Interviewee: Earl Thatcher, John Schumann
B: Mr. Schumann, your activities in Vero Beach and your business has been a
subject of a great deal of pride and joy to everybody in Vero Beach. It is a long
distinguished career and business. Tell us about your arrival in Vero Beach and
Indian River County and when you and your family came here.
S: Bill, we came in late 1925, and I got the Vero Beach Journal started February 21,
B: Was that the only paper in the area?
S: No, there was a paper here, the Vero Press, and it had been started September
13, 1919, by Paul Nissal. He later sold to a corporation of local businessmen,
and they were operating it as a daily paper. This led to financial difficulties, and I
consolidated the Press and the Journal on May 6, 1927. The consolidated paper
was called the Vero Beach Press Journal, the same as it is today.
B: At that time, was the Press Journal the only paper with circulation in the county,
or were there some others from outside that got in?
S: There have been from time to time papers published in Fellsmere and Sebastian,
but they have not continued. The only papers that come in are from the larger
cities from the outside.
B: Your work as a civic minded individual include a great many achievements and
go back a great many years. Were you not one of the original charter members
of the Rotary Club here?
S: Yes. I am one of the two remaining charter members of the Vero Beach Rotary
Club, and Earl Thatcher is the other. Earl and I are both past presidents of the
club. Earl is a past district governor serving in 1934 and 1935.
B: And it is a pleasure to have him with us today, on this particular program. Mr.
Thatcher, as the original charter member of Rotary and other work that you have
done here, when did you come to Indian River County?
T: Bill, I came shortly after John Schumann. I came in March of 1926 and was very
pleased to find on one of the prominent pages of the Vero Beach Journal a
picture of myself with a very nice write-up, most of which was okay.
B: What did it say?
T: It made out that I was quite a wonderful guy, much more so than my family would
agree to. But, when I had been in Miami as assistant manager to the Chamber of
Commerce in Miami, some folks came down from Vero Beach and interviewed
me and invited me to come up for an interview, which I did, and I was interviewed
by the then board of directors at the Chamber of Commerce in a little old building
out in the middle of Pocahontas Park. It had no chairs but just benches around
the outside of the wall. We sat there, and they interviewed me.
B: Can you name any of the members on that board?
T: Dr. Dubose was the president, and former Senator Tom Campbell was one of
them and, I think, [and] Hart Morris and Mr. Acker, who was the father of our
present postmaster, and several others. But, they let me go back to Miami and
then sent word for me to come. I accepted the position and began my service in
March of 1926. That was the beginning of my career which I kept on for
thirty-four years from them.
B: That was a terrific line of service. Mr. Schumann, in addition to being a charter
member of the Rotary Club, were you not also one of the first organizers of the
Junior Chamber of Commerce here? There had to be some sort of an
association there between junior and senior, but you were one of the organizers.
S: Yes. In 1935, R. B. Brossear, a newspaperman in Orlando whom I knew was
very much interested in organizing a chapter in Vero Beach. So, he came to Vero
Beach and together with Thatcher and the Senior Chamber, we got together a
group, including Charlie Mitchell and Peckerwood Crosby and others, and we
had a dinner at O'Malley's Restaurant, operated by Jack and Ann O'Malley. I
served as the organizing president, and Peckerwood Crosby succeeded me as
B: Then, it continued as an independent body after that.
T: It was discontinued, Bill, during the war for a period of time, and then it was
revived and has been very active ever since.
B: You had another job as well, Mr. Schumann, here in the early days of your
coming to Florida, did you not? You were the postmaster here. When was that?
S: I was postmaster ten years, 1934 to 1944.
B: Actually, you were involved in the newspaper work first before you got involved in
the postmaster's work.
S: That is right.
B: Postmaster, of course, makes you think of mail. Mail makes you think of airport.
Did we ever have any airmail back in the early days? When did we get airmail
S: We got airmail here on October 15, 1935, and we were the smallest city in the
United States at that time with direct airmail service. I used to get quite a thrill in
traveling around looking at the airmail maps which were on the walls of all post
offices around the country. These maps showed Vero Beach in just as big type
as Jacksonville and Miami. Many of these towns along the east coast with airmail
now did not have at that time.
B: If we had airmail, we had planes; if we had planes, we had to have a place to
land them, and that means airports. When did we found the airport here?
