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Sunday Favorites: Pioneer Summers

The palmetto huts attracted roaches and other pests.

 As you lounge around in your air-conditioned home, drink cocktails by the pool and complain about the mosquitoes on your porch, try to imagine what summer was like in Florida when the first pioneers settled the area. 


Yesterday was the first official day of summer. But today’s summer practices are drastically different than those hot, humid summer days in the 1800s.  


I thought it would be fun to share with you what life was like during those pioneer summer days. 


Bugs, bugs and more bugs


You think bugs are bad today? If you lived in the 1800s you would be confined to a dark, stuffy home. In order to keep mosquitoes out, pioneers burned smudge pots. Back then, there were no screens on the windows; only wooden shutters. When the sun went down, every nook and crack was plugged, even the keyholes, to prevent the pesky bloodsuckers from getting in.


Families learned to entertain themselves in the dark as even a dull lamp would attract the bugs. Everyone slept under a mosquito netting as a final precaution. Finally someone got the bright idea to put the screen on the windows, giving some people a little room to breathe. 


But mosquitos weren’t the only menacing creatures. Roaches ran amuck in many of the temporary rancheros or huts that pioneers built for shelter until they could construct more permanent accommodations. (They don’t call them Palmetto bugs for nothing!). 


The roaches were so plentiful in the Palmetto huts that pioneers often found they had an uninvited houseguest living in their rafters and feeding on the bugs. 


Snakes would invite themselves in and make themselves comfortable. Pioneer families would often adopt their new “pet” in order to keep the bugs in check. 


Rain, rain and more rain


Anton Kleinosheg, a Scottish colonist who arrived in Sarasota in 1842, suffered a ridiculously cold winter in Florida that shattered all records from previous winters and included snow. 


But the winter was mild in comparison to the weather the colonists would experience the following summer.


Anton and Carrie Kleinosheg

Kleinosheg described the situation in a letter to a friend. 


“The climate in winter (though we had a cold never experienced) is very pleasant and wholesome; but the summer!—100 degrees when it’s not raining and a terrible plague of mosquitoes, enough to drive us mad! The sky consistently sends down water masses that stand in ponds and depressions and generate millions of these beasts. They have in fact killed two of my young dogs (a horrible end).”


Kleinosheg goes on to describe the living conditions inside the hut where he was staying, which belonged to the Abbes, a pioneer family. There were no screens, and he had to sleep, read and write under a mosquito net to avoid being “eaten to death.”


Kleinosheg eventually fell victim to the menacing creatures and contracted malaria. He had to be nursed back to health by the women of the Abbe family. He would later marry the daughter, Carrie Abbe, and they would move to Austria.




Today's homes are built to withstand hurricane force winds, but imagine how a hurricane looked to settlers that had never experienced anything like it. 


In 1846, great dark clouds began to formulate over the Manatee River. At first it seemed like a thunder storm was approaching, but the masses contained great numbers of migrant birds that seemed to be flying in mixed confusion.


It was one of the first hurricanes settlers experienced. 


Aftermath of a hurricane

Some families nailed their windows and doors shut, others hid in their chimneys or under tables. They equipped for the blow of the hurricane that lasted a day and a night.  


No amount of preparation could have stopped their homes from being blown down.


Hiding in their hen house spared Julia “Madam Joe” Atzeroth and her family. It was the only surviving structure on their 160-acre farm. 


Everything was destroyed, including all their furniture - some of which was brought all the way from Germany. The family was forced to remain in the hen house until a new home could be constructed.


During the eye of the storm, residents peeked out from their hiding places to experience the eerie calm that preceded the second half. They witnessed a very strange sight. According to local folklore and written reports, the suction of the cyclone had completely emptied the Manatee River, leaving nothing but shallow holes and basins here and there. Several settlers claim to have witnessed a deer enter the river from the wood and wade across without having to swim.


After the storm was over, settlers had no choice but to rebuild their lives to survive the approaching months.


So yes, summertime had it’s hardships, but there were also warm summer nights, swimming trips, picnics and everything else associated with summertime.


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