FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off Appetizer Week

Welcome to the second week of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off! This week we will be sharing and attempting appetizer recipes from our collection and also discussing historic measurements. Please visit our introduction post to find out how you can participate.

When reading through older recipes or cookbooks some of the units used for measurement can be confusing. What is a gill? What is the difference between a teacup and a coffee cup? Butter the size of an egg? Measurements were often based on items people commonly had on hand, such as an egg or a teacup, because standard measuring cups and measuring spoons hadn’t come into widespread use yet.

Sometimes the issue is as simple as converting from metric to US customary measurements; many online conversion charts are available.

This blog has a handy printable vintage measurement conversion card that helps if you find a recipe that calls for a gill (1/2 cup), a tumbler (1 cup), a teacup (1/2-3/4 cup), a knob (2 Tbsp), or many more measurements that you may find confusing.

Table of weights and measures, The country kitchen: the farmer recipe book, http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715C8631911

Some recipes that were once widely popular, such as aspic, have since fallen out of favor. Aspic, a savory gelatin/jelly, was once a staple of many households up through the mid-20th century. Traditionally aspic was made by boiling animal bones to produce a gelatinized broth. The gelatin would be placed in a mold with meats, vegetables, and/or eggs. Meats were also sometimes encased in aspic to prolong shelf life and prevent spoiling. Check out my attempt at making aspic later in this post!

All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order By Isabella Beeton (1890) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B421890

Quick aspic jelly: 1.5 oz gelatin, 2 quarts any kind of stock, 1 carrot, 1 turnip, 1 shallot, 3 or 4 cloves, 3 or 4 peppercorns, 1 lemon, 1 Tbsp vinegar, bouquet of herbs, 1 egg white. Put all in a stewpan and whisk over the fire until boiling, let boil, settle for 1/4 hours, then strain.

Aspic jelly moulded with vegetables: 1 pint aspic jelly, any cold boiled vegetables, such as asparagus tops, green peas, carrots, turnips, or beetroot in dice, cucumber, 2 hardboiled eggs. Coat a wetted mould with melted jelly, and when cold arrange in it some of the vegetables, with due regard to color and contrast, then add more jelly and when cool some more vegetables, with the hard-boiled egg cut in slices, and so on until the mould is full.

Luncheon & dinner sweets: including the art of ice making by Charles Herman Senn (1920’s) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX773S461920z

Fruit salad: 4 oz loaf sugar, 1 1/2 gills water, mixed fresh ripe fruits, such as grapes, pears, apricots, pine, etc., flavorings of maraschino, Kirsch, or vanilla, lemon juice. Boil the sugar and water for about 15 minutes, until it is of a syrup-like consistency. Prepare the fruit and cut it into convenient size pieces and place it in a basin. When the syrup is cool, add the flavoring and a few drops of lemon juice; pour over the prepared fruit and leave in a cool place. When cold pour into a glass or silver bowl and decorate to taste and serve. Note-preserved, bottled, or tinned fruits may also be used for this salad, when the syrup from the fruits should be used in making the syrup.

The Country kitchen: the farmer recipe book. (1911) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715C8631911

Deviled eggs: Boil the eggs 15 minutes; when cold cut in two; take out the yolks and pulverize; add salt, pepper, butter and mustard to taste; then add enough vinegar to mix moist and pack back into the whites.

Aspic Recipe Attempt

I have had a morbid curiosity with aspic since first hearing about it from a family friend, so I was very excited to give it a try. I used the recipes from All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order by Isabella Beeton (1890) to make a quick aspic jelly and then used it to make a mould with vegetables. I mixed all of the ingredients together, boiled and strained them, then put it in the refrigerator to cool. I was worried I did something wrong because my mixture was very liquidy and had a VERY strong animal smell. After a few hours the mixture had completely solidified into an opaque jelly.

