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Tuscawilla Park District

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Statement of Significance


The Tuscawilla Park Historic District has local significance in the areas of religion, social and humanitarian, politics and government, commerce, and architecture. Its extant historic buildings date from c. 1877 until c. 1930. The buildings embody the period when Ocala functioned as the center of transportation, Commerce, and government for Marion County and much of central Florida.

The Tuscawilla Park neighborhood is a residential area northeast of the historic downtown commercial core of Ocala. The area developed primarily during the period from 1880 until 1920 when Ocala was a center for tourism, phosphate, and citrus. It includes, in part, a land grant conceded to Antonio Alvarez, a Spanish subject living in St. Augustine. During the first half of the nineteenth century Alvarez was secretary to the Spanish governor and mayor of St. Augustine. The Alvarez Grant was later transferred to Gad Humphreys, the first Seminole Indian agent, and Joseph Caldwell, a planter and land developer from Newberry, South Carolina. During the early 1880s Caldwell subdivided the Alvarez Grant into Caldwell's Addition, the first of many subdivisions which developed on the east side of Ocala from the 1880s to the 1920s. The Tuscawilla Park area is significant for its association with many of Ocala's prominent businessmen, politicians, and civic leaders, particularly members of the Jewish community. The oldest existing building in Florida, designated as a synagogue, built 1888, is located in the district. The district also contains some of the older residential buildings in Ocala. Most of these are frame vernacular, but they also include examples of Second Empire, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, Spanish Revival, Georgian Revival, Carpenter Gothic, and Bungalow styles. While the district has lost some of its physical integrity, it generally retains the appearance it exhibited during its period of significance.

Historical Development of the District

Most of the proposed historic district is located within a 1,500 acre tract of land known as the Antonio Alvarez Land Grant. Alvarez served as the Royal Secretary to the Spanish Governor at St. Augustine. He was also mayor of the City and owner of the building now owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society and known as the Oldest House. He received the grant from Governor Jose Coppinger on December 17, 1817, although he apparently never occupied it. The grant was located at a place called Big Swamp or Hammock.

The geographic area, which now forms Marion County, was the setting for many of the more important events associated with the Second Seminole War. Moreover, the ongoing conflict between the Seminoles and the United States had a direct influence on the development of the City of Ocala. One of the principals in the conflict was Gad Humphreys, United States agent to the Seminoles. Humphreys, originally from New York, had served in the United States Army for thirteen years and attained the rank of major before being mustered out in 1821. He was subsequently appointed agent to the Seminoles and arrived in the vicinity of Ocala in 1825. He established an agency several miles west of Silver Springs in an area known as the Big Hammock. He described it as being an ideal location with fertile soil adaptable for instructing the Indians in farming, trails connecting the Indian villages, and the greatest advantage of all, the spring with its deep flowing outlet to the Ocklawaha and on to the St. John's River. On August 13, 1825 he purchased one-half interest in the Antonio Alvarez Grant, one of the first private landholdings in the area.

Humphreys was the first white man yet documented to settle in the Ocala vicinity. In the fall of 1825 he, with the assistance of the Indians, constructed a large, crude house of hewn logs to serve as the agency offices and his residence. Based on evidence presented during hearings conducted by the United State House of Representatives in the late 1820s, it appears that Humphreys constructed the agency office within the Alvarez Grant. Humphreys did this without the knowledge and approval of the government, and his actions probably played a part in his subsequent removal as agent to the Seminoles. While his ethics may be questioned, the fact that the Indian agency was located within the Alvarez Grant indicates that there is considerable archaeological potential in the district and its vicinity. In addition to the agency, Humphrey's plantation was located within the grant; several important roads passed through it; and numerous Indian villages surrounded it.

The Humphreys plantation was one of the first in the Florida interior. Humphreys lived there with his wife Mary and two small daughters. He apparently remained until the outbreak of the Second Seminole War in 1835, and several of his younger children were born there. He was involved in significant agricultural pursuits, most importantly sugar planting and cattle ranching. By the late 1820s he had cleared forty to sixty acres around the agency, was selling sugar cane to the Seminoles; owned thirty to forty head of cattle; and was in possession of a number of slaves. Several important roads and trails were near the plantation. They included trails to Fowl and Hick's Town, apparently Indian villages in the vicinity; a trail to the Old Store on the St. Johns Rivers, perhaps the former Panton; Lesley Company store; a road to Micanopy; and the road between Fort King and Fort Brooke near Tampa.

