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It's tale of war and moving

Funny the way Nancye Thompson Barrett got to St. Petersburg.

"My father's hero was Teddy Roosevelt," she said. "He went with him for the Spanish-American War, and (the troops) left from the old Tampa Bay Hotel."

Mr. Thompson vowed to come back one day.

Many years later, in 1920, he left their eastern Kentucky home to go "up river fishing."

"When he didn't get back for several weeks, my mother began to worry. He called and said he'd found the fishing better in Florida and told her to sell the house and property."

This was no easy feat because the property consisted of a chain of restaurants.

The way the Barretts got their home was even stranger.

"Dad met Maj. Lew Brown (then owner and editor of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent) and Maj. Brown told him, "There's going to be the damnedest land boom you ever saw here, so you'd better get some.' And he lent my father the money to buy land."

The land was 10 acres of orange groves on high ground between 18th and 22nd avenues S (then Tangerine and Lakeview avenues) around 20th Street. The family stayed at the Detroit Hotel while their house was being built on the south end of the property, then known as Seminole Heights.

Mrs. Barrett was a baby then. But she knows that there was no electricity and no city water past 16th Avenue S. Windmills were used to pump water.

"But the hurricane of 1921 blew down the windmills and blew all the oranges off the trees," she said. "There went my father's dreams of making a living selling oranges to tourists."

Because the nearest grocery store was the Manhattan Market at Third Street and Central Avenue, Mrs. Barrett said her father's next venture was a grocery store on Tangerine Avenue.

She has delightful memories of those early days. "The main entertainment was singing around the piano. We would take the trolley to the beach at Gulfport and sometimes take the boat from there across to Pass-a-Grille."

To get their newspaper each day, she and her father would walk to a trolley shelter marked by a sign that said "Pleasantdale." This was an area between 21st and 22nd streets S on 18th Avenue. "Everybody's paper was left here in a pile."

Religion was interdenominational. The Meares family taught catechism Sunday mornings because there was no Catholic church in the area. Mrs. Barrett, a Protestant, would join them. Sunday afternoons were spent at "Mr. Pancake's Church on Ice Cream Alley," the tiny frame church that later became St. Jude's United Holiness Church. It burned to the ground Jan. 31.

The lane on which the church stood, now Auburn Street S, was called "Ice Cream Alley" because of the church's many ice cream socials. The church superintendent was Mr. Pancake. Christmas and Easter programs drew the community to the little church as well.

W. P. "Weatherproof" Smith (nicknamed because he would come on house calls in all kinds of weather, Mrs. Barrett said) wired their home for electricity. Smith replaced the bulbs in street lights from Pinellas Point to the Gandy Bridge, which Mrs. Barrett remembers as the longest stretch of street lights in the country at that time.

Through the encouragement of English teachers Eleanor Stewart Marr and Elizabeth Coates James at St. Petersburg High School, Mrs. Barrett went into journalism. An Auburn University graduate, she got her first job as a police reporter on the Evening Independent when male staffers were drafted for World War II.

"The first time I went to cover the courts, the judge said, "Can't that newspaper send a man?' I said, "Haven't you heard? There's a war on.' He didn't want me to hear the language used there," she said.

Her husband, Merton, was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base and the two enjoyed participating in St. Petersburg Little Theater productions. When he went overseas, the newspaper and the theater were Mrs. Barrett's life.

"I remember those bells clanging on the wire machines when a big story came," she said. "There were three big ones that we beat the Times on _ one was Ernie Pyle's death, one was Roosevelt's death."

And the third was the end of World War II.

That night is vivid in her memory. "Three of us were hanging around the newsroom waiting to go to a movie. Paul Davis (the editor), Frank White and I, we put that extra out together."

Thinking back on her life from her south St. Petersburg home ("We've always lived on the south side _ more trees and more room"), Mrs. Barrett says, "My biggest achievement is my three sons, Steve, Allen and Mark." They, her seven grandchildren and her friends are her joy.

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