Lake County Vanished Towns



    In 1884, one of the more successful salesmen for the Colgate Soap Company was George Thomas King, who was called G.T.  He suffered terribly from rheumatism during the cold winter months in Baltimore, so Colgate suggested he work the southern territory from a central point.  He met a surveyor named H. R. Smith who was hired to make an updated map of central Florida for the government.  They soon came upon a place with rolling hills, spring fed lakes, fertile soil and abundant wildlife, and he knew he had found the ideal place to start a settlement.  He named the lakes for his wife Emma, her sister Lucy, and his children Morgan, Arthur and Desire.  He declined naming any for himself.
One by one, northern people moved to the town.  The idea was to buy a house lot on Lake Emma and a five acre grove close behind.  Companies were formed to capitalize on the expanding citrus industry, mine the kaolin, and establish steamship travel on the Palatlakaha Creek.

  By far the most beautiful estate was that of the Kings, according to the recollection of  area.  It had four fireplaces and four bedrooms, a garden in the front and back, and an outside privy and kitchen.  Two fish ponds in the front were filled with lotus flowers and each had a fountain in the middle, operated by pressure from a windmill-fed water tank on top of the hill..
    Several businesses were started, including a general store, a hotel, and a photography studio where G.T.’s brother-in-law, George F. Parlow, moved his portrait business, and took many promotional pictures.  George’s brother Frank set up the post office on the front porch of his house.
    A promotional pamphlet was printed, touting the agricultural aspects of Villa City.  This book includes a testimonial by a Rev. J. Emory Round who came to visit 1888, where he mentions that “…frost is a benefit rather than a hindrance.  If it strips every leaf from the trees, unless the wood is split not the slightest harm is done, while if the trees happen to be suffering from any of the different forms of insect life, such a frost removes these enemies effectually and gratuitously…From frosts so severe as to injure orange trees seriously, the region is entirely exempt.”

Everything was coming up roses, literally, until the two worst agricultural disasters in Florida occurred.  A hard freeze hit all of Florida just after Christmas of 1894.  The citrus crop was devastated, and the trees were stripped of their leaves.  By the end of January, however, it was evident that most of the trees survived.  In fact, they filled with sap due to an unusual warm spell for several weeks.  Then a massive cold front quickly blew through on February  7, 1895.  The day was cold and rainy, and the temperature reached the freezing mark early in the afternoon before the rain cleared, bringing snow to most of central Florida.  The new sap in the trees froze solid.  The temperature the next day reached 80 degrees, the sap expanded and most of the trees broke wide open in loud cracks.
    The residents surveyed the damage, and determined that all was lost.  There were few options left for the settlers, and one by one they left.  The beautiful houses were left to the scavengers and tax collectors, and only a few of the older people stayed.  Villa City became a ghost town for many years.  It was not until the mid 1930’s that people started coming back to the area.
A state historical marker has been erected on the site of the King house, located on Lake Emma Road, 4 miles north of Groveland between State Road 19 and the Villa City Road (SR 565).  It reads:

“On this site in 1885, George Thomas King, founder of Villa City, built an estate that was the showplace of the area.  By 1895, the town had a post office, school, church, hotel, photographic studio, dispensary and 35 homes.  The citrus based community flourished until the Big Freeze of 1894-95.  A warm spell, after a devastating Dec. 29 freeze, filled the trees with sap.  Snow then fell in the evening of Feb. 7, 1895.  The frozen trees exploded when the warming sun returned.  Their hopes and dreams broken, the settlers left.  The last original house, the Gano House, was demolished in 1968, but the beauty of the area remains.”

This addition thanks to 
Kevinandrewswope@yahoo. com

My great grandfather was Franklin Atwood Park, who spent several years there in 1880s working for his uncle George T. King.  (FA Park's mother was Catherine Parlow).  One very minor correction:  Lake Lucy must have been named either for Franklin Sears Parlow's wife Lucy Sears (also his first cousin) or their daughter and only child Lucy F. Parlow, who died at the age of five in 1862 when they were living in Cape Cod.  I'm guessing his wife, since the daughter was called by the nickname of "Frankie."  (Emma's sisters were named Caroline, Catherine & Clara.)

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Last updated by Fran Smith  September 11, 2011
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