Our ancestors have lived in this area for many years.
In 1562 a French Huguenot colony was established in the present site of Astor on the St Johns River. The entire colony was wiped out by the Spanish, in 1566. In 1763 James Spalding established a trading post at Astor.
During the Revolutionary War all of Florida belonged to the British. A few white hunters and traders lived in Lake County, along with runaway slaves and freedmen.
In 1782, Spain re-occupied Florida and began rewarding large tracts of land. In 1819 Moses Levy received a land grant from the Spanish. He built a plantation along the St. Johns River in Lake Co. He was father of David Levy who later changed his name to “Yulee.” Mr. Yulee was Florida’s first senator after it acquired its statehood. During the first Seminole Indian War, the Seminole Indians burned the plantation to the ground.
The settlers built forts throughout the county to protect them from the Indians. At that time Lake County was known as Mosquito County. In 1823, at the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, the Seminoles were ordered to live on a reservation, most of which was in Lake County.
Towns grew and vanished and other towns took their place. When the Civil War began in 1861, there were several large plantations and many small farms in Lake County.
In 1862, most white males between 18 and 35 were forced into involuntary service to the Confederacy. The age was increased to 45 and also soon 17-year-old men were required into service. That left only women and their slaves to run the plantation and farms.
Travel was by boat from the St Johns river points to Silver Springs, then by stage coach or by animal-drawn vehicles. The roads were mere paths or trails and later developed into two-rut tracks winding through the woods. The first clay to be used as a road was laid by John A. Hanson, in front of the Pearce Hanson & Co store in Leesburg.
The railroad arrived in 1880 with the first train coming from Astor to Fort Mason.
In 1887, Lake County became a county. It was named “Lake County” because it contains over 1400 lakes. It was carved from Orange and Sumter counties. In 1889, the courthouse was dedicated. It was known as the “Pioneer Building”.
During World War II, Lake County was the site of a Prison of War camp.
Early industries for Lake County were farming, citrus growing, lumber, turpentine, etc. Lake County was known for its record crops of oranges, tomatoes, watermelons, peaches and ferns. Fishing was plentiful because of our many beautiful lakes.
Freezes in 1894 and 1895 devastated the area. The first freeze froze the oranges. The second freeze was so intense that it was reported that the sap inside the tree trunks froze causing them to snap with sounds similar to gun shots. Fruit groves were wiped out by the freeze and it altered the economic condition of the county. People were forced to leave the county because of lack of food and employment. Towns and farms were abandoned. Only people who where financially stable before the freeze remained.
It was over 30 years before the citrus industry recovered. Citrus trees were easy to grow and cows, hogs, and mules provided some of the fertilizer.
Between 1920 and 1983 the county flourished. In 1983 Lake County was the nation’s second largest producer of citrus. You could see citrus groves for miles and the fragrant scent of orange blossoms was everywhere. A citrus tower was built in Clermont in 1956. You could go to the top of it and view the citrus groves for miles. There were fields of tomatoes and watermelons all over the county. You could go into the fields and pick your own vegetables.
Then the county was hit with freezes in 1983, 1985 and 1989 that almost wiped out the citrus industry in our area. Citrus is slowly coming back, but the old days are gone and now Lake County is becoming a place for retirees to come to enjoy their senior years.
Lake County is home to Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point in peninsular Florida, at 312 feet (95 m) above sea level.
You can also use the STATEWIDE RESOURCES for your research.
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