Friday, August 16, 2019

First train to ACTON of Polk County

ACTON: Sister city of Mackinnon of Orange County & Sarasota, Florida

“For a short time,” according to, the city of “Lakeland had a rival town on the south side of Lake Parker, the largest lake in the city. That town was called ACTON. It had a church before Lakeland did, and more importantly, a railroad depot.” The railroad depot was a stop the South Florida Railroad line.

Origins of three sister Citrus-Belt cities: Sarasota, Mackinnon and ACTON, date to the four (4) million acres Philadelphian Hamilton Disston acquired in the early 1880s. That land deal allowed the State to settle its pre-Civil War debt, thereby freeing up public lands for use in encouraging investors to build railroads. The Disston investment resolved the Vose injunction which had been in place since 1870, and immediately increased the desirability and value of South Florida land.

With the court injunction settled, Hamilton Disston recovered a portion of his large investment in Florida by selling chunks of his 4 million acres to other land speculators. An English consortium became one of the speculators, a group who organized themselves as The Florida Mortgage & Investment Company Limited. Two of the named English officers of that company were Robert W. Hanbury and Piers Eliot Warburton.

Hanbury and Warburton appeared in Orange County by April 1883. That August, a one-square mile town of Mackinnon was laid out in South Orange County, north of Kissimmee. A depot on the South Florida Railroad line was built at Mackinnon, where Florida Mortgage & Investment Company began selling lots in their new Town of Mackinnon.

Sir William MacKinnon, namesake of
Town of Mackinnon is featured in my 2017 book;
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Meanwhile, Piers Eliot Warburton represented Florida Mortgage & Investment Company at Sarasota. A historic marker at the Five Points intersection in downtown Sarasota tells of how, in the spring of 1885, a surveyor for Florida Mortgage & Investment Company laid out the town. Piers Warburton however didn’t concentrate only on Sarasote. That very same year, Webb’s Historical, Biographical & Industrial magazine reported that Acton, Florida, in Polk County, had a railroad depot at city center as well as two hotels – Acton House & Lake House on Lake Parker. The land agent at Acton, said Webb’s, was Piers E. Warburton.

John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902), aka Lord Acton of England, as described by the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was “the magistrate of history.” Among the well-known personalities of the 19th century, says the Institute, one of Lord Acton’s quotes attributed to the man is the oft used: “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Lord Acton was the grandson of Sir John Acton (1736-1811), celebrated commander of the British Naval forces. Piers Eliot Warburton had been a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy prior to crossing the big pond to represent English investors in the United States.

Winifred Hodgeon arrived at New York a single gal August 23, 1886. Leaving England with her mother at the age of 19, Winifred settled first at Orange County, where she began acquiring land. In 1889, Winifred married Piers Eliot Warburton, and the newlyweds settled at Acton, the new city in Polk County developed by English investors.

Piers Eliot Warburton, Winifred Ann (Hodgeon) and sons

“To show what ladies can do in Florida,” reported Weekly Floridian on June 7, 1888, “Mrs. Logan, of Acton, has growing on her place oranges, lemons, figs, guavas, peaches, bananas, grapes, pineapples, strawberries, citrons, Brazilian papaws and Scuppernongs.” The town founder by Piers Warburton made the news again August 6, 1889: “Sir Francis Osbourne, a genuine English nobleman who has more title than money, is working in a sawmill at Acton at the rate of one dollar a day.”

The merger through marriage of Piers Warburton and Winifred Hodgeon consolidated large landholdings that stretched from South Orange County and Polk County. Winifred had acquired scattered parcels west of Mackinnon, including a large parcel that is now part of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Piers Eliot & Winifred Anne (Hodgeon) Warburton returned to England after Florida’s Great Freeze of 1894-95. Like so many other central Florida pioneers of the 19th century, their land became worthless as dead citrus trees littered the route of South Florida Railroad. Eventually their long-abandoned property was sold for unpaid taxes to the next generation of speculators, firm such as Munger Land Company of Missouri.

Piers Warburton at England died in 1927. His Florida bride of 1889 survived him, living in England until her death in 1954.

South Florida Railroad in Polk County before towns Acton & Lakeland

The Acton railroad depot, says, burned down “under mysterious circumstances, and a new depot was built in Lakeland. Acton began to decline and was gone by 1906.” But Acton was not the only South Florida Railroad ghost town. Mackinnon of Orange County also fell to ghost town status. One of the three sister cities in which Piers Warburton played a role in developing however did survive and flourish. And today, Sarasota’s Five Points remains the hub of Sarasota, Florida.

