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Enterprise History

From the early 1840s to the turn of the century, Lake Monroe and its cypress-lined shores teeming with wildlife attracted a stream of visitors and settlers who traveled up the St. Johns River. However, long before, a diverse population of native Floridians had thrived along these riverbanks for thousands of years. University of Florida researchers have found evidence of native settlement along the lake 6,200 years before the present.

The Enterprise Midden, sketch of Enterprise shell mound in 1874 from Jeffries Wyman's book , was “dinner debris” deposited by people living along the lake starting around 3,000 B.C. The ancestors of these natives, the Paleoindians, may have occupied the area thousands of years before that time.

Early Visitors

At the time Pedro Menendez explored the St. Johns River in 1565, the Indians residing here were the Mayaca whose chiefdom was near present Volusia south of lake George. Clustered in small villages, they collected snails, freshwater mussels and shellfish, cooked turtles in the shell, roasted deer, alligators, and other game, and gathered roots, nuts, and berries from the forest.

Under Menendez, the Spanish may have come as far upriver as Lake Monroe searching for the headwaters of the St. Johns River. In 1765 John and WilliamBartram did travel upriver and through the lake seeking the river’s headwaters. At present day Stone Island, the Bartrams observed calciferous deposits containing human remains. Around this time, William de Brahm, as surveyor for the British, observed and mapped “Lake Grant” and the river for the colonial government of East Florida. In the early 1820s after Florida was acquired from Spain, Lt. Charles Vignoles surveyed the region for the new Territorial government and noted Green Springs on his map as the main feature of interest along the lake.

Fort Kingsbury

It was not until 1838 during the peak of the Second Seminole Indian War (War of Indian Removal) that the wilderness around Lake Monroe was officially opened with the construction of Ft. Kingsbury and the widening of the St. Augustine Trail.

Ft. Kingsbury, named after an officer who died of fever at Ft. Mellon, was located along the lakefront to the west of Green Springs, as illustrated on the MacKay and Blake army maps of 1838-39. The log stockade was a “satellite” fort of Ft. Mellon across the lake, and one of a line of posts from New Smyrna to Tampa intended to push the Seminole Indians south.

At that time the interior of the peninsula was connected with a network of Indian trails, probably the basis of the St. Augustine or Old Spanish Trail which linked the north shore of Lake Monroe to Beresford, Spring Garden, and Old King’s Highway on the coast. This important trail continued from Lake Monroe to connect with sites in south Florida.

“Armed Occupationists”

In a final attempt to end the wars and drive the Seminoles out, the government passed the Armed Occupation Act in 1842 granting 160 acres of land to anyone willing to clear, cultivate, and hold five acres of land against the Indians for five years. More than a thousand people applied for land under the Act which opened up over 200,000 acres of land south of Palatka for settlement. One of those applicants was an entrepreneurial figure prominent in early Florida politics -- Cornelius Taylor. 

Cornelius Taylor

Taylor boasted that he “was the first to raise a band of something like twenty men” to travel upriver and start a settlement, however small farms and huge plantations had been established up and down the river since the late 1700s. Starting out from the area of Old San Pablo near present day Mayport at the mouth of the St. Johns River, the men loaded their families, slaves, worldly goods, and livestock onto government boats that brought them to the north shore of Lake Monroe. Taylor and the others first “squatted” on the land, claiming their individual homesteads by right of possession

Aside from the picturesque quality of the area with its emerald springs, the main attraction of the upper St. Johns River at that time was live oak, highly prized by the Navy for shipbuilding.

Old Enterprise – Taylor ’s grant -- included the shell midden, three springs, and the site of Ft. Kingsbury . Atop the shell mound, Taylor built a “pleasant and commodious” inn to attract travelers who visited Lake Monroe on the steamboats. There were also several outbuildings and slave quarters, a sawmill, sugar boiler, and orange grove.

The old oak tree (no longer standing)

on the lakefront near the Brock House.

