To begin, if you look at the McEwan, Martinez, Dukes & Hall website, you will see a quote that says, “The past guides us towards the future.” So I think that is a perfect quote for Orlando Remembered. And there is also a quote that says, “Our people have been the heart of our firm.” which to me represents Orlando values. You know sometimes we have history and we have presentations from many important people who have made significant contributions to Orlando, but if you go to check Orlando: A Centennial History they are not always there. So in this case, today the presentation, the family has multiple pages in Volume one and Volume two... “Two men who would leave indelible memories on Orlando came in 1906. Dr. C. D. Christ and Dr. John S. McEwan…” (Vol. 1, page 234) We have a presenter today who is going to tell us this great history of Orlando. Please join me in welcoming Attorney McEwan.
Listen to highlights from Attorney John McEwan’s Orlando Remembered Oral History Presentation at the Orlando Public Library on May 17, 2023.
I thought that I would sort of break this thing up and tell you a little bit about my family and a little bit about the medical profession here and then a little bit about what I remember about this area. I do remember this area very well with the exception of the new library and the new courthouse.
The Chamber of Commerce Building
A lot of these buildings have been here for a while since I was a kid. I remember very well the Chamber of Commerce building was over here and then I remember a couple of other things that are gone. But most of the buildings are here that were here when I came at the end of World War II. I thought I would tell you a little bit about how my family got here which is part and partial of the development of the medical system here in Orlando, and a couple of adventuresome grandparents.
The New York Regents Exam
My grandfather was born in New York State and I don’t know that he ever received a formal degree from any place except from Northwestern Medical College. He was a pretty smart kid and passed what they call the Regents Exam up there both to graduate from high school and to get his pharmacy degree. He was a pharmacist, a license pharmacist in New York State and like a lot of young men, accepted the challenge to go west young man with his brother. And they went to the territory of New Mexico.
The Spanish-American War
My cousin Bruce’s grandfather Uncle Will had the hardware store and my grandfather had a drug store there. And I’ve got a paperback book about some New Mexico Sheriff who describes the shooting of a bad guy at the front door of his drugstore. Then the Spanish-American War broke out and a lot of people out west decided to enlist in Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Uncle Will and my grandfather had to sell what they accumulated in New Mexico and they took off to Corpus Christi, and by the time they got there the boat had sailed.
Northwestern Medical College
So, he had no part to deal with the Spanish American War. But he did use the money to go to Chicago where he enrolled in Northwestern. If they accepted you for the medical college, you didn’t have to have a college degree or anything, you could go directly into the medical college and he did. He graduated with honors from Northwestern. He went to the city of New York and he was looking for a livelihood. And bought into a medical practice with Dr. Harris, who was down here in Orlando. He sent money ahead.
Orlando by Train
And the family story, he never told this to me, but the family story was always when he got to Orlando he got off the train here which was just beside a dirt road which was about all there was to Orlando. He said, if I had any money left I would have gone back to New York, but I sent all my money ahead to buy the practice. He was stuck here in Orlando.
Dr. Gaston Edwards
Well, that was one side. Dr. Gaston Edwards was a Yale educated doctor and had gone down the Canal Zone when they were putting in the canal down there and fighting yellow fever. My Aunt Adair, my grandmother’s sister met Dr. Edwards down there.
Suwanee Nursing School Graduates
In the meantime, they’re an interesting story, too, in today’s world of feminists. They were both graduates of Suwanee Nursing School. The University of the South had a nursing college as well as the other schools that they had under their purview. And she and my grandmother and my Aunt Adair were both graduate nurses from Suwanee. They were from Sanford. My great grandfather was a conductor on the Sanford Orlando railroad. I have no idea how they ever sent those girls to Suwanee. But they did and they graduated.
Doctor Edwards and Doctor McEwan Medical Partnership
And they came down here and they were practicing as nurses which was really not, it didn’t have the cache it does now. In other words, it was kind of looked down on women who were practicing nursing in those days. They managed to snare a couple doctors. My grandfather came down here in 1906. My grandmother married him and Aunt Adair married [Doctor] Gaston [Edwards] and they formed a partnership here in town. And back in those days there were two main groups of doctors, my grandfather and Dr. Edwards was one. Dr. Edwards was primarily OBGYN and my grandfather was a General Surgeon. And probably in today’s world, he would probably specialize in Orthopedic Surgery.
