1875-1885 - A Tale of Two Cities - Mascotte and J. W. Payne

1875 - Early Settlers

   The settlement, that eventually became known as Mascotte, was known to have residents as early as 1875, though perhaps even earlier as there were known settlers already in the surrounding areas of Slone's Ridge, Tuscanooga, and Brown's Ford.
   These early settlers went by horseback and wagon to Leesburg in order to obtain supplies and food that they were unable to grow, hunt, or make themselves. The trip to Leesburg being a two or three day trip, they were known to camp overnight at Bugg Spring, near today's Okahumpka. (Read more about Bugg Spring and Okahumpka.)

Families were mostly self-support- ing, raising their own vegetables year-round. Hogs, turkeys, deer, chicken and cattle provided their meat. Private hand mills ground the corn into grits and meal, and sugar was ground from sugar cane. Some of the items were taken on the trip to Leesburg to barter for flour, clothing and shoes.

Randolf Slone (b. 1878) was a Mascotte entertainer at cane grindings and other social events.

1885 - How Mascotte Got Its Name

   In 1885, the steamship SS Mascotte was built by Henry Plant. It was named for the operetta La Mascotte by French composer Achille Edmond Audran. The name comes from the French spelling of the word 'mascot' and means, an animal or thing supposed to bring good luck.
   It is thought that J. W. Payne had a financial interest in the ship which made winter runs, among other trips, bringing tobacco from Cuba to Tampa.
   The ship also had a role in bringing refugees to the U. S. during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
   Many Cuban immigrants arrived in Tampa from Havanna aboard the SS Mascotte.
   The S.S. Mascotte also made regular trips from Boston to St. Petersburg.

   In 1885, J. W. Payne, who was originally from Baltimore and then St. Petersburg, moved to the area and named the already forming settlement Mascotte.
   A picture of the SS Mascotte also became part of the official seals of the cities of Tampa and Mascotte.

   Unfortunately, the ship was not as lucky as its name would imply. It was mined and sunk off the coast of Southwold, England, in 1916, during WW I.

   Prior to 1887 and the completion of the Orang Belt Railway, mail had been carried by horseback to and from Leesburg by Mr. William Woods.    On one such trip, Mr. Woods mailed a letter to Washington D.C. petitioning that a Post Office be established in Mascotte.

Mr. William Woods rode horseback to Leesburg to mail the letter to Washington petitioning that a Post Office be established and this name given to the town. Mail was carried from Okahumpka by horseback until the railroad was completed in 1887, by the Orange Belt Railway Company.

The following is a complete list of all the postmasters who have served Mascotte through the years: Mr. R. T. Ruff from 1890 through July 1897 when Henry W. Cram was appointed and served until February 28, 1898. Ebenezer McDonald was Postmaster from March 1, 1989 through September 1902. On October 1, 1902, Wheeler McDonald was sworn in as Postmaster and served through September 30, 1908. Next was J. W. Dutton on October 1, 1908 through October 3, 1909 at ... J. H. Tuten was then sworn in as Postmaster July 1, 1914 and served until July 31, 1916.
G. T. Watkins was commissioned Postmaster July 20, 1916 and served from August 1, 1916 until August 1, 1948, retiring after 32 years of service. John T. Watkins was appointed Acting Postmaster August 1, 1948 and was commissioned Postmaster May 3, 1949 serving until his death on August 3, 196S. Mrs. Betty Watkins served as Clerk- in-Charge from August 3, 1965 until January 27, 1966. D. C. McQuaig was appointed Acting Postmaster serving from January 27, 1966 to March 25, 1966, and served until October 25, 1968, when Ivey L. Slone was installed as Postmaster, having been commissioned October 4, 1968. A new Post Office was built in September 1976. In 2000, the Postmaster was Michael Perham, his assistant is Ila Mae Thomas.

1885 - More Settlers

   Also arriving in 1885 were:
      Judge Albert;
      Martin Grimes and his brother;
      Frank Horton and his brother;
      the Langley family;
      Dr. John Rosenburg;
      Theodore Ruff;
      Charles, Frank, and William Tidd, along with their sister and her husband Tom Bradenbaker;
      R. H. Whitnall.
   All were unmarried men arriving from Ohio.
   R. H. Whitnall became the first railroad station agent. Theodore Ruff became the first postmaster on March 30, 1886, and also had the first store in Mascotte.

