The Smokey Hollow Community, Informal boundaries by street name: North to South: East Jefferson Street to East Van Buren Street. West to East: South Gadsden Street to Marvin Street., Tallahassee, Leon County, FL
Significance: The story of Smokey Hollow forces us to rethink historical narratives of government's exercise of eminent domain in the mid-twentieth century on established African American neighborhoods. Throughout the nation, government intervention displaced vibrant communities of working class people, immigrants, and minorities. While the specific contours of that story in Tallahassee were unique, the outcome was not. Through the power of eminent domain, the state of Florida eliminated most of the housing and business structures that had existed in Smokey Hollow since the turn of the twentieth century. Yet, that dissolution did not eradicate the community's sense of itself. This is the story of the development of this African American community, its dissolution, and its persistence in memory after dislocation.
Although a system of segregation limited opportunities, African Americans refused to let those restrictions define them. Starting in the 1890s, members of Smokey Hollow began building a community identified by families, social organizations, cultural institutions, and African American businesses. Over the course of the next sixty years, the neighborhood became tight knit. At the same time, the late arrival of residential zoning ordinances, the absence of legal minimum standards of housing, and a hilly topography shaped the contours of the built environment. Vernacular structures, most often made of wood, most often one-story, and most often owned by white non-residents, dominated the landscape. In contrast to improvements in infrastructure in predominately-white communities in Tallahassee, in the late 1950s, most of the roads in Smokey Hollow were still unpaved and many residents lived without basic urban amenities. In addition, an unprotected water ditch and railroad ran through the area. Yet, until the call to redevelop the area around the state capitol into a complex center to house an expanded government courtesy of the state's post World War II growth, few politicians took notice of the area.
In an era when most African Americans were disenfranchised, Smokey Hollow fell vulnerable to the call for urban renewal. The move to acquire the land for state offices in the early 1960s forced residents to disperse into other African American neighborhoods. The majority of Smokey Hollow's residents lost their homes and their businesses. Yet, in their diaspora, former residents persevered in maintaining the memory of Smokey Hollow in the remnants of that community's physical manifestations, reunions and other commemorative events. This HALS captures the archival history and private memories of Smokey Hollow and consecrates them as a public memory. It makes the community's former presence on the landscape perceptible to those in the present.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N85
Survey number: HALS FL-9
Building/structure dates: 1890 Initial Construction
Building/structure dates: 1890-1970 Subsequent Work
Building/structure dates: 1960-1975 Demolished