Once the “Quick aspic jelly” was complete, I moved on to the moulding. I covered the bottom of a bowl with melted jelly and began building upwards by alternating jelly with chopped cold chicken and then a final layer of peas. Once all the layers were complete I covered the bowl and let everything set in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning I ran a sharp knife around the edge of the bowl, placed a plate over the top, and inverted both. After a few minutes the moulded jelly down came free of the bowl and settled onto the plate. I realized afterwards that I used beef broth instead of the stock called for in the recipe, which may be why my aspic turned out cloudy instead of clear. It still has the visual effect of traditional aspic though!

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I couldn’t actually bring myself to try it, the smell was just too gross. It was fun as an art project/science experiment though! I can check it off my bucket list -Kristin Hagaman

Join us November 16th as we share main course and side dish recipes!

Cocktail Week: A Hot Punch to the Face

I love hot drinks: coffee, tea, cider, cocoa. Serving a hot drink in a pretty mug is a sure way to welcome guests to an autumn or winter party. And as the weather turns…well, milder (this is still Florida after all), I find myself turning on my electric kettle regularly. 

Click here to skip down to the recipe

So I was excited to see this recipe for “Hot Punch” included in the recipe suggestions post by Kristin to lead off Cocktail Week! The photos above contain the recipe as it was recorded in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861 (the volume in our collection is a first edition). Below, you’ll see the book’s title page, along with a picture of Mrs. Beeton from 1854. This was a groundbreaking book, said to allow anyone to manage “all things connected with home life and comfort,” and it set the standard for English housekeeping. 

I will not comment on the epigraph — “Nothing lovelier can be found / In Woman, than to study household good” — other than to say that my partner and I share household duties and I’m still lovely, THANK YOU. 

Here is a transcription of the original recipe for Hot Punch: 

“1839. INGREDIENTS. -- ½ pint of rum, ½ pint of brandy, ¼ lb. of sugar, 1 large lemon, ½ teaspoonful of nutmeg, 1 pint of boiling water. 
Mode. -- Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon-juice (free from pips), and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making good punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and, to insure success, the processes of mixing must be diligently attended to."

She then recommends how much to make (a quart for 4 persons) and gives a lovely little history of punch. Punch was a big deal in the 19th century, but had started to fade in popularity at this time, according to Mrs. Beeton: “Punch, which was almost universally drunk among the middle classes about fifty or sixty years ago, has almost disappeared from our domestic tables, being superseded by wine.” She goes on to comment on the wide varieties of punch in existence, and a quick look at auction houses and other sites shows that punch bowls, like that depicted in the illustration of Mrs. Beeton’s book, came in all shapes and sizes.

photo of an ornate silver punch bowl
An American Silver Repousse Punch Bowl, Late 19th/early 20th Century. https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/an-american-silver-repousse-punch-bowl-late-5530699-details.aspx

Here is my version of the recipe with modifications. I’m adapting the recipe and only making half, as it’s a Thursday night and we don’t need to drink an entire party’s worth of punch: 

Adapted Recipe, written out and then promptly spilled on.

Modified Recipe, HOT PUNCH:
4 oz rum
4 oz brandy
2 oz sugar
1/2 a lemon’s zest
1/2 a lemon’s juice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz boiling water

Mrs. Beeton’s sugar would have been sold in lumps, and the recipe calls for you to use a sugar lump to sort of sand the zest off of the lemon. I tried this, unsuccessfully, with granulated sugar, and eventually gave in and got out my zester/microplaner.

Then I rubbed the sugar and zest together to make a very fragrant lemon-sugar that would be delicious sprinkled on blueberries. 

Then I added the lemon juice and whisked until the sugar, zest, and juice were combined. Boiled water came next, which seemed to do a great job of melting down the sugar. Then rum brandy, and nutmeg, and a good stir — and voila! Hot Punch!

Here’s a quick snippet of me tasting it: 

Obviously, I mean a Zoom party at the moment.

