Village Improvement Association
The records of the VIA have been preserved and scanned by the Clerk, and are available to the public at the Archives. A history of the VIA was written by Susie Bouchelle Wight and published in Suburban Life, 1907. Enjoy. . .
DROWSING peacefully upon the banks of the St. Johns river lays the little town of Green Cove Springs. Nature smiled fondly upon the spot in its making, and blue skies, shining water, great drooping oaks misty with gray moss and musical with bird-songs, have wrought their witchery with the Florida hamlet. It seems a fitting place for rest, and dreams, and lotus-eating,—and yet there are tales to tell of this place which are full of action and enthusiasm.
Very close by, and flowing into the river, is a magnificent warm sulphur spring, gushing clear from the rocks in a little green dell. Such a spring, in such a climate, in the midst of what was then the center of the orange belt of Florida, proved a telling combination, and early in the eighties, Green Cove began to come in for its share of the prosperity and “go” which Northern settlers usually bring, and with their advent begins the story of the Green Cove V. I. A.
After a time, some enterprising winter residents conceived the idea of an improvement association. The streets had been laid out, but they were entirely in their first wild roughness. The little society set to work to get the stumps dug out and trees set. A young man was heard to say recently that the first work he can remember doing was when his mother made him go out and fill in holes in the streets of Green Cove. Thus early did the children become a factor! The third by-law in the constitution of this society stated the qualifications for membership as the payment of weekly dues of five cents, the planting of a tree or shrub, or ten hours of work on the streets. A very fair start was made, and then, for some reason or other, the organization fell into a Florida habit and took a prolonged nap.
Several years later, Mr. John Borden, of Wallkill, New York, who had come to make Green Cove a winter home, conceived great and generous ideas for the place. He bought hundreds of acres of land (with no view to speculation), laid out new streets, and made parks along the river front, — spots which had their great natural beauty enhanced by all that the gardener’s art and scrupulous care could do for them. A period of growth ensued. Houses were built, and many new people came — some merely for winter sojourning, and others to make their home there all the year round. Needs were evident, and at Mr. Borden’s suggestion steps were taken toward raising subscriptions for beautifying the thoroughfares. It was then discovered that there had already been an organization with that express aim. So it was resuscitated, and with money and influence to back up its enterprises, it entered upon a campaign for beauty and cleanliness which brought Green Cove into more than national notice.
Inquiries were made by associations in various parts of the country, and among other letters, they had one or more from Colonel Waring, who adopted some of their plans in working with the children in certain sections of New York City in that movement which resulted in the “white wings” brigade.
The first work, of course, was upon the streets. Such war was waged upon the rampant growth of coffee-weed and its kindred that they hid their diminished heads, and did not show them again for years to come. With the eradication of these coarser growths came the grass, green and thick, and a horse-mower was purchased and operated until practically the whole town was kept with smooth turfy borders. At every corner, barrels, painted in the green and yellow of the association, were set beneath facetious mottoes, which explained in rhyme the name that labeled each of them— for instance, one labeled “Ravenous Barrel” was thus ticketed:
- “I am all mouth and vacuum:
I never get enough,
So cram me full of orange peel,
Old papers, trash and stuff.”
- “Oh, how sorry I feel for a man
Who litters clean streets with trash,
And throws away papers and orange peel,
Which form my favorite hash.”
A man in the constant employ of the V. I. A. at one dollar per day attended to these receptacles, emptying them when filled, and collecting the stray debris, which is all too easily abundant upon Southern streets. Property-owners were visited when circumstances demanded, and were delicately, but firmly, urged to fall into line and put their premises in a condition which should not shame a tidy town. The school-house grounds were thoroughly cleaned once each week, and the building itself made more comfortable and attractive. Through several hundred dollars raised by subscriptions, donations, and a series of clever entertainments, God’s Acre was put in the order which should always characterize such sacred spots, and a new fence put about it.
Just in front of Mr. Borden’s home cottage, and along the river, lies a delightful park with inviting shelters and rustic seats, and fountains made of inverted cypress trunks, all under the spreading trees. This was kept in fine condition, and naturally became a favorite rendezvous. Very near it, and along the same street, is a picturesque cottage known as the ” Little Villa,” which was loaned by Mrs. Borden as a club-house for the V. I. A. reading-room, was equipped and thrown open for visitors, and a maid was kept in attendance who dispensed the free hospitality of the club in afternoon tea each day.
It was inevitable that such a place should be much frequented, and many friends were made for the aggressive organization which was responsible for it. One of these, an honorary member, Mr. Isaac Merritt, suggested that there should be a circulating library added, and he gave Sioo as a nucleus for the necessary funds. It was not a great while before other donations from members and friends made the library possible, and the present splendid selection of fifteen hundred volumes has grown from the beginnings of that winter.
