Sarah of Lake Conway
Solving the Mystery of Orlando’s Origin
A 2020 Women’s History Month Special Edition Blog
A New York City resident in 1874 when she purchased land at Mellonville on Lake Monroe, Mrs. Sarah C. Taylor had remained, until now, an elusive link in learning the truth about the founding of Orlando. Fact is, we simply did not know! So, in my book First Road to Orlando, I suggested my version after first analyzing the many 'other' long-standing versions. I did not know of Sarah at that time, but I do believe her fascinating story compliments that of my earlier theory.
McDougal’s Hammock of Lake Conway:
1879 Lake Conway area map by E. R. Trafford
McDougal's Hammock was that land between the middle and lower basins above
Note the heavy line showing the 'trail' that a railroad would follow in 1881
Mellonville, now a ghost town, was still a port of entry in 1874, although its neighbor, the port of Sanford, was becoming a serious challenger to assuming the title, “Gateway to Orange County”. Sarah decided to buy her first Orange County lot at Mellonville. Less than a year later, solely on her own, she purchased one hundred acres on Lake Conway, (see above map) 30 long sand rutted miles south of Mellonville. It was then a full-day’s journey or more from Lake Monroe to Lake Conway.
A portion of Sarah’s property on Lake Conway was what pioneer and historian Will Wallace Harney referred to as McDougal Hammock. “It seems to be an island hill,” wrote Harney in March of 1876, “a soft mass of verdure, light green, deepening in shadow and rising to a soft knoll.” John McDougal, a native of Scotland, had been a long-time Tallahassee merchant prior to the Civil War. His central Florida land speculating days ended in 1874, by selling his Lake Conway hammock to Sarah C. Taylor of New York City.
Florida history, it seems, had taken a Manhattan sabbatical following the Civil War! That’s why Florida native Sarah C. Taylor was living in New York City in 1870. Sarah had married John M. Taylor on 15 September 1864, relinquishing at that time her maiden name - Broome. At the time of the 1870 census, Sarah was a New Yorker, living with two siblings, Thomas H Broome and sister Julia, and their cousin, John Dozier Broome (future Deland Attorney), and her uncle - a well-known Floridian, James E. Broome, an ex-Governor of the State of Florida.
Flashback 20 years to 1850, and six-year old Sarah lived with her parents in Florida’s Panhandle, along with two older brothers: Robert W. Broome and George Knox Broome. The family lived at Madison, where Benjamin F. Whitner, Jr. also lived., Ben was the young man who first surveyed most all of South Orange County in the 1840s – and even owned nearly 300 acres of the county by 1860, as I pointed out in my book, Beyond Gatlin: A History of South Orange County.
Benjamin Whitner, Jr. is also referred to as central Florida’s “Architect” in Chapter 7 of my latest book, Will Wallace Harney: Orlando’s First Renaissance Man, commissioned by and for the Pine Castle Historical Society.
More than a biography of a man, this is the history of his beloved Pine Castle
While Sarah lived at Madison, Florida in 1850, Surveyor Whitner’s father, Ben Sr., was living at Tallahassee. He was the neighbor of James E. Broome – brother of Sarah’s father, John S. Broome. James E. Broome was getting ready to run for the office of Florida Governor. He won, and in October 1853, as Sarah turned 9, her uncle James became Governor of Florida.
On October 5, 1857, the last day in office for Governor James E. Broome, Benjamin F. Caldwell of Talladega, Alabama – on that exact same day – signed a deed gifting four (4) acres of Orange County land – at the Village of Orlando - for a county courthouse. Governors make a lot of last minute decisions on their last day in office - decisions such selecting a controversial location for a county seat.
Then came the Civil War, and everything, including central Florida history, was put on hold. It was because of this protracted War and Reconstruction Period that a lot of history was forgotten!
Broome’s in Orlando’s Closet:
Now, back to 1870, Sarah’s two older brothers lived in Florida while she lived with her uncle and younger siblings in New York City. Her brother George lived at Gainesville, and brother Robert, an attorney, lived at Lake City. The next-door neighbor of Robert W. Broome was William Wallace McCall, also an attorney.
