Chapter 28: Dorothy, Whit, and Elizabeth


Friday, May 24, 2014, about 11 a.m.

As the officer said, the old train depot in downtown Chipley wasn’t hard to find. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting my car, in front of a seafoam-green building that definitely looked like a train station from the early 19th century.

The original train station in Chipley is long gone; this is the current Amtrak station. Source:

I note that trains still run through Chipley; I had to drive across two sets of raised tracks at an intersection with a barricade that lowers as trains rush by.

The difference between today and Emmett’s day is that passenger trains rarely stop here; trains are primarily freight. Chipley isn’t the train hub it used to be, especially since the advent of automobiles. I get that: Everyone wants to control personal travel. In Emmett’s day, going to and from communities was a novelty; romantic and sweet, special, out-of-the-ordinary. There was something special about planning a trip 100 miles away, or even 25 miles away, for example, where you’d stay with friends or relatives; it didn’t happen every day for regular people.

But in 2014, I know folks who commute 25, even 100 miles round trip a day for their jobs — definitely not a novelty, and certainly not romantic and sweet, particularly in an eight-lane traffic jam on a regular basis.

A side view of the Washington County Historical Society building; a caboose on the grounds. Photo taken by author.

I get out of the car with my computer briefcase and notebook; straighten my skirt and blouse, smooth my hair.

I’m anxious that I’m on time and presentable, and glad that I was able to make it today: The Washington County Historical Society building is only open on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm. The curator emailed me a week or so ago that she’d open it up for me, even if I arrived on a day it was closed. She has no idea how grateful and humbled I am about that. In all the years I’ve been doing research, no one has ever volunteered to open up an entire museum for me to study artifacts. I want to be sure I’m not any trouble; I know that most curators and the staff in small museums are volunteers.

I notice a number of people going in and out — I didn’t think it was a busy place; I thought it would be me and the curator — but today, the place is hopping!

Taken by the author during a lull in the comings and goings of Chipleyites.

The historical society is definitely a community gathering place — when I opened the door, numerous long-time residents were milling about. I later learned these are folks who stop by weekly when the museum is open. Several are gathered at the long tables with checkerboard tablecloths in the open back room to talk, drink coffee, read scrapbooks. It’s interesting — there are other visitors from out of state here too; one woman in particular from Pennsylvania searching for Florida ancestors. I realize that the local residents here are valuable assets to the historical society: They are keen genealogists and history buffs who can offer useful tips to the visitors on navigating official Florida record holdings, contact names and numbers, as well as excellent seafood restaurants while in the area.

The rooms are full of interesting artifacts on the walls, in old glass display cases from general stores. It’s busy, bustling, cheerful.

The curator, Dorothy Odom, recognizes me right away and greets me as if I was someone well-known to her; indeed, we’ve been exchanging emails for several weeks and I feel right at home. She introduces me to her adult daughter, Chelie, holding a gray kitten, who also greets me warmly.

Wonderful friends in the Washington County Historical Society library, Dorothy Odom and Whit Gainey. Photo by the author.

Dorothy loves that I refer to her collection as artifacts. I don’t think she realizes how important her collection is to me (or really anyone else putting someone’s story together). Dorothy has basically the things that Emmett saw on a daily basis in a house or an office, stuff he took for granted, but the same stuff that made him who he was, in a subtle way.

Take Ivory Soap, for example: It was an everyday thing in Emmett Wilson’s world in the 1890s. Maybe Emmett used it; liked the smell of it, like I like the smell of it. Ivory Soap reminds me of my childhood, or maybe what I wished my childhood would have been: Safe, reliable, predictable.

Here’s a photo of an original Ivory Soap package taken on May 20, 2014 in Pensacola while touring 1880-period houses in Old Pensacola. The display features products typically found in a home between 1890-1910. Photo by the author.

A collection of artifacts at the Washington County Historical Society. The red arrow points to a bottle of mucilage. Photo by the author.

Maybe it is that I see these artifacts with new eyes, thinking, Emmett saw this item, or that product in his parent’s kitchen pantry. He may have picked something like that up, used it.

