Sunday, September 3, 2017

FORT GATLIN and an ORLANDO Deaconess

Miss Parkhill, Deaconess at Cathedral School for Girls, an Orlando preparatory school located at the southeast corner of Orange Avenue & Jefferson Street, mailed off a letter of introduction to Alexander T. Jones at Winchester, VA. In the letter dated May 9, 1916, the 75 year old schoolmistress opened with, “To my dear cousin,” and then proceeded to explain their family connection.

The Manor House, Residence of W. S. Jones, Vaucluse, VA.

The daughter of John Parkhill and Lucy Beverly Randolph, the deaconess was born Harriet Randolph Parkhill at Tallahassee, Florida on April 5, 1841. Harriet told Alexander Jones that they shared an amazing family lineage, a history documented in letters written by his very own grandmother, Ann Cary (Randolph) Jones.

On the 23rd of May, 1916, Alexander Jones replied to Harriet, and as a result of their exchange of letters, a prior generation’s correspondence between Virginia and Florida cousins became part of the Handley Regional Library System of Winchester, VA.

Ann Cary Randolph Jones”, explains the library’s introduction; “wrote long, loving letters, replete with family and local news. Many of those sent to her Florida cousins were saved. The “Harriet” addressed in some of the letters – Harriet Parkhill – eventually sent them back to Winchester, to her cousin, Mrs. Jones’s grandson, Alexander Tidball Jones.”

A complex Randolph family tree

Lucy Beverley Randolph Parkhill, mother of Harriet, was the sister of the first wife of Francis Wayles Eppes, grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. Eppes, in 1871, built a residence on a central Florida lake that he had personally named, Lake Pineloch. The family lineage of Ann Cary Randolph Jones is traced through central Florida pioneer, William Mayer Randolph. William was a prominent 1870s figure in a settlement surrounding the 1838 Fortress Gatlin. Francis Eppes began building his home while the land upon which it was built was still deeded to William M. Randolph.

Ann never relocated to Florida, and yet she is linked to Orange County history through her brother’s son, William M. Randolph. Married to William Strother Jones II, the couple lived in Frederick County, Virginia, at a place known as “Vaucluse”.

Vaucluse Spring, Virginia on the Homestead of W. S. Jones

An esteemed New Orleans Attorney, William M. Randolph and wife Mary E. Pitts were heavily invested in central Florida property. They built the first free standing hotel south of Lake Monroe. Family members including Randolph, Preston, Magruder, Pitts, Eppes and Harney populated a large area around Fort Gatlin.

Although his business interests were at New Orleans and Florida, William M. Randolph chose to live out his final days, as his death notice reveals, “At Vaucluse,” Frederick County, Virginia, after a long and painful illness.”

William M. Randolph’s obituary states the man died at the home of a relative, “W. S. Jones, and that after his death, Randolph’s body was transported to Florida, for burial at Fort Gatlin.

Harriet Parkhill did far more than preserve a family’s history by returning letters to her cousin in Virginia. Thanks to Harriet Randolph Parkhill, a long chapter in the story of Fort Gatlin was likewise preserved.

The Vaucluse Legacy is Part One of my four part Beyond Gatlin, a history of South Orange County. 200 plus pages, 70 plus Exhibits and a detailed bibliography picks up where my, First Road to Orlando left off – at Fort Gatlin.  

The official unveiling of this history is November 9, 2017, the 179th Anniversary of Fort Gatlin. You can reserve, at no cost now, your very own signed and numbered copy, simply by emailing; with a note to reserve a copy. You will be contacted when your copy is ready to be signed and mailed. Anticipated retail price $19 plus tax, and all advance orders are guaranteed that price.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


The Pine Castle - residence of Will Wallace Harney

 A complimentary sneak peek of BEYOND GATLIN, due out November, 2017

Chapter 10: Perils of Pine Castle

One might assume development south of Fort Gatlin began in the town of Pine Castle, home to Will Wallace Harney, son-in-law of the Honorable, William M. Randolph. Although such an assumption seems logical, it wasn’t so.

Arriving in late 1869, Harney built a lakefront home on Lake Conway, personally naming his residence Pine Castle. Over time, a city did eventually grow around his homestead, and even adopted the homestead’s signature name, but personal perils got in the way of Harney himself reaping rewards as a town developer. The actual town of Pine Castle was platted in 1884, and not by Will Wallace Harney.

Arriving at Orange County in late 1869, Will Harney had been one of a family that had endured a long arduous journey south. His 25 year young wife, Mary St. Mayer (Randolph) Harney, eldest daughter of William & Mary E. (Pitts) Randolph, made the challenging move to Florida’s wilderness carrying an infant son, William Randolph Harney, born June 24, 1869, the same year of the family’s relocation to Florida.