Mascotte General Store

The Orange Belt Railroad was the first to come into the area in 1887. It was originally built with a narrow gauge and was merged into the Atlantic Coast Line in 1900 and its gauge widened to standard. In the beginning it ran through Mascotte from Sanford to St. Petersburg. The engine was wood burning and the wood rack was located on Slone Ridge. Two pioneer Slone Ridge men cut the wood. The first Mascotte station agent was R. H. Whitnall.

   Around 1889, the Taylor Brothers and their workers arrived in Mascotte, with hopes of establishing a turpentine business. However, they did not receive a warm welcome from Mr. Ruffand were told that their worker would have to live in an area outside of the settlement. Not wanting to be forced to seperate, they moved further down the railroad tracks, toward the East, and started what would become known as Taylorville.

   Other early settlers to Mascotte were:
      A man known as Judge Albert
      Mr. and Mrs. Tom Bradenbaker
      Henry Cram, a blacksmith, who became postmaster in 1897
            Martin Grimes from New York and his brother (first name unknown)
      Frank Horton and his brother
      The Langley family (first name unknown)
      Ebenezer McDonald who took over the postmaster position March 1898
         Mr. and Mrs. Rabb - arrived around 1898
   Several other names were discovered, however, it could not be determined if they arrived in the 1800s or early 1900s and if they lived in Mascotte or one of the nearby areas.

Main Street
The first hotel in Mascotte was the Orange Hotel owned and operated by Bill Dixon. This was prior to 1907.
The only other hotel in Mascotte was originally built and operated by a Mr. Rabb.
Mr. and Mrs. George Myers bought it from Mr. Rabb and operated it until W. H. Schooley acquired it. He added a third story and hired A. J. Drawdy to operate it at as a hotel and then a board- ing house until it was destroyed in the sixties. There have been four boarding houses including the one the Weedman's operated: Riley Carter, Mrs. Tom Smith and A. J. Drawdy answered the. need in the com- munity.

   The oldest bulding and church in Mascotte was built in 1904 and is the same building now occupied by the Mascotte Methodist Church (corner of West Myers Boulevard and North Bay Lake Ave).
1904 Methodist Church

King David Jones was the original pastor of the church. The congregation was already meeting for Sunday School prior to the construction of the church building. Gabriel Watkins' name appears on a Sunday School roll dated to 1896.

   A one room schoolhouse was built, opposite the cemetery. A Professor Osterhout taught in the school until the late 1890s when a new two-story schoolhouse was built.

The first school was a one-room house located on the south side of what are now Highway 50 across from the present clay pit and the Mascotte Cemetery.

A Professor Osterhout was the first teacher who taught until the late 1890's . He came from New York where he had been educated as a priest but decided on the téaching profession because he wanted to marry. According to Walter Wood, "He had an awfully pretty wife". He left Mascotte to serve as principal to Leesburg and was eventually transferred to Ft. Myers. The next teacher was Mr. Gregory, who left in an unorthodox manner. According to history, he made the error of spanking Becky Davis' boy and when Becky showed up at the one room school with a shotgun, he escaped through the back window and was never seen again. Mr. Jesse W. Hunter became the next teacher and served for three terms. Mr. Hunter later became States Attorney, and served in that position for many years. His son Walton B. Hunter, was still a practic- ing attorney in Tavares in 2000.

According to Lester Knight, who was born in the area, "The two story schoolhouse was built around 1900 to replace the one room house on the southside of the road opposite the claypit. Professor Osterhout taught in the original building until the late nineties, when he was succeeded by a Mr. Gregory. He did not last out the school vear because after whipping Becky Davis' boy, Becky showed up with a shotgun and our teacher iumped from the rear window and was never heard from again. He was followed by lessee W. Hunter who taught for three terms before the new school building was completed".
   One of the first teachers in this two-story schoolhouse was William Tidd who was one of the original settlers in Mascotte.(listed earlier).
In 1900 a two-story schoolhouse was built on the NW corner where CR North 33 and State Road 5O intersect. It was used as a school until the present Mascotte Elementary was built in 1924. (This is not the present Mascotte Elementary School, as a new school was built later.) Then the two-story building was used as a store operated by W. H. Mallard and a boarding house operated by A. J. Drawdy and later a residence. The original piano from the two-story school- house was used at the Mascotte Elementary School unit it was moved to the new Midway Elementary where it was still in use up to at least 2000.

In the early 1900's Mrs. Marion Dixon was the teacher during the move from the two story school to the present Mascotte Elementary and taught until retirement in 1944. Vera Sloan Boyett remembers that Mrs. Dixon assembled the children and they carried their books and walked to the new Mascotte Elementary School to be among the first students to attend the school.

