"Starting at the Beginning”: One Family Takes Shape in Florida.



I wanted to share a family photograph, taken (probably) in 1915, in West Palm Beach, so we might say a quick “Hello” to my paternal grandmother, Annelise Petersen. She’s the little girl to the right of her Mother Mathilde, opposite coquettish older sister Kathe. At this point she still dreams in German; it’s not yet been even two years since the three boarded ship for the United States of America, through Ellis Island, leaving forever behind the home they had loved, and life they had known, in their ancestral home of Flensburg, in the far north of Germany. (Her father Johannes Petersen had preceded them, presumably in the hopes of making for them such a home as he might be able.)

The following “caption” is scribbled on its back, in the handwriting of my aunt Bettina (their first-born, and Dad’s oldest sister):

“This is Annelise Crockett’s mother, Mathilde and her and sister Kathe in West Palm Beach. She was 7 years old. They had lived in Chicago for the first year in America. The landlord raved over Florida so they came by boat, with her father, to see it and moved here.”

The picture is of special importance to me because it is the earliest still-existing of family taken in Florida, and quite probably also the first taken, period.  So it is exactly here that my family’s story first flows into, and becomes part of, that great and vastly colorful river known as Florida history.  After settling briefly in Miami, the family would homestead in the Redland area about thirty miles south, creating “Bonita Groves,” a tropical plant showcase/ productive fruit and citrus grove/ tourist attraction, and both of the girls attend and graduate from Redland Farm Life High School.  The school is still open and active today. 

Yet before young Annelise would graduate as valedictorian in her class of 8, she would meet a young man from Tennessee making quite a living as a “binder boy” in Florida’s white-hot land boom of the time, having first pulled into Miami Station in 1923 after receiving in the mail a one-way train ticket sent by two of his brothers already here.  His name was H.B. (“Bruce”) Crockett.  It turns out that the principal of his one-room school house back in Tennessee had likewise somehow made his way down to Miami, as did so many other thousands at the time, and found suitable employment as the principal of Redland Farm Life. “Bruce,” he had offered thoughtfully, following a chance meeting, “listen; we’re having a social this Friday evening down at the school, and you really ought to think about joining us. There’s a lovely girl that I believe you’d want to meet.”


Young Annelise (right), as my Grandfather would have first come to know her, accompanied by sister Kathe. The year is 1923-24. The pair are captured in a casual moment tending to their assigned duties of hospitality (including serving up any of a large variety of fresh, chilled fruit juices to the thirsty), at “Bonita Groves,” the family’s homestead/ citrus grove/ botanical outdoor scientific laboratory/ tourist attraction that once beckoned invitingly to travelers of every description, from the whole world over, in that larger green oasis some thirty miles south of Miami, yet peaceful and still, known as the Redland. (Below) the family homestead, with citrus arranged festively in the front yard in possible anticipation that the image might one day be published in this blog!


So he had made the first of many remarkable journeys some 30 miles south in his Model T automobile, back before there was a US-1, or for that matter any consecutive paved road, at all.  Upon first laying eyes on Annelise, he used to say, he “lost his heart.”  He was an absolutely impossible romantic, and saw no reason why he should not become the luckiest man on Earth.  For her part, Annelise saw no reason to resist her destiny. They were married in the Dade County Courthouse in 1925, and shared 69 years together as husband and wife.

Mrs. Crockett became a beloved teacher of Fifth Grade at Coral Way Elementary for 25 years, and older sister Kathe, known as “Mrs. Wilson,” gave her all to teaching the German language to generations, at Coral Gables High.

Thank you.

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