It is STRONG. I think a small mug would do. This tastes so much like a hot toddy, just rum & brandy instead of whiskey: lemony, boozy, and hot. And very sweet. The sugar really hides the amount of alcohol you’re consuming, which could be a problem. Brandy is also not an ingredient we had on hand. I had to buy it especially for this recipe, but I do like the flavor that it imparts when mixed with rum. I think I’d probably strain this if I make it again, as the nutmeg settled at the bottom and made for a nasty last swig. 

As for making a mocktail version of the Hot Punch: I thought and thought, and frankly, alcohol-free hot drinks are kind of my thing; believe me when I say you should just make yourself a different fancy hot drink. Have a hot cider with a splash of caramel syrup, or a hot chocolate with foamed milk and a pinch of cinnamon. If you’re ill, a hot tea with that lemon sugar and some cinnamon and nutmeg might have a similar flavor? Who knows, give it a try!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Would be a fun drink for cooler weather, but beware: It’s stronger than you think. Thanks, Mrs. Beeton! – Rachel Duke

World Digital Preservation Day

The first Tuesday of every November is World Digital Preservation Day: a day when all digital archivists and preservationists get to toot our horn a bit and celebrate the work of ourselves and our colleagues over the last year. It’s also a day where digital preservation practitioners talk about what everyone could be doing to ensure their digital files are preserved for long-term access.

You may have heard of personal digital archiving. The Library of Congress has done great work over the years to create a robust online website to help guide anyone looking to maintain and preserve their digital files – from the hundreds of photographs on your phone to the paper you wrote on Word Perfect back in college. I recommend digging into that website if you’re looking to get started on this work. What I want to do with this post is give you some places to start

Edna Mode says it best

A really great – and easy potentially? – place to start is by giving your files meaningful, and computer friendly names. The first rule here, is as Edna tells as above, don’t include any spaces in your file names. Your computer, and future digital archivist, will thank you for that. Use a hyphen or underscore if you want to separate words in your file name.

The next step is to name your files meaningfully and uniquely. Choose the main subject of the photo as your base and go from there. For example, if it’s a picture of your cat, you would use their name. Now, let’s add more information, use the date you took the photo to make it even more unique. If you take more than more photo of your cat a day (no judgement), add a number after the date so the file name is complete unique. You now have a file name that looks something like Whiskers-11052020-001. Not only is that unique, but you can also get a lot of information about the photo just from the file name. You know what the photo is about, when you took it and that it was the first photo that day you took of that subject.

Now, that means that file names may also get long and complicated very quickly if you try to list all the things in a complex photo as part of the file name. This is where using file folders, or collections, can help in personal collections. Make sure you are “filing” your photographs under the correct folders. So for example, you may take a lot of pictures at your child’s birthday party but want to name the images something other than KatieBdayParty-110520202-001 etc. If you do, just name a folder KatiesBdayParty2020 and put all the photos in the same folder. that way, you know the event and can name files more usefully like KatieandGrandma-11052020

If you have a lot of files, renaming can seem like a daunting task but I’m actually hiding two tasks in it – surprise! To rename files means you have to look at them all again and this is a great time to decide if you actually need to keep all 50 photos of the same sunset you took on your vacation last year or if maybe just a couple will suffice to help you remember the moment. Deleting digital files you no longer want or need is a necessary part of personal digital archiving (and any archiving) and it means a couple of great things. One, you’ll have more digital storage space to create more files in the future and two, you aren’t creating such a large personal digital archive that even you don’t remember what half of the files are anymore or can’t afford the storage space to keep it all

Sticking with our Pixar theme, Buzz gets it

Which brings me to my last tip of the day – make sure you are storing your files in more than one location. The last thing you want is for if your computer or phone dies, you lose all your files on those devices especially when there are some easy, and fairly cheap, solutions. For your home laptop, make sure you have an external hard drive that you back up your laptop to on a regular basis. A lot of laptops have built in programs to help with this task (Time Machine on Macs, Backup on Windows) so all you have to do is plug in the external drive, open up your machine’s program and let it do its thing! Doing this on a regular basis (bi-weekly or monthly depending on your use case) means your laptop, and all its data, is safe even if you encounter the blue screen of death.

