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Florida Diaries: Travelers' Accounts of their Visits: Another View of St. Augustine

Drawing on the holdings of the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History this website features excerpts from diaries and memoirs of visits to Florida, 1870-1930

Robert Moffat Fleming in Florida

Robert Moffat Fleming (Sept. 13, 1855 - Feb. 12, 1924) was a native of Cumbernauld Lanarkshire, Scotland who emigrated to Pennsylvania with his parents around 1870.  He made his career in the coal industry, first as general manager to the Norton Land and Improvement Company (1893) and later as the owner of Banner Coal Co.   He married Christina Barrowman, of Shettleston, Glasgow, Scotland.  They had five children John, Robert, Anne, James, and William.

The letters reproduced here are from a trip Fleming made through Florida in January 1920, stopping at Jacksonville, Daytona, Orlando, Arcadia, Lakeland, Ft. Myers.  In St. Augustine, he visited the fort, where he accepted the stories about the torture chamber much more wholeheartedly than the Raymentons did, and he found the Fountain of Youth disappointing in comparison to the waters at Green Cove Springs.


Hotel Windle, Jacksonville, January 13th, 1920

Dear Christiana:

The old town of St. Augustine coming into sight, great improvements began to show up . . . After dinner, which we took one hour to eat, and one hour to inspect the old Spanish fort, we visited the old criminal dungeons where the ingenuity of the worst characters in power was used to torture the prisoners of war.  Using the "Rack," "Pulleys," and "Thumb Screws," also cages with spikes so arranged that the poor inmates could not move one way or the other.  In this state they finally died from starvation, pain and misery.  Then they were dropped down a hole in the floor into the quicksands of the sea.  It was one desperate torture after another, until it must have been a great relief when death came.  I was not able to suppress my strong indignation at the Spanish nation.  It had been known through all ages, how the Spanish Inquisition had tortured the people, and caused untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of poor helpless mortals, wherever they had the power and authority.  Their power was so great at that time that they ruled the world.  Our consolation now is that our country under President McKinley drove them from this Great American Continent, never no more reign in their barbarian torture and criminality.  Theirs was a case where "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." 

After this we visited the old Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Flagler, and his home close by.  All interesting and fine buildings, with nice green lawns, and large palms that beautify the grounds.  The Roses and Poincianas are in bloom.  The Palms are so common, the swamps and land along the road side are covered with them.  The Orange Groves on the outskirts of the town are beautiful.  I counted as many as twenty Grape fruit on one bunch.  Oranges in wild profusion.  Pecans, and the "Sample Oranges" as I called them, are something like mock oranges.  There was a very common looking old woman who wished to go along when anyone entered the grounds.  This was as protection to the oranges.  No one was allowed to pluck them or even gather them from the ground.  One of the men along with us bought one little scrawny one for five cents.  I saw them in the windows of a Jacksonville store at two cents each, or two dozen for 24 cents.

Hotel Windle, Jacksonville, Florida, January 16, 1920

My Dear Christina:

I spent another delightful day, Friday the 16th, starting at 10 o'clock A.M.  I took a boat trip up the St. Johns River 30 miles distance to a place called "Green Cove Srpings."  It is a three hour trip, arriving at the above named place at 1 o'clock P.M.  Stopping two hours, and arriving back in Jacksonville at 6 o'clock P.M.  This river flows due north while ours go south.  This unnatural as all rivers generally flow southward.  Why this one takes an unnatural direction I am at a loss to know.  Its width is as much as three miles at some points.  The water is very smooth, and partly covered with water lilies.  The boat traffic prevents this growth of vegetation from collecting at any one point to any great extent.

The Hotel I took dinner at was called Yui-Si-Sana Hotel.  It faces the St. Johns River and is built of Conyuina Concrete, with red tile roof, and of Spanish mission architecture both inside and out.  It has an open court, Cloisters, and Pergola.  The Spring is called in Spanish "The Spa."  Granted by the Spanish Government some years ago.  The Spring flows 3000 gallons of pure sparkling water per minute.  We can drink it, and can bathe in it.  It remains the year round at 78 deg. Fahrenheit.  The water is soft and velvety.  Its medicinal qualities are especially good for indigestion, Kidneys, and Rheumatism.  This is a restful place, and that rest means to tired nerves.  The place itself is not much, but since I have seen it, I have been thinking somewhat seriously of spending a part of my time here.  The "Fountain of Youth" that I saw at St. Augustine is a fake and and a disappointment compared with the Springs of Green Cove.  Had old De Leon ever seen this one he would have had good reason for thinking he had found something out of the ordinary, as it has straightened out the decrepit and miserable and made lame walk and throw away their crutches.  I asked a lady if they had a place to keep all such staffs and crutches as a reference for the lame who had not been so mercifully blessed.

She showed me a bottle of the water that had been bottled in 1907 and it looked as clear as crystal, with no sediment or scum nor any discoloration to be seen.   A number of people do not like the taste of it as it is impregnated with sulfur.   To look at it in the pool, it is as black as ink, but when caught in a glass, it is crystal and white in appearance.  Its depth in the natural sunlight pool is 40 feet.  There are a great many Artesian wells here.  Most all Hotels are supplied with them, 50 to 70 degrees in temperature, and has to be cooled with ice for drinking purposes.  There is no use of allowing the water to run as it comes cold, as I persevered in doing at first.  It never would get cold.

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