After debarking at a ‘raggedy’ Mellonville pier, they still had a rugged trail to trek, 28 miles in all. They saw not the first house nor store for the first 22 miles of that trail. Orlando welcomed them at Mile 22, all four acres of this remote County Seat then still containing the charred ruins of the courthouse, burned to the ground a year earlier. Orange County records were destroyed by an arson’s torch, believed set by those involved in a cattle wrestling case awaiting trial, a trial that was awaiting the next circuit judge to arrive from the port at Mellonville.

Across on the east side of the old forts trail was one of only two stores in Orlando’s tiny village, the last place they could buy goods before journeying south the next six miles. And these next six miles would be even more remote than the 22 already traveled.

A newspaperman, Harney had departed Louisville, Kentucky, a town of 100,000 in 1870, and relocated to Fort Gatlin, deep in the wilderness of Orange County, Florida, at a time when the entire county Orange, all 3,000 square miles, had fewer than 2,200 residents.

Arriving during the final days of 1869, Will Harney’s wife Mary died January 8, 1870. Mary (Randolph) Harney was laid to rest beside the old ruins of Fort Gatlin, on part of the land where William M. Randolph made his homestead. Within months of arriving in a land intended to improve his wife’s health, Will Wallace Harney had become a Widower.

Six weeks after Harney’s wife died, Sheriff David W. Mizell, Jr., on February 21, 1870, was shot and killed in an ambush in south Orange County. The Sheriff’s parents lived across the lake from Will Harney, while one of the accused murderers, John J. Barber, lived south of Harney on Lake Conway. The lifeless body of yet another of the accused, Moses E. Barber, was found in Lake Conway, not far from Harney’s Pine Castle residence. Some said Moses Barber had drowned. Others said no, he had been murdered.

As Harney’s infant son was turning one in June of 1870, Will learned of his father-in-law’s failed attempt at constructing Orange County’s first railroad. The long tiring journey from Mellonville to Harney’s homestead on Lake Conway was to remain long and tiring, hardly a prime location for founding a new town.

One could even make the argument that 1870 Orange County didn’t have a town. Orlando was still a four (4) acre village, occupying land donated to the county in 1857. Would be towns of Apopka, Fort Reid, and Mellonville were places where one could buy goods. Not one of these places had yet filed a town plat. And so for Will Wallace Harney there was no incentive to consider establishing a city, not during his early years as a resident of Orange County.

The hurricane of 1871 brought an entirely new set of problems for the locals, Harney included. Repairing extensive property damage meant little or no time to deal with such frivolous matters as town building. The storm (Chapter 8: Harney’s Hurricane) left behind dead cattle, giant trees uprooted, and many of the crops destroyed.

Throughout the decade of the 1870s settlers had little reason to imagine being town developers. Putting food on the family table continued to be their full time job.

But agents of change were gathering at Orange County, and it’s easy to understand why locals may not have at first noticed. Settlers began to find their way south to Orange County. Veterans of the Civil War came for grants of land, given to retired warriors in lieu of wages. Confederate Veterans came first, followed soon after by a number of Union Veterans.


First Road to Orlando, Second Edition 2015 ended at Fort Gatlin


November, 2017

Tuesday, May 30, 2017



Pine Castle, Orange County, Florida

By Richard Lee Cronin, Author

(Not affiliated with Pine Castle Woman's Club, nor
Pine Castle Historical Society. Author is fully
responsible for the articles content.) 

Photo of Crawford House by Pine Castle Historical Society

Pine Castle Woman’s Club recently rescued a magnificent piece of south Florida history – a one-hundred year old residence now planned to be a History Center. To discover the origins of this structure was not easy, but to assist in researching its past were several helpful clues. A small town home relocated twice during its lifetime, the structure’s story, finally discovered, proves the Woman’s Club could not have selected a better facility to serve as a history center for this remarkable community.

The Crawford House story begins with the very homestead upon which the historic 1870 Pine Castle was built. And while it is a fact a Crawford family had possession of this home for five (5) decades, it’s also true the story of this home would not be complete with mentioning as well its role in the founding of an acclaimed engineering firm, a business that to this day is a vital member of the Pine Castle community.

As mentioned, clues about the house launched my research project: (1) it was the long-time home of a schoolteacher, Essie Crawford Johns; (2) the original address had been 909 Fairlane Avenue; and (3) the house dated to around 1919.

Once I began digging I located two Crawford schoolteachers. Ethel Crawford, born in 1888, lived in Conway and listed her occupation in 1920 as a ‘School Teacher’. A second young lady, S. E. Crawford, was born 1901 in Alabama, and by 1930 was a ‘teacher’ in the Pine Castle area. Having a 50% chance of selecting the correct ‘teacher’ to research, I started off with the wrong Crawford. I’ll return to her in a bit.

The correct Essie Crawford Johns was the 29 year old Miss S. E. Crawford in 1930, a teacher residing with her parents, William E. & Corosia Crawford. A sister, Virginia L., age 19, was also living with her parents. The son, James E. Crawford, had married and was living in Pine Castle as well.

