Art Deco, Chocolate & the Task System in Florida

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It is a bit of a break in our itinerary, an extra day in Miami. Time to enjoy the weather, swimming in the pool and strolling through town.

We’re staying in an apartment that rents out to tourists like us. The building comes with a pool and after we arrive from the Everglades, that’s where we rinse off.

A number of restaurants, alongside the beach road we look out on, to choose from for dinner…Life is good.

Florida Keys

We had plans, great plans to drive to and partly through the keys. The number of great stories, beautiful pictures, and raving reviews meant, we truly intended to go here.

But, after driving every day thus far, the wind through palm trees outside under the sun and the idea that we could just do as little as possible, meant we skipped the 3.5hr drive to Key West.

It’s still on the bucket list, and we’ll get there but on this trip, we decided to do something different. Which truth be told, is just why you organize your own road trip, right?

Art Deco

So, what did we do instead? Well, having an apartment down the road from the Art Deco district (aka Miami Beach Architectural District) made that choice pretty simple. After breakfast, we strolled through this historic and colourful part of town with its mainly 1930’s buildings.

Sidebar

One of the things I like about travel and exploring is what you find along the way.

Duh! I hear you say but let me explain.

When we visited New York and we walked around Midtown Manhattan, I literally tripped over the plaques in the pavement to commemorate people in the garment industry. That night in our hotel, I spent a couple of hours mesmerizing over how European (mainly Jewish) immigrants had transformed an entire city block.

Simply from a plaque in the pavement. I love those ‘happened-upon’ finds and how they’ll spur you on to find more information about it.

Examples and part of Art Deco District Miami
Edison and Breakwater buildings Art Deco District – Miami

Back to the early 20th century

The same happened when we were in the Art Deco district in Miami. As we walked around and saw the many colourful buildings, I realized that I was trying to find the common denominator for the style. What is it, exactly? Is there a precise description that encompasses all of the more than 800 buildings along and around Ocean Drive?

Flipping through the many different examples on my phone taken that afternoon, I had to look up how these buildings all fell under the same indication.

A short lesson on Art Deco

If you like to learn like I do, and thus only start to look something up when it strikes your fancy, skip this part now. For everyone else, here it goes.

Art Deco (Art Decorátif) was a return, in the early 1900s, to intricate craftsmanship and the use of more traditional, rich materials and colours. The early Art Deco, therefore, looks still rather frilly and flowery.

Funny enough though, the term itself was coined much later.  The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts took place in Paris in 1925. Only after the Second World War, was the abbreviated version ‘Art Deco’ used and did it gain popularity to describe the style.

Forms and shapes

The one truly recognizable feature in all architecture, sculptures and other art forms under this umbrella is the emphasis on basic, symmetric and geometric shapes: squares, rectangles, cones, cylinders and so on.

Between 1920-1930 Art Deco became simpler. Items and buildings looked rounded and polished. This was helped along by the invention of (enforced) concrete allowing for both the shape and the smooth finish.

Form marries function

The ornaments, the decorations were less elaborate and the focus shifted to function. Theaters would have decorations that represented music, dance and moving. The architecture of car manufacturer Chrysler was enhanced by decorations that mimic hoods and radiators. Power companies got decorations related to rays and sun, and the postal buildings had murals with people sorting mail.

And that’s what we see: colours, symmetrical shapes, ornate interiors in rounded, polished buildings and an area that has served in many movies.

The need for a new neighbourhood

They remind of times gone by, even though the reason for the neighbourhood to be built wasn’t that positive. A hurricane in 1926 destroyed a big part of town that needed rebuilding and soon after the Big Depression hit in 1929.

A lot of the architecture is from the late 1930’s with a more ‘Streamline Moderne’ look: long horizontal lines and more of a nautical inspiration. No matter what type of style, build or colour, though, we enjoy visiting the area.

The sun beams down on us as we have lunch, wander through Lummer park and even dig up some weights at the outdoor gym there. Always fun to see others work up a sweat as you relax.

