It is easy to see that this place was once a beautiful home for a family to be proud of. Surely, they must have passed many afternoons on the porch, shared many meals around the table, and sparked many fires to warm their space on cold nights.
Now, her grin is a little bit crooked and her face marked from decades of wear. Pieces are missing and years of disuse are evident. But if you can look past the exterior of this home, the true value lies within the walls. Within these walls, a lot of living would have happened in 100+ years.
The many people who took shelter here over the years are gone and although we may never know the stories she holds, this resilient structure stands to remind us of our past and perhaps to provide a glimpse into our future as well.
[Putnam County, FL c. late 1800’s]
For just a moment standing here in this spot, you can almost imagine what life might’ve been like 100 years ago. The winding dirt road wraps around the perimeter of the farm and out to a railroad path more than a century old and still in use today. The tree line to the left stands like a wall to shield the visions and commotion of a highway that didn’t exist when this home was built. The overgrowth hangs like a curtain in front of the old home, almost as if to protect a secret.
[Photo of Roxie and Samuel with their first 3 children, Felton, Ola Mae and John taken in 1916- the same year they moved to Florida (Photo courtesy of the Bristow-Dugger family)]
Roxie and Samuel would marry in Lasker, NC in 1909 and by 1916, they were heading South with their 3 children towards Florida. By 1919, they were living in this home they had bought from a farming family. Within the next decade, their family would grow by four, but they would lose a son as well. A Word War would begin and they would see the wagon path just beyond their door become a bustling highway. Their Nation would plummet into economic depression.
[Bristow children chewing on sugar cane c. 1934 (Photo courtesy of the Bristow-Dugger family)]
Through all of these events, this family ate here, talked here, slept here, and endured together in this home. They farmed through good times and bad and nourished a growing family in the process. But somewhere along the way something must have changed and it made more sense to live elsewhere. Economies, priorities and values shift and things get left behind. The unfortunate reality of change is that when moving forward, you can’t take every piece of your past with you. Sometimes memories are the best and only thing that change will allow us to hold to.
[Front porch with boarded enclosure]
[Bristow family home hidden by overgrowth]
[Alachua County, FL c. late 1800’s]
In 1869, the Georgia Florida Southern Railroad laid tracks through North Florida. It was just after the Civil War and the South was trying to emerge, rebuild, and identify itself in a new social and economic framework. Surely, times were tough but despite the hardships, people began to build. Small communities began to spring up along the railroad routes where rural settlers gathered to get in on newly commercialized farming (courtesy of the railroads). Families that had once been isolated in the rural Florida frontier now had reason to congregate in more concentrated groups. They erected churches, built homes and started to lay out roots for their future.
In this small town, cotton was king until the region was ravaged by a boll weevil outbreak in the 1920’s followed by the devastating effects of the Great Depression on rural America. This community would never fully recover and slowly but surely, it stopped growing and its residents began to look elsewhere for a different means to support themselves and their families.
This home is one of a few remaining examples of the earliest settlers homes in this railroad ghost town. Built in the late 1800’s, Flora and Richard would raise four children in this home and for more than 70 years, their family slept, ate, and lived their lives out under this roof. Until a time came when they had to move forward. Their children became adults and began to create their own foundations somewhere else. Flora and Richard passed away and no one is left who needs this old place anymore.
The interior of this home is filled with artifacts from the family scattered about like puzzle pieces waiting for me to put together their story. A solitary shoe in one room; 70+ year old correspondences in another; family photos, clothes and trinkets everywhere. I can’t begin to describe the profound feeling of holding the long-forgotten personal effects of someone who is no longer with us. Someone I have never met, who has left behind a trail of details. Details that viewed collectively, tell a much bigger story.
[Correspondence #2 that this family sent on behalf of their adult son to keep him from the draft in WWII]
[Union County, FL c. late 1800’s]