REMINISCENCES

EMORY FISKE SKINNER, 1908: VESTAL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO
 
(Pages from the Skinner book, courtesy of The Penton Collection, Anne Penton Pinckard and Joyce Penton Schnoor)
 
The following are excerpts from Skinner's book, published in 1908, which have descriptions particular to the Pace Area and the opinions of that time.

Chapter II,
Youthful Experiences

It was my custom to go every two or three mouths and bring a cousin to our house for a visit. A sister of my mother's had lost her husband, who had died leaving his family in poor circumstances. Her daughter worked in a cotton mill in New Berlin. She was very glad to come to us as our place was about the only home she had ever known. This girl met with great extremes of fortune. It came about that she went to Florida as a woman overseer of girls in a small cotton factory near Milton. She eventually married the owner of the mill, a man said to be worth more than a million and a half dollars.

Chapter X,
From North to South,
pg. 125-131

Not long after I was in my own home in Oshkosh on a visit to my family, in May, 1874, when my father-in-law came to me and asked me to ride with him to the city. On the way he told me about a project he was considering.

It seemed that some parties had appeared in Oshkosh having for sale some seventy-five thousand acres of railroad pine lands in Florida and some local persons lacking the capital necessary for the purchase, had asked Mr. Hubbard to join them. He said that these men had been down and examined the lands, that the young man who was book-keeper at the Wakefield flour mill had gone with them to learn what he could, pledging to give Mr. Hubbard a correct account of things in Florida as he should find them; that he had returned and made his report. To insure the full interest of this young man, my father-in-law had told him that if he saw any good bargains in that state, that he would join him in their purchase. The book-keeper brought the report that he had secured a saw-mill plant and six thousand acres of land for $26,000, paying $1,000 down and agreeing to pay $10,000 more in thirty days. Then my father-in-law went on to say that he was getting to be an old man, was troubled with rheumatism, that he wished to go to a milder climate, that he wished to put his nephew into a business which would give him something to do, and that he also thought it might suit me to go to Florida and engage in the lumber business so he thought he would invest. I replied, "Mr. Hubbard, I have been influenced in the past by the advice of others, but in the future I mean to act only upon my own judgment in matters of business. I cannot tell what I would like to do, until I have examined this proposition myself and formed my own conclusions." He replied that he wished I would go and see the property and tell him what I thought about it. I suggested that this would cost considerable in both time and money. He appeared to be quite anxious for me to go, however, and said if I should see fit to enter the project that he would furnish the money to run the business in good shape. We interviewed Mr. Johnson, the book-keeper referred to, and he was very optimistic about the affair, saying that there was "Thousands in it."

It was consequently arranged that in ten days' time I should meet Mr. Johnson in Chicago and that we would proceed to Pensacola and together examine the property for which he had bargained.

I had some sales of fire engine-hose in the western part of Wisconsin also in St. Paul and Minneapolis that I wished to close up and I had some collections to make in the same territory. After completing these affairs, I met Mr. Johnson in Chicago as planned. He brought me from Mr. Hubbard $10,000 in New York Exchange payable to my order, with instructions that if, in my opinion the property was worth the sum agreed upon, that I should buy it. We left the north in May, for the "Land of flowers."

I had some relatives living in Florida who had been there since "befo 'de-wah." The husband of a cousin was in the lumber business at a place called Bagdad, Florida. Soon after arriving in Pensacola I learned that a steamer was going to this place with a party of people who were to attend an entertainment for the benefit of a local church. I was invited to join the excursion, and did so. We arrived after dark. I had not seen my cousin for twenty years, but was invited to her home and was hospitably received. Their house was a fine old mansion surrounded by live oaks and other handsome trees. It was a very pleasing home.

Every one had a good time, and after the entertainment, which had been held in the church, the steamer returned to Pensacola with its passengers.

In deciding, about the business venture, my chief desire was of course to see the pine lands. I knew that a sawmill was valueless without saw-logs, and I wished to learn if the forests would yield a supply of logs for a good many years. The agent of the railroad offering this land for sale, was a Mr. Peter Knowles, a long time resident of Florida, in fact since before the "late unpleasantness." He was a very genial gentleman, liked good things to eat and drink and a good time generally. He procured a two-seated covered wagon, for our journey, in which he placed provisions for our comfort. This was propelled by a pair of mules and a negro driver. We crossed the river at Ferry Pass, an arm of Escambia Bay, and landed on' terra firma' at Florida Town where we struck the pine lands which I wished to see. We rode from Florida Town nearly northward, traversing the highest land.