Live Oak Harvesting

Taylor had started out as a U.S. Timber Agent, commissioned to prevent contractors and individuals from cutting stands of trees on public land and angering many of them in the process. With the advent of a new administration in Tallahasee, Tayor was replaced by another agent and quickly changed his position to demand that settlers be allowed to harvest their timber and sell it to private contractors. This they immediately did until a directive came down from the federal government saying that only the timber necessary for house clearing and cultivation could be cut.

The quest for live oak to supply the Navy resulted in the wholesale decimation of the timber resources of the Southeast, alarming Congress into passing a law in 1822 to protect remaining stands of timber on public land.

Settlement Problems

Under the Armed occupation Act, the government induced settlers to venture into the wilderness and establish homesteads, promising rations, ammunition, and troop protection for at least a year. However, after only a month or two, the government reneged, cutting off food, supplies, and troops. An outraged Taylor wrote a lengthy letter to a St. Augustine newspaper complaining that the government had left them to the mercy of the Indians like sitting ducks. Many of the settlers at Enterprise and Ft. Mellon headed back to whence they came. But some, like the Taylors, their relatives by marriage the Houstons, and the Simpsons, the Demasters, and others stayed on and established prosperous farms and plantations around the lake.

Not long after the Taylor’s arrival, tragedy struck the family when Taylor’s oldest daughter “Polly” (Mary Arabella) died in September of 1842 in an epidemic now thought to have been smallpox which also took the lives of nine slaves. But the family persevered, planting oranges, sugar cane, and cotton and attracting tourists to their mineral springs. One visitor impressed by the improvements made by all the families around the lake declared in 1843 that Enterprise “is destined one day to become one of the most important inland towns in the Territory.”

New Enterprise

The next major figure in Enterprise history was Jacob Brock, a steamboat captain transporting invalids upriver to recover their health at spas like the one Taylor had developed around his springs. Florida had become a mecca for those seeking a health cure, and hotels all along the river were jammed with sufferers of respiratory disorders, arthritis, and myriad afflictions.

In 1851 Brock started purchasing land a mile west of Old Enterprise, laying out streets and lots, and building a wharf. The property he bought included a wood frame store and possibly a small boardinghouse. He planned to build a huge hotel that would rival anything in the North to accommodate passengers “doing the St. Johns River.”

Around this time, Virgil DuPont, related to the large and influential DuPont family in St. Augustine, had acquired a land grant near a small flowing spring later known as Benson Springs near the present power plant. He ran a small hotel with an orange grove across from the site of the future Brock House. By 1854, Brock would complete his own 100-room hotel that would put Enterprise on the map as “the premier destination on the St. Johns.” From his wharf he operated the first regular line of steamboats from Jacksonville to Lake Monroe.

The Steamboat Era on the St. Johns River

After the Civil War, a new era of tourism began in Florida with hundreds of visitors making the journey upriver on steamboats. Enterprise was declared a “hunting and fishing paradise” featuring mineral springs and exciting excursions to shoot alligators or row up DeBary Creek.

During this era, the Brock House Hotel became the most famous hotel in Florida , attracting notables and celebrities from all over the world. Among its famous visitors were Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, Jay Gould, the Vanderbilts, James Rockefeller, and Gen. William Sherman.

In 1876 Brock sold his property to Luther Caldwell who expanded and improved the hotel. Caldwell was involved in forming a new railroad to ship citrus from the Indian River. The rail-pier, where five steamboats a day once docked, was located just east of Broadway Street. In 1887 Enterprise was able to access the Jacksonville Tampa and Key West Railroad by a spur from Enterprise to Enterprise Junction. The advent of these rail lines spelled the end of the steamboat era

In 1867 Elijah Watson had opened a dry goods store to serve the 486 people in the area. Five years later William Thayer and John Sauls opened a competing store at the corner of DeBary Avenue and Main Street (shown).

Enterprise Incorporates and Deincorporates

In 1877 twenty-five citizens voted to incorporate Enterprise as a town. Ten of them became town officials. Enterprise remained the county seat until 1888 when the growing population in DeLand voted to move the courthouse there.

The town seal (left) shows the old shell mound to the right of a tree. At the base of the tree appears to be an ax which is leaning against the trunk.

