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Oral History Interview with Author and Historic Preservationist Grace Hagedorn

Author and Historic Preservationist, Grace Hagedorn, pictured with her husband, Fred Hagedorn. Grace Hagedorn, a Fulbright Scholar, received her education in the United States and in Austria. She is the author of Sam Stoltz, artist and builder, 1876-1952, numerous College Park historical home brochures/maps, and is the recipient of the first Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation Award by Orange Preservation Trust. Her husband, Fred Hagedorn, received his doctorate in Physics from California Institute of Technology and after working for many years at Bell Labs in New Jersey, moved to Orlando where he worked in a small aerospace company.

Listen: Part I of IV  (16:24)

 

 

Highlights from the Interview

My name is Grace Hagedorn and I was born in Roanoke, Virginia. 

A historic location!

The location itself was not historic, no. I was born in an apartment in a hospital in Roanoke. But I lived the first three months of my life in an apartment there and then we moved to Charleston, West Virginia.

What did your parents do?

Well, my mother had been a teacher. She taught high school English, but after she married she didn’t teach. And my father was in the wholesale grocery business. And I was a Depression baby, I think you know that I was born in 1930. And my father lost his job. My grandfather, his father, had many connections in the food business and he used those connections to find another job for my father. And that’s why we moved to Charleston where I grew up.

Did you know your grandparents?

I didn’t. I knew my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandmother. But my paternal grandfather died in 1918 so I missed him by twelve years.

What were your grandparents like that you knew?

Well, I don’t know quite how to say this and it doesn’t sound very gracious. But I will try to tell you my perception of it. My paternal grandmother was very sweet and very talented, I think. But she was sort of repressed by my grandfather, who was a very strong personality and who felt that he should be the dictator of the lives of his wife and many children. He was an only child, unique for those days, and he wanted a big family which he had. And he tried to dictate the lives of all of his children. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. 

So you said that your grandmother was talented?

Well, she was very musical. And she had, before her father died leaving the family in financial straits, she was attending Hollins College. I have never been able to find out if she went long enough to declare a major. But if she had, it would have been music. And my maternal grandmother was also talented in many ways, but somewhat unbalanced. She had two big shocks in her life that she didn’t react to very well. When she was on the verge of being old enough to go to college, the bank that her father headed failed. And they had to leave their comfortable life, very comfortable life in Springfield, Missouri and go to a German community called Muenster in Texas where, of course, they didn’t fit in at all. And they were the outsiders. And the poor outsiders at that. 

Gainesville, Florida

And after her mother died of typhoid in Muenster, she and her siblings persuaded their father to move to the metropolis of Gainesville where he was able to be a cotton broker. And they went to the Presbyterian Church and she played for the church and was active in the church. She was also very musical. And the Presbyterian minister at the time, had four children and an ailing wife who died. And she married the Presbyterian minister. My mother was their only child.

Whitfield, Virginia

They moved a couple of places and then he was called to the Presbyterian Church in Whitfield, Virginia which went very well for them. I mean this, for a preservationist, this is a sad story to tell. But the Presbyterian manse of the time had been built about 17-,  right after the Revolution, I think. And from what I’ve been able to learn about it, it was an impressive house, not wonderful, but impressive. But not updated. For a preservationist that’s good. But my grandmother thought it was awful and the children got sick and she blamed it on the house.

A New Manse

And she pushed and pushed and pushed my grandfather for a new manse and he had to devote a lot of his time to overseeing the job. And so, the manse was built and they did not enjoy it for many years at all. He was, of course, older and I don’t know if he knew that he had heart trouble, but one evening he went out to mail a letter and he didn’t come back. And my grandmother worried. And he was a big gardener so she went out to the garden and he was lying there dead. 

A Year in the Manse

The church let, at that time the three oldest of his children were no longer at home, just my mother and, I guess, my Uncle Allen was in his first year of college. But my mother was the only one at home. She was 13 and the church let them stay there for a year in the manse. And my grandmother tried to make a living. There wasn’t any money. There was no pension in those days. [She] tried to make a living by giving music lessons, but she hadn’t been doing that. And the other ladies had been doing that and the competition was too much.

