My Paternal Grandparents:
Walter George and Mabel Maud McCord Wood
My grandfather Walter who I was named after was single when he joined his younger brother Carl in Sioux City sometime before 1905. This ten years after his parents George and Lucy had died. He sold his 90 acre share of their farm to his brother Carl for $1,000 on September 19, 1908.
In March 1907, Walter was vice president of the Sioux City Berean Brotherhood. This group was organized for the purpose of studying the bible in an interesting and practical way. The Treasurer of this group was Oscar Lindblad, the cousin of his future wife Mabel Maud McCord. Mabel had been in Sioux City since about 1904 and had been working as a domestic. I am guessing that Walter and Mabel might have met through Oscar. They were married January 24, 1909. He was 34 and Mabel was 23. Their first and only child, my father Clifford Ray Wood, was born a little over a year later on March 6, 1910. At that time, Walter was farming a parcel of land he had leased on the bank of the Perry Creek about a half mile upstream from the Missouri River.
Farm of Walter G Wood in Sioux City Iowa showing Walter G, son Clifford and Mabel Wood cir. Sept. 1912
Soon after the birth of his son Clifford, Walter heard about a great opportunity in Florida; extensive drainage projects were turning the rich marshy "muck" soils into extremely fertile and arable farmland that was cheap. In Nov. 1912, Walter visited, and liked what he saw, The small farming town of Fellsmere, then a part of St. Lucie County had warmer, easier climate and crops could be grown year round
I was told that the family permanently moved there in 1918 and his World War 1 Draft card dated April 1918 gave his address as Fellsmere, but showed his employment was in Sioux City. The card also stated that he was farmer which may have exempted him from military service in World War 1.
World War I Draft Registration of Walter G Wood in St. Lucie County Florida April 1918
Walter, his wife Mabel, and their son Clifford became part of this early group of pioneer farmers who experimented with various cash crops including vegetables, oranges, and other fruits in this rich fertile soil. This was rural life. In 1940s and 1950s Fellsmere still only had a population of less than 700 people. At some point, they joined the Fellsmere Community Church and were lifetime members.
Walter G Wood lower left and Mabel Wood upper right at Fellsmere Community Church
My dad Clifford attended the old Fellsmere school which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cliff Wood in Fellsmere School photo cir 1922
He is in the third row from top in middle with dark shirt on.
The depression hit in 1927 about the time he would have graduated from high school. In Novemb er 1930 he married Olive Brown in Fellsmere, and they soon moved to Miami where he sought employment during the depression. Their marriage broke up five years later and Cliff had moved to Washington DC looking for employment with the government there.
My granddaddy Wood was a farmer all his life. He plowed behind a mule that I barely remember riding once. In the late 1940s, the mule was replaced by a small tractor. He farmed several small tracts and sold what he grew from his Model T Ford pickup truck to local grocery stores and restaurants.
Their one-bedroom house had no city water or sewer, in fact no one in Fellsmere had public utilities, just private wells and septic tanks. They had the well for irrigation, but the water had a sulfur odor and was very hard but was used for everything including washing clothes and bathing. After a World War II, their son Clifford (my father) purchased a 250-gallon surplus military aluminum tank and set it up to catch rainwater from the garage's tin roof. That tank supplied soft water for washing clothes and drinking.
My grandmother Mabel Wood was a great cook and baker, and in fact ran several restaurants. One was in "downtown" Fellsmere called the Dew Drop Inn and later she managed the canteen at the local sugar mill. One of my favorite things she cooked were large batches of sugar cookies and stored in tins for later use. My dad and I always got yelled at for taking the first batch of cookies as soon as they came out of the oven, still hot. (I still regret that I never got her recipe before she died!)
Mabel McCord Wood in front of her cafe, the Dew Drop Inn in Fellsmere FL
Walter & Mabel Wood in front of the Dew Drop Inn Cafe in Fellsmere Florida next to their 1932 Tudor Model B Ford.
Mabel and Walter G Wood beside their home in Fellsmere FL cir. mid 1930s
My grandfather continued farming until the late 1940s when he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side and forced his retirement. He lived at least 10 years after the stroke, but it had affected his memory and the ability to walk unassisted. I was very young at the time of his stroke, and I barely remember him before it happened. However, I do have several photos taken with him before the stroke where he was OK. The second one below is my favorite.
