Gull Point, The Pensacola Tar & Turpentine Company, and the Wernicke Family – Part 4
This Oral History was presented January 30, 2012 at the Tryon Library on Langley Ave. by Michael Wernicke.
[Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]
I didn’t grow up at Gull Point. Shortly after I was born, my father and mother bought a house in Ferry Pass, where University Mall is now, at the other end of Creighton Road from Gull Point. But my grandfather and grandmother, Julius and Maleta Wernicke. lived in O.H.L.’s old house, and I used to visit them frequently, spending the night with them often. Their home was not air-conditioned, so on summer nights we left the windows open and used oscillating fans in the bedrooms. It was hot and humid, but there was compensations, because leaving the windows open allowed us to hear the crickets and katydids at night which made wonderful music to fall asleep by.
I remember the old Gull Point Post Office; my grandmother and I would walk to it to pick up the mail. It was a little square building, just one room basically, if I recall correctly. It had racks around the walls on which the postmaster placed the mail. For me the most exciting part was the mail crane that stood outside by the railroad track. All the mail to and from Gull Point was transported by train. The trains didn’t normally stop at Gull Point, so the incoming mail was just placed in a mail bag thrown from the train as it went by. But the outgoing mail from Gull Point was put in a special mail bag that was hung from the mail crane. As the train went by, they would swing a hook out from the door of the mail car, snatch the mail bag from the crane with the hook, and then swing it back into the car with the mail bag. I loved to climb on the mail crane, when there wasn’t a train coming, of course!
I also think I remember the old apartment houses that had been built for the workers at the plant. They stood on either side of the entrance between Scenic Highway and the railroad track. I can remember seeing people in the windows of the apartments as we drove by. I remember running through the old plant yard, which was gradually returning to woods and brambles, and finding evidence of the old plant,things like tanks and pipes, and the old fire stations, upright frames that once held fire hoses. The old concrete retort shells and the old concrete foundations and sumps were still there, indeed, the old retort shells still are there.
There used to be a cattle guard in the roadway to the houses. In those days there was a free-range law in Florida that allowed livestock to roam freely. If you didn’t want animals on your property, it was up to you to fence them out. As a result, most everyone out in the country had “hog-wire” fences around their homes and gardens, as well as cattle guards in the driveways. A cattle guard is a device made of rails, pipes, or bars laid parallel across a ditch in the driveway. Cars could drive over it, and people could walk across it, but it was supposed to discourage hoofed animals from crossing. The one at Gull Point was made of narrow-gage rail from the Tar & Turpentine plant. I can remember Grandma’s dog Ned, leaping into the air and sailing across the cattle guard as he raced ahead of our car on our way to the house.
One of my fondest memories is the flocks of seagulls that would gather and circle over my grandparents house late in the afternoon, making a big racket. My grandmother liked to feed the gulls beach in front of the house. They got used to this, and would start on the beach in front of the house. They got use to this, and they would start gathering early in anticipation. Every one on the point knew that the gulls were waiting for Grandma. Grandma bought stale bread from the bakery outlets in town. In the afternoon she would take a big basket of bread down to the beach, tear the slices of bread into pieces, and throw them on the ground for the gulls. What fun for children! Sometimes we would throw a piece of bread up into the air, and some of the gulls werevery good at catching it.
When I was a boy there was a grape arbor at Gull Point, which had scuppernong grapes planted in it. It yielded decent amounts of fruits, which we picked and ate. But I found out in earlier days, when my father and his brother and their cousins were boys at Gull Point, there were on occasion so many grapes that the boys fermented the grape juice and made wine. I am told that my great-grandfather used to buy whiskey from a bootlegger and keep it up in the attic. I think the bootlegger was a farmer over on the Santa Rosa Peninsula. The story goes that my father sold the wine he made to the bootlegger. The bootlegger then distilled the wine into stronger spirits, which he sold to his customers. The big glass jar that I brought to show, may have been one of the bottles which the bootlegger used to distribute his whiskey. There is also an old hydrometer on the table. It’s the long delicate glass instrument. It was used to verify the alcohol content of the whiskey they bought from the bootlegger.
Thank you for your interest in Gull Point and my talk. It has been a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to you about Gull Point and my Family. Does anyone have any questions?
This is a copy of a presentation by Michael Wernicke on January 30, 2012 for Scenic Highway Foundation Oral History Series