Hannibal Square, Mertie and Edwin Grover
During reconstruction, former slaves and Confederate as well as Union veterans moved to Florida. Compared with Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, Florida was less strict in implementing and applying Jim Crow laws. What is now Hannibal Square had been settled by several black families. It is no surprise that Chapman and Chase, when they platted their land purchase, designated Hannibal Square as the area reserved for African American families that would work in their hotels and provide labor for the wealthy Winter Park families. African-Americans were glad to have jobs available. Some became comfortably wealthy, although they liked to hide their economic status. While the Hannibal Square community was instrumental in getting Winter Park incorporated, the presence of two black commissioners was not appreciated by the local Southern democrats. In 1897, they petitioned the legislature to declare the election invalid and to de-annex Hannibal Square. The early 1900s only worsened racial segregation and discrimination.
As part of her missionary work for the Congregational Church, Mertie Grover had taught classics at Tillotson College in Texas, and was principal of the Beach School in Savannah, GA. She was well acquainted with the plight of African-Americans. After moving to Winter Park in 1926, she, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs Vincent, the wife of the Congregational minister, started the Welbourne Avenue Nursery and Kindergarten, a project to provide child care so Hannibal Square mothers could work while their children were taken care of. Their project was very successful, and is still serving the community today. The nursery started a lending library, and Mertie tutored some of the kids at the Hannibal Square Grammar School.
When Mertie tragically died after a car accident in 1936, Edwin Grover asked for money and books to start a Hannibal Square Mertie Graham Grover Memorial Library. Mary Aldis, a painter and dramatist who had just liquidated her studio, contributed the proceeds to the project, and numerous Winter Park residents supported Edwin's library project. The City gave some land, and Hannibal Square residents added the labor needed to build a library that would be accessible to black people, since the Winter Park Public Library was for white people only. The Hannibal Square Library was the only library for African Americans in Central Florida. It was open for a few hours a week only, and the librarians were the real heroes, working for next to nothing. The library also became a meeting place for Hannibal Square groups and clubs.
Edwin spent considerable time and effort on the Hannibal Square library and the Hannibal Square Associates. He wrote applications for funds to various charitable organizations, and he was involved in raising funds for the Marylin dePugh Nursing Home in the 1950s. True to Congregational spirit, the Grovers contributed to the welfare of our black community.
Ed Gfeller 2016
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