I can assure you this is the Crawford House family for which the home gets its name, but arriving at that conclusion required a lot of convincing on my part. I assume the same will be of you, so allow me to begin.

Census pages seldom included street names, but many did for the year 1930, and this Crawford family was listed as living in Pine Castle on Tyner Road. Okay, so the street name doesn’t jive with clue #2, but a little history about this downtown area can make sense of the name discrepancy in short order.

The original town of Pine Castle, laid out in 1884 by Clement R. Tiner, had a dozen streets, half running north to south, the other half, east to west. The Crawford House did not exist in 1884, and the land upon which it would eventually be built was not part of Tiner’s Pine Castle. Twenty-five (25) years later, the Crawford House was built on land in James G. Tyner’s 1912 Pine Castle addition.  

Orange County Commissioners brought clarity to Pine Castle street names in August, 1955. Every original town street named by Clement in 1884 received a new name. An example is ‘Division Street,’ which was renamed ‘Fairlane Avenue’. Clement had originally laid out ‘Main Street’ to parallel the railroad tracks. You know that road today as Orange Avenue, but during the 1920s, it was going by ‘Dixie Highway’.

Clement Tiner’s Central Avenue ran north to south along his east property line. The same road is known today as Hansel Avenue. Clement Tiner’s Pine Castle was west of the centerline of Central (Hansel) Avenue. The homestead of Will Wallace Harney was east of Central (Hansel) Avenue.

During the summer of 1912, James G. TYNER, nephew of the 1884 town founder, recorded a subdivision described as part of the Will Wallace HARNEY homestead. That same year, August 21, 1912, James G. Tyner sold Lot 10 and 11, two adjoining lots fronting on an “unnamed street.

J. G. TYNER Sub-division, Lots 10 & 11 facing unnamed ‘street’.
(See note left of arrow: unnamed street becomes Fairlane Ave.)

The 1912 buyer of the two lots were Florida natives. Paul MACY, born c 1870, was the son of William H. & Martha J. MACY. Martha J. Macy was proprietor of a Pine Castle Hotel in 1887. Paul’s wife, Alice Caroline PATRICK, born 1872, was the daughter of William Wright PATRICK, one of the earliest of Orange County settlers dating to the 1840s. The Patrick pioneer was buried west of Pine Castle - near the ‘Oak Ridge’.

Harney himself had begun the breakup of his homestead. He sold off several parcels in 1879 and 1880 but without filing a plat. One parcel sold became known later as Lot 9, Harney’s Homestead, and that parcel become property of James G. Tyner in 1912.

It appears the Macy’s did not build on these lots, and in June of 1919, they sold the land to W. E. BISHOP. One year later, Widower Bishop sold the lots to Hugh G. REDDITT. A $2,500.00 selling price, inclusive of a $2,000.00 mortgage dated 1 December, 1919, suggests a home had been built by this time. Clue #3 suggested the home dated to the year 1919.

Even before a home was ever built the land was rich in history. Pioneers Harney, Macy, and Patrick had ties to land surveyed in 1912 by the celebrated county surveyor, John Otto Fries.
William E. & Corosia Crawford relocated from Dothan, Alabama, buying the home from Hugh & Evelyn Redditt, July 16, 1921. The street out front of their residence was not yet named Fairlane. Perhaps it was being referred to as ‘Tyner’s Road’.

The Crawford family bought the home in 1921, and would continue to have ties to this residence until the year 1980.

William E. Crawford together with son James Edward Crawford became involved in trucking, but the father dabbled some in land speculation too. Within a month of buying the family residence, William Crawford bought a rail-siding at the present day junction of Oak Ridge Road and the railroad track. He acquired two lots in Pine Castle, and five lots further south at Sphaler’s upcoming town of Prosper Colony at Taft.

2017 Orange County Property Appraiser of Fairlane Ave

Meanwhile, a schoolteacher in 1930, Miss Essie, more formerly, Siddie Emmaline Crawford, married Earl Johns December 26, 1937. Earl was of another Pine Castle area family with south Orange County roots dating to Post-Civil War days. The Johns family relatives included such names as Keene, Harris and Hansel.

The Crawford House remained in the family long after the 1953 death of William E. Crawford. In 1955, two months before an unnamed street became known as Fairlane, the next owners of Crawford House were married at Orlando, Florida. It was to be a few years though before the new owners signed on.

Born 1929 at Istanbul, Turkey, Mehmet Erdem Ardaman married Orlando native Mary Jo Fishback June 25, 1955. She was a graduate of Orlando High School and had gone on to become a lawyer, graduating from University of Florida in 1952.

As the sun was setting on the 50s, literally, Mehmet & Mary Jo Ardaman acquired, December 31, 1959, a Pine Castle parcel identified as 6015 Randolph St. The land was also identified as being part of Lot 10 of the Will Wallace Harney Homestead.

