By Claude Kennison
Tallahassee was established on March 4, 1824 and designated as the capital of the Florida Territory. In the same year on December 29, the Florida Legislative Council established Leon County from Gadsden County. It was appropriate then for Tallahassee and Leon County to celebrate their Centennial in 1924 and it will be equally so for us to observe our Bicentennial in 2024. It would be well therefore to see what we can learn from the Centennial that might help us as we begin planning for 2024.
In 2015 I compiled two volumes for the State Library on the Tallahassee Centennial, comprising mainly of articles found in the Tallahassee Daily Democrat, other newspapers, magazines, etc. I will present some of my findings in this and other subsequent issues of the Tallahassee Historical Society Redux, which will be posted on-line and emailed.
Tallahassee had never seen anything like it, and 1924 was the greatest celebration ever recorded in our city up to that time. The town really outdid itself, and all stops were pulled out. People from throughout the state (estimates as high as 50,000) poured in for week-long events from November 9-15, including parades, shows, concerts and exhibits.
The earliest mention of the centennial found was in the The Daily Democrat (Tallahassee) on November 19, 1921, p. 1. The paper took the lead in the promotion of the celebration with “Tallahassee Should Celebrate Its Centennial Year,” and stated, “It was during 1823 that the old Indian field of Tallahassee was selected as the site for the state capital…” and further declared “some time during the year 1923 there should be a celebration of state wide or nation wide interest.” But on November 21, 1921, the question was when was Tallahassee selected as the capital, 1923 or 1924? The writer concluded, “the exact date should be established and the citizens of Leon county get busy making plans for a celebration of the Capital Centennial.” However, by April 28, 1922, the date 1923 was still being considered. City Manager J.W. Greer recommended “the city, the chamber of commerce, Leon county and the state of Florida join hands in staging a great celebration of the centennial in the city of Tallahassee and the permanent capital of the state. The cooperation of the Florida State College for women would be enlisted and the celebration take the form of an outdoor historical play or pageant outlining the history of Florida.”
By August 29, 1923, p. 1 the date had shifted to 1924. In an article “SITE SHOULD BE BOUGHT AT ONCE FOR CELEBRATION OUR CENTENARY” The Daily Democrat repeatedly called attention to the fact that 1924, next year, is Tallahassee’s centenary, and that the city and state should celebrate it in an elaborate and spectacular way. Mrs. F.R.S. Phillips, secretary of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in a telegram from Cincinnati, recommended that the citizens of Tallahassee and the Leon County commissioners, in particular, should purchase a site for the centennial consisting of 100 acres for permanent fair and exhibition purposes, on or near a railroad. Mrs. Phillips further stated, “As next year will be a centennial of the selection of Tallahassee as the permanent capital of Florida, a fitting celebration including pageant, races, base ball, fireworks flower show and so forth, should be staged on the permanent grounds next November or December to attract tourists and home seekers….”
The first organization, as best determined, to endorse participation in the planning for the Centennial celebration was the Caroline Brevard Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on September 22, 1923. At a subsequent meeting on October 23, 1923, Miss Shores, the Historian, presented the outline for the next year’s programs, the subjects selected were to familiarize the society with the life and history of Tallahassee, that they may be better fitted to planning for the centennial. A list of subjects, member speakers and dates will follow in my next column.