DAVIS TILLSON (1830-1895)
Lake County Historical Society Tangelo, Vol. 7 #3, 1 Jan
has had the good fortune to receive from Mr. Leonard Mitchell, formerly of
Treasure Island on the east shore of
Lake Griffin, the gift of his file on General Davis
Tillson who lived south of Haines Creek at Orange Bend from 1878 to 1890.
Following is a brief summary of Mr. Mitchell's research on the
Captain Davis Tillson, a native of Rock land, Maine, commanded the
First Maine Artillery at the beginning of the Civil War. The file contains
copies of his military records throughout the war. At the close of the war he
was placed in charge of the Freeman's Bureau at Memphis and at Augusta, Georgia. His reports explain many of
the post-war problems encountered in Georgia. In 1866 he was commissioned
Brevet Major General.
When he was mustered out of the service in 1867, the
Mayor of Augusta honored him at a public ceremony, stating:.
"Georgia has been most fortunate at
this critical period of time that the Freeman's Bureau of this state was in the
capable hands of General Tillson".
He purchased a cotton plantation in 1867,
but the crops were not good that year and he had a problem getting labor, so he
sold it. He applied to General Grant for the position of U.S. Army Paymaster,
but he never received the appointment due to a physical handicap. While
attending West Point as a young man his left leg had to be amputated below the
knee and he had to resign from West Point, but
this apparently never hindered his service in the artillery.
In 1868 he
returned to Rockland where he became engaged in the
limestone business. He foresaw the coming boom in the many uses of granite in
the construction of public buildings and monuments, and in 1870 purchased
Hurricane Island, a small island at the mouth of Penobscot Bay , Maine. There he built a community of 850
people, importing skilled workers from Norway, Sweden. Wales and Scotland to
quarry th« granite. He also erected a canning factory on the island and built
docking space for a fishing fleet which flourished until the mid-1870's.
the spring of 1878, at the age of 48. he was not yet ready to retire, so he and
his wife headed for Lake
County, Florida, Their
visit lasted for over 12 years. It is not known how or why he chose Lake County, but in any event he met Col. T. C.
Lanier, a former Confederate Army officer and brother of the famous poet, Sidney
Lanier. Col. Lanier had purchased considerable acreage at Orange Bend from
L. Hart, owner of several Ocklawaha steamships in 1869. Lanier had cleared some
of the Orange Bend Hammock and grafted sweet oranges on the sour stock. Tillson
bought 40 acres of prime land (T19S R26E S4 ) from Lanier and built a large
2-story house. In 1888 he and E. H. Mote were involved in building a hotel at
Palmetto and Main
Street in downtown Leesburg which was completed in
1889 and named the Lakeview Hotel.
The railroad connecting Fort Mason and Leesburg was built in 1884 and
ran along the eastern edge of General Tillson's property. He built a large
packing house and loading dock along the tracks. The railroad had a 15-inch
well dug and a water tower placed near it. The track out of Astor was taken up
in 1941 and the rest of the track to Leesburg in 1968.
In 1884-85 the
General bought another 60 acres which was also put into citrus groves. Drainage
ditches were dug that ran down to the river (Haines Creek) for wet years, and
red clay irrigation tile laid for the dry ones, It was said at that time by the
men who knew citrus that there was no fruit in the whole state of Florida
comparable to the pineapple oranges General Tillson had developed in his groves
at Orange Bend Hammock, The last land the General bought was on the 20th of
February 1891. This gave him a total of 154 acres of groves. Here, like
Island, the General built
houses and sold them to families to help him tend his groves and ship his
oranges. Many pieces of the red clay bricks can still be found today where the
old homes stood. Also, one can find sections of the red clay irrigation
The General bought and sold other lands too, Among them were two
10-acre plots located at Fruitland Park on Sunset and Mirror Lakes, a large lot
on the southeastern shore of Silver Lake, and groves in Sumter
Sometime in the 1890's the Tillsons returned to Rockland. On April 30,
1895, the General (age 65) suffered a fatal heart attack. He left an estate of
over a half million dollars. In the early 1900's the Tillsons’ house and barn
at Orange Bend were burned to the ground by an angered employee who had been
discharged by the new owner. What was left of the packing house and water tower
were torn down in the 1960's.
-- Compiled by Miriam W.
copyright 2008-2014 Fran Smith