Much like that of 909 Fairlane, Ardaman’s street address on Randolph no longer exists says the Orange County Property Appraiser office, but for many years, 6015 Randolph was used as the business address of Ardaman & Associates.

The engineering firm now occupies a much large building south of town, but in 1959, Ardaman & Associates was located steps from the Crawford House. The number of steps between these two locations would become fewer over the years.

Earl Jones passed in 1961. Corosia Crawford died in 1968, and with her passing, three Crawford heirs took over the 50 year old family home at 909 Fairlane. As the Crawford family grew smaller over the years, Ardaman & Associates had grown in size and needed to expand. Ardaman bought the Crawford House in December, 1972, signing a mortgage with the Crawford heirs: Widow Essie Johns the schoolteacher; her sister, Virginia L. Caldwell, and their brother, James E. Crawford. The estate of Virginia L. Caldwell signed a satisfaction of mortgage with Ardaman in 1980.

Essie (Crawford) Johns passed in 1973, Virginia in 1979, and by this time Ardaman & Associates appeared ready to move on. Six (6) decades after the first occupant moved into the Crawford House, the home, together with lots 10, 11, 12 and 13, all of J. G. Tyner’s Subdivision, were conveyed to its neighbor, Pine Castle Methodist Church.

A long struggle to save a remarkable historic Pine Castle residence only then began. In fact, Crawford House the museum is not ready to accept visitors yet, although I am certain the Woman’s Club will gladly speak to anyone interested in assisting financially in their excellent cause.

History is best understood when you feel a part of it, a sense certain to welcome visitors to a museum that has been witness to the story of the Pine Castle area.

About that other school teacher.

The first Crawford schoolteacher I came across in the area was Ethel, a 33 year old unmarried gal residing with her parents, George W. & Sarah C. Crawford. George and his family had lived in the Fort Gatlin area since 1873. Sarah, a native of Florida, had been in the area even longer. The father had been a State Senator, the mother was a descendant of the Mizell family. And so this Crawford family has all the makings of a great history story too, but their story must wait, until FALL 2017.

Beyond Gatlin picks up where my 2015, First Road to Orlando book left off. The old forts trail started off as the first road to Gatlin, but then Orlando got in the way!
South Orange County, the land beyond Fort Gatlin, has a remarkable history, a story never really told – not until Beyond Gatlin. The history of South Orange County is coming this FALL!


Reserve your signed, numbered copy today and pay NO money now!

Questions, comments, references and more…


Monday, April 17, 2017


Blog Series: Central Florida Would-Be TITANS
Part 2: Elizabeth of Palm Springs, Seminole County, FL

A Seminole County Ghost Town today, PALM SPRINGS began as a railroad hub in 1888 Orange County, a city developed by Elizabeth McClain Saunders-Massey.

As we passed through Palm Springs,” wrote Amos Root, a passenger on one of six daily trains passing through Elizabeth’s 1895 Palm Springs, “I got just enough of a glimpse to feel I wanted to stop there.” Amos did return, but curious central Floridians might find themselves asking today, “returned to where?”

1890 Orange County Map: (A) Orange Belt Railway from Sanford; (B) Florida Midland Railway from Longwood, now SR 434; (C) Hoosier Springs Grove & Estate; (D) Intersection of I-4 & State Road 434 today; (E) Lake Brantley.

Elizabeth came to Florida in 1887 because of her son’s deteriorating health. Setting out from Toronto, Canada, the Widow Saunders arrived in the widely-promoted land of health, wealth and sunshine, a land I call CitrusLAND. Timing is crucial to appreciate Elizabeth’s legacy, for women of the 19th century were typically confined to the difficult task of homemaking and child rearing. The business world was a male thing. But in 19th century central Florida women, such as Widow Saunders, were breaking with tradition.

A biography of Elizabeth M. Saunders-Massey, as our Palm Springs developer was known in 1915, was included with a collection of biographies of Orange County settlers, and began by stating: “Usually men are the earliest settlers.” Even in 1915 the author understood the significance of her achievements, a lady who lived in the “mansion on the hill-side and orange grove known as the “Hoosier Springs Grove.”

Our story of Elizabeth of CitrusLAND began at a place called Hoosier Springs.

1885 Plat of Hoosier Springs (Partial)

Widow Saunders bought the 161 acre homestead of Ingram & Gertrude Fletcher, closing on her purchase January 28, 1887. The land itself had been sub-divided in 1885 as both a personal residence on the Wekiva River and a town of “Hoosier Springs” on the south side of the planned Florida Midland Railway track. (Hoosier Springs, in the 20th century, became SANLANDO SPRINGS.)

But Hoosier Springs of 1887 had not been a success story. Elizabeth’s deed spells out the town’s lackluster development. Excluded from all 161 acres was a one acre church lot; a 0.87 acre town lot sold to brothers Frank & William Baker; and the standard right-of-way path allowing two railroads to cross over the property. Most all of the town first platted by the Fletcher’s remained unsold and undeveloped.

