By Jeff Blakley
Florence Hunt, like Dr. John B. Tower, is lionized in the existing historical accounts of this area. Why that is so is an interesting question because, just like the other unmentioned doctors in this area, there were many more women who nursed others than Florence Hunt.
John Wilbur Hunt was born on December 18, 1865 in Huntsville, Choctaw County, Mississippi. John Jackson Hunt and Mary Eliza Cook, John Wilbur’s parents, had settled in Choctaw County in the early 1840s. John J. claimed 40 acres in the southeast quarter of section 9, township 17N, range 8E in Choctaw County and had proved it up on September 1, 18481 In 1871, Montgomery County was formed from Choctaw and Carroll Counties2 and Huntsville was now just over the county line in Montgomery County. Huntsville is hilly and forested – the economy there was not based on cotton, as was true further west in the county. John’s father was a farmer with $2,340 in real estate and $735 in his personal estate.3 Sometime prior to 1880, John J. Hunt moved his family to Burrton, in Harvey County, Kansas.4 John Wilbur Hunt, 15, was enumerated there, with his four sisters, all older than he. Burrton was established in 1873 and incorporated in 1878. What role John Jackson Hunt played in this, if any, is unknown. Both John J. and his wife Mary are buried in the Burrton Cemetery.
Florence Higbee was born in December, 1873 in Pleasant Grove, Coles County, Illinois.5 Her parents were Harvey and Mary Jane Higbee and she had four brothers and a sister.6 Harvey claimed a 160 acre homestead in Greenwood County and proved it up in 1883 but then moved to Edmond, Oklahoma. His daughter, Florence M., married John W. Hunt on May 27, 1892 in Logan County. Edmond is in Oklahoma County, just across the county line from Logan. Florence’s parents are buried in the Gracelawn Cemetery in Edmond. Edmond was established right after the great Oklahoma land run on April 22, 1889. It is possible that John W. Hunt participated in that event and why he moved from Burrton, Kansas to Edmond, Oklahoma.
John was 26 at the time and Florence was 18. They had 4 children: Harry Houston (22 October 1893 – 10 September 1983), Wilbur Wesley (20 Aug 1895 – 8 Dec 1965), Ruby L. (27 Jan 1893 – 11 Sept. 1927), and Maude Vivian (8 October 1904 – 2 March 1983). All of the children were born in Edmond, Oklahoma, 100 miles northeast of Lawton, Oklahoma, where James M. Powers was from. Even though the Hunts were from Oklahoma, it is unlikely that the Hunts knew the Powers.
According to Jean Taylor in her book, The Villages of South Dade, John was a U.S. marshal in Edmond, Oklahoma. In 1904, John Hunt, along with eight other deputies, was dismissed from his position after their supervisor, “Ben F. Hackett, United States marshal of the central district of the Territory,” was fired by President Theodore Roosevelt for “incompetence and failure to punish his subordinates for misconduct.”7 Taylor also wrote that Hunt owned a bakery and a restaurant there and that his son, Wilbur, was the baker. An advertisement in The Daily Oklahoman, offering a “first-class bakery and restaurant for sale cheap” probably confirms that.8 9 The advertisement gave the name “F. M. Hunt” and the location was McLoud, Oklahoma. McLoud is about 42 miles southeast of Edmond. John apparently came to this area first, leaving his wife and family behind in Oklahoma. Taylor wrote that John Hunt “owned a bakery and restaurant there and his son, Wilbur, worked as a baker. He 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.”10
Hunt lived in Homestead before he purchased his lots in Detroit. He first worked as a baker for William Nobles11 in the bakery Nobles operated in a wooden building owned by J. U. Free12 that later was purchased by Charles T. Fuchs, Sr.
In April of 1913, “Mr. J. W. Hunt and wife with two sons and two daughters have moved in the Watson residence at Detroit. Mr. Hunt and sons are now clearing their two lots preparatory to building their new home.”13
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 1914.14 He was also a Town Marshal in 1917 and commuted to Key West where he worked as a carpenter in the summer of 1917. Because of her husband’s heavy drinking, Florence left him in 1917 and he ended up living in “a shack out in the Everglades.”15 John’s sister, Mrs. A. G. Collins, who lived in Tampa, visited him in 191816 and he had Reese Self arrested on a warrant charging him with enticing his 14-year-old daughter Maude from her home in 1919.17 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 1919. A realty transfer notice 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.18 This lot was four blocks south of Palm Ave. (now Palm Drive) and one block west of the railroad. In 1919, Andrew 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.”19 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. His obituary stated that he had engaged in “small truck farming on a three-acre plot in the Florida City east glade” for the last nine years.20
Florence was an experienced nurse but not the only nurse or midwife in the area. There were many others. But she was the only one who went on to establish a hospital. The first known reference to her duties as a nurse was in 1914, when she was “on a case at Homestead.”21 Florence rode with Dr. Tower on his motorcycle at first, before opening her hospital in Florida City in 1917. Her hospital was in a “big 2 story house on Old Dixie Highway, 1 block north of Palm Ave.”22 This house was originally a smaller house and was extensively remodeled by Andrew Terburg in 1925 for the then-owner, Florida City Mayor Bryan H. Edwards.23
In June of 1919, Florence bought two lots in the Jane D. Tower Addition to Homestead, where she built her new hospital.24 In July, she contracted with Ralph O. Moon to build the hospital. It was to be finished by September 1.25 The Miami Herald said that “[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.”26 Work started on August 727 and, in an interesting difference from now, the town Council issued a building permit on August 14.28 The Florence Hunt Hospital was located on the south side of N.W. 4th St. (Palmetto at the time) in the middle of the block. The building was quickly finished and the hospital moved from Florida City to Homestead. The Miami Herald noted that “loss of the hospital is a misfortune to Florida City, not easily repaired.”29 30
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. Florence operated her Florence Hunt Hospital until she became ill in 193831 and had to close it. Florence Mahallia Hunt died on September 4, 1940 at the age of 66.32 33 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, Maude V. and Wilbert Leppanen.
Revised August 21, 2019