Washington, D.C.

So she and my mother went to live with my grandmother’s sister, my mother’s aunt who adored her, in Washington, DC. My great aunt worked for the Smithsonian. And my grandmother tried to find something to do but what she really wanted was to resume life in the church and she wanted to go as a missionary. She had entertained many missionaries at the manse in Whitfield. She didn’t think about the difficulties of the job…. What shall we discuss next?

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

Well, at the beginning, I really don’t remember from babyhood, but we lived in my memory, first we lived in an apartment and I don’t remember that at all. But in my memory we lived in a row house in a not very desirable neighborhood near the state capitol and the governor’s mansion. However, only a couple of blocks away there was the church where she [my grandmother] knew the minister and his wife and she wanted me to go to Sunday School there; though my parents through other connections were attending the big Presbyterian church, First Pres downtown. And so I did that. And that was not a good start. But it would have been better for me to go where my parents were. But she insisted. And so, it was Sunday School and church. And sometimes my grandmother wasn’t there. Her home base was in Texas where she looked after her older brother…

Listen:  Part II (21:14)

 

 

Did you go to public school or did you go to private church school?

I went to a private kindergarten which was not church related. There wasn’t any public kindergarten in the West Virginia schools at that time. And therefore I skipped first grade because it was a really good kindergarten. And then I went to public schools. I graduated from Charleston High School and went to elementary school, Kanawha School, near my home. And when I was in the 5th grade I guess my parents were able to buy a house in the suburb of  Kanawha City. And that meant different grade schools for my brother and me. But they let us finish out our year and my dad would take us and pick us up. And then I was allowed to go to the junior high where I would have gone, where I knew people and the same thing happened my dad would take me and pick me up.

I understand that you became a Fulbright Scholar. So tell us about the journey from the period of going to the public school to really blossoming intellectually to this great accomplishment.

I went to, after I graduated from high school where I was salutatorian. I went to Randolph Macon Women’s College that was where my mother, thanks to her uncle, was able to go. And I used to study her yearbooks. And somehow I imagined that it would be the same for me. But, of course, it wasn’t. But it was a good experience and I’ve never regretted my choice. And I was basically a language major and my German professor was very fond of me which was nice. And I worked for her.

Fulbright Award

And she encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright which I never thought I would get. But she gave me great endorsements and I did get the Fulbright, late in my senior year it was awarded. And I just couldn’t believe it. And I called my mother long distance and she thought what’s wrong? What’s wrong? Because to spend the money for a long distance call she thought something awful must of happened. I also forgot my Shakespeare exam because I was spreading the news. However, I was allowed to make it up.

Fulbright Experience

I could tell you a lot about the experience, more than you want to know. My Fulbright was to Austria, University of Vienna and it was 1951. 

The Fulbright Program in Occupied Austria

So it wasn’t that long after World War II and at that time, Austria was stilled an occupied country. It was the American zone. The English zone. The French zone. And the Russian zone. And the Russians by this time were no longer our dear friends. And the way this worked, this was the first year that the Fulbright program had operated in Austria. And our leaders had worked out how it would be but they weren’t sure how it would turn out. Willi Schlag, who was the head of dealing with us, had been a prisoner of war in the U.S. And he understood the U.S. better than many people did and was very enthusiastic about having us come.

Cabin Class on the U.S. Independence

And the way it worked, we went, most of us, on the U.S. Independence, a wonderful ship. And we went cabin class. They paid for us to go cabin class not tourist class and that was wonderful.  And we got to know the other Fulbrighters, almost all of them, a few went separately. Then we landed in Genoa and we did do a little exploration of Genoa before we got on the train to go to Vienna which was a 22 hour train ride. And I finally, I tried to stay awake, but I finally fell asleep and by the time we were on the outskirts of Vienna I woke up and I missed a lot of the important stuff.

Roommates

And then we were put up in a hotel for, I think, a week. And were given a list of people who would be willing to rent rooms to us. And then it was up to us to find a place to live. And during the voyage I had become close friends with one of the other students and Joan Nichol and she and I decided that we would room together. We were both thrifty people and we got along well and we would share the expense of the room. And she spoke German better than I did fortunately. But we traded off on making the phone calls which was horrible because we had to go to a public phone and they all – some would have one rule about when you put the money in and others would have a different rule.