Maybe Emmett, on a dare from an older brother, took a swig out of that bottle of mucilage convinced it was an exotic highball, his lips encircling the small neck of the bottle. He tips the bottle back, his eyes grow wide as he tastes the stuff ….

I quickly stop to look up the word on my phone —

— OMG. Well, I hope Emmett didn’t do that. I know absolutely that his brothers were pranksters. It’s possible it happened…

Dorothy touches my elbow to introduce me to retired Judge Perry Wells, a regular at the historical society; a senior gentleman with a kind, intelligent face.

I tell Judge Wells that Emmett’s older brother Cephas clerked for Judge W.O. Butler before he began a law career, and that I’m staying that night with the descendants of the Butler family while I’m visiting Chipley. Judge Wells nods approvingly, recommends I note the beautiful restorations of the Butler home and the photo gallery there featuring early 20th century photos of the home and family friends.

Coincidentally this day, Judge Wells had with him a small flyer for Jerry Williams Carter, essentially an old campaign flyer for Mr. Carter. I recognize Mr. Carter immediately — “Judge Wells, this is wonderful! Jerry Carter was Emmett’s campaign manager both times he ran for Congress!”

“Mr. Democratic Party,” Jerry Williams Carter wedding photo, 1910. Source:

I wanted to hug the judge for showing me the unexpected flyer; primary sources of information about Emmett have been few and far between to say the least. Dorothy says she’s happy to  print a copy for me. While I waited, Judge Wells suggested I take a walk through the downtown area, and points me over to a rack that hold booklets featuring a walking tour of Chipley.

Dorothy hands me the copy of the flyer, then introduces me to Whit Gainey, a quiet and thoughtful gentleman with an expansive interest in Washington County history. Whit asks me if I am going to visit the Wilson house on Sixth Street.

“I’m expected at the house after lunch, but in the meantime, I was going to head out to the cemetery to visit Emmett’s parents’ gravesites.”

“Do you know where the Wilsons are buried? If you don’t, I have a map and I’m happy to show you,” Whit said, “Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost.”


A half hour later, I’m riding in Whit’s red pickup truck. A country music station is playing quietly as Whit drives around the main street of Chipley; he points out a few landmarks. The old First National Bank, which is in sad condition (there have been some efforts to save it, but nothing successful to date); a row of old storefronts that are in good condition. We turn onto more residential streets, and Whit points out a few Victorian homes that are well cared for, places where Emmett and his family would have seen, probably had dinner with friends and the like. Otherwise, we ride mostly in silence to Greenwood Cemetery; he’s not much of a small talk person with a stranger, and that’s fine. I’m not good with small talk either.

We drive through a small neighborhood to get to the cemetery. “The Wilson graves are in the older part of the cemetery,” he said, maneuvering the truck off the pavement onto a grassy drive. He pulls to a stop near a tree; pulls out the cemetery map with the plots outlined, and nods toward a collection of tall, white monuments. “That’s them up ahead,” he said.

We get out of the truck, and as we walk along the grassy drive, Whit tells me that he’s spent a lot of time over here, photographing headstones and uploading the images to, the cemetery database.

Whit pauses, and turns away politely to look around at a few other stones while I walk towards Dr. Francis Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson’s graves.

I stand in front of them; I don’t know what to do. Finally, I’m here, I think. I’ve been reading about the Wilsons, studying their lives for over a year — but this feels awkward; uncomfortable. I think I should feel something else, because we’re family.

Maybe it is that this has been, pretty much, a one-way relationship for over a year.  An introduction might help.

“Hello,” I say out loud, quietly, to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’m Judy. I’m glad to meet you, and I wish I’d known you in person. This feels weird but it’s true.”

I start to feel better.

But damn, I think to myself, as I look about. I should have brought flowers. I move towards Elizabeth’s stone, and touch the top of it: Lichens. It hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. I look down at both plots: The graves were dry and dusty.

I realize they hadn’t been visited in decades.

“I’m sorry about that,” I say to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’ll be sure to come by whenever I’m in Florida.”

Whit is walking towards me; he pauses in front of the Wilsons.

“These are your cousins?”

