BUCKEYES and CitrusLAND’s FIRST AVENUE:
I received an email several days back inquiring about the origin of an unusual First Avenue. The First Avenue in question was located in a rural part of Seminole County, off BUNNELL Road. It’s a very short street, ending after only two blocks at PINE Drive.
“Since any ‘1st Avenue’ would typically be near the downtown area of a town,” the author of the email wrote; “was there a town located there?” I should add that there is NO Second nor Third Avenue anywhere nearby, only this one numbered street, a mysterious First Avenue, a street located far from the nearest metropolitan district.
FIRST Avenue off BUNNELL Road, beneath arrow in above map.
The gentleman inquiring about the mysterious 1st Avenue had recently finished reading my book; CitrusLAND: Altamonte Springs of Florida. He told me my book was; “excellent, and I love how well you did your research.” Well, such kind words were certainly deserving of a response, so now having learned of the lone numbered rural road, and with my curiosity peaked as well, I set out to learn of the origin of 1st Avenue. I knew where to begin my search, and the inquisitive email author had considered the same possibility as well.
A once-upon-a-time town of Forest City was nearby. But founded in 1883, Forest City, today a Ghost Town, was laid out using street names, not numbers. My email author also mentioned that he had purchased another of my books; CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains, but had not yet read it. Ghost Towns will be a helpful reference too, as Exhibit 16 on page 88 shows the actual 1885 Plat of Forest City.
The map included above shows a sliver of old Forest City, the southwest corner, outlined in green. Not shown on this map is the one-time location of the Forest City rail station.
For those knowledgeable of the present day area, Target Department Store occupies land where the Orange Belt Railway once stopped at a “handsome rail depot.” At this location was the intersection of Bay Street and Orange Avenue, (Bay Street is Forest City Road now, whereas Orange Avenue still goes by Orange Avenue today).
First Avenue of today, the subject of this blog, is outside the property platted in 1885 as Forest City. First Avenue is quite a distance, especially in the pre-automobile age, from Forest City’s main downtown intersection of Bay and Orange.
In my very first book, I nicknamed central Florida CitrusLAND because this describes best how a wilderness evolved into the metropolitan area we know and love today. Many of the earliest settlers arrived at central Florida to farm Citrus, but quickly decided they could add to their personal wealth by developing a corner of their LAND as a new town. As a result, 160+ towns came on the scene during the 1880s.
Each new town founder tried to sell small town lots to snowbirds, northerners desiring an escape from harsh winters. Trying, as even First Avenue can attest, was the operative word here, for few who took on the challenge of developing central Florida then were successful.
Peter & Frederika Hoequist of Hamilton County, Ohio were one such example of the earliest families to attempt taming central Florida’s wilderness. The couple bought 160 acres in what was at the time Orange County. (A June 30, 1883 deed was issued to Peter Hogquist). At the time Hoequist bought his property, an established Cleveland Ohio department store owner had already acquired hundreds of adjacent acres, and was in the process of planning his town (Chapter 8 - Buckeye Territory; CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains). [Why the name Forest City? Forest City Racetrack opened in 1850, near Cleveland. For more, see CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains.]
Hoequist sold his land within the year. Harrison L. Donham and William J. Foster bought 120 of the 160 acres, and within a year, Donham bought out Foster.
So, by year-end 1883, Harrison L. & Elizabeth Donham of Hamilton County, Ohio, often misspelled Danham or Denham, owned 120 acres adjacent to, and southwest of, the 600+ acres owned by John G. Hower of Cleveland, Ohio. But this region in 1883 was not easily accessed. The nearest railroad station, said the 1885 Webb’s Historical publication, was “South Florida Railroad, 3 ½ miles east”. 3 ½ miles east via a sand rutted dirt trail!
Hower’s town of Forest City did not get rail service until 1886, but when the train did arrive, track of Orange Belt Railroad crossed diagonally through town. The southbound train departed Forest City, exiting Hower’s land near today’s intersection of Pearl Lake Causeway and Pine Drive. In 1886, this was the intersection of Pearl Lake and Pine Street, the southernmost east-west artery in Hower's town of Forest City. Present day Pine Drive, west of Pearl Lake Causeway, lines up perfectly with a once-upon-a-time Pine Street of Forest City.
Dr. Harrison & Elizabeth Donham, of Orange County, Florida, granted the Orange Belt Railway permission to cross their land. In 1887, Dr. Donham was listed in the Orange Gazetteer as a Physician at Forest City. He was also listed as a citrus grower. Peter Hoequist was listed as the Forest City Blacksmith.
Florida’s Great Freeze of 1895 devastated central Florida landowners. Many settlers up and left, returning to homes up north, or elsewhere to start anew. The Donham’s went back to Hamilton County, Ohio, where Dr. Harrison Lafayette Donham died in 1898. His wife Elizabeth (Watkins) Donham lived in Ohio until her death in 1907.
Would-be Orange County towns failed as the local population fled. Orange County of 1900 actually had fewer residents than in 1890. Property sat idle, property taxes went unpaid, and so during the mid-nineteens, Joseph E. McNeil, of Adams County, Ohio, began buying up thousands of Orange County acres, for mere pennies on the dollar, simply by paying off old unpaid tax bills.
If McNeil sounds familiar, refer back to our map. McNeil Road runs east to west, between Pearl Lake Causeway and Bear Lake Road. Seminole County was formed a few years before McNeil bought his land, and he platted a portion in the new county as McNeil’s Orange Villa, filed with Seminole County in 1917. Each square of the McNeil plat shown below is 640 acres in size. The square at far right, outlined in Orange, (Lot 60), includes pre-Freeze acreage once owned by the Donham’s of Hamilton County, Ohio. A red arrow points to the old route of Orange Belt Railway.
McNeil’s Orange Villa, recorded April, 1917
Land development didn’t get any easier for those who tried to start over in the twentieth century. Florida’s Great Land Bust of 1927-28, the financial market’s collapse of 1929, a Great Depression during the 1930s, and a World War in the 1940s, combined to leave much of central Florida undeveloped. Not until 1952 did the old Donham land show signs of renewed life – and then it was under a new name, Lavada Court.
Lavada Court, surveyed 1952, recorded 1955
Recorded in 1955, Lavada Court shows Pine Street rather than Pine Drive as it is today. Oak Street is now Shamrock Lane. 1st Avenue remains 1st Avenue today.
Ohio native Harrison L. Donham owned plenty of land adjacent to Forest City during the 1880s, ample acreage for expanding further westward, possibly planning to a Second Avenue, perhaps even a Third Avenue, had plans for the nearby Orange County town, a city founded by an Ohioan as well, worked out.
Little remains to remind us of these early pioneers, courageous men and women who attempted to tame central Florida. We can now, however, look at First Avenue, and to some extent Pine Drive, aka Pine Street, with an entirely new historical perspective.
First Avenues are typically near a downtown area, and yet in Seminole County, two such numbered streets are rural roads. Each are remnants of a ghost towns, Forest City and Sylvan Lake. Both stand as testament of a remarkable 19th century history, and both are featured in CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains.
Visit www.CroninBooks.com for details on my books and much more
CitrusLAND: the amazing story of central Florida
Bibliography available upon request
Bibliography available upon request