculosis as a result of his exposure to the toxic gas.
My grandmother had to find a way to support herself and her children, but she had never worked and in taking inventory of what she had to offer, she found only one thing: she still had a beautiful home and many beautiful things (or at least one-half of them). She decided she would act as a professional hostess of sorts, providing her home and serving ware for private and public occasions. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this would not supply the kind of money she needed to meet her needs. In the early 1930’s, a family friend helped her secure a position with the Welfare Office, where she worked for the next 35 years.

Throughout the years to come, my grandmother struggled to support her children alone. At this point, Nan and Poll Bryant, her beloved nannies, had moved from their own home on the now much reduced estate and lived inside the household where they oversaw the care of the children while Big Mama was at work. Nan and Poll had come to work for the Russ family at the time of my grandmother’s birth and remained with them until their deaths in the 1940’s.

The years of World War II, a time of both hardship and vitality for all the country, seemed to be particularly vibrant in the memories of the family. My grandmother housed several officers from the local base in her home, and my mother was involved with the Officer’s Club, where she sang with the band. The activity of these years subsided, however, when her children left home to attend college. Big Mama repeatedly mortgaged the home to finance this expense, but she was determined for the children not to struggle as she’d had to for these many years. Neither of her children returned to Marianna following college; the town just did not provide enough opportunity in those years after the war so they sought their futures elsewhere.” (Used with permission of Merritt Dekle.)

The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce took ownership of the Russ House in 2000 and it has truly become a “County Icon”. It is used for many social and business occasions and as a visitor center for hundreds of guests and visitors to the Jackson County area. It is very difficult to round the Russ Street corner and not feel a sense of pride to see the beautiful old home sitting on its point, looking majestic and inviting, ready to please and to serve Jackson County folks and their guests for many years to come!

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