Builders of America’s 19th century Florida Paradise arrived from nearly every corner of the world. Amazing dreamers and doers, these pioneers selected land locations in a wide swath of a Citrus Belt that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. A courageous bunch of guys and gals, they came to Florida from parts of every modern day State as well.
All 50 States played a role in founding central Florida, and CitrusLAND is paying tribute to the remarkable individuals from around the U. S. each Sunday throughout the summer, doing so in the order States were admitted to our Union of States. This week our spotlight shines on Texas, State #28, admitted December 29, 1845; Iowa, State # 29, admitted December 28, 1846; and Wisconsin, State #30 admitted on May 29, 1848.
Florida and Texas were each admitted to the United States in 1845. Both selected a Mockingbird as their State bird. And commonalities didn’t end there!
At the corner of Main & Central Avenue in the Village of Orlando, in the year 1857, a legendary central Florida pioneer got into deep trouble, and went into hiding in faraway Texas. Around the very same time, a malaria scare in West Orange County caused a family to pack their bags and head to Texas as well.
Aaron Jernigan was indicted for murdering militiaman William H. WRIGHT at the corner of Main & Central, and soon after abandoned the big plans he had for Orange County. One of the first homesteaders of remote Fort Gatlin, by 1857 Jernigan had become the most influential person in all of South Orange County. He had opened a post office in 1850, stores along the First Road to Orlando in 1851, and within a few years built a real estate empire extending from Mellonville to Kissimmee City. He gave it all up to go into hiding, for two decades, along the Red River in Fannin County, Texas.
Edward Murray HUDSON, fearing malaria was lurking amidst his hammock lands on Lake Apopka, sold the family’s 2,300 Orange County acres in 1859. Having lost his wife Nancy over the summer of 1858, and fearing for his three children, he departed an area that is today WINTER GARDEN, and fled to Texas. But in October, 1861, at age 39, after enlisting in the Civil War, Edward Hudson died of pneumonia.
Another legendary central Floridian and Orange County mystery man is “Benjamin F. CALDWELL.” Historians have long told of Caldwell donating land for courthouse, yet little else was ever known of the stranger who made Orlando the seat of government of Orange County. My book, CitrusLAND: Curse of Florida’s Paradise, first brought closure to an age-old mystery. Having lived in West Orange for less than a year, Caldwell took his family to Cass County, Texas. He too enlisted in the Civil War, and he too died in the war, at age 30, of a gunshot wound inflicted during a friendly-fire incident.
The road to Texas traveled both ways. Ouachita Pushmataha Preston, a resident of Texas and member of the State’s 1st Calvary during the Civil War, came with his brother John Preston to Fort Gatlin in the closing days of the 1860s. Ouachita homesteaded alongside Lake Jenny Jewel, a quaint little lake he named for his wife, Jennie, who he said was Jewel. Jennie (Pitts) Preston was the sister of the wife of William Mayer Randolph.
“I came here on crutches, feeble with rheumatism,” Cornelius CLAFLIN was quoted in Burlington Hawk Eye & Telegraph newspaper of January, 1883. He was explaining why he left IOWA, the 29th State to join our Union, to relocate to central Florida. “I had not slept over 20 minutes at a time for 2 years. I can now sleep with comfort and natural rest.” Formerly of the town of Morning Sun, Iowa, Claflin opened the Palmetto Hotel at Orlando, on land just east of where the old railroad depot stands today.
‘EUREKA,’ was the headline of the Burlington full page newspaper article, proclaiming: “Orange County in Southern Florida, ‘Tis summer always; there’s fruits, health and wealth.” The Hawkeye & Telegraph also mentioned Louis HEEB of Dubuque, saying he too relocated to Central Florida for health reasons. After only one visit, he was quoted as saying, his health improved. HEEB too stayed and opened a business at Orlando.
CHULUOTA town founder Robert A. MILLS had also been interviewed by the Hawk Eye newspaper: “For years an agent for the American Express Company in Sioux City,” said the article, Mills, by 1883, had become a partner in a central Florida real estate firm. Mills treated the Iowa journalist, “to a long ride in the country around Orlando,” telling the reporter that he “thinks his northern friends should come and share in his prosperity and enjoy the salubrious climate”. (A later write-up about Mill’s town of Chuluota, on Mills Lake, said the name was Indian, meaning ‘Beautiful View’.
Wachusett Hotel, Tangerine, Florida
Dudley W. ADAMS, a founder of TANGERINE, northwest of Apopka, came from Iowa in 1882. Among the earliest merchants in Allamakee, Iowa, and President in 1877 of a newly organized Iowa railroad, Dudley Adams changed professions, becoming a horticulturalist by planting 3,000 citrus trees at his new town of Tangerine. One year later, in October 1883, Adams opened WACHUSETT Hotel. Dudley Avenue was one of the first streets in Tangerine.
James INGRAHAM, Mr. Railroad to central Floridians, was born November 18, 1850 near where, two years later, his birthplace would be known as Racine, Wisconsin, part of the 30th State to join our Union of States.
The Ingraham’s relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, and there James met Maria, his bride-to-be. The couple married in 1872. Maria Ingraham partnered in 1875 with Rosalie Draper, the wife of a Missouri railroad executive, to acquire 80 Orange County acres. The parcel these two Missouri ladies purchased was south of the new town of Sanford, and it was that land deal which brought James Ingraham to central Florida.
For a brief stint James Ingraham worked for Henry Sanford as land agent, but realized he had come to the right place at the right time. He attended a February 1880 meeting that was to become historic, for one party transferred their State Franchise to construct a railroad from Lake Monroe to Orlando. By January 1881, James E. Ingraham was President of South Florida Railroad Company, the start of a life-long career as a railroad executive.
James Ingraham worked alongside such railroad legends as Henry Plant and Henry Flagler. From St. Augustine, where he served a term as Mayor, to Miami and all points between, the Ingraham influence in a developing Florida is visible to this day.
Henry NEHRLING, born 1853 at Howards Grove in Sheboygan County WI, was a son of German immigrants. He was also a nature lover from birth. Nehrling purchased land in 1883 at the town of GOTHA, where the celebrated horticulturist established a world renowned gardens visited by tourists to this day.
Caladiums under roof at Henry Nehrling's Gotha Gardens
John M. CHENEY was born at Milwaukee, WI in 1859, and relocated to Orlando in 1885, where he established a law practice. Attorney Cheney partnered in infrastructure improvements such as Orlando Water Works, Orlando Electric Light, and was a staunch promoter for new improved roads. State Highway 50 east from Orlando is also known as Cheney Highway as a memorial to the man from Wisconsin.
Next week: California, Minnesota & Oregon: