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Historian Richard Cronin Presents: “Remembering Orlandoans” at Orlando Remembered, October 2023

I thought that perhaps one of the best presentations for this type of group would be to talk about the people who helped make Orlando what it is today. If you have read any of my books you probably know I love talking about the people. I like tracing their history. I like explaining who they are and why they came here. And if they left, why they left. Excerpt from Author and Historian Richard Cronin’s presentation for the Orlando Remembered organization on October 18, 2023 at the Orlando Public Library.

Richard Cronin is the author of the 2023 book, Orlando: A History of the Phenomenal City and numerous books on history in Florida.

Listen as Richard Cronin presents: “Remembering Orlandoans”.

Andrew Serros

So I thought I would start off our presentation today with someone we probably all know, Andrew Serros. Andrew is the individual credited with founding the Orlando Remembered group. So I thought he would be a good individual for us to start with, but he didn’t only do that. He was a very civic involved individual. He helped found the Mercy Hospital and he helped establish Valencia College. And so, it was his interest, he was really a supporter of preserving Central Florida history. And so, his idea of creating Orlando Remembered really started out with a desire to preserve the history of downtown Orlando.

Orlando Historical Society

I find Orlando an interesting creature, because in the 1980s there used to be an Orlando Historical Society. There isn’t one anymore. It seems as if the Orange County History Museum has taken over that responsibility of reporting and keeping Orlando history as well. There have been a lot of different organizations from time to time in this particular area. And the only one that seems to have survived so far is the Orange County Historical Center here. Hopefully they will continue to survive.

Jacob Summerlin

So Andy was the one kind of responsible for us being in this room today. How many knew Jacob Summerlin? You mean you didn’t? Jacob is an interesting individual because had it not been for Jacob, Orlando very likely would have become a ghost town. When Jacob came here in 1873, Orlando had been trying to recover from the Civil War when everybody abandoned the city. But basically nobody was around north of here.

Henry Sanford

Henry Sanford was really trying to organize his town of Sanford and not having much luck as of 1873. As of 1873 he had not sold one property listed as Town of Sanford. It didn’t happen until later in the 1870’s. So old Henry came down here to meet with the Orange County Commissioners to sell them on the idea of making Sanford the county seat. And the story, as I tell it in my book and I state in my book that you have to understand that the story about their confrontation is told from, by his daughter, so we might want to weight that, exactly what happened.

Ten Thousand Dollar Courthouse

But anyway, interestingly Sanford and Summerlin came head to head. And Jacob said to the the commissioners, “I want the county seat in Sanford.” They were all kind of leaning towards his idea. And then Jacob said, “Keep it where it is you already got the land. I’ll build a $10,000. courthouse if you leave it here.” There was very little reason to keep it here other than the fact that it had already been established as the Orange County seat.

Frances Summerlin

Somebody that you don’t hear a whole lot about is Frances, his wife. Almost all of history likes to talk about old Jacob. But Frances, there’s an interesting part of Orange County, and Orlando history in particular about Frances, because she was one of the eleven organizers of the Orlando Presbyterian Church. And in the records of the Presbyterian Church she says that they were formerly of Flemington, Georgia. An important clue that leads back to Georgia and tied in the Summerlin Family with the Way Family. But in particular, ties in with Ula Lee Way otherwise Lake Ula. (All right, first of all, I have to say, no, no, no. Orlando Reeves is not part of my presentation… get rid of that rock over there.)

James G. Speer

Now, let’s move on to James G. Speer. James G. Speer, of course, everyone knows James G. Speer. There was a lot of confusion about James G. Speer until Steve Patrick sent me a letter that he found that was dated 1854. I’m not going to go into great length about that letter. It’s online. You can see how it goes. But anyway, it was basically written by a fellow by the name of George W. Sell. 1854, Orlando did not yet exist. 1854 George Sell sent a letter to Tallahassee and said, “I sent in a check for 80 acres. I sent a check saying this is what I wanted for my property. And I never got a deed. I never got a response.” So he said in his letter, “I went and inspected my piece of property and I found out that a fellow by the name of Speer was living on my property.”

Steve Patrick

That particular gold treasure that Steve Patrick got his hands on last year is really the very first piece of solid evidence that ties James Speer’s family to a specific location in Orlando. Historians always said, “He lives somewhere in Fort Gatlin.” By 1860, we knew that this land here, two, three, four, and five was deeded to him. The reason I have these squares is that’s how they were identified on this deed. Each one of them being a specific location within a township.