These pine woods were different from any forests I had ever seen. The ground was covered with a fine green grass which looked like a gentleman's lawn. The trees were very stately and handsome, most of them forty or fifty feet to the limbs, tree tops covered with green pine needles which grew in clusters. There was no underbrush and no obstruction except where some tree had been burned or blown down, and lay with its long trunk on the ground. One could drive in any direction in these woods. All that was necessary to know was the points of the compass. It seemed like sacrilege for man to come and cut down these magnificent trees. I wished often, in the years to come, that I need not do this.

We traveled that day about twenty-five miles through this beautiful forest. In later years it was my fortune to own most of these lands and at one time I could ride thirty miles in a northerly direction and be upon my own land all the time.

Every few miles through these woods could be found a "squatter." These men would cut down a few trees, build a log house, clear up a few acres upon which to raise cotton, corn and sweet potatoes. His pigs, sheep and cattle would find their own living in the woods, and all the squatter had to do, to secure the ownership, was to brand them while they were young. The names of these settlers would indicate that the majority of them were of Scotch extraction. These were the original Florida "crackers." There were no schools among them, during the days of slavery; and a great many of them were unable to read or write their own names. They prided themselves that a white man would not steal. This fact in their estimation, raised them far above the negroes, for whom they had great contempt; per contra; the negroes entertained a very low opinion of the poor whites, while they cherished a deep veneration for their own masters. We stayed all night with a squatter who entertained us hospitably at his house not far from the Alabama line. I certainly enjoyed those woods and my admiration for them has never lessened.

In the morning we started on our return, but by another road, so we traveled through new forests all the time. At night we arrived at a sawmill not far from the Escambia, River, and were hospitably entertained by the owner, Mr. R. D. Byrne who invited us to spend the night at his house. I recollect that we passed the evening around the fireplace, although it was in the month of June, and that the fire felt very comfortable. We conversed about the country's possibilities, and of the forests, meanwhile smoking our cigars. The next day we returned to Florida Town, and visited the mill that was involved in the purchase. This, I think, was naturally one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen in Florida. The mill was situated on Escambia Bay at a point where it was about two miles wide, and directly under a bluff that towered about eighty feet above the water, and which gradually sloped to the water's edge. This incline was covered with a thick forest, consisting mostly of live oak trees, from whose limbs hung festoons of grey Florida moss, reminding one of Santa Claus with his grey hair and whiskers. On the top of this bluff was the residence of the mill. owner, in a clearing of ten acres. The house was surrounded with crepe myrtles twenty-five feet high, and now in full bloom. In the front yard were two gigantic live oaks, quite shapely and beautiful. On each side of the front porch were two fine Japanese plum trees, the largest that I have ever seen of this variety. In the rear of the house were two very large magnolias, and other trees; sycamore, mulberry and black oak. In the yard were several large arbors of scuppernong grapes. In the garden were peach trees in full bearing. It seemed as if a man with a contented mind might find here: "Paradise regained."

From the mill we returned to Pensacola and stopped at what was called the Santa Rosa Hotel. Whether this was built before or since the war I am unable to tell. It was three stories in height while most of the buildings of the town were but one.

A Mrs. Hickey was boarding at this hotel and she had a mocking bird which she had educated as a songster. In the morning we were awakened by the most rapturous singing to which I had ever listened. The bird appeared to be in a very ecstasy of excitement and it made so much noise that it was impossible for one to go to sleep again. I had never before heard a mocking bird, and was charmed as I listened, so much so that I obtained a young one and took it with me to Oshkosh. I imagine however, that it needed the training of other birds. After a lingering and uneventful existence it died.

At this time there were two private banking houses in Pensacola: Hyer Brothers and C. L Le Baron. In making out the papers for the purchase, I had the mill and lands deeded to Mr. Hubbard, rather than have them deeded to the new firm and they give a mortgage to him. I knew this would make Mr. Hubbard safe, regardless of what might happen to the rest of us. I also, agreed to take the stock of goods in the store at a fair valuation. After this business was finished, I returned to Oshkosh, leaving Mr. Johnson to inventory the stock and have the care and custody of the property. When I arrived at Oshkosh, Mr. Hubbard refused to give a note to secure the balance due on the property, but was willing to give a mortgage on it to secure the note of the new firm. To this the sellers consented, and the purchase of the property was consummated in that way.

The cost of the mill and lands was $26,000. The inventory of the goods in the store, as made by Mr. Johnson, showed a value of $3,000. While the foregoing settlement was in progress, Mr. Hubbard one morning called me into his room and said: Mr. Skinner, I am sick of that investment of yours in Florida; I want you to go to Pensacola and get what you can of that $10,000 and let the trade go." I replied, "Mr. Hubbard, I do not see how I can do this. If the parties thought we were sick of the trade they would not return any of the money; if I went down there and made a settlement of the trade which involved a loss to you, you would always blame me, unless I made good the loss to you, so I am not willing to do as you request. I believe the property is a bargain at the price which we paid for it." After this interview, my father-in-law never referred to the subject again.

 

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