The mansion on the hill-side and orange grove known as “Hoosier Springs Grove,” as the CitrusLAND home of Elizabeth Saunders was described, had been the winter residence of a one-time prominent banker from Indianapolis, Ingram Fletcher. As his native Indiana was the Hoosier State, hence – Hoosier Springs!

Bordering the less than successful town of Hoosier Springs was yet another tiny village, a much older want-to-be town known as Altamont. First envisioned in 1874 by a New York doctor, Washington Kilmer, this neighboring town was no more a success than Hoosier Springs.

Had Elizabeth looked across her 1887 landholdings, she would have seen the unfulfilled dream towns of two city planners, two adjacent towns having a hundred plus vacant town lots each, acreage crisscrossed by two railroads. Surrounded as well by countless citrus groves though, the potential of her landholdings likely seemed endless.

Within five months of closing on her land, the Widow Saunders revised the Altamont plat, merging Kilmer’s city with the old Hoosier Springs town she had acquired from Ingram Fletcher. Elizabeth however dressed up the layout of the town by adding a dozen ‘Town Squares’, each crossroad square called out by such names as Gardenia Square, at the junction of Saunders and Cambridge Streets; or Oleander Square where Orange Avenue crossed Toronto Street.

A portion of 1887 revised Altamont Town Plat

A month later, June 14, 1887, Elizabeth sold her first town lot. Lot 18 of the new Town of Altamont fronted Railroad Street, on the east side of the Orange Belt Railway and Florida Midland Railway crossing. The Baker Brothers, lot number 22, was on the west side of the crossing, where they operated a general store and railway depot. The buyer of lot 18 was William Massey, the man Elizabeth would soon marry. (William died soon after they married, and so Widow Saunders became Widow Massey.)

ALTAMONT could boast of location, location, location, but so too could a neighboring city three miles east. That town, ALTAMONTE, was situated on another railroad line, the South Florida Railroad, and that location had a luxury hotel as well. Distinguishing the two locations became crucial, and so on the 12th of January, 1888, one year after Widow Saunders acquired Hoosier Springs, Frank W. Baker, the merchant of Lot 22 in Altamont, became Postmaster of a newly formed Palm Springs Post Office.

Palm Springs 1893: The spring from which the place takes its name is about one quarter of a mile north of the store. Hoosier Springs is a short distance west of the store.” Illustrated Orange County, 1893

Having viewed Palm Springs in 1895 from onboard Orange Belt Railway, Amos Root returned a day later to personally “investigate” the area: “In a little shady nook were great palm trees that threw their protecting branches all over and around, and a beautiful crystal spring boils up, sending out a volume sufficient to make a good sized creek. The waters are just warm enough for nice bathing, and there are seats arranged on the mossy banks, making it a most inviting place for picnickers or pleasure-seekers.”

The author of ‘Gleanings in Bee Culture’, Amos Root wrote of touring central Florida months after the freeze of 1894-95. The region’s future at the time of Root’s visit was not yet known, although perhaps unknowingly, he predicted the area’s fate while at the same time telling of a little shady nook known as Palm Springs: “In consequence of the freeze, however, business was, as might be expected, dead, and things looked dull.” 

Elizabeth McClain Saunders-Massey had been mother to seven. She buried two husbands and five of her children prior to 1900. The son she brought south because of his poor health, John McClain Saunders, was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando after his death, August 30, 1906. John’s Orlando physician at the time of his death was Dr. Washington Kilmer, formerly of Altamont.

Elizabeth and her only surviving son, Thomas Malcolm Saunders, returned north to Canada. Thomas died in April, 1917, in France, during World War I. One month before her 83rd birthday, eight years after Seminole County carved away a portion of Orange County, Elizabeth McClain Saunders-Massey, on June 3, 1921, passed away at Ontario, Canada.  The year of her death, only one of two 1921 Seminole County maps included Palm Springs. Soon thereafter, most every sign of Elizabeth’s once-upon-a-time town began to vanish.

Florida’s Great Freeze of 1894-95 destroyed not only the State’s record-setting citrus crop, projected to be nearly 9 million boxes, it wiped out as well the ambitious dreams of many of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

Racing along at a top speed of nearly 6 mph, travel aboard Orange Belt Railway in the spring of 1895, and meet the visionaries, men and women alike, those who had given it their all to establish West Orange County.

CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains includes stops at Sylvan Lake; Paola; Island Lake; Glen Ethel; Palm Springs; Forest City; Toronto; Lakeville; Clarcona; Crown Point; Winter Garden and Oakland.


