This is a small-run book that was written by a typewriter. Copies were made and hand-stapled to be distributed to local pioneers at the First Annual Lorida Schoolhouse Reunion in 1976.
A second book was printed for the 1977 reunion.
This book was graciously given to me by Edgar and Norma Stokes (1941 – 2021) in 2017 when I visited their home to research my article on the history of Lorida. The booklet is quite frail with the wages of time. I publish its contents here to preserve it and share it with most of you who could not otherwise access the few dozen copies made.
In posting this, I found out that Norma passed away in 2021. My condolences to the family. I will never forget their hospitality when they invited me to their home!
MEMORIES – June 26, 1976
This booklet is affectionately dedicated to Everett Boney, who became the first President of the Greater Lorida Community Club and gave his time, money and inspiration to this project.
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
It is hoped as you read this brief summary of some of the events in the history of the Lorida Community, it will bring to memory many other momentous occasions.
It was impossible to record in this small booklet all the facts and episodes collected, and perhaps many incidents, names and places have been omitted, but it is hoped you will use your imagination and enjoy reading about the past, then will continue to contribute something to the future.
APPRECIATION to all those who helped make this summary possible.
To drive down in Istokpoga Shores with all its beautiful houses, canals, and hard surfaced roads, it is hard to imagine that at one time it was a wild country abounding with all kinds of wild game, bear, panthers and was covered with water and a few houses scattered along the ridgeways. That area, known as the Cow House was inhabited long before Lorida. One of the earliest residents was a family named Post, who came here from New York. He was a jeweler and she was a milliner. When a panther screamed, Mr. Post told his wife it was owls!
Some of the early settlers were Jim Striplin, Dan Worth, Calvin Coward, and Lewis Taylor, Sr. There were two boat landings, the Dan Worth landing, now Dr. Boley’s place; and the Coward landing; now just west of the Conley Fish Camp. These were the only places you could reach Lake Istokpoga in the Cow House area. Just prior to 1916, Dave and Andrew Bondy purchased the property from Jim Striplin and settled. About the same time the Archie Boney family homesteaded on the ridgeway just back of the now Buck Carlton ranch. Also settling nearby were the Jim and Joe Boney families. George Boney moved his family to the oak hammock which is in the southwest corner of the Carlton ranch. All of these families, with the exception of Andrew, had children who attended schools in the Cow House, on the prairie (now Edgar Stokes pasture) and in the present schoolhouse.
George Boney had 8 children: Archie, seven; Jim, five; Dave, six; and Joe, give. Of these five brothers, Archie is the only one living.
Back in those days most of the children walked to school. The first school bus, a Model T, was driven by Jess Waldron. Everett boney recalls he and his cousins (girls and boys) decided to skip school one day. So all of them, about 8 or 9, just left and went down to the lake. Everything went fine until the next day–then they got it! One day the boys caught a skunk and forgot to hold its tail down–that called for a recess!
Another time, someone threw a spitball and Everett laughed so he got blamed and consequently was to get the licking. His teacher, Mr. Ruby Bass, proceeded to apply the hickory, but it seemed Everett was pretty wiry for his age and out-winded the teacher, who promised him sometime, somewhere there would be a reckoning! Sure enough, some 47 years later, they met at a funeral, said Bass, “let me get my gallberry!”
The first Highlands County School Superintendent was Col. F.N.K Bailey from DeSoto City. He is remembered for many times, but especially at Christmas time, for he gave each student at the Sunnyland School a shiny new dime. School in the early days was held only six months, with teachers boarding in a home or living in a tent near the school. Many teachers have come and gone since those early days, but each one contributed something to the children, their parents and the community. They endured many hardships
with not too much monetary compensation. The highlight of each year was the Christmas program. At this time, every child recited a poem or was in a play. The modern “Little Theater” is nothing compared to those early plays! Then Santa Clause came with an apple and a stick of peppermint candy. Teachers over the years have been: Roberta Bass, Mrs. J.C. Bright, John R. Ramer, Rudy Bass, Mr. & Mrs. J.D. Reish, Elsie Liniger, C.S. “Buck” Pardee, Louise Rountree, Fred Barshell, Mr. & Mrs. Merle Payne, Anna Miller, S.P. Durrance, Alice Crawford, Mary Baxter, Mattie Lee Summerlin, Carrie Mae Pearson, Mrs. Harry Swank, Mr. & Mrs. Hamilton Martin, Ethel Newsome, Nell Ashton, Anne Clark, Geneva Lairsey, Jean Cooper, Lucille Walker, Lillie Shackleford, Sadie Brown, Sarah Sellers, Roland Schauman, Grace Stoner, Leonard Payne, Joy Eyeman, Edith Carraway. Two of the most remembered teachers are Mr. & Mrs. Reish. They bought property here from the Abe Elliot’s and not only taught school sometimes in their home, but he was a minister of the Sunnyland Church of the Brethren. Their oldest son finished the eighth grade here and then graduated from Sebring High School as Valedictorian of his class, a first from Sunnyland School.