“Yes,” I say, and I begin to take photos.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson. Note the lichens at the top of the stone; the dry, sandy soil around the graves. Photo by the author.

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson. See the second line of text with the missing “PFC”, which has been pried off. Photo by the author.

Both graves have interesting additions at the bottom:

For Dr. Wilson, there’s a Confederate Army plaque — and someone has pried off the rank. I ask Whit about the damage to the plaque. He doesn’t think it was vandalism per se; he’s curious if there was an error on the plaque why a new one wasn’t ordered.

For Elizabeth, this is at the base of her tombstone:

The inscription at the base of Elizabeth’s tombstone. Photo by the author.

“Her death was the turning point in this family,” I tell Whit. “There were 10 children, the youngest was eight years old when she died. And Dr. Wilson,” I said, nodding at the other stone, “coped by burying himself in his work. He was a county doctor, one of three, so he was essentially not around for the two years up until his second marriage to Kate Langley Jordan.”

Whit gazes around the immediate area surrounding the Wilson graves. “The second wife isn’t buried anywhere around here,” he said.

“That may be telling,” I say.

As we walk back to Whit’s truck, he says, “People handle grief differently. Sometimes they don’t handle it at all.”

“I think kids pick up on that,” I say, as I climb into his truck. As he starts the engine, I thank him for taking me to visit my cousins, and we ride back to the historical society building in silence.

Next: A closer look at Dr. Wilson



In Thanks


Folks, I’m spending a few days decompressing from the road trip to Pensacola. I have to take a few days off from research and writing about our guy because, frankly, I’m beat. It was a great trip, and I enjoyed it, but it was intense and compressed. I can’t get into a writing state of mind until I unwind a bit.

But today, I want to thank the many people who went out of their way to show me around, to explore the places Emmett Wilson lived or worked (or attended church — on the rare occasion that he did), and in a few instances, to meet for the first time since we began corresponding about Emmett’s story over two years ago!

First, to my intrepid colleague and dear friend Nancy, who has been corresponding with me about Emmett for over a year (we met in person for the first time last Sunday). I’m blessed, humbled, and honored to have made friends with this wonderful lady. She has a great sense of humor, and I value her playing Devil’s Advocate with me on Emmett’s story more than she knows. I truly appreciate Nancy.

Jacki, myself, Nancy. History detective gals.

Jacki, myself, Nancy. History detective gals.

To the incredible Jacki Wilson, archivist at the Pensacola Historical Society, many, many thanks. Not only is she a great source of West Florida history, she knows the best places to eat. I’m lucky to count her as a friend.

To my wonderful hosts, Pam and Brett in Chipley, Emmett’s boyhood home. Pam and her family were gracious and hospitable; I felt right at ease and I was made to feel as if I were one of the family. Pam and Brett’s house is a museum itself; the house has been in the family for at least 100 years, and it is well loved. Emmett and his family were good friends of Pam and Brett’s ancestors; while I stayed there, I got the feeling that he had been there, too; probably also enjoying the hospitality in that house.

Pam and Brett have the most wonderful collection of antique books from Emmett's time (and earlier).

Pam and Brett have the most wonderful collection of antique books from Emmett’s time (and earlier).

I’d like to also thank the county court archivists in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Jackson Counties. Special thanks goes out to Sue Tindel, archivist at the Jackson County Courthouse and local historian, who escorted me all over Marianna, and kindly located many sources of useful information about Emmett Wilson’s early years as a newly minted attorney.

Sue exploring historic St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna. Cephas is buried in the cemetery behind the church.

Sue exploring historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna. Cephas is buried in the cemetery behind the church. There’s also a brass plaque on the wall to the right acknowledging Cephas’ membership in the parish.

I’d also like to give a special thank you to Dorothy Odom, the head archivist at the Washington County Historical Society in Chipley. This is a woman who will not allow any obstacle to deter her in a quest for facts and data. This is a woman who was willing (and suggested it herself) to break into a display case to gain access to books so that I might simply check to see if Emmett’s name was there!

Dorothy moving artifacts in preparation to opening up a glass display case! I talked her out of it for the time being. It was too heavy, and there wasn't enough time. But I got a rain check.

