Sunday, November 17, 2019

WILKS - A Short Avenue Long on History - Part Two

WILKS - A Short Avenue Long on History
Part Two: The FATHER

Wilks Avenue in Pine Castle, two separated sections on either side of Hansel Avenue, comprise an ideal artery upon which to locate a historical society whose stated mission is preserving South Orange County’s history. Named 105 years ago, the easily missed side street truly personifies the origins of central Florida itself.

Like that of Orlando’s iconic Lake Eola - #EolaNamesake - or 1840s Fort Reid (Reed), 1880s Webber (Weber) Street in Orlando, and Ghost Town Mackinnon (McKinnon) at the Orange / Osceola County line – the mystery of Wilks Avenue exists today largely because the name was misspelled during the earliest days of central Florida’s recorded history.

James A. Wilkes was among an impressive list of property owners upon which the two portions of Wilks Avenue now exists. Born 1880 near Adel, Georgia, Wilkes presumably did not realize his name had been misspelled on part of the Orange County recorded plat of 1914. The plat title was recorded as “J. A. Wilks Subdivision”, and the named Wilks Avenue is shown on that plat. Among owners listed on the plat however is “J. A. Wilkes”. The road north of Wilks was not named at that time, but later, the unidentified 1914 road became Hoffner Avenue.

1914 "J. A. Wilks Subdivision (East of Randolph)

Although there are a few Orange County deeds showing the “Wilks” spelling, most deeds show the surname of James as “Wilkes”, including a 1920 transaction in which “J. A. Wilkes and wife Lula P.” transferred part of “Lot 10 of the Will Wallace Harney Homestead” to “E. D. M. Perkins”. A Pine Castle merchant, Epaminondas D. M. Perkins was named postmaster of Pine Castle on the 20th day of November 1914. He was also the brother in law of James A. Wilkes. Perkins Road in Pine Castle – spelled correctly - was named for Epaminondas.

James A, Wilkes owned and platted the block east of Hansel, Lot 3 of the original Will Wallace Harney Homestead, but he also acquired, in 1912, the corner lot at what is now Orange Avenue and Wilks, west of the parcel where Pine Castle Historical Society is located.

Part One of this series introduced the son of James A. & Lula (Parker) Wilkes. Wallace Harney Wilkes, said his WWII draft registration, was born December 11, 1913 at Pine Castle – twenty months after the death of Pine Castle’s founder, Will Wallace Harney, on March 12, 1912.

James A. Wilkes died in 1932 at Detroit, Michigan, twenty years after owning a piece of the Harney Homestead, and twenty years after naming his son in honor of the town founder. Then 52 years old, the Georgia native had been working as a Caretaker at an Apartment building.

Part Three of my series will be posted next Saturday – on the 107th Anniversary of J. A. Wilkes purchasing the corner lot at Wilks Avenue and Orange Avenue.  Mark your calendar too for Saturday, November 30th, for on that day, Pine Castle Historical Society will open its doors at 631 Wilks Avenue (not Wilkes) - from 10 AM until 3 PM, where holiday shoppers can pick up a signed author’s copy of “Will Wallace Harney, Orlando’s First Renaissance Man.”

Third in a Pine Castle Historical Society series

Central Florida history - the PERFECT holiday gift for every history lover in the family.
Watch for my upcoming Christmas holiday series: “12 Days of a Central Florida Christmas.” Hum the classic tune while reading a daily feature beginning Friday, November 29, 2019, and running thru Tuesday, December 12th.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

WILKS - A Short Avenue Long on History - Part One

Part One: THE SON

631 Wilks Avenue - the address of Pine Castle Historical Society, is where you will see a 1940 “farm residence” dubbed the “White House”. The origins of South Orange County can now be found in this dwelling, for it is here that society members strive to preserve the early history of their community. My next few posts however will not be about the structures found at 631 Wilks Avenue. Instead, I want to explore the story of “Wilks Avenue” itself. It is purely coincidental therefore that I begin this series of posts in the year 1940.

In faraway Chicago, Illinois of 1940, a young man 27 years of age, describing himself as 6’ 2” in height and weighing 160 pounds, of light complexion with gray eyes and brown hair, registered with his Chicago, Illinois draft board. Like most young Americans throughout the land during those troubling days prior to our country’s involvement in World War II, this young Chicagoan took time off from his job at E. J. Brach Candy Company to register for the draft.

The information provided on his registration provides an intriguing new twist to the fascinating story of South Orange County, Florida. Although living in Chicago that year, Wallace Harney Wilkes gave his date of birth as December 11, 1913, and gave his place of birth as “Pine Castle, Florida.” Intriguing, right? I think so, and I’m just now getting started!