This blog series resumes next Friday as the South Florida Railroad inches further west - to that next depot beyond Warburton’s town of Acton. Next Friday, August 23, 2019, Lakeland, Florida. - YOUR online central Florida history store


Friday, August 9, 2019

First train to AUBURNDALE

“In a cluster of a wild scenery of lakes, but on the broad hump among them, is pretty AUBURNDALE, laid out with curved and straight avenues, like the spokes and felloes, on concentric rays, so as to utilize the building sites.” (South Florida Railroad 1887)   

Lakes Stella (foreground) & Adriana (background) - Auburndale, FL

Not a lot could be said of Auburndale in the South Florida Railroad travelogue of 1887 because at that time the settlement was little more than an idea of a railroad pioneer having no connection with the firm laying down track across his homestead. As for the 1887 descriptive brochure, this region southwest of Kissimmee “was more well known by hunters, passing by park-like open pines, as free of undergrowth as a trimmed lawn, or by green coverts of the deer, and where the slender cougar lies in wait for the doe, at the watering places.”

Kissimmee City of Orange County – for several years the southernmost city in the United States having train service, became Kissimmee of Osceola County on May 12, 1887. Five years had already passed since Orange County correspondent Will Wallace Harney, representing the New Orleans Times-Democrat, journeyed 498 miles into the Florida Everglades, departing out of Kissimmee on a 14 day expedition down the Kissimmee River, crossing Lake Okeechobee, and heading west on the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico.

James E. Ingraham had been especially interested in Harney’s journey into the Everglades, for as President of South Florida Railroad, Ingraham planned to be aboard the second expedition a year later, a journey to be made in search of the best railroad routes in South Florida.

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Harney had long advocated train service for central Florida’s citrus belt, writing of plans for a Lake Monroe to Tampa Bay train as early as 1871. He wrote on numerous occasions of attempts to connect the St. Johns River with the Gulf of Mexico, stating in one 1877 article, “If we could get a short railroad of a hundred miles or so connecting Orange with Tampa, it would add greatly to the advantage of both, and would build up Hillsborough County.”

Nearly a decade would pass before Harney’s prediction would prove to be true, but while Will Harney of Orange County was writing his October 1877 article, an Illinois doctor was making his way to Tallahassee, Florida with an idea of his own.

Dr. Hartwell C. Howard came to Florida in 1876 primarily for health reasons. Recovering from pneumonia, Florida’s climate had been what the doctor ordered. On November 20, 1877, Dr. Howard attended a board meeting at Tallahassee of Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund (IIF), a   committee established in 1855 for the purposes of improving Florida’s transportation. Chaired by Florida’s Governor, the IIF was a powerful committee, except when it came to approval of post-Civil War rail service throughout the state. (New York capitalist Francis Vose had been granted an injunction preventing Florida from using public lands to build rail service until his debt was resolved).

Minutes of the November 1877 IIF meeting offers insight into Dr. Howard’s idea: “Dr. H. C. Howard, on behalf of the Gainesville, Ocala & Charlotte Harbor Railroad, appeared before the Board and made a proposition.” Dr. Howard’s plan was for the state to sell his railroad firm, at five cents per acre, portions of public land on six miles on each side of proposed railroad line, with the stipulation that the sale would not “go into effect until the claims of Vose and others are settled.”

A group of Illinois investors, much like the folks in Orange County, were attempting to obtain approval to build a railroad in South Florida as early as 1877. Dr. Howard was the first President of the Charlotte Harbor bound train, a railroad that later became Florida Southern Railroad.

Auburndale Main Street, photo by Alice E. Kaszer (1890-1975)

Proud of their long-time doctor, Champaign County, Illinois has on file an 1887 biographical sketch of Dr. Hartwell Carver Howard (1829-1922), which says this of the good doctor: “He has heretofore been quite prominently identified with railroad interests.” Dr. Howard homesteaded 158 acres in Florida’s developing Citrus Belt, receiving a deed for the Polk County land dated March 20, 1885. Dr. Howard’s property was located on the southeast shore of Lake Ariana.

