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Archive for January, 2014

Steve Fussell of Fruitland Park has launched a new web site, http://fruitlandparknews.org/ where he has what he calls a “department,” History and Lore. Since the site is so new and not quite completed, Steve has made just one post there. But it’s quite interesting. It’s a no-byline article, The Evolution of Fruitland Park: What 41 Years Have Done for One Corner of Lake County, Told in a Log, published in the Leesburg Commercial March 30, 1917. Now this just happens to be the earliest “history” I’ve seen. Yet it still points out that memory does wane over time; some “facts” cited are not true.

Pertinent portions of the article are re-printed below with some annotations. Read the entire article at Steve’s website. It’s interesting. . .

It was Mrs. R.E. Filcher, Mrs. Lord and W.G. Dwight’s week to furnish the entertainment for Casino night the other night, so they carried out their contract. Mrs. Filcher gave several recitations which so delighted the audience that she still had to give more.

Mrs. Lord for her “stunt” got a male quartet to render some glees. The gentlemen were Messrs. West, Benedict, Cook and Uries, and they were in fine voice. Miss Finnegan was accompanist.

The third member of the committee [William G. Dwight] for his part of the “show” gave a brief paper on the evolution of Fruitland Park, going back 41 years when O.P. Rooks took up the first homestead claim in this vicinity.

The paper while representing some work, was most simple. Still R.E. Filcher was anxious to have it go on record through the Commercial, so here is the log of Fruitland Park:

Through the kindness of Mrs. Rooks, Misses Margaret and Elizabeth Smith and others, the writer has been enabled to get together some data relating to the early days of Fruitland Park.

And it is interesting in this connection to note that there have really been two Fruitland Parks in the last 41 years. Each with its club houses and community centers. Each with its church, school and social interests, which goes to show that the world wags along in about the same way. Aside from the tasks and duties of life there must be times and places for the engendering and development of the social side of our character.

The Fruitland Park of thirty years ago, with its Bucket and Dipper Club [what a stretch], was not many removes from the spirit of our present Community Club. The only difference is that we are more modern in our ways of enjoyment.

But let us turn to the historical data.

I find that the pioneers of Fruitland Park were O.P. Rooks and his brother, W.A. Rooks. Up in Pennsylvania back in 1875, these two brothers fell in with a Captain Kendrick of Cincinnati, who had been much of a traveler about the country. He was very enthusiastic about Florida and at his invitation the Rooks brothers came down to “God’s country,” as Captain Kendrick called it.

The three men made the pilgrimage to Jacksonville and then down the St. Johns River and Oklawaha River, finally landing at Silver Springs, hired a hack and were driven to Leesburg through the wildest part of wild country.

They reached Leesburg, then just a hamlet, at 11 o’clock at night. It was a hard, dreary trip as their hack broke down and several times they had to be hauled out of the sand.

This was January, 1876. The land in this community was then only homestead claims and to be taken up one had to get in touch with the government claims office in Gainesville.

The Rooks brothers struck out over the wild country and came to the site of Mrs. Rooks’ present home on Crystal Lake. O.P. Rooks was charmed with the location and at once decided to pitch his tent here. He took up a homestead claim of 160 acres and after breaking the land and clearing it, started a home.

In December, 1879, he was joined by his wife, Mrs. Rooks, who came on from Philadelphia, and has lived here ever since. W.A. Rooks, who came with his brother, about this time went to Washington to live.

Pioneering cannot be done entirely by one man. The one-man power is inadequate for such construction periods. It needs the combined energies and brains of men. Kind Providence was good to Mr. Rooks and his homestead claim of 160 acres, four miles out of Leesburg.

At this time there appeared on the scene an English gentleman who had come across the seas with the view to establish a colony of his countrymen. He tumbled into Leesburg by hack and fell in with Mr. Rooks.

This gentleman was G.C. Stapylton, the son of a canon in the English church and a young man of liberal education. Messrs. Rooks and Stapylton surveyed the country all about and through their energies other homesteaders were to locate here.

Rooks and Stapylton gave the name of Fruitland Park to the community. [Only Rooks] It was later called Gardenia by the United States post office department. Still the railroad stuck to the original name, Fruitland Park. As there was another Fruitland so much confusion resulted that the post office department dropped its post office Gardenia and went back to Fruitland Park.

About this time the Plant line, which had built as far south as Sanford from Jacksonville, was to be pushed further along. One branch was to come to Ocala and south of there the original survey through this territory called for the road to be built on the other side of Dead River.

But Rooks and Stapylton were alert to the exigency, the route must be on this side of the river to do Fruitland Park any good. So they got busy and by donating the land [Stapylton donated no land.] they got the line built where it now runs between Ocala and Leesburg.

While Mr. Rooks was busy with the development of his own claim, planting orange groves and acquiring more acres, Mr. Stapylton devoted himself to corralling the English homesteaders. [Love this description.]

And they were a class all by themselves. While orange growing was a new business for them they were adepts at horseback riding, hunting, and enjoying to the fullest the happy open air life of Florida.