For your phone, your provider may have a cheap service to pay for on a monthly basis that will back up your data for you which can just be included in your monthly bill or your phone of preference (Apple or Google) may have a service to pay for to make sure your data are available on devices other than your phone and they are safely backed up through the service. The cloud is your friend especially with your phone data!

Hopefully your are feeling empowered, and inspired, this World Digital Preservation Day to start personal digital archiving at home – go forth and archive!

FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off Cocktail/Mocktail Week

Welcome to the first week of the FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off! This week we will be sharing and attempting cocktail and mocktail recipes from our collection. Please visit our introduction post to find out how you can participate.

Many of the beverage recipes found in our cookbooks make large amounts to serve at parties or social gatherings, but can be scaled down to make 1 or 2 drinks. A recipe for negus (a wine-based beverage) from The book of household management by Isabella Beeton (1861) is recommended to be served to children at parties!

While there is a strong emphasis on alcoholic drinks in many recipes, we encourage trying the recipes without alcohol to convert it to a mocktail. Flavored seltzers, tonic water, or sparkling apple juice can be used to replace the alcohol for a festive beverage. Recipes for flavored vinegars and lemonades are available in several of the books, the vinegars are served with water over ice.

Housekeeping in the blue grass: A new and practical cookbook: containing nearly a thousand recipes …By the Presbyterian Church Missionary Society of Paris Kentucky (1879) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715H681879

Champagne Punch: One bottle of champagne, one half tumblerful (1/2 cup) of sugar, one wine-glassful (1/4 cup) of rum, and one half-dozen lemons.

Whisky Punch: One gallon whisky, six tumblerfuls of sugar and one half-dozen lemons.

Blackberry Vinegar (a temperance drink): One gallon of fresh berries, washed and picked; pour over them a half gallon of good cider vinegar; let stand twenty-four hours; then strain. To each pint of juice add 3/4 of a pound of sugar; boil half an hour and skim carefully. When cold, bottle, and cork lightly. When used, pour the depth of an inch in the glass; fill with water, pounded ice, and season with nutmeg.

Egg Nog: Six eggs, beaten separately; one pound of sugar; two pints of rich cream, one pint of whisky, one half pint of Jamaica rum; beat the yolks well; mix sugar and whisky together; whip the cream; add whites of eggs, and cream last. It is best made over night.

The book of household management By Isabella Beeton (1861) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B4

Lemonade: The rind of 2 lemons, the juice of 3 large or 4 small ones, 1/2 pound sugar, 1 quart boiling water. Rub some of the sugar, in lumps, on two of the lemons until they have imbibed all the oil from them, and put it with the remainder of the sugar into a jug; add the lemon-juice, and pour over the whole a quart of boiling water. When the sugar is dissolved, strain the lemonade through a fine sieve; when cool it will be ready for use.

Negus: To every pint of port wine allow 1 quart of boiling water, 1/4 pound of sugar, 1 lemon, nutmeg to taste. Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to 1/4 lb) on the lemon-rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice, and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and when it has cooled a little it can be drunk.

All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order By Isabella Beeton (1890) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B421890

Shandy Gaff: Ingredients for pint mug. 1/2 pint of good bitter ale, 1/2 pint or a bottle of ginger beer; if liked, a dash of liqueur, ice. Put lumps of ice in a tankard, and pour the ale and ginger beer over, adding a little liqueur, if liked.

Punch (cold): Ingredients for bowl for 12 people. 1 bottle of rum, 2 glasses (2 cups) of orange liqueur, 1 bottle of champagne, 1/4 lb sugar, 1 large lemon, 1/2 pint of water, ice. Boil sugar, lemon rind, and water. When cool add rum, champagne, and lemon juice. Serve over over with lemon rind removed.