George W. Sell

So George W. Sell said, “Look, I would be willing to settle for just this square if he would take that square.” Well, it’s not until 1860 that we find the deed was actually issued to Speer… Now George W. Sell, there was no record that he had ever actually owned this. But there is a record of his son, by E. H. Gore written in 1951, in which Gore says that his son was born on the north shore of Lake Ivanhoe in 1874. This is Lake Ivanhoe, this is Lake Formosa, and this is Lake Highland. So we finally have some very good solid concrete evidence to tie the Speers to this particular area.

Fort Mellon and Fort Gatlin Road

This line right here is today the railroad tracks, Sun Rail. But back in the 1840’s and 1850’s this was the Fort Mellon and Fort Gatlin Road. This road to Orlando. This is how all settlers came south to Orlando. So a lot of people might say, well, all right that proves James G. Speer was the founder of Orlando. I have a different take on that. I believe Attorney James G. Speer was working on a honey-do-list. A honey-do-list that came down from his wife’s family. His wife’s family being William Caldwell of Talledaga, Alabama. Because the Speers I believe came here to establish a county seat, specifically came here to establish a county seat. And the county seat was to be established for this lady here, the very first James G. Speer, the wife of James G. Speer. Now I talked about this a lot… but I talked about her connection in the past. But I never presented it in a family tree. So a lot of times I don’t think people really understood what I was saying.

Isaphoenia C. Speer

This is Isaphoenia C. Speer (1824-1867) right here, her father was John Ellington. Her grandmother was Frances Jones Ellington who was the sister of Orlando Jones of Albemarle, Virginia. Francis Jones of Albermarle, Virginia during the Revolutionary War had an 800 acre estate. And he volunteered to use his estate as a prison for English captive soldiers.

Martha Dandridge Washington, Our Nation’s First Lady

I did a presentation last Saturday with the DAR and I told the ladies, this lady here is your honorary founder, really, of Orlando. Because as I continue, their father was Lane Jones. Lane Jones was the son of Orlando Jones of Williamsburg, Virginia. The first American born family member of this family. He also had a sister, Frances Orlando Jones Dandridge, who married and had a child by the name of Martha Dandridge Washington, our nation’s first First Lady. That’s why I say I don’t think James G. Speer founded Orlando for himself. He was here to dedicate a county seat for a family member who wanted to memorialize Orlando’s in their family. Because Orlando is named for a first name not a last name. It has happened before but it’s very unusual.

Edwin B. Haskill and Royal Mackintosh Pulsifer, Owners of The Boston Herald

Two other individuals very seldom, rarely spoken of in Orlando history, but these two individuals here were very important to our particular city. And they are, Edwin B. Haskill and Royal Mackintosh Pulsifer. These two were the owners of the Boston Herald. These two were the individuals who actually financed the railroad in 1880 to come south. One of the very first locomotives was named The Herald. It was their money that built the railroad here to Orlando. And it was only because the railroad finally came to Orlando that Orlando was actually able to survive. It had to have transportation for that 25 mile dirt trail. And so, the railroad made all the difference in the world as far as keeping Orlando alive.

Paul Weir and the Election Results of 1857

This gentleman here, my book Orlando is dedicated to this gentleman here. I only knew him a couple of years. I wish I had sat in on a history class or two with him. Paul Weir is well known to the Pine Castle folks. He and I only had a few conversations, they went on for hours. We both loved doing about the same kind of research. But why did I particularly pick him as an Orlando Remembered? Because unlike almost every historian who came before him, who wrote, rewrote what William F. Blackman wrote in 1927, this guy got in his car and drove to Tallahassee went down into the basement of the state’s capital and dug through records to find the actual election results of the 1856 election. And because of that, because all historians say that there were three places: Fort Reid, Apopka, and a place not yet named Orlando.

Voting Results: Section 26, Chapter 22 Range, 29 Southeast

This was the actual voting results: section 26, chapter 22 range, 29 southeast. That is the area that we’re in a one square mile section. Orangeburg I suspect was somewhere around Apopka. Fort Reid is spelled wrong. And one person voted for Center and one for Lake Monroe. We don’t know where a lot of these two areas are, but this is the actual election. And because the 73 votes total and two months earlier the Orange County militia was formed with 83 young men of voting age. It likely says that the old story about Speer bringing troops in to vote Orlando is a false legend. He didn’t need it. It looked like the votes equaled the number of registered voters in the area. All right that was way back when.