Need to know information

  • The Art Deco district is between along Ocean Drive between 14th and 5th Street.
  • Welcome center address: 1001 Ocean Drive on 10th Street
  • If you don’t want to do this by yourself, consider signing up for a tour through. There are several companies that offer walking, biking or Segway tours too. Prices (depending on transport chosen) range between $20 and $69, per tour
  • We might have decided to have a laid-back schedule in Miami but here are some other ideas that we had shortlisted for the occasion:
  • Venetian Pool: build in a former coral quarry which gets filled with fresh water every day. Be here early, they only allow a certain number of people and once they’ve reached that, they close the doors.
  • Vizcaya Gardens: A villa built in a mixture of Italian Renaissance and Baroque styles, with elaborate gardens on an estate that was set up to help conserve the local forest.
Driving towards the Trans Florida Central Railway Trail Bridge.

Florida rain

The next day, that sun quickly disappears as we leave Miami for Daytona beach. It’s a good 4-hour drive and we drive straight into dark, low-hanging and threatening clouds.

We do not stop along the way at Cape Canaveral, nor do we visit the Daytona Speedway, it is grey and miserable. The wind whips around the car and it doesn’t just rain, it pours.

Daytona Angell and Phelps Chocolate Tour

We make it into town but are too early to check-in, so time for a pick-me-up in the form of chocolate. Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory is open and they do (free) tours. It’s close by, it’s inside and there’s chocolate. It’s an easy sell.

We’re not the only family-driven inside today, so the shop with windows into the production area, is busy. The tour itself lasts less than ten minutes and is hard to hear. The two-meter-wide hallway next to the windows is rather narrow for groups over ten people. Everyone allows the kids to lick the glass in favour of themselves, and the tour moves to the next viewing area before everyone has had the opportunity to see.

chocolate factory tour
Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory Tour

Chocolate-covered bacon

We all seem to have the same idea: it’s something to do, inside and (in case you missed it) there’s chocolate and at the end of the tour everyone has the opportunity to choose three tasters: chocolate-covered bacon anyone?

Of course, we buy a sampler box of chocolates as do most of the other members of the tour and spend time browsing the store full of sweet-smelling fares.

Beach hotel

Well stocked with goodies, we check into our hotel that’s on the seaside. Big waves with white heads smash onto the narrow beach and roll up to the bottom wall of the hotel. Perfect weather to cuddle up, watch a movie and work our way through our purchase.

Need to know information

  • Address: 154 South Beach Street, Daytona Beach, Florida,32114
  • Website: www.angellandphelps.com
  • Admission: Tours are free
  • Tour times: 6 days a week – Monday through Saturday. Mornings at 10:00 and 11:00 o’clock. Afternoons at: every hour from 13:00 -16:00 hrs.
  • The store is in the historic old town and there is additional parking at the back of the building.
  • Though the company states on their website that the shop is wheelchair and stroller accessible, be aware that when it’s busy, it’ll be near impossible to make it around the shop itself. The factory and tour are along the straight, evenly paved hallway and windows are low so you can easily see.

Social history lessons

The next day, it’s nice, sunny and pleasant. Breakfast at the local Starbucks, and we’re on our way to Savannah. Our activity today is halfway there, and I have been very much been looking forward to it, the Kingsley Plantation.

Civil War

Growing up we watched the TV-miniseries North & South about the relationship of two men who become friends (Patrick Swayze and James Read) when they both go into the army at West Point in 1844. They come to find themselves at opposite sides during the Civil War, as one of them is from the south (of the USA), and they have slaves. The other is from the north i.e. Pennsylvania where people do not own other people.

Backgrounds

I vividly remember this series, the social issues and divisions it showed and picked apart.  The injustice of being seen as an object rather than a human being, simple chance, luck or misfortune of what family or area you are born into, or at what side of the country you live. And how you choose to deal with these social problems, who are you? What do you stand for?

Besides this, the settings of the series were mesmerizing, different and beautiful, especially the south. And traveling with our kids, I wanted them to know about this part of the States’ history – and many other ‘enabling’ countries.