Punch (hot): 1/2 pint rum, 1/2 pint brandy, 1/4 lb sugar, 1 large lemon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 pint boiling water. Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punch bowl; add the lemon-juice and mix well. Pour boiling water into bowl, mixing well. Add rum, brandy, and nutmeg, mixing thoroughly. Punch is ready to serve when all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Cheers! Our next recipe recommendations post will be November 9th, with the start of appetizer week!

American Archives Month 2020 Recap

FSU Special Collections & Archives celebrated American Archives Month throughout the month of October by hosting events and sharing interesting items from our collection.

We kicked off the month with a takeover of FSU Libraries social media on October 7th for “Ask an Archivist Day.” FSU SCA staff answered questions on Instagram about how to organize and store family items, what the oldest item in our collection is, questions about FSU’s history, how to become an archivist, and more! The entire takeover is available as a highlight titled “Ask Archivists” on the FSU Libraries Instagram. On Twitter, staff engaged with other institutions participating in #AskAnArchivist by sharing interesting items from our collection and talking about what we do. All of the threads are available on the FSU Libraries Twitter page.

Here on the blog we shared a variety of posts related to our archival work in special collections.

Slides from “Archive of Me” by Kacee R.

Thanks for celebrating American Archives Month 2020 with everyone at

FSU Special Collections & Archives!

“Archive of Me” by Jennifer F.

This post is the second part of our “Archive of Me” series for American Archives Month. Earlier this month Kacee kicked us off with a post about her collections of slides inherited from her grandmother. Below, I will be talking about a few of the things that have ended up in my own personal archive.

Perhaps rather odd for an archivist, I don’t tend to hang onto a whole lot of stuff. I have a box for administrative papers, and then the one pictured above for more personal items. It is both super archival and super organized, as you can see. I suppose I should be rather ashamed that I haven’t upgraded to an archival box and other acid free materials yet! This box is a mix of letters, cards, and small keepsake items that have made it through several moves and several purges or decluttering projects.

A paper heart, handmade from linen for my papermaking class in grad school.
A paper heart, handmade from linen for my papermaking class in grad school.
My number from the very first 5k I ever ran.
My number from the very first 5k I ever ran.
A ticket from the 2012 football National Championship.
A ticket from the 2012 football National Championship.

I picked the items above in particular to show the variety of materials I have held on to over the years. Why have I held on to them? I think that all of these items represent accomplishment to me in some way. Immersing myself in a craft like papermaking, pushing myself to do something I never thought I would be able to like a 5k. Even the ticket represents traveling to a new place for a new experience – a great one, at that. Bottom line, these all have incredible sentimental value to me, and I expect I’ll keep them around for a long time to come.

What about you? What would you put in your own personal archive? Comment down below to let us know!

Slow and Steady

Progress is slow, but steady. I’m happy to say that in the time that I started this blog series, active steps have definitely been taken towards working on diversity and inclusion in FSU Special Collections & Archives discovery tools.

Gay Farm Workers in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. (Click the image to go to our digital library!)

The main projects that we are working on right now are:

  • The Conscious Editing Initiative 
  • The Inclusive Research Services Task Force
  • LGBTQ+ Resource Guide

The Conscious Editing Initiative is focusing on systematically reviewing our catalog and examining the language used to describe different peoples. The goal of this work is to make sure that these stories are both discoverable and accurate in labeling so that they may be more accessible to people looking for them. With this we are also able to accurately assess how diverse the stacks themselves truly are and determine what gaps are in our collections and the best ways to either fill those gaps or find resources that we may direct people towards.

The Inclusive Research Services Task Force is a recently formed group that charged with analyzing our internal structure and finding ways we can improve, specifically as they relate to public services. They are rewriting policies in order to ensure that they reflect the needs of the diverse student body that populates FSU, as well as rethinking onboarding training and ways to ensure the faculty and staff are meeting Florida State’s standard of dynamic inclusiveness.

