Pleas the Photographer


Charles Earl Pleas’ advertisement in the June 23, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner.

Charles E. Pleas was a Quaker and a professional photographer who relocated to Chipley in the 1890s. He was of several professional photographers who opened studios in Chipley in the early 1900s.

Pleas was born in Indiana in 1867, the son of Elwood and Sarah Griffin Pleas. Elwood was a lumber dealer, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. An interesting biography of the Pleas family is found here.

Charles Pleas married Lillie Conley in Richmond, Indiana on February 4, 1891; according to the marriage license, he was living in Clinton, Arkansas at the time. The Pleases moved to Washington County in the mid-1890s.

Pleas maintained a professional photography business up until around 1920, when he switched to farming full time. You see, Pleas’ big claim to fame was introducing kudzu to Washington County. He developed his interest in horticulture studies into a full-time kudzu farming.

Although the invasive plant was introduced to the United States during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, it wasn’t yet well known in the Southeast. But in 1905, Pleas, who had an extensive side interest in horticulture, thought the dense, fast-growing and inexpensive fine would provide an excellent solution to local soil erosion problems, especially since kudzu was drought-resistant. Pleas recommended it to other local farmers and landowners, since it also proved to be an inexpensive forage product for livestock. (An interesting story about kudzu, Charles Pleas, and the invasiveness of the plant can be found here).

Horticulturists report that kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Image source:

Little did Pleas realize that kudzu farming would prove to be a prolific and fast-growing business, becoming the focus for the remainder of his career.

Charles remained in farming until his death in 1955.


Some of the photographs and negatives belonging to Charles Earl Pleas are located at the University of West Florida Archives. Some of the images that have been scanned in can be found at this link.

Man and woman in black, photographed by Charles E. Pleas during the 1890s. I wish there were more information available on the subjects in this photo! Source: University of West Florida Archives



Chipley’s Telephone Girl


The last time I actually spoke with a bona-fide telephone operator was about 15 years ago, and that was only after working my way through a robotic menu of options, and waiting on hold for about five minutes while listening to classic rock converted to elevator music.

It must have been interesting to be a telephone operator, also known as a “telephone girl” or “hello girl”, in the early 1900s.

A portion of an editorial about telephone girls. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 1, 1912.

There weren’t many jobs in technology for women in the early 1900s; most of the ‘socially acceptable’ jobs were teaching, nursing, stenography, or housewifery. There were women telegraphers (Emmett was a telegrapher with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in high school, and when he was home from college during breaks), but they were a rarity, especially in rural depots. Not everyone had a telephone, and the service was haphazardLegislation was introduced in 1903 to erect telephone poles and string wires. Phones were in Chipley prior to 1903, but it took a few years for the communities to organize the utility; make things ‘official.’

A switchboard operator in Richardson, Texas, around 1900. The switchboard and operator probably looked similar in Chipley, Florida. Source: Vintage Everyday

Also, while there were telephones in Emmett’s hometown at the turn of the century, they were mostly owned by businesses and the wealthy.

But Chipley had telephone girls! One of them was Lucile Cook McGeachy.

According to The Chipley Banner, Lucile was one of the local ‘telephone girls’ before she married Stephen E. McGeachy, a pharmacist.

Stephen McGeachy, pharmacist. Did Stephen and Lucile “court” on the telephone exchange party lines? Source: The Chipley Banner, January 4, 1912;

The October 13, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner states that “Miss Lucile Cook is the voice of the telephone exchange in Chipley.” There is no other mention of her service to the telephone exchange in later issues of the paper; Lucile and Stephen were married December 27, 1904, and she may have stopped working after that date.

Marriage license of Stephen McGeachy and Lucile Cook. Source:

Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived. Lucile Cook McGeachy died in 1908.

Lucile Cook McGeachy. Source: Find-a-grave.





