Central Florida History Challenge #5
Three notable central Florida investors were among an assemblage of dignitaries at William Cramp & Son’s Shipyard on Thursday, October 22, 1885. Arriving in Georgia from New York, a party of 25 had traveled to Savannah aboard a special Henry B. Plant train, transported there to witness the launching of a steamship that was soon to influence as well the naming of a present-day Lake County town.
Among the group was Henry B. PLANT himself (above photo); Henry S. SANFORD; and Philadelphian Hamilton DISSTON. Each an important player in the formation of Florida’s 19th century Citrus Belt, they all three joined a chorus of cheers at noon in Savannah as Mrs. Margaret (Loughman) Plant smashed a bottle of wine on the bow of the new 200 foot vessel, sending the boat, “gracefully into the water.”.
Built as a fast mail and passenger vessel to run between Tampa and Havana, what was the name of that 1885 Plant steamboat that influenced the naming of a Lake County town?
S. S. AMBASSADRESS
S. S. ASTATULA
S. S. ROXIE
S. S. MASCOTTE
The ANSWER to our History Challenge #5:
NOT “S. S. Ambassadress”! As explained in Chapter 25: Northern Gateway – Eustis (Tavares: Darling of Orange County, Birthplace of Lake County), the ‘Ambassadress’ belonged to William B. Astor, Jr.. Built in 1877, it was at that time considered to be the largest yacht in the world. Just prior to buying this yacht, Astor, Jr. had sailed the St. Johns River in his slightly smaller yacht, and upon reaching the southern shore of Lake George, invested in 80,000 acres of wilderness land he and fellow investors called ‘Manhattan’. Here they established a river port town of Astor – and built two hotels at the gateway to Orange County’s ‘Great Lake Region’.
This is how history had recorded the William B. Astor, Jr. central Florida investment, although missing has been another key player, Samuel Benlisa of New York. Benlisa and the towns along the route of the St. Johns & Lake Eustis Railway are each featured in Chapter 25.
NOT “S. S. Astatula”! Truly an important name in the story of a developing Great Lake Region of Orange and Sumter County of the 1870s, a land known today as Lake County, Astatula pre-dates the central Florida arrival of Henry Plant, Henry Sanford, and Hamilton Disston.
Chapter 27: A River Gateway – Ocklawaha, reveals how a river Captain opened up the Ocklawaha River in the 1860s to bring the first steamboat into Lake Griffin prior to the first train ever reaching this region. Astatula was one of a fleet of ships operated by Hubbard Hart, and for a brief time was the name of one of the region’s “Great Lakes”. Today, Astatula of Lake County is what remains of a much larger 1880s lakeside metropolis on Lake Harris.
The Roxie and Okahumkee Riverboats on the St. Johns River
NOT “S. S. ROXIE”! An 1884 ‘Great Lake’ Riverboat,, the Roxie was spotted at Lane Park on Lake Harris by a traveler aboard the St. Johns & Lake Eustis Railroad in 1884. The vessel, shown above thanks to the Florida Memory project, is not the answer however we are looking for.
The Roxie had begun cruising the waters of the Great Lake Region prior to the October 1885 launching of Plant’s vessel at Savannah. “Here we are at the Park (Lane Park); the train stops on one side of the depot, and on the opposite side the Roxie lightly floats on the water of Lake Harris.” Quoted from page 201, Tavares: Darling of Orange County, Birthplace of Lake County.
“THE MASCOTTE LAUNCHED” headlined an October 25, 1885 issue of Savannah Morning News, an article which told too of a special train from New York that had delivered Henry Plant and two dozen distinguished guests to witness the launching of his newest iron steamship, the S. S. Mascotte, at “200 feet long, 30 feet breadth of beam, and 21 feet depth at hold”.
Gathered at Cramp & Son’s Savannah Shipyard for the special occasion were Henry Plant, Henry Sanford, and Hamilton Disston, three individuals who contributed much to developing central Florida’s 19th century Citrus Belt. Memorials to the three today include Plant City and Winter Garden’s Plant Street; a town of Sanford; a ghost town of Diston on the one-time Orange Belt Railway line, and multiple Disston Avenues - such as those at Tarpon Springs, Clermont, Minneola, and Tavares.
An excerpt from Tavares Darling of Orange County, Birthplace of Lake County, Chapter 29: Gulf Coast Gateway – Clermont: “Three months after the launch of Plant’s new steamship, the Palatka Daily News of January 27, 1886 published yet another article about Mascotte, only this particular story referenced an application for a Sumter County post office of Mascotte.” Opened 30 March 1886, fourteen months later, on May 27, 1887, the post office was changed to Mascotte of Lake County.
A Town of Mascotte website says "J. W. Payne of Baltimore settled here around 1885, and that he named the town after a ship.” And now, you know the rest of the story!
A story of triumph over tragedy, of homesteaders becoming town builders, of steamboats and railroads forging a new homeland, and of remarkable men and women who made it happen, Tavares: Darling of Orange County, Birthplace of Lake County, even has a touch of mystery and intrigue. The lady of Lady Lake, it turns out, had a name. And so too did the mystery ladies of Mount Dora.
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