The 1887 biography of Dr. Howard offers a bit more insight on the man: “He has also been occupied in buying and selling Florida orange lands, having a town laid out on his own estate there, AUBURNDALE. He donated 80 acres of land to secure the South Florida Railroad through that town.”

It has been suggested, incorrectly, that Auburndale was originally SANATORIA, and that the town was founded by a Frank R. Fuller. As of 1887 however, both towns are shown on a Polk County map. The two separate settlements were nearly 2 miles apart.

Edwin Monroe Howard (1857-1930), eldest son of Dr. Howard, lived at Auburndale in 1900 with his wife, Belle (Brooks) Howard (1862-1939). Their next-door neighbor at the time of that year’s census was Ephram M. Baynard, a fruit grower, who in 1913 built his residence facing Lake Stella in Auburndale at a cost of $7,500, shown below courtesy Florida Memory project.

Built in 1913, The Baynard residence became Kersey Funeral Home

This blog series continues next Friday as the South Florida Railroad, under Henry Plant, continues to lay track in the direction of Tampa Bay. Next up, an Englishman lays out a town northeast of Lakeland – a town named ACTON.

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Friday, August 2, 2019

First Train to KISSIMMEE

A train arriving at KISSIMMEE CITY in March of 1882 was a more important event in the story of central Florida than the arrival 16 months earlier of the South Florida Railroad at Orlando.

George M. Barbour, author of Florida for Tourists, Invalids & Settlers (1882), wrote of his first impression of the Orange County seat of government, describing it as “as old place, typical of the South. The ‘boom’ that has enlivened every other spot in Orange County seems to have left ORLANDO comparatively untouched.” The first train’s arrival at Orlando in late 1880 was an important event indeed in the county’s history. For nearly 40 years settlers and visitors had to trek a difficult sandy path 22 miles in length to reach Orange County’s courthouse square.

Further reading: First Road to Orlando by Richard Lee Cronin

But not until the railroad arrived at Lake Tohopekaliga was it possible for all of Orange County, present day Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties, to reach its long-sought potential. “In June 1881,” wrote Sherman Adams in his 1883 Orangeland publication, “an extension was surveyed from Orlando, to Kissimmee City; the work commenced in July, and the road opened for business in March 1882.” The earliest architects of central Florida’s railroad corridor had gathered a dozen years earlier to jump-start the building of this much-needed train.
The first meeting of the ‘Upper St. Johns, Mellonville and Tampa Railroad’ had been held in March 1870 at Fort Reid’s newly opened Orange House Hotel. The planner’s railroad was to depart Lake Monroe heading south to Orlando, pass beside Lake Conway on its way to Lake Tohopekaliga, and then veer west toward Tamp Bay – almost the exact path of the 1880 South Florida Railroad.

Further reading: Beyond Gatlin, A History of South Orange County

An Orlando to Kissimmee City on Lake Tohopekaliga train began operating in March of 1882, and as the Orangeland publication reported: “During the summer a charter was obtained extending the road to Tampa, the route surveyed and a force of 1,200 to 1,500 men  employed, the Plant railroad syndicate taking a three-fifths interest in the road. So great is the energy displayed that the road is expected to be open to the public early in January 1884.”

The train to Kissimmee City not only made it feasible for the railroad to continue toward Tampa Bay, it opened as well south Orange County to development. Travel inland reduced strenuous day-long land journeys to a journey of only a few hours, while riding in the comfort of Pullman passenger cars. That which is thought of today as the I-4 corridor was born with the completion in 1884 of a Lake Monroe to Tampa Bay railroad. Orangeland of 1883 said it best: “The natural and customary gateway to Orange County is the St. Johns River steamers to Sanford on Lake Monroe, 200 miles south of Jacksonville, thence by the South Florida Railroad to the various towns along its line to Kissimmee City, forty (40) miles to the south. From the several stations conveyances can be had at reasonable prices to any point in the contiguous country.”

New towns sprang up around the stations along the train’s route: Gatlin; Pine Castle; Smithville (Taft); Mackinnon and Kissimmee. As the train’s route was extended westward, Campbell City; and Davenport were established as Orange County towns; followed soon after by a host of Polk and Hillsborough County upstarts, such as Plant City and Seffner. Trains solved central Florida’s challenging transportation problem – and in so doing – Orlando benefited as well.