Mrs. A.B. Whitman – Helen Maud Isabel Neff Whitman and the First Park Board

This is a lady, that I think to me, is very interesting to Orlando history. She came here in the early 1900s. This was part of her obituary when she passed away. Her name was Helen Maud Isabel Neff Whitman. History always refers to her as Mrs. A. B. Whitman. One of the things I don’t like about writing history, I don’t use Mrs. so and so. I want to know who that person is and where they came from. So Helen Maud Isabel Neff married a dentist by the name of Whitman. But this lady here became the very first woman in the entire state of Florida to run for a City Commission office and she did right here in Orlando. This lady here was the first lady in Florida to serve on a municipal board which is here in the city of Orlando. She served on the first park board. This lady here was kind of responsible for laying the actual first concrete sidewalk around Lake Eola. This lady here was involved in the buying and negotiating the purchase of Rock Springs Park. Very, very active. The reason she did not make the City Commissioner is because the men felt – a woman on the City Commission? Fortunately, that’s all in our past. She was also a member of the DAR. She was a member of almost every kind of civic minded organization. A person that Orlando should remember.

Will Wallace Harney, Orlando’s First Historian

All right, Will Wallace Harney is someone you probably all know I’m sure. But he really is an individual who is important to Orlando history because he was technically the first Orlando historian. He lived in Pine Castle. But when he came here, Pine Castle and Orlando just happened to be a very large area known as Fort Gatlin area. There was really not a whole lot of city lines, corporate lines and all. Sure, he in 1869, Orlando was already the county seat by that time. But Orlando was more of a cow pasture in 1869. It was an open range.

Cows Walking Around Downtown Orlando

We had cows walking around downtown until 1880 when the City Councilmen got together and said, “We need to stop this. We need to have some kind of a discretion that says you can’t let your cows roam free.” So they came up with legislation and the mayor vetoed it. Who was the mayor? Robert L. Summerlin the son of Jacob Summerlin. So naturally he didn’t like that particular one. I refer to a lot of the history, Will Wallace Harney wrote articles from 1871 to 1877. A book that William Morgan has put together as an anthology of Pine Castle. A great research book if you are ever wanting to find out information about early, early Orlando. This man here was the very first historian.

Sherman Adams and the “Orangeland Sketches”

I happened upon, when I was researching to do my latest book, the second historian. A historian that no other historian has written about, didn’t even know exist. I happened upon it because I found an 1884 newspaper issue of the Orlando Reporter and I found that he wrote in there an article called “Orangeland Sketches”. It appears in at least seven different issues during 1884. And this man wrote all about early Orange County. But he also wrote about early Orlando. He’s the very first individual who identified the Patrick’s family of John Patrick and his three sons: William A., James J. and John Nelson. (Your descendant to John Nelson also.) Two descendants of technically the first Orlandoans. The first Orlandoans, one can very easily argue and point out, the Patricks were the first family ever to live in downtown Orlando.

Orlando Jennings and the Naming of Orlando

He writes some fascinating information. I used a lot of it in my book about the very early days that contradicts a lot of what we thought we knew about Orlando. But one of the most fascinating things he wrote is that he said, “Orlando was named for either one or two reasons.” Now that’s very, very strange to me. Most historians today will tell you it’s for one of three reasons. But in 1884, James C. Speer was still alive. Sherman here wrote that Orlando was founded by either James G. Speer or it was named for a soldier who was killed in the area. But the soldier’s name was not Orlando Reeves. It was Orlando Jennings. So even though he provides a great history, he also saves some Orlando mystery for us we can chew on for the rest of our lives.

Three Part Process to Getting a County Seat

One thing I never stopped to think about, you know people said there was an election to name the town of Orlando, That is only one part of a three part process of getting a county seat. I never really thought that through. The first process was the Governor of Florida says, “All right. This is a new county, Orange County.” The reason Orange County was new was because it chopped off Volusia County. So Orange was a smaller county. The second step was the voters, the registered voters had to decide where they wanted to put their county seat. All history up until now says that’s where it stopped. That is where it ended. Orlando voted as being the county seat section 27.