   Gabriel Watkins had a store, which housed the post office. While his store and post office were later torn down, his house still stands between Stuckey and Slone's Ridge.

   Mascotte's first physician was Dr. John Rosenberg (listed earlier).

Dr. William DeVane came to Mascotte in 1908 and practiced for a number of years.

   Dr. Herman Watson was born on a farm in Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia School of Medicine in 1912. He continued with various postgraduate studies throughout the United States, including Johns Hopkins University, and, after serving in World War I, stayed on in France for a year to further his studies. In 1919, Dr. Herman Watson came to Mascotte to begin his first medical practice.

   He was in practice with Dr. DeVane until he moved to Lakeland in 1920.
   He would later become the founder of the Watson Clinic in Lakeland, Florida, which developed into one of the largest and most respected clinics in the Southeast.

Dr. Mitchell was the last physician to practice in Mascotte.

1925 - City of Mascotte Officially Chartered

   The City of Mascotte was officially chartered by the State Legislature on November 23, 1925. Thus Mascotte became the only community in the area to join Groveland in becoming an official town.

   In 1925, there were three prosperous fruit and vegetable packing houses in Mascotte.

A brochure published by W. H. Schooley, General Manager of the Mascotte Development Company, Inc., in 1925, contained the following information: "The report of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad for the season of 1924 and first 5 months of 1925, show that the number of cars, both freight and express shipped from Mascotte during that period were: cars of citrus fruit, 207; cars of vegetables, 103; cars of miscellaneous, 67; total cars shipped, 377; Packages of express, 7,900; total cash receipts of freight office, $81.426.00"

   The first Mayor of Mascotte was George M. Myers.
   The first Council consisted of:
      Council President O. F. May,
      Councilmen: H. H. Mallard,
      A. J. Drawdy,
      C. S. Bragg,
         and K. Hankins.
      The first Town Clerk was E. C. Sohn

      and the first Town Marshall was C. C. Drawdy.

On December 8, 1927, the P.T.A. was formed in Máscotte Elementary and has been active ever since, even thbugh it was changed to P.T.O. Two of the first women who Berved as presidents were Mr. Leah Knight and Mrs. T'H' Heard.

Mascotte later built Midway Elementary School, which opened its doors in August of 1973. This school was Kindergarten through Second Grade for Mascotte and Groveland Students.

   Through the years, there has been a close connection between the towns of Mascotte and Groveland. Many of the early settling familes in the area would marry to form strong familial bonds between the two towns and their rural communities. Since Mascotte did not have a high school, the students of Mascotte would attend Groveland High School. Many of the residents would go to Groveland to do their shopping. Even Groveland's Puryear Building was named after former Mascotte mayor (1941-1945) and resident, Elmer L. Puryear, who later moved to Groveland and served there as mayor. For a time, Mascotte even rented the use of Groveland's jail.

   List of Mascotte's Mayors:
      1925-1926 - George M. Myers
      1927-1928 - Unknown
      1929 - G.L. O'Brian
      1929-1934 - Unknown
      1935 - Dirk Hankins
      1936-1940 - Dee Udell
      1941-1945 - Elmer L. Puryear (He later purchased the Groveland Auditorium and had it demolished in order to build the current Puryear Building, so that he would have a building with his name on it.)
      1946-1949 - C.W. Porterfield
      1950-1951 - Robert L. Whilhite
      1952 - Sam Tulk and Edwin Mattson Jr.
      1953-1957 - Edwin Mattson Jr.
      1958-1963 - Fred Thomas
      1964 - Fred Thomas and R.E.Beekman
      1965 - Fred Thomas and Kenneth Waters
      1966-1970 - Fred Thomas
      1971 - Wayland Divine
      1972-1979 - Fred Thomas

1975 - The elected officials are: Mayor Fred Thomas, Council President Leroy Turner, Councilmen Sam Sharpe, Edward L. Robbins. Bernie Scott Merritt and James Jerry Beard.

      1980-1987 - William Harb
      1988-1995 - Josh Thomas
      1996-2005 - Stanley Sloan
      2005-2007 - Jeff Krull
      2007-2009 - Feliciano Felix Ramirez
      2009-2011 - Jeff Krull
      2011-2014 - Tony Rosado

[Contributors: Ila Mae Jones, Mary Helen Myers, Jason Brown]

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