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.

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Monday, February 21, 2022


The railroad from Ocala to Leesburg was completed in 1883 and was used until the 1960's by which time the automobile had poached it's passengers and trucking had become more economical for freight. The rails ran from Ocklawaha along the east side of Lake Weir then paralleled hwy 25 and 441 passing through Lady Lake and Fruitland Park before arriving in Leesburg. The bridge to the north of Lady Lake, currently being demolished to widen 441, was built to carry traffic over the tracks. 

I am riding east along Lake Ella Road and pass the lake which I can see between the trees on my left. I continue to 441, where I estimate the railroad tracks would have been, and this is the location of the settlement of Chetwynd established by Granville Chetwynd Stapylton in 1883. 

The Dorm

Stapylton was a young English banker, entrepreneur and rascal who planned to make a killing in the citrus business. He did so by convincing many young Englishmen to buy apprenticeships in his groves where they expected to reap the benefits of the new world but wound up living in "The Hall", a dormitory, and earning little. Nevertheless the community thrived with the construction of houses and shops near Lake Ella and the Chetwynd Arms hotel which was built near the lake and the railroad. It is believed there may have been a depot there with a special rail car for transporting visitors to the hotel.

Stapylton's father was a pastor who helped establish the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Spring Lake Road which was completed in 1888. Much of the original interior still exists today and it is well worth a visit. Apart from the church there is little trace of the Chetwynd community. 

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Spring Lake Road

Chetwynd's end came about due to the big freezes of 1894 and 1895. Alfred Bosanquet, a descendent of an early settler recalled the day many Chetwynd residents left. “I remember as a child growing up and seeing some of the houses still standing, with the breakfast dishes on the table, the blankets on the beds, the windows pulled down but the doors unlocked. The people had got discouraged on seeing their groves and all the fruit frozen and caught the first train out. They didn’t even pack up their silver on the table."

"Fortunes melted away in a night and groves that were valued at thousands of dollars were valueless at sunrise." From The Evolution of Fruitland Park published in the Leesburg Commercial March 30, 1917.

D.R.S. Bott has written an excellent book about the community called The Chetwynd Chronicles.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Fixing the Garmin Power Switch

My good old Garmin Edge 800 power switch finally gave out on me. I was left with a hole where the the power button was. Options are to buy a new one or try to fix it. Being me I decide to try fixing it. I've had this Edge 800, which was introduced in 2010, about 8 years. It has everything I need especially great easy to follow maps which are really useful when riding away in places like the Carolinas and Europe.

Here's the hole where the button had failed. You can see the switch inside.

I cut a piece out of an eraser to fit the hole with an Xacto knife - a fiddly job.

Then I fit the piece of eraser in the hole making sure it is not too tight so the momentary switch button inside will release after being pushed. Then I mess with it a bit to make sure it works.

I cover the result with  piece of electrical tape and  .   .   .

  .   .   .   .Hey Presto - it works - just like that. Although I'll probably have to replace the electrical tape from time to time. And, now you know where I live!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

An Excursion to the Eichelberger Cave with Mrs Temere

According to Belleview historian Sybil Browne Bray, Belleview had a bicycle path in 1913. I’ve ridden its route a couple of times and decided it was the easy ride to do this morning as I recover from a week and a half of flu. So I ride up to Lake Lillian in Belleview which is a good starting point.

As I head west out of Belleview and follow the old bicycle path I imagine I'm riding with the ghosts of riders past. In reality I am heading west on the current County Road 484. About a mile from Lake Lillian the path veers to the right onto what is now Agnew Rd/SE 120th St. and follow it to the end where you have to make a right turn. Not turning and looking straight ahead past a gate I can see a house and a small lake. 

Mrs. Temere's Excursion
Bray reports that Mrs. Charles Temere was known to lead Sunday afternoon bicycle rides to this spot but where I have stopped they would have been able to continue straight ahead to the Eichelberger Cave where they would light torches to explore the cave's two rooms. The second room was so large it had a balcony-like natural formation above it and there were steps leading through a narrow passage where there were springs and signs that Indians had lived there. Research in the 1950s uncovered the fossils of pleistocene birds which were discovered some 350 feet from the entrance to the cave.
Not Mrs. Temere but the Bartow Ladies Bicycle Club from the same period
The young people of Marion County were able to continue their explorations of the Eichelberger Cave until the early 1970s when it was quarried out for its lime deposits.

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