By Jeff Blakley
John Wilbur Hunt was born on December 18, 1865 in Huntsville, Mississippi. His father was John Jackson Hunt and his mother was Mary Eliza Cook. In the 1880 U.S. Census, he was living with his father and mother in Burrton, Harvey County, Kansas. His father was 56 and his mother was 57.
On May 27, 1892, he married Florence M. Higbee in Logan County, Oklahoma Territory. Florence was born in December, 1873 in Kansas. John was 26 at the time and Florence was 18. They had 4 children: Harry H., born in 1893; Wilbur Wesley (20 Aug 1895 – 8 Dec 1965), Ruby L., (27 Jan 1893 – 11 Sept. 1927); and Maude V., born in 1905. All of the children were born in Edmond, Oklahoma, 100 miles southwest of Lawton, Oklahoma, where James M. Powers was from. Even though all of these people were from Oklahoma, I doubt that the Hunts knew the Powers in Oklahoma.
According to Jean Taylor in her book,The Villages of South Dade, John was a U.S. Marshal in Edmond, Oklahoma. Taylor says that he owned a bakery and a restaurant there and that his son, Wilbur, was the baker. The 1900 U.S. census says that he was a blacksmith and the 1910 census says that he was the proprietor of a restaurant. Taylor writes that Hunt sold his businesses and decided to move to Florida, apparently shortly after 1910, because Taylor asserts that Hunt “stayed in Miami awhile having a good time, and then purchased two lots in Detroit right in back of Edward Stiling’s home. He sent for his wife, Florence, his two sons, Wilbur and Harry, and his two daughters, Ruby and Maude, who arrived in Detroit in January, 1913.” An article in the Miami Herald, dated March 30, 1913, stated that the Hunts had moved into the Watson house and that “Mr. Hunt and sons are now clearing their two lots, providing for their new home.”
Jean Taylor wrote that John was a hard-working man, well-respected in the community, and was elected as an alderman for the new Florida City Town Council in 1914. He was also a Town Marshal in 1917 and commuted to Key West where he worked as a carpenter in the summer of 1917. Taylor wrote that because of her husband’s heavy drinking, Florence left him in 1917 and he ended up living in “a shack out in the Everglades.” I don’t know who supplied Mrs. Taylor with this information, but it seems to be a bit harsh. His sister, Mrs. A. G. Collins, who lived in Tampa, visited him in 1918 and he had Reese Self arrested on a warrant charging him with enticing his 14-year-old daughter Maude from her home in 1919. Perhaps his marriage was rocky and perhaps that is why his wife moved her hospital to Homestead but he did not live in “a shack out in the Everglades” before 1920. A realty transfer that appeared in the July 24, 1920 issue of the Miami Herald shows that M. J. Porter sold lot 6, block 39 in Florida City to J. W. Hunt. This lot was four blocks south of Palm Ave. (Palm Drive, now) and one block west of the railroad. Perhaps he sold it soon after buying it because a note in The Miami Herald on July 21, 1919 stated that A.D. Clinton was “hauling lumber for J. W. Hunt seven miles down the canal to build a camp where Mr. Hunt is intending to put in a crop.” His obituary states that he had engaged in “small truck farming on a three-acre plot in the Florida City east glade” for the last nine years. He died at his home so even if he had a problem with alcohol (he was not the only one who did, by a long shot), he had friends who checked up on him regularly.
John W. Hunt died on July 29, 1929, at the age of 63, and was buried in Section C, Lot 41, grave 1SE at Palms Memorial in Naranja on August 2. There is no marker on the grave.
Florence was an experienced nurse, as there is a reference to her being “on a case at Homestead” in the April 12, 1914 issue of the Miami Herald. Earlier, in the January 2, 1914 issue of The South Florida Banner, she was reported to have “returned to Detroit from Homestead where she had a nursing case.” Florence went on to open the Florida City Hospital, whose patients were primarily pregnant women, in a house located on the west side of Broadway (now 5th Avenue) at S.W. 1st St., across from the Methodist Community Church.
In the June 28, 1919 issue of The Miami Herald, on page 10, there is this note: “Jane D. Tower and John B. Tower to Florence M. Hunt, lot 30, Jane D. Tower addition, Homestead, $175. 50¢ revenue stamp.” On August 11, 1919, Florence was granted a building permit by the Town of Homestead to build a 26′ x 36′ building on lots 29-30 in Tower’s addition.On these lots, Florence contracted with Mr. Moon to build the Florence Hunt Hospital, on the south side of N.W. 4th St. (Palmetto at the time) in the middle of the block. In another article in the Miami Herald, dated August 1, 1919, “[c]ontracts are being let for the erection of a new building in Homestead into which Mrs. J.W. Hunt plans to remove the Florida City hospital. By being in Homestead, the hospital will be more centrally located and more convenient to patients.” The building was quickly finished and the hospital moved from Florida City to Homestead on Saturday, September 6, 1919. The “loss of the hospital,” according to the article in the Miami Herald, dated September 11, 1919, “is a misfortune to Florida City, not easily repaired.”
She also apparently owned lot 25 in the same subdivision, because in 1927, Florence’s address was 110 N.W. 4th St., which is at the intersection of N.W. 1st Avenue and 4th St. and not in the middle of the block, where the hospital was located. The Jane D. Tower subdivision is in the Dade County records, plat book 3, page 114 and was recorded on January 7, 1914. Florence operated her Florence Hunt Hospital until she suffered a stroke in 1936 and had to close it. Florence Mahallia Hunt died on 4 September 1940 at the age of 66. She was buried in Section B, Lot 80, grave 1N in the Palms Woodlawn Cemetery in Naranja, next to her daughter and son-in-law, Maud V. and Wilbert Leppanen.
What I find so interesting about these people’s lives is how they moved around so much but yet managed to achieve some measure of success. John was born in Mississippi, lived in Kansas, where he may have met Florence, moved to Oklahoma, where he married and then moved to Florida, becoming a respected community member and an elected official before his life unraveled due to alcoholism. In my research, I learned that alcoholism was not at all uncommon then or now. Florence was born in Kansas, moved to Oklahoma, had four children, moved to Florida, separated from her husband, and went on to become a successful nurse who operated her own hospital.