The senior Adams walked 90 miles just to pick up a mule
and wagon and start farming.
Alto Adams’ mother was the third wife of his father, who
lost two wives in childbirth. Glendale, the little farming
community near where his family settled, had a cotton gin, a
turpentine still and a sawmill. The family lived in a log cabin,
and Adams, along with his other siblings, had to grind sugar
cane and slaughter hogs to eat.
But the boy loved going to his little country school, which
he attended in months-long spurts when he was not needed
to work. Adams was the first of his family to attend the University
of Florida, and it was a responsibility he approached
with gravity. He was so no-nonsense that the university’s
yearbook called him “the most serious man on campus.”
Adams wrote that it was an apt summation of his college
years. “I not only had no time for social life, I also had no
money for social activity,” he wrote. He spent much of his
time studying in order to “overcome a sketchy academic
background” and had to work to “supplement my meager
funds.” He was, he wrote, a longtime teetotaler, thanks to
an early experience with scuppernong wine. He had plenty
of opportunity to see the effects of alcoholism and drunkenness
while he was growing up, and he vowed not to indulge
himself. It was only later in life that he drank moderately.
When Adams went on to the University of Florida College
of Law, where he graduated in 1921, he was not certain of
his future success. “If an election had been held among the
faculty and students to choose the least likely to succeed, I
would have won unanimously,” Adams wrote.
SETTING UP PRACTICE
Once he graduated, he set up his first legal practice in
Pensacola. In those days, it was not necessary to have a law
degree to practice law and, in fact, Adams wrote, few lawyers
did. His practice didn’t succeed as he had hoped so
he headed south to look at Vero, Okeechobee and Stuart as
potential towns for a fledgling practice. He ended up choosing
“I thought Fort Pierce was a better place because it had a
courthouse, and I could see also that it had agriculture,” he
wrote. “Stuart at that time was in Palm Beach County and
Vero Beach was in Saint Lucie County. Since Fort Pierce was
a county seat it had the only courthouse among these three
towns, and Okeechobee seemed too small.”
Adams rented an office in the Fort Pierce Bank building for
$10 a month, bought office furniture on credit and purchased
a used typewriter. He was hoping to make $100 a month, but
by the end of his first year in Fort Pierce, Adams had made
$9,000, a sum beyond his wildest dreams. In fact, it turned
out to be his lowest income year as a practicing attorney.
It was not that Adams took on the most lucrative cases.
Among his clients were African-Americans, and representing
them was a decision that might have put his life and livelihood
in danger, particularly in those pre-civil rights days.
Throughout his long career, Adams wore many hats. Most notably, he turned to his roots as a farm boy and began raising cattle and acquiring Florida backwoods
for the Adams Ranch. This photo, circa 1937-1940, shows Adams on horseback cracking his whip.