William X. Delk

The third step is that when the election was done, those results had to go back to Tallahassee and the legislature had to approve what Orlando people decided to be their seat. When that happened, the legislature was ready to vote and approve Orlando. But because this man here introduced the legislation. He said, “Okay, voters have decided they want Orlando to be county seat. Let’s vote on it. But there happened to be William X. Delk of Orlando, happened to be a House of Representatives member. William X. Delk’s homestead was Rock Springs, of interest. That’s the second time I mentioned that. William X. Delk did not want Orlando to be county seat. So there’s where he wouldn’t approve the legislature to have a vote on it.

Senator Joseph MacRoberts Baker and Orlando as County Seat

Senator Joseph MacRoberts Baker I have never found anywhere in Orange County history until I wrote Beyond Gatlin. I stumbled upon this individual because he owned land at Fort Gatlin, 40 acres on Lake Gatlin. He was a man that introduced Volusia County to be formed. He was the man that introduced Orlando to be the county seat. And he couldn’t get the bill passed because Delk was holding it up. According to Sherman, according to this man. On one day that William X. Delk was absent, James MacRobert Baker called it up, politics even back then. Can you imagine?

Benjamin M. Robinson, Orange County Clerk of Court

Another great Orlandoan was Benjamin M. Robinson. He came here in the early 1870’s. He lived all right up into 1938. He was for a very, very long time, he was the kingpin at the Orange County Courthouse. He was a clerk of court. He was present and this deposition tells us so much about the vagaries of 1894. His very first marriage was to Fannie Randolph. The Randolph family was so connected to the development of Orlando and Pine Castle, Fort Gatlin area. And so, much of this man’s history and documentation gives us a great insight into the story of how Orlando came to be. [He’s Robinson Street, right?] (Maybe. There are those that say Robinson Street was named for Samuel. Both were great individuals. I think it might be nice to say Robinson Street was named for Benjamin Robinson and Samuel Robinson. But Samuel is the one who is most often. [Well, also a captain in the Civil War, Sam.) [Yes. Sam was a North Union member in the Civil War.] And there’s a third Robinson which was his wife, Leora, was a famous author.

Henry A. Abercrombie

Another interesting character I believe, is Henry A. Abercrombie. He was a snowbird. He lived in Pennsylvania. He came to Orlando every winter and loved Orlando. So in 1893, when the Chicago World’s Fair was getting ready to come. He was asked to do the assignment of making a very special exhibit at the Chicago’s World Fair for the town of Orlando and the city of Orange County. So Henry went to the T & G Railroad and said, “I would really need a railroad car to put together an exhibit that would be Florida on wheels.” So T & G gave him an old Pullman car. He completely redid the railway with exhibits, floral, fruit and everything. And he road the train all the way to Chicago. And then he was involved in setting up a great exhibit which really put Orange County in the limelight. Because almost every other county said, not so much. So Orange County was one of the most well represented counties in Florida and really got a lot of showcase out of it.

Mary Kerr Duke, Judge at the Chicago World’s Fair

But he wasn’t the only one that went to Chicago. Mary Kerr Duke also went to Chicago. Mary Kerr Duke came to town and she was one of the first school teachers. But she also was a Principal of an Orlando School. She received a special appointment to be the only female judge at the Horticulture Exhibit. This is the horticulture building at the Chicago World’s Fair. This is not a little assignment. I don’t know if you know much about the World’s Fair. The ladies said, “We need to be involved in organizing this Chicago World’s Fair.” The men said, “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to create a Ladies Management Division. And you managers will consult with us about how we’re going to put together the World’s Fair.”

Mrs. Potter Palmer

So the ladies, one of the individuals that headed that particular Managers Division was Mrs. Potter Palmer. And Mrs. Potter Palmer was very, very involved and that’s the lady that basically built and rescued Sarasota; became very good friends of Blackman. So she was very, very involved, civic minded. But they actually, of all the women who were involved in the World’s Fair, they chose Mary Kerr Duke, this lady, who operated also the Duke house.

