Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Remembering Smokey Hollow

Smokey Hollow on St. Augustine Street, 1955. Photo by Dorothy Dodd, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Last Thursday night I went to the most interesting meeting. Althamese Barnes, a local historian, gave a presentation to members of the Tallahassee Writers Association about a book she’s writing on Smokey Hollow, a vanished community.

Smokey Hollow was a lively, thriving, close-knit African-American settlement established in the late 1800s in the heart of Tallahassee. There were churches, nightclubs, restaurants, shops, schools, charming bungalows, and about 80 shotgun houses. Ms. Barnes showed us slides of the place. There were yellow dirt roads and neat rows of houses with tin roofs and shady front porches. There were lush flower gardens and vegetable patches and lots of big trees.

Smokey Hollow lay just east of the Florida State Capitol, where the Department of Transportation building is located today. The entire neighborhood (except for a small handful of houses) was bulldozed in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal and "slum clearance." Residents lost their homes and businesses to eminent domain.

The area was called Smokey Hollow because it was low lying, situated in a dip between hills, and because smoke from wood fires often hung in the air. The beginning of the end of the neighborhood came in the late 1950s, when Apalachee Parkway was built right through the middle of it, cutting the community in two.

Ms. Barnes has been interviewing the people who used to live in Smokey Hollow, asking them about their memories of the place. Almost all of them talked about how much they loved it there, she said, and how sad they were to leave. To this day, they are heartbroken over the loss of their homes.

Many important people grew up in Smokey Hollow. Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos cookies, was born there in 1936. The neighborhood was also home to jazz musicians Nat and Cannonball Adderley, and Lucille Baldwin Brown, Tallahassee’s first black public librarian.

Anyway, I wanted to show you what Smokey Hollow used to look like and what little is left of it today. I also wanted to tell you its sad story, because it shouldn't be forgotten. It’s a tragedy that there was so much life and vibrancy and now that's all gone, replaced by a moonscape of parking lots and a bland state building.

I believe this is the very last of the Smokey Hollow shotgun houses. It still stands on Marvin Street.

There is talk of moving this beautiful bungalow, also on Marvin Street, to nearby Cascades Park to serve as a museum commemorating Smokey Hollow.

Another Smokey Hollow treasure that's still with us. I can only hope that the remnants of this historic neighborhood will now be preserved and protected.


  1. Another sad story of "progress". Thank you for sharing it with us. I certainly hope that the remaining buildings are preserved.

  2. Thanks, Daisy. I'm really hopeful about the fate of the remaining buildings! Ms. Barnes has done so much good work raising awareness about them.

  3. I like your picture of the pink house. The yard and trees are very beautiful. --Terry

  4. Thanks, Terry. Marvin Street is such a pretty place. I just wish I'd taken my pictures at a better time of day. Unfortunately, I had to take them at my lunch hour when the light was not so good.

  5. One can only wonder how parking lots and a state building could be more important than people's homes. Very sad.

  6. Progress (especially of this nature) at the expense of happiness, at the expense of people's homes. . . doesn't seem right and yet still continues some 50+ years later.

    Touching post, Leslie. We have an area downtown where all the homes are very similar to the bungalow you pictured - and the streets are still cobblestone bricks. I've wished 100 times that we would have moved there instead of a cookie cutter development. Maybe someday.

    I hope the remaining homes are never lost.

  7. Thanks for sharing such an interesting story. It deserves to be told and remembered. The custodians of history have some of the most compelling duties. To pass on what should never be forgotten. Thanks for doing your part in that, too.

    Blessings for a wonderful weekend,
    Dotti :)

  8. Thanks, Jean, Eli, and Dottie. I so appreciate you all taking the time to read my blog and write such thoughtful comments. It really means a lot to me.

    I hope you have a great weekend!

  9. This is such an interesting and sad story. I am looking forward to getting the book when it comes out. It is strange that you can grow up in Tallahassee and still know so little of its history. That pink house is very familiar, where is it? -B

  10. Hi Bun, thanks for commenting! I'd really like to go to the Riley House soon because I believe they have a Smokey Hollow exhibit there. Have you seen the banners the Riley House put up in Frenchtown? They have interesting information about the history of the neighborhood. The banners are part of the Riley House's "Hidden Enclaves" program. Have you heard about that?

  11. Oh, Bun, the pink house is right behind Chili's. You probably see it all the time on your way to New Leaf.

  12. Ah, yes! That is it, exactly. I'd love to go to the Riley house, too. Maybe for Mother's Day? When is it open? -B