Yes, they’ve had some history lessons on the subject, learned about Rosa Parks and know with today’s knowledge what happened and why it was wrong. But like, my experience in NY in the fashion district, it sometimes takes a particular view, sound or feel to touch you. To truly reach you at another level.

Long story short…traveling through the southern states like Georgia and being so close to South Carolina, we had to visit a former plantation.

Salt marshes

About 1.5 hrs from Daytona, in Jacksonville, you’ll find the Kingsley Plantation. We make it across Mill Cove and St John’s river and then turn onto the 105/ Heckscher Drive that follows the outer side of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The preserve consists of pieces of land between salt marshes with its own unique wildlife.

Up to the point where you turn onto Heckscher Drive, you almost don’t think you’re heading in the right direction. Once you do, the winding dirt road enveloped in shades of green vegetation of every height and the moss-covered trees, quickly transport you away from our modern world.

Kingsley Plantation

Hardly anyone is out there that day and the 12 mi/20.5 km to the plantation is lonely. The area opens up as we get close. We park the car and go to the visitor center to pick up our audio guide. This guides us around the site, visiting the area where boats arrived to drop off people and goods.  

The plantation house is believed to be the oldest in Florida and would have overlooked about 1,000 acres (4 km2) of land.

Indigo Dye making process

Goods produced

Through it, we get a sense what life was like for slaves and owners on this cotton farm that also produced indigo, that rich, beautiful blue hue. Check out this description, (picture was taken at the Kingsley Plantation) for an idea of what it took to produce dye of this colour and what it had to do with human urine.

The Task System

There were a couple of things that stood out to me during this visit besides the fact that I found it hard to picture the coastal farm of yesteryear. The latter is due to the fact that the farm was later used for touristic purposes and the true farmland was thus overgrown.

What surprised me mainly, was that this plantation was based on the task system. Each slave had a daily amount of work, a task that needed to be completed. Once they were done, they could then use the remainder of the day for their own purposes.

They could work in their own garden where they’d grow produce, go fishing or build their houses. Movies and books had always just depicted or described the gang system. That’s where everyone works under a supervisor all day long.

The task system meant that most slaves would finish their tasks around 2 pm with a good portion of time to fill to their own agenda.

Cotton tasking requirements of the 1820s
Example of Tasking requirements at Kingsley Plantation.

Emancipation, slaves and free people

Something else Kingsley (who the plantation is named for even though he’d sold it in 1839 after owning and running it for 22 years) believed in was the right for slaves to buy themselves free. They could do so after working for 9 years.

He freed his wife, Anna, whom he married when she was just 13, at the age of 18 and she ran the farm for him. He believed in and wanted normal, regular rights for all (and his own) Mulatto children to inherit from their parents, and to be free citizens.

Tabby

Also very interesting was the use of tabby to build houses. Tabby is a combination of seashells, that’d be heated and the hot mixture was added to pieces of lime. To make it a more malleable concrete-like mixture water, whole shells and sand were mixed in.

Wooden partitions would have been built, much like modern-day casts for concrete, and poured in. Layer by layer houses and buildings were erected using this method. Examples in several stages of ruin can still be found on-site.

Need to know information:

  • Address: Kingsley Plantation
  • 11676 Palmetto Ave. Jacksonville, FL 32226
  • Visitor center: Next to the plantation building along the dock.
  • Open all year round but for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Opening hours: 9 – 17 h (Note, audio tours available until 15.30 h).
  • Admission: free (request for photo id if you’d like to borrow equipment for the audio tour)

Heading for a fresh splash

After 1.5 hours exploring the grounds, the strong and chilly wind that day, blew as back to our car. In time to make it to the pool that was part of our hotel in Savannah.

Stay tuned for the last part of this road trip series on January 30th, exploring Savannah and visiting CNN and Coca Cola.

Meanwhile, had you ever heard of the task system? Did we only ever see the gang-system in movies or have I simply not paid enough attention?

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