Chapter Four

OKEECHOBEE

1896-1917

 

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In October 1896, Peter and Louisiana (Chandler) Raulerson and their children left the Basinger settlement and moved southeast to the unsettled wilderness along Taylor Creek, a few miles north of Lake Okeechobee. A three-yoke ox team- with covered wagon and a horse and buggy carried the family and household effects to their new home. Peter Raulerson, son of Noel Rabun Raulerson, Sr., was born September 1, 1857, in Hillsborough (now Polk) County. He came with his parents to Basinger at the age of seventeen and in 1877 married Louisiana Chandler. Peter was a cattleman and during the 1890’s he stretched thirty miles of fence from Taylor Creek to the Kissimmee River, enclosing what was then known as the Bend, because of the bend of land bordered by the river and the creek.

When they reached their destination the first task was to build a barn shelter in which the family lived for three years. In 1899 the Raulersons decided to build a larger, more substantial structure. Friends from Basinger and Fort Drum came down and stayed for three days to help erect the log house. At the log-raising they also fenced in two and a half acres with cabbage logs to provide an area for the raising of vegetables.

About 1898 W. A. "Buster" Farrell built a house a quarter mile west of Taylor Creek. He came originally as a hunter but he also set out an orange grove near his house. Farrell is generally considered the first person to fish commercially in Taylor Creek.

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Peter and Louisianna Chandler Raulerson

Samuel L. Gray, a sixteen year old boy from the Hudson River valley of New York State, left his home in December 1899, filled with the spirit of adventure. He and a friend took a coastal steamer out of New York City and arrived in Jacksonville after a four day trip. They came up the St. John’s River to Sanford, moved on to Kissimmee, and then paddled down the Kissimmee River on a row boat to Lake Okeechobee, camping out along the way. Gray’s friend returned home after a short while but Sam remained in the new country. A few years later his brother, Walter N. Gray, moved to Florida. Sam worked as a commercial fisherman for a short time but soon started hunting and trapping, living in tents or palmetto huts he built himself. Among his partners were several Seminole Indians, including DeSoto Tiger and Sam Jones. Gray’s hunting area extended throughout the Everglades and around the south end of Lake Okeechobee. Eventually, he gave up hunting and opened a boatyard at Okeechobee.

A cabbage palmetto shack was built in 1898 and served as the first school at The Bend. The building had a good floor and slabs of split timber, called puncheons, were used for seats. Six children were required to start a school so the Yates children from Platt’s Bluff were "borrowed" in order to have the necessary number. Dr. George M. Hubbard, a Connecticut Yankee who had recently moved to the area, served as school teacher for the first term. The Raulerson family provided room and board for the extra children and the teacher. During the following term, which lasted only four months, Mrs. Mary Steffee of Kissimmee taught school in a barn.

Henry Hudson Hancock, son of James Thomas and Serena (Willingham) Hancock, was born in 1868 in Polk County, Florida. He married Jane Sturgis in 1889 and taught school for a time at Fort Meade. After the turn of the century, Henry and his brother, James T. Hancock, Jr., were sent by the Federal government to the Lake Okeechobee region to resurvey an area that had previously been incorrectly surveyed. When he saw the land near Taylor Creek, Henry decided it would be a good place to move his family. He chose a homestead on the east side of Taylor Creek and went back to Polk County to bring over his herd of cattle. Henry then constructed a log house and returned once again to Polk County to bring his family to their new home. It was in 1902 when the family left Fort Meade and after traveling five days they arrived at Taylor Creek. Henry Hancock was instrumental in securing the area’s first voting precinct in 1903. In order to establish the district it was necessary to use two voters who lived on the line in Osceola County. The seven voters in the new precinct were: Peter Raulerson, L. M. Raulerson, H. H. Hancock, James Clements, Hamp Walker, Eli Yates, and Needham Yates. In 1909 Henry Hancock had Sam Gray build a fifty-two foot boat called the Serena Victoria, named for his mother. It was used for the shipment of oranges to Fort Myers. Judge Hancock devoted a large portion of his life to public service and until his death in 1951 he was recognized as one of Okeechobee’s leading citizens.

