Did you know there is the oldest log cabin in Pinellas County, still standing in it’s present location, right smack in the middle of Safety Harbor? If so, how much did you know about it?
My love for old houses is perfectly wed to my real estate career. This marriage of interests can be extremely rewarding. Such is the case for my interest in Safety Harbor’s Little Log Cabin. The trick is to keep the proper balance so no one asks for a divorce. Historical research can be quite time consuming, so care must be taken to not get carried away by the romance of the past to the exclusion of the present. The property at 600 3rd Street South in Safety Harbor, Florida, causes no such conundrum. It has the perfect bland of past and present, courtesy of the delightful current owners of the property, Mr. and Mrs. Hollerbaugh. They supplied many of the photographs and graciously allowed me to take some of my own.
For this log cabin, there are many historical threads to pull – if you really want to see how far the ball of yarn will roll. My B.A. degree is in architectural history so as a trained historian I feel guilty preparing any sort of historical account without full proper citations, footnotes and the like. My mea culpa is that this is a blog, not a scholarly journal. Hopefully it may give anyone else interested, a jump-off point. I have, nevertheless, included some footnotes, primarily of the secondary sources utilized. Direct links to the sources used, when available, are included in the footnotes at the bottom of this blog. Noted in the text with a number around ie. (x).
This particular rabbit hole of research is deep and enticing. I fell victim to the charms of the cabin and it’s present owners. Both the unique nature of the property and the owners dedication to it, inspired me to fall a bit deeper into this project than I meant to.
Origin of the Log Cabin
The log cabin has been quite reasonably assumed to date from, at least, 1876. This is because there is an imprint visible on one side of the fireplace, which reads, “Nov 20, 1876.” The oldest part of the cabin is certainly the main living area of about 18 by 22 feet.
There was even some thought that the primary section may possibly date to 1865, because the previous owner, Betty Quibell, crawled under the home in the 1990’s and found carved under the original room,the date 1865. Along with the date, are the names, “Little” and “Bull.” There is no existing reference, yet researched, indicating if these names relate to the original builders. These name are mentioned in several newspaper articles which are referenced in the footnotes.
One of these newspaper articles is from the Sarasota Herald Tribune dated December 25, 1996. It is titled “This Home Courtesy of Century 19.” This article interviewed Betty Quibell regarding her extensive renovation of the cabin and her efforts to learn about the cabin’s history. (1) It mentions Ms. Quibell’s discovery of the names. Historic research puzzles can be quite mysterious and intricate.
I decided to look into this myself as these names have created minor intrigue since they were revealed. In my search, I met Mr. Bob Booth, a direct descendent of Odet Philippe (as many of the Booth and McMullen family around here are). He referred me to Mr. Bob Pedigo. He is another longtime resident of Safety Harbor and kin to Mr. Booth (Mr. Pedigo’s mother was from the Booth family). I met Mr. Pedigo who was kind enough to spend some time with me as well and eventually referred me to Mr. Randall Blanchard, whose family lived at the property from 1943 to July of 1989 .
I met Mr. Blanchard and he kindly provided enough information to me to easily fill several excellent history books about Safety Harbor. Some of his recollections are included in the Blanchard Section of this blog. Regarding the names, “Little” and “Bull” He says that he had a childhood friend named John Windish (spelling uncertain), who was knicknamed “Bull.” This was in the 1940’s. He believes that is the origin of the name appearing there beneath the house. Mr. Blanchard said he and other childhood friends would play all over the log cabin; under the house a lot, and on top of the tin roof. This seems the most likely explanation for the names. I am going to call this name mystery solved. I would guess then that the kids just put their names near the mark 1865, as kids would be wont to do. The actual build date of the main cabin remains a mystery.
There is one St. Petersburg Times newspaper article (2) written by Barbara Fredricksen, date not confirmed, which says in part,
Crumbling and yellowed title abstracts in realtor Charles Trulock’s office show James G. Snedecor buying a 40-acre plot there from Mary E. Godden in 1889, but no reference is made to the cabin itself.
Mr. Snedecor had certainly already moved into the cabin before 1889, but remember the name Godden as the plot thickens.