And Dr. Christ was a generalist. And Dr. Christ’s office was on down on Central down the street two blocks there on the right handside. They have a placard on that building. And my grandfather and Dr. Edwards first hospital was across the street where the saloon is down there. And I will make a comment that Orlando was a fairly prudish town back around the turn of the century. And there’s more bars in this couple block area here than a wild west town I think.
Well, anyway, so there came a time that, well the first thing that came along, they were trying to start a new hospital when this private hospital, St. Luke’s went under for financial reasons. And the main reason it went under, is because people, they couldn’t afford to pay bills for anything much less doctor visits which are usually on an emergency basis. So it was kind of rough sweating financially for all the doctors in town. Dr. Christ had one group of patients that they guarded very jealously. And Drs. McEwan and Edwards had another group of patients that they guarded very jealously, to the extant when they finally got a hospital down the street here that they alternating operating days. Dr. Christ had three days a week and Drs. McEwan and Edwards had three days a week. But nobody else could operate unless they didn’t have a surgery schedule.
Doctors Serving in World War I
But the doctors came together because of World War I. They all wanted to go off. And I don’t know if they drew straws and decided who’s going to go. Dr. Edwards won the lottery and he went to Macedonia and Serbia first with the British Army because they wanted to leave a competent doctor here in Orlando to take care of the people in their emergencies. He came back after a year and my grandfather got to go and he was a Major in a French Army and was a Director of a hospital that is not too far from Paris that I found when I went over there one time. Because it’s a beautiful 16th century manor house which wasn’t open to the public so I wasn’t able to see the inside, but at least I found where it was.
My Grandfather’s Hospital
After a year he came back here. About 1917 or so, Dr. Christ went off with the American Army to Europe. So they were all able to serve their country, but when they got back home they realized the need for medical care. And subscribed with their friends to build a hospital down there which was then Orange General Hospital which is now Orange Regional, monster conglomerate hospital. And my grandfather also had before this the hospital that’s over here on the corner there’s another saloon right on the corner. We used to call it Main Street but it’s Magnolia and Central… and this is my grandfather’s period car with his driver in front of that hospital.
Emergency Medical Service in Rural Areas
That car reminds me of a couple stories, my dad before he had a driver’s license used to be commandeered by my father to drive the car out to the country where people had medical emergencies. My dad can remember taking the lights off the automobile which you could do back in those days, shine on a kitchen table while my grandfather performed emergency surgery. That may be why my father never even considered medical school. I don’t know.
Orange General Hospital
But anyhow, they decided to get together and subscribe to Orange General. In the meantime, Dr. Christ had his hospital over here and Dr. McEwan had his hospital over here. Ultimately, my grandfather because of the growth of Orange General – he also had another hospital for a while his practice moved to where there was a Panera’s over there on northeast corner of Lake Eola that building over there was a hospital of theirs for a while. And then he moved over here to this building with the overhang which is now – it’s not my law firm anymore, but it was my law firm for many, many years. That’s where he practiced medicine along with a number of years. [It’s the same building.] Oh, yeah, it’s the same building. We’ve had a lot of discussion, we’ve remodeled a couple of times and there’s a lot of discussion about taking down the overhang. It’s a rather distinctive landmark so we left it up.
My Grandfather was President of the Florida Medical Society
My grandfather was President of the Florida Medical Society in 1925. Dr. Edwards was President in 1931. My grandfather’s nephew, Dr. Duncan McEwan, also a member of the same practice, was President in 1954. And Dr. Thames, Byron Thames, was a member in our practice when he was President of the Florida Medical Society. And also, Dr. Zellner, who was another member of our practice at the time he was elected, was also President of the Florida Medical Society. So they were a pretty potent group of doctors in that group. And all very active in the City of Orlando.
My Grandfather was on the Utilities Commission
My grandfather was on the Utilities Commission. I can remember as a little boy following him down the street sometimes, I guess because we had nothing to do with the little boys. I’d make him take care of me and I’d go to the OUC meetings with him down there at the old waterworks. And the thing that impressed me so much was all the people who would come up to him and thank him for saving their life, or their grandparents life or something like that. Right then and there I decided to become a doctor which lasted until I found out about organic chemistry and things like that. It’s kind of funny a bunch of doctors of that generation ended up with a bunch of lawyers in the following generations. It says something about the ease of transition from one profession to the other, I guess.
World War II Service
My wife was from Sanford. I was not born here because my father was training troops in World War II in Louisiana. My father was not born here because my grandfather did not have a super high opinion of the guy who was delivering most of the babies around here. So he sent my father out to New Orleans to be born at a clinic that a friend of his ran out there. But my wife was born right here in Orlando and her parents were both born in Sanford.