Mr. & Mrs. Reish came here in 1926. The Sebring Brethren Church was starting a mission here and needed a pastor. There was an opening for a teacher in the school and since Mr. Reish had just graduated from college and was a minister also, this would be a field for him. The school had been moved from the Dean Place to its present site. The name was changed in 1925 from Cow House to Sunnyland. Two buildings had been constructed, one for the school and one called a “teacherage” or place for the teacher to live.
Mr. Reish taught all eight grades (1-8). The building had no cross ventilation and the afternoons would be so uncomfortable for the little folks so Mrs. Reish started taking them in her home for instruction. One day Col. Bailey visited the school, finding her doing this free-gratis. He hired her at a salary of $100 per month. She taught the little folks for seven years, including her own five-year-old and six others. Instead of Kindergarten, they received first grade instruction.
The Reishs bought the Elliott home. When the storm of 1933 hit and blew the two school buildings away, Mrs. Reish again took grades 1 and 2 into her home. Grades 3 thru 8 went in the Old Brethern Church.
The number of teachers at the school ranged from 1 to 4 teachers from the year 1927 to 1955 when it closed.
In addition to teaching, Mr. Reish preached Sunday morning at his church and Sunday afternoon going to a tabernacle located towards the Cow House area, had Sunday School and church service and came back to his own church for Sunday night service. He continued as Pastor and teacher, except for two years teaching, until 1941.
What a fine nation we would have if all Christians were as dedicated as he was.
Other settlers down in this area were Orin Howard, Emory Gray, and Lewis Pollard. Mr. Pollard owned one of the first cars around here–an Overland. Earlier Mr. Striplin had gotten his car stuck and a couple of the Boney brothers came by on their horses. They attached their ropes and helped pull him out while the motor was running. Of course, as it came out of the bog it kept going. The Boneys didn’t know much about driving cars, so they took after it, siding it as they did cows–don’t know how they finally stopped it; they must have hit another sand pile.
Later, Rob Williams, Frank and Clifford Hill, Allison Story, the Selmans, and many others settled out on what is called the “Freeze Out” and along Istokpoga Creek. There could be many stories told about all these early pioneers. Some farmed, some fished, and some cow hunted. No one ever retired, and there surely weren’t any food stamps.
Another early settler in the Cow House area was John Hill, who homesteaded property now known as the Lineger place. According to a son, Jim, the earliest school in the area was a one-room building at Bar Hammock, which was attended by the Hill, Bass, and other children. Miss Funk was the teacher. Another Hill son, Horace, became a preacher and is well known in these parts.
Martha Waldron, a daughter of Archie Boney, recalls it being so wet that the ox-drawn wagon would float in places from their house on the ridgeway to the roadway. When a trip to Sebring was necessary, the family left early, camped the night at Arbuckle Creek, where the children bathed, then the next morning they proceeded into Sebring to purchase
supplies. Groceries were bought at the Whitehouse store on the Circle, loaded in the wagon, other business was taken care of, and then back to Arbuckle Creek for the night and on home–a three-day trip.
As best can be learned, Vance Elliott and Cleveland Boney were among the first children born in the area.
As time passed, more modern means of transportation became available and the school system under Col. Bailey progressed. The children were transported from outlying areas by cars or homemade busses–a far cry from the modern air-conditioned kind of today. Many times the riders helped push the bus out of the sand or mud, or helped get it started in cold weather, and many took turns driving. School usually did not start until the bus which had the most riders arrived. If the children had to walk some distance to meet the bus and were not there, those drivers would wait or send someone to see if they were ill.
D.O. and Viola Collier’s bus, also used as their private car, was a “cut-down” truck with a clutch and gear shift. The body was made out of sheets of beaver board and covered with some kind of sheet metal. There were windows, and benches were made along the sides of the back; your dinner pail went under there. Violar carried a big alarm clock along to gauge her speed. She set it by the sun or asked the teacher, Buck Pardee, who had a wrist watch, when we got to school!
If the roads were bad, some of the children went on past their homes to help push the bus out, but mostly because they liked to be with Vi or D.O. Discipline wasn’t much of a problem,
but if something needed attention–no questions were asked!
