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Streets of St. Augustine

Two St. Augustine Businessmen

A pioneer resident of the Moultrie area, who now lives in St. Augustine on Aviles Street, has given the St. Augustine Historical Society some reminiscences of his early days.

When they both lived in Savannah, Robert W. Oliver's father and W. C. Middleton were good friends. After Middleton came south and bought land in the Moultrie area, where he operated a saw mill, he persuaded his friend to come to Moultrie also.

Oliver the elder bought 200 acres of land in 1885 at Moultrie Point and built a house there. His furniture, as well as a horse and a cow, made the trip down from Savannah by sailboat, but Mr. and Mrs. Oliver and their two children, Robert and Ella came by train as far as Jacksonville and took the river steamer and the small gauge railway from Tocoi the rest of the way.

Young Robert liked his new home, but he lacked experience in such a wild setting and one day tried to pull a rattlesnake (by hand) out from under the breezeway of the Oliver home.

Of course he was bitten and his frantic mother called a neighbor who killed the first chicken he could lay his hands on, halved it, and

pressed the still-warm flesh against the bite. This novel treatment (and several slugs of whiskey) saved Robert's life, but he wasn't grateful, because it was a pet chicken the man had killed.

Robert's mother died after only a year in the new home and the children went to live with the Roberts family, who were neighbors.

Not long afterward Henry M. Flagler bought 100 acres of the Oliver land in order to obtain sand for the building of the Ponce de Leon and Alcazar. His engineers worked out an ingenious plan for getting his sand to St. Augustine. It was hauled to a pier on the Matanzas River in little tram cars which were pulled along wooden tracks. There it was loaded aboard lighters and floated down the river seven miles to St. Augustine on the outgoing tide; the empty lighters were floated back on the rising tide for another load.

Middleton and Oliver decided to leave the Moultrie property and locate in town. Together they invested in some property on Marine Street which had once been a skating rink and opened up a grocery store there. Both men had stock in a steamer, The City of St. Augustine, and goods for their store were shipped in on it,

Again Flagler enters the picture, because he wanted the business for his railroad and offered to build the firm of Middleton and Oliver a warehouse near the San Sebastian with a special spur line if they would use the FEC to haul their stock. They accepted, of course.

The two partners bought additional lots in the area south of the Plaza-on Bridge Street, Bravo Lane and Hospital Street (as Aviles was then called).

Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Oliver live in the charming little vine covered house on Aviles Street, La Casita, which, he says, is practically held up by the wild India fig vine which covers it. He wishes to deny a rumor which once circulated around town that this was a "money vine" which guaranteed the holder of one of its leaves he would never suffer for need of ready cash. The rumor gained such credence that the vine was stripped of its leaves as far as a man could reach. Mr. Oliver fears that if word gets around the vine will be stripped clean again, and if it should die his little house might tumble to the ground.


 
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