Joe Spell and the Big Tree

A 1943 brochure proclaimed:

Way back before Columbus discovered America, yes, even before our Saviour was born, probably back in the days of King Tut, 3500 years ago, a little Cypress tree started reaching for the sky and sending its roots into the soil of Central Florida.  And through all the years of Spanish, British and American colonization stood this majestic Cypress, known as the BIG TREE: 125 feet high, 47 feet around at the base, with a diameter of 17 1/2 feet.  It is Florida’s principal rival of Giant California Redwoods, supposed to be the oldest and largest tree of its kind in the United States, and is now one of the most popular sight-seeing spots in Florida.

The old Cypress had become a tourist attraction before the dawn of the 20th century, visited by President Coolidge in 1929, and generations of Americans since. In 1946, Ray City residents Joseph John “Joe” Spell and his second wife, Matilda Augusta “Della” Richardson, visited the old giant.

Joseph John "Joe" Spell and Matilda Augusta "Della" (Richardson) Spell visit the Big Tree at Longwood, FL, 1946.

Joseph John “Joe” Spell and Matilda Augusta “Della” (Richardson) Spell visit the Big Tree at Longwood, FL, 1946.

For perhaps 3600 years, the big tree stood in a Florida swamp near present day town of Longwood. Towering to 165 feet before a 1926 hurricane clipped its top, it was once the tallest tree east of the Mississippi River. It was a landmark for Native Americans and Seminole Indians who occupied Central Florida.

1943 Pamphlet, "The Giant Cypress in Big Tree Park"

1943 Pamphlet, “The Giant Cypress in Big Tree Park”

a

Big Tree, Longwood, FL.  postcard circa 1944.

Big Tree, Longwood, FL. postcard circa 1944.

Epilogue:

ABC NEWS
February 29, 2012

Florida Woman Admits to Burning Down 3,500 Year Old Tree

Twenty-six-year-old Sara Barnes was arrested in Seminole County, Fla., after she admitted to setting fire to one of the oldest trees in the world.

The 118-foot, 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree,  located in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Fla., mysteriously burned to the ground on Jan. 16, 2012.

The Department of Forestry suspected foul play at first, but the fire was treated as an accident until crime line tips led them Barnes.

Full Story…

Related Posts:

Mamie Mixon and Joe Spells buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Mary Lee “Mamie” Mixon, subject of the previous post (Mamie Mixon and Joe Spells), was born on January 1, 1890, a daughter of Mary I. Clance and William Henry Mixon. The census of 1910 shows Mamie living with her parents in the Rays Mill district of Berrien County, GA where her father was farming on his own account.  After her marriage to Joe Spells, she and her husband made their home  in the 1157 Georgia Militia District on the farm of her step-father, Henry T. Cersey.  Mamie died in childbirth in 1926 and was buried in Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Mary Lee "Mamie" Mixon Spells, Wife of J.J. Spells, January 1, 1890 -  July 29, 1926, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave marker of Mary Lee “Mamie” Mixon Spells, Wife of J.J. Spells, January 1, 1890 – July 29, 1926, Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

The obituary for Mamie Spells published in the Valdosta Times gave the date of her death as July 31, 1926, but the grave marker gives the death date as July 29, 1926.

Joseph John “Joe” Spells was a son of Mary Matilda Browning and George Spells.  Joe’s father was one of the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, GA.

Joseph John "Joe" Spells (April 15, 1895 - March 13, 1961), Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave marker of Joseph John “Joe” Spells (April 15, 1895 – March 13, 1961), Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Joe Spell (or Spells) is buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, Berrien County,  GA. He rests with the grave of his first wife, Mamie Mixon Spells, on his left and the grave of his second wife,  Matilda “Della” Richardson Spell, on his right.

Mamie Mixon and Joe Spells

Mary Lee “Mamie” Mixon was born on New Year’s Day, 1890, a daughter of Mary I. Clance and William Henry Mixon. The census of 1910 shows Mamie living with her parents in the Rays Mill district of Berrien County, GA where her father was farming on his own account. On Christmas day, 1915 her father died; he was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

Before a year had passed, on October 29, 1916 Mamie’s widowed mother remarried. Mamie’s new step-father was Henry Thomas Cersey.

The following summer Mamie herself was a bride. She married Joseph John “Joe” Spells on July 15, 1917 in Berrien County, Georgia.  He was a son of Mary Matilda Browning and George Spells, a pioneer settler of Lowndes County, GA. The marriage was performed by Lyman Franklin Giddens, Justice of the Peace in Ray City.