Florida Flambeau, June 28, 1979. (Click the image to go to our digital library!)

The LGBTQ+ Resource guide will be an online site that anyone will have access to. This guide was created in order to provide self education and on-campus resources about/for LGBTQ+ identities. The guide will include pronoun etiquette, do’s and don’ts, queer and trans histories, terminology, and other resources in order to make self education easier for those who may not be informed about LGBTQ+ topics. It will also include templates for students to communicate about their identities, resources on campus, and even links to faculty that are safezone allies.

Overall, there is definitely progress. It’s great to see these topics discussed more within the library, but it’s even better to see the change happen. I’m very excited and hopeful about the direction FSU SCA is going in with regards to diversity and inclusion. I hope we sustain this momentum!

FSU Special Collections & Archives Presents: The Great Rare Books Bake Off

With the holiday season fast approaching, the FSU Special Collections & Archives division is challenging the FSU community (and beyond!) to try a recipe from our collection of rare books, manuscripts, and heritage materials. The FSU Special Collections & Archives Great Rare Books Bake Off will take place the entire month of November and consist of weekly themes correlating to different courses of a meal. Throughout the month, SCA staff are inviting the community to try the recipes and post their results to social media utilizing the hashtags #thegreatrarebooksbakeoff and #fsuspecialcollections.


FSU Special Collections & Archives has drawn inspiration from the inaugural Great Rare Books Bake Off of July 2020 originated by the special collections libraries and archives of Monash University and Penn State University.

How to participate:

  1. Choose a recipe from our selections posted weekly
  2. Attempt the recipe
  3. Take a picture and post it to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtags #thegreatrarebooksbakeoff and #fsuspecialcollections

Recipes from the collection will be posted Monday each week. SCA staff will post their successes (or failures) as well as highlight posts shared on social media.

Cooking resources available in FSU Special Collections & Archives

A portion of the SCA cookbook collection is available in the Cookbooks and Herbals collection in the FSU digital library. An interest in cookbooks and household management is a legacy from FSU’s earliest years as a women’s college. The oldest book in our cookbook collection is from 1622 Venice.

A sample of cookbooks available in the digital library

  1. All about cookery: a collection of practical recipes arranged in alphabetical order By Isabella Beeton (1890) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B421890
  2. The queen-like closet, or, Rich cabinet By Hannah Wooley (1675) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX705W61675
  3. The book of household management By Isabella Beeton (1861) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX717B4
  4. A collection of recipes for the use of special diet kitchens in military hospitals By Annie Wittenmyer (1864) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_UH487A18
  5. Housekeeping in the blue grass: A new and practical cookbook: containing nearly a thousand recipes …By the Presbyterian Church Missionary Society of Paris Kentucky (1879) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX715H681879
  6. The art of cookery made plain and easy By Hannah Glasse (1751) http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_TX705G541751

Hand-copied recipes, as well as menus and other ephemera from social gatherings, events, and restaurants can be found in the scrapbook collection of FSU Heritage & University Archives.

Lemon Tart

In honor of the recipes shared for the bake off between Penn State and Monash University, I tried Penn State’s recipe for a lemon tart. The recipe is originally from a handwritten cookbook of British recipes compiled between 1770 and 1846.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This recipe is delicious! The crust is flaky and the filling is tart and not overly sweet. -Kristin Hagaman

Our next post will be November 2nd, sharing recipes for cocktails and mocktails. We look forward to cooking with you!


October is coming to an end pretty soon and the National Election on November 3rd is approaching fast! The University has an important resource, FSU Votes, that may come in handy before casting a ballot. There, you can learn more about obtaining a sample ballot, tracking a mail-in ballot, safety precautions for in-person voting, your local voting site, and much more. With Noles to the Polls, students, faculty, and staff will be able to take shuttles from Traditions Parking Garage, the College of Medicine, and University Center A to early voting locations until October 30th. Make sure to vote!