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Henry Hancock homestead

The third schoolteacher in the pioneer community was Tantie Huckaby, a well-educated lady originally from South Carolina. Contrary to some reports that she was a pushy red-headed spinster, Tantie was actually a prim white-haired lady who had once been married. She opened the doors of learning to her students, always inspiring them to strive for excellence. The citizens of The Bend decided in 1902 that mail service was needed, so with the assistance of Robert LaMartin of Basinger, the Raulersons obtained a post office which was formally established on April 24, 1902. Mrs. Huckaby suggested that it be named for her and so the post office was officially designated Tantie. First postmaster was Mattie R. Walker, daughter of Peter Raulerson, and wife of Hamp Walker. She served until June 7, 1902, when her father was appointed. Mail was carried from Quay to Fort Drum by horseback on what was known as a Star Route. Peter Raulerson carried the mail for eighteen months free from Fort Drum to Tantie in order to establish a Star Route between these two communities. The service was one mail in and one mail out each week. Mail service between Tantie and Basinger was provided by Jim Clements who had obtained the contract for that route.

Until 1909 a one-room structure built of rough timber, located on what is now South Parrott Avenue, near the present-day Hancock Oil Station, was used as a schoolhouse. One schoolteacher who served during this period was Josie Summerlin of St. Lucie. Dr. Hubbard also taught from time to time in the Tantie school.

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Lewis M. Raulerson general store
established 1905

The first store in Tantie was established by Lewis M. Raulerson, son of Peter Raulerson, in 1905. His first permanent structure, which remained in use until 1915, was built on the eastern side of what is now South Parrott Avenue, somewhat east of the present-day Parrott Tire and Appliance Company. To get the merchandise in those days, small boats came from Fort Myers up the Caloosahatchee River, through the canal into Lake Okeechobee and across it and up Taylor Creek to Tantie, a distance of approximately 125 miles. On December 29, 1906, Lewis M. Raulerson was appointed postmaster, having moved the post office from his parents’ home into the store building.

 

About 1905 William H. Raulerson, Peter’s elder brother, moved to Tantie. During the 1890’s William brought his family from Basinger to a point about ten miles north of Lake Okeechobee and established a homestead. About the time he moved on to Tantie, Weyman W. Potter settled near William’s former homestead. Another early settler of Tantie during the first decade of the twentieth century was Jeremiah Hancock, younger brother of H. H. Hancock.

Captain T. A. Bass began large-scale development of the catfish industry on Lake Okeechobee in 1906. His steamer, the Success, carried 6,000 pounds of fish from the lake on its first haul. Fishing camps began to grow along the lake shore. In 1 897 Clifford Clements, a hunter, established Utopia, located between Lettuce and Cypress Creeks. Clements operated a store and taught school but subsequent settlers in the community were fishermen. Robert Upthegrove settled Upthegrove Beach in 1912 and was joined in 1915 by his brothers Ed and Jim, and their half-brother Barney "Pomp". Adkins. Another fishing community, Eagle Bay, came into being about 1906 when Tom, Nathan, and William Jones moved there. Tom, Wheeler, Louis, and Gusborn Lawrence also fished at the Eagle Bay settlement.

Ed Upthegrove on left; Jim Upthegrove on right ed_jim_upthegrove_t.jpg (6090 bytes)

 

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Dr. George M. Hubbard

Dr. Hubbard provided the community of Tantie and the surrounding area with the only professional medical aid. He used a buckboard driven by a mule to travel the countryside, as far north as Basinger. In 1903 Merida (Drawdy) Raulerson moved to Tantie with her husband, William, son of N. R. Raulerson, Jr. Merida, who was born in Georgia in 1880, moved with her parents, George and Emily Drawdy, to Fort Drum during the 1890’s. Merida soon became an indispensable member of the Tantie settlement as a midwife. She was officially licensed in that capacity in 1913 and during her long career delivered over 500 babies unassisted. With only a third grade education, Merida received her medical training through years of experience in primitive conditions. She used neither rubber gloves nor forceps, but reported that she "never lost a single baby."