Many fond memories exist about those drivers, then and now, who considered their cargo mighty special.
All this area was open range. Most of the settlers had herds of cattle, sheep, and hogs, ranging from a few heard to several hundred. There weren’t any bridges over Arbuckle Creek or Istokpoga Creek, and Highway 98 was not even a cow trail. Travel to Sebring, Avon Park, Okeechobee, and other points went by what is known as the Arbuckle Creek Road. Sometimes Carter Creek would swim the horses, but usually, it was all right. The ferry at Arbuckle was operated by the Dolphus Keen family. The charges for a horse and wagon was $1.25 and a horse and rider was $0.25.
The Keens moved to Lorida in 1918 and homesteaded the property now owned by Julian O’Neal and Bud Waldron. Caris Keen, one of the daughters, married Aaron Driggers and settled in a homestead nearby, where they reared their family of five children without ever having to move. Mrs. Driggers now resides in Lake Placid.
The ferry at Istokpoga Creek was operated by the Joe McClelland family. The sisters, Ada, Vi, and Florrie said they always looked forward to seeing the “dust a rising” ‘cause they knew they would get to talk awhile. Folks always had time to “set a spell.” One time one end of the barge sank with a horse and rider aboard. Ada was the operator. Fortunately, no one was drowned.
They also remember a prison camp being across the creek from them. The labor was used to grade up the roads from Okeechobee to Sebring. They recall, with horror, hearing the cries of those prisoners being beaten by their warden. The family later moved to the ridgeway on Lake Istokpoga. The family of Sol McClelland still own the property at Istokpoga Creek.
Another ferry was at Kissimmee River, tended by Willie Williams and Sid Pearce.
Sometime in the early 20s, other families moved in around this area. Some of these were the Earl Keens, Mason Drakes, Paul Riglers, Finley Colliers, Bob Stokes, Etta Montsdeoca, Fank Deans, Keat Waldrons, Quinn Bass, George Campbells. Then later Rudy Ashton, Claude Deese, Levin Tomlinson, John Robbins, and many, many others. There was a dairy owner in Pine Island, now Spring Lake, operated by Jim Maynard.
After the railroad came in 1924 or 5, the Seaboard built houses for the foreman and the colored help, along with a depot. In the foreman’s house, usually, there was a commissary where the railroad people could buy their supplies. These houses were well built and two of the helper’s houses are still standing today on their original building site, though they have been painted and redone inside.
The county contracted for the first graded road reaching from Istokpoga Creek to Arbuckle Creek in 1923 and R.P. Dunty, Sr. was the man who operated the machine, a Buckeye Ditcher, capable of digging a ditch up to seven feet deep and as much as a mile a day. Leveling was done by hand, contracted out to local people.
The Ditcher Crew consisted of Dunty, Toll Bass, Oscar Bass, Phillip Wood, and Oscar Clemmons as cook. The men ate well as Clemmons was a good cook, fixing biscuits three times a day, grits or rice, white bacon, tomato gravy, an occasional pie, some dried fruit, and quail at times. They ate and slept on this machine.
The gasoline for the ditcher’s operation was trucked in by Model T via the old Sebring-Bassinger road. Dunty’s salary was $400 per month, and after completing that job moved on to another, later bringing the ditcher back and parking it east of Rudy Ashton’s house. A complete overhaul, costing several hundred dollars, was done. In the meantime, the owner of the machine was accidentally killed elsewhere; no one ever came to move it, and after rotting and rusting away, this machine was sold for scrap metal in the early 40’s.
Clifford Pearce was County Commissioner in this era, and when Dunty met any opposition from crossing land owners property, he contacted Pearce and let him smooth over the problem.
After the railroad came through, a Post Office was established under the name Lake Istokpoga. In the 30’s the name was changed to Lorida, a name suggested by Mary Stokes, because across the Lake on the ACL Railroad, there was an Istokpoga Station. It was only used for shipping cattle to market but mail and packages coming to Lake Istokpoga were missent to the station; no zip code then!
Mr. A.E. Hadley was the first Postmaster, also running a store in connection with the Post Office. This site is located west of the Baptist Church on the property now owned by Red Smith.
Following Mr. Hadley, Mrs. Mary Stokes was appointed Postmistress and served until her retirement in 1962. She also ran a store in connection with the Post Office. Marie Elliott became the acting Postmistress until the permanent appointment of Anne Clark, who is still serving.
The Abe Elliotts homestead in 1915, the property now owned by Jim Andrews, being the first family to settle in this part of the community. Vance, their youngest son, was the first child born in the settlement.
Access to the lake was only in certain places. One of these was near the Mallard Trailer Park and was known as the Elliott Landing.