Humphreys remained Agent to the Seminoles until 1830. Accused of allowing the Indians to harbor black slaves, he was removed from office by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 and replaced by John Phagan, sub-agent since 1826. Humphreys remained at his plantation and ran a small trading post until the outbreak of the Seminole War. At that time, his plantation was burned and pillaged by the Indians, and Humphreys and his family moved to St. Augustine where he became a prominent resident. He was a two-term mayor of the City, president of the County Board of Commissioners, and Worshipful Master of the St. Johns County Masonic Lodge.

Following the Second Seminole War, the Ocala area became one of the most intensely settled in the state. The rapid settlement of the area is reflected by several events. On September 14, 1843, a post office was established and given the name of Ocala. On March 14 of the following year, Marion County was subdivided from Alachua. Ft. King was the county seat until 1846 when David Bruton, a civil engineer, laid out the subdivision of the original town of Ocala. That same year the town was officially named Ocala, and a public road was constructed from it to Ft. Butler on the St. Johns River. The town grew modestly during the next several years. It was large enough to be incorporated in 1848 and by 1850 contained a courthouse, a church, a jail, ten to twelve houses, and two stores. The concentrated settlement of the community was within the confines of the newly platted town. Along the east margin of the town was the Alvarez Land Grant, still largely undeveloped.

With the outbreak of the Seminole War, Gad Humphreys, like all white settlers of the area, had abandoned his land. Around 1850 the Alvarez Grant was purchased by Joseph Caldwell. Caldwell, like so many other early settlers of Ocala and Marion County, was from South Carolina. South Carolinians and Georgians formed the majority of the settlers of Marion County. They were planters and yeomen farmers. Caldwell operated a plantation on his land. Fortunately, a description of it can be found in the letters of George Bancroft, the historian-diplomat who served the administration of President James Knox Polk as Minister to England. On March 16, 1855 Bancroft, on his way to Ocala, passed through the Caldwell plantation while traveling along the Ft. King Road. He described it as being large and devoted to the cultivation of sugar and cotton.

After the Civil War, Ocala entered a period of rapid development during which it became one of Florida's more important communities. It matured from a frontier town to a city. Its economy expanded rapidly based on its favorable geographic location. It became a major transportation and freight distribution center. Its economy was fueled by improved communication and transportation systems and the development of tourist, citrus, and phosphate industries.

The economic prosperity of Ocala during the 1880s precipitated real estate development and building construction. The City began to expand beyond the limits of the original town plat of 1846. The principal area of expansion was the former Alvarez Land Grant, located on the east margin of town, which in 1880 was still owned by Joseph Caldwell. That year Caldwell subdivided the Alvarez Land Grant into Caldwell's Addition to the City of Ocala. Caldwell's Addition was the first major residential area beyond the limits of the original town.

Beginning in the 1880s Caldwell's Addition became a fashionable residential area for Ocala's leading professionals, politicians, and businessmen. Its residents included doctors, lawyers, educators, bankers and the officers and owners of many of the town's most important companies and corporations. An 1883 Bird's Eye View map of the town clearly shows a number of large frame residences located among the orange groves on the eastern side of town.

Other subdivisions were also platted in the survey area during the latter two decades of the nineteenth century. One of the most important of these was John G. Reardon's Middleton Lots, located in an area bounded on the south by Silver Springs Boulevard, on the north by Northeast 2nd Avenue, on the I west by the Seaboard Coast Line Rail Lines, and on the east by Tuscawilla Avenue. Located in a portion of the Alvarez Land Grant, it was conveyed by Joseph Caldwell to S. William Moody in 1863. Following several additional transactions, it was acquired by John G. Reardon in 1882. Reardon was a prominent attorney and Mayor of Ocala during the late 1880s and early l890s. Reardon's own home was located in the subdivision just north of Silver Springs Boulevard between Tuscawilla and Watula Streets, but was subsequently torn down.

