Local organization preserves Glades County history

GLADES COUNTY — Approximately 20 years ago, a small band of Moore Haven residents held a meeting to discuss the colorful history of Glades County, and especially the restoration of some of the pre-war houses in Moore Haven. These enthusiastic folks were sure that many local houses were deserving of restoration.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Fundraisers provide funding for the upkeep of Westergaard House.

This meeting actually came about after a family named Pfisterer from Pennsylvania donated a 1920s Bungalow-styled house located at 270 Avenue L to the county and especially Moore Haven, for preservation.

After some research into local family histories, and/or relocated former Moore Haven residents, a decision was made by these “gung-ho” history buffs to research the history of these well-constructed Bungalow-styled houses.

After hours of research, reading and questioning of any long-time resident who would answer countless questions, newly hired historian, Mikki Hartig, with help from city and county staff, began the interesting task of researching into our city’s background.

Most of these well-built small homes were in need of paint, repairs and research that would improve and preserve their historic value. This particular house constructed in the early 1920s needed a new roof, some foundation shoring up, siding, foundation, reinforced pilings, new plumbing and electric.

Their enthusiasm was contagious and soon over 40 people were meeting to discuss ways and means to catalogue and save these houses. Many were destroyed by the deadly 1927 flood/hurricane. Approximately 2,500 residents were killed in Glades, Hendry, Highlands and even as far south as Palm Beach County. Many of these fleeing folks were running from the law, or were unfortunate yet to be escaping from the cruel vestiges of slavery.

With help and enthusiasm from new members of this county and community organization, especially city council members, Carmen Whitney, and helpful city hall staff and Clewiston’s head librarian, John Frazer, various small grants and individual contributions, began arriving. Thanks to Mrs. Whitney, historian, Mikki Hartig was hired to lead the research. She had recently helped compile the story of a historic area in Sarasota, as that seaside community worked to restore its older waterfront areas. Countless letters and donations of support began arriving by mail or delivered by interested folks who attended the monthly meetings of the Glades County Historical Society (GCHS). One such meeting and luncheon was held at a historic hotel and restaurant in the newly-restored historic district in Sebring. We learned many creative ways to write grants and keep folks interested and up to date on our activities. GCHS members were surprised with the local turn-out of many snowbirds, local former residents of Glades County and nearby counties at this luncheon.

During those 15 years members held rummage sales, luncheons, and tours of the 1920s Bungalow-styled house. During one meeting older citizens were invited to tell stories of their growing up days in Glades County. They were interesting, delightful and of course, quite amusing. During Christmas holidays, members decorated Christmas trees with old time ornaments, and held holiday open houses, winter barbecues, art shows and other fundraisers. During other holidays, members sold homemade lunches and even delivered them to hungry buyers. Thanks again to many volunteers our Halloween open houses were a hoot thanks to Judge Kirby Sullivan and his nephew Jeff, who is a wiz with electric sound effects. For many years volunteers have helped distribute pounds of trick or treat goodies to hundreds of “little beggars” who arrive on foot, in cars and on haywagons. This event is our favorite of all. Don’t forget us this year!

These fundraisers have been well-attended and provide funding for the Westergaard House upkeep.

Please join us for the coming year. We need your help, your energies and your kindness.

Local crafts people such as artist Susan Caumont and Jeff Beller, Sandy Lundy, donated art work, carpentry skills, and many other items to improve the house. Susan and Jeff from New York have remodeled and restored a delightful cabin surrounded by a huge yard that resembles a park.

After a few months Ms. Hartig patiently coached us on the method of obtaining grants. No easy task. (After all this comes from we, the taxpayers.) After spending several months writing a grant I, along with many patient city hall staff, friends, and county residents were awarded approximately $70,000 all total. This did not cover every detail but it was the start of saving this well-preserved home.

In the beginning we did not charge a fee for using the house but as the months went by we always needed some repair somewhere. Ories Douglas and friends constructed the wheelchair ramp, others planted trees and shrubs and many have helped keep the house clean.

We will always be thankful for these willing and able businesses and their staffs such as Nightingale Plumbing, Griffin Electric, John Ahern, Ories Douglas and so many others. Snowbirds worked in the yard, cleaned up debris and furnished snacks and drinks for volunteers.

As the popularity of the house grew and as with all older buildings, something always needed to be repaired. Members then voted to charge a modest fee of $25 to rent the house for holiday and family events or interesting complimentary presentations by Clewiston historian Butch Wilson, teachers from University of Florida and others. That modest rental fee has been increased to $50 due to replacement of furnishings, paint and lumber for needed repairs and other upkeep jobs. Volunteers assist with cleaning the house in between rentals. Of course, as with all expenses, we now need to conduct a membership drive.

Each group is asked to leave the house clean, swept and definitely to return the furniture back to its original position. Occasionally folks forget these small rules, and I, sometimes with a helper have had to move the sofa, chairs and other items back where they were when the house was rented. One group removed most of the paintings and wall fixtures and forgot to replace them! Bottom line, however, was and remains that most folks leave it cleaner and neater.

The house has recently undergone some replacement of the front porch floor and steps as well as a new paint job by local handyman, Joey Beck. He has saved the day for our few remaining members. We can still clean and pull weeds, and we can occasionally meet to just pass the time and catch up on the latest news. We miss our members who have left this earth, and those wonderful snowbirds who just could not return here as they aged. Requests for assistance whether it was cleaning, donating funds or just stopping by to chat as we die-hards were weeding, are always appreciated.

It is now imperative to have citizens give us some input. Do we few members start a membership drive? Do we plan a rummage sale, a cookie sale? And how about a few of us attending county commission and Moore Haven City Council meetings? We need input from all citizens. This county and small community both have colorful histories. They shouldn’t be forgotten, especially the very few folks who recall (when they were children), the 1927 hurricane and flood. We are fortunate to have volunteers to help with the lawn. The City of Moore Haven also helps with vital chores when possible. A few snowbirds work in the yard during the winters. The house belongs to all of us. Let’s hang onto this historic home that remains in good condition.

Those of you who recall your growing-up years in that house have told me such good, happy stories of those childhood years. It is obvious that the few families that lived in the well-constructed modest home took good care of it and once in awhile they will stop for a chat.

Please phone 863-801-5199 if you are interested in joining. Dues remain $20 annually. We will provide speakers on how to restore your home, such as how to begin restorations, whether buildings, furniture, paintings or lawn care, and many other hints on preserving our past. Excellent speakers from Tallahassee can offer advice on restoration of buildings, furniture, paintings, and how to look up family histories.

Here is a great idea for entertaining your visitors! Visit the still-new Clewiston Museum on U.S. 27 across from the Chrysler Dealer. Butch Wilson, the curator, grew up here and is an excellent fountain of knowledge concerning this entire area. They offer great bus tours with only locals providing the history of this area and its people.

It takes enthusiastic people to help preserve our past. It takes money. It takes educating our young people on the importance of saving history, of not repeating mistakes, and to carry on our amazing free society where we can all join together and swap stories. T-shirts will soon be available with the Glades County Historical Society name and a new logo. You will love these unusual shirts!

For further information, phone Anne Coffey at 863-801-5199.

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