It is neighbor Cowles who calls Florida the only “play land” he knows. This is just what the young Englishman found in this land of beautiful lakes, tropical flowers and sunshine. They were trained men, most of them graduates of Oxford, Eton or other famous English public schools, and it was easy for Stapylton to start a colony. It was through his inspiration that a community was established around Lake Ella. It was called Chetwynd, it being his middle name. So enthusiastic were the colonists that a large hotel was built by a syndicate, but it was in operation only one year. Lake Ella was too remote from the railroad. [Return to the issue of the hotel’s location again.] At the other end of the colony, [ Not quite at the other end] where R.F.E. Cooke’s present home was built, a hall stood as the center of all social activities of Fruitland Park.

It was here that the old Bucket and Dipper Club had its creation.

Members of the club had to be balloted for and at one time its membership was up to 60. To quote Mrs. Rooks, at the time of the freeze there were 85 Englishmen in this vicinity. [Mrs. Rooks exaggerated.] In the hall Mr. Stapylton had classes for instruction and here all the dances, musicals and good times were had. [Most of these events were at the club house on Spring Lake.]

It is Mrs. Watts of Leesburg, who says “some of the best good times of my life have been at the old club house of the Bucket and Dipper Club.” [Hmmm]

Miss Margaret Smith played for the dancing and all musical rehearsals were held at the Smith sisters’ home. [Margaret was also the first organist at Holy Trinity.]

In those days all the trading had to be done in Leesburg and the prices of the common necessities grew so exorbitant that a Mr. Linville, a Quaker, was induced to open a store on what is now the Schuphelt place. It was in this store that Abe McCoy, one of the Park’s gardeners, did his first work as a store boy.

Among some old-time photographs that Miss Margaret Smith has in her collection is one group picture of the English colonists. They are a fine lot of men in the picture. Many of them are dressed in their outing suits or sporting togs. [Not the same picture as in The Chetwynd Chronicles.]

Miss Smith could not recall all of the individuals of the group, but among them were V.C. Smith, Mr. Holford, two Elin brothers, two Westons, two Dowdneys, two Shelfields, two Dietz, Mr. Cazlet, J. Vickers-Smith, Mr. Hill, Mr. Budd, R.F.E. Cooke, Mr. Geary, Mr. Hafford, Mr. Tasca, two Vincent brothers, Mr. Rutledge, Mr. Dawson, two Topham brothers, Mr. Dunn, Mr. Sargent, Mr. Cheshyre, Mr. Merriles, two Cadwell brothers, two Trowers, two Fellows. [Some of these names are new to me. . .]

Miss Smith says one of the tragedies of the group was whenDawson, one of the finest of the bunch, was fatally bitten by a rattlesnake that was on exhibition in Leesburg. Mr. Dawson was handling the reptile when it struck him. [Knew George Dawson had died but not the cause.]

Mr. Rutledge, [Routledge] another of the group, occupied the place now owned by Mr. Gott and it was his daughter [Routledge’s sister] who married G. Chetwynd Stapylton, the pioneer of the community.

The English colonists, with all their free life and social activities, could not be without their church. It was as necessary as their food and here follows the history of Holy Trinity church:

The very first services were held in the old school house, now replaced by the new building at the Park. [This was not Holy Trinity but Grace Chapel.] The preacher was Rev. Mr. Tosea. [Beaubien was his name.] But this was too inconvenient for most of the colonists. So the church was moved to an old barn where the colored church now stands, overlooking Geneva Lake. From here the house of worship was moved to the present Holy Trinity church, every cent for the construction of which was raised in England.

The altar cloth now in use was the original given by V.C. Smith’s aunt and sent from England. The same cross is in use today that graced the first service. [It still is in use.] At the approach to Holy Trinity church today is the lych gate which is one of the very few in the United States.

The nearest suggestion to it is one that has recently been placed at the entrance of the Church of the Transfiguration at New York.

The lych gate at Holy Trinity church is the gift of Miss Emily Tatham who was an aunt of Mr. Schriver of Ocala. [an aunt of Mrs. Maria Schrieber]

The lych gate is an old institution of the English churches of England. At funerals the casket is brought to the gate to rest until the rector, clad in his vestments, comes down the church steps to meet the funeral cortege.

The first fair for Holy Trinity church netted 300 pounds, or $1,500, which was a most generous offer for those days. [At Stapylton’s father’s church in England.]

So life went on on Fruitland Park of those days. They had their good times, their joys and their sorrows. The pendulum of life swung merrily on and   the orange groves grew and shed their sheaves of golden fruit.

The Florida slogan was to place all eggs in one basket. The diversity of crop raising and their possibilities was an undiscovered country. So when the famous freezes of December 29, 1894, and February 8, 1895, came it caught the Fruitland Park orange kings as the German submarines catch the defenseless merchantmen in the open sea—helpless. Fortunes melted away in a night and groves that were valued at thousands of dollars were
valueless at sunrise. It was these freezes that discouraged the English colonists. Prosperity under Southern skies had come too easily. They scattered
to other states and countries. Where then was this wonderful colony of homesteaders there are now but four of its personnel left in these diggings.
They are our V.C. Smith, R.F.E. Cooke, J. Victor [Vickers] Smith and Mr. [Charles] Chesshyre, the veteran Leesburg lawyer. [There were 12 who remained plus the three Smith sisters.]

Joseph Hannah, the pride of the Park’s batchelordom, is just as English as any in the old Bucket and Dipper Club, and yet he did not belong to it. Then there was Louis Bosanquet, another of our very best. He came from England right from Eton, yet he did not belong to the original colony. [Both men belonged to the Bucket and Dipper Club and were very much a part of colony life.]

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