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1878 journal sheds light on J.C. Craver, "father" of Ozona, Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR

Clutching a magnifying glass, Katheryn Harris glanced at a copy of a document Friday at the North Pinellas Historical Museum, paused for a moment, then scribbled some notes onto a separate sheet of paper.

"It's very difficult to read sometimes," Harris said.

Here's why: The original from which her duplicate was scanned dates to 1878. It belonged to J.C. Craver, a man who owned a general store locally, was the area's first postmaster and is generally referred to as being the "father" of Ozona and Palm Harbor.

Remarkably, the journal is in excellent shape.

Even so, transcribing what Craver put from pen to paper is a challenge for Harris, a volunteer who has spent six or more hours each Friday during the past month retracing history. Some words are missing; others have faded.

The 3- by 7-inch journal, which has a hard cover, is one of four penned by Craver in the museum's possession. They arrived last year as a gift from Susan Broderick of St. Augustine.

Broderick's grandparents once resided here, and in an attempt to find their burial plot at Curlew United Methodist Church, she showed up out of the blue at the museum. Not long after Ric Clark, vice president of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, assisted Broderick with her search, Broderick presented the museum with a manila folder containing several items.

"I have no idea how she came across it," Clark said.

After the documents were scanned into a computer, Clark read through them. And he couldn't believe what he found.

"I knew almost instantly what it was," he said, smiling. "To me, it's major. (Craver) was among four or five of the original settlers in the area."

Craver, who suffered from tuberculosis, moved here in 1877 from Illinois on the advice of his doctor, who thought the warmer climate would help him live longer, Clark said. At the time, Craver was in his 20s and had recently graduated from college.

Once here, his imprint on the community was large.

According to the Palm Harbor Historical Society, Craver became the postmaster of Bay St. Joseph (now Ozona) and Sutherland (now Palm Harbor). He also opened a general store.

The Sutherland post office shared a building with his store. Today, that structure is Pinellas County's oldest. It sits in the Palm Harbor Historic District and is occupied by the Sutherland Masonic Center.

Craver, who never married, died in 1920. Clark said the Historical Society didn't know where he was buried. However, with the help of Craver's journals local historians are learning more each day about the settler's life.

"He wrote down everything — whether it was important or not," Harris said.

In the journal from 1878, Craver described his early days in the area. He provided details about everything from what he planted to the foods he ate (he liked potatoes). In another journal, he chronicled a trip to New York.

Harris is close to completing her transcription of the first journal. Finishing the other three could take time because they're smaller and haven't held up as well through the years.

There's satisfaction in the task. "I enjoy listening to how it was back then," Harris said. "It was a whole different world here. I like the way (Craver) talked. He was a hard worker and he was very dedicated to his community. It seems like he was a really great guy."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4156.



FAST FACTS

Check it out

J.C. Craver's journals are on display inside the North Pinellas Historical Museum at 2043 Curlew Road., Palm Harbor. The museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

1878 journal sheds light on J.C. Craver, "father" of Ozona, Palm Harbor 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 2:13pm]
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