During the summer of 1908, William M. Ehrhart, with his wife and three children, left Fort Pierce and moved to Tantie. Ehrhart, a native of Ohio, had come to Florida the previous year and soon became interested in opening a sawmill at Tantie. He traveled to Atlanta early in 1908 to obtain the sawmill equipment after forming a partnership with Peter Raulerson. Ehrhart’s daughter, Esther, who was eleven years old when she moved to Tantie, recounted her experiences in a letter written in February 1977:

It was a dirt road (from Fort Pierce to Tantie) and often wagon wheels were up to the hubs in water. I don’t remember if it was Tom Tyre’s father or one of the Coats that moved us out there, stopping over night at the Carlton place at Ten Mile so we could make it the next day. Papa later took a saw mill out there, where he walked five miles to work and back and often worked in knee deep water in the cypress swamps. We lived at least a mile from Peter Raulersons. Our closest neighbors were the Basses about mile away and then the grocery store (L. M. Raulerson’s) farther on. The Hancocks lived across Taylor Creek which was only a short distance from our house. There was a family of Lowes and Lambs out there but do not know where they lived and didn’t know them. Our house was ten rooms but never finished inside, no windows and we climbed a ladder to the second floor where we slept under mosquito nets. Some nights we would gather around a bonfire and sing and tell stories and when we had a square dance people came from quite a distance. The cow boys brought bottles of what we called white lightening but had to hide it outside and the dance lasted until Papa thought they had made enough trips outside. I don’t remember any trouble and I danced every dance and so did Alma and we enjoyed it.

The school was one room. The teacher was an elderly man named Hubbard. We children called him Mother Hubbard. He taught classes through 8th or 9th grade.

We did not have much of a variety of food. We ate lots of salt pork and grits with gravy made from salt pork but Papa and Alma and some of Mama’s people that were staying with us would go fishing in the creek.. .We ate turtle soup and a curlew or two and a little beef when the Raulersons butchered or venison from the Indians. One time we asked some Indians inside and turned on the phonograph and they were quite puzzled and think they were glad to get away.

There was no church but Mrs. Raulerson had a hard shell Baptist minister twice a month to preach at the school house. Papa and Mr. Hancock started a Sunday School which Mrs. Raulerson didn’t approve of so don’t know how long it lasted.

We all got malaria except Mama and George. It was pretty miserable and I had it for a long time after we left there. Took lots of terrible medicine.

The Ehrharts remained at Tantie until the spring of 1909 when they returned to Fort Pierce.

Tantie school house, constructed in 1909

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It was in 1909 that the Tantie community obtained a new schoolhouse which was built on the west side of what is now South Parrott Avenue. The one-story white-frame structure was officially designated School 14 by the St. Lucie County school system. During the 1909-10 term the supervisors or trustees were Peter Raulerson, Henry Hancock, and Weyman Potter, and the teacher was Dr. Hubbard. The pupils were: Girls: Jincy, Susie. Faith, Grace, Zora, Beulah, and Effie Raulerson; Ruth, Janie, Murray, Vera, and Elsie Hancock; Bertha, Grace, and Lottie Davis; Cola and Banna Wright; and Ada Sloan; Boys: Charles and Marcus Gibson; Winnie and Clarence Hancock; Nathan and Clarence Jones; Burns, Melville, Cornelius, Harmon, Hiram, Rabun, and Eddie Raulerson; Lawrence and Carl Sloan; Curtis Wright; Luther Davis; and Martin Strickland.

A severe storm struck the northern shore of Lake Okeechobee on October 7, 1910. Water rose about six feet above the bank of the lake and a number of houses and fish camps were swept away. Hundreds of hogs ranging near the lake were drowned by the sudden rise of water but there was no damage to the high ridge of Tantie. Peter Raulerson reported that the water was higher than at any time since the great hurricane of 1878.

