The Founding of Royal Palm State Park

An interesting project for someone to undertake would be an article exploring the role that the Women’s Industrial Club in Detroit played in the establishment of the Royal Palm State Park in 1916. An article that appears on the website of the National Park Service doesn’t mention the members of Women’s Industrial Club. Instead, it gives credit to the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs and May Mann Jennings, who was elected president of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs in November, 1914. What role did the women in Longview and Detroit (now Florida City) play in the founding of Royal Palm State Park? An article that appeared in the Florida Historical Quarterly, entitled May Mann Jennings and Royal Palm State Park, by Linda D. Vance, is accessible through JSTOR and makes for interesting reading. In it, Vance writes that at a December 23, 1914 meeting of the trustees of the Florida Internal Improvement Fund in Tallahassee, they “approved a letter to be sent to W. J. Tweedell and E. J. Powers, Dade County commissioners, authorizing action to prevent trespassing on the hammock land owned by the state.” E. J. Powers is actually Frank John Powers, the land agent for the Flagler’s Model Land Company in Homestead. He was born on August 21, 1874 in South Carolina and was married to Sara Lorena Faber, who was born in Brevard County, Florida, in 1879. In 1918, he was employed by the land department of the Florida East Coast Railway Company at Cape Sable. The letter can be read by viewing the minutes of the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, volume 10, 1913-1914. The letter starts on page 609. Tweedell and Powers were well known to the women who belonged to the Detroit Women’s Industrial Club. Masie Parks Tweedell, Walter’s wife, was a member of the Homestead Women’s Club. On page 10 of her article, Vance writes that after Mrs. Jennings visited Royal Palm Hammock on December 28, 1914, she wrote that “[t]he Hammock is entirely surrounded by water, the palms tower much above the other growth …. The women down in that part of the country are very enthusiastic over the Park subject.” (italics mine)

In 1980, Linda Vance received her PhD from the University of Florida and her dissertation, May Mann Jennings, Florida’s Genteel Activist, should be the starting point for the question I posed earlier in this post. Chapter 7, Madam President and the Old Girl Network reveals that there was a resolution as early as 1905 to preserve Royal Palm Hammock. It also states that Mrs. E. C. Loveland and Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Tweedell were present at the dedication of the Park on November 23, 1916. There is much to be learned about the role that local women played in the establishment of the Park. No doubt, their role was that of being cheer-leaders, but May Mann Jennings needed all the cheering-on that she could get, as her efforts were passively and implacably opposed by most of the politicians of the time.

The struggle to establish the Park was much more difficult than it has been portrayed. The State and County governments, influenced by powerful real estate speculators and their lobbyists, opposed the Federation’s efforts at every turn while speaking nicely about the Federation’s project.

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