Home sweet Holmes

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E.W. Carswell at work in his home office, with a copy of Holmesteading nearby.

EVEN AFTER HIS DEATH, E.W. Carswell is still helping make Holmes County a better place.

Carswell, a writer and historian born in 1916 on the southern fringes of Esto near Sand Hammock, died in 2001. For much of his working life he was a reporter for the Pensacola News-Journal responsible for covering the heart of the Florida Panhandle, including his native Holmes County.

In retirement, he wrote books, including This is the Place, the story of Esto, and Holmesteading, the history of Holmes County. Holmesteading was published in 1986 to wide acclaim as a scholarly work that captured both the facts and the flavor of the county’s past.

It was so successful that it sold out soon after publication. The only place many people could get copies was in the Holmes County Public Library.

And that became a problem.

“People would check them out, but they wouldn’t bring them back,” said library director Susan Harris. “Finally we were down to a single copy,” which was kept on reserve.

Requests for the book kept coming, so Harris raised the idea of reprinting the book. The project was spearheaded by Joe Clark, head of the library board and another native of Esto.  In 2003 Holmesteading was republished and again made available — not only for checkout, but also for purchase.

Proceeds were earmarked to support the library, and more than $6,000 has been raised.

Some of the money was used to help relocate the portable library from the old Poplar Springs School, which is now being renovated as an annex to house the library’s children’s programs.

As fate would have it, the annex is named for another Esto native, A.J. Dixon, whose family’s donation is funding the renovation of the building.

“When people started inquiring about Mr. Dixon, the first thing I did was go to Holmesteading,” said assistant library director Betty Treadwell.

She found the answer on page 109 of Carswell’s book, where he wrote:

“It was from the Esto post office in 1906 that Holmes County’s first RFD (rural free delivery) mail route was established. Andrew J. Dixon was the postman for the route, traveling by horseback at first and later by bicycle, motorcycle, buggy, and ultimately by automobile. The route was later transferred to Bonifay, from where Dixon continued to serve until he retired in 1936.”

“That book is full of wonderful information,” said librarian Treadwell. “People love to see the names of their ancestors in print.”

That his book is being used to support the library would no doubt please Carswell. He notes in his foreword that when the county was created in 1848 — in a political deal made soon after Florida became a state to keep the balance between counties in east and west Florida — it contained fewer than 250 families.

“Most of them were frontier farmers,” Carswell wrote. “About one-third were illiterate. A vast majority were poor, even by the standards of that era.”

He added: “Despite the absence of great material wealth, the county’s history has been richly romantic and colorful. To better understand the appealing qualities of the place we call home, newcomers and oldtimers alike must know more of its history to better relate to its past.”

Copies of Holmesteading are available once again to be checked out at the library. If you want one to keep, or to give as a gift, the book may be purchased for $30 at the library or at the Bank of Bonifay, which helped underwrite the cost of republication.

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