The Censorship Bureau

And we’d have to find one that would work and we went to a number of different places. But we decided that one that was within walking distance and one that was within streetcar distance of the university would be good. And it would take us like 15 or 20 minutes to walk it. And our room would back on a park which was nice. And the landlady was pretty fluent in English. She told us that she worked for the Censorship Bureau. This was an organization that the Russians wanted and the other three occupying powers were forced to agree to where all the mail was checked. All outgoing mail.

Interview by the Russian Leader of the Censorship Bureau

And she never should have told us that. But we were so dumb. We didn’t realize that she shouldn’t have told us and we wrote that home. So our letters were stopped and we were called in to be interviewed by the Russian leader of the operation who gave us a very hard time. And told us how useless American women were, all they did was open cans. What he knew about it I’m not sure.

Thanksgiving at an American Airbase

Then pretty soon fortunately it was Thanksgiving and we were invited to the American airbase on the outskirts of Vienna. And we met a couple of airmen who were willing to mail things for us. So it didn’t have to go through censorship….

Censorship Limits

Then there was pressure to limit censorship and so the staff was decreased and our landlady was fired. She was among those let go and of course she blamed it on us and that was bad. But we stuck it out. And it was amazing for Americans to deal with living in Austria.

Heating the Stove

And this makes it sound like it was a bad experience but it was worth the trouble. There was no central heating. And for our room to be warm in the winter, there was a big porcelain stove that we had to to buy the fuel for, light it, and keep it going. And if we wanted to take a bath, there was a stove in the bathroom and we had to do the same. That was difficult. But compared to what the Austrians must have been going through, I mean, to have their wonderful country and wonderful city all divided up and managed by foreign governments amid destruction of their buildings that still was under repair. 

Austrian Students

I mean the students that we met were mostly, were not inimical to us. Some of them had studied in America and of course those sought us out. And I don’t remember any students who hated us. They were all kind to us. But older people were sometimes not. I mean, you’d deal with a shop keeper who was badly injured in the war by our forces, that was not always pleasant.

The University Experience

And the university was very different from what I had experienced and also very different from Joan’s experience. We had gone to small colleges where the classes were small and there was a lot of student professor interaction. My first class at the university was in an enormous lecture hall full of students all of whom got up when the professor entered the room. You could just try to take notes on what he said if you could hear him but there was very little interaction.

Seminar on Rilke

And I was able to sign up for a seminar on Rilke who was one of my favorite German authors and that was good. I mean, there was just like ten of us, where you interacted directly with the professor. But many of the faculty were strained because a number of them were Jewish and weren’t around any more and others had left. So that was difficult for the university.

Course Credit Options

And I had worked very hard in college and made a good record. And I decided, which was the wrong decision probably, that I would not take the courses for credit. That was your option. So if I didn’t get everything, it wasn’t awful. And if my exam was bad it wasn’t awful. But for finding a job afterword it would have been better. But I decided to give myself a pass.

Sightseeing in Vienna

And we were encouraged by our leaders Willi Schlag and others to get to know the people, get to know the city, get to know the country. This is an important part of your experience. So we traveled. I mean the calendar, we could certainly sightsee around Vienna without leaving. But the vacations were long and we traveled which was eye opening. And just seeing Vienna even in its damaged state. So many wonderful buildings that had been there for centuries and centuries and centuries. And I just loved that. That was so great. And just in the course of doing things that we had to do, we could easily be exposed to all of this.

A Trip to Graz for Thanksgiving

We traveled. We went to Graz where two of the Fulbrighters were studying which is a prominent Austrian city for Thanksgiving. And that was a whole new experience of sightseeing. That was probably our first really out of town. A select group of Fulbrighters went there and one of them who was not invited to go. These were the people who were good friends with Beverly and Bob, the two Fulbrighters who were in Graz. They managed to hear about this and she decided she wanted to go. And we couldn’t tell her “no”. 