The Snedecor Family Moves In
The first people we know who lived in the cabin are Rev. James George Snedecor, his wife Emily Alston Estes and their first born son, George Waddell Snedecor, one year old at the time. James eventually became a minister in the Presbyterian church and held service in Dunedin and later Alabama. Ancestry.com lists Emily as one of 11 siblings. Her father was Bedford M. Estes.Depending on which source you use, the year they moved into the cabain was either 1884 (2) or 1881. It is very likely to have been 1881 as their son George was said to have moved into the cabin when he was about 6 months old. According to Ancestry.com records, George was born in 1881. Their daughter Elizabeth is recorded to have been born in Florida in 1883. Daughters Harriet and Ione were born while living at the cabin in 1885 and1886 respectively. Morgan Estes Snedecor was born in 1887 in Safety Harbor as well and later children of the Snedecors were born elsewhere. These dates are important as it is the first date I have been able to asset that the home was occupied. Several sources record that James and Emily had 8 children, based on my research 4 were born while living at the log cabin in Safety Harbor, with George being a baby when they moved in.
Based on various accounts, the Snedecor family moved from the Log Cabin to Dunedin and stayed there from 1887 to 1890, then moving to Alabama.
An outline of the early years is covered in George Waddell Snedecor’s biography (3) :
James, the son of a lawyer, was born in Louisville, Mississippi in 1855 and also became a lawyer. He married Emily on 20 January 1880. Because James had poor health, the family moved to an isolated log cabin home in Florida when George was one year old. The family lived there for five years and George’s sisters, Elizabeth, Harriet and Ione, and a brother, Estes, were born there. James regained his health and changed his profession, becoming a minister in the Presbyterian Church. From 1887 to 1890 the family lived in Dunedin, Florida but then moved to Alabama where they lived in several different villages where James was a minister at the local church. Two further brothers for George were born in Alabama; Palmer Godden in 1891 and James Gayle in 1894. George had just begun his elementary schooling in Florida before the family moved to Alabama where he completed the rest of his schooling. From 1894, the family lived on a farm near Woodlawn and James served as minister at Woodlawn Presbyterian Church from 1899 to 1903. George Snedecor attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn for two years beginning in 1899. He then spent two years, 1901 and 1902, teaching at the Presbyterian Preparatory School in Salem, Alabama. During the last of these years teaching, another brother was born, Philip Alston in February 1902.
George Waddell Snedecor went on to become a well known university mathematician in the field of statistics.
Notice here George’s brother born in 1891…Palmer Godden. I believe some research on the history of Mary E. Godden and family might prove fruitful (pardon the pun, but the log cabin sat among a grapefruit orchard for many years), in the search for further details on the property.
EDIT: I did research on Ancestry.com and found that James George Snedecor’s parents were named, George Gaines Snedecor and Harriet Agusta Godden. So his mother’s maiden name was Godden. This might help in the search if anyone cares to take up the torch.
The Big Question: Who Built The Cabin And When?
An excellent resource on this early history is written by James Snedecor’s daughter Elizabeth Snedecor Campbell titled, “The Family Book. (4)” There is a listing in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series:1966:January-June, by the Library of Congress Copyright Office showing this title.
An even more important publication was found in a treasure trove of documents Mr. Hollerbaugh has possession of. It is called “Grandmother Snedecor’s Story” (5) and was written by Emily Estes Snedecor, the wife of James George Snedecor. It outlines very clearly each of the places that she and later her husband and children lived. Read in it’s entirety, there is little doubt in my mind that the Senedcors built the log cabin as I will outline briefly now. I am going to mostly paraphrase information from her story. The debate will no doubt continue, but I for one, am satisfied.
James George was clearly capable of building a log cabin as evidenced on page 5 of “Grandmother Snedecor’s Story”:
“In the latter part of November (1881), we left Memphis and I went to Clarksville to spend the winter. Your father made a trip to Florida, and finally bought ten acres between Clear-water and Dunedin, and then came back for the baby and me (George Waddel was the baby). For the next few years we lived the real pioneer life. Your father grubbed palmettoes, felled trees, split shingles, built a house with his own hands, and put out a young orange grove…
Even in that sparsely settled country we found the usual cosmopolitan Florida Community: Scotchmen, Englishmen, South Carolinian, Georgians, West Virginians and a few from the Middle West. It was also a Presbyterian community, with an endowed church. An old Scotchman, by the name of Andrews had left money for a building and part of a pastor’s salary. We were about two miles from the church, so of course I rarely went. Once or twice a neighbor invited me to ride in an ox wagon and I was glad to go.”
That passage established the Snedecor’s were clearly in the Dunedin area and that James George possessed the ability to build a house by himself.
The Snedecor’s moved out of Florida May 1889. She states
“After a year or two, we began to see that 10 acres was not enough and that the grove would be many years coming into bearing. So having an opportunity to sell to an Englishman who wanted the view more than the grove, we sold and bought a bearing grove on old Tampa Bay, seven miles east of Clearwater and there we spent the other five years we remained in florida.”