All the while that this association has been carrying forward its work of beauty and health, the children have had their full share of attention, and have been educated up to correct ideals of civic responsibility, through the Star Branch, which has provided many attractions for them. At each meeting they still repeat the pledge: “I promise not to litter the streets with paper, fruit skins, or anything that will make the place untidy: neither will I mutilate or deface fences, kill birds or rob their nests, and will also use my influence to prevent others from doing so.”
They have their own organization, officered from their members, and their meetings are conducted under parliamentary rules. They have their own nature library, and at one time the boys had a military company, with a hired instructor, a band with fine instruments and a good teacher, and an armory in which to meet. There was a kitchen garden for the girls, physical culture, and instruction in brass hammering and other lines. Thus it was not hard to bend the children s thoughts in the right direction, and they bore their part in the real work. One special thing that interested me was the ” Hammer Brigade.” The streets of Green Cove are so sandy that plank sidewalks are a necessity, and the boys, by twos would go about with hammers, driving down the heads of nails that obtruded themselves, and were a menace to pedestrians.
The Green Cove V. I. A. was chartered under the laws of the state, and is the mother club of Florida, and has from its inception been well abreast with every forward movement which comes within its scope. It was through a call issued by this club that the State Federation was formed. The Little Villa remained the club home for some years, but it now occupies a most attractive clubhouse of its own, which was made possible by the generosity of a friend. The library is there, and the rooms are restful and inviting, with their rugs and easy chairs, their pictures, and the open fires in season. Various gifts have come to it from time to time, and among these, one of the most conspicuous is a splendid old grandfather’s clock, bearing a silver memorial plate,—the gift of a member.
During the administration of one mayor, the ladies were assisted with city funds, and, for several years, the council paid for the dumping of the trash barrels, but it must be regretfully admitted that there was not a sufficient amount of civic pride there to perpetuate the support of the work so bravely begun, and carried on for a space. Sometimes we hear nowadays of short-sighted policy. Such it proved to be, when the assessments were made so exorbitant on the property of those who had stood most staunchly for the development of Green Cove; for the altruistic spirit was somewhat chilled, and further enterprises were not prosecuted.
Physically, Green Cove Springs is not what it once was, though much of V. I. A. work still remains, and there is no doubt that conditions are vastly better than they would have been had it not been for the agitation, and the educational influences that it set in motion. The club-rooms of the V. I. A. are still a favorite gathering place, and the plucky little club, not at all set back by the way some of their plans have been thrust aside, have given the word “Improvement” a liberal interpretation, and, without entirely dropping any department, have concentrated their energies of late in the interest of education. For four years, they furnished room, teacher and equipment, and maintained a kindergarten. It was through their instrumentality that the bill was first presented to the Legislature which asked that a kindergarten department be added to the public school system. This bill lacked only three votes of passing, but later was made a law, and in the Green Cove public school, at present, there is such a department.
Thus endeth the story. I think there are morals in it which will bear thinking upon; and I am quite sure that the Green Cove V. I. A. deserves an honored place in the annals of public-beauty sentiment in our country.
The VIA Records
VIA Treasurer’s Reports
- 1895 until 1903, 78 pages 12 1/4 x 7 1/3 x ½
- 1910 until 1933 100 pages 12 ½ x 8 x ¾
- 1933 until 1951 149 pages 12 x 7 ½ x ½
- 1935 until 1951 83 pages 12 x 7 1/2 x 3/4
- 1952 until 1956 128 pages 12 x 7 ½ x 7/8
- 1969 until 1980 138 pages 12 x 7 ½ x 3/4
- 1980 until 1986 75 pages 12 x 7 ½ x ½
- 1986 until 1992 75 pages 12 ¼ x 7 ½ x ½
History of the VIA
- 15 pages 12 ¼ x 7 5/8 x ½
VIA Minutes Books:
- 1883 until 1890 115 pages 12 ¼ x 7 ½ x 5/8
- 1899 until 1906 143 pages 12 5/8 x 7 7/8 x 5/8
- 1906 until 1907 12 pages 9 ½ x 7 ½ x 1/4
- 1906 until 1918 138 pages 14 1/3 x 8 7/8 x 1
- 1933 until 1940 147 pages 12 1/8 x 7 ½ x 3/4
- 1940 until 1948 108 pages 12 1/8 x 7 ½ x 5/8
- 1948/49 until 1959/60 87 pages 12 1/8 x 7 ½ x 5/8
- 1960 until 1970 73 pages 14 1/4 x 11 x 5/8
- 1970 until 1980 76 pages 14 ¼ x 11 x 5/8
- 1980 until 1990 85 pages 14 ¼ x 11 x 5/8
Books at the Archives
- Florida Federation of Women’s Club, 1895 To Present