Part Two of my series will appear tomorrow, but during the interim – why not take a moment to mark your calendar for Saturday, November 30, 2019. The Pine Castle Historical Society will open its doors at 631 Wilks Avenue – not Wilkes - from 10 AM until 3 PM, where you can pick up holiday gifts – including a signed copy of “Will Wallace Harney, Orlando’s First Renaissance Man”.

Forget Black Friday, shop Small Business Saturday and take part in preserving central Florida history.
Now that you’ve marked your calendar, make another note to return here tomorrow for Part Two of “Wilks – A Short Avenue Long on History.”

Follow @Citruslandfl to catch my upcoming Christmas series: “12 Days of a Central Florida Christmas.” A new twist on a Holiday Classic, ta daily feature will begin Friday, November 29, 2019 and run thru Tuesday, December 12, 2019.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Citrusland Salute to Veterans


If history is any indication, central Florida’s future civic leaders are today serving in America’s Armed Services. Since the planting of the first commercial orange grove in 1842, Veterans have been an integral part of the planning and development of Florida’s Citrus Belt. Central Floridians of present day have much to be thankful for; with Veterans topping out that “thank you” list.
Anywhere you look throughout central Florida’s 19th century Citrus Belt you will find handiwork of Veterans. At times though, you will need to dig deep into the region’s archives to appreciate this fact. Franklin Pond, for example, is currently a #Montverde housing subdivision along the west shore of Lake Apopka. The origin of Franklin Pond however is not readily apparent.

Montverde Railway Station

After graduating from Annapolis Naval School, Lt. James Franklin shipped out to the Pacific aboard the U. S. S. Ashuelot Naval gun boat. Injured in 1878 while serving his country, James Franklin was discharge in 1879, and one year later, with bride Fannie, they homesteaded and founded a town on the route of the Tavares, Apopka and Gulf Railroad line.

Dr. Washington Kilmer was diagnosed a dead man by a fellow Ironton, Ohio doctor. Told he had but a year to live, he set out - on foot – for Florida. One thousand miles later, Dr. Kilmer stopped walking where today is the intersection of SR 434 and Markham Woods Road. He homesteaded 160 acres at that location, and the Veteran of America’s Civil War founded #Altamont. The letter “E” was added later by others.

Dr. Washington Kilmer

Kilmer did not die within the year as predicted. In fact, 15 years after arriving in Florida, the Civil War surgeon was honored by #Orlando citizens for being the first doctor to rush to the aid of Tampa during its 1887 Yellow Fever epidemic. Told he had but a year to live in 1871, Veteran Washington Kilmer died in Orlando in 1919, at the age of 81.

Prior to becoming a town developer by expanding Orlando to the west, Veteran James B. Parramore acquired twelve hundred acres on Lake Monroe in 1868 from his father-in-law, Florida’s Brigadier General, Joseph J. Finegan. Parramore’s interest in Orange County’s seat waited until after Veteran and Attorney Robert W. Broome arrived from Lake City in 1875 to finish that which the locals had yet to do – incorporate the city of Orlando.

Veteran Benjamin M. Robinson arrived at Fort Reid soon after the Civil War. Born at Alabama in 1845, Robinson died at Orange County in 1938, and for many of these years was the Clerk of Court. Benjamin also served as Orlando Mayor and contributed immensely to the preservation of central Florida history.

Missouri native Augustus C. Hart was serving in the Philippines in 1900 with William Howard Taft of Ohio, the Chief Civil Administrator of the Philippines under President McKinley.  An official government bio of Taft says this: “Sympathetic toward Filipinos, he (Taft) improved the economy, built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some participation in government.”

Following their service in the Philippines, William Howard Taft went to Washington, DC, and won the Presidency in 1909. Veteran Augustus C. Hart came to central Florida, where for many years he served as an Orange County Surveyor. Of the many streets Hart surveyed, one town, #Taft, Florida, was recorded in April 9, 1910 – the year our 27th President, William Howard Taft, took his oath of office.

Surveyor A. C. Hart (right) on Dixie Highway at the Orange/Osceola County line

“Pluck and courage”, said Will Wallace Harney in 1873, were two attributes a pioneer needed to live in Orange County. “Pluck and courage” certainly describe too the “stuff” our Veterans of America’s Armed Forces are made of.