Philadelphia’s Hamilton Disston made all the difference of course. In exchange for him paying off the State’s past due pre-Civil War debt, the successful saw-blade manufacturer was deeded four (4) million central Florida acres. His land was widely scattered, from Tarpon Springs and large chunks of Hillsborough County, to Pine Island in Charlotte Harbor and acreage near Pine Castle. His massive landholdings south of Kissimmee however is what he is most widely known for.

Hamilton Disston’s presence certainly encouraged establishment of Kissimmee, but the original town founders had been good ole Orlando boys. William A. Patrick, James P. Hughey, Surveyor Samuel A. Robinson and younger brother Norman, all teamed up in 1881 to expand upon what Robert & Rhonda Bass had established as their boarding house during the 1870s.

“The town of Kissimmee is situated,” wrote Adams in Orangeland, “at the head of navigation of the Kissimmee and Caloosahatchee rivers, and has direct water communication through these streams and Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. It has also railroad transportation northward, and in a few weeks from the issuing of this pamphlet will have railroad communication with Tampa on the Gulf Coast”.

Kissimmee remained part of Orange County until Osceola County was formed May 12, 1887, at which time the town’s importance as a transportation hub and tourist destination elevated it to being named the new county’s seat of government.

“If we could get a short railroad of a hundred miles or so,” wrote Will Wallace Harney in 1877, published that year in the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper, “connecting Orange County with Tampa, it would add greatly to the advantage of both and would build up Hillsborough County.” Harney, as it turned out, knew exactly what he was talking about.

To be continued....

This blog continues next Friday as the South Florida Railroad, under Henry Plant, begins laying track in the direction of Tampa Bay, while another railroader takes advantage of his land’s close proximity to found the town of AUBURNDALE.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

PINE CASTLE'S 19th Century Secret


An 1886 Pine Castle death became a mystery for the ages, a secret kept by the town’s citizens – a secret that over time was explained away by blaming Florida’s Great Freeze. Pine Castle’s death however had occurred nearly a decade before Florida’s worst-ever freeze of 1894-95, long after the body of Charles Goodspeed Nute had been laid to rest at Orlando’s Greenwood Cemetery. So why the secrecy about Nute’s death? What was Pine Castle’s 1880s secret? And was the very reason for residents at a hopeful new Orange County railroad town on the southern outskirts of Orlando, the decision to keep secret details of a May 26, 1886 death, proven to be justified?

Noah H. Grady House, Randolph Avenue
Courtesy Orange County Appraiser's Office

Answers to each intriguing question are revealed by fusing together histories of three residences of 1880s Pine Castle. Of the three 19th century homes however, only one still stands today, that being a residence on Randolph Avenue built in 1885 by Noah H. Grady. At times referred to as the “Founder’s House” and/or “Lancaster House,” this very parcel is jam-packed full of history. And this very parcel is also where the unlocking of Pine Castle’s secret of the ages begins.

Now located in the 20th century town of Belle Isle, the 19th century home built by Noah H. Grady was originally part of the Will Wallace Harney homestead. For a brief time in history, this home, which I will refer to as the Grady House from this point on, sat within a stone’s throw of the real Pine Castle – the home built by Will Wallace Harney a decade before Grady arrived. Harney’s Pine Castle residence is the second of three residences in our quest to unravel the 1880s secret of the town named Pine Castle.

A Missouri native, Noah Hamilton Grady arrived a single man at Pine Castle in 1884. He bought two acres from Pine Castle residents Isaac & Sally Aten on September 2, 1884. Said in the deed as being “a square,” the parcel Grady purchased was further described as located “on the east side of Randolph Avenue.”

Noah H. Grady was living at Pine Castle, with his parents Josephus & Serelda Grady, in 1885. He gave his occupation in the census of that year as “Law & Insurance.” Noah was again listed in the Orange County Gazetteer of 1887, a partner in Ormsby, Knox & Grady Insurance. Noah’s residence in 1887 was listed not as Pine Castle though, but Main and Magnolia in Orlando. (Noah’s partner, Collis Ormsby, had relocated, not surprisingly, from Louisville, Kentucky, the prior homeplace of Will Wallace Harney.) After 1887, Noah H. Grady vanished from central Florida, and history mistakenly recorded his departure as the result of Florida Great Freeze of 1894-95.