The Russian Zone

But she had not made the proper advanced preparation for getting her passport stamped because we would have to go through the Russian zone and we didn’t know that until it came time to leave. I mean she got through all right going there. But we couldn’t find her when it was time to leave. We were stressed out. We were sorry that she had come because she put a damper on things. But we couldn’t just desert her. And it turned out she was hiding in the train so that the Russians wouldn’t find her with her bad paper. And that was always a fear. You know, they could pull us off the train for any reason. So it was always nerve racking when we had to go through the borders.

Listen:  Part III  (14:50) 

 

 

Did you continue to live there after you finished school? 

I stayed for about a month after school was finished and then I went back home. But every opportunity that I had or could make I went back to Austria particularly to Vienna. And it was because of the Fulbright program that I met Fred. Should I tell you about that?

Yes, please.

Before I came home I took exams which were generally related to government service. And I didn’t do very well in economics, but I did okay in the other ones. And because this was Bristol, Virginia where I was living when I was in college, where my parents had moved, right after I graduated from high school. It was a fairly small town. The fact that I got a Fulbright attracted a lot of attention. And many people who knew my many relatives in Bristol had ideas about what would be helpful for me. And one of them, a good church friend of my aunt’s, had a daughter who worked for the CIA and was based in Vienna. And her younger sister was living with her. And Mrs. Carson and my aunt thought it would be great for me and for Joan to meet Katherine and her younger sister, Virginia. They thought it was great because this would give Virginia a chance to meet Austrian students, Austrian young people, that she would not have otherwise. Virginia, we probably didn’t include her in as many things as we should have but we did our best.

Applying for the CIA

And Catherine told me I should apply to the CIA. I mean she was not a secret operative or anything like that and she thought that I had a chance. And I didn’t realize that they were going to take the time to interview practically everyone I had ever known and that took a long time. And I didn’t know what I should be doing in Bristol. And I became a substitute teacher which I didn’t like very much.

Cultural Experiences in Los Angeles

And meanwhile, Beverly and Bob the two students who had been in Graz had become engaged. And Bob had taken up his deferral from Caltech for graduate school. He was deferred so he could take the Fulbright. He had enrolled at Caltech and Beverly had come and was working in the Caltech Library. In those days – I mean today they would have been living together – but that was a different time. And they were doing in the Los Angeles area a lot of the things that we had done in Vienna, where we had the wonderful opportunity to go to concerts, to opera, to the theater, and to the movies, just very inexpensively. All right there in the city which was wonderful. And they were doing that, to the extant possible, in the Los Angeles area. And they encouraged me to come out and room with Beverly and I could join them in their adventures. And so I did. 

Manuscript Cataloger for The Huntington Library

I had some trouble finding a job, but finally I found an ad from the Huntington Library for a Manuscript Cataloguer. And again a fortunate connection, it turned out that the Head Manuscript Cataloger not the head of the Manuscript Department, but the Head Cataloger was a graduate of Randolph-Macon’s Women College. And so, I got the job. And it didn’t pay well, but the surroundings were, the exterior surroundings… well it is a building on an estate essentially that consists of the mansion house which houses the art museum and wonderful gardens, The Huntington Gardens and The Library which was founded by the Huntington’s. He was a collector, Henry Huntington. He collected rare books and manuscripts. 

The Huntington Library Manuscript Department

The Manuscript Department itself was in a climate controlled basement essentially. So that was not very beautiful, but that protected the manuscripts. And the staff was, I think Miss Cuthbert was a professional librarian, that she had a library degree, but most of us did not in the Manuscript Department. And Mr. Schultz who was the Head of the Manuscripts Department did not have a doctorate. And Miss Cuthbert used to say, “Doctors are for when you get sick. (Laughter) They are the people you call when you get sick.” And she always stressed that.

Miss Noya

When I was there we finally had a Director of the entire library who had a doctorate. But mostly people did not. And we had a small staff. And my direct supervisor Miss Noya was a wonderful woman who I loved! She was so good and so kind. And she was not a Native American, she was from Puerto Rico. And so, of course, she was very fluent in Spanish. And I was actually a Spanish major, but she didn’t give me very many Spanish manuscripts to do because she could do them so much faster herself. 