T: Maybe I better answer that, Bill. The beginning of our airport was in 1929, and
the first development was a plot of 100 acres out northwest of what is now
McCahon's Park. It was virgin land and had never been cleared, but it was
leased for an airport. The first job to do was to clear it and make it possible for
planes to come in. We had a committee of the Chamber of Commerce working
on this, and they decided to finance the clearing by selling city tax warrants, or
time warrants as they were called, which could be purchased and could be used
in settlements of taxes with the city. The city did not have any money in the
Treasury, but this way they could advance it. So, we were supposed to sell
$5,000 worth of these warrants. We had a campaign trying to sell them anywhere
from $25 on up, and we worked on it for quite a little while and finally got as far
as $3,000. This was reported in one of our bulletins from the Chamber of
Commerce. One of our good friends who lived in Sandusky, Ohio, and had a
home in Vero was on our membership list, and he received this word that we
were having trouble selling these time warrants, and he sent a telegram to me to
the effect that he would take whatever was remaining of the $5,000 time
warrants. So, that finished up the raising of the money, and we proceeded to
clear the land and got it to be where we could have small planes come in. We
had a number of special events and celebrations of the opening of the airport.
Largely through the activities and connections of Bud Holeman, we got the
Eastern Airline service established in 1932, I believe it was. Then, as John says,
airmail was established in 1935.
B: You, Mr. Schumann, must have been very directly responsible with the incoming
of airmail here.
S: Naturally, with my duties as postmaster, but it was sustained by the Chamber of
Commerce because we were such a small city and there would be days when no
airmail was dropped in the slot. So, Thatcher and Bud Holeman made a deal and
brought me airmail envelopes with Chamber of Commerce literature addressed
to various places. Whenever we lacked a little mail, I would drop one of these in
the bag. It helped, as sort of a stuffer.
T: That kept the volume [up]. You have to have a certain poundage on every
delivery in order to get your airmail service, and it was threatened to be
withdrawn until we worked out this scheme, to keep something coming everyday.
B: Mr. Schumann, were you part of the Chamber of Commerce organization, on its
board or active in it in your early years along with Mr. Thatcher? He was the
S: I will ask Mr. Thatcher to answer that.
B: I am leading up to something.
T: Go ahead, then.
B: The Chamber, of course, was responsible for the establishment of a large
number of things which are very active here today. I was leading up to the
thought that, undoubtedly, the two of you were very active together in the
organization of, well, the youth center among other things, going all the way back
to Beautification Day or some of these others. Name some of them for us.
T: Beautification Day is a celebration that has been observed in Vero Beach up until
and including the last year since 1928. There was quite a movement for
beautification in Vero Beach started by the Women's Club and encouraged by
some of our other very prominent citizens, like Dr. Leroy Hutchinson. Then, it
seemed advisable to organize this effort, and an organization was created
through a Chamber of Commerce committee called the Beautification Society.
This, of course, still operates and is functioning even today. As I said, that society
sponsored Beautification Day every year from then on, except for a period during
the war when it had to be discontinued. The results of that one day, which a day
of volunteer effort, can be seen all around the city in various places where
beautification is very obvious to the local people as well as to the visitors who
come in. It has been a very helpful thing in our community life and one that has
been envied by many other cities.
B: What are some of those projects that have been carried out in the past?
T: Well, we started with Pocahontas Park itself, and we shielded the old canal along
the railroad then, between the railroad and the part, by shrubbery and other types
of growth. Another project was beautifying U. S. 1 Highway from the 20th Street
intersection north, way up almost to the city limit. Much of that is still in existence.
Then, there was a big stretch of canal bank along 20th Avenue between 18th
Street and 26th Street that looked very rough and poor, and people were
ashamed of it. We developed for one year a project that completely beautified
that whole stretch, about a mile of ditch bank, and made a real park area out of it.
It is a beautiful thing, even today.
B: The area is indebted to that group for much of the beauty of our fine city and
T: We have had a number of projects along the beach area, too, along Beachland
Blvd. and the two approaches to the Merrill P. Barber Bridge and Humiston Park
which, by the way, was named after Dr. Humiston who was the first president,
and president over several years, of the Beautification Society.
B: There are several other projects which the Chamber, under your direction, was
working on. I would also like to take just a moment to go back. I just thought of
another one here, with the relation of Mr. Schumann and his work in the post
office. We mentioned airmail, but the airmail had to be second to city mail
delivery. We had to move it around the city before we got it in by airplanes, did
S: Bill, it worked just the reverse. We were having airmail service before we had city
B: Is that true?