Matthew R. Marks and the Trees of Orlando

Matthew R. Marks this is a fascinating individual, too, very important to the story of Orlando. And somewhat, at least in my mind, involved in the dissention between Orlando and Orange County. About a dozen years ago I got in contact with a lady that was the head of the Sanford Historical Society by the name of Christine Kinlaw Best, one of the premier researchers I’ve ever known in Orange County history. We never met face to face but for about two or three years we really sent back and forth probably a 100 emails. And many of those emails had to do with researching this man‘s life here, Matthew R. Marks.Matthew R. Marks was the Mayor of Orlando for three terms… this man planted the orange trees in Orlando. … how do I know this? Well, for starters, William F. Cotton wrote that Marks was that individual. Over here at Lake Eola Park there is a plaque that says, Matthew R. Marks planted the first trees in Orlando. And E.H. Gore, the nephew of Gore, wrote that this man planted the first oak trees in Orlando.Matthew R. Marks was a land agent. He started developing the area of Lake Ivanhoe and Lake Formosa.

James M. Willcox

And he brought in another individual who, his name is always misspelled. This individual here is James M. Willcox. He has always spelled his name with two “l’s”. But we always have spelled it with only one “l”. This individual came from Philadelphia and he was one of a line of generations that prints paper for the use of money. The government actually printed dollar bills on the paper that this man manufactured. Very wealthy. Very influential. He came down here and fell in love with Maitland and then he came down and fell in love with the Lake Ivanhoe area.

John G. Sinclair

Willcox, Matthew R. Marks, and this gentleman here, John G. Sinclair were three individuals who kind of partnered in developing the area just north of Orlando into citrus groves. Selling parcels to people up north that came down here and bought 40, 50, 60 acres and planted orange trees. And it is because of them that as the train came to town it entered Orlando through nothing but solid orange trees. And so, people came down here and said, “I want to live here, too.” And so this man here, with his partner Nathan Mills, they truly became one of the earliest developers, successful developers in selling Orlando as a county. He also, this one here, John G. Sinclair, was also a director for the Tavares, Orlando, and Atlantic railroad connecting Tavares and Orlando together.

William A. Lovell, the First School Superintendent for Orange County

Two individuals we have to mention: William A. Lovell, he came here right after the Civil War from Fort Reid. But William A. Lovell used to call himself “The Rebel Postmaster” because he ran mail during the Civil War for the Confederacy. But he also became the very first school Superintendent for Orange County.

Cassius Boone, the First School Teacher in Orlando

And, of course, Cassius Boone. Cassius Boone came to town and went to work for Lovell’s Hotel as a clerk. But he also became the very first school teacher in the town of Orlando, teaching at this building here. This building here is on land that was donated by John Patrick. He donated land that by records, by recorded history, it wasn’t really his. And it served for a very long time as the first church.

Dr. William Monroe Wells and the Wells’ Built Hotel

Dr. William Monroe Wells depending on who you read, they call him one of the first African American doctors in the area. We’re going to get to the first in a few minutes. But Wells was quite an incredible man. He was not only a doctor that worked 24 hours a day taking care of patients, but he also built a hotel and a casino next to it. And, he was responsible for bringing people like Duke Ellington and the likes to Orlando for doing entertainment projects. And Duke Ellington would play at functions, but he couldn’t stay at white hotels. So he stayed at the Wells’ Built [Hotel] in those days.

Mercedese Richardson Clark, First African American Head of the Health Department

Another, I think, interesting individual is Mercedese Richardson Clark. She went and became a nurse. And throughout her career of nursing and being a civic leader, she also became the very first African American to head the Health Department here.

William Smith and the South Florida Foundry and Machine Company

And, I think, we ought to at least mention William Smith because his building shows up so very often in Orlando history. The interesting thing about William Smith, who came from England, he basically created the first non-citrus business here in Orlando. This was the South Florida Foundry and Machine Company that was in existence by 1884, very early on. And then basically as I said, it was an industry that employed people that didn’t grow oranges. So that was very different for our particular town.

Samuel Austin Robinson and the Plat of the 1857 County Seat of Orlando

Samuel Austin Robinson, I spoke of, this individual was very important to the City of Orlando because as a surveyor, he was the one who sat down and established the exact layout and the exact plat of the 1857 county seat of Orlando which had by this time, by 1880 had vanished into the ashes of the courthouse. So he had to recreate the town that Benjamin F. Caldwell established in 1857. This area right here is today the trees that you see out in front of the courthouse. We are very fortunate that this historic spot still exists because there used to be what I thought was a very ugly, ugly extension of the courthouse sitting on that property. But anyway it’s gone. And so, this is truly an historic spot because this is where it all began in 1857.

