Monday, March 15, 2021

Finding Eldorado

I am riding around Sunnyside anticlockwise trying to trace the railroad easement from Leesburg to Tavares. I am seeking any trace of Eldorado a small settlement on the south eastern corner of Sunnyside which in 1890 was connected by train to Leesburg and Tavares and by steamboat to Astor on the St Johns River. Eldorado even had a post office from 1886 until 1910.

 I should have asked these guys the way! Blue marks the old railroad line, red is the Stivender property.
Initially I could find nothing apart from waterfront homes and docks. But it turned out not to be a waste of time as I met a home owner who had lived there since before the railroad tracks had been removed. He showed me the old route behind his home and explained it went behind an old house and that I could see more of the easement at Camp Horizon a Christian retreat further down the road. I went to the camp, jumped a gate and was able to follow the RR easement as far as Leesburg Airport. A lot of the early trains would have run on a trestle in this area where later railroad companies built a causeway.
 The house in all its glory and today.
On my way back I found the old house the neighbor had mentioned - in total disrepair. I hadn't previously seen it as the only thing visible from the road is its windmill and water tower. The house is concealed by oaks and spanish moss. In its early days it had been a magnificent home with a tower and widow’s walk. I later found out that this is the Stivender house built in 1881. Dr. Arthur Avreham Stivender (1842-1900) was born in Alabama and came to the area in 1861 with his mother Margaret Gillie Anne Lee of the founding family of Leesburg and his siblings. He was a dentist but better known as a citrus grower on the land around his house. On the lakefront Stivender built a dock and a packing house where trains and steamboats would stop to transfer supplies and pick up citrus and vegetables from all over the lake.
 The no longer existing Stivender rail depot, docks and packing house and an 1895 image of the train near Eldorado.
Stivenders son was into racing cars in the early 20th century. His race track is now what we know as Sunnyside Loop. The Stivender House was featured in the 2009 film "Away We Go". The Seaboard Coastline Railway continued service between Leesburg and Tavares until 1949. The house burned to the ground a few months after I wrote this article.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Moss Bluff

I'm on a solo ride exploring the Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area and Moss Bluff. A big part of the plan being to have a late breakfast at the Dam Diner before heading home.

An interesting place Moss Bluff, in 1876 the settlement already had a post office, two stores and the Waterman Company sawmill. It was connected to Silver Springs and Leesburg via the Ocklawaha River and by rail to Silver Springs via a lumber spur line and the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad.
The old steel truss swing bridge and the Leesburg Boat Club locking through in 1948 with the swing bridge behind.
The first Moss Bluff dam and lock built in 1925 produced hydro electricity for the local area. It was replaced in 1969 after it was overwhelmed by heavy flooding. The dam controls the water level in the chain of lakes south to Apopka and provides a navigable route from the lakes north to the St. Johns River near Palatka. The lock has a lift of about 16 feet and about 100 boats go through on a busy weekend. The first Moss Bluff bridge across the Ocklawaha river was a steel truss swing bridge built in 1927 which in turn replaced a ferry. The new concrete bridge on Hwy 464C was built in the 1980's .
 The new Moss Bluff dam, lock and spillway and the Dam Diner
Of course, no visit to Moss Bluff would be complete without breakfast at the Dam Diner which had reopened in the pandemic with limited seating - two eggs over easy, hash browns, toast and too much coffee $10 with a generous tip! Plus a priceless conversation with one of the waitresses who was raised in the area. She reminisced nostalgically about the old swing bridge which she loved to watch as kid. She told me, that traditionally, widows from the bridge communities had always been selected as bridge keepers as way to support them following their loss. A great day.