Forgotten Workers of Early Homestead II
by Jeff Blakley
In this post, I am continuing to explore the lives of ordinary working stiffs in early Homestead. The subject of this post is Willie Alonzo King.
Susan Dryer, the owner of Ages Ago Antiques in Homestead, donated a booklet to the Town Hall Museum entitled, Hand-Me-Downs. It is a collection of stories that were written by the sophomore class of South Dade High School in 1997 when they were members of the English Honor Society. The sponsor was Judy Hood.
In reading the stories, I was intrigued by one, Battling Nature’s Obstacles, written by Scott Richards, who was the grandson of a Mr. King, who told the story in 1994. The story is about the harsh winter of 1933 in Homestead, when the story-teller, Mr. King, stated that there was a hard freeze and the temperature got down to sixteen degrees. Scott wrote about the “smugpots” used to protect the trees in the groves and also described a fierce mosquito plague during the summer of 1933 when he wrote that one “local farmer lost 26 cows in one night because the cows inhaled mosquitos (sic) through their noses when they tried to breathe.”
According to Scott, “Mr. King was born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, on November 9, 1907. He had five brothers and one sister. He was the oldest boy, but his sister was older than he. He went to a small unnamed school on ‘Pace Hill’. Since he was the oldest boy, he often had to stay home and plow. Eventually, his dad became sick and he quit school and stayed home to work. He quit in the fifth grade.”
I found this essay fascinating because historians often use oral history as a starting point to discover more about the past. The essay has a few errors in it (temperatures dropping to 16 degrees and an incorrect name) but such is the nature of oral history.
I want to use this essay to show how I discovered who Mr. King, who is not further described in the essay, was.
Using the birth date given, I did a search in the census records available on Ancestry.com for the surname “King”, born in Hendersonville, NC in 1907. I found a WWII draft registration card in the name of Willie Alonzo King who worked at the Parman-Lehman Packing Company. I then found a memorial for him on Find A Grave, which listed his siblings and his parents. He was the oldest of five boys and had an older sister, Marie Louise King. I had found the right person because Willie died in 1996. The details about him in the essay matched what I had discovered.
I clicked on the link for the 1920 census and found that Willie’s parents were William A. and Ann E. King, 44 and 36. In 1920, they had 5 boys and one girl. Louise was about 2 years older than Willie and his brothers, Ernest, Guy, Craig, and Otto were all younger than he.
I then went back to the 1910 census and found just three children: Louise, 4; William, 2 and Ernest, 1.
Clicking on a link in that census for the father, William A. King, produced his death certificate. He died in 1928 at the Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, which explains why Willie quit school to help support the family when his dad became sick. A link to a memorial for William Alonzo King on Find A Grave produced the fact that his mother was Margaret Pace (1853-1940), which explains the name of the school Willie, one of Margaret’s grand-children, went to on “Pace Hill.” The memorial also produced the name of the 6th son: Judge Dick King, who was killed in action in France shortly after his unit landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Guy King, the other son named, may have died as a youth.
In about 1929, he married Dorothy Sue Stepp and they had four children. Dorothy Sue died in Dade County in 1943 and Willie then married Beatrice Pace in Hendersonville on August 24, 1944. The Pace family is an old one in the area of Hendersonville – it goes back to at least Burrell Pope Pace, who died in the area in 1816.
In 1931, Willie A. King got a job working for W. K. Waldin, according to Scott – he wrote that Willie was an expert in grafting avocado trees. Scott is in error here – “W.K. Waldin” was William K. Walton, who owned a nursery business in Homestead. The names “Waldin” and “Walton” are often confused because they sound so much alike. During WWII, he worked for the Parman-Lehman Packing House. When it opened in the spring of 1935, it was located “in the warehouse building of the Lehman Transfer Co., opposite ‘Fertilizer Row’ on S.W. Flagler avenue,” according to a front page article in The Leader Enterprise of April 19, 1935. The company was founded by Lee H. Lehman, an early pioneer in Florida City and Clarence J. Parman, who was the architect who designed the Lily Lawrence Bow Library, a wing of James Archer Smith Hospital, a number of houses in the area and the National Guard Armory, among other buildings. His house still stands – it is located at 27250 S.W. 177 Avenue. Lehman homesteaded west of Detroit (now Florida City) on what is now S.W. 212 Avenue and S. W. 344 Street in 1911. Later in life, Willie started his own grove but retired after Hurricane Andrew and sold it, according to Scott’s re-telling of his grandfather’s story.
The statement in the essay that there was a freeze here in Dade County in 1933 when the temperature went down to 16 degrees is a wonderful case of how facts get distorted in oral history. There was a severe freeze in Florida on December 12-13, 1934, not in 1933. In that freeze, temperatures went down to 25 degrees in Belle Glade and 29 in Miami, the closest official weather station in Dade County at that time. It probably got down to 25 in the Homestead area, too, but that is still warmer than 16.
Interestingly enough, the Future Farmers of America chapter in Homestead had a field of tomatoes 3 miles from Biscayne Bay on the south side of the Florida City canal. People driving out to the FP&L plant at Turkey Point now would never guess that tomatoes were once grown that close to the Bay.