A visitor passing through Fort Reid in 1873 stopped along the First Road to Orlando and asked an old gentleman, “sitting in an orange grove”, the name of the place. The old man said is was Fort Reid, so the visitor asked if he could visit the fort and its soldiers, not realizing the fort in question had closed three decades prior. “This is the fort,” said the old man, Veteran Augustus Jefferson Vaughn, a man of pluck and courage, “and I am the soldier.”

And so, to all the men and women Veterans of our Armed Services, CitruslandFL salutes you. For all who follow in the footsteps of Mr. Vaughn of Fort Reid, Thank you!  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

About Miss EOLA Way #EolaNamesake

About Orlando’s MISS EOLA
For attendees of Fiesta in the Park at Lake Eola
November 2nd & 3rd, 2019

Perhaps while strolling around Lake Eola - enjoying all the unique creations of the artists - your own creative juices might ponder how this lake got its unusual name. #EolaNamesake is pleased to provide you with the answer.

Orlando Lakes: Homesteaders & Namesakes by Richard Lee Cronin, (2019) is an encyclopedia style history that traces the origins of 19th century named lakes in and around central Florida. Orlando’s iconic Lake Eola, named in 1874, is one of 303 Citrus Belt lakes included in my book. From Lake Eustis and George in the north, to Lake Conlin and Tohopekaliga in the south, the origins of most 19th century named lakes were found in official documents recorded at the 1857 Orange County seat at Orlando. Hence the title, Orlando Lakes.

Each lake is presented in alphabetical order in the book, with Lake Eola featured on Page 91. The lake’s description however is included below for curious attendees of Fiesta in the Park.

(Lake Eola is also featured on the cover of the book as shown above.)

A perfect holiday gift for the history fan in your family

Special Event Price of $18.00 for an autographed copy

Page 91 of Orlando Lakes: Homesteaders & Namesakes
Section 25 22S; 29E (Downtown Orlando)

Florida Cattle-King Jacob Summerlin moved his family back to Florida in the early 1870s. They had relocated to Liberty County, GA after the Civil War, moving there so the children could get a better education. Moving back to Florida brought the Summerlin family to Orlando, where the cattle king purchased 200 acres adjacent to the four (4) acre village of Orlando.

A son Robert, having graduated from law school in 1875, attended along with his father Orlando’s 1875 incorporation meeting. During the meeting Summerlin property, 200 acres adjacent to the east side of the village, was annexed into the Town of Orlando. Jacob subdivided his land that same year, sketching a plat in 1875 which showed a named Lake Eola.

An unusual name, Orlando’s iconic Lake Eola of today dates to the arrival of Jacob Summerlin in 1874. Historian and author Kena Fries said in 1938 that prior to Jacob Summerlin’s arrival, the lake had been known as "South Beach". Kena also said Summerlin chose the name at the request of his son Robert. According to Kena, Robert Summerlin and a girl named Eola had been sweethearts. They planned to marry, but Eola died within weeks of their proposed wedding. So, is any of this true?

Native Floridians, the Summerlin’s had lived in Georgia only a brief time. After arriving in Orlando, Jacob Summerlin’s wife attended a meeting too, her's to help organize a Presbyterian Church. One of eleven original church members, March 18, 1876 minutes reads as follows; “Mrs. Jacob Summerlin, formerly of Flemington, Georgia, was in attendance.”

Flemington, GA, southwest of Savannah, is in Liberty County, GA. The Summerlin family was listed in that county’s 1870 census as family #13. The Summerlin children were listed as: George, Robert, Samuel and Alice, and all were said to be “attending school.” A neighbor in 1870, family #6, was Widow Sarah A. Way. Residing with her was a daughter Florence, age 23, listed as a schoolteacher, and three other children, each attending school as well: EULA, Ellen and Joseph.

Lake Eola c. 1880s from downtown Orlando by Stanley J. Morrow

EULA was more formerly Eulalie Way, born at Liberty County, July 22, 1854. But Eulalie never married! She died at age 42, October 13, 1896, and was buried in the State and County of her birth. At age 6, EULA was listed as Eulalie, but 10 years later, as a young girl, friends apparently had nicknamed her EULA. In 1870, "Eula" was 16 years old, Robert Summerlin was 12.

Till Eulalie became my blushing bride:” Eulalie was a popular name back in the mid-1800s (see Maitland’s Lake Eulalie), popular because of an Edgar Allan Poe poem that had been released nine years before Eula’s birth. The poem, “Eulalie,” is said to be verse about the author’s wife. Married in 1836, a line of the poem reads: “I dwelt alone, in a world of moan, till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride”.