S: Yes. The airmail service started in 1935, and while I was postmaster, in 1941, we
made a survey of the city and got city mailed delivered for the first time. We had
one carrier, Homer O'Neal, who is now retired, and his assistant was Bob
Bartlett, who is now an active carrier.
B: Then, actually, people came to the post office for their mail.
S: Everybody came to the post office, and it was in 1941 that the first city mail
delivery was established. Now, in establishing it, the first problem was that the
houses were not numbered. So, we had to get a project going to have the streets
numbered and the houses numbered so that we could have city mail delivered.
B: How did they do that? Did they have a crew go out?
S: Yes, and set up the numbers, and then people would be advised through the
Press Journal to get their numbers at the hardware store or someplace, and the
city did cooperate and get some numbers for those that needed it.
B: Is that system continued today? Has there been any major change in the city
numbering system, or is it pretty much as it was then?
S: The same as then, I think, just expanded.
B: Kudos to you because the system is tremendously good, no question about that.
Three things I would like to mention. One of them includes the access across the
state. When you gentlemen first came to Florida, how did you do it?
T: One of the first meetings that I attended after reaching Vero Beach and taking up
my work here was a meeting to promote the so-called cross state road. This
meeting was a promotional affair and to help stimulate interest in it, Mr. Roger
Babson, who was a very well-known economist from Lake Wales, came over
and made the special address at that meeting encouraging the development of
this cross-state road. Then, there was organized, finally, the Atlantic and Gulf
highway corporation-I am not sure of the exact name-which sold bonds and
started the construction of a one-lane road across the marsh to Lake Wales.
Over the years, that was a project of promotion by the Chamber of Commerce on
every year's agenda. Of course, gradually through the help of our leaders and
legislature, Tony Young, particularly, the road kept being improved until it
became a two-lane road, and it is now almost a first-class road and extends not
only from Vero Beach to Lake Wales but on through to Clearwater.
B: This one is the original road bed, then?
T: It is the original road bed, and in surveying across the marsh where they could
not use any vehicles, they set up a point twelve miles out beyond the marsh and
set up their instruments so that they could survey. They put rockets in the air or
made enough glare in the air so they could sight that twelve mile distance from
this side of the marsh and laid out their route across the marsh by means of that
sighting. That road now is called Road 60. It was originally Road 30.
B: I see. Just as an aside, do both of you remember the first car you bought in
Indian River County?
T: Yes, I do.
B: Can you recall who sold it to you?
T: I think mine was sold to me by a Mr. Strout at the Willis Overland Agency. I
turned in and Overland and got a Willis.
B: How about you?
S: My first car purchased in Vero Beach, after I got here in a Model-T Ford, was an
Oplan, purchased from the Vero Beach Cadillac Company, Bud Holeman.
B: I see. They have come a long way in the development of the automotive industry.
What was U. S. 1 like?
T: Bill, U. S. 1 came south from the Sebastian River and came across the railroad
north of Vero Beach and went right down what is now 14th Avenue and made a
little jog at the corner where the Indian River Citrus Bank is located, and then
went down south on what is now called Old Dixie and went on into Fort Pierce on
B: It was not called the Dixie Highway all the way from up north?
T: It was called the Dixie Highway, what is now U. S. 1, all the way from Maine to
Key West. Then, there came a time when there needed to be improvement in this
road, and the road department set up the project of keeping the road from
crossing the railroad. That was their objective. So, where it used to cross the
railroad, up about 25th Street, they abandoned that and went straight south to 21st
Street. Then, the route went east on 21st to 8th Avenue, and then turned to the
right and went south on 8th Avenue.
B: At that time, did they call it Miracle Mile, or did that come many years later?
T: That came later. I think that name was suggested by the then editor of the Press
Journal, Harry Schultz. But, the interesting part of that change of route was that
it was very strongly opposed by a group of our people downtown in the
downtown area, who felt that if the main traffic of U. S. 1 was diverted from the
main street of our town, it would ruin all the business on that street. So, it was
fought very hard, but the road department prevailed. Now, we are very fortunate
that all of that terrific traffic does not go right down our main street.
B: Back to Mr. Schumann for just a moment here. Where did you set up shop when
you started the Journal?
S: Back in 1926, we set up shop on South Dixie, which was a very active business
section at that time because that was the main highway. I recall getting the
equipment in, in the freight cars, over near the depot. The presses and Linotypes
were hauled to this building by Charlie Koontz and Matt McMuller in a dray
pulled by a team of mules.