Sadie Elliott Whitehurst recalls riding to the Cow House School in a horse and buggy with Lettie Keen Waldron as bus driver. The children would get out and run ahead of the horse and buggy, traveling faster than the horse. With a workout like that, they didn’t need “physical education.”
When Kissimmee Island Cattle Company bought the Ed Flood cattle, Sadie said she had never seen so many cattle in one bunch. They re-marked and re-branded them in pens close to their home. Her father had caught a rattlesnake and shut him up in a wooden box. One of the cow crew was pretty tired and decided to sit down on this box, not knowing what was inside. When the snake started singing his rattles, he moved like lightning elsewhere!
Jessie Elliott remembers the Worth family coming back from Sebring with a newspaper stating World War I was over. They stopped and let Mr. Elliott read this great news to the entire family. No doubt they took the time to tell everyone they met about this.
Jessie and his older brother Raymond hunted and trapped for their spending money. There was a market for the hides but they had to be shipped away and the price was not known at the time of shipping. Even though the parents moved away in 1929, one or more of the children have lived here since settling in 1915.
Our county school system wanted every child to have an education. Bus routes couldn’t reach all areas, but in the case of the Whatley’s living at Bluff Hammock with four children and the Tomlinsons were living at Buzzard Hammock with four, Mr. Whatley was paid to pick up and bring these children to school in his private automobile. These were depression years too.
After the Tomlinsons and Whatleys moved, Wes Langford moved on the river and had only one son in school. Since there were no fences, the son rode horseback straight across the prairie–a distance of some four miles. He anchored his mare outside the school yard where she fed until school was dismissed. Surely, a lot of 4th grade boys would love to get to school in this same manner.
The school had all outdoor plumbing. Drinking water came from a pitcher pump connected to ten feet of pipe with about ten holes bored in the top and bottom end sealed; when the pump handle was pumped, water came up through these holes. The harder the handle was pumped, the higher the water would shoot. As strange as it may seem, when the yearly contagious diseases passed around, the school never reached epidemic stages and had to close — no pollution problems either!
When the building was put back in 1933, a gasoline motor was installed to furnish lights. The lights wouldn’t burn unless the motor was running. My how pretty those electric lights looked when nightly events were held.
The first full-time custodian was Allison Story, who was also a bus driver. Up until then, it was the teacher’s responsibility to see the rooms were swept and the grounds were kept clean. There were always volunteers for the sweeping jobs. Story was followed by Willie McClelland, who remained until the school closed in 1956.
A lunchroom was established in 1940 in a building just west of the schoolhouse, which was previously used in the Depression years as a community canning kitchen. After the school became smaller, the lunchroom moved into the school house. The cook, and they were the best, serving at various times were: Geneva Keen, Caris Driggers, Clara McClelland, Mannie Collier, and Lucille Walker. Can’t you still taste those lunches — spaghetti, macaroni & cheese, cold milk (in glass bottles), and peanut butter and honey sandwiches. How good it was!!!
Some of the bus drivers were: Naan McClelland, Viola Collier, Claude Deese, Allison Story, Willie McClelland, Minnie & Bud Hicks, Nell Ashton, Lucille Walker, and others we can’t recall at this present time.
The community was not without its grocery stores at different times. Once, D. Harry Smith had a little store on the opposite corner from Elliott’s Grocery. He was also a farmer and married the former Mildred Dean. Bob & Mary Stokes operated their store from the early 30s until they sold it in later years.
Another store was opened in the mid-’30s by Mr. A.E. Hadley and Lloyd Hoak, in the corner near Mr. A.O. Short’s home. It was called the H & H Grocery. Hardee Driggers remarked that the initials stood for higher and higher!
A Mr. Jones started what is now Barnes Fish Camp. Then it was known as “The Bridge.” He sold out to R.E. Gilbreath and it has changed hands numbers of times over the years. In the early days, wrestling matches and dances were held there.
Beginning in the ’40s, things began to change rapidly. There were more jobs, educational opportunities were better and with World War II, people began to rove around like “fruit being turned over.” Before Highway 98 was built in 1948, residents along the graded county road knew most of the cars that passed just by their “rattle”; now you just see a car passing — but that’s progress.
In this short span of the lives of people mentioned here from 1900-1976, seventy-six years, we have gone from ox-cart to a rocket from earth to the moon; a 4-day trip to cover 50 miles to less than an hour the same distance. A message which took weeks to deliver can now be relayed instantly. I wonder what the next 76 years will bring… Imagine our grandchildren telling their children what a hard time they had “pushing a button to watch TV”!