I Am Woman, Hear Me Write

Rose Carlson: My grandparents’ heritage is a timeless gift to preserve

G. David Armstrong and Margaret N. Armstrong, married Oct. 3, 1912
G. David Armstrong and Margaret N. Armstrong, married Oct. 3, 1912 Provided photo

My grandparents passed away 40 years ago, in the 1970s. While they were alive, they lived next door to us in a beautiful cottage my grandfather built — the fourth house he had built in Bradenton on the family property between 19th and 20th Avenues West.

We were so fortunate to have had them close, especially during the difficult days when my parents struggled with their fledgling plumbing business and raising four daughters. Grandpa and Grandma taught us so much – the names of trees and plants, how to identify birds by their songs, how to make pie from scratch. Grandpa had a huge garden full of fruits like persimmons, mangoes and mulberries, and vegetables such as tomatoes and strawberries, all of which you could eat straight from the plant (and we did).

He grew flowers that he shared with neighbors and at church. Grandma had one hibiscus bush in the yard on which she had grafted a different color flower on each branch. I recall 30 or 40 different flowers growing on that bush. She called it the “Jacob’s Coat of Many Colors” bush, and a photo of it appeared in Better Homes and Gardens once.

Grandpa’s specialty was developing new strains of amaryllis plants; a pink-striped one was named “Rosemary” for me. Grandpa was an inventor and Bradenton’s public works director for many years before he retired in 1949. In the 1940s, he spearheaded the project to bury drainage pipes throughout the community and kept copious written records and photos of that huge task.

Grandma loved us unconditionally and spent many hours in her chair, watching us play in the backyard under the shade of the prolific pecan trees. So when my sister asked me what I thought we should do with Grandma’s wedding dress that she had stored for decades, it brought back a flood of memories that made it difficult to decide.

As keeper of much of our local family memorabilia, I reluctantly realized that it was time! From this beautiful century-old wedding dress to the old scrapbooks, photographs, city and church ledgers, and records kept by my grandfather, it was time for this treasure trove of information to be restored, studied and made available to those who appreciate the rich history of Manatee County.

A conversation with Matt Woodside, chief curator at the South Florida Museum, referred us on to Phaedra Carter, supervisor, and Bridget Donahue, curator at the Manatee Village Historical Park. After a thorough, white-glove examination of the handmade wedding dress, it was deemed in perfect condition with no repair or restoration needed (thanks to my sister’s care), and we were proud and delighted to hand it over for display, protection and preservation.

Then a trip to the Manatee County Historical Records building (our old Carnegie Library) was in order, with Grandpa’s photographs and scrapbooks. And, at last, I’m committed to digging out the rest of the memorabilia to pass along to those who will preserve and display it.

Our grandparents came to Manatee County at the turn of the 19th century, when it was just a village. They spent their lives helping build this community into a beautiful vibrant place. My parents, long-time members of the Manatee Historical Society, and my grandparents would be so proud to have these pieces of their heritage shared with others who want to know more about the place they lived, worked, worshiped, raised their children, and died.

Grandpa and Grandma are buried in Fogartyville Cemetery with their parents and many of their other relatives, including my parents. Our family is so grateful to them for the legacy they provided for their descendants, and we should all be grateful to them for their contributions in making Manatee County the special community it is today.

On a final note, a broken water heater flooded our house a few years ago, and many of our mementos were destroyed. Fortunately things from my grandparents’ era were protected in plastic bins. Old family letters, scrapbooks and other records of the past have enabled researchers to learn about specific events in the history of our community. Letters and precious photos are treasured and valued by each of us personally; but they are also important to others in that they provide an insight into the heritage of a certain place and time. When you donate or share these items, they become part of your community’s collective memory.

We know things disappear and are lost over time. If you haven’t already donated and shared your historical items, consider doing so. There are many resources in each community to assist you in determining where best to donate. Locally, check out the Manatee County Historical Records Library, the Manatee Village Historical Park, the South Florida Museum, the Palmetto Historical Park, and many others.

Rose Carlson, director of endowment for Saint Stephen's Episcopal School, can be reached at rrpcarlson@aol.com.