B: On Old Dixie about where?
S: Right back of where the Quick Check store building is on South Dixie.
T: Where did you find this equipment? That is interesting.
S: This equipment, I purchased from a young man named Harry F. Bird, who later
became governor and United States senator. He was a newspaper publisher in
Winchester, Virginia. There were two papers there and he consolidated them just
as I did later here, and he had this surplus equipment. So, I went up to
Winchester and made a deal with him and shipped it to Vero Beach.
B: Did you stay in that location until you moved to what is now the present Press
S: That is right. We moved to the present location in 1927 and have been there right
up to now with several enlargements and expansions.
B: I see. Working in that area, Pocahontas Park was probably the only center of
activity anywhere near you in that new Journal building which is now on 21st
S: Yes, Bill. The land alongside the Press Journal building where the A&P parking
lot is and where the A&P store is and Matthis Furniture was a cow pasture in this
lot. It was sometime later that it was cleared off and made into city property.
B: Were the buildings just to the west of you, were they there, across the alley to the
S: Yes. That is one of the oldest buildings in Vero Beach. In fact, the courthouse
was in the upstairs of that building.
T: The first location of the courthouse was in that building. It is called the Seminole
B: You both remember the construction of the present courthouse, then.
S: Oh yes.
T: Yes. They moved from the Seminole building to what had been a hotel down on
Old Dixie at 19th Street, called the Palmetto Hotel. They adapted that to
courthouse purposes when they needed enlargement. Then, that was outgrown,
and that was an old building anyway, so they created the new courthouse where
it is presently located on 14th Avenue and
B: You know, I do not think any discussion of Vero Beach or Indian River County is
complete without the mention of mosquitos. We have done it before, but in our
previous interviews, we have never mentioned the formation of mosquito control
here. I will bet both of you were very active in the formation of mosquito control.
T: I do not know that we had so much to do with it. I think all the credit for the
development of that particular phase of our community life goes to Alex
McWilliam. Alex engineered a bill through the state legislature to create the
Indian River mosquito control district. Now, this was the first time in the state of
Florida where a special district had been set up for the purpose of fighting the
mosquitos, and their first activities were largely a question of having to drain land
that was mosquito breeding land. Of course, what developed eventually was that
the Navy coming in here during the war found it a very distinct problem for their
men to have so many mosquitos, particularly in the area near Fort Pierce where
they had one of their special installations, and they developed the spraying by
plane of DDT. That was very effective when it was first started. It was picked up
after the war by the mosquito control board here and carried out, but then they
had to make a number of changes in the formula they used for spraying because
the mosquitos got immune to DDT and these things like that, like some of our old
timers got immune to the mosquitos.
B: Forgive me for jumping from one thing to another, but as we mention one
subject, it brings to mind others. Dealing with this newspaper and the city mail
delivery, how did you get the circulation out in that first Press Journal? Did you
have carrier boys or distribution such as we have today?
S: We did have some carrier boys, and we sold them at the newsstands. The bulk
were delivered through the mail. Everybody went to the post office in those days.
In fact, in those early days, I was both postmaster and publisher. After the papers
were ready for the post office, I put them in a two-wheel cart and pushed them up
to the post office. Then, I would go in and put them in the boxes.
B: What a combination job. Alright, as the secretary and acting manager for the
Chamber of Commerce here for the county, Mr. Thatcher, did you have any other
major projects which you can mention? I believe the Yacht Club was one of the,
was it not?
T: The Yacht Club was organized about 1935, and that was an outgrowth of the
effort we were making to get an improved area in the Indian River adjacent to the
island, particularly for handling freight by barges coming down the river. We
wanted to have a good dock there, and there was for a time a commercial freight
line coming into Vero Beach. But, the private yacht owners were very much
interested in further development of that, and they eventually got through the
Congress an appropriation which provided for dredging of a very nice basin there
opposite the dock. The Yacht Club was created and took over the operation of
the docks and eventually built their own club building and so on. But, that was an
outgrowth of trying to develop better harbor facilities in the river.
B: You also are responsible for the Red Cross work here a service club back in
1941 and a number of other things. I am sorry our time is growing so rapidly
short here. We have a moment or two in which we can add an anecdote or two
that you might have for us before we have to leave, but I certainly do want to
thank you, Mr. Thatcher and Mr. Schumann, for this very, very interesting
interview and the background of Vero Beach and Indian River County.
[End of the interview.]