by Rita Hooper
I bring you greetings from Ft. Myers, Fla. where it is a sunny 73 degrees this morning (Tuesday). As promised, I will share my experience at the Little White House in Key West.
This is commonly referred to as the Harry S. Truman Little White House and is the only presidential site in the state of Florida. As a presidential enthusiast, this was one of the chief reasons for my visit to Florida.
Key West is the southern most point in the United States. It is located 90 miles west of Cuba and is west of Cleveland, Ohio if you were to drop a plumb line down from that state. The Keyes are surrounded by water and reefs. It’s early history revolves a round the sea.
Fishing was and is a prime part of its economy although more in terms of tourism than commercialism today. “Wreckers” were also prominent. They made their money by rescuing ships that hit the reefs. They rescued the crew first and got half of the cargo for their efforts.
The U.S. Navy has had a presence in Key West since 1823 when a base was first established to stop piracy in the area. The base was expanded during the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War.
You may remember the sinking of the Maine from your history classes. The Maine had sailed from this naval base to Havanna, Cuba where it was sunk. The entire U.S. Atlantic Fleet was based at Key West throughout the duration of the Spanish-American War.
The base was expanded during World War II and in 1917, a naval submarine station was established here. In World War II, the main purpose of the base was to supply oil to the US fleet and to block the German’s from reaching Mexican oil suppliers. Because of its ideal weather, it later became a training station for the Navy. Opps, I’m jumping ahead in the story.
In 1854, the U.S. Navy purchased a little more than two acres at the cost of $10,400 along the waterfront. In 1878, living conditions for Navy personnel became a big issue. The Navy had no housing and married officers were forced to rent and maintain houses in Key West.
Commandant Winn, in 1881, complained that Key West was the only station with no quarters provided for their officers. In 1882, Lt. Robert Perry (later he would explore the North Pole) directed the design and construction of a new concrete seawall 572 feet long for a cost of $4000.
In 1889, the Navy approved the building of two frame dwellings to house the base commandant and the paymaster. These houses would be built on that two-acre parcel purchased in 1854 and behind the seawall built by Perry.
The construction contract was awarded to New York contractor Rowland Rollins in January of 1890 and by May it was near completion (not like today!) The bid was $7,489!
Over the years, these two buildings were often combined into one and then back to two, depending on the size of family or the use to which it was being put.
In 1903-04, the waterfront was filled in and bulkheaded and the homes no longer were on the water. In 1942, an administration building was built on the filled in property, completely blocking the sea view from the homes.
In 1946 and after World War II, President Truman took advantage of the vacancy of these quarters and moved in for the first of his 11 working vacations at Key West.
Truman called the White House the “Great White Jail” and short of going home to Independence, Missouri, the Truman Little White House in Key West was his favorite place to be. Since Truman, the Little White House has been visited by Presidents, Eisenhower Kennedy, Carter and Clinton.
U.S. Sec. of State Colin Powell hosted peace talks there between Armenia and Azerbaijan. But it is Truman that spent more time here than any other president; in all Truman spent 175 days in Key West.
As he wrote to his friend Carl Hatch in 1951, “The only thing that would in any way make it look as if it were a vacation, is the fact that I do not have the constant stream of visitors all day long and can sit down and get through my document list and catch up with my correspondence. As usual, never a day goes by that I do not have to make some decision which affects the whole of the United States and sometimes the rest of the world.” Truman kept a daily journal so documenting his life is not a difficult one. When he was away from home, he wrote his wife everyday.
“Even though he worked everyday, he, his staff, the press corps and those around him had a lot of fun and struck up a sort of stag party, fraternity house camaraderie when they were there.”
After dinner, a poker party was known to usually break out but lights went off at 11!
Think I’m getting a little long in the tooth so that’s it for now. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for a little travel or a little study on presidential homes or presidents themselves.
Truman has been called the
“last human being” to occupy the White House….an uncommon, common man.” Remember the headline – “Dewey defeats Truman’ which turned out to be wrong?!
* * * * *
The Senior Nutrition Program meets at the Senior Center, next to the library on Oswego Street on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lunch is served at noon but they are open by 10 for coffee, news and games. Give Rosemary a call and make your reservation now at 564-5471.
This is the last day for nominations for the library’s Woman of the Year. Nomination ballots are available at the library. The voting on the nominees will then run until Saturday, March 16. The award ceremony for the winner will take place Saturday, March 23 from 2 to 3 p.m.
The Hannibal Park Committee has announced that they will be holding a Family Fun Day at the park, next to the Municipal Building Saturday, Feb. 23 from noon until 3 p.m. The town hall will be open for refreshments and warming up. A great afternoon of sledding and fun in the snow is planned.
The Enoch Thomas Cluster of the United Methodist Churches have begun their Lenten services. All services are held at 5 p.m. with refreshments following. This Sunday, the service will be at Ira March 3 at Hannibal Center, March 10 at Martville, March 17 at Hannibal and the Palm Sunday, March 27 service will be at Bowen’s Corner featuring the annual Choir Festival.
The Hannibal Historical Society will meet Feb. 25 at the Community Center for a covered dish dinner at 6 p.m. During the business meeting, which will follow the dinner, members of the Society will be voting on new By-Laws. Following the meeting, Louise Kellogg will be showing us some of the old fashioned games played in March at the 4th grade celebration of Hannibal History. Please bring a dish to pass and your own table service. Coffee and tea will be provide
The Hannibal library will be holding “2 classes in 1 day” Feb. 26. The first class will begin at 5 to 6:30 p.m. and will be for the “Kindle and Kindle Fire e-readers.” Immediately following, there will be a class “Managing Your Digital Photos” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. If there is enough interest, there will be a Nook class before the other two classes. Please bring your own e-readers, laptops, etc. Please let the library know of your interests or if you have any questions, by stopping in or calling 564-5471.
The Hannibal Fire Company Auxiliary will hold a breakfast buffet Sunday, Feb. 27 at the Firehouse from 8 to 11 a.m.
The auxiliary of the Hannibal American Legion will be holding its annual stuffed pork chop dinner March 3, beginning at noon until sold out. Pre-sale tickets are available by calling the Legion, but tickets will be available at the door.
The Hannibal Ecumenical Lenten Soup Suppers began last week at God’s Vision Christian Church. The next one will be March 5 at the Hannibal United Methodist Church on Route 3 in the Village at 6 p.m. The last one will be at Our Lady of the Rosary March 19. There is no cost for these dinners and everyone is encouraged to participate.
The Hannibal Methodist Church is serving a free lunch (donations for this ministry accepted though) Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. Don’t eat alone, come on down and join the fun and fellowship.
If you know that your organization is planning an event and you don’t see it in the Hannibal column, please e-mail me or give me a buzz (both e-mail and phone are posted at the top of this column.)
This column is meant to keep those in Hannibal, Florida, Arizona and points in between and around the globe posted on what’s shaking in our fair community. Some of us still like to get the news the ole fashioned way!