Governor James E. Broome

Three individuals, very fascinating, and especially tied to that historic first. Governor James E. Broome he was governor in 1853 to 1857. His last day of office was October 5, 1857. The day this parcel was deeded over to Orange County for the courthouse. The exact day October 5, 1857.

Robert W. Broome and the Incorporation of Orlando

In 1874, when Orlando was on the verge of disappearing again, because it was not incorporated yet, this man’s nephew, Robert W. Broome, rode in to town from Lake City and incorporated this four acres as the City of Orlando incorporated. This individual here was tied to Isaphoeina and the Caldwells and the family that was determined to make Orlando the county seat.

Edgar A. Richards, the First Mortician

We here a lot about the first funeral home. Edgar A. Richards I put in here because he was actually the very first mortician. We don’t really hear a lot about him, but he was an important man.

Mayor Charles Munger

And then Mayor Charles Munger. Mayor Charles Munger is the individual who on July 24, 1879 issued a proclamation that Orlando is dissolved and is no longer a town. And it was no longer a town because there was questions about how the incorporation was put together by this man’s nephew.

Henry Overstreet

Another interesting individual is Henry Overstreet. Here’s Jake’s courthouse. This is Central Avenue, Main Street which used to Fort Mellon – Fort Gatlin Road which is now Magnolia. So this piece of property right here is Lot 10 of the original town of Orlando. And so Henry Overstreet actually had his store here in 1857. The deed when he sold the store to Mizell, stated that it included the house and all the goods. So, it clearly was a merchant area. The only thing missing is how Mr. Overstreet found his original deed. Going back, there’s Lot 10. Central, Main now Magnolia. So Henry Overstreet owned that corner. He sold it to Mizell. But how did Overstreet get it?

William A. Patrick

Well, according to Sherman Adams our 1884 historian, Overstreet got it from William A. Patrick who had the drugstore here in Orlando. Which sheds an entirely new light on the individual known as William A. Patrick and unfortunately, unless they have one hidden in the basement across the street there is no picture of William A. Patrick that any of us have been able to find.

Dr. John Singer McEwan and the First Private Hospital in Orlando

Lot 10 today became the very first private hospital in the City of Orlando established by Dr. John Singer McEwan who was also instrumental in getting the very first Orange Hospital, Orange General Hospital built. When I came in 1971 I think there was one building still standing of the old hospitals.

Dr. J. B. Callahan, First African American to Establish a Private Practice in the City of Orlando

And then there was Dr. J.B. Callahan. Dr. Callahan is noted as the first African American to establish a private practice in the City of Orlando. But he was very, very involved in building houses and buildings and so forth and found homes for many an individual.

Sam and Penny Jones of Jonestown

And this I find interesting is Jonestown. Sam and Penny Jones are said to be the very first inhabitants of Jonestown. It was not a very nice neighborhood from all that I have been able to find. But it was out on South Street. Does anyone remember Jonestown? [Right near the cemetery?] Yeah, it was near Greenwood Cemetery, partially. It was never really incorporated as a town. It was never really platted as a town. But this particular old map actually shows some streets and so forth. Sam and Penny Jones of Jonestown.

James B. Magruder

And this individual, I think, is quite amazing, James B. Magruder because he started building hotels as the town was starting to come back out of its despair. The Great Freeze of 1894-95 everybody said, Orlando is done. It’s number one industry had been totally wiped out.

Mrs. Jessie Johnson Branch and The City Beautiful

It wasn’t until after the early 1900’s that people said, wait a minute these trees we thought were dead are starting to bloom again. They were coming back to life. In 1908 Ocala ran a story that said, “We went to Orlando and there’s actually people growing oranges there.” And so, the town that had once been known as the phenomenal city that was wiped out in 1894, all of a sudden started coming back. And so, in 1908 they ran this contest that said, we need a slogan. I guess, if I were around I would have said, “We got a slogan: Phenomenal City.” But anyway, that’s in 1908 is when Mrs. Jessie came up with the idea of naming it The City Beautiful...

William McCall and the McCall Rogers Block of Orlando

Then there’s this building, which I think is a fascinating building. We know it as the Rogers Building. There’s a lot more history to it. And I recently did a Facebook article on this building. This was originally – it occupies what’s called the McCall Rogers Block of Orlando right down the street here. But William McCall was one of the individuals who was involved in bringing Broome to Orlando to incorporate the town. McCall also brought Gordon Rogers from the Gainesville area and they went and developed this block, but he died.

