Lake Co. Communities and Settlements
Sorrento is located nineteen miles west of Sanford and five miles east of Mount Dora. the country is high and rolling and before the turpentine stills and lumber mills took their toll,
was covered with forests of stately pines.
When the first white settlers came in 1875,
this was part of Orange County and Orlando
was the County Seat. In 1887, Lake County was
created from parts of Orange and
Sumter counties and Tavares
became the County Set.
The first white man to
settle in this section was a
Mr. Lyons in 1875. Information about him is lacking.
Later the same year, Mr.William Butts with his wife,
two sons and two daughters, came from Missouri.
They drove in from Melonville which they had presumably reached by boat on the St. Johns River. Mr. Butts took up a homestead a mile and one-half west of the present Sorrento
post office and he and each of his sons, Calvin and Warren, Built cabins and planted orange groves.
About this time, five young men came from
Ohio. They were Ed Averill, Charles Adams,
and his brother, Joe, A. S. Matlack
and H. B. Paxton, all bachelors.
Some took up homesteads and
others bought smaller
parcels of land. All built
cabins and planted groves
and three of them became permanent Florida citizens.
These first white settlers found several colored families
living about a mile north of Sorrento. They were slaves and children of slaves from the plantation of Mr. Delk at Rock Springs. When freed at the beginning of the Civil War,
some joined the Union Army, but at the close of the war they returned to settle near the home of their mother, Aunt Hettier WEir, from whom many of the early settlers
bought their first orange trees. Two other colored
families lived on the Rock Springs road - Uncle
Pete and Aunt Mary Frazier and their children
and Joe Kenkins and his family.
Their descendants still live in this section.
Wild game was plentiful.
Bear, wolves and panther
traveled from the Big Scrub at the north to the hammocks
along the Wekiwa River and Rock Springs Creek. Deer were common as late as 1884.
Mr. Gill, who homesteaded on Lake Beauclair, south of Sorrento, sold his property to Mr. Dudley Adams and bought mules and a wagon to establish a route from Mount Dora to Melonville. There were seven families along the way. As some of them lived at a distance from the road, Mr. Gill carried a cow horn which he blew when approaching a home.
The residents would then bring their out going mail
and grocery lists to him and on his return trip he
would deliver their orders and incoming mail.
He made one round trip each week.
A regular boat line from Jacksonville
to Astor on the St. Johns
River brought in passengers and freight.
A narrow gauge railroad connected with Fort Mason.
From there, travel was by horse and wagon.
About 1880, Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Kerr and family arrived
from Indiana; Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Reeve and son from Brooklyn; and Mr. and Mrs. Miner and daughter from Milford, Connecticut. All built homes here.
By this time, a mill at Seminole Springs was
supplying lumber and also, Mr. William Summerville's
mill at Wolfe Branch. Mr. Butts established a
brick mill on his homestead. He was joined in
business by Mr. Edward Budgeon in
connection with the large lumber
mill of Mr. Lovejoy.
A name was needed
for the little settlement and
as the residents had been reading a new book called, "Agnes of Sorrento:, and as the fruits and flowers of Italy's Sorrento
were so much like what they wanted for their Florida
homes, the majority voted to name the new town, "Sorrento".
Mr. Averill built a hotel and a small stosre building which he stocked with groceries. Later, he sold the property to Dr. Thomas, a retired physician from Ohio, who operated the
hotel from 1882.
The store was sold to A. S. Matlack and C. G.
Adams. This firs was later joined by A. E. Allen,
and the store, in a larger building, served
the community and surrounding
country for more than sixty years.
In 1881-82, Mr.
William Allen and his son, Arthur
Allen, from Ohio, had bought land
and before the year was out, had built houses, planted
groves and brought their families.
Later, William Allen built a store on his property a bout a
mile south of the Sorrento Post Office. At this time, Arthur Allen clerked in his father's store and a younger brother
hauled the supplies from Fort Mason, leaving before daylight and returning after dark from the ten mile trip over
deep sandy roads.
About 1885, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Emerson
and their three children came from Cleveland,
having bought a grove near the Allens.
Mrs. Emerson was a sister of William Allen.
The next year, Mr.
and Mrs. George Dowler came from Ohio.
Mrs. Dowler and Mrs. A. E. Allen were twin sisters.
Other families who were here in the early days but whose dates of arrival we do not know, include:
Mr. and Mrs. Summerville from Massachusetts, whose daughter, Flora, was the first child born in the new town.
Mr. and Mrs. McCauley and daughter from Ohio.
Mrs. Brown and daughter, Mabel. Mr. and Mrs.
Howard and family from Wisconsin.
The Gillettes, the Needhams, the
Registers, the Daughterys, the Brooks,
the Mitchells, the Revels and Dr. Hause, a dentist.
One of the first buildings
for the use of the public
was a Town Hall built by a stock company of early citizens.
One of the first organizations was the Sorrento Literary Society, which had a montly program and business meeting in the Town Hall. This Society owned its own organ, had several excellent musicians and staged home-talent plays, arranged basket suppers, ice-cream socials, dances, etc. and on the Sabbath, a community Sunday School was conducted and ministers of different denominations preached the sermons.