Dorothy moving artifacts in preparation to opening up a glass display case! I talked her out of it for the time being. It was too heavy, and there wasn’t enough time. But I got a rain check to do it on my next visit.

Although we didn’t get into the glass case this time, Dorothy did hand me several large binders of receipts, promissory notes, deeds to look through — with surprising results! I’ll share what I found with you in an upcoming installment on the visit to Chipley.

There’s a lot of other folks I’ll mention — and thank — for the help while I was digging around for information on Emmett in Florida last week. For now, I have to dive back into the 21st century and work-related administrivia.

I’ll be back with more stories about the trip in a few days.

A Lesson in History


This weekend, I’m working on a small part of the second chapter of Emmett’s story, taking place in December, 1899. Emmett is coming home from college (West Florida Seminary) for Christmas.

I want to describe what the town looked like when he hopped off the L&N train at the Chipley depot (which was pretty much in the same place as the current Amtrak depot today).  What businesses lined the streets of downtown Chipley as he walked home the five blocks from the corner of 7th and Railroad Streets to the family home on 6th Street? Where was his father’s office?

I contacted my friends at the Washington County Historical Society (coincidentally located on the grounds of the old depot, a few hundred feet from the current Amtrak depot). The earliest map of Chipley they have is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map.

Chipley, 1913. Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Souce: UFDC

Chipley, 1913. Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Souce: UFDC

So, how do I figure out what was there on the day Emmett got off the train, when there’s no official city map from that year?

I cobble them together myself.


Rough sketch of 1898 downtown Chipley


A map of Chipley 2015 from Google Maps on the upper left, and a printout of the 1913 Sanborn map, for comparison.

The rough maps are neither to scale, nor precise. I gleaned the information about what was where from reading all that microfilm of The Chipley Banner over the past two years. Ideally, I’d cross-check this information with tax records, but for my purposes, I only need a general idea of Dr. F.C. Wilson’s office location, and the distance it took to walk from Dr. Wilson’s office, to the depot, to the Wilson home.

When I see my friends in Chipley week after next, I’ll show them what I’ve done, and have one or two of the historical society staff check it out for me. I’ve been in touch with a few of the local history buffs who I’ve consulted about this little side project, and they would like to create a map like this for the museum. The thing is, all of these folks are volunteers. The museum is open only one day a week (Fridays). Who has time to do this?

My suggestion: This would be a great project for a senior high school class. It could be a year-long or semester-long project, and would involve the students exploring original documents in the local archives (not just using Google), using mapping software to chart the businesses, creating a historical resource that folks like myself would love to consult!

Not only that, I’ve learned that many of the families I read about in the 1899 editions of The Chipley Banner are still in Washington County, and in Chipley itself, so this project would appeal to some folks on a personal level. I think this is a great way to get young people involved in history, to learn how one actually conducts research, and to show them how their research efforts have immediate practical application.

And…they’d get academic credit for it, with maybe a mention in the local media. Win-win!



Update on the research: The re-collection of lost images week has begun. I’ve reordered the film to rescan those images, and I’m almost finished going over my entire database. It has been a painstaking, image-by-image process. I’m double-checking every fact I have on Emmett that I intend to use in the biography.

A favorite quote. Source:

A favorite quote. Source:

The good news is that I never completely lost the information; I just lost images of the text I transcribed verbatim.

A colleague here at U of MD told that with my complete citations, what I have is sufficient without the image, but I am more comfortable with image and transcription together. If I have to prove the scholarship behind the research, I will be able to submit data without delay.

Switching gears, I’m also reading microfilm of The Chipley Banner for 1905 and finding a lot of good articles related to Emmett. There are interesting non-Emmett articles, which I send to the Washington County Historical Society in Chipley. They, in turn, make the information available to local researchers. Some of these articles include arrest and court records, with plenty of colorful details. The editor, W.W. Jones, was an old-school journalist who wasn’t afraid of printing uncomfortable news. In fact, on one editorial page, he tells readers that if they don’t want to see their names printed in affiliation with crimes or misdeeds, then perhaps they should not commit the crimes or misdeeds in the first place.