Noah married Annie L. Veach at her birthplace of Bartow, Georgia on October 20, 1891. Their first child, Henry Veach Grady, was born at Missouri in August of 1892. Annie Veach Grady, child number two, was born at Chattanooga, Tennessee in April of 1894 – eight months before the first of two back to back freezes wiped out central Florida’s citrus industry. (Noah’s wife Annie was a niece of Orlando Dentist John W. Veach. Noah and his bride therefore may have met in central Florida prior to their departure from Orlando and Pine Castle.

The Noah H. Grady parcel became Lot 7 of the Will Wallace Harney Homestead plat filed at Orange County in 1891. Orange County Appraiser’s office identifies the house on Randolph Avenue referred to as the Grady House as being part of Harney’s Lot 7.

1891 Plat of Will Wallace Harney (Blue square is Lot 7)

A deed dated July 6, 1897, after Florida’s Great Freeze of 1894-95, conveyed “Lot 7 of Harney’s Homestead” back to Isaac and Sally Aten after they paid in full the $2.35 in unpaid property tax. Sold at tax auction after the freeze, this is possibly how the “faux-history” of the Grady house began, but the property had obviously been abandoned long before the freeze.

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Pine Castle merchants, Isaac & Sally Aten had originally purchased this parcel directly from Will Wallace Harney on September 9, 1882. The original Harney-Aten deed is also historically significant, for the deed, signed by Will Wallace Harney, describes the purchase as being “two acres on the east side of Randolph Avenue,” the exact description of the sale in 1884 to Noah H. Grady. Why is this deed significant? “Randolph Avenue” was spelled out in a deed as early as 1882. Harney’s plat showing Randolph Avenue was not recorded until 1891, and the first plat of the town of Pine Castle, recorded by Clement R. Tiner, to the west of Harney’s Homestead, was not recorded until 1884.

Worth noting also are the two streets laid out in 1882 by Will Wallace Harney. Each connects with one another – the intersection of Randolph and Wallace – and each connects with Lake Conway, but neither connects with any offsite artery.

So, Isaac & Sally Aten first owned the Lot 7 Harney Homestead parcel, sold it to Noah H. Grady, who then built a home on the land, but then departed central Florida by 1886-87. The Aten’s then bought this same Lot 7 back in 1897 for the cost of the unpaid taxes.

Why did Grady leave town, only to restart his insurance company at Chattanooga, Tennessee?

In 1884, Attorney William R. Anno lived on 160 acres at Pine Castle. That same year, half of his land became an addition to Clement R. Tiner’s 1884 Town of Pine Castle. William Anno’s 80 acres doubled the size of the town. Anno Avenue, running north and south today, divides Tiner’s original city and William R. Anno’s addition to the west. Anno’s other 80 acres, land north of Oakridge, fronting little Lake Mary on the west, north to Lake Mary Jess Road, was where the personal residence of William and Sarah Anno was located.

The Anno residence is the third home important to unraveling Pine Castle’s secret of the ages.

“The residence and home of the said first part, W. R. Anno and his wife Sarah,” was sold, as per a deed dated February 15, 1889, to Orlando Attorney E. R. Gunby. The Anno’s departed Pine Castle, although William’s wife Sarah likely never forgot what occurred at their Pine Castle home a short 3 years earlier, March 6, 1886.

Everything about Pine Castle changed during 1886-87. Noah H. Grady gave up on his Randolph Avenue investment at Pine Castle. Clement R. Tiner abandoned his new town of Pine Castle and relocated, with his mother - further south to Lakeland in Polk County. Other second-generation Pine Castle descendants likewise moved to Polk and Hillsborough County. Will Wallace Harney, a prolific writer of the 1870s and early 1880s, after selling a second Novelette for publication in 1887 by Louisville’s ‘Southern Bivouac’, suddenly stopped writing about America’s ‘Gardens of the Hesperides’ – central Florida’s Eden.

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South Florida Sentinel of Orlando, on May 26, 1886, reported: ‘Mr. Charles G. Nute died at the residence of his son-in-law and daughter, Colonel and Mrs. W. R. Anno, near Pine Castle, at noon Monday, of paralysis. Mr. Nute was stricken with the fatal disease Thursday evening while at the tea table.” The fatal disease Charles, 75 years old, died of was not mentioned further – not that is, until 43 years later, when a descendent of Charles Goodspeed Nute wrote that Charles had died at Orlando, May 26, 1886, “from Yellow Fever.”