Along the 35 mile West Orange County route of Orange Belt Railway you will meet many of the region’s earliest settlers, including: Edward T. Stotesbury; John Parker Ilsley; Brothers Alastair & William MacLeod; Whitner; Benjamin M. Robinson; Thomas E. Wilson; Fox; Mary Lambert; Dr. Washington Kilmer; Ingram Fletcher; Roswell Fulmer; Walter W. Hunt; Mrs. Elizabeth (McClain) Saunders-Massey; Peter A. Demens; Allan MacDowell Smyth; the Root family; John G. Hower; George Reed; Alice C. Hill; Samuel Hyde; Sidney Witty; David E. Washburn; Robert A. Mills; Mahlon Gore; the Roper family; the Speer family and many others.

CitrusLAND books, the true history of the people and events that shaped central Florida, by Richard Lee Cronin. Copyright 2015.       

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Blog Series: Central Florida Would-be-Titans 

He’s the reason Orange Avenue south of Oakridge Road parallels the railroad tracks, and he also laid out what is today Lancaster Road, Anno Avenue, Fairlane Avenue and yes, even Tiner Avenue, spelled with an ‘I’. Not one of his 1880s streets are known by the names he first gave to each, but that’s because all were renamed by Orange County in 1955. Despite the town’s name being inspired by a house Will Wallace Harney built, Pine Castle the town owes its very existence to Clement R. TYNER, a 19th century pioneer, and the first in our series; ‘Would-Be Central Florida Titans’.

Pine Castle Depot, located at C. R. TINER’S Pine Castle

Twice the man served as first Postmaster of a newly established CitrusLAND frontier post office. In February 1884, Clement became a town founder, recording the original 80 acre town plat of Pine Castle. Sub-dividing nearly 200 town lots, Tyner opened the first of at least two mercantile establishments, one located in the town he founded.

A native of Florida’s untamed wilderness, Clement R. TYNER was born in 1846 at Marion County. His parents, Leonard & Mary (BLITCH) TYNER, had obtained a permit to homestead 160 acres there before surveyors had completed Marion County’s mapping. Leonard, selecting land southwest of present day Belleview, settled on land adjacent to his father, John G. TYNER (1794-1883).

The TYNER family next relocated to WELAKA, on the St. Johns River north of Lake George in Putnam County. But next, and possibly due to Union gunboats on the river all during both the Civil War and subsequent Reconstruction Period, the town’s population suddenly dwindled. Most residents moved on, including the TYNER’S. By 1869 the family had resettled again, this time in Orange County, selecting an isolated parcel far from the St. Johns River pier on Lake Monroe.

Age 23 when he first arrived in the isolated region south of the County’s War torn Seat of Government, Clement R. TYNER became witness to early efforts, during 1870, to build a railroad linking Orlando with Mellonville. That venture quickly failed, but the locals desire to connect steamboats plying Lake Monroe with the Port of Tampa far to the south of TYNER”S homestead endured.

Arriving in south Orange County about the same time as Will Wallace HARNEY, builder of a Lake Conway residence Harney named Pine Castle, goals of Harney and Tyner appear to have differed. Harney seemed to be a loner, whereas TYNER obviously longed for success. The southernmost city at the time both arrived was Orlando, and travel anywhere in central Florida had been, for decades past, via old sand rutted trails. When locals lost hope for their 1870 train, would-be business titan, Clement TYNER, appears to have stepped up to the plate.

Topography today fails to show the eastern branch of Shingle Creek existing at the time Leonard B. TYNER homesteaded 80 acres west of present day Pine Castle. A detailed Orange County map of 1890 however clearly reflects just such a waterway.

Clement R. TYNER possessed a means in 1870 to connect foot traffic on old Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin with nearly 10 miles of waterway to reach Lake Tohopekaliga, where travelers could then continue on toward Tampa. TYNER’S homestead was also the eastern headwaters of Shingle Creek.

Orange Map 1890. Homestead of Leonard B. TYNER (red rectangle)

[About the 1890 map: Red STAR pinpoints trail’s end of the old Forts Mellon to Gatlin Road (1838-1870). Red/white rectangle pinpoints location of L. B. TYNER’S 1869 Homestead. One branch of the Shingle Creek headwaters began at TYNER”S homestead, flowed southwest, as shown by the red arrow, and both branches merged in the vicinity of present day Oak Ridge Road and John Young Parkway].

Clement R. TYNER not only explored Shingle Creek, he also acquired, August 30, 1873, 40 acres west of present day Kissimmee. Part of Orange County at that time, Tyner established Shingle Creek Post Office on November 10, 1873, nine years prior to the opening of a Kissimmee Post Office.

Clement found more than land at Shingle Creek, for here he met and married his first of three wives. He married Mary Yates in 1873, daughter of Needham Yates, the same Needham Yates shot and killed during the notorious 1870 Barber-Mizell Feud.

Historian William F. Blackman wrote in 1924 of the ‘great storm of 1871,’ a hurricane, during which so much rain fell the “Wekiva River was a mile wide”. Will Wallace Harney writings, published as ‘Dateline Pine Castle’, (available at Pine Castle Woman’s Club), also tells of this storm. Harney believed “the eye of the storm passed right over Lake Conway”. Harney also told of droughts of 1872, 1875 and 1876, after which he “feared for settlements on Shingle Creek.” Then came yet another Hurricane in 1876.