That is a critical piece of information because it means there were in the Dunedin location for two years, but then almost all of the other kids would have been born in Safety Harbor at their new log cabin home. The description of seven miles from Clearwater would put it almost right to our log cabin in question.
Here is the recap of the timeline:
Eldest son Geroge Waddell was born on Oct 20,1881 Latter part of November, Snedecor went to florida and bought the 10 acres. Emily and baby George moved there, it is reported in other sources when he was about 6 months old. So that puts them all in Dunedin April 1882, so one year or two would mean they moved to Safety Harbor in 1883 or 1884. They couldn’t move there with no home, so the cabin would have to have been built first, dating the cabin to 1883 or 1884. We know for sure son Morgan Estes born in the Safety Harbor log cabin. He later drew a sketch of the log cabin he was born in. That was 1887. Other kids were born in 85, 84 and 82. Elizabeth may well have been born in the Dunedin home but certainly Harriet and onward would have been born in the Safety Harbor cabin. I’m comfortable dating the cabin to be built by James George Snedecor in 1883 or 1884.
On page 7, the final piece de resistance comes when Emily states,
“1n 1888 father and mother Waddel came to spend the winter with us. Father had resigned the Chancellorship of the College of Clarksville on account of his health and thought Florida would be the place for them. We had built a new house on the bluff overlooking the bay and hoped we could make them comfortable. But conditions were still rough and our family had increased to five children: George; Elizabeth, March 12, 1882; Harriet, March 18, 1884; Ione, June 27, 1885; and Estes, December 21, 1887. As father was not at all well, you will not be surprised that they decided to return to Alabama in the spring.”
The really important part here is that they had built a new house on the bluff. The property the log cabin sits on is quite high elevation overall as Mr. Hollerbaugh attested to me. In the 1880’s it easily would have been high enough and clear enough to overlook the bay. It is actually incredible that there is that much information from a first hand historical account to piece this together. Emily Estes Snedecor left us with a very detailed account. Again if you read the entire story, you will see she was quite methodical throughout to describe the places they lived, not just the time in Florida. It is very lucidly written and leaves little doubt in my mind that “We built a new house on the bluff” if the current log cabin owned by Mr. and Mrs. Hollerbaugh.
As regards the exit of the Snedecors:
James George had a religious experience, a vision of sorts, that he decided then to pursue ministry in the Presbyterian church. That happened in 1888. He had “a debt on the place” referring to the 40 acre parcel, a wife and 5 kids (at that point). He believed divine providence would see them through. With this in mind as background, Emily writes on page 11,
“This guidance began in sending a purchaser for part of the place within a short time. Mr Leach, a Presbyterian elder from Virginia, who was spending the winter near us,called one morning and before he left he had decided to buy the house and seven acres on the beach. After the agreement had been made, Mr. Leach said, ‘I do not know why I have bought this. I had no idea of doing it when I came here.’ Your father then told him it was an answer to prayer, and it meant he could become a minister! Mr. Leach then said, “Well! I will never regret it, because I will help to make one preacher!’ In selling the house it was arranged that we could stay here during the year.”
The big loose end is of course the date on the fireplace. Snedecor was in Philly for Centennial and in fall in Mississippi. He had met Emily in summer 1875 very briefly. It does not say what happened between them in Nov of 1876, but is implied later that they began a courtship that lasted several years, culminating in their engagement in 1879, married in 1880. It is possible that the fireplace date is a sentimental date inscribed. The date James George and Emily consider the start of their relationship? While that part is pure speculation it is my fanciful rationale to account for the fireplace. When balanced against very clear writing stating the years the home would have been built and a fireplace date which has zero historical records to confirm, I am highly disposed to consider the date a sentimental date or other affectation not related to the actual building of the cabin.
Mr. Leach purchasing the property is an interesting facet of the story. He shortly thereafter built a home at 333 Bayshore “Ingleside” as a winter home for him since he was living in Virginia. This marries up perfectly with Emily’s account of him buying the log cabin. There is no indication he ever occupied the log cabin but Mr. Leach did wind up with a fair amount of contiguous property around that area for citrus production. That is covered in detail in the details of the National Register of Historic Places account for Mr. Leach’s house at 333 Bayshore South.
I scanned in some articles as they were working on getting that house on national register in 1991 or so…it was put on register in 1992. It was built, 1889, definitely after the log home.
Mr. Leach is variously listed as a naval caption, a sheep rancher and now by Emily Snedecor a Presbyterian elder. Interesting fellow who owned the log cabin property.