The 1880s were a decade of phenomenal growth for Ocala. From a population of only several hundred some years before, Ocala had grown to several thousand. It had developed into a major transportation center with a central location. Its economic infrastructure, based on phosphate production, citrus cultivation, and tourism, was in place. It remained the seat of government for Marion County.

Paralleling the growth of other areas of Ocala was the development of the proposed district in the northeast section of town beyond Ocklawaha Boulevard (Silver Springs Boulevard). By 1895 much of the district was a densely developed residential neighborhood. Beginning at the original plat of the City and moving east there was nearly continuous development along the north side of Ocklawaha Boulevard for five to six blocks. The buildings there were generally massive, two-story frame dwellings designed in the Queen Anne style or exhibiting features associated with it. Additional development extended a block north to North 2nd Street along Watula, Tuscawilla, and Sanchez Streets. The buildings on these streets were similar to those along Ocklawaha, although their scale was less massive, and their designs were simpler.

While the majority of buildings along Silver Springs Boulevard have been destroyed by post-World War II development, several still remain. They include the Foy House and the Gray House. Their original owners and the real estate developers who owned the property on which they are built tell us much about the history of the area as it developed over time.

Built in 1877, the Foy House is the oldest building yet documented in the district. It was originally the residence of Frederick N. Foy. Foy came to Ocala from North Carolina and served several terms in the Florida House of Representatives during the 1850s. His wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Foy, owned the property until June 1914 when she transferred ownership to Mrs. Freddy Foy Talley, her daughter and the namesake of Frederick Foy.

Built c. 1892, 725 Silver Springs Boulevard is sited on a lot originally owned by Louis Fox, treasurer of the Ocala Building and Loan Company. The Ocala Building and Loan Association was formed in 1886. By 1891, it was described as having been responsible for the construction of approximately fifty of the finest residences in Ocala. Fox and its other officers and stockholders were prominent businessmen, bankers, and professionals. In 1882 Fox purchased the lot upon which the building is situated from Ocala Mayor John Reardon. Reardon probably had the building constructed on a portion of the lot and sold it in April, 1892 to Charles M. Gray, Rector and Trustee for Grace Episcopal Church.

One of the district's most significant associations is with the Jewish community of Ocala. As Ocala prospered after the Civil War a number of Jewish families moved there. By 1873 their numbers were sufficient to organize a congregation known as the United Hebrews of Ocala and to establish a cemetery which is still in use. The congregation met in private homes until the first synagogue was constructed around 1888 at 729 Northeast 2nd Street. It continued to be known as United Hebrews of Ocala until July 1965 when it was officially changed to Temple B'nai Darom. The synagogue on 2nd Street was in continuous use for eighty-eight years. It was replaced in 1976 by a new building at Banyon Road and County Road 35. Ocala Bible Study729 SE 2nd Street Originally the first Jewish synagogue in OcalaCarpenter GothicBuilt circa 1888.

The synagogue is historically significant for its association with Florida's Jewish community. It was the third synagogue constructed in Florida, preceded only by one constructed in Pensacola in 1878 and one in Jacksonville in 1882. Since both of these buildings have since been destroyed it is the oldest existing building in Florida designed as a synagogue. It was sold several years ago and is now a Christian church.

The Jewish community of Ocala had significant associations with the commercial development of Ocala and actively participated in local and state politics. Many of the early Jewish businessmen began as peddlers or grocers. Their businesses gradually expanded to dry goods stores, specialty stores, and eventually department stores. In 1885, Isaac Maas operated a store selling men's ware, dry goods, and groceries. After a few years, he left Ocala for Tampa where he joined his brothers who were operating the original Maas Brothers store, the genesis of one of Florida's most significant retail merchandising outlets.

Other prominent Jewish merchants were Nathan Emanuel and Hennan Kaminski. In 1885, Emanuel, from Georgetown, South Carolina, and Kaminski, from New York City, opened a retail establishment in the then newly completed Marion Block. They traded in dry goods, clothing, boots, and shoes. Their store was purchased three years later by Solomon Benjamin and Louis Fox, two other prominent Jewish businessmen with considerable additional commercial interests.