The Brent-Warren Wedding


Bonnie Burnham, society editor of The Pensacola Journal predicted that the wedding of Emily Brent and Alba Warren would be one of ‘the most elaborate of all the weddings’, and it was one of the first weddings held after Lent — on Easter Monday.

The Brent-Warren wedding was one of the society events of 1911. The gerund “queening” isn’t considered complimentary; I’m sure Bonnie Burnham didn’t mean it that way — or did she?  Source: The Pensacola Journal,

The article mentioning the Brent-Warren wedding indicated that a Catholic wedding ceremony had to delayed until after Easter — and so it was fitting that Cora’s wedding had an Easter theme!

Source: The Pensacola Journal,

Source: The Pensacola Journal;

What is really great is that I found photographs of the Brent home, all decorated for the wedding!

One of the Brent-Warren descendants, Anne Field, has a web page dedicated to the Brent home, complete with wonderful photographs of the house, the room where the wedding took place, the wedding gifts (!!), and even a photograph of the cake that is described in the article above! (Thanks to Anne for permission to link to her page!)

The second photograph on the web page shows the library where the wedding took place. Our Emmett was definitely in attendance, standing in support of his friend Alba Houghton Warren. We can imagine Emmett standing on the right side, somewhere next to the bookcases, casting an occasional glance at the tomes on the shelves, avoiding the glances of some of the unmarried women in the room, who fancied him a bridegroom for themselves.


Circle of Friends: Alba Houghton Warren


The distinguished Alba H. Warren.

One of Emmett’s friends when he lived in Pensacola during the height of his suave-and-sophisticated club-man existence was Alba Houghton Warren (1874-1950).

Warren was from an upper middle-class family in Worcester, Massachusetts, was, according to The Pensacola Journal, one of the city’s “leading young (men) of affairs;” affairs meaning ‘business interests’ back in the day.

Emmett and Warren were friends; they socialized together, they both liked baseball, they enjoyed boating parties on the Gulf of Mexico.

And, although both Emmett and Warren were considered ‘leading young men of affairs’ in Pensacola, Emmett’s ‘affairs’ were less business-like, and more social; i.e., frequent attendance at the Osceola Club, frequent attendance at soirees given by the upper crust of Pensacola’s society, whereas Warren (who was also a member of the Osceola Club, and attended society events), was deemed more serious, more moderate.

Certainly more sober than Emmett. But I digress.


Warren was an alumni of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1895), where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and the Baseball Association.

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Warren (age 25) is listed as a bookkeeper at the loom works in Worcester.

By the 1910 U.S. Census, Warren (now 35) had a major career change:

Warren is now the manager of the electric company in Pensacola. 1910 U.S. Census. Source:

Pensacola City Directory for 1910. Source:

According to the U.S. Census, lived at 1101 Barcelona Street, and was listed as the head of the house — a boarding house — perhaps he owned the house at the time as well, because his primary job was manager of the Pensacola Electric Company. Notice in the census image that several of his boarders worked with him and/or were affiliated with the Pensacola Electric Company (specifically Superintendent Reynolds Harding), and W. Dennon Smith, the Assistant Superintendent.  Interestingly, Harding and Smith were also natives of Massachusetts.  Out of the six men who boarded at Warren’s house, four were from Massachusetts.

Warren moves to Galveston, Texas. Source: The Pensacola Journal, October 17, 1913, in

Warren’s obituary from The Pensacola Journal (March 28, 1950) stated that he was superintendent of the utility, and served in a similar capacity for electric companies in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. Perhaps it was because of better job opportunities (hence the change from the loom works to the electric company between the years 1900 and 1910). The city directories between the years 1900 and 1910 (that I was able to find that mention Warren) don’t have much to say about his career development, except that he ‘removed’ several times:

1901 Worcester, Massachusetts City Directory. Source:

1909 Boston City Directory. Source:

At least we know where Warren was in 1909! Pensacola City Directory for 1909. Source:

In the next post, I’ll feature more about Alba Warren and his wife, Cora Emily Brent. Emmett was a guest at their wedding — and don’t worry — Emmett didn’t do anything like upset the cake or embarrass himself in front of the guests.