Sometimes, I find articles that are interesting from a historic and genealogical perspective, but would be embarrassing to descendants.

For example, last week, I found an article where a fellow was run out of Chipley for ‘wenching.’ That’s how W.W. Jones wrote it in his paper, and I immediately thought of knights on horseback, things Elizabethan, and the like. But the wenching fellow was no Sir Galahad. The editor pulled no punches and included many details about wencher, wench, and the expulsion itself.

Some of the names mentioned in the article seemed familiar, and probably, descendants of some involved are alive and well in Chipley.

I contacted one of the directors of the historical society, told him what I found and explained my concern.

While he agreed that the information was public record, it would likely be too uncomfortable for some descendants. “Some things (people) need to discover for themselves,” he said. I agreed.


In closing, I have to share one thing I found interesting from the Circuit Court Proceedings, from the June 8, 1905 issue of The Chipley Banner.

Either the State of Florida did not mess around with people behaving like bastards, or, this was about something else. Source: CB, June 8, 1905

Source: CB, June 8, 1905

It seems like it was tough to live in Washington County, Florida  back in the day: No wenching allowed, and people were not allowed to behave like bastards.

Good times, eh?

The Perfect Storm


Readers, I had been planning another trip to Pensacola to get information on Emmett’s career as an attorney, District Attorney, and State Attorney during 1906-09. However, that second trip may be delayed.

I found this today:

This was one of the key places I needed to visit back in May. Looks like that still may be on hold.

This was one of the key places I needed to visit back in May. Looks like it will be awhile before I can visit.

Uh oh.

I’ve kvetched about hitting roadblocks before, but this barrier is a significant one. Emmett’s cases are in there; probably courtroom oratory, too, something I’m desperate to get my hands on (since I still haven’t found his scrapbooks!).

Emmett’s information is sitting behind those closed doors, hopefully not in a damp, decrepit room, exposed to the elements, or mildewing away.

A colleague of mine at the Pensacola Historical Society tells me that quite a bit of the courthouse archive data is on microfilm. If that’s so, then perhaps the court records for these years were filmed, and the film moved. I’m waiting to hear back.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Chris Patterson discusses the courthouse closure & mold cleanup. Source:

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Chris Patterson discusses the courthouse closure & mold cleanup. Source:

Speaking of mildew and records, a friend of mine in Chipley (Emmett’s boyhood home) had told me about the courthouse-and-mildew situation there. I needed to see the records in Chipley, too, wouldn’t you know.

Here’s a video featuring Circuit Court Judge Chris Patterson explaining what was going on. The problem wasn’t just with the building: The mold was in the historic documents and records, and local authorities were told that the mold was hazardous to health, so, both building AND records were off limits.

Talk about a perfect storm (pardon the pun). The hurricane-force storm that hit Pensacola two weeks before I came down to do research in May; the mold situation in the Washington County was going on at the same time. Both sources were out of my reach. Alas. Alack. Damn.  Sturm und mold. (With apologies to F.M.Von Klinger.)

There is good news:  Colleagues with the Washington County Historic Society report that earlier in the summer, the records were removed from the courthouse, and cleaned by a team that handles restoration and preservation of historic documents.

The records have been cleaned up now, they are available and accessible to the public at the County Annex on South Boulevard in Chipley.

Frankly, I’m a little nervous about the Escambia Court archives — I know what mold can do to historic documents. So much about Emmett, personally, has been hard to find. I am grateful for what I have, and I appreciate it so much when I (or a colleague) finds even the smallest detail.

Historic documents are precious. Let’s hope the folks in the Escambia Court archives have good luck getting their facility in good order again, and that their records are safe.



Emmett’s Chipley


One of the best parts about Emmett’s research trip was a visit to Chipley, Florida. This is where Emmett lived from about 1884 to 1900.

The US Census (dated April, 1900) reveals Emmett was enumerated in his father’s household, but that summer, Emmett moved to Marianna, where he studied law under the tutelage of older brother Cephas, before attending law school at Stetson University in 1902. After that, Emmett would refer to Marianna as his ‘hometown,’ but the reality is that he ‘grew up’ in Chipley.