In the late 1880s a yellow fever epidemic raged across the state, closing down entire cities. The population of Enterprise was reduced so much that the town voted to deincorporate in 1895.

DeBary Holdings in Enterprise

Among the prominent guests at Brock’s now expanded hotel were Samuel Frederick DeBary and Henry A. DeLand. DeBary, an agent for Mum’s Champagne in New York, purchased 5,000 acres to the west in 1871 and built a grand 20-room mansion/hunting lodge as a winter retreat for his family and friends. Over the next decade, he cultivated thousands of acres of orange trees in the area, shipping the fruit north on his steamboat line. One of his properties was Green Springs, an attraction enjoyed by his guests and guests of the Brock House. Much of the acreage around the spring was planted in orange trees. The shell mound was carted away to create roads and sidewalks and cultivate the orange groves.

All Saints Episcopal Church

DeBary was interested in establishing a church, and together with Arthur Benson of Montauk, New York, donated funds for the construction of All Saints Episcopal Church. Construction was completed in 1883. Donations were also made by guests at the Brock House and visitors to DeBary Hall. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Enterprise Schools

The old courthouse had been sold in 1891 to the Board of Instruction for a Normal School. It continued to be used as a school until torn down in 1917 to build a new school on the site. The present two-story structure (the second oldest building) was built around 1935 for the older grades. In 1964 a fire started by lightning destroyed most of the older building.

But the courthouse building was not the oldest school in Enterprise. That honor goes to a freedmen’s school formed by Charles Chipman in 1869. “I am now teaching about fifteen scholars by the light of pine knots in front of my shanty, after working through the day trying to get a potato crop growing.” Chipman asked the freedmen’s bureau to build a schoolhouse for students here and for the 25 waiting for a teacher at Sauls, but the bureau ceased operation, and his request went unfilled.

St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church

In the 1880s, black residents held fairs and potluck suppers to raise funds for their own church. Finally, in the late 1880s, St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church was built. Originally located off Old Titusville Road, it is one of the earliest AME churches in Central Florida. The Rev. A. A. Fleming also supervised the congregation in the construction of a schoolhouse around 1890.

The End of an Era

In 1894-95 a catastrophic freeze wiped out the citrus industry in much of the state, including the extensive DeBary groves. Jacob Brock had died in 1880, and DeBary followed in 1898. With the coming of the railroad and the end of steamboat travel, the heyday of Enterprise as a boom town on the river was coming to a close.

Florida United Methodist Children’s Home

Over the years, the Brock House had hosted numerous religious assemblies including the Methodist missionary conferences. The Methodist concern for orphans resulted in the beginnings of the Children’s Home. In 1908 Mother Hattie Brooks, widow of a Civil War doctor, was brought from Tampa to help found an orphanage in Enterprise .

Mother Brooks' Home

A handful of little girls arrived soon after and were kept at her home in the “Old Yellow Hotel” on Main Street. Upstairs was a thriving saloon for the steamboat clientele. A few years later, the Florida Methodist Orphanage was relocated further south on Main Street to the old Arcade Building across from the present entrance to the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home. Housing only a handful of children, it occupied the top floor of an arcade building above a line of shops. Later, Lt. Col. Bodine, a Civil War officer, donated his home, the large and beautiful Bodine House, to accommodate the growing enrollment.

At some point during the early 1900s, the Brock House Hotel was renamed the Epworth Inn, and became a Methodist retreat for those seeking spiritual haven from the world and for those studying at the Methodist Training Center in town. The Brock House property was eventually acquired by the Methodist Children’s Home.

Benson Springs

Town feelings ran high in the early 1920s when an ambitious new proprietor of the renamed Benson Springs Hotelhad guests sign a petition to change the town name to correspond. The idea was to focus attention on the flowing spring near the former Brock House located on land now owned by the power plant. The name Benson Springsstuck until 1937 when townfolk used the same tactic to have school children sign a petition changing the name back to Enterprise. That same year the hotel, now dilapidated and vandalized, was razed, providing much-needed space for the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home to become a cornerstone of modern Enterprise.

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