Walter G Wood holding grandson Walter D Wood in Fellsmere FL 1947
Three Generations: Walter G, Clifford R and Walter D Wood
After my grandfather's stroke, my dad helped with the farm during the winter. I remember traveling with him to various restaurants, some as far away as Orlando, to deliver the produce that they grew. I also remember harvesting cabbage and other vegetables. At some point, it became too much, and the farm became more like a garden for their own use. Because they only had a small refrigerator and the fact that they grew a lot of what they ate, every year my grandmother would can the vegetables, fruits and other crops they harvested. They had orange, tangerine, and grapefruit trees in the yard. I remember helping plant Okra and green beans one winter. Celery, cabbage, and lettuce were some of the crops they grew. They also grew strawberries and raised chickens for eggs, both to sell and eat. Fried chicken or chicken and dumplings were frequently on the menu.
I should mention at this point, I primarily lived my early years in Bethesda MD just outside of Washington DC where my mother's Dowling family was in the hotel business. My other grandmother, Ethel McDaniel Dowling who we called "Mema" was by now a widow and kept a winter home in St. Petersburg just across the state from Fellsmere. Generally, my mother and I spent our winters in Mema's St. Pete home. My father, who managed the hotels in DC, would come down when he had the opportunity. Every other week, my mother, dad (if he was there) and I would drive across the state on highway 60 to Fellsmere to spend the weekend with my Wood grandparents. As a result, I had some good times in Fellsmere as a boy.
Mabel. Walter G (sitting) and son Clifford Wood at W G Wood home in Fellsmere Florida cir 1950
They had very few things we consider normal today. Their phone was a party-line that was shared by others in the area. You had to count the rings to determine if the call was for you and everyone could also pickup and listen. My grandmother Wood used a wringer washing machine and hung clothes out on a clothesline to dry. The only electrical appliances they had were that washing machine, refrigerator, mixer (for baking) and toaster. I don't count their water heater because it was a very small 5 gal. water heater that stood at the end of the claw foot tub. It had a timer you could set for 20 minutes or so to heat water for a bath. The hot water would run directly into the tub from a spigot on the heater. When taking a bath on Saturday night we needed only a little hot water to warm the bath water from the well since the well water was a constant 72 degrees. For Christmas 1952 my dad surprised his parents with a TV set. Due to very few stations back then, a tall antenna with a rotator was needed to reach the 2 or 3 stations available in Miami and Jacksonville. Both cities were over 150 miles away and the reception was lousy. A little later a new station was started in Orlando which was a little closer. If Florida hadn't been so flat, there would have been no TV stations to watch.
I did not realize that for many years there was no heat in the house. I realized this while looking at old photos while writing this article when I noticed there was no chimney on the side of the house in photos from around 1940. Sometime in the late 1940s, my dad installed a kerosene stove in the corner of the living room and a two small propane heaters; one in the only bedroom and one in the bathroom. Looking back on it, those propane heaters could have been extremely dangerous since touching it would give you a severe burn and the flame inside them could have set fire to anything flammable that got too close.
There was a second make-shift bedroom at one end of the screened front porch that had a curtain separating it from the rest of the porch. When visiting them, my parents slept on the porch, and I slept on a hard fold-out couch in the living room. The porch had no heater.
Since that area was rural, we had all sorts of wildlife: snakes (including rattlesnakes and coral snakes), armadillos, Bobwhite quail, weasels, foxes, deer, and an occasional alligator when the water got high. There were lots of butterflies and I remember starting a collection in a tray with a glass frame. Speaking of quail, they loved to eat the strawberries, so my dad built a trap to catch them. Once they were in the trap, my grandmother would take them out one at a time, wring its neck, and put it in her apron. Once, she apparently did not twist the neck hard enough only stunned one bird. As we were walking back to the house, that bird recovered and flew out of the apron scaring us. In any event, the quail were delicious.
Unfortunately, farming for a living never required Social Security taxes to be paid and there was no Medicare or Medicaid back then so all they had financially was my grandmother's Social Security check and what they made from the garden to live on.
They were able to celebrate their 50 Wedding Anniversary on Jan. 24, 1959, at the Fellsmere Community Church before he died in June of that year.
Walter G & Mabel Wood 50th Wedding Anniversary (grandson Walter on left, son Cliff and his wife Saidee on right)
Fellsmere Community Church in 2015. The celebration was held in the building to the right of the sanctuary.
My grandmother remained in Fellsmere after my granddad died and continued to keep a garden and her chickens. After 1962 my parents were only a few hours away in Homestead Florida and regularly visited. By the time of my grandmother's death in 1968, the remaining garden and chickens were gone but the memories remain.
For information on others in this family, please see the Descendant Chart of John Wood Sr. and the individual narratives.
To see more Wood family photos see My Wood Family Photos.