The Snedecor family’s history is quite well-known and detailed. I did some of my own research using internet methods and found a number of interesting items which I will now include.
More Snedecor Family History
“The Family Book” written by Elizabeth Snedecor Campbell is quoted in another St. Pete Times news article written by Bob Henderson dated Oct 19, 1990, titled “Cabin logs a century of county’s history.” (6). I will include most of it here:
An article that appeared in a Rotary publication when (Estes “Pete”) Snedecor died in 1974 said: “Historical biographies of many famous North Americans allude to the fact that they were born in a log cabin. Pete was an individual who not only achieved greatness but could also factually list his birthplace as a small log cabin at Safety Harbor , Fla.”
The article also says that Pete was born Dec 21, 1887, one of eight children, and that his father “received his education and training in the field of law and then, after a period in this profession, accepted a calling to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church.”
…relating her parents’ move from Memphis, Tenn., to Florida some time after their marriage in 1880. She says James came first, settling in Dunedin and buying about 10 acres. His wife, Emily, and a 6-month-old son came later.
…Elliot quoted from an article about his grandfather in the 1916 edition of “Presbyterians of the South,” from shortly after James died. It said James moved to Florida because of failing health, and that he, “became again a most splendid specimen of physical manhood.”
That last bit sounds pretty wonderful to say about someone.
That same Times news article also says there is a rumor that James was one of the founders of the National Rotary Club. Betty Quibell had placed a handwritten plaque on the property claiming the same. The news article claims this is untrue and likely came from the fact that James’ son Estes “Pete” Snedecor served as President of Rotary International in 1920/21. I wish I had read this earlier, because I had already taken it upon myself to contact both the Rotary headquarters history archives and the Birmingham, Alabama Rotary HQ to ask if this could be possible. Rotary began in 1905 by Paul Harris in Chicago and a couple of his friends. No way is James Snedecor a part of that. But by 1910, Rotary had spread all over the country and in 1910, the National Association of Rotary Clubs In America was formed. When Dublin Ireland branch was opened in 1912, then Rotary changed their name to what we know it as today, Rotary International. I have not conducted enough research with the Rotary historical department to say either way at this point as to what, if any, James had to do with Rotary. At first I rejected the claim, but now believe more study would have to be done about the 1910 Association to see if he played a part there.
It is conceivable that James Snedecor was involved with the forming of the National Association in 1910. According to ancestry.com, he was living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1910 (census) and was 55 years old. He died in 1916. There is no mention in any of his children’s obituaries, however, about James being involved in Rotary in any way.
There is no doubt at all that James’ son Estes “Pete” Snedecor was Rotary International’s President, however, in 1920-21. Presidents for Rotary International always serve for one year terms.
I took this picture from the Rotary International website (7):
The quote on the Rotary International page from Estes that year at the annual convention:
Rotary Club of Portland, Oregon, USA
The Blanchard Family Years
Mr. Blanchard has lived in Safety Harbor for around 70 years. His family lived in that log cabin and another structure that used to exist on the property. This carriage house, which Mr. Blanchard referred to just as the “little house,” because that is the place he and his brother lived because the log cabin was only 1 bedroom. The “little house” no longer exists but Mr. Blanchard has a wealth of stories to relate about the place. Mr. Blanchard says you would hardly recognize the cabin today that he grew up with because of the extensive renovations completed since his family sold it to Betty Quibell. Upon viewing the current excellent condition of the home on a visit to meet Mr. Hollerbaugh, Mr. Blanchard reports he was particularly impressed with the new chinking insulation between the logs as he remembered it being in very rough shape indeed.
It is thought that many changes to the cabin occurred in the 1910’s or 20’s. A concrete floor was put in Many log cabins start out as a main rectangular room and gradually become enlarged.
The Hollerbaugh’s purchase the property and build a marvelous new house next to the log cabin.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
(1) Sarasota Herald Tribune, Dec. 25, 1996
(2) St. Petersburg Times newspaper article(2), date not confirmed, written by Barbara Henricksen
(3) George Waddell Snedecor Biography
(4) “The Family Book,” by Elizabeth Snedecor Campbell. Written in the 1920’s, published subsequently
(5) “Grandmother Snedecor’s Story,” by Emily Estes Snedecor.
(6) St. Pete Times news article written by Bob Henderson dated Oct 19, 1990
(7) Rotary International Gallery of Past Presidents
(8) Morgan Estes “Pete” Snedecor’s Obituary
(9) Estes “Pete” Snedecor Jr. Obituary
(10) Dr. Philip Alston Snedecor Obituary