A group of Jewish businessmen were responsible for one of Ocala's most innovative developments in 1889 when they established the East Florida Ice Company. The principals of the company were Solomon, Simon, Morris Benjamin, William Fox, and Israel Brown. The East Florida Ice Company pioneered refrigeration and cold storage in Marion County. Its facilities were used for preserving beef and pork products and produce so abundantly produced in Marion County. Another Benjamin brother, Hennan, subsequently came to Ocala from Atlanta Machine Works Company and the Ocala-Silver Springs Tram- road, a mule powered rail line which transported tourists and other passengers from Silver Springs to Ocala.

Simon and Solomon Benjamin and Louis Fox joined with other inventors to form the Silver Springs, Ocala, and Gulf Railroad. By 1891 the line extended from Ocala to Rainbow Springs, Dunnellon, Hernando, and Inverness, with a branch from Dunnellon to Homossassa on the Gulf of Mexico. From Ocala connections could be made for Silver Springs, Ocklawaha, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville. The Silver Springs, Ocala, and Gulf Railroad, like other railroads of the period, was a key factor in opening Central Florida to development.

After the great Jacksonville fire of 1901, Simon Benjamin moved to Jacksonville where he helped rebuild the city. His son, Roy A. Benjamin, became one of Florida's most prominent architects. Born in Atlanta, he lived in Ocala for much of his youth and received religious training at the synagogue. He moved to Jacksonville with his family in 1901 where he became renowned as a theater architect. He served as a member of the National Board of American Institute of Architects and designed theaters throughout the South. His firm was the forerunner of Kemp, Bunch, and Jackson, one of the state's largest architectural firms.

Benjamin, a charter member of the Florida Association of Architects, was responsible for the design of landmark buildings throughout the state, particularly in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, he designed Kirby- Smith and John Gorrie Junior High Schools, the Florida Center, Riverside Theaters, the Chamber of Commerce Building, the Jacksonville Jewish Center, the State Board of Health Building, the Elks Club, the Scottish Rite Temple, and the Park Lane Apartments. Among his commissions in other parts of the state was the first skyscraper in Lakeland, a ten-story marble arcade erected during the 1920s.

Other than Isaac Maas, the Rheinauer brothers were probably Ocala's most significant Jewish businessmen. The Rheinauers were born in Germany, the sons of a Jewish cantor. They established a retail dry goods business that still exists under the family name. Charles Rheinauer, who carne with his brother Maurice from Thomasville, Georgia, established the business in 1880. Benjamin Rheinauer joined his brothers in 1885 and became a partner when Maurice moved to Syracuse, New York to establish another business. Rheinauer's soon developed into the finest department store in Ocala. Located on the south side of the town square, the building was known as the Rheinauer Block. The Rheinauer's line of merchandise included men's and women's clothing" shoes, carpets, and other household goods. Although it developed into a successful retail merchandising chain, it is no longer under family ownership.

Beyond their principal business, the Rheinauers were involved in a number of community activities and commercial enterprises. Maurice Rheinauer was Assistant Chief of the Ocala Fire Department. Charles Rheinauer was Vice-President of the Ocala Iron and Machine Works; President of La Criolla Cigar Company; a founder of the Ocala Board of Trade, the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce; and founder and director of the first bank in Ocala, the Merchants National Bank. He was presiding officer of the Hebrew Society of Ocala and was credited with promoting Thomas Edison's incandescent electric lamp which subsequently was introduced to the community. His La Criolla Cigar Company was probably the largest of several cigar factories which operated in Ocala during the latter years of the 19th century.

Members of the Jewish community were also active in local and state politics. In 1882 Solomon Benjamin was President of the Marion County Board of Commissioners. Four years later Julius Israel was elected to the City Council. Many others served on the council during the following years. They included William Fox and I. Israel in 1887; Nathan Emanuel, who served as president in 1888; Simon Benjamin in 1896; Benjamin Goldman in 1919; and Robert Leibowitz in 1954. Marcus Frank served several terms beginning in 1927. In 1948 he was elected to the first of two terms in the Florida House of Representatives. The first Jewish Mayor of Ocala was Michael Fishel, who served two terms. He was followed by Charles Rheinauer in 1906.