Women at a voting table.
Voting Scene, Victoria J. Lewis Scrapbook, 1940-1944, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida. Purl: http://purl.flvc.org/fcla/dt/238964

Sun City

Recently, we digitized the Sun City Development and Motion Picture Studio Plat Map Sheets for use in a class which led me to look into…what are these exactly? I uncovered a fascinating story of the brother of Cleveland railroad barons and a Georgia inventor who, a decade apart, tried to bring Hollywood to Florida.

One of the maps of Sun City. See original object.

During the 1920s, Florida experienced a land boom. Florida’s population was growing four times faster than any other state, spurred by the abolition of income and inheritance taxes and an active road-building program. Sun City, original name Ross, was located near present-day Ruskin, in Hillsborough County, and was one of many boom towns at the time in the state.

Herbert C. Van Swearingen, who made his living in real estate in Cleveland, Ohio, was the chief developer of Sun City. Herbert was the forgotten brother of two of Ohio’s biggest railroad barons, Oris and Mantis Van Swearingen. Sun City was his attempt to make a name for himself outside of his brothers’ shadows. The 500-acre Sun City Motion Picture Studio was constructed in late 1925 and built in the Spanish-Moor style with business offices, a projection room, a carpentry room, and 20 dressing rooms. Unlike any other studio, it offered a visitors gallery where Sun City residents and tourists could watch motion picture stars work. Initially, Sun City was successful. Land sales hit $2 million. The emerging city soon had a small number of residences as well as a school, hotel, theater, church, city hall, and power plant. Two short movies were filmed in the state-of-the-art studio.

However, by early 1926, the real estate speculation bubble in the state burst. Also, per usual in Florida, a hurricane hit, creating damage that further drove away seasonal visitors and tourism from the city. Land sales dried up, and Sun City Holding Co. fell into debt and was dissolved. Herbert filed for bankruptcy and returned to his family in Cleveland. Herbert’s brothers helped cover his losses and persuaded Herbert to retire from business. On July 4, 1932, all of Sun City was auctioned at the Hillsborough County Courthouse. Orlando businessman W.W. Staplen bought the land and dismantled the movie studio. He sold the bricks for $1,500. What was left quickly became a ghost town.

In the late 1930s, the next person tried to entice Hollywood to what was left of Sun City. J.T. Fleming, a developer and inventor from Georgia who went broke during the land boom in Florida and lost everything except 500 acres in southern Hillsborough County, bought special masters deeds to Sun City for $100. Fleming believed that the land would be worth millions as a moviemaking destination and resurrected the idea of a city where filmmakers and actors would live among regular residents. However, Fleming became increasingly involved in legal battles and this second try at an East Coast Hollywood never got off the ground. After years of continuous legal challenges, Fleming was ruled insane in 1953, incarcerated for 19 months, and finally had his rights restored by a Fulton County (GA) court. When Fleming died in January 1968, Hillsborough County reclaimed his 500 acres of land near present-day Ruskin for unpaid taxes.

Today, the land that Sun City once stood on is largely a mobile home park situated among industrial sites, fish farms, orchards, and scrapyards. The power plant that was built still stands on Route 41 and if you compare Google Maps to the original maps in our collection, you’ll see the names of movie stars are still on the roads. In fact, side by side, you see that where a movie studio once stood, there is simply woods.

Comparison of the 1925 urban plan for Sun City with an image from Google Maps showing Ruskin, Florida today


Raponi, Richard. Herbert C. Van Sweringen House, Cleveland Historical app. https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/407

Sun City, Ghosttowns.com, http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/suncity.html

Sun City Development and Motion Picture Studio Plat Map Sheets, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida. https://archives.lib.fsu.edu/repositories/10/resources/705 Accessed October 16, 2020.