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News Story
Updated: 12/04/2013 08:00:02AM

Frostproof’s past

chronicled in new book

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PHOTO BY JAMES COULTER

Local author Bea Refeis will have a book signing Dec. 14 at the Ramon Theater with her first volume of "Frostproof Treasures" which details the city's history up to 1910.

By JAMES COULTER

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Most Frostproof residents are familiar with the traditional tale about the naming of their town.

In 1892, the community decided on the name Keystone City. They submitted the application to the Fort Meade post office, but it was rejected and sent back.

The community voted again, this time on the name Lakemont, and submitted the application once more.

However, on the way to the post office, the person delivering the application, Joe Carson, son of Stephen Carson, one of the town’s earliest residents, allegedly changed the name to Frostproof, and that is how the city got its name.

Or was it?

In her new book “Frostproof Treasures, the History of Frostproof Florida to 1910,” Bea Reifeis challenges this traditional narrative with historical evidence, even consulting an expert to examine the handwriting on the original application and check if Carson really did change it.

“I challenge with lots of evidence the traditional stories we heard all along about the naming of Frostproof,” Reifeis said. “Some of it is right. Some of it is not. And there are more twists and turns than I can begin to tell you.”

This is the first book to cover the chronological history of Frostproof, with the first volume detailing the town’s history up to the early 20th century.

The first chapter discusses the prehistoric land formation of the Lake Wales Ridge as it rose from the sea over two million years ago, and even offers driving directions to where the “oceanfront property” would have been in Frostproof back then.

The remaining chapters chronicle the history of the land and city, from the ancient Indians and early settlers to the town’s early development during the turn of the last century.

Many chapters contain writings from early residents like Stephen Carson describing the city and chronicling their daily lives within it.

Some of the many photographs showcased in the book have previously never been revealed to the public. Two photographs include the first cabin built by George Washington Hendry, and another of the silver medal that Joe Carson won at the Citrus Exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair.

The book is meticulously marked with footnotes and endnotes, with a lengthy but comprehensive index and bibliography covering every topic, person, and place mentioned.

The very last few pages invite readers to share their information about Frostproof to aid in the writing of the second volume, and requests items such as yearbooks and artifacts to be donated to the Historical Society.

Each page is brimming with factoids such as anecdotes, maps, facsimiles, and other interesting facts to help readers visualize Frostproof’s rich history.

Reifeis was born and raised in New Jersey. She married her husband, John, her senior year at Indiana University, where she graduated with her degree in accounting.

She worked most of her life in accounting and systems before retiring and moving to Frostproof in 1998.

She has previously been the primary compiler of two Frostproof Rotary cookbooks to raise scholarships for seniors at Frostproof High School, and provided fun historical facts for the second one.

Her inspiration to write a history book was twofold: one was June Felt, the founding member of the Frostproof Historical Society, who had been the director of the Historical Museum for 35 years.

Reifeis had heard her tell stories about the history of Frostproof, which partly inspired her to collect them all in a single book.

“I heard her several times, and I got to thinking if those stories were written down, because it is really sad if we lose our history,” Reifeis said.

Another inspiration for her was Glenn Beck, who, on his Fox News program, encouraged viewers to get involved with their community, which inspired her to create this history book for her own community.

She spent over three years, or roughly 5,000 hours, conducting research, not only for this first volume, but also 80 percent for the next volume which she is currently preparing.

Two days a week, for 8 hours a day, she would spend at the Polk County Historical and Genealogical Library and History Center searching through microfilm reels from 1881 up until 1924, and she claims she still has more to go through until the second book is complete.

Going through these microfilms was the most wearisome task in her research, she noted.

“It’s hard on your eyes and it is a slow, tedious process,” she said. “It’s hard to get yourself to do it because you just finished one [microfilm tape] and you still have 30 more tapes of microfilm. And so you sit there thinking if it’s ever going to end.”

Her research also entailed reviewing as many available editions of the Frostproof News from 1938 to the present as possible, conducting over 60 interviews with residents and historians, visiting the Sebring Historical Museum and Avon Park Historical Museum, traveling to the State Archives in Tallahasse and the Florida Collection at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and of course, hours upon hours of Internet surfing.

Aiding her in her research was a giant group of volunteers ranging from librarians and historical editors to local historians and archaeologists, all of whom are mentioned in her acknowledgments.

While conducting her research was painstaking, even more so was sorting and organizing her research notes and documents.

Every single book, document, and interview was placed in a reference file with the reference number, title, author, and other bibliographic information, each organized in a database sorted by decade.

Two of her biggest challenges were keeping her databases straight between her various computers and storing all the documents for her research, which takes up both computer and physical space.

All of this effort involved eventually paid off as it made writing the book much easier for her.

Spending so much time researching and writing about Frostproof has strengthened her appreciation and love for the town and the people in it, and she hopes that her love for it will spread to her readers.

“The biggest realization for me was all of the wonderful people who made up the town of Frostproof, how they cared about each other, loved each other, took care of each other, it is an amazing story,” she said. “It’s an example of how we should live today, not just with the people in Frostproof, but with people all around the world.”

“Frostproof Treasures” is available at Watson’s Pharmacy and the Ramon Theater office, and online at www.ramontheater.com.

The pre-publication price is currently $20 until Dec. 14, when the price will later go up to $29.95 on Dec. 16. All proceeds will go to benefit the Ramon Theater for maintenance and renovation.

On Dec. 14 from 2-4 p.m., a public book signing party will be hosted at the Ramon.


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