Marriage certificate of Mamie Mixon and Joe Spells.

Marriage certificate of Mamie Mixon and Joe Spells.

At 22, Joe Spells was tall with a medium build, blue eyes and light-colored hair. He was working for his brother, William, as a farmer. At the time, Joe Spells was illiterate, signing his WWI draft registration with his “X” mark.

Joe Spells registered for selective service for World War I in 1917.  He was drafted and served in WWI as did Mamie’s brother, Sammie E. Mixon. Sammie died of pneumonia while serving in France, but Joe survived the war and came home to Mamie.

After the war, the Spells made their home on the farm of Mamie’s step-father, Henry T. Cersey, located in the 1157 Georgia Militia District on the Nashville and Valdosta Road. Joe worked as a laborer.

Joe and Mamie Spells had two children:

  1. Joseph W. Spells, born May 1, 1918; Ray City High School class of 1937; married Eloise McKay (Nov 5, 1914 – July 7, 1986);  died in Winter Park, Florida July 7, 1986.
  2. Edward Samuel Spells, born April 25, 1921, Ray City, Berrien County, GA and died June 2, 1992, Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL

A third child, a baby girl, was born and died in the summer of 1926. According to records, the child died on July 30, 1926, although the death certificate was not filed until August 4, 1926. The death certificate attributed the cause of death to “convulsions in childbirth.”  The infant girl was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Death Certificate for infant girl Spells, daughter of Mamie and Joe Spells, Ray City, GA..

Death Certificate for infant girl Spells, daughter of Mamie and Joe Spells, Ray City, GA..

Mamie Spells would survive her daughter by only one day.  She was buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Mamie Mixon Spells

Mrs. Joe Spells Passed Away Sat. July 31

The funeral services for Mrs. Joe Spells who died at the home of her mother, Mrs. H. T. Cersey, Saturday, July 31, were conducted last Sunday morning at the Baptist church at Ray City at 11 o’clock in the presence of a large crowd of relatives and friends. Mrs. Spells was 36 years of age and was a member of the Ray City Baptist church and was a christian woman, a true wife, a loving daughter and mother. To know her was to love her. She had been in declining health for some time, but was in bed only about ten days. Her death was not unexpected to her love ones, but was a shock to her friends who knew not of her illness.

She is survived by her husband and two small children, J. W. and Edward, 8 and 5 years old respectively; her mother and five sisters. They are Mrs. Lee Knox and Mrs. Lonnie Royals, of Ray City, GA.; Mrs. Joe Browning, of Lakeland, GA.; Mrs. Effie Chance, of Macon,GA., and Mrs. J.H. Kirk, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

_____________________________

CARD OF THANKS

We wish to take this method of thanking our many friends for the kindness shown us during the illness and death of our wife, daughter and sister, Mrs. Joe Spells.

Mr. and Mrs. H. T. Cersey.
Mrs. Lee Knox.
Mrs. Joe Browning.
Mrs. Effie Chance.
Mrs. Lonnie Royals.

The Census of 1930 shows the  widower Joe Spells and his two sons living in the Rays Mill Precinct, Georgia Militia District 1144.  Also living with them was Mamie’s  widowed mother,  Mary Mixon Cersey.

Joe Spells later remarried.  He died in 1961 and was also buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Daily Times
Spell, Joseph John March 12, 1961

Joe Spell

      LAKELAND- Joe Spell, 65, died at the local hospital early Sunday morning following a sudden attack suffered Saturday morning. He was born and had lived all his life in the Lower Tenth District section of Berrien County where he was a prominent farmer.   Mr. Spell was a veteran of World War I and a member of the New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church at Ray City

      Survivors include his wife, the former Matilda Richardson: two sons M Sgt J. W. Spell with the U. S. Air Force in Germany; Edward Samuel Spell of Atlanta; three sisters, Mrs. Henry Spires of Adel, Mrs. Cauley Downing of Florida and Mrs. Morris Daniels of Jacksonville, Fla.: one brother, John Spell of Valdosta: seven grandchildren and a number of nieces and nephews.

      Funeral services will be held Tuesday at 3 p. m. at New Ramah Church with burial in Beaver Dam Cemetery with Music Funeral Home of Lakeland in charge. The body will remain at the home of his brother-in-law, Pope Howell until the hour of the service.