As already stated, Sarah bought her Mellonville land in February of 1874. Two months later, in April 1874, Lake City Attorney William Wallace McCall made his first of several land purchases at the village of Orlando. Then, on January 14, 1875, Sarah C. Taylor, by that time a resident of Gainesville, Florida, purchased her one hundred plus acres at Lake Conway.
Six months later, on June 3, 1875, Sarah’s brother, Attorney Robert W. Broome of Lake City, arrived at Village of Orlando and called to order the first of several meetings of landowners. Will Wallace Harney, in a published article dated September 8, 1875, reported: “And so Orlando has a charter, and in addition to its handsome courthouse has a Mayor, Council, and ordinances.”
Village of Orlando, Seat of Orange County, circa 1870s.
Employed as City Attorney for a time in 1875, Robert W. Broome had also served as Chairman of the committee to Incorporate Orlando. Robert then vanished, and by 1880, Robert’s wife was identifying herself as a Widow.
A Colonel & the J. P. & M bonds:
Sarah C. (Broome) Taylor was a land speculator at a time land speculating was primarily a male occupation. Why else would a New Yorker acquire a hundred wilderness acres south of Orlando but then settle at Gainesville the very next year? Was it coincidental that Sarah bought land south of Orlando – within months of her Attorney brother arriving to rescue Orange County’s 18 year-old county seat?
Sanford desperately wanted the title of County Seat in 1874, and time was clearly running out for a floundering little village of Orlando. Timing was right to finish the job Broome & family had begun in the 1850s. Broome was not alone in the origins of Orlando - but they were an important link to the town's survival
How did the New York residents know what was happening back home? In 1873, in New York City, the Great Southern Railroad of Florida was organized. Organized with $9,000,000 in bonds, the charter called for 450 miles of rails, running from Nassau County in the north to Monroe County in the south, and Orange County was listed as being in the path of this new railroad. Will Wallace Harney even wrote of a proposed train to cross over his Lake Conway property.
Harney also wrote a novel: “She is a very lovely character indeed, said the lawyer,” in Harney's City Building in the South; “She is here on business.” His novel was about a pretty lady, a lawyer, a planned railroad, and a Colonel. “The Colonel”, wrote Harney, “has a number of J. P. & M bonds.”
Central Florida and New York City might have been separated by many miles in the 1870s, but the New York Herald managed to bring these two very different locales together on January 31, 1874. On that day the newspaper reported on a U. S. Supreme Court case called 'Florida vs. Anderson', a case dealing with the ‘Jacksonville, Pensacola and Mobile Railroad’. Interesting call letters for a railroad - the J. P. & M! Interesting that Harney concluded his Novel with: "so, under the veil of fiction has been told the story of the founding of one American city and county."
Rail service finally reached Orlando in late 1880, and during the summer of 1881, as track was being laid in the direction of Lake Conway, Sarah C. (Broome) Taylor sold her property. It was as if she had decided her Broome family had completed their elder's wishes. Orlando, Florida remained the county seat of Orange County. Ex-Governor James E. Broome died in 1883, while visiting his Attorney son at Deland, Florida.
Sarah of Lake Conway is representative of the remarkable women of 19th central Florida. They had faith in the dream of an American Paradise, but their roles in helping to develop this land often became lost amid so much heart break and disappointment. Central Florida pioneers however were tough and resolute individual – men and women both - and we all benefit from their efforts today.
Colonel Whitner, as Will Wallace Harney always referred to his surveyor friend, died in 1881, the same year Sarah of Lake Conway sold her McDougal Hammock on Lake Conway. The 'Architect' of central Florida had lived to witness iron of the SFRR being laid across his land at Lake Gatlin. Colonel Whitner was survived by his amazing wife, Sarah of Fort Reid, but that, my history friends, is a story for another time.
Home of central Florida's remarkable 19th century pioneers
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