Robert Summerlin and Eulalie Way never married, but not because his "to-be bride" had died. Robert may have had a crush, and it seems the Summerlin boys asked dad to name the lake on their property for their Liberty, GA school chum, Eula Way. But how then did Eula become Eola?

Early surveyors were detailed mapmakers, but often terrible spellers. Fort Reid, named for Florida Territorial Governor Robert R. Reid, was printed Reed by surveyors in 1846. Historians perpetuated that error. Lake Jesup is still misspelled Jessup to this day. Jacob Summerlin hired a surveyor in 1874 to plat his addition to Orlando, and apparently, when told to name the lake Eula, and unaware of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, Surveyor James Jefferson Davis printed Eola instead.

LEGEND Pg. 14: 1881P00C068


Grave of Eulalie Way (1854-1896) Liberty County, GA

Central Florida history
Richard Lee Cronin

Will Wallace Harney, Orlando’s First Renaissance Man: Commissioned by Pine Castle Historical Society, this is the first-ever comprehensive biography of central Florida’s distinguished pioneer and Pine Castle founder. More than a biography of one notable individual, this book describes the origins of Florida’s Citrus Belt itself. Proceeds benefits the Historical Society’s ongoing Pine Castle preservation projects.

Pick up your autographed copy at Fiesta in the Park
CroninBooks booth in the Central Blvd Quadrant

Orlando Lakes: Homesteaders & Namesakes: Name origins of 303 central Florida lakes identify the area’s earliest homesteaders and why they gave lakes the names we know them by today. From Lake Eustis in the north to Lake Tohopekaliga in the south, 19th century records were kept at the then county seat of Orlando.

The Rutland Mule Matter: A central Florida Civil War Historical Novel based on a true-life Orange County family during the aftermath of America’s War of Rebellion. A son and daughter search for their missing father, banished from local history after the War. Quite possibly the only Novel that includes a bibliography! The siblings find the answer they sought – but that knowledge changed everything. Seven Honorable Floridians compliments Rutland, offering biographies of all seven Florida Secession Convention delegated who voted NO!

Beyond Gatlin: A History of South Orange County. Recipient of Pine Castle Historical Society’s 2017 Historian Award, Beyond Gatlin tells of the pioneers and their settlements south of Fort Gatlin, including towns: Troy, Gatlin, Pine Castle, Mackinnon, Kissimmee, Smithville, Runnymede, The Prosper Colony, Taft, Belle Isle & Edgewood. Beyond Gatlin is a perfect companion to Will Wallace Harney, Orlando’s First Renaissance Man.

First Road to Orlando: A history of Fort Mellon to Fort Gatlin Road, established in 1838 as a military trail. For four decades this dirt path was the main artery for settlers coming inland to Orlando. Today’s I-4 corridor developed largely along this path – a trail that in 1870 was used to plan the route of central Florida’s first railroad. Includes analysis of each old-time version of how Orlando was named – and one new version based on facts.

CitrusLAND: Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains: Ride along with real-life Edward T. Stotesbury and John P. Ilsley – two Philadelphians who had attempted to rescue the Orange Belt Railway in the 1890s. Boarding at Sanford days after the freeze of 1894-95, you’ll meet real-life homesteaders, men and women, who founded: Sylvan Lake; Paola; Island Lake; Glen Ethel, Altamont (Palm Springs); Forest City; Toronto; Lakeville; Clarcona; Crown Point; Winter Garden and Oakland. History in Novel form complete with bibliography.

CitrusLAND: Curse of Florida’s Paradise: Central Florida’s earliest pioneers faced every imaginable challenge, and many unimaginable, while attempting to tame a remote Orange County wilderness. Each of twelve chapters begins with a biography paying tribute to a central Florida frontierswoman, partners with the remarkable male counterparts who – against all odds – established Central Florida’s Citrus Belt.

In His Brother’s Memory: No history! Escapism in the form of a suspense Novel which takes place on the streets of Paris. a Novel added to the family of R. L. Cronin Books in 2018.

History, Mystery & Intrigue

CroninBooks pays the Florida Sales Tax on ALL Event Sales - Tax included in price

Friday, August 23, 2019

First train to LAKELAND

First train to LAKELAND

A full-page March 12, 1890 advertisement in the Florida Agriculturist newspaper reads much like a history of the victorious town in a battle between two place names. Last week’s blog told of a Lake Parker town of Acton, now little more than a ghost town. A few miles west of Acton a fellow named A. G. Munn laid out his town of LAKELAND, the winner in the battle between the two towns, and in 1890, Munn was selling the Tremont Hotel at Lakeland, said to have been built, per the full-page advertisement, “in the Fall of 1884, enlarged during the Winter of 1885-86, and thoroughly repaired and repainted in February 1890.”