The St. Lucie County Tribune announced in its issue of December 30, 1910 that work would start soon on a branch line of the Florida East Coast Railroad running from Maytown on the north to Lake Okeechobee. The official word came from FEC president J. R. Parrott. Primarily responsible for the project was James F. Ingraham, a vice president of the railroad. Ingraham envisioned a great metropolis arising at the southern terminus of his branch line. The name Tantie was deemed inappropriate for this new city, so on October 4, 1911, the post office at Tantie was officially changed to Okeechobee. Taylor Creek was changed to the Ono-sho-hatchee River but the new name was never popular and was dropped after several years. Ingraham stated that the railroad’s purpose was "to develop farmlands, to haul timber and turpentine, to aid the cattle industry and, most important of all, to provide rapid transportation for the catfish industry of the lake." [ Hanna and Hanna, Lake Okeechobee, p. 189 ] He hoped to move the FEC repair shops to Okeechobee because it was located half way between Miami and Jacksonville.

In December 1911, officials from the Florida East Coast Railroad including J. E. Ingraham, W. L. Bragg, and P. L. Jenkins visited Okeechobee to inspect the area. It was announced that beginning in the new year, Jenkins, a civil engineer, would lay out and survey "the new city of Okeechobee..." Mr. Bragg would move there and settle permanently in order to sell lots and farmsites. Three land companies, all closed related, were to be involved in the sale of property in the Okeechobee area. The Model Land Company was the land department of the Florida East Coast Railroad. The Consolidated Naval Stores Company had a subsidiary known as the Consolidated Land Company with

D. R. McNeill as its president. A third land company, incorporated in 1912, was the Okeechobee Company, whose president was J. E. Ingraham. During the year 1912, Jenkins surveyed the Okeechobee townsite and the St. Lucie County Tribune remarked in its July 26 issue that the town was "being laid out.. .in a scientific manner."

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Bridge over Taylor Creek, 1911

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Seminole Indian Billie Smith at Okeechobee, 1912

Doctors Roy and Anna Darrow moved to Florida in 1911. The Darrows had first traveled to Florida in 1909 to take the medical exam. Both passed, but Dr. Anna scored 98 percent, the highest grade ever made up until that time. She was the second woman to be licensed as a physician in the State of Florida. It was two years before they could make arrangements to leave their home in Chicago. Bringing their two children, Richard and Dorothy, the family stayed awhile in Jacksonville, then moved down to Fort Pierce where they stayed until they could move overland to Okeechobee. Dr. Anna, who came to be known by the local people as "Doc Anner," took care of the area’s sick. She would go to the farthest fish camp on the lake, to any cow camp from Fort Drum to Basinger, out to Indian Town, Hungry Land, or Bluefield. She usually traveled alone, day or night, across prairies which were sometimes under water, through swamps, or along the lake shore. Dr. Anna had a horse and buggy, but she also had a Model T Ford which was only useful when a road was available. As to fees, she charged $1 for an office call and $1 a mile for traveling to a patient. Delivering babies cost $10, although she later increased the price to $25. In one year she delivered four sets of twins and also worked on a cow that was having twins. Dr. Anna never carried a gun and never learned to use one. On her trips through the countryside she always carried $100 in change stuffed in her pill boxes. Dr. Anna had found that sometimes on her calls she would be offered a $50 bill for her services and realized that if she did not have change available, the patient would have an excuse not to make payment. One fascinating incident was recounted by Dorothy Darrow, daughter of Dr. Anna, at a meeting of the Okeechobee County Historical Society in September 1977. It was reported by Fran Kerce in the Fort Pierce News Tribune as follows:

One of (Dr. Anna’s) most harrowing experiences (began) with two men in a boat headed toward the Kissimmee River.

The men took her on a rough ride that seemed to last hours before they let her out at a cabin to aid a woman about to deliver a baby. The woman lay on a plank bed supported by boxes and suffered from a high fever, likely due to malaria.

When the woman’s baby was born dead, Doc Anner laid it on top of a box while tending to its mother. Later, exhausted, she feel asleep. She was awakened with a noise like leaves rustling and discovered that wood rats were trying to get to the baby’s body.

"Mother spent the rest of the night keeping rats off the dead baby," Ms. Darrow said. Soon she realized that her legs were itching. She was covered with fleas, hog lice and redbugs and had to disrobe and doctor herself. Much later the two men returned to the cabin with a small coffin made of plain pine boards and buried the baby. They returned Doc Anner to her home.

Not until days later did the woman physician meet the baby’s father. He paid the delivery fee, said his wife was getting along well, and thanked her for saving her life.

The Darrows remained