Florida house circa 1870

Thursby House in Blue Spring State Park, near Orange City, Florida

Florida settlers in what became Volusia County, arriving in 1872, brought a few family treasures from home in the north, for example, Connecticut. Some had worked as ship-builders or farmers, so they knew how to do most of the work to build a new house in Florida.

These settlers worked through the steps of the Engineering design process to figure out what was the best house design and how to build it. Between the hurricane season and the cold winter nights, they needed to work quickly.

A practical Florida house in 1872
Florida settles came up with some designs that suited their new surroundings. They used materials they had available. They adapted their house plans to be suitable for the Florida climate. Explore their options and determine who they made their choices. Each question corresponds to a step in the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process].

  • Ask (What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem)
    Build a house using materials that can be gathered locally. Deal with the special needs unique to Florida – hot in summer, rain, hurricanes are common, cold in winter – often near freezing for several days each year. There are lots of trees – type and other materials are available. Some items needed for construction can be made, and other items have to be shipped from Sears & Roebuck.
    Q: What are the specific requirements for a Florida house? How is this different from house for colder northern states? What materials are available locally? Can building materials be shipped to Florida from elsewhere? How expensive would that be? Can some items be manufactured in or near Florida? By looking at the actual house, what problems does it solve?
  • Imagine (So what? Imagine, brainstorm, explore)
    similar solutions, possible improvements, materials, methods, new ideas. Houses at the time in other parts of the country were mostly brick. Need to make the house cooler in summer, and prepare for heavy rain and hurricanes. The settlers make whatever is necessary, practical, possible, and do without items that can’t be made.
    Q: What are some ideas for designing a house the meets the special needs for buildings in Florida at this period in history? What are some other design elements that could have been used in the mid 1800s? Are there better options with today’s materials and technologies?
  • Plan (Now what? Plan, design)
    Try out some ideas. Work out what it takes to build, any special tools, prototype, scale model, mathematical model, CAD. Build scale model. Build just one part (“sub-system”) for demonstration
    Q: Once the general design was decided, how would you build the structure? What has to be done first? Are there parts that can be built ahead if there is some free time or while you are waiting for parts or other pieces to be completed?
  • Create (Do it. Create, try it out)
    Build the final design, and move in.
    Q: What surprises can come up while the house is being built? How can these be resolved?
  • Improve (If this then what? Improve, make it better)
    Almost no solution is “perfect” as there are always things that could be better. Sometimes good enough will have to do.
    Q: What would you do differently next time? What would you need to make improvements? Materials? Skills? Tools? Time? Money? What additional features are necessary or would be nice to have?

Engineering vocabulary, concepts

  • HVAC, water storage, construction,

Show and Tell
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • Describe the features of the Thursby House and how it solves the problems of living in Florida in the 1800s.
  • Create a model of a 1800s Florida house

Learn more…

Engineering in Social Studies

Engineering – exploring the designed world – the application of math, science and the engineering design process to innovative problem solutions

Florida history

  • settlers – tools, housing, water transportation, railroad, shipping – Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS)
  • agriculture – citrus plantations, farming, cattle, irrigation, sugar mill
  • Indians – housing, tools, crafts
  • hurricanes – damage to man-made structures, damage avoidance / prevention
  • theme parks – rides, attractions
  • Thomas Edison – phonograph, motion picture camera, 1,000 other inventions
  • NASA
  • St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, Ponce Inlet lighthouse – construction, lenses, light source
  • forts, Castillo de San Marcos – construction, fortifications, guns, canons
  • Army Corps of Engineers – St. Johns River, Inter Coastal Waterway, bridges