Abraham Godwin Munn (1819-1909)
Abraham Godwin Munn (1819-1909), of Louisville, Kentucky, founded Lakeland on 80 acres he purchased in 1881-82. President of an Agricultural equipment manufacturing firm at Louisville, Munn originally selected DeLand as the site for his winter residence, arriving there, reported the Florida Agriculturalist, March 2, 1881. The paper wrote that Mr. Munn of Louisville “invested largely in the fine residence on the place he purchased from Dr. Lancaster.” The residence had presumably been the home of Dr. George W. Lancaster (1836-1913), an early DeLand pioneer.

Munn kept his property and interest in DeLand, for in 1889, he was listed as a partner in the St. Johns and DeLand Railway Company, a venture desiring to build a line between Lake Beresford and DeLand. Abraham Munn’s son, Morris G. Munn, established a farm in the DeLand area.

Two other railroads however became of interest to Abraham G. Munn long before he invested in the short 1889 DeLand line. These two railroads were mentioned in Munn’s 1890 Tremont Hotel advertisement. “Lakeland,” the Munn’s ad stated, “is at the Junction of the South Florida and Florida Southern Railroads, and now has 11 passenger trains daily.” Lakeland was described in Munn’s advertisement as “beautifully laid out with wide streets and is the highest point on the South Florida Railroad line, and very desirable for a winter home.” Interested parties could buy the hotel of 36 guest chambers, said to have had 4,000 guests since first opening, at “a bargain, on easy terms.” Interested parties were encouraged to contact Morris G. Munn at DeLand.

Kentucky Avenue, Lakeland, circa 1880s, Munn Public Park at right
As viewed from the railroad tracks, courtesy

Abraham Munn, son of Ira Munn (1792-1857) and Elizabeth (Godwin 1796-1878), had been a native of New Jersey who relocated at a young age to Louisville, Kentucky. On November 13, 1844 Abraham married Rebecca (Morton). Other than spending winters in Florida – either at DeLand or his Lakeland property, Abraham did not move to Florida as a full-time resident. He died at Louisville October 18, 1909.

South Florida Railroad’s extensive 1887 travelogue described central Florida’s terrain heading west from Kissimmee, explaining how the grade ascended in terraces ranging from 65 feet above sea level near Lake Tohopekaliga to 210 feet at Lakeland. “An energetic settler and English company have cut 3 ½ miles of canal,” reported the travelogue, “and are engaged in redeeming these meadows, which will be astonishingly fertile.” One supposes the brochure might have been talking about Englishman Piers Eliot Warburton and his lakeside town of Acton (Last week’s blog).

The travelogue continued in his description: “Lakeland unites to its natural advantages and present opportunities as the junction of the main line and Pemberton branch of the South Florida Railroad, the prospective hope of drawing to it the associate lines of the West Coast.” East-West South Florida Railroad and north-south Florida Southern Railroad had both set their sights on Lakeland. “The town,” the travelogue added, “is more city-like than any point north of it, and is laid off about a main plaza forming a square of ten acres, with the railway extending along one thoroughfare.”

The main plaza was that of today’s Munn Park (outlined in green below on the early plat of A. G. Munn’s Town of Lakeland. The red line indicates the path of South Florida Railroad.)

A.    G. Munn’s 1884 survey of his town of Lakeland

Of each description of Lakeland, and for most every town in this vicinity for that matter, is that “it is hard to believe the babe born the day it was incorporated is yet in long clothes; or that four years ago there were more wild cats and panthers than men and women in the city.” Abraham G. Munn acquired his land only four years before the arrival of the Lake Monroe to Tampa Bay train.

There is far more to the story of Lakeland’s founders and founding, a history requiring its very own blog series, but for now – in the interest of telling how a train to Tampa Bay influenced the development of central Florida – suffice it to say that Abraham Godwin Munn envisioned the town of Lakeland, a city he first platted in 1884.

This blog series resumes next Friday as the South Florida Railroad continues to lay down track toward the Gulf of Mexico. Next Friday we enter Hillsborough County, stopping first at Plant City. YOUR online central Florida history store

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;
Beyond Gatlin: A history of South Orange County
Visit for details

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.

Available this FALL 2019
Central Florida’s Acclaimed Poet, Writer, Historian, Correspondent
To receive an email when the book is available for purchase, contact
NOTE: This book is being a publication and sold by the Historical Society.  

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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