It’s plausible that torrential rainfalls, followed by droughts, raised and lowered Shingle Creek, making navigating uncertain, for Clement appears to have lost interest in this waterway. Despite fathering three children prior to divorcing, Clement returned to his parent’s home in 1879, alone, and soon after opened a second post office.

Pine Castle Post Office was established December 8, 1879, one year prior to the first 
southbound train finally departing Sanford, heading in the direction of Orlando. He then focused attention on his own 80 acre homestead alongside Will Wallace Harney.

Marrying a second time February 27, 1881, Clement and his bride, Theodosia E. GEIGER, watched while rails were laid up to, and then diagonally across, their 80 acre homestead. The track maximized rail siding exposure for their land.

A New York Times reporter, traveling with President Chester A. Arthur in April of 1883, described the journey, saying; “after Orlando, there is nothing worthy of a town name until reaching Kissimmee City.” That was about to change though, as Clement R. & Theodosia E. Tyner deeded two (2) lots to the railroad, land to be used for a railway depot, February 29, 1884. Both lots referenced: ‘C. R. TINER”S Town of Pine Castle.” In 1885, Clement & Theodosia TYNER had a store open alongside the Pine Castle depot.

As 19th century central Florida developments had a way of not working out as planned, Clement R. TYNER, after selling only a few town lots, opened C. R. TYNER & Co. even further south, at Lakeland. Clement married a third time at Lakeland, this, his final marriage, was to Elizabeth Gavin.

Try as he did, neither town platting nor rail side stores were meant to be for this would-be central Florida Titan. Clement moved on again, finally settling at Clearwater, where he and Elizabeth lived until his death, at the age of 75, January 29, 1922.

The 1870 Pine Castle residence built by Will Wallace Harney inspired the naming of a 1884 town first platted by Clement R. TYNER, the visionary who laid out streets still in use today, even though by a different name.

Clement was not alone though in such endeavors, and when our series continues April 19th, we’ll tell of Miss Frances E. Hewlett, another fascinating would-be central Florida TITAN.

Coming fall 2017
Inspired by my Pine Castle Woman’s Club presentation:


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Monday, March 13, 2017


James M & Frances E (Hewlett) ALDEN
Pine Castle Historical Society Appreciation Edition

Clarence E. Howard published ‘Early Settlers of Orange County’ in 1915. An Orlando photographer, Howard’s enlightening book of biographies included an introduction, ‘Early History of Orange County,’ authored by Annie (Caldwell) Whitner, a resident of Sanford, Florida, part of Orange County until 1913.
From the 1915 book, Early Settlers of Orange County by C. E. Howard

A long-time resident of the county, Annie wrote of the “bleached trunk and bare wide-spread branches of an immense dead live-oak, still standing. It is said that red men and white men met here to hold a council. The Council Oak stands, her white arms held aloft, a silent protest against the injustice of war, a ghostly presence lamenting her children, a memorial of them, which time, nor storm has expelled in all the years since then.”

Rollins College President William F. Blackman authored ‘History of Orange County’ a dozen years later. Blackman too wrote of a legendary tree. “There is a tradition,” he wrote in 1927, of a meeting between the Army and Indians near FORT GATLIN, a meeting said to have taken place “under a huge live-oak tree, and this oak, now no longer existing, was long-known as the Council Oak.”

The Council Oak vanished between 1915 and 1927, but fortunately, Annie Whitner included with her historical account a painting of the tree, along with this comment: “a beautiful picture has been painted of Council Oak by Mr. J. M. Alden, of Orlando, a talented member of our association.”

Upon reading her account, two questions immediately came to mind. Where is J. M. Alden’s painting now, and who was the “talented member” of Mrs. Whitner’s historical association?

James Madison Alden and Annie (Caldwell) Whitner made for a most unlikely pair, as their families had been staunch enemies only a few decades earlier. By 1915 though, both were working alongside one another in an attempt to preserve central Florida history. Born 1859 in North Carolina, Annie grew to adulthood at Fort Reid, a mile east of modern day Sanford. She arrived with her parents at a time Sanford was little more than a ‘concept’ of a port town on the St. Johns River.

Alden was a New Englander, born in Massachusetts in 1834. An Orange County farmer by the turn of the 20th Century, James M. Alden was by that time in his second career, having already completed nearly a half-century of outstanding military service to his country.
Alden was a Yankee. Annie (Caldwell) Whitner was a Confederate. By 1915, both were proud Floridians. Both were proud Americans!

Even before Annie Whitner was born, James M. Alden had already become a distinguished Navy artist. Traveling with the United States Exploring Squadron led by Captain Charles Wilkes, young Alden’s sketches of Northwest Territory earned him the title, “James Madison Alden, Yankee Artist of the Pacific Coast”. Google this title for even more information on the man and his famous works. During the Civil War, at a time when Annie was an infant, James M. Alden served as Navy Secretary to Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter. Assigned to Washington, DC, Alden remained in DC after the War, continuing to serve Admiral Porter.

