Thursday, February 24, 2022

Okahumpka - A Ghost Town?

Okahumpkee, in Seminole "Deep Water", was a Seminole Indian community located on the east end of Lake Denham near Helena Run. By 1845 the Seminoles had left and it became a popular town provisioned by steamboats which were able to navigate to Helena Run through the chain of lakes and the Ocklawaha River. That worked until the railroad built a trestle over Helena Run too low for the boats and so the town quickly relocated a mile and a half southwest  to the new railroad depot built in 1898. Somewhere around this time the spelling of Okahumpkee became Okahumpka.

The Steamboat Landing at Okahumpkee c.1875

By the early 1900's Okahumpka had become a major depot shipping citrus, ferns, watermelons, naval stores, hardwood lumber, and kaolin from nearby pits. There was also a large hotel where northerners would pass their winters in a warm environment. By the 1850's the town was larger than Leesburg, but declined in the mid 1900's with the loss of the railroad through consolidation. As the population left it became almost a ghost town, losing stores, post office, schools, taverns, even a bowling alley and churches.

The sternwheel steamboat Okahumkee named for the town - probably at Silver Springs

To find the depot I ride south along Hwy 33 with the old railroad easement on my right side and reaching Hwy 470 I cross to South Quarters Road which is directly on the easement and ride to the end. Of course the depot is no longer there but it still exists. When the Seaboard Railroad removed the rails in 1978 they donated the depot to the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, where today, visitors can sit in the original passenger waiting rooms and see the same ticket office that hosted passengers in the early 1900s. The freight room now houses a 500 square foot model train display of the period.

The Okahumpka Railroad Depot

For some the trains have never left Okahumpka. One resident reports still hearing them in the night: "Anyone in this neighborhood could tell you that late at night you can still hear the whistle of the train. The ghost of a young girl with braided pig tails can sometimes be seen walking down the now paved road walking away from the direction of the old train depot. Once I was outside when she appeared. The air seemed to feel heavy and I had an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and when I looked up there she was walking with her back to me. She never looks up but always looks at her feet as she walks. P."

Another: "I live on Walnut. My boyfriend has seen her many times. The little girl is sad and lonely. Sometimes she will walk up to you and ask you ''Have you seen my daddy?'' as she cries. When you answer her saying no she disappears or walks past (through) you and continues walking. Amber."

Sad to say but, today Okahumpka is best known as a rest stop along the nearby Florida Turnpike. Just not nearly as interesting.

For route information click here

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