Orange County had built a reputation on the notion that it was free of Malaria and yellow fever, exempted of the fearful diseases because of its perfect location. Railroads of the 1880s opened up the opportunity for town building in central Florida, and 150 new towns spring up, promoted by prolific writers such as Will Wallace Harney and others - who promoted central Florida as being unequaled the world over for its healthful living.

Tampa and Jacksonville headlined the 1887-88 Yellow Fever Epidemic that kept land buyers away from Florida. As the death toll mounted, northern cities along railroad lines refused to allow trains to stop – refused to allow passengers from Florida to depart. Harper’s Magazine included sketches of Northerners denying passengers to depart in their town. Florida’s growth stopped dead in its train tracks – as residents remaining in central Florida lived in fear.

Helen (Heig) Warner, a resident of Runnymede near Kissimmee, wrote home to her mother on June 18, 1887: “There is a scare of yellow fever just now, we are in quarantine.”

As the epidemic cleared, trains finally began to deliver potential buyers once again to central Florida – until that is, December 29, 1894, when the first freeze struck. A second colder freeze rained down on central Florida February 7, 1895. “Multitudes,” said Benjamin M. Robinson, brother in law of Will Wallace Harney, “abandoned their groves and homes, in some cases leaving tables set and beds unmade, and went away.

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Friday, June 21, 2019

ORLANDO Founding Families: Robert R. REID III

Part 12: ORLANDO RESCUER: Robert R. REID (continued):
Note: Part 13 of this Summer Series will be posted Friday, August 9, 2019

The Mayor’s 1879 proclamation dissolving the City of Orlando was a call to action for Robert Raymond Reid III. Landowner at the time of 120 acres surrounding Orlando’s 1875 Orange County Courthouse, a three-story structure that had been financed by Florida’s cattle-king Jake Summerlin, Robert R. Reid III went right to work rescuing the county seat from almost certain doom.

It had been 22 years since out of state founder Benjamin F. Caldwell of Talladega, Alabama donated four wilderness acres for a log cabin courthouse, a dozen years since Reid himself travelled from Palatka to submit the low bid to acquire Orlando, at auction, on its own courthouse step. It had been four years since out of towners Broome and Cohen had arrived to officially incorporate Orlando as a town. But in 1879, the question of multiple property deeds persisted clearly revealing overlapping landowners, some of whom perished during the Civil War. Barely a town as of 1879, Orlando, if it was to survive as a city, needed a big-time legal fix. Luckily, Robert R. Reid III had the wherewithal to fix Orlando’s problem.

Step One of Reid’s Big Fix:

Reid turned first to Orange County pioneer James G. Speer, the original attorney involved in founding Orlando as Orange County’s seat of government in 1856-57. Brother in law to Benjamin Caldwell, Speer traveled to Talladega personally during the spring of 1879 as a representative of Robert R. Reid III of Palatka. James G. Speer, a resident of West Orange County since returning from Florida’s Gulf Coast in the late 1860s, then met with the widow of Benjamin F. Caldwell, Speer’s one-time sister in law.

On April 21, 1879, James G. Speer signed as a witness to the signature of Louisa ‘Lou’ (Morris) Caldwell (1831-1906), “widow of Benjamin F. Caldwell of Talladega, deceased,” and conveyed to Robert R. Reid all title to land at Orange County, Florida. Also signing the document were three sons of Orlando’s 1857 original founder: William Sandy Caldwell (1856-1936); Lewis Ellington Caldwell (1860-1927); and Benjamin Franklin Caldwell II (1864-1936).

With the signed document in hand, Speer returned home to Orange County, where he recorded the document with Orange County’s clerk of court five (5) days after Orlando’s Mayor had issued the July 24, 1879 proclamation dissolving Orlando’s town’s charter.

Step Two of Reid’s Big Fix:

With the Reid/Caldwell conflict resolved, phase two kicked in. Palatka Attorney William F. Forward, son of the 1850s Circuit Judge Forward, who in 1857-58 had traveled to Village of Orlando to hold court, was in 1879 also the son in law of Robert R. Reid III. Reid looked to William to negotiate a settlement with the county. Orange County Commissioners James M. Owens; Benjamin F. Whitner; Henry Overstreet; and Christopher C. Beasley accepted Reid’s agreement May 17, 1879, and Attorney Forward recorded the approved county resolution with the clerk of court September 5, 1879.
Benjamin Caldwell had gifted 4 acres (except lot 10) to Orange County in 1857. Deeded 119 acres by the land office in 1860, Caldwell’s 119 acres included the 4 acres gifted to the county. Robert Reid acquired at auction 113 acres in 1867, the very same parcel owned by Caldwell, less 4 acres owned by the county as well as two, one-acre parcels, land adjoining the village that the Patrick’s believed they rightfully owned. With the Caldwell family now out of the picture, and County Commissioners in agreement, Reid could then proceed with the final phase of his plan.