705 South Delaney Avenue
So we’ve been around the country for a while and I was thinking that I might discuss some of what I remember here as a little boy because at the end of the war there was a severe housing shortage and everybody as you all know everybody went off to the Army or Navy or Air Force or something. Everybody is off to war. It didn’t stop them from getting married and having kids and things like that. It comes the end of the war and you’re all mustered out of the military and they had no place to live. So my grandfather had built this big white house at 705 South Delaney. It’s still standing down there. And we had then the two of them plus three families with us at that time, about six baby children, or young children, all living in the same house. And I can remember being run around town as just a way to get me out of the house, I guess.
The First Five Million Dollar Verdict in a Civil Case
And I remember the Chamber of Commerce building here, which was a beautiful Spanish building. It was kind of falling apart from the inside out. Interestingly enough as a lawyer, the first million dollar verdict in a civil case was rendered in that building. It was a case of a huge earth mover that had a wheel come off it and landed on top of a car and rendered a guy a vegetable. And that was the first verdict. It was about 1960, 1970 or so when I first came back to town as a lawyer. I had gone in the Army myself, and after I graduated from college and came back here to Orlando. And went to work for that law firm over there which at that time was my Uncle Bo and Wilson Saunders… And so, I was with the same law firm until I retired fully in 2012, from 1970 to 2012. I didn’t know anything else about where I was supposed to go other than that office over there. I could go there blindfolded I think.
But we had a new courthouse that was built. Everybody called it a new courthouse and nobody liked the addition to it. They thought it was rather garish. But that was where we did business until it started coming apart at the seams and they replaced it. In order to build this new Library, we called it the Albertson Library, they tore down the old Chamber of Commerce building and a few other things. There wasn’t anything on that side of the street beside our building and the old hospital building was on the corner except The University Club which was torn down to build a high rise where The University Club is now.
T.G. Lee Dairy
I can remember when we lived at that house on Delaney, T.G. Lee Dairy coming by and individually dropping off your order of eggs and milk in the morning. And they did that most mornings a week as I recall. And then there was a guy that had a Model A Truck which used to fascinate me because he was delivery groceries. He would have the truck full of celery or radishes or whatever else was going at the time. He had a scale at the back of the truck. That was the fascinating part to me was to see the scale because I was three or four years old.
The McEwan Edwards Partnership
We were the last family of the younger generation to move out of the big house. My Uncle Bo and his family found a house on Summerlin and they lived there for many years. Uncle Warren bought one of Doctor Phillips’s subdivision houses in College Park which were going back in those days for three or four thousand dollars right after the war. That’s where they lived. And we built a house out in Conway on some property that had been owned by a partnership called the McEwan Edwards Partnership which had a fully acred groveland. I lived out in the country.
Conway Elementary School
For instance, when all the other kids were getting fancy English bikes with thin tires, I got one of these balloon tire bikes that I hated because it wasn’t stylish, but it was the only thing that could get through the sand. And back in those days, Conway Elementary School let out in the springtime for the fifth and sixth graders to go to Bob Carruthers field to pick peas. And a lot of the kids needed the money. I did it because I thought it would be interesting, well, for whatever reason. Well, but anyway, they let out of school at noon and all the fifth and sixth graders went over to his place and picked peas when they were coming in season…
I did go to Cathedral School which was across from the building that Charlie Gray had his practice in. And in that we had a rhythm band where they put these little kids in these little red coats and we’d play triangles and things like that and made something close to music I guess; noise anyway. And I found a picture when Billy Slemons died of myself and John Day and Billy Slemons in this rhythm band when we were all under the age of six. That was kind of a big deal. It went up through the sixth grade. And the big deal in spring was they had a Mayday. They were very much Anglophiles over there in the Episcopal Church and Mayday was an old English custom and they had a Mayday over there with the little girls. And the older girls, the Sixth graders would put on fancy dresses and they’d do a Maypole, wrap ribbons around the Maypole.
37 East Pine Street
There wasn’t much to do in Orlando as a kid, at least I wasn’t part of it. I do remember going to the stock car races every once and while. They had a small dirt track out here. We did do that. And then I remember OHS High School games because my daddy was selling insurance over here at 37 East Pine Street with Earl Duke. And Earl Duke”s son was one of the greatest athletes that ever went to OHS. We’d go see Earl and he was a tiny guy. He ended up being just a renowned eye doctor, eye surgeon, down in Lakeland, Florida. But he was also about 120 pounds soaking wet and he would get knocked out about every other game. So it was kind of more traumatic than it was fun because we were all worried about Duke and how he was doing. His mother was up there in the stands with us crying. I remember that more than I do his playing.