I spent a day with the staff of the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS), who were very helpful pointing out buildings Emmett would have seen and visited.

Washington County Historical Society. Great set of artifacts, even better hospitality!

Washington County Historical Society. Great set of artifacts, even better hospitality!

The WCHS is a replica of a depot of Emmett’s day, about 150 feet away from the original site!

(In fact, Emmett would have disembarked from the train right at this location, then walked the four or five blocks to his father’s house on Sixth Street, which still stands, by the way. I’ll have a separate entry on the Wilson home in a few days.)

I met the curator, Dorothy Odom, and two local historians, retired Judge Perry Wells, and Mr. Whit Gainey. Everyone was gracious and generous with their time;  they spent several hours with me talking about life in Chipley in the early 1900s, and provided excellent (and locally written) references to examine while I was in their archive.

Curator Dorothy Odom with local historian Whit Gainey.  Two of the nicest people I've ever met.

Curator Dorothy Odom with local historian Whit Gainey. Two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

At one point, I took a break to explore downtown Chipley so as to get an idea of what Emmett might have seen. I was not disappointed.

There are several  buildings in existence — but just barely — that date from Emmett’s time. I say ‘just barely’ because these are beautiful historic structures in desperate need of repair.

A view of the Dunn Building, dating frm 1917, downtown Chipley. The historic bank building at the far right is in desperate need of repair.

One such building from Emmett’s time, The Dunn Building, 1916. The historic First National Bank building, far right, is in desperate need of repair.

Here’s a photo of the First National Bank, organized in 1905, under construction:

First National Bank under construction, about 1905.  Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

First National Bank under construction, about 1905. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,


Here’s the bank today:

The structure has lovely bones on the inside; it is worth saving. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.

The structure has lovely bones on the inside. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.


It wasn’t hard to sense that Emmett had walked along these same sidewalks to get a haircut and shave; to visit the pharmacy; to get a cup of coffee. The heart and the soul of downtown Chipley feels very unchanged from those long-ago days, despite the presence of people talking into cell phones here and there, and other modern developments.

Along the sidewalks in Chipley.

Along the sidewalks in Chipley.


2014-05-23 12.52.35


Beautiful building; I wonder what it was in Emmett's day?

Beautiful building; I wonder what it was in Emmett’s day?


The railroad runs right down the center of downtown Chipley.

The railroad runs right down the center of downtown Chipley.

The railroad tracks run right down the center of downtown Chipley, just as they did back in Emmett’s day. The main difference: No passenger train service, only freight trains today.

One of my goals was to visit Emmett’s parents at Glenwood Cemetery. Whit found an internment guide, and took me out to the cemetery, where we located the Wilsons — and, I kid you not — a surprise.

Readers, one of the biggest information holes I have in telling Emmett’s story is that I know very little about his mother, and unfortunately, there is almost nothing written her in the genealogies.

However, when I visited her grave, at the bottom of her marker, was this:

Elizabeth Wilson. Truly, she must have been someone you'd want to know.

Elizabeth Wilson. She must have, truly, been someone you’d want to know; I think Emmett was very close to her.

Even though digging around for information on Elizabeth is proving a big challenge, I’m far from giving up at this point. 🙂

I was only able to budget one day of the research trip for Chipley, but I plan to come back to do follow-up later this year, and spend more time with my new friends and colleagues. Everyone I met welcomed me without reservation, and expressed interest in helping with Emmett’s biography.

Before the trip, I made sure to study as many years of the Chipley newspapers as possible, in great detail, to learn as much as I could about the Wilson’s contemporaries. I paid attention to the descriptions of how people interacted with each other, the courtesies they paid each other, the empathy shown for those experiencing loss, the entertaining stories and jokes they told to each other. The newspapers, of course, cannot give you an absolute, perfect idea of what it was like back in Emmett’s day, but you get an idea of the community in general.

What came across to me during this visit was Chipley’s community character from 100 years ago has a lot of similarity to Chipley’s community character today. It was a nice thing to see and experience.

I think Emmett would have liked this, too.