Side-by-side aerial and map views of Benjamin F. Caldwell’s 119 acres (outlined in orange at right above) acquired by Robert R. Reid III at auction in 1867 and resolved through negotiations with William A. Patrick in 1880. Green square at left above was the 40 acres developed by Patrick. Red rectangle above was developed by Reid.

Step Three of Reid’s Big Fix:

Robert R. Reid and William A. Patrick came to a written agreement on who owned what. This phase was handled by Reid himself, and involved two stages resolved through two documents. First, Reid and the Patrick family representative reached agreement with regards to two parcels adjoining Orlando’s town square. Second, Robert Reid and William Patrick then agreed to a distribution plan for the remaining 120 acres. William A. Patrick settled on a square parcel 40 acres in size (see green square at left on aerial view above), leaving 80 acres in a rectangle shape that remained with Robert R. Reid III (red rectangle on right on aerial view above).

Southernmost railroad town of Orlando:

As yearend 1880 approached South Florida Railroad’s first train arrived at Orlando, the county seat of Orange County and the southernmost city (for a moment in time) in the United States of America having rail service. The first train stopped where Church Street today intersects with Gertrude’s walk, and where back in 1880, William A. Patrick owned land to the west of that track, and Robert R. Reid owned land east of the track.

A town called Orlando was back in business, saved largely due to the determination of Robert R. Reid III, a merchant from Palatka. Robert and Mary C. Reid of Palatka sold their first Orlando town lot March 16, 1881, signing that deed, as they did all sales deeds to follow, from their home in Putnam County.

Founded by an out-of-state resident who never lived at Orlando, the county seat was saved from almost certain doom by an out-of-town resident who never lived at Orlando!

This series will return Friday, August 9, 2019. The railroad’s arrival at Orlando was an important step in opening South Florida to development. As new track was laid further south, the depots built at intervals along that track encouraged settlers to chance “City Building in the South.” Some towns survived while others didn’t!

Friday, August 9, 2019: Mackinnon
Friday, August 16, 2019: Kissimmee
Friday, August 23, 2019: Davenport
Friday, August 30, 2019: To be announced


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Curse of Florida’s Paradise (2016 2nd Edition)
Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains (2015)
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Thursday, June 13, 2019

ORLANDO Founding Families: The REID family

Part 11: Robert Raymond REID & friends:

“A stage wagon twice a week goes from Orlando to Sanford and Mellonville through a region of country picturesque with new groves and pine castles risen like Aladdin’s palace.”

Robert R. Reid residence at Palatka, Florida
Orlando parcels sold by the Reid’s during the 1880s were signed at Palatka, FL

Correspondent Will Wallace Harney, a resident of Orange County, told of “stage wagon” service between Orlando and Lake Monroe in 1877. The article, entitled “Florida Letter,” was penned at Will Harney’s “Pinecastle” on Lake Conway. Twenty years had passed since Orange County’s seat of government had been established by 31 registered voters choosing Orlando as its site. An Abbeville clan (Part 10) had been the advocates of this remote location. And a decade had passed since Robert Raymond Reid III made the journey from his Palatka residence, arriving at Orlando in time to submit the low bid of $900 for 113 acres surrounding the 1857 Orlando village. After submitting his winning bid, Reid then returned home to Palatka.

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Robert R. Reid III did more to rescue the forsaken village of Orlando than any other founder, but history failed to remember the Palatka merchant for his accomplishments. He had stepped ashore at Mellonville in 1867, before stage wagon service, and journeyed inland to Fort Reid, a small settlement named for the fortress built at this location in 1842. Fort Reid had been named by the Army for Territorial Governor Robert R. Reid II, father of the Palatka merchant Reid who passed this way 25 years later, on his way to the county seat - to rescue Orlando!

Reid had another twenty (20) miles to traverse south of Fort Reid, following the Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin Road, to arrive at Orlando. Will Harney traveled this way two years later, describing the trail in 1869 by conjuring up Alexander Kinglake’s 1835 description of the Sahara (Sinai), “Sand and sand and sand, and only sand and sand and sand again.” But despite all the sand, Robert R. Reid III arrived at Orlando in time to submit the winning bid at Sheriff John Ivey’s January 7, 1867 auction.

