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Collectors of Florida history

Michael Sittig, 59
Executive director, Florida League of Cities
Tallahassee

Michael Sittig has been executive director of the Florida League of Cities since 1995, after having served as the assistant director for 14 years. It’s in the league’s conference room that his collection of 20 historical maps resides. “About 15 years ago, a map of Florida from 1910 caught my eye in a store in Atlanta,” he says. “I was fascinated by the visual showing how rural our state was, especially southeast Florida. I bought it and have collected a few since. The collection is authentic original maps from the 17th to 20th centuries.”

His hunting grounds: Antiques stores and antique map dealers

More than four centuries ago: “The oldest is 1682, La Floride. The map maker was Nickolas Sanson. Nearly the entire USA is depicted as Florida. Bordering Florida to the north is Canada.”

Favorites: “I am partial to a government plat map from 1851. It was produced by B.A. Putnam, the state’s surveyor general, who was located in St. Augustine. Words on the map give you the impression that because of Indians, thousands and thousands of acres in central south were not surveyed/platted.”

Vera Farrington, 84
Founder, Spady Cultural Heritage Museum; board member, Expanding and Preserving Our Cultural Heritage (EPOCH); museum owner
Delray Beach

Vera Farrington was a public school teacher when schools were still in the midst of integration. After she retired in the early ’90s, she read a newspaper article about how the Delray Beach Historical Society wanted people for its board. “I was also asked to be a volunteer in the society’s archives room. It was a shock to me that when people came in to inquire about the white principals in the archives, there was a wealth of information. But when I checked on the black principals, most notably Mr. Solomon Spady, there was nothing. There was nothing about Thurgood Marshall’s visit; nothing about the first teacher to Delray Beach, who was a black man. This was when I developed an interest not only to correct the inequities that existed, but also to find out more about black people and their roles in making Delray Beach what it is.”

Farrington has made it her mission to amass oral histories ever since. This summer her collection of oral histories is on exhibit at the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. “The Legacies of Delray Beach Families” runs through Aug. 31 and features original photography by Delray Beach resident Michiko Kurisu and artifacts from four families whose descendants have lived in the city for generations.

Among the things she’s learned: “Each group had something to contribute. For example, the people from the Bahamas taught people how to preserve, cure and salt fish.”

What you may not know: “There was a caste system between the blacks from the Bahamas and the islands and the blacks from the American slavery system. This separation was born of both sides wanting to preserve their lineage and not mixing with blacks from different areas. In time, both sets of people came to accept and share each other’s food, fashion and cultures, and some of it is reflected today in certain families.”

 

Other Notable Florida Historical Collections

» Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee: Highlights include Civil War flags of Florida from the mid- to late 19th century; Roxcy Bolton Collection of women’s rights artifacts put together by the renowned women’s rights pioneer; and even things like Florida citrus shipping labels and tourist memorabilia.

» P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, Gainesville: The formerly private collection of historical maps, early newspaper articles and manuscripts from the Spanish borderlands was started in the 1890s and can now be found at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.

» HistoryMiami (formerly Historical Museum of Southern Florida), Miami: All collections relate to the history, cultures, folk life and archaeology of south Florida, the Caribbean and Native Americans, including old architectural renderings, news articles, postcards and photos.

» Museum of Arts & Sciences Cuban Foundation Museum, Daytona Beach: Former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who eventually resided in Daytona Beach, donated most of his extensive Cuban art collection to the residents of Daytona, and it has been housed here for 40 years as a means of giving Cuban-Americans a look at their cultural heritage through art.