My name is Ralph Hansel I was born in Orlando and I moved down here to Pine Castle where I live now. I’ve never lived anywhere else I’ve only moved once in my life, from where I was born to where I live now. Yes, it was Kuhl Avenue in those days…
LISTEN Part I (15:39) (text highlights excerpts from audio recording)
Where I’m living now is where my daddy bought 40 acres of land from Dan Prescott, I think in 1928. But I remember we came down here in 1930. And I’m living right now in the same piece of land where we camped down here to when we were clearing the land. And then we had a lot of people from Taft to help us clear it. We cleared it. We grub in holes, used crosscut saws, and anything. We had a horse and wagon, no tractors, no bulldozers, and we cleared everything here and then we planted our orange grove on most of the land.
Orange Trees Planted by Ralph Hansel – VIEW
And then we built a big barn out here. Had a tractor shed when I finally got a tractor. We had a milking parlor here, had a big chicken house, we had a pen to put cows in. We had just about everything you needed.
Well, in those days, Harbour Island was just a bunch of woods. Well, we did not own Harbour Island, but we had it leased and we fenced Harbour Island in and used it for a pasture until it was subdivided in the early seventies. When it was subdivided and they had to come through me, they had to come through my place to get to Harbour Island. I had to join them. I didn’t want to, but the reason I did, they reassessed the county in those days and the assessed me so much a front foot for all the frontage I had and I couldn’t afford to pay the taxes. So luckily they wanted to develop Harbour Island Road and they built a road through me to get to it. And they paid for most of my roads and that’s the reason I had to subdivide. And I’ve been living right here ever since.
Entrance to the Hansel Homestead from Harbour Island Road
Now let me tell you about building the house. My house is a 100 foot long and everything in the house but one room faces the lake. I started building this house, some of this wood was stacked in my barn since the thirties, the cypress was. A lot of the lumber was logs that I pulled out of Lake Conway and resawed them and put it in my house. Those logs were cut across the lake and floated up in a canal that connects Lake Conway with Orange Avenue where the saw mill was. And they would pull the logs, float them across the lake, pull the logs up out of the canal with oxen and sawed them up.
Well, when they disbanded the saw mill a lot of those logs from Lake Conway sunk. And in 1939 was the worst drought we ever had around here and a lot of those logs were showing. So I went over there and pulled a lot of those logs out and I cut fireplace mantels and I cut big 8 X 8; and I took a lot of the lumber and I’d say some of those logs were two and three foot through… We had a saw mill over there on Narcoossee Road and Mr. Foster had a saw mill over there. A lot of that lumber is in the house I’m living in right now. There’s some of it right by the fireplace mantel. That’s how big the logs were.
Now this house was built in 1959 and it took us a year to build it. I had the man who was the general contractor at that time was my father in law. His name was H.T. Kelly, one of the best carpenters I have ever seen. He could do anything. All the, everything in the house was built out of cypress. The only thing I had to buy was some of the long rafters and I had to buy the lumber for the cabinets, stuff like that and the flooring. Everything else, I had cut myself and stacked up there to build it. And here’s the remarkable thing about it. There wasn’t much money back in those days, but when I moved in this house there was no mortgage on it…
All the floor jams in here are built out of a water tank that I took down on the Pine Castle Air Base. And that water tank is solid cypress. It’s a grade of cypress all its own. Instead of being a number one cypress it was called tank cypress and that’s the best cypress you can get…
My daddy was born in Pine Castle. He was married to his first wife, she died when the flu epidemic came through here during WWI. And my mother was the same way, her husband died then and then she and daddy got married, they was young… The reason my daddy’s in Pine Castle, his folks were from Milledgeville, Georgia and when Sherman came through there, my grand daddy he just disappeared, they got rid of him. And then my grandmother brought four kids and she picked up an orphan along the way and she brought them to Pine Castle by ox cart…. She’s buried right out here at Oakridge Cemetery… that’s where all the old timers of Pine Castle are buried at.
[My daddy] was a fruit buyer. He only had three books of school. There wasn’t no school here. He only had three books of school, but he had plenty of common sense and he was a good fruit buyer and also he invested in land and stuff around. He owned Rose Island at one time. He had a group of apartments right downtown Winter Park on Park Avenue and they’re still there. And he and Daetwyler had a packing house up in Winter Park. And he had no education whatsoever. His writing was terrible, worse than mine. He was city commissioner for Orlando for two terms….
Ralph Hansel with a fresh hunt – VIEW
I learned how to butcher cattle which I did here. I butchered many cows right here on this place for the market in Pine Castle. I sold old man Martin if he wanted a piece of beef, I’d kill it right here and take it up town hang it in the cold storage plant and he’d take it down here and cut it up in Pine Castle for the people in Pine Castle who wanted meat. Oh, yeah, there was two to three markets. Old Man Martin had one… Charley John run the meat market… and then in the middle of the town at Oakridge Road was a crossing there and the filling station was Shorty Hansel. He run the filling station, that was a hangout. Shorty’s my cousin.…
He got out of that and then he was in the trucking business. He hauled plywood from Louisiana to the bulwark to make those pontoon boats during the war. They closed the streets in Pine Castle. They closed down Orange Avenue and they built the boats out in the streets….
When I’d get out of school I’d come down there almost every afternoon cause I had cattle, horses, stuff out here and I’d water the orange trees with a horse and wagon and two drums of water I’d dip out of the lake. Come up here and go by the orange trees and water them when I was in about the fourth, fifth grade. This was all orange grove here.