Robert R. Reid III was the successful bidder at $900 of the 113 acres outlined in orange, but with exception of four (4) acres outlined in red, the Village of Orlando. 40 acres inside orange area, left of the green line, was platted by William A. Patrick. 80 acres right of green line was platted by Robert R. Reid III. More on this development in Part 12.

Among the many intriguing uncertainties of Orlando’s founding are several mysteries involving R. R. Reid III: Why did Reid buy Orlando? Why, after submitting his winning bid, did Reid III return home to Palatka and do nothing for more than a decade with his newly acquired property? Why did Reid wait 13 years prior to recording Orlando’s first town plat? Why didn’t Robert R. Reid III relocate to the land he purchased in Orange County?

Historian Kena Fries wrote this of the Palatka merchant in 1938: “Robert R. Reid, a lawyer from Jacksonville, was engaged to settle the dispute, and for his services was paid that part of Orlando known as Robert R. Reid’s addition to the original town of Orlando. There was a romance, Reid fell in love and married Mary Lovell. They left soon after.” Reid III however was a not a lawyer, nor was Reid given the land for services rendered. As for Mary, the daughter of William Allen Lovell, she married a Taylor, not a Reid. Robert R. Reid III had married Mary Benet in 1850, not Mary Lovell, and the Palatka couple remained married until her death at Palatka in 1889.

The particulars of Orlando’s origin are complicated, so it is no wonder historians often got the story of the town’s founding wrong. Even Orlando’s timeline is askew. Founded in 1857, the village wasn’t incorporated as a town until August 1875. Jacob Summerlin financed building the three-story county courthouse that same year. And at the 1875 incorporation meeting, locals all agreed to expand the town size from its original 4 acres to a square mile. But despite Orlando’s 1875 incorporation, a town plat was not recorded until 5 years later.

When the first town plat was recorded, it was depicted on two pages and recorded with the clerk of court in 1880. At the center of the town plat was shown the 4 acres donated to Orange County in 1857 by Benjamin F. Caldwell. The north half of the 80 acres platted as Addition to Orlando appeared on page one, with the owner listed on the page as Robert R. Reid. Page two of the plat showed the south half of the town, and the owner was listed as R. R. Reed. The correct name of course was Robert Raymond Reid III of Palatka, and there is also an excellent explanation as to why Reid’s plat was 80 acres rather than 113 acres. Reid III, one could say, was a peace maker.

Plat of Orlando recorded as two pages at Orange County in 1881 by Robert R. Reid III 

Remember the Patrick family of Part 4, and how they believed the 113 acres outlined above in orange belonged to them? And remember Benjamin F. Caldwell of Part 5, and the deed showing he owned that very same parcel? Well, by 1879, Robert R. Reid III of Palatka had one big mess on his hands. He could not sell the acreage he had owned since 1867 without first cleaning up his deed. Cohorts of Robert R. Reid III, including merchant Jacob R. Cohen, had been instrumental in formally incorporating the Town of Orlando in 1875, but then the past reared its ugly head.

Reid’s problems reached fever pitch in July 1879. Historian William F. Blackman wrote of that year’s strange turn of events: “Some question having arisen as to the legality of the existing Charter, the Mayor issued a proclamation that the corporation of Orlando is dissolved by the majority vote of the citizens of Orlando.” Orlando dissolved? Four years prior Henry S. Sanford had made his pitch to move the county seat to Sanford. Jacob Summerlin said never!

Founded by an out-of-state family, Orlando’s only hope of rescue in 1879 rested with an out-of-town landowner. Orlando now looked to Robert R. Reid III to solve a problem 22 years in the making. And had it not been for what happened next, Orange County’s courthouse may well have been relocated to Sanford, despite the objections of Jacob Summerlin.

Next Friday, Robert R. Reid III steps in to save a mysterious little county seat named Orlando.

  First Road to Orlando” is a history of the old Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin Road and of how a tiny village in the middle of a remote wilderness became the Orange County seat of government.

This Orlando Founding Families Series delves deeper into the courageous people who found their way down a lonely dusty forts trail – and became the first families to settle Orlando.

Central Florida History by Richard Lee Cronin
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