Memories of Yankeetown: Letter To The People Of Yankeetown

A. Frank Knotts

To the People of Yankeetown,

My name is A. Frank Knotts. My parents, Eugene and Norma, named me after my father's uncle, the founder of Yankeetown who chose to go by "A. F." rather than his full name, "Armanis Francis" (I owe my parents for not tagging me with the original moniker.). The Izaak Walton Lodge was my home from August 1926 until August 1942 when I went off to college and never came back except to visit. I have a lot of memories of early Yankeetown, many of them childish of course, but also I have some bits of history which I picked up along the way. In my old age (80) I'd like to share with any of you who are interested.

But first, let me tell you of my admiration for the whole pack of you rebels, you grass roots activists, you rabble-rousers, you lovely people who rose to the occasion and have done so much toward saving Yankeetown. So often little communities just succumb to the march of "progress" which usually comes on like a bulldozer and destroys the very essence of what it claims to "develop." It happens here in Colorado every day. Just last week I read that a developer wants to move into one of our rural counties, Elbert County, and increase the number of dwellings by seventy percent in one fell swoop.

I believe that you guys may become one of the real success stories which so rarely happen. Hang in there and keep up the good work.

I would have missed your story had not my wife, Linda Powers discovered it. She followed the developments pretty avidly, and she encouraged my interest and now my involvement. In other words, she really got caught up in the story, and I am very grateful that she did. This story shouldn't be missed.

Also, I really believe that Andrew deserves a whole lot of credit for creating the website, and more important, for maintaining it and doing a nice job of maintaining order. It appears to me that this website is the modern equivalent of the town square. In Yankeetown, in the old days, the "town square" used to be the front porch of the old post office which sat just north of the Lodge. The mail man used to arrive from Dunnellon every morning at some time between ten and twelve depending on how late the train, The Southland, happened to be on any particular day, Meanwhile, all the retired men (a big chunk of the population at that time were retired people) would gather around mid-morning and sit along the edge of the porch which ran between the post office and Uncle Bud's Store just to the east. If you have seen my brother Tom's book, you may also have seen a picture of one of those daily meetings. I took that shot with my little $l.39 brownie in about 1935 or 36. These guys discussed all sorts of things, but, unlike you with your website, they seldom if ever did much about it as far as I know. Maybe they weren't disgruntled about anything. Sure, there was griping, but griping without a focal concern or any concerted action. They probably talked about the weather and told fish tales. Anyhow, that was pretty much the town forum then.

Now, the question: what might you present-day warriors like to know about that I might be able to recall? I have an idea of how to figure that out. I can pick a couple of topics that seem sort of relevant to both then and now and offer them up. Maybe that will elicit some thoughts and questions in you current residents, and you could post them on the site for me. I will do my best to tell you what I may know. I promise not to make anything up nor tell any lies. But realize, I pretty much left town in l942 and have only hearsay knowledge after that. And I might add that my recall of events before 1928 is pretty flimsy, so those will be hearsay, too.

I'll start with one question that someone already has asked: WHAT WOULD A. F. AND EUGENE KNOTTS HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT? I know how they thought and I feel sure that I know the answer to that one; they would not have liked it. Notice that Uncle A. F. was a long-time member of the Izaak Walton League and they named the lodge accordingly. The League was perhaps the leading conservationist organization in the country at that time. It was dedicated to preserving all kinds of habitat in order to preserve fish and game for hunters, sort of on the order of Ducks Unlimited or Trout Unlimited today. For all I know, the Izaak Walton League may still exist. Someone with Internet access could easily find out. Izaak himself was a seventeenth century English writer and fisherman who wrote "The Compleat Angler." Uncle A. F. was an avid hunter and trapper all his life and his major attraction to the Withlacoochee area was for its wilderness and for the hunting. Dad, Eugene, loved the fishing. Yes, A. F. was definitely a developer, and he also had some slightly grand plans, such as the Cross Florida Canal. But he envisioned the canal well to the south of the Withlacoochee in order to preserve the river. He wanted to live in a small residential community with only the basic amenities and a rustic atmosphere. Also, he had a pretty healthy ego and liked being the Big Frog in the small pond. My dad, Eugene, also strove to keep things simple. Yes, he did one development, River Forest, but made sure that it had minimal impact on the environment. And, in his later years I heard him deplore that things weren't as natural and simple as when he came in 1923. Both A. F. and Gene placed high value on community, on their community. Dad, especially valued citizen participation. I have no doubt they would be for saving Yankeetown. They always were. I just remembered something. In the middle of the depression Dad was feeling the pinch really hard, trying to keep the Lodge on a profitable basis. Then one of the frequent guests at the Lodge, a businessman from Orlando, offered Dad a pretty attractive job in his business. I watched Dad agonize for two or three weeks, and then he said, "I can't give up living in Yankeetown and having the river and the gulf and the town to live in a city." Orlando probably had about ten or twelve thousand population then! City?

Now for a couple of more or less random recollections which the website triggered. The first was the posting by Johnny Young's family. I hadn't thought of Johnny in many years, and then after the posting it started to come back. I first met Johnny when I entered school as a first-grader at the old two-room schoolhouse on the north side of Riverside Drive about a hundred yards east of the old post office. It had grades one through four in one room and five through eight in the other with one teacher per room. I liked Johnny right away. He was always so friendly and seemed so comfortable just being himself. His whole presence made me want to be around him. He had such a nice smile and he seemed totally comfortable and happy to be with others while I felt socially awkward. Also, I envied his comfortable way of dressing. He got to go barefoot while I had to wear the cute little sandals that my mother and grandmother insisted on. He got to wear denim bib overalls, like most of the kids, while I had to wear what I regarded as prissy little shorts and knit shirts. Johnny didn't even have to wear a shirt unless it got cold. I felt like an outsider, set apart. And I was. In the end I only got to hang around Johnny from time to time at that old school. We were separated by two or three years (a lot at that time of life) and we came from different parts of early Yankeetown society. I guess that's life, the stupid things which can get in the way of normal human impulses to affiliate.

A second entry which rang a bell came from Miss Jones, daughter of Elton Jones, the first principal of the new school, the big rock building on State Road 40. Sorry, I don't remember her given name because my dad always called her "Beanie." That requires a little explanation. When she was two years old, her family used to come to the Lodge on Sunday afternoons to visit. And Dad had a lot of plants growing all along the long concrete porch which connected the two buildings of the original Lodge. Some of the plants would shed little pea-like seeds which were completely fascinating to a two-year-old girl, and she spent a whole lot of her time collecting them. Good to know where you are now, 'Beanie.'

Well, I think it's time to stop for now and ask for feedback. Does anyone have questions that a former Yankeetown kid might be able to respond to? I can try to answer, though not with lightning speed.

A. Frank Knotts

Correction: I spoke of Johnny Young as a school mate. Actually, it was Holly Young. Thanks to his niece Tina for straightening me out and putting me in touch with Holly. Holly and I had a good telephone conversation.

Mr. Knotts may be contacted at knotts@yankeetown.com

January 2007

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