I planted those when I was going to school. And these here were planted in 1953 when I got my son Tommy… I kept my cow horses cause we had cattle down there where the Pine Castle Airport is now…
Hansel Family Tree – VIEW
But up here is when we camped .. that first big oak tree come right down to the ground. Well we camped out there. We pulled a tarpaulin out there under that limb and we used that for a tent. That’s when we were clearing the land in here. There weren’t no houses in here. We had tenters back in here. That was during the Depression and everyone was hunting for a place to stay. We had one family staying here most of the time. He was an old Cracker carpenter, went to school with my daddy. And they were always building something around here and they always had a garden. We always had a big garden around here….
Ralph Hansel’s Collard Greens – VIEW
So I bought the grove down there and I kept it and kept it. So they got ready to put the road through there well where Camelot is now belonged to the Ben Robinson, he was the clerk of the court and everything. They had a lot of influence on Orlando here. So when they come through the right away there, took out I don’t know how many trees of mine, well when they got to the Robinson place, they gave him $50.00 a tree and thy only gave me $35.00. Well, I protested it and Jack Murdoch was the city commissioner. Well, we all met down there one day and they said, “Well, how about we just name that road after you?” I said, “No, I can’t eat the road.” So I finally got my $50.00 and the road. But I would say it named after the Hansel family…. They’re the ones that settled this country. I just come here afterwards…
Hansel Avenue – VIEW
But holding on to that land I ate a lot of grits. A lot of them. Oh yeah, I’m a pretty good cook. I don’t like to any more. I’d go out to breakfast every morning but where I went up there for 21 years, right up here, the street up here, burned. I’ve been there twenty some years every morning and I miss it too….
Grandfather’s House on Hollenbeck Drive
[My sister] She’s living in my grandfather’s house who settled up there on Hollenbeck Drive. It was built about 1912. His name was Hollenbeck which is my middle name. It goes down North Orange comes back on Kaley. The whole brick house is still there and my sister lives in it.. Oh, yes, he built all those houses there. He came down from the north. He owned a hardware store up there and the weather got him so he came down here and settled and brought my mother with them and then they came down here and lived in a little house til they got that one built and then he moved the whole family down here. And that’s where my daddy met her because his wife was just killed during the influenza. It liked to wipe Pine Castle out. Killed an awful lot of them when that flu epidemic came through here.
The Baptist Church in Pine Castle all my people are members of it. I’m a Presbyterian. I think I’m a 66 something year old member of the Presbyterian Church. But I’m not a very good member. I’m still a member. They come out and visit me all the time. And they keep saying, “Well, why don’t you come to church? ” I said, “Listen, I can get right out there in my carport and you go to church and he has to tell you what God has done. I get out there, I can see what He’s done. Man I can see the world He has done. So that’s the way I got around that. I did for a while. I was a pretty good member. But you get away from all that. But I’m still a Christian. I still believe…
Central Florida Development
Martin Company Arrival – Oh sure, I remember, we had to move the cattle out of there [ Martin Company property]. I remember when the Air Force came in there, too. We had to move the cattle off the runway out there. All out there where the water company is now Walter Rush had a big head of cattle all in there. And most of the land belonged to the Mayor Beardall’s, father in law named Hamer owned the land. And Walter Bronson lived on the old Dan Prescott place… Dan Prescott was one of the old timers who settled this country. He homesteaded out there on Shingle Creek about where Sea World’s out now. And then he moved up in here and I used to have to go up there and stay with Granny Prescott. She was a Mormon.
And another thing they used to do when I lived down here when I built this little house over here, the Baptist Church of Pine Castle used to baptize out here right down in the lake. And I’d go down here and sing with them and everything. Sometimes those old rough boys he’d baptize down there, you’d couldn’t catch a fish for two months. Old Man Morgan, Reverend Morgan, would call me up, “Ralph, do you mind if I use your beach? I have a couple of rough boys I want to baptize….”
Well, as far as the property goes when they subdivided I kept all the frontage up there. I kept all that. We decided, my kids and my daughter, decided they wanted to build a strip mall up there… we got that all platted for that and then they wanted to build a hospital up there where my daughter is. I deeded the property to them. I gave them half of it. So they sold their half and about that time the guy came to me and he said, “Would you want to sell your half?” I said, “Well at what price?” He said, “Well, we can give you a little bit more than we gave them” So I sold my half of it, but I kept the one over on the other side of Harbour Island Road. And I gave that to the kids and my son and my ex son in law built that building there. They borrowed two and a half million dollars and built that building up there…. That’s something I never did. I never had one mortgage in my life. And it wasn’t on this home. You eat an awful lot of grits holding on to everything. Well I’m well satisfied with my life and I got good neighbors. They look after me around here…
There’s a lot I haven’t talked about… Like the time when I was out in the woods and a horse fell on me and I was cripple for a long time. This is where a hog cut me. I was trying to catch him. The dogs had them in a palmetto patch and I was trying to get in there to keep from cutting the dogs and the first thing I knew he went by me and when he did he cut my leg. I didn’t know anything about it until after I could feel blood in my shoe. His tusks are right back there hanging in my den….
Ralph Hansel’s Boar Tusks – VIEW
Now I didn’t lead you astray. All that stuff is pretty uptown, that come straight from the horse’s mouth. If you’d ask me how many rattlesnakes I killed – I’d write that up. The best rattlesnake story I ever heard was…
Ralph Hansel at his home, April 8, 2014.