PIECES OF THE PAST: What’s a Name Got to Do With it?

Josh McGillPieces of the Past

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

I recently received Waverly Growers Cooperative’s 50th Golden Anniversary booklet (1914–1964) from a reader. One of the things I found interesting was how the town of Waverly was formed, and how various places in the area got their names.

Between 1882 and 1884, W.B. Campbell, Asa Gibbons and F.W. Ohlinger homesteaded in a stopping place for people using the Kissimmee Road. At Ohlinger’s suggestion they named it Waverly after the hometown of Campbell, who was from New York. The three families are credited for starting the citrus industry in that area: “The plantings were mostly seedlings, as rough lemon stock that is now so generally used had not been introduced in the area. Rough lemon stock did not make its appearance until after the Great Freeze of 1895.”

They also named the lakes in the area. Lake Venus was named after Ohlinger’s daughter, who passed away at an early age. Lake Lee was for Gibbons’ oldest son, while Lake Annie was for Gibbons’ daughter. The lake just east of Waverly was named after Campbell’s daughter, Bessie, but it was later changed to Mabel by R.D. Fuller, for his wife. Dinner Lake was so named because cattlemen traveling from Bartow to tend their herds stopped to have lunch under the oaks, as did the troops traveling from Tampa to Fort Gardner on the Kissimmee River.

The booklet also notes how Star Lake and Iron Mountain got their names: “In the year 1885, seventeen people had a picnic on the top of Iron Mountain where the Bok Singing Tower now stands. The group was made up of Mr. W.B. Campbell and family, the Asa Gibbons family, the Ohlinger family, a Mr. Charles Joyce and his wife Nora, and a widower from Winter Haven by the name of Jamison. After they had finished their meal they discussed the reddish rock-like formation that outcropped at the top of this high hill and so discussed the findings of two geologists shortly before that time who had pronounced the material to contain about 3% iron. The group then decided that they would call the place Iron Mountain.”

On the wagon ride home, their horse balked and refused to go further. While they tried to get moving again, “Mrs. F.W. Ohlinger observed that the lake nearby looked as though it had five points,” which is how Star Lake was named. Now called Lake of the Hills, it is still called Star Lake by most of the residents, and there is a citrus label named for it as well.

The booklet also mentioned the following: “There was a kind of boom going on in Polk County from 1882 to 1884 when the three families settled in Waverly. In 1882 and 1883, $500,000.00 worth of property was sold in Polk County, and this was more than the whole tax evaluation two years before. During that time, 500,000 citrus trees were set in Polk County, and the population had increased from 3,500 in 1880 to 6,000 in 1884.”

The Seminole Chief Tallahassee had a grove on the south side of Lake Pierce, about five miles east of Waverly. Ohlinger’s son, O.H. Ohlinger, said he often saw Chief Tallahassee, who visited their home periodically. O.H. tells the story of the chief moving from Lake Pierce to Lake Rosalie: “He said the old chief would come back and camp at Lake Pierce, but finally sold the large bearing grapefruit trees that the Indians had growing at the south end of Lake Pierce to Perrin and Thompson of Winter Haven for $1.00 each, and they moved them with a two-wheeled cart and set them out in a grove that was located near Florence Villa. As near as he can recollect, this transaction took place about 1886, so the old chief was the first Waverly Grower.”

Hmm … I wonder where he got his name.

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.

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