Other prominent members of the Jewish community were associated with the synagogue or lived in the survey area. One was Julius Israel. Israel came to Ocala from his native Philadelphia in 1881. He established the Ocala News Depot, a book store, news stand, and office supply outlet in the Marion Block in downtown Ocala. In 1886 Israel was elected to the Ocala City Council and three years later served as a director of the Ocala International and Semi-Tropical Exposition. He was Vice-President of the United Hebrews of Ocala during the mid-1880s.

The Jewish business community was an important force in securing the Ocala International and Semi- Tropical Exposition. Along with Julius Israel, another of its directors was Michael Fishel. Fishel moved to Ocala from Alexander City, Alabama in 1886. He operated a general store in the Agnew Block on Magnolia Street in downtown Ocala. His merchandise included clothing, groceries, and notions. He owned considerable real estate in Ocala and was a director of the Ocala Building and Loan Association and the Semi-Tropical Exposition. In 1900 he became the first Jewish Mayor of Ocala. He, along with Herman Schwerin and Nathan Inister, signed the deed in 1888 when United Hebrews of Ocala purchased the property where the synagogue was constructed.

A number of Jewish families also resided in the neighborhood. They included Flora and Jacob Brown, Abraham Slott, Israel and Gertie Brown, Julius Israel, and Dora Fox. One of the more architecturally noteworthy homes is the Israel Brown House at 119 NE Sanchez Avenue. In September 1886 Brown, a local grocer, purchased the lot with the house apparently already constructed on it. Brown lived there with his wife Gertie, a relative of Julius Israel, until 1899 when he sold the property to Richard Wheeler for $1300. Julius Israel himself briefly owned the property during the years 1893 and 1894. Israel Brown House119 NE Sanchez Avenue Second Empire Style Built circa 1885

By 1895 Ocala had a population estimated by one source at over 5,000. It had a well developed transportation system and a prosperous economy based primarily on phosphate mining and citrus cultivation. By 1900, however, the local economy was in a state of depression. The phosphate boom in western Marion County had collapsed causing great losses to a number of prominent Ocalans. Citrus growers suffered significant tree and fruit damage as a result of devastating freezes during the winters of 1894-1895 and 1899. Furthermore,, Henry Flagler's extension of the Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami in 1896, following the 1894-1895 freezes, signaled a shift in the economic development of Florida to the southeast coastal frontier.

Although the boom era of the late nineteenth century was over, the economic character of Ocala had been formed. During subsequent decades it remained an area whose economy was based on phosphate, citrus production, other agricultural and pastoral activities, and tourism associated with Silver Springs, the beautiful natural wonder to the east. It remained a center of rail transportation, and, as the seat of government of Marion County, it was politically important as well.

As Ocala began to develop into a mature community during the early years of the twentieth century, certain groups kept a watchful eye on the preservation of its scenic beauty. One of the most important of these was the Women's Club of Ocala. In the years prior to 1932, government played a relatively minor role in developing social programs, particularly in the areas of charity and community development. Groups such as the Women's Club of Ocala assumed this role, and the club's headquarters became a community center. Around 1916 the club constructed its headquarters in the survey area at 120 NE Tuscawilla Avenue. During the course of its existence, the club has made numerous contributions to the quality of life in Ocala, including the beautification of Tuscawilla Park.

