Archive | January 2014

Rural relic

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Sitting along a quiet dirt path in a Florida ghost town rests this old homestead. James and Esther built this home and four girls were born and raised here. They attended the school just across the dirt road which still stands today.

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[Pictured left and center are Zola and Cora, two of the daughters born in this home and their good friend, Edna c. 1899]

Photo Courtesy and Property of the State Archive of Florida

In 1884, James was listed as the roadmaster for the Florida Southern Railway which tracks once sat just a few yards from this home. By 1888, this town had become a major hub of this railroad line with 24 trains passing through a day, transporting mainly citrus and other agricultural goods.

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But 1894 and 1895 would serve up devastating freezes that decimated citrus crops and sent the areas farmers further south. The trains through town became less frequent, the depot closed, then the tracks were torn up.

Sun_Jolly House

In 1935, the last class was held at the school across the road and in 1945, the town lost its Post Office.

Shortly after the freezes of the late 1800’s, the Jolly family would leave this small town, selling their home to the Zetrouer family who stayed.  They moved it from the other side of the tracks to where it stands now, near the rest of their family homes. On my last visit here, I had the pleasure to meet the gentlemen who owns the property now. His great-grandmother was the first Zetrouer to live in this home after they bought it from the Jolly family around 1900. He was born in the front room, along with his mother, siblings and “countless other kin” as he put it.

Although the home mostly sits empty, he and his wife return monthly to work on repairing and maintaining this beautiful old place. I am surely grateful for people like them.

[Alachua County, FL c. late 1870’s]

Remains of the Florida Stagecoach Road

[**This property is no longer open for public tours. Please respect the privacy of its property owner**]

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[Porch of the old Kerr City Post Office. Built in 1880 and out of use since 1941]

Nestled deep in the Ocala National Forest and tucked neatly between the St. Johns and Ocklawaha River lies the remains of a long-forgotten town. Resting along the shores of a beautiful lake, this townsite was first documented in 1835 by a government surveyor named Robert Ker who named it Lake Kerr. The surveying group was run off quickly by Seminole Indians who drove them back to Fort King (present day Ocala). The area was settled some years later by a farmer from the Carolinas named Williamson who operated a large cotton plantation here until the Civil War. Shortly after the war was over, crops were converted to citrus and new settlers from the North began to arrive. In 1884, Kerr City was carved out of 205 acres of woodland as the second city in Marion County, Ocala having been the first. The Swan, Henley, Terry, Giles, Ford and Elliott families were some of these early settlers.

kerrycity_henley2[Henley Family home built c. 1886; photo circa 1890’s. Photo Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.]

kerrcity_dogtrot1884[Kerr City family posing for a photo at their dogtrot-style home c. 1880’s. Photo Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.]

A stagecoach road had run through the area since the 1860’s and the new town became a frequented stop for traveler’s on the route from Palatka to Tampa after crossing the St. John’s River. As the town grew, they built a school, church, sawmill, post office, and a hotel  as they settled into their new lives on the banks of this tranquil lake. They built homes, planted crops, and made plans for their future here.

kerrcityschool_1910[The original school house, built c. 1885. This building stood many years after its students were gone, but was damaged by vandalism and arson attempts so frequently that the towns current caretaker was forced to take it down. Photo Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.]

But things would not go as they had hoped. Just 10 years after the town was officially platted, a devastating freeze hit the area, destroying all of the area crops. The winter of 1895 would bring an equally devastating freeze which dealt the final blow to the citrus-based economy. Farmers and their families left to find work elsewhere; the school and pharmacy shut down; the church closed its doors. The stagecoach was surpassed by the quickly-expanding railroads and with no agricultural goods to ship anymore, this small community hidden away on the lake became obsolete. By 1905, the town was mostly abandoned with all of its buildings standing like skeletal reminders of the life that used to be there. The town was reoccupied for a time in the 1920’s but vacated shortly after and the post office closed in 1941.

kerrhousehotel_1885[Kerr House Hotel built c. 1884 by Dr. Junis Terry who settled here from Chicago with his wife. After the town had become mostly abandoned, a preacher and his ‘flock’ relocated to Kerr City for its tranquility and moved in to the hotel which had been vacant. As the story goes, one morning, the flock awoke to find all of their possessions, money, and preacher gone. They came to think of the hotel as an evil place and in 1907, burned it to the ground. Photo circa 1885. Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.]

But a member of the towns original founding families, Lillian Swan, would stay in Kerr City through all of the changes and in 1905, she and her husband, George Smiley began buying the surrounding properties that had been left behind by their one-time neighbors. By 1955, their son Fletcher owned what remained of the town. Still in the family after all these years, the entire property is maintained by Fletcher’s grandson, Arthur Brennan.

kerrcity_campforest1[Built in 1885, this building sits just along the old stagecoach road and was the stopping point for weary passengers and their horses along the way. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings used to stroll along this very path where I stood on her retreats to Kerr City. This home became Fletchers’ (Lillian and George’s son) home when he was the caretaker.]

Arthur credits his grandfather with preserving this town in more than just the obvious way. He reports that lightning fires are common in Ocala National Forest and present an incredible danger to these old wooden structures but Fletcher, who graduated from Stetson University in Electrical Engineering, installed lightning rods on the trees in the 1920.

kerrcity_blue1[Arthur and his wife Gwynne currently live in this home, built in 1886.]

Arthur and his wife Gwynne have cared for and lived here since 1957. Of the 14 buildings on property, 5 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The family is renovating some of the homes to offer for rental, but in the meantime are welcoming visitors to walk around and take a walk around.

kerrcity_lakespines4[This home was built in 1885; a substantial extension and upgrades were added some time later.]

kerrcity_madisoncabin1[Built in 1883, this small cottage sits just beneath a perfect canopy of trees]

kerrcity_texaco1[This Texaco pump, which still works, was installed in 1925 and is the oldest operational pump in the state of Florida.]

kerrcity_postoffice8This was the Kerr City Post Office, built in 1880 just along the stagecoach road. The post office closed in 1941, although this place has seen quite a bit of activity since. Paranormal investigators from around the world have traveled to Kerr City to study what some might call a haunted place. The central point of most of these studies is this old Post Office building.

kerrcity_postoffice10According to many who have been here, some of Brennan’s own family and staff included, have shared stories of encounters with spirits in this home. Specifically of one of the towns residents (and last post master) Sarah, who according to reports has flowing red locks and inhabits the second floor where her bedroom used to be.

kerrcity_postoffice6The unusual placement of the door 1.5 floors up was to accommodate the height of the horse-drawn wagons along the stagecoach road that picked up and delivered mail here.

kerrcitypost_haintroomHaint blue walls illuminated perfectly by the natural light pouring in to the windows of this bedroom inside the old Post Office.

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kerrcity_interior3[This second-floor room reportedly belonged to Sarah, the towns last Post Mistress.]

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kerrcity_corvair2[1964 Chevy Corvair]

1884 Newspaper[Kerr City Newspaper dated December 24, 1884. Photo Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.]

Many of their buildings still stand along the old stagecoach road and here, away from highways, traffic, and the commotion of urban living, you can almost imagine what it might’ve been like 100+ years ago when the town was alive with life.

Kerr City is located in the Ocala National Forest off of HWY 316. Arthur asks that you call beforehand to tell him you’re coming (352)685-2557, and please drive slowly when you’re visiting!

[Marion County, FL c. 1880’s]

[**This property is no longer open for public tours. Please respect the privacy of its property owner**]

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