OHS, a Big League High School
But Orlando High School used to play, I’m talking to the choir here, cause all you all know this, they used to play all over the state. They played down in Miami a couple teams. They played a couple teams in Jacksonville. They played a couple teams in Tampa. That was the schedule for OH. They were a big league high school. Then they split it into Edgewater and Boone. And my wife was, started going off for junior high school over at Memorial. Then she went to Robert E. Lee Memorial High School out on Lee Road which is now College Park Middle School or something like that. And then she was at Edgewater. And her sister was in the first class at Edgewater, I think, her older sister.
Air Force Base
So Orlando was growing slowly and the biggest thing we had when I was a kid, I guess, was the Air Force Base. I did go to school at Conway with some Air Force brats. Most of the people in school though were just regular folks, you know they were involved in agriculture. Orlando, a lot of people don’t realize this, Orlando was over 90% agriculture. By the time I got out of college, it was mainly dairy cattle and citrus. Beef cattle industry was south of us in Kissimmee. But we knew a lot of people that if they didn’t have cows they had a grove somewhere. A lot of people had just five acres or something like that, but that was a supplement to their income that they needed because there really wasn’t much cash around.
The Martin Company [Lockheed Martin]
Then Martin came and there was a big growth spurt then. And then, of course, the big monster Disney came. And that was what kind of put us on the map. I can’t tell you how many people – I know you all have done the same thing I;ve been around the world I hear people say – “Oh, I’ve been to Orlando. ” “Where’d you go?” I’ve been to Disney”. “Thirty miles south of Orlando. You weren’t in Orlando.” So there’s been a lot of obviously a lot of changes around here in those years.
Orlando Nursing School
I can remember dating nurses from the Orlando Nursing School that has been gone for many, many years, but they used to have in house dormitory nurses down there. And I can remember going out with a couple of those gals.
“Orlando was a nice place to grow up in…”
Orlando was a nice place to grow up in… you know we really did have much around here nobody locked their doors… We had some pretty tough cops. Looking back on them, I didn’t know any of them that well. But, if you just look at the pictures you could tell they were tough guys. You didn’t want to be in a fight with them. And that’s kind of the way they enforced the law around here.
The Pace House
I remember there was a time, we kids, we didn’t have enough bedrooms in that house. So all old houses back in those days had what they called a sleeper porch. In the summertime when it got hot you could go out, it was a screened in porch so you could get a little cool out there. And our sleeper porch was on the north side of the street that went by the house there… The Pace house, Coolidge Pace’s dad was on the other side of the street. We had a fire over there one night and it was very exciting, of course, to see the red lights and everything like that.
And my uncles who were in the neighborhood they came by the house to make sure we were okay. And this guy named, Bulldog… a motorcycle cop here in town, had his motorcycle and the blue lights were on. And they told me conned the little boy into yelling, “Hey Bulldog”. [That was Bulldog Rogers] Conned me into yelling “Bulldog!” He turned around and in his first sergeant voice said, “Get in bed, boy.” They could hold me back. I was under that bed when he finished. So I do remember that. But other than that we had a good relationship with all of our policeman.
Trick or Treating at Lancaster Park
I used to be brought into town from Conway to trick or treat at Lancaster Park… and I do remember some motorcycle policeman and he was over there just chatting up us kids. He decided to show us kids this trick where you reverse the pistol. But he didn’t unload his pistol or anything like that and nothing happened. But it could have…
Small Town Orlando
It was a pretty heady time for a young kid because you knew everybody in town or they knew you… I went away to school when I was 14 and didn’t get back until basically after the Army. I didn’t get back until I was 24 or something like that. But in those early days, there wasn’t anything I could get away with. Not a thing. My father would have heard about it before I woke up, that was the kind of small town it was.
Oral History Presenter: Attorney John “Jack” McEwan
History Recorded by: Jane Tracy, Orlando Remembered President
Date: May 17, 2023
Place: Orlando Public Library
Oral History Presenter: Attorney John "Jack" McEwan
History Recorded by: Jane Tracy, Orlando Remembered President
Date: May 17, 2023
Place: Orlando Public Library