The original entrance to the park was at the intersection of Tuscawilla Avenue and Northeast 2nd Street. A set of brick pillars mark the entrance to the park. The pillars were dedicated in 1921 by the Women's Club as a memorial to the men and women of Marion County who served in World War I. The historic section of the park covers ten acres and played an important role in the development of the area. Its centerpiece is a natural spring, known originally as Howse Spring after some of the pioneer settlers who inhabited the area. It was purchased by the Ocala City Council in 1916 and improved principally through the efforts of the Ocala Women's Club. The club arranged for the construction of a sixty foot driveway into the park, known as "Victory Way," and planted water oaks and magnolias on both sides of the driveway, with a row of magnolias down the center. At the northern end of the driveway, where it originally broadened and made a circle, the Women's Club also planted trees. At the spring itself was the Elizabeth Maughs Grotto, dedicated to one of the principal promoters of the Tuscawilla Park improvements. Between the magnolias, club members planted red hibiscus and between the oaks red oleander, with palms and crape myrtle in the circle. Other varieties of flowers, shrubs, and trees planted in the park included a South American orchid tree, the Judas dogwood, poinsettia, poincianas, trailing lantanas, and ferns. Other improvements to the park included swings, a juggling board, benches, a pergola and grandstand upon it, and tennis courts.

During the 1920s Ocala, along with communities throughout the country, entered a period of rapid, exuberant growth. The precipitating event, which stimulated development locally, was the Florida Land Boom. The Boom had its genesis in South Florida, particularly in Miami. Buildings designed by architect Addison Mizner in Palm Beach and subdivisions such as Coral Gables became models for real estate developers around the state, including Ocala. Subdivision began supplanting orange groves and other agricultural and vacant land within the city and its environs. A number of buildings in the district date from the 1920s and at least one embodies the Spanish-influenced architecture of the period. By the late 1920s the economic and social character of Ocala was well defined. The Florida Real Estate Boom collapsed in 1926, bringing to a close a significant period of growth for communities throughout the state. The onset of the Great Depression beginning in 1929 further exacerbated the economic problems of these communities. During the period Ocala remained a major central Florida market town, reliant on citrus, phosphate, and tourism generated by Silver Springs.

The history of Ocala following World War II is similar to that of virtually every American city: increasing numbers of automobiles and asphalt fed into the city by the interstate highway system, suburban sprawl, the gradual erosion of the central commercial sector, and strip development along major state highways. Such development has been particularly noticeable on US 441 and State Road 40, the principal north-south and east-west traffic arteries in the City. Uncontrolled growth and the development of Silver Springs as one of Florida's premier tourist attractions has had a negative impact on the proposed district. Located adjacent to State Road 40 (Silver Springs Boulevard), many of its most significant historic residences have been replaced by gasoline stations, franchise restaurants, and the bane of historic areas, the mini-market.

The proposed Tuscawilla Park Historic District compares favorably with other historic residential areas in Florida, such as Riverside in Jacksonville., Lake Cherokee in Orlando, Hyde Park in Tampa, and North Hill in Pensacola, although it does not contain nearly as many historic buildings. Its built environment is closely associated with Ocala during the late nineteenth century when it was one of Florida's most prosperous communities. Its period of significant development began during the early 1880s, when it was most intense.

The architecture of the district embodies a number of significant late nineteenth and early twentieth century styles. Most common are frame vernacular and bungalows. Nonetheless, a scattering of high styled buildings can be found throughout the neighborhood. They include examples of the Second Empire, Carpenter Gothic, Colonial Revival, and the Queen Anne.

Beyond its architecture, the significance of the proposed district is based on its association with the individuals and groups who resided within its limits. Most prominent of these were members of the Jewish community who were active in commerce, civic affairs, and politics. They constructed the pivotal building in the district, the former synagogue, which is the oldest religious structure of its type in Florida. The district also contained the headquarters of the Ocala Women's Club, one of the most important social and civic organizations in Ocala. The club's principal contribution to the district was the beautification of Tuscawilla Park, the major green space within the district boundaries.

Because of its architectural significance, its associations with a number of important individuals and events, and its concentration of historic buildings within a defined geographic area, the Tuscawilla Park Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 1988. Its concentration of residences, the synagogue, the Women's Club, and the park make it one of Ocala's landmark neighborhoods.

Ocala has become one of the fastest growing communities in one of the nation's fastest growing states. Rapid population growth has created increased demands for essential services and has generated specific concerns about the conservation of the natural and cultural resources of the City. The proposed local historic district is intended to assist the City and residents of Ocala in planning for future growth. It hopefully will help ensure the protection of buildings which embody the significant development of the community.