Yosemite Falls, by James M. Alden, Yankee Artist of the Pacific Coast

Frances E. Hewlett was born in England and employed as a Clerk at the Treasury Department in Washington, DC by 1880. Single, and twenty-six years younger than James M. Alden, Frances became Mrs. Alden after the death of the first Mrs. Alden, and after resigning her Pensions Department position in June of 1890.

Frances however had already teamed up with fellow DC Pension Clerks to become an Orange County land speculator a full year prior to her marriage to James M. Alden.

In fact, I first introduced Frances E. Hewlett in Chapter Eight, ‘Pen Pals’, of my Historical Novel, The Rutland Mule Matter. Frances, and another true-life Pension Clerk Eugene P. Mallory, are approached by an Orange County lad named Othman Rutland. A nine year old boy in 1865, Othman recalls the time a Navy Officer delivered a mule to his family home at Apopka. Desperate to learn of what happened to father, Othman travels as an adult to DC in 1888, hoping to solicit assistance from two clerks with whom he has something in common – Orange County landownership.


Othman’s father had gone missing during the closing days of the Civil War, and those still alive and living in Orange County who might know what happened to Isaac N. Rutland weren’t talking. Washington DC clerks, many of whom really did become Orange County land speculators in the 1880s, were Othman’s final hope if ever he was to learn the truth about his father.

Isaac, Othman, Frances E. HEWLETT, Eugene and a return of a mule are all historically accurate, as is the ultimate answer that Othman finds inside an 1865 U. S. Provost Marshal’s file, a file folder buried in DC, and labeled, The Rutland Mule Matter. Yes, even the Provost Marshals’ file is historically accurate!

It was while researching Frances E. Hewlett that I doubled back to James Madison Alden. I had researched Fort Gatlin and the ‘Council Oak’ years earlier, learning of the Navy Artist, and of how valuable his paintings had become. I asked about the Council Oak painting and discovered, with assistance from Christine Kinlaw-Best of Sanford Historical Society, that his painting was gifted to Orange County Historical Society in 1971. I passed that information along to the folks at the Society, informing them as well that the man’s other works are now quite valuable.

Lieutenant James Madison Alden retired a Widower in early 1890, and later that same year, he married Frances E. Hewlett in Washington, DC. On the 7th of February, 1895, Frances E. (Hewlett) Alden purchased 45 acres on the west side of Lake Pineloch. Buying the land from Albert G. Branham, deeds for this Alden parcel reference earlier deeds issued by R. F. Eppes. [Robert Francis Eppes, born 1851, was the son of Francis Wayles Eppes]

James & Frances (Hewlett) Alden owned an orange grove on a portion of 160 historic Orange County acres. First owned by Lady Isaphoenia C. Speer, this parcel was situated alongside the Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin Road, THE first north-south road in the county. The Alden land sat north of the historic Fortress Gatlin.

The very land owned by the Alden’s was also the home, in 1871, of Frances W. Eppes, grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. And on this historic property also grew an “immense live-oak tree”, the legendary Council Oak.

Historian Kena Fries, in her 1938 book ‘Orlando in the Long, Long Ago,’ dedicated a chapter to Council Oak: “On the west side of Pine Loch Lake, where the old trail worked its way thru the pine woods, there once stood an immense live oak, said in its glory to have been the largest live oak in all of central and south Florida. It was known as ‘council oak’, the gathering place of the Seminole warriors.” The daughter of Orange County surveyor John Otto Fries, Kena, in describing “the old trail,” a/k/a/ the Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin Road, went on to say; “In September 1904, while spending the day with the late J. M. Alden, we rowed across the lake.”

An ancient Indian trail became a military route leading from Lake Monroe to Fort Gatlin. The Council Oak was located on the trail, on the west side of a lake named by the grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. A parcel chock full of central Florida history, including an historic old oak tree, was preserved for history by a retired Navy Officer turned Orange County Citrus Grower.

James M. Alden died at Orlando May 10, 1922. His Widow, Frances E. (Hewlett) Alden, passed away April 16, 1930. Both were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.  

The Alden property at Lake Pineloch became Pine Loch Heights in 1921. Blogger Syd Albright wrote of James M. Alden and his wife in an October 12, 2014. In his blog, Albright said the Alden’s: “retired to OAK KNOLL, Fla, near ORLANDO. He spent the rest of his life tending his fruit trees and painted until 1915 when his eyesight failed.” Council Oak may well have been the last painting of James M. Alden, and one most wonder, did the Council Oak have anything to do with his naming his acreage, Oak Knoll?

Research compiled by Richard Lee Cronin

My thanks to Pine Castle Woman’s Club and their Pine Castle Historical Society for allowing me to present to their organization on Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2017.