Orville Whitford Calkins
by Jeff Blakley
I subscribed to Genealogy Bank the other day, at the suggestion of Larry Wiggins, and I’ve found it to be an invaluable source of information about the early days of this area. As I was reading newspaper clippings about Detroit, I was intrigued with the incessant boosterism tone of the articles and found myself wondering if they weren’t written by someone associated with the Miami Land & Development Company. There is likely no way to prove this thought, one way or the other, but I think it is important for fellow researchers working in early Florida City history to keep that idea in mind.
I’m going to focus on one individual in this post and try to draw connections between the Miami Land & Development Company and him. His full name was Orville Whitford Calkins and he had been born on 4 December 1877, according to his WWI draft registration card, dated September 12, 1918. At that time he was living 2 1/2 miles west of Florida City and he was a farmer. He received mail at R.F.D. #1 in Homestead.
I consulted the federal census records for Orville Calkins and discovered that he had been born in Iowa and that his father, Charles H. Calkins, was a physician. By 1885, the family was living in Topeka, Kansas, which, coincidentally, was also the home of a number of early settlers in the Longview neighborhood, where Orville Calkins homesteaded. Orville and his parents still lived in Kansas in 1900, when Orville was 23.
Orville was well-educated – he had attended Washburn College. According to Jean Taylor, in her book, The Villages of South Dade, he had come from a family of musicians and he studied music in college, joining an orchestra. His father’s occupation in the census returns was a physician but perhaps he indulged in music when he wasn’t seeing patients. Orville was a piano tuner and repairman. He appears in the Miami City Directory from 1923 – 1931 as, variously, a piano tuner, repairer, and musician. By 1937, though, probably because of the Depression, he sought the security of a government job, as he then appears as a grove inspector for the State Plant Board.
Orville Calkins and his wife’s second cousin, Dr. John B. Tower, filed claims for their land in the Longview area, west of Detroit, on February 19th and 26th, 1910, respectively. On October 20, 1913, Orville was granted a patent on his homestead of 160 acres. It was located on the south side of Palm Avenue (S.W. 344 St. – also called the Camp Jack Road) and ran from S.W. 202 Ave. west to S.W. 207 Ave., south to S.W. 364 St. and then east to approximately S.W. 200th Ave.
In September of 1917, when Orville was 41, he and his wife Addie welcomed a girl, Joy Ann, into their lives. The census record that says that Joy Ann was born in Kansas confirms Jean Taylor’s account, which says that because Addie was old at the time (35), Addie and her family went back to Kansas to give birth. Perhaps Florence Hunt advised them to do so, due to possible complications. The birth was uneventful and Joy Ann appears in the federal census schedules twice, in 1920 and 1930. In the 1920 census, Addie and the two children were in Miami and in the 1930 census, the whole family lived at 822 Avenue Milan, in Coral Gables. In 1930, Orville appeared on the passenger manifest of the ship, Governor Cobb, which docked in Key West after a trip from Havana, Cuba on July 6. Havana was a very popular vacation destination in that era. People would take Flagler’s train to Key West and then embark on a ship for the short trip to Havana. In the 1935 Florida census, the Calkins family lived at 2277 S.W. 4th St. in Miami. In the 1940 census, Orville and Addie were back on their homestead west of Florida City, with no children living with them.
Jean Taylor, who interviewed Mary Calkins Heinlein (she was born on April 3, 1903), wrote that Mary’s parents, Orville and Addie Tower Calkins, were married in 1900. Addie was born on August 6, 1882. Her first daughter, Mary, married Forrest Burke in 1920 but later divorced him and married Herman Heinlein. The Redland Fruit and Spice Park in Redland is named for Mary Calkins Heinlein. Her husband, Herman Heinlein, was not related to the Hainlin family for which Hainlin Mill Drive (S.W. 216 St.) is named.
Joy Ann Calkins, the Calkins’ second daughter, married Robert Gerrit Ward in Fort Lauderdale on August 25, 1939. In 1940, she was employed by Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company in Homestead. Her husband was a horticulturalist on a private farm. According to Taylor, she had children but died of cancer in May of 1959. She was only 42 years old.
The 1940 census, incidentally, is fascinating to look at because it lists a number of farm labor camps in the area. What is now Tower Road was called Longview Road or State Road 205 in those days.
In an article that appeared on October 11, 1912 in the Miami Herald, Orville is mentioned as being the director of the District Number Eight band in Detroit. The piece said, “[w]e are sure that under the direction of Mr. Orvie (sic) Calkins they will hold first place among musicians of the country.”
I wrote at the beginning of this article that I suspected that news about Florida City was being written by people associated with the Miami Land & Development Company, because of the tone of the articles. This article is very typical. The Miami Land & Development Company beat its own drum incessantly, but doing so didn’t spare it from the economic calamity of the late 1920s.
Without studying the newspaper advertisements in Topeka, Kansas, it is impossible to say with certainty that the Miami Land & Development Company brought Orville and his wife here. But it certainly seems plausible. At the age of 32, in 1910, he filed a homestead claim and was on his property in 1918. Some time after that, he moved to Miami, where he could employ his talents as a musician more profitably. He also lived for a time in Vero Beach, in Indian River County. Orville never sold his property in South Dade, though, because his wife continued to live there until a few years before her death in 1966 at the age of 84.
I’ll continue to try to draw connections between people and places in the future. I will write about the Shields family in the near future. Members of that family are mentioned quite frequently in the papers of that time period.
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