In 1883, the Presbyterian Church was organized
and in 1884, the Ladies Aid Society began its work
which has continued to the present day.
In 1886, the church building was opened with Rev. C. M. Livingston of New York City as its first pastor.
Mr. Livingston and
his wife and daughter, Grace,
then a charming young lady, lived at the AVerill house.
Grace Livinston later became a well-known novelist,
writing as Grace Livingston Hill.
The hotel in the pine woods had some quite famous guests. Among them were Miss Rose Cleveland, sister of Presiden Cleveland; Miss Boise, sister of Senator Buise of Idaho; Mr. and Mrs. Alden the latter being a weel-known author, using the pen name of "Pansy".
The Sorrento Improvement Society was
organized quite early in the history of the village.
The men and boys gave a day of work
in laying out streets and clearing them,
while the women prepared a big
dinner which was served at
noon in the Town Hall.
The giant oak tress of today are a
monument to the workers of those early years who set them
out as saplings along the highways. The Field Days were
happy community affairs.
Land for a cemetery was given from the homestead of Mr. Calvin Butts and was cleared by this same organization. It
was laid out in lots and blocks, numbered and a large play
made by Mr. A. S. Matlack. He also made a plat of the
village, all free service for the place he loved.
The Town Hall was used as a public schoolhouse
and the early teachers were of the community;
Prof. A. K. Beam from Ohio, Miss Brooks
from Ohio, Mrs. Henry Reeve, a
former teacher in Brooklyn, Prof.
Dodson from Iowa and
Mrs. Thomas, a teacher of
languages in Wooster College, Ohio
before coing to Florida. She also
taught advanced pupils in a private school.
The Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad was complete and a brach line from Sanford to Tavares throught Sorrento brought more people into this section.
The first trains were running for passengers and freight in 1886. Groves were coming into bearing, packing houses were built, a drugstore was opened by Dr. Bliss from
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a newspaper, "The
Florida Highland Press" with Phillip Isaacs as
editor and Frank Horton, his assistant,
was published in a new printing
office. The ladies organized a
Circle. All these activities
increased the villages's
usefulness and it became an important shopping and shipping point for the surrounding country.
In the early days, one of the pleasures was community or family picnics to the Springs. Seminole, Rock and Clay, now called Wekiwa, were all in driving distance even thought
good roads had not been heard of and transportation was
by horse and wagon.
The wagon drawn by the little donkeys, brought
from Michigan by Mr. Burmann and the big mule
team driven by Mr. Woodcock, were
ready to start early in the morning.
They were loaded to capacity,
children on the laps of their
parents and well-filled
baskets in the center of
the wagons. These were important and long anticipated occasions and everyone was happy.
The day was spent in bathing, boating, fishing and the all important dinner at noon. If the picnic was at Wekiwa, Rock Springs was the stopping place on the way home, for rest and more good eats from the baskets which were still far from empty. Then on again toward home, a tired by happy group, singing, talking, discussing the affairs of the village and the world.
Another summer enyoument was the ice-cream
social held by the Ladies Aid Society at
the Town Hall. Ice was brought in
by train after the railroad came
through but before that, it was
hauled by horse and wagon
for these special occasions.
The ten-gallon freezers were turned by hand and the children waited for a taste of the cream when the dashers were removed and the cream was packed to harden. The ice-cream and homemade cakes were sold to all comers and the money
cleared was used for the church or community projects.
Birthdays and Anniversaries were celebrated with surprise parties, each guest bringing a cup of sugar and later receiving a saucer of taffy to be pulled until it was white and creamy.
Thanksgiving meant a community dinner at
the Town Hall and Christmas was celebrated
at the church with a great Christmas
tree, a program of music and recitations
and presnets for everybody. Santa
Claus never failed to
appear and he never
overlooked anybody when he distributed the gifts.
The house was late when the festivities were over, the
calls of "Merry Christmas" were heard, as in wagons, buckboards or walking, the happy friendly people returned to their homes in the village or on their groves among the pine woods.
This writer cam still see in memory, the twinkling lanterns moving off in all directions and hear the children
saying, "There go the Allens", or "That must be
the Registers', and :The Emersons are just starting up the hill".
* * * * * *
This material which covers Sorrento history up to about 1894 and the BIG FREEZE, was compiled by Miss Hattie Allen, a daughter of Arthur E. Allen and granddaughter of William Allen. She is the only one of those Sorrento in 1882 who still resides here.
The FREEZE was a major catastrophe, not only destroying the crop but killing the trees to the ground. Many gave up and returned to their former homes but those who stuck itout, finally saw their tewws once more bearing the luscious golden fruit.
Later came big packing houses, a proserous turpentine still and a large sawmill operated by George and Frank BAttle. These things with the coming of good roads and automobiles, brought in many new settlers, many of them retired people. A large hotel and golf course, with many attractive residences, was built at Mt. Plymouth, about two miles to the southeast. The town itself has not grown much in size as Mount Dora is only five miles away, but it is, as in the early days , a settlement of cultured, musical and artistic people and a quiet but happy community.
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This page last updated August 13, 2010
© 2009-2010 Fran Smith
Acron Aka Paisley