The Henry Douglas Bacon Papers

However, I had good collections to work on, one was Henry Douglas Bacon’s papers and he had come during the Gold Rush to the San Francisco area and all of his experiences. You know, just reading the letters, because I spent too much time reading them all, but to get a sense of his life and to be able to write up the collection.

The Jeanne Carr Papers

 And then there was Jeanne Carr who was more or less local to where we were living was a well known horticulturist and a writer and other people not too far away so I could go and look at the places where they lived. 

Fred from Caltech

But anyway, Bob was at Caltech, he was a native Iowan who had graduated from Iowa State. And he thought and Beverly thought, well when we go on these excursions, it would be nice for Grace to have a date. And Bob knew another guy, who was also a native Iowan whom he had known slightly at Iowa State, who was a first year graduate student at Caltech, and that was Fred. So Fred was invited to go along on our excursions and that’s how I met him. If it had not been for the Fulbright, I would never have met him. 

And he was studying Physics at Caltech? What type of Physics?

Yes. He was actually studying nuclear physics. But when the time came for his graduation and job finding,  where he could get a job in nuclear physics was not where we wanted to live. So he got a job in Solid State Physics at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Did he enjoy his work at Bell Labs?

Yeah. He would have liked to be in the Research Department, but he could never get there. His background wasn’t quite good enough for it.  But he knew a lot of people in the Research Department. His closest friends were in the Research Department and he enjoyed his work, until the AT&T Divesture. 

AT&T Divesture

AT&T was deemed too large by the courts and it had to be broken up. And Bell Labs was changed as a result to be more, even less focused on research and more to what can help in the moment. And Fred had a different boss then- everything was reorganized – who he didn’t like and he just wasn’t pleased. So he started looking.

Listen:  Part IV  (18:46)

 

 

Parks-Jaggers Aerospace in Orlando

We thought he had a good chance at San Diego and he was a semifinalist, but he didn’t make the grade there. And then out of the blue, something that he had not sought, he got an expression of interest from a small aerospace company in Orlando, Parks-Jaggers Aerospace. And he got the job.

Historic Preservation in New Jersey

And we after all those years in New Jersey, we moved to Orlando. And I thought it would be – I had worked very hard in historic preservation in New Jersey. I was a member of the New Jersey Historic Sites Council & Trust and very active in my local Historical Society fighting constant battles to save our wonderful historic farmstead which now is probably just going to disintegrate. 

A Historic House in Florida

And I am still fighting for it when I can, but I don’t have much leverage now. I thought well this is mouse city here, there is not going to be much here to preserve. But I certainly found out I was wrong. I told Fred, “If we do this and if we can find one, I want a historic house.” And I could never have that in New Jersey because it would be too much work. It would be too old and need too much care. But he decided that here where the historic houses were younger, he was all right with that. So that’s how we – we found several candidates, but this was the one we liked the best.

Did you have a realtor or how did you find the house?

I had a real estate agent and I looked on my own also. And Fred also made a compromise there. There weren’t historic houses really. There were very few and nothing that was available near his work which was down south. But he was willing to commute, very good of him. And he spent a lot of time working on this house, which he was very handy, He could do almost anything….

Was it a dream come true for you to have the designation for your house?

Yes. Well, it wasn’t exactly a dream come true. It was just my desire, you know, I’m 92. I’m not going to last much longer and I know that the National Register Historic District will not protect my house. And that the best I could do for protection was to get it landmarked. And so, and get it fixed up. I mean other people have done and would do – tear off those balconies.

And you have worked to have other areas documented as far as the historic value in College Park… You’ve researched for the Historic District for the National Register of Historic Places for Lake Ivanhoe and Rosemere and Lake Adair, Concord, the historic districts. Then you also are credited with adding the Howard Atha House on Princeton (1101 W. Princeton St.), the Thomas Picton Wicklow Sr. House (701 Driver Ave.), the Kerouac House (1418 Clouser Ave.), to the National Register. 

I worked on all of those. Yes.

And you worked on writing the historical notes for many of the College Park homes in the area. We’ve had those archived online. And you organized the first College Park Home Tour, right?

