Brief History of Groveland
By Cyleta Lee Austin, Historian Emeritus, Groveland, Florida
Near the close of the War Between the States, Daniel Sloan, a former Confederate Cavalry Lieutenant, homesteaded land which was later to become part of Groveland.He erected a log cabin, which is still standing, farmed and raised cattle. In 1887, the end of the frontier days was heralded by the arrival of the Sanford and St. Petersburg line of the Orange Belt Railroad and its little wood burning engine. With the railroad, came more settlers and during that same year this section of Lake County was created from part of Sumter County.
As the nearby towns of Yalaha, Mascotte and Villa City became settled, the development of the citrus and tourist industries began to grow. A boat line was also operated in the chain of lakes, making it possible for the area residents to travel to Clermont by boat. However, the freeze of 1895 brought an end to this era of prosperity.
In 1889, C.C. and B.M. Taylor constructed turpentine still, labor quarters and a commissary near what is now the intersection of State Roads 19 and 50. They named the Settlement Taylorville and went on to establish another still and settlement at Taylorville, now known a Stuckey Still, west of Mascotte.
In 1899, Elliott E. Edge purchased all the Taylor’s holdings and in 1905, built a general store, the Edge Mercantile Company, and a post office, at the corners of what is now Broad and Main Avenue.
Before the turn of the century, Brown’s Ford School, a one-room schoolhouse housed R.B. Ervin, teacher and the children of five families from the area between Groveland and Howey. A second school was built in 1904, a two-story wooden structure consisting of two classrooms and an auditorium, located near the present Greenwood cemetery. A third school was erected at the present Cherry Street site in 1922. The first school for African Americans was constructed between Groveland and Mascotte to serve the needs of both communities.
The first church, the Union Church, was constructed in 1904, and served three different denominations for fifteen years thereafter.
During this period, most travel was by horse or mule. A sand road south of Clermont led to a trading post of Kissimmee and followed a route through today’s Disney World. Some area residents shopped in Leesburg, which was established in 1866 and boasted a hotel and six stores. The trip usually required three days by wagon.
In 1917, the Edge Lumber Company became the J. Ray Arnold Lumber Company, destined to become the biggest sawmill in the Southeast. The sawmill grew and camps sprang up, the Edge Mercantile “Commissary” or company store followed. The lumber mill employees were paid each Saturday with “Babbitt Money” or “punchout checks” with which they could buy items at the company store or commissary. The last Saturday in the month was “big payday” when the company would exchange U.S. currency for the “Babbitt.” On that day, the company would furnish a wagon and driver for the employees and their families to go to town to do their shopping. In Groveland, “Babbitt” was accepted by all local stores and was often found in the church collection plates on Sunday.
In 1910, John W. Beach and his associates, including a number of Swedish people from Rockford, Illinois, purchased twenty thousand acres of land from E.E. Edge and formed the Groveland Development Corporation. The property, called “Groveland Farms,” was divided into small tracts and sold to Northerners, primarily Swedish Americans. During this period, prior to the completion of the Groveland Hotel, prospective buyers were housed along side-tracks in pullman cars. Nationwide advertising was accomplished through brochures and newspapers, and “Landseekers” excursions were provided free. In 1911, after having purchased all of the unoccupied portions of Taylorville, Mr. Beach had the town platted. The name was changed from Taylorville to Groveland in 1912. An “opera house”, featuring silent movies, became the first place of entertainment.
In 1916, the first bank: was opened; Dr Samuel Register was Taylorville’s first physician and owner of the town’s first automobile. The first dentist, who used foot powered equipment was Dr. Cantrell and the forerunner of Florida Telephone was commissioned for installation, the first exchange being in the house of Hilda Linton.
The first recorded minutes of a town meeting occurred on April 17, 1922. Groveland was incorporated on March 31, 1922, at a mass meeting in the school auditorium. The first elected city officials were L.D. Edge, Mayor; E.E. Edge, Council president; Dr. S.T. Register, J.W. Beach, C.J. Anderson, B.C. Hartley and A.L. Wineman, council members. D.W. Woodard was elected Chief of Police and Herman Gartleman was elected Clerk, Assessor and Collector.
On September 16, 1921, Mr. A. W. Newett published the first edition of the Groveland Graphic, a four-page newspaper containing local and business news and the “Lake Echo,” a page of school news. The “Groveland Press” then served the Groveland and Clermont communities from June 27, 1947 until November 23, 1961, when the newspaper moved to Clermont and became the South Lake Press, which weekly newspaper still provides local news coverage.
The Essential Oil Company, a perfume manufacturing plant developed in 1923 by J.W. Beach was housed in five two-story buildings on the south side of Lake David. Roses, English heliotrope, and orange trees were cultivated in the surrounding “Paradise Gardens” for use in the manufacture of rare perfumes. The venture looked promising but ended in failure, as did a silkworm industry in 1926.
The Groveland Women’s Club was organized in 1928. Although a library association was not started until 1928, the city supported an early library of three hundred volume housed in City Hall. The Library now occupies its own wing of the E.L. Puryear Community Center, named after a longtime Mayor of Groveland, whose son Clyde now operates the Puryear Real Estate firm in Groveland. Members of the Groveland Women’s Club have traditionally operated the library through their voluntary efforts and donations.
In 1928 the Edge Funeral Home provided full service, complete with funeral hearse. The first funeral parlor was off the mezzanine floor of the hardware store. About 1930, the business was moved to the telephone building at 115 South Lake Avenue and was later sold to Mr. Howard E. Kurfiss, founder of Kurfiss Funeral Home, still doing business in Groveland on Magnolia Street and in Clermont on West Avenue.
On the evening of May 9, 1925, fire destroyed the Arnold Lumber Mill. The flames could be seen as far as Leesburg. The mill was rebuilt in 1926, but closed and dismantled after 1932 because of the scarcity of timber and the depressed economy. Following this, times were difficult for the people of Groveland. Citrus prices were at an all time low and many groves died as a result of the lack of cultivation and fertilization. During this period, Spanish moss was pulled from trees and sold to a small moss drying plant in Groveland. In 1935, J.R. Arnold experimented in drilling for oil south of Groveland without success.
During the depression, everyone came to town on Saturday night to shop, visit and watch the free movie sponsored by the local merchants and shown on the side of the bank building. Each Christmas Eve, hundreds of townspeople gathered in the street for the announcement of the prize winners of the merchants’ Christmas contest.
L.D. Edge was elected to the state House of Representatives at age 21 and later became Speaker of the House. His greatest triumph for his town was the routing of Highway 50 through downtown Groveland.
During the ensuing decades, Groveland’s economy has been up and down, dependent mainly upon the citrus industry until the devastating freezes of the eighties. Despite that industry’s local decline, Groveland’s population has increased to approximately 4,400.
In November 1994, a landmark was achieved with the election of Groveland’s youngest Council Member and First Lady Mayor, Mrs. Doris Thompson. The City reached another historical milestone with the election of its first African-American Mayor, James Smith, in November 2004.
*In the year 2006, Groveland achieved yet another milestone by electing its youngest mayor ever. Matthew Baumann was the tender age of 25 when he was sworn in. Groveland may continue to retain its small town charm but underneath it is a very progessive city.
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