1865-1866 - The War Comes to an End
Begiining in April of 1865, groups of Confederate forces started to surrender. The end of the war was finally proclaimed in August of 1866.
1866 - The Southern Homestead Act
By 1866 and the end of the war, another homesteading act was in place, again offering 160 acres of land to settlers who would live on the land for five years and improve it.
General Sherman's march through Georgia had destroyed most of the homes and farms in the state. Many of the people were having to start their lives from scratch with no homes or money.
It also allowed for grants to those that served in the military. There were also a large number of Veteren Soldiers, both Rebel and Yankee who were eager to get on with their lives.
The area, now known as South Lake County, experienced one of its early boom periods as settlers began to make a fresh start by taking advantage of the lands promised by the Southern Homestead Act of 1866.
While the purpose of the 1866 act was to allow poor tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the South to become landowners in the Southern United States during Reconstruction, it was not very successful, as even the low prices and fees were often too much for the poor Southern applicants to afford.
However, it did open up an avenue for those in northern and central states to migrate to Florida.
The attractive Homesteading Act offered a fresh start and many men took advantage of the opportunity and came to the future area of Lake County to make their homes.
Since the railway had yet to have been built to the area and there were no roads leading to Central Florida, most of the settlers arrived here by taking a steamship from Georgia down the St. John's River to Sanford.
From there they would travel West to Eustis and Tavares, then South on Native American and wagon trails, two of which led to the settlements that would become Villa City and Taylorville.
One of these trails crossed the Palatlakaha River at a spot known as Brown's Ford, North of what would become Taylorville.
A bountiful supply of timber welcomed the very early settlers. Land was cleared and logs from trees were hewed for making the family cabin. Most of the families would have to camp in their wagons or on the ground, as they worked on building their houses. Rails were split out of pine, cypress, and cedar to be used for fencing.
The familes lived off the land by growing their own vegetables and cotton, while also raising livestock. Dried peas and beans were saved for the winter.
Sugar cane provided sugar and syrup.
Wild game such as turkeys, hogs, rabbits, squirrel, deer, and fish were plentiful. Meat was preserved by a smoking and curing process.
Some animals had multiple uses. Cows provided milk, meat, and pulling power. while chickens were not just a source of meat and eggs, but there feathers were also used to stuff mattresses and pillows.
After the cotton was harvested, it was cleaned, spun into thread, then weaved into fabric for clothing and bedsheets. The cloth would be dyed using natural products like pokeberries, hickory bark, and the indigo plant.
With so much work to do for just one household, you can see why some women gave birth to up to 16 children to have help and still not have time off for maternity leave.
Various pockets of small rural communities became to appear throughout what was then Sumter County. Marriages between these various communities began to create close and long-lasting bonds.
During this time, the term "neighbor" could still describe someone who lived a few miles away.
Along with the help exchanged among early settlers, which was so vital in that era, would bring the western part of what became South Lake County together as one big family.
As you continue through our history, you will see how these early bonds have developed and continue to last even today.
[Contributors: Mary Helen Myers, Jason Brown]