Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, Ocala

Image of Harry's Seafood Bar & Grille

Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille in the Marion Block Building “On The Square,” downtown Ocala. The National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union met upstairs in December, 1890, and issued The Ocala Demands.

Half an hour north of Fruitland Park on U.S. 27, Ocala is steeped in historical significance, though most of the evidence is covered over now. People were living well in the Ocala area when the Egyptians were building the pyramids.

Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille is worth a visit just to see the building it occupies.

When the so-called Marion Block building went up in 1885 it was the tallest building south of Jacksonville. The Ocala Opera House occupied the second floor.

In December, 1890, the Marion Block Building hosted a mass meeting of farmers from all across the country. Ocala was about the size of Fruitland Park today—less than 5,000 people. More than 100 farmers attended, and they brought their wives and children.

Local hotels—built to accommodate homesteaders, traveling salesmen and prospective buyers of farmland in the region—were crammed to capacity. Many local families opened their homes to the overflow.

Four main groups participated—The National Farmer’s Alliance of mostly northern farmers, the Southern Farmers Alliance of mostly white farmers, the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union, of mostly southern farmers, and the Farmers Beneficial Association, a trade group that helped support farm prices, insure against crop loss and make farm loans.

Under the banner of the National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union, the conference hammered out what amounted to a political platform called The Ocala Demands. You can find parallels to most of their talking points and all of their attitude in the various platforms advocated by most of today’s tea party affiliates.

In 1890 America was an agrarian society in the midst of an farming boom. Since the Civil War Americans had added 421 million acres of new farmland—doubling the nation’s food-producing fields and tripling the number of farm workers. Most Americans were farmers or farm laborers.

Industrial growth was already outpacing agricultural expansion, but fast-growing northern cities with their hungry factory workers created even more demand for farm produce—if farmers could get their produce to the cities.

Enter the railroads.

With enormous capital investments required and rights-of-way across vast stretches and multiple jurisdictions, it seems almost inevitable that greedy tycoons and corrupt government officials would conspire to leave taxpayers—mostly farmers—holding the bag.

That’s how most farmers saw it too. And farmers already had enough challenges—debt payments on their land, seed, feed and farm machinery, fluctuating farm prices and ever-increasing freight charges to get their products to market.

Everyone suffered, but as you might expect the poorest farmers—tenants who owned their equipment and sharecroppers who didn’t—fared the worst. Farmers go into debt to plant their fields, harvest their crops and ship their products to markets. If prices fall, a farmer can sink into a debt spiral with no way out. For many southern farmers, especially poor African American farmers who were freed slaves and the children of former slaves, conditions often amounted to virtual slavery well into the 20th century.

In 1890—the culmination of a growing political movement—the National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union convened on the floors above Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille in Ocala to demand the following from their government:

Text of the Ocala Demands

1: We demand the abolition of national banks.

2: We demand that the government shall establish sub-treasuries or depositories in the several states, which shall loan money direct to the people at a low rate of interest, not to exceed two per cent per annum, on non-perishable farm products, and also upon real estate, with proper limitations upon the quantity of land and amount of money.

3: We demand that the amount of the circulating medium be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.

4: We demand that Congress shall pass such laws as will effectually prevent the dealing in futures of all agricultural and mechanical productions; providing a stringent system of procedure in trials that will secure the prompt conviction, and imposing such penalties as shall secure the most perfect compliance with the law.

5: We condemn the silver bill recently passed by Congress, and demand in lieu thereof the free and unlimited coinage of silver.

6: We demand the passage of laws prohibiting alien ownership of land, and that Congress take prompt action to devise some plan to obtain all lands now owned by aliens and foreign syndicates; and that all lands now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of such as is actually used and needed by them be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.

7: Believing in the doctrine of equal rights to all and special privileges to none, we demand –

a: That our national legislation shall be so framed in the future as not to build up one industry at the expense of another.

b: We further demand a removal of the existing heavy tariff tax from the necessities of life, that the poor of our land must

c: We further demand a just and equitable system of graduated tax on incomes.

d: We believe that the money of the county should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we demand that all national and state revenues shall be limited to the necessary expenses of the government economically and honestly administered.

e: We demand the most rigid, honest and just state and national government control and supervision of the means of public communication and transportation, and if this control and supervision does not remove the abuse now existing, we demand the government ownership of such means of communication and transportation.

f: We demand that the Congress of the United States submit an amendment to the Constitution providing for the election of United States Senators by direct vote of the people of each state.

If history bores you, the food, prices, service, atmosphere and interior decor at Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille are all worth the trip. Plan to spend $35-$60 for dinner and libations.

 

 

 

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