This sign caught my eye the other day as I drove along Tamiami Trail (US 41) through the greater Port Charlotte metro area over on the west side of Florida.I spent my career dealing with professional photographers all over the world so I knew the Blade was the daily paper in Toledo and not a sharpened piece of metal in the town of Toledo, Spain. (Digging even deeper, I can also recall that the Blade was one of the hundreds of papers in the Midwest I sent resumes to in my tough journalism job hunt in the early 1970’s)
And I knew the west coast of Florida has been heavily settled by retires from the Midwest (as opposed to the east coast of the state, where the migrating population comes traditionally from the Northeast.) So an Ohio impact on the nomenclature wasn’t surprising.
I was curious, though, about how it happened. Following my motto of Why Do My Own Research When I Can Find Someone Who’s Already Done It, I tripped over one account of it all by editorial writer Lindsey Williams.
One has to delve into ancient Florida history. Go back all the way to the 1950’s. That was when land was being gobbled up, drained, surveyed and divided into small lots all over the state to sell to Northerners. A company called General Development Corporation was in full charge of tens of thousands of acres of prime real estate along Tamiami Trail and they touted lots for sale heavily in Midwestern newspapers, with the Toledo Blade getting the lion’s share of the advertising dollars. (Explains the heavy influx of Ohioans into that area of the state)
At the same time, all those streets being plotted out needed names. ‘Easy Street’ was taken quickly of course (I saw that sign too, but traffic was too heavy for me to stop for a photo). As all the likely candidates (think plants, animals, places, etc) were being used and the need for more names continued, General Development encouraged its employees to make suggestions.
One man, Thomas A. Ferris, who was an executive of one of the companies General Development used to be and who went on to become a General Development director, pushed hard for the name Toledo Blade for a long winding street that ran through two counties. He had also lobbied earlier for the company to spend a lot of advertising money with the Blade.
And Toledo Blade Boulevard came into being. Who was Tomas A. Ferris? At one point in his life he was a reporter for the Toledo Blade. The Lindsey Williams account of all this has him beginning his “successful career” there at the paper.
But, as with all tales involving reporters, there is an unvarnished version. This one was penned by Associated Press writer Ben Funk and appeared in the February 15, 1959, issue of The Miami News under the headline, “Publicist Preys on Vanity.”
In this account, Ferris started his career as a hand on seagoing freighters and then moved on to the Newark Ledger, Toledo Blade and the Associated Press, before hooking up with a publicity firm in Miami Beach. He soon opened his own firm, made enough to retire, lost his money in lousy investments, bounced back, then fell again, ended up jobless in Pompano Beach, FL, drove a cement truck for a while and then landed a job at a small development company called Mackle Brothers in Miami. Sounds like a reporter to me.
Mackle Brothers grew fast and became General Development Corporation, and Ferris’s publicity skills blossomed, according to Funk in the Miami News article. In it, he describes Ferris as a publicity genius ‘whose wise counsel can be worth millions to his employer.’
He says Ferris came up with a scheme to send letters to newspaper publishers, editors, columnists and reporters, advising them that a street in Port Charlotte was going to be named after them.
Soon there was a rash of stories in papers all over the country praising Port Charlotte. As one editor explained: “If you think I am going to say that a street named after me is not in a desirable place, you’re crazy.”
As Funk put it: “It was the kind of publicity windfall every business concern dreams about but rarely gets—unless it happens to have a public relations man with the ingenuity and know-how of one Thomas Addis Ferris.”
Well done Mr. Ferris.