The statement that cows died from inhaling mosquitoes is difficult to believe but it does happen rarely. A documented case occurred in East Naples as recently as 1988 and the story was carried by both the Ocala Star Banner and the Chicago Tribune. There were quite a number of cows in the Homestead area in the 1930s as there were at least three dairies here – Pioneer (owned by H. H. Ewing) was west of Florida City, Alpine (owned by O. B. Parker) was north of Homestead on Krome Avenue and there was also a dairy owned by Harley Core in Silver Palm.
Oral history offers valuable insights into the past of any community but has to be used with caution because it is often wrong. However, it provides clues to what really happened, but discovering that truth requires documentation.
Willie was not a wealthy man nor did he figure prominently in Homestead history – he was just a working man raising a family, like so many other forgotten people in the history of this area. In the 1970s, he worked as a nurseryman for Harold E. Kendall and lived in a modest home west of Krome Avenue on Epmore Drive.
It is good to remember that when writing history, these “forgotten people” vastly outnumber the figures that history so often focuses on.
Postscript: I wrote this article in May of 2017 and recently had the good fortune to sit down and speak to Ardel Parman Price, a daughter of Clarence Parman. She confirmed for me that Willie King managed the groves of her father.
Really enjoy reading about the early history of the area. I grew up around and did handy work for Maude V. Leppannen (don’t remember her maiden name) who was well known to folks in the Homestead, Florida City area. When I was growing up she would tell me stories by the hour of the trials and wildness of the early years she spent there. Now, I regret not recording or writing some of this down as it was sure a wealth of regional, historic knowledge.
Maude V. Leppanen’s maiden name was Hunt. I published a post on John and Florence Hunt some time ago and just finished updating it yesterday. You can read it by clicking on this link.
Another great article Jeff. Thanks for writing and all your research.
Thanks, Jeff: I wonder about the documentation for stories of suffocating animals (from mosquitos). The book A LAND REMEMBERED by Patrick Smith mentions that phenomenon too and, although it is fiction, there must have been some basis for the stories. His son, Rick, is a contact of mine and I will ask him about his dad’s research and documentation.
Yes, I wonder too. I know the mosquitoes were fierce and I’ve seen photographs of men and animals in protective garb but I doubt that any animal died from inhaling mosquitoes. I take the tale as a way of emphasizing just how bad the mosquitoes were. If you find out anything more, please share it with us.
I noticed the reference to “smugpots”. My dad and uncles would fire up smudgepots (correct spelling) whenever there was a freeze warning. Re: mosquitos, Grandaddy would cover his mule’s muzzle with burlap to keep the mosquitos from choking the poor animal.
I grew up in Homestead and we lived out in the Redland area off of Avocado and Country Club road. I remember swarms of mosquitoes that would surround the car when we drove up to the house. We would jump out of the car and run inside with large black clouds following us.
This was in the 1970’s with aerial spraying. I can only imagine how bad it was in the early 1900’s.
Some sort of mosquito born virus probably killed the cows but I can imagine the swarms were horrible back then.
Great article. Just discovered this website. Really enjoying it!
I have been doing some research myself about my family who came to Homestead around 1908. My Grandfather Robert E. Glenn came from Kentucky and married Julia Ruth Hoats from South Carolina. They had a large family (Charles, Edith, Kenneth, Roger and Robert). I haven’t found a lot about the family other than my grandfather worked for the city in the water department. I went to Neva King Cooper, Homestead Jr. High and South Dade Sr. High… If there is more info about my family, I would really like to know. I enjoy reading the stories and seeing the pictures.
Willie A. King was my Mom’s father – he was my grandfather also. Her name was Betty Jean King, now TUCKER, and now lives in North Florida with her husband Donald Tucker. I think she had 2 brothers, Clarence and DJ, and 1 sister, Mollie??? I so vividly remember walking the groves with Grandpa King, grafting orange and avocado trees and eating so much fruit our lips were burning like fire!!!
Clarence Parman was my Uncle Clarence. He had three daughters. My father was Howard Robert Parman, 1898-1964. Both were born in Toledo, Ohio. After the depression, Clarence moved to Homestead, Florida and had a fruit company. This company was called the ParKen Company. I used to have a box for sending fresh limes. On the box was the ParKen label. I will look for it if you would like it. It is a sturdy brown box. I now live in Fairfax, VA.
Love to read and see how far my family has come. I know that is how I ended up in Homestead. Great grandson of Mr. Clarence James Parman.
I believe that my grandparents homesteaded in the Redlands area sometime between 1910-1915. I remember seeing a postcard of young orange trees, with ” Redland” on the bottom. They were German immigrants who cleared land and started a grove but then had to move back north for my grandfathers’ health reasons. Their last name was “Bierfreund.”
“Gus Bierfreund, who settled in the Redlands country four years ago without a dollar and in debt, now has forty acres of excellent land worth about two hundred dollars an acre, it is said, five acres in grove ready to bear, a good house and barn, and money in the bank. No coal bills, fruit and vegetables for the table the year round, game and home raised poultry are some of the reasons given for this man’s success.”
— Miami Metropolis, May 23, 1914, p. 5
Wow, just stumbled on your site this evening, and didn’t really expect any info. I have looked in the past, and didn’t get anywhere. I never knew my grandparents; they died before I was born. I was the youngest child of the youngest child. I just always remembered that post card, which I haven’t seen since I was a child, and I’m sure is long gone. My father died in 1983. Thank you so much. I will have to study your site more.