832 8th Ave S 33701 (Roser Park)

Then and Now — 1925 & 2022 — 832 8th Ave So. (Roser Park)

From 1925: “One of the nicest homes in Roser Park – This picture shows the abundant shade a shrubbery. This beautiful big home has 5 bedrooms, two bathrooms, a capacity garage. The lot is 50 X 100. This place is a buy at $25,000.”

This house was built by John Harold Sommers in 1924 for his new bride, Rheba Crawford. Theirs was an interesting relationship….but let’s start at the beginning.

John Harold Sommers, who went by Harold, was born on February 5, 1892, in Chicago. He was an only child. In 1909, when Harold was 17, he was playing drums in a local band when his eye met Ms. Constantine Hill, also 17. Here is an interesting June 1909 Chicago newspaper account of what transpired.

Miss Constance Hill and Harold Sommers, both 17 years old, eloped to Hammond Indiana yesterday after securing a duplicate marriage license in Chicago to keep the parents on a false trail while the young couple married. Parents of both the bride and groom, it is said, eloped and married at the age of 17, and so they were just fulfilling a family tradition. When C.F. Sommers, father of the bridegroom, head teller of the Continental National Bank, heard of the marriage, he laughed. “Why, they are both High School kids” he said. “They couldn’t get married if they wanted to. I saw the announcement of the license, but my son assures me that it is simply a joke the boys played on him.” “Father thinks it’s a joke, but the joke is on him. We will leave Monday for Umatilla, Oregon, and will make our own home without assistance.” said Harold Sommers. For some time young Sommers has been playing drums in small theaters and has refused to enter the business life mapped out by his father. Ten months ago, while playing a performance he glanced from his music and looked onto the face of pretty Constantine Hill. He stopped playing for an instant and faltered through the rest of the program. After the performance he inquired her name and soon sough an introduction. The love which he had felt that first night was soon reciprocated and for months the young people have been preparing for the elopement. Mr. Sommers Sr., who is an official and stockholder in the Continental National Bank, refused late last night, after being shown proof of the marriage of his son, to believe the news, He said: “I believe that the girl and her mother are the ones who have been fooled and not I, I cannot but believe that my son has told me the truth, I cannot say whether or not I would allow him to go west if he is married. I hate to even consider it. The marriage would be annulled. The boy is too young.”

Well, Harold and Constance had eloped, and the two 17-year-olds were married and moved to Oregon as planned. However, by 1918 the couple had divorced. In 1912 Harold had come down with rheumatoid arthritis and was walking with crutches. On Harold’s 1917 WWI draft card he is listed as unfit for duty due to his medical condition. It was in 1918 that Harold moved to St. Pete in hopes of the climate helping with his arthritis. Harold took a job with the St. Pete Times as an advertisement writer and progressed to writing special interest stories for the paper. He also ran his own magazine called the “Tourist News Magazine” in 1920 and made quite a success of it.

Rheba Crawford

Enter the “Angel of Broadway”. Rheba Crawford. Rheba was the daughter of a high-ranking Salvation Army leader in New York and followed in his foot-steps. Rheba, born Irene Rebecca Crawford in 1898, had become a Captain in the Salvation Army and was peaching on the street corners in New York. She gained national renown when in 1922 the New York police arrested her for causing a traffic jam on Broadway and refusing to leave the streets. The papers crowned her “The Angel of Broadway”. Rheba had come to St. Petersburg in 1919 and taken the leadership post here with the Salvation Army replacing Captain Knox. She led tent revivals at the corner of 5th Street and 1st Ave. North. It was at this time that Rheba first met Harold. Rheba would occasionally write articles for the papers about her mission and the Salvation Army movement. It was on one of these occasions at the paper that she struck up an acquaintance with Harold Sommers. The two continued on their respective career paths until they decided to marry and on March 19, 1924, they tied the knot while in Jacksonville. Following their honeymoon, they returned to St. Pete and had this featured house built in Roser Park.

From the very start of the marriage Rheba was unhappy. She wasn’t attuned with the role of housewife and preferred preaching over playing bridge and attending garden parties. She tried hard to fit in to the role of domestic life, but it soon was taking its toll on her health. In 1928 Rheba told Harold she was leaving for California to take up preaching and that she had no intention of returning. Harold filed a court case against Rheba for divorce due to abandonment, which Rheba had not contested and in 1930 the court ruled in Harold’s favor, granting him a divorce.

Harold Sommers was married two more times after his divorce and died on September 12, 1952, at age 60. He is buried at Royal Palm South Cemetery. Rheba, also married twice more, died in California on January 7, 1966, at age 67 following a meningitis attack.

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