Well, yeah, I did. The Historical Committee was meeting in people’s homes and learning the history of people’s homes that we met in. We were lining up our schedule, and we learned that two of the houses in Dubsdread, the owners were going to sell and we weren’t going to be able to get those done on our monthly schedule. And so, the idea was, why not have a Dubsdread Tour? And then those houses will be on the tour. And I did, with Jodi’s help [Jodi Rubin], I organized; she had just joined then as I remember.

When did you become acquainted with Sam Stolz, the architect, artist, and craftsman? 

Next door to me when we moved in the house that was designed and built for the same family as the Whitfield houses. The Bettes, the second owner family, had two daughters living in town. And through them I met their older daughter, Beth, who lived in an historic bungalow, but was neighbors to Sam Stolz’s houses and had investigated them to some extant and showed me which houses they were. She was good friends with the owner of one of them so she took me to tour the inside. And that’s how I learned about it.

Sam Stolz Houses in Plymouth

And then through the Historical Committee, I met Bob Jones, who was a great enthusiast for preserving houses and knew about Sam Stoltz houses in Mount Plymouth. He guided me there. And then Alana Brenner whose name you might remember… She was City Clerk for a period, a lawyer and her parents bought one of the Sam Stoltz houses in Mount Plymouth. Alana was very active in the Historical Committee.

Was that when you decided to write your book? We have your book in the archival collection, the Florida Collection of the Orlando Public Library. The book that you wrote on Sam Stoltz. [Sam Stoltz, artist and builder, 1876-1952 by Grace Hagedorn.]

Yeah, because I could see that the Sam Stoltz houses were going – either being demolished or disfigured. And I thought it would help but it probably doesn’t help, you know.

Well, you’ve done a lot that has helped. And so much so that you were awarded the first Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation Award by Orange Preservation Trust for your accomplishments in honoring and preserving the history in Central Florida. So congratulations on that award!

Thank you.

Mayor Buddy Dyer and Commissioner Robert Stuart proclaimed April 29, 2018, Grace A. Hagedorn Day in recognition of your contributions to historic preservation. What was that day like for you when you got the news?

Well, I was honored and surprised.

The community thanks you and we’re so appreciative of all that you’ve accomplished. Now you also have a grant the Michael Welborn / Grace Hagedorn Grant. I understand that grant goes to different schools in recognition of the work they’re doing.

You know, I didn’t realize my name was on it. It started in honor of Michael.

Well your name is on it, so congratulations on that as well.

Do you have recommendations for the community now as far as historic preservation? In the future, things that you would like to see or certain projects that you’re currently concerned about?

Well right now, there are plans that you may have read about for changing the Church Street Station building. And they sound pretty drastic. I mean that, for the community that is so important in Orlando’s history. I just, I’ve written a letter. I hope that other people will right letters urging that the Historic Preservation Board not approve these plans.

And everywhere, I mean, you can see the vacant lot over there where there was a 1926 house. And of course this is a National Register Historic District. But I had no idea that this would happen until I heard the noise. I couldn’t even find a permit there, but I’m sure they must of had one. But the National Register for non-business oriented, just for private homes, is really protection wise mostly useless and houses are going down all the time in College Park. A lot of my, the survey work that I participated in is really outdated now because so many things have been torn down. And I don’t know what we can do.

Well we’re very thankful for all the survey work that you’ve done and all of the historical research that you’ve done. And you have accomplished a lot in writing the letters. I understand you have a journalist background, that certainly helped a lot in the letters that you’ve written that have been published in The Orlando Sentinel over the years and getting a lot of work done and articles that you’ve written. 

So we are very thankful to you for coming to this area and the legacy that you have created in a fairly short time. Because you came to this area in 1985 is that right?

That’s right.

And all that you have been able to accomplish in that time. We are with deep gratitude and obviously from our leaders as well as from the citizens and your neighbors and people in the community. So thank you so much for all that you’ve done for us. For preserving this beautiful home and for the contributions that you’ve made in recognition of other people’s homes and properties. Thank you so much, Grace.

Thank you, Jane.

Interview:  Grace A. Hagedorn

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  August 17, 2022

Place:  The Hagedorn home. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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