Publication: Desoto Sun; Date: Jul 31, 2014; Section: Arcadian; Page: AS6
DeSoto County History Mystery: Did Pine Level have a skating rink? By CAROL MAHLER DESOTO CO. HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Joseph Herman Simpson remembered when Manatee County was split in two, and the eastern half became DeSoto County. His recollection, published in the Bradentown Herald in 1915, mentions that the delegates met in the “skating rink” in Pine Level in 1887 (http://www.sarasotahistoryalive. com/stories/journals-of-yesteryear/ history-of-manatee-county-florida-chapter-12). What kind of skating rink?
Roller skating, of course: Pine Level’s subtropical climate kept ponds and lakes from freezing, and artificially freezing an ice skating rank in the 1880s had only been successful in large cities such as London.
Although the invention of roller skates dates to the 1700s, the so-called quad skate (with four wheels able to turn) was invented in the mid-nineteenth century. After the U.S. Civil War, the first public skating rinks were built in New York City and other locations.
Developments included improvements to the axle, a roller bearing for the wheels, plus a toe stop. By the 1880s, factories in the United States were mass-producing roller skates, and guide books — such as The Skater’s Companion, 1885 — were published (https://openlibrary.org/books/ OL24626404M/The_skaters’_companion). Thus began the first of many roller skating “booms.”
Roller skaters in the 1880s wore Victorian clothes with floor-length skirts, long pants, long sleeves and high collars. Such attire seems less than suitable for such a vigorous activity, especially in Florida’s sultry climate.
Portable skating rinks traveled the country, and permanent skating rinks were often built as “combination” buildings: with a dance hall, beach pavilion, or yacht club. For example, In 1885, the “Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad company built a pavilion at the beach to attract passengers to the beach. The pavilion had a 64’ by 105’ floor for dancing and roller skating (http://www.historicaltextarchive.com/ print.php?action=section&artid=782#_ ftn6). Built in 1890, the Winter Park Hotel was converted to roller skating rink in 1904. A photograph is available online at http://archives.rollins.edu/ cdm/singleitem/collection/wpandcfl/ id/388/rec/11.
Closer to DeSoto County is the skating rink in Fort Myers that was visited by the crew of the “Minnehaha” on Jan. 11, 1892. They had sailed from Kissimmee via Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee River to Fort Myers and enjoyed watching the roller skaters. Their “log” was published in the April 1972 issue of the “Florida Historical Quarterly” (http://palmm.fcla.edu/ fhp).
Even Punta Gorda had a rink as recorded by Lindsey Williams in his article about the First Baptist Church of Punta Gorda: “According to church lore, the first sanctuary was a roller skating rink over a livery stable” (www.lindseywilliams.org/index.htm?Articles/ Charlotte_Countys_Oldest_Church_ Sanctuary.htm~mainFrame).
Similarly, Mary Mizell Powell wrote four pages about the history of Pine Level for the 100th anniversary of the Pine Level Methodist Church in 1968. In it, she stated, “... Mrs. Missouri Mizell Carlton [1875-1966], who passed away at the age of 90, ... told of joining the Church during the time services were being held in a [roller] skating rink.” It must have been built prior to 1884, as that is the date Powell gives for the construction of the first church.
A roller skating rink needed a smooth, wood floor. Transportation to Pine Level was limited to wagons over poor roads or the mail “stage” on Mondays and Thursdays. So the lumber was probably sawn in Pine Level, perhaps by R. S. Griffith. Elected in 1876, he served as Manatee County’s clerk of the circuit court. His saw mill in Pine Level is listed in the “Florida State Gazetteer and Business Directory” for 1886 (http://palmm.fcla.edu/fhp). To protect the floor, the skating rink also needed a roof and probably walls as well.
By the 1890s, bicycles began to replace skates as the new sport. Pine Level’s skating rink was probably dismantled, and the lumber used for other structures. It nearly disappeared from the historical record as Pine Level was remembered as a rowdy, frontier town.
What do you think Pine Level looked like between 1866 and 1900? Can you picture the roller skating rink? The DeSoto Arts and Humanities Council is sponsoring an art contest and quilt challenge to bring the historic town into focus. The artwork and quilt squares will be on display during the Pine Level Public Arts and Archaeology Day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the Pine Level United Methodist Church, 9596 N.W. Pine Level Street. The event is sponsored by DeSoto County Historical Society and the Florida Public Archaeology Network West Central Region.