July 4th, 1898


Here’s a summary of the July 4th celebration in Emmett’s hometown, as reported in the July 8, 1898 issue of The Chipley Banner. Dissecting this article provides an interesting snapshot of some of the people, places, and things in Emmett’s life.

July 4th, 1898, from the July 8, 1898 issue of The Chipley Banner. Source:

The local celebration centered around organized sports events, a patriotic flag-raising, and speeches (probably political), as it was a mid-term election year. Stephen Sparkman was running for reelection, and would handily defeat Republican candidate E.R. Gunby in the general election.

In 1898, the new flag that flew on the 80-foot pole had 45 stars; the President of the United States was William McKinley; the Spanish-American War was in its third month; and 15-year-old Emmett was a telegrapher at the Chipley train station.

The Spanish-American war lasted only four months (it was fought between May and August 1898). Emmett could have volunteered, perhaps even lied about his age to join the military, but perhaps he was disinclined after hearing the stories of hardships and realities of war (i.e., it wasn’t so glamorous or exciting) from his father and grandfather’s experiences during the Civil War.

Lamp Harman was Miles Lampkin Harmon (1871-1934), first policeman of Panama City, Florida. I wonder if Emmett or any of his brothers participated in the race too.

The fleet Charlie Chandlee (1874-1973) eventually became a well known real estate and insurance salesman in Panama City. His obituary (Panama City News-Herald, January 15, 1973) stated that his family moved to Chipley for the health of his mother, finished high school there, then attended school in DeFuniak, settling in Panama City in 1905.

Poley Slay is also known as Napoleon Bonaparte “Poley” Slay (1871-1956), and was a longtime resident of Chipley.

Unfortunately, I haven’t uncovered much about Godfrey Clemons is a mystery still, although I found that Clemons received payments from Washington County in 1898, and is listed as a pauper.


Congressional Baseball Game


The annual Congressional Baseball Game was played last night at the Washington Nationals stadium.

I know Emmett Wilson loved the game — he played baseball for his college team (West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University), and for his town baseball team (the Red, White and Blues of Chipley).

But did he play during his two terms as a U.S. Congressman between 1913 and 1917?

Congressional baseball games from 1913-1917. Source: Wikipedia and U.S. House of Representatives Archives

It took a little fancy digging to tease out the rosters for three of the games; unfortunately, I haven’t yet located a 1915 roster — but here is what I found:

July 15,1913 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source:

August 1, 1914 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source: The Washington Times,

July 28,1916 article on the Congressional baseball team. Source: The Washington Times and

Emmett’s name did not appear on any of the Democratic team rosters for 1913, 1914, and 1916. Given Emmett’s precarious health in 1915 (he had full-blown cirrhosis, and had nearly died from alcohol poisoning earlier that year), it is questionable that he’d have played, though he might have attended the games at Boundary Field (also known as American League Park II, then National Park); today, the site of Howard University Hospital.

According to Pensacola newspapers and other reports, Emmett was in Florida from late April until September,1915; therefore, he’d not have attended the game that year.

Emmett left office March 4, 1917, and immediately moved back to Pensacola.There is no evidence he ever returned to Washington after his second term as U.S. Congressman was up, even to attend a baseball game.

A tragic find


As I continue to organize my collection of articles and files, I came across a tragic story from the September 1, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News.

Source: Pensacola Evening News, September 1, 1912, p.1 (microfilm).

I saved this article because I’m certain Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, would have been on hand to assist Dr. Coleman (there were only three physicians in Chipley in 1912).

I’ve shared this article with a Washington County (Florida) genealogy group; hopefully there are Coleman family descendants who would want this information for their family records.

Reading this article made me seek out and embrace my children. My heart aches for Johnnie’s parents, even 115 years later.