Gordon Rogers and Henry Martin

So Gordon needed to find a new partner, so he found Henry Martin. So that by the time it came out in 1890 it was the Rogers and Martin Building and they had a cosmopolitan saloon on the second floor. So this is certainly a very, very historic building. There’s no pictures of Gordon Rogers, that I know, or Henry Martin or of William McCall.

Mayor Latta Autry

But this is an interesting photo that was taken in the 1920s. The photo was at the request of Mayor Latta Autrey who is standing right here and it shows the hook and ladder, Orlando’s very first Hook and Ladder. And that’s what the Mayor really wanted. He wanted to be able to showcase Orlando’s first Hook and Ladder.

William C. Sherman and the Bucket Brigade

This gentleman wearing a straw hat, is William C. Sherman, he came from Maine. Interesting character. He was a jeweler. But in addition to be a jeweler, he was the first, technically the first Fire Captain, because he was in charge of the bucket brigade before there was a fire department. So he was around the bucket brigade that tried to put the fire out in the Delaney’s Grocery Store in 1884. In addition to that, when it came time to build the courthouse, he said, “Let’s put a clock in it.” And he actually had to get enough petitions to agree to put a clock in the clock tower. And so, then he went to Boston, I believe it is, and he actually bought the clock for the Clock Tower in the red brick courthouse.

William Dean, First Paid Fire Chief

And then Bill Dean, this individual here, became the very first paid Fire Chief so there’s a lot of history right there.

Don Otto Freeze

We can’t forget Don Otto Freeze, one of the first Orange County Surveyors. He laid out all of Orange County and a lot of his surveys have been used by historians from almost day one.

Mary Myers Livingston and the Lucerne House Hotel

Another fascinating lady that you never really hear of, it took me a long time to find her, the Lucerne House on Lake Lucerne. There’s a lot been said about Lake Lucerne House. It stood where the Phillips House stands today and it burned in 1890 something… Anyway, the actual person that ran the hotel is Mary Myers Livingston, she lost her hotel when it burned down. She lost everything. She was the wife of J. H. Livingston. Livingston Street. Lake Fairview was named, they had a big area out on Lake Fairview. So this is Mary Myers Livingston. She moved to Texas and burned to death in a fire. Terrible bit of history.

Bob Snow

And who can forget Bob Snow. I’d say, nobody did probably more in this particular time frame to suggest that maybe something could be done – with an old cow rejuvenated to bring people back to life than good old Bob Snow. Church Street Station, it’s a shame that it isn’t here today, but it really did do wonders.

Joseph Kittinger

And then of course, there was the man that fell from space. How can we ever forget Joseph Kittinger? This man I think had more bravery in his little finger – never would you find me stepping out of a perfectly good balloon.

50 Individuals

And so, that’s my story. And it’s a story that I’m going to continue at Pioneer Days, if we decide to do something at Pioneer Days. I started putting together a list and I stopped and I counted them and it was over a hundred. I said I can’t do a hundred people in one sitting not with the crowd that I’m going to have at Orlando Remembered. So, I cut it down to 50. I went through 50 individuals, who you could probably sit there and you could probably name a dozen that I didn’t list that should be on this list.So anyway that kind of gives you, I think of those 50 individuals, probably 35 to 40 of them are characters in my book.

Orlando: A History of the Phenomenal City by Richard Cronin

My book is a little different than my older books because I actually have an index in the back and you can go find those individuals on specific pages. So I have a Pioneers Index and I also have a Topical Index. So one thing that you haven’t figured out yet, I love Central Florida history. I’m not a native of Central Florida, but this is a fascinating, fascinating area. I love writing about it. I love talking about it. I hope I haven’t bored you to death….

Oral History Presenter: Richard Cronin 

History Recorded and Transcribed by:  Jane Tracy

Date: October 18, 2023

Place: Orlando Public Library

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Author and Historian Richard Cronin

Author and Historian Richard Cronin. Richard Cronin is the author of numerous books on Florida history, including First Road to Orlando: the...

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Historian Richard Cronin Presents: "Remembering Orlandoans" at Orlando Remembered, October 2023

Historian Richard Cronin Presents: "Remembering Orlandoans" at Orlando Remembered, October 18, 2023. (58:43)

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