Last week we said goodbye to Dorothy Shepherd Smith, our alumna and an important contributor to the Rollins Archives. During her years at Mills Memorial Library, she worked under historian Alfred J. Hanna on the Union Catalog of Floridiana, an ambitious project to develop a statewide index of Florida library materials. She also compiled the indexes to Winter Park’s first newspaper, Lochmede, and the Chase Scrapbooks (1881-1906), two resources on local history that continue to be used today.
Mrs. Smith’s family members were true Winter Park pioneers. Her great-uncle, Miller Henkel, came to Winter Park in 1883 and was the city’s first physician (office visits cost 50 cents; house calls, one dollar). Her father, Forney W. Shepherd, was a businessman whose general store was the second brick building in Winter Park. Mr. Shepherd, with James E. Harper, also built Harper-Shepherd Field, which they donated to the city in the 1920s, and which the city gave to Rollins in 1934. Today, Harper-Shepherd Field is the home of the College’s Alfond Baseball Stadium.
In 1996 and 2001, Mrs. Smith participated in two oral history interviews for the Winter Park Historical Association (note: all quotes are from these interviews). Among the stories she shared were her memories of growing up in city in the early 1900s:
Elementary school: “The Park Avenue School was a red brick building a year or two old. There was no playground equipment. We skipped rope in the front yard.”
Park Avenue School in the 1920s
Celebrating Christmas: “Well, there was no such thing as going to a store and buying a Christmas tree. There were trees to be had any place on the outskirts of Winter Park. We always went armed with a hatchet to select a short-leafed pine tree. There were no “No Trespassing” signs or anything like that. . . All the children in town were invited to the park for Christmas Eve. There was a big tree and a Santa Claus. We sang carols and they gave each child a red cornucopia filled with French candy and nuts.”
Alligators: “Sometimes we went down to the lake front at night with a big flashlight to see how many alligators we could spot. Their eyes, at night, are like red jewels–they are beautiful. No alligators ever came up on our property and I never heard of anyone being attacked by an alligator in those days. However, to an alligator, a dog is like ice cream and cake. The Del Masons who lived close to us on the lake [Osceola] had hunting dogs. They lost several of their dogs to alligators. An alligator would crawl up on the lawn. The dog would get too close and with one swish of its tail the alligator knocked it unconscious. That was the beginning of the end.”
Going to the movies: “The Baby Grand Theater, especially on Saturday night, was the most exciting place in town. There was no ventilation. There were wall fans on both sides of the theater. The movie was silent with appropriate piano music. There was always a serial on Saturday night with the villain or the hero left hanging from a cliff or in some other desperate situation. You had to return next Saturday to see how it came out!”
After graduating from high school, Dorothy attended the Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee for one year, before transferring to Rollins. She remembered Pres. Hamilton Holt as “very innovative. His conference plan was the most wonderful way to learn. Instead of being in a class with 75 or 100 students, as I had been at FSCW, the limit was 17. We sat around a conference table and discussed the lesson of the day. There were no examinations which was a great relief. At the end of the term we had a private conference with the professor, at which time he asked enough questions to find out what we had learned and to grade us.”
Dorothy’s undergraduate activities included membership in the Phi Mu sorority and work on the Sandspur staff. She remembered attending dances at the Coliseum in Orlando, walking to get there, as “very few students had cars.”
She also recalled a student job reading to Annie Russell: “I heard that Annie Russell, the famous English actress, wanted someone to read to her, so I read to her and enjoyed the experience. She was a small, pleasant woman. I thought she was very, very old. Recently, I found out that she was only 62.” At Miss Russell’s home on Via Tuscany, “I read The Life of Sarah Bernhardt and other books on the Theatre and also news magazines. She had broken her hip and installed an elevator in her home. It was the first elevator in anybody’s home in Winter Park. It was the talk of the town, Miss Russell’s elevator.”
Dorothy graduated from Rollins in 1933.
After graduation, she studied business for one year at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, then returned to Rollins and worked with Librarian William F. Yust at the Carnegie Library. “In those days, the library occupied only one-half of Carnegie Hall and the other half was devoted to Administrative offices. There was only one person on at night at a time and that one person was me.”
Dorothy had an adventurous side, as became clear after she left the library in 1936. In 1942, she spent three months traveling by bus “all over Mexico” with her sister and a friend. From there, they decided to make their way “by bus and by train and a short distance by ox cart” to Nicaragua, where Dorothy’s cousin held a post in the foreign service. Met by her cousin “in a horse and buggy,” Dorothy found her new surroundings reminiscent of “when Winter Park was first founded in the 1880s. In spite of all this, we loved it. We went to stay for two weeks and stayed for two years.” A vivid memory of Latin America was riding mules in Mexico to the site of an active volcano, “with boulders being tossed out of its mouth and rivers of glowing lava running down its side. . . Our hair was stiff with lava dust and we were just covered with dust, but it was a spectacular sight that I’ll never forget.” A few years later, she moved to Athens, and made trips to Turkey, Egypt, and the Middle East, later visiting Europe, Hawaii, and Japan. Her articles about her travels appeared in The New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and The Christian Science Monitor.
In 1955, she accepted a position at the College’s Mills Memorial Library, where she worked until her retirement in 1971.
In 1989, her work in the Archives was recognized with a certificate of commendation from the American Association for State and Local History.
In 2007, Dorothy was pictured with fellow alumni from the era of Pres. Hamilton Holt, affectionately dubbed “the Prexy years.”
“Remembering the Prexy Years”: front row, left to right: Annette Twitchell Whiting ’36, Dorothy, and Betty Carson Wales ’42. Back row: Charles Robinson ’51, Margy Mountcastle Robinson ’51, Jack Rich ’38, Alice Henry Acree ’42, Sherry Gregg Ogilvie ’40, Jenelle Gregg Bailey ’48, Peggy Caldwell Strong ’43, and Adele Fort Kirkpatrick ’56.
Looking back over the years, Dorothy said, “In spite of all the advances, restaurants, and enterprises that are here today, I would still choose that simple, quiet, lovely life that used to be.” Her dedication to preserving the past continues to benefit researchers today.
~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist