Chipley, FL: Boyhood home of the real “Atticus Finch”

Atticus Finch Monument in Monroeville, Alabama (The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
Atticus Finch Monument in Monroeville, Alabama
(The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division).

The death of Harper Lee on Friday (2/19/2016) took lovers of Southern literature by surprise.

She is best remembered, of course, for her monumental novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a story about coming of age in a small Southern town and is filled with memorable characters, good and bad.

Carr Road near the site of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch.
Carr Road near the site of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch.

Principal among these is a small town lawyer named Atticus Finch, who teaches his young daughter about the humanity of all people. The character is based on Lee’s own father, a small town lawyer named Amasa Lee.

The similarity of the real name Amasa to the fictional name Atticus is obvious.

Gregory Peck received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie based on Lee’s novel. A monument to the fictional lawyer can be seen on the grounds of the historic old courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama, the town that Lee called home for most of her life. (Note: See Peck as Atticus Finch in the clip from To Kill a Mockingbird at the bottom of this article).

Site of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch, near Chipley, Florida.
Site of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch, near Chipley, Florida.

It is a little known fact, however, that Amasa Lee – the “real” Atticus Finch – spent part of his boyhood on a farm just north of Chipley in the Florida Panhandle.

His parents, Cader A. Lee and Eufrasa Windam Lee, moved from Alabama to Florida in around 1893. Amasa was then thirteen years old.

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Swamps surround the site of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus FInch.

The family settled on a small farm just north of Chipley but then across the line in neighboring Holmes County. Realignment of county boundaries, however, left the site within the limits of today’s Washington County.

Cader Lee was a homesteader and moved to Florida to take advantage of the opportunity to claim free land by establishing a home and farm on previously unclaimed lands. The site he picked is low and swampy, with Holmes Creek about one-half mile away to the west and Alligator Creek a short distance in the opposite direction.

The elder Mr. Lee obtained title to his property on March 8, 1894 when Homestead Certificate Number 10880 was approved by the land office in Gainesville. The teenage Amasa lived and worked on the 160-acre farm until he reached adulthood.

Graves of Cader and Eufrasa Lee, grandparents of novelist Harper Lee, at Marvin Chapel Cemetery in Graceville, Florida.
Graves of Cader and Eufrasa Lee, grandparents of novelist Harper Lee, at Marvin Chapel Cemetery in Graceville, Florida.

Cader and Eufrasa Lee eventually moved to Graceville in neighboring Jackson County, where their graves can be seen today at Marvin Chapel Cemetery. Amasa, however, returned to Alabama where he studied law and married Frances Cunningham. His youngest daughter – Nelle Harper Lee – was born on April 28, 1926.

The farm near Chipley eventually passed on to other owners and is marked by groves of planted pines along Carr Road today. No other trace remains of the boyhood home of Amasa Coleman Lee, the real Atticus Finch.

Watch Gregory Peck portray Atticus Finch in this clip from To Kill a Mockingbird:

John Gorrie statue threatened with removal

Statue of Dr. John Gorrie at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)
Statue of Dr. John Gorrie at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
(Library of Congress)

A South Florida legislator wants to see the statue of Dr. John Gorrie pulled down and removed from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Gorrie, a 19th century resident of Apalachicola, was the inventor of the ice machine and artificial refrigeration. His work and theories paved the way for the development of air conditioning, modern food preservation and the use of temperature control to save the lives of patients with malaria and other fevers. Without the discoveries made possible by this great scientist, modern Florida would never have developed.

The famed scientist, who also lived briefly near present-day Sneads, is one of two Floridians honored at Statuary Hall in the nation’s capital. The other is Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, a St. Augustine native, who served in the U.S. and Confederate armies and was wounded in the service of both.

A move has been underway in the Florida to topple Smith’s statue from its place in Statuary Hall due to his Confederate service (even though Confederate servicemen are considered U.S. veterans under federal law). The effort has now expanded to include Dr. Gorrie, who never served the Confederacy, as well.

Dr. John Gorrie was a noted Florida scientist, physician and inventor.
Dr. John Gorrie was a noted Florida scientist, physician and inventor.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (GOP, Miami) has sponsored House Bill 141 that calls for dragging Smith’s statue from the U.S. Capitol. His bill has now been amended to call for the toppling of Dr. Gorrie’s statue as well.

The proposal has been approved by an 18-1 vote of the House Appropriations Committee and is on its way for a vote in the full house, perhaps as soon as tomorrow (Monday, February 8).

Remarkably, the amendment calling for the tearing down of Dr. Gorrie’s statue comes just months after he was named in 2015 to the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. The great scientist’s legacy is also remembered in Apalachicola at the John Gorrie Museum State Park. He is buried across the street from the museum. (See video of some of the Gorrie-related sites in Apalachicola at the bottom of this post).

Apalachicola and Sneads are small cities in Northwest Florida with virtually no power in the Florida Legislature, which appears to be experiencing an unprecedented wave of political correctness. Their connection to Dr. Gorrie, however, provides an opportunity for young people to learn about a great scientist and how the work of one local man changed the world.

An effort to remove the statue of a scientist and school from the U.S. Capitol is especially astounding given the obvious need in Florida to inspire students to take greater interest in math and science. The Miami representative and his cohorts should be ashamed of themselves.

Rep. Brad Drake of Walton County, who represents the Sneads area, has announced that he will oppose House Bill 141. He is due our gratitude for taking a principal stand in the face of a powerful movement.

If you live in Florida, please join me in encouraging your local state representative to vote NO on House Bill 141. You can locate the name and contact information of your representative by visiting Florida House of Representatives.

Here is a short video of some of the places connected to Dr. Gorrie in historic Apalachicola, Florida: