Collection of Betsy Pheil
A History of Citrus County, Florida
by Hampton Dunn, 1976
History of Citrus County
A biographical sketch relates that small as his wages were at the beginning, Pheil managed to save a little and buy a few lots, mostly on credit. He built a house on these lots and sold them at a profit. Before many years passed he purchased the sawmill and, shortly after, he plunged, buying the St. Petersburg Novelty Works on credit. He never missed a payment and 13 years later he sold the firm for $40,000.
Before St. Petersburg's Central Avenue was paved with pebble phosphate in 1897, Pheil took it upon himself to start improvements. He hauled sawdust from his mill and distributed it over the deep sand, filling the ruts. The famous "sawdust trail" was the result. Pheil helped to organize the first brass band in St. Petersburg and he played the tuba in it for a number of years. He prospered in real estate dealings and he constructed an 11-story skyscraper office building and called it the Pheil Building.
Pheil took an active interest in St. Petersburg politics and was an ardent advocate of municipal ownership of all public utilities. He was elected to the City Council in 1904 and was re-elected in 1906. He was elected Mayor of St. Petersburg in 1912 and served until August, 1913, when Commissioners took office under a new charter.
Pheil died on Nov. 1, 1922, in St. Petersburg, after a long illness. He was survived by his widow and four children, Abram L., Bertha (Mrs. Walter Pearson Bobbitt), Harvey W. Pheil and Clarence E. Pheil. In addition, he is survived by two brothers, J. C. of Inverness and David Elmer of Cordele, Ga.
Now, about that airboat journey on New Year's Day. The start of commercial aviation began that day, only 10 years after the Wright brothers had proved that their fragile aircraft really could fly.
Hundreds of residents and Winter visitors gathered at the St. Petersburg waterfront for the exciting takeoff. Since the small biplane had room for only one passenger, the bidding was brisk for the honor of being the first fare-paying rider. Ex-Mayor Pheil outshouted Board of Trade Secretary L. A. Whitney, Noel A. Mitchell, and others, and for $400 the coveted ticket went to the former Inverness man.
Pheil and Jannus zoomed off into the wild blue yonder, as 3,000 onlookers cheered. They flew at 50 feet most of the way and just 23 minutes later set down on the Hillsborough River in Tampa after the 20-mile hop. "Please unbutton my coat" were the first words of Pheil after he stepped out of the cramped plane and stretched his legs. He told interviewers at the time the flight caused him no nervous tension, but the ex-mayor rushed to the nearest telephone to let his folks back home know he had arrived safely.
|Relatives of first airline
passenger fete 10-billionth
by Betty Jean Miller
Democrat Betsy Pheil, thinks House Speaker Newt Gingrich is "a perfect politician, knew my name, very interesting, a very good speaker and able to ad lib so well you would hardly notice he was ad libbing." She says he's neither as tall nor as heavy as he appears on television and in print, and "very personable." She vowed she was going to "stand on his foot until he gave more money to PBS," but she must have lost her nerve.
Observant as she is, Ms. Pheil noticed Gingrich has "a serious crease in his left ear. Must have slept on it wrong as a baby." On the other hand, maybe somebody just bent his ear.
She and Gingrich met Thursday, along with her cousin Peter Pheil and her twin brother Bill Pheil, and about 15 airline heads, in H 137 ("That's right next to the men's room, which is 136," she says) in the House of Representatives for a celebratory reception honoring the 10-billionth commercial airline passenger. The Pheils' grandfather, Abe Pheil, was the country's first passenger of a scheduled commercial airline, flying from St. Petersburg to Tampa with pilot Tony Jannus in 1914.
The fact that Ms. Pheil was definitely able to hold up her end of the conversation with the airline bigwigs is a tribute to volunteerism. She is a faithful volunteer at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, and was there meeting and greeting and reading all the background at the opening of the Flight One wing at the museum two years ago. So she had met Robert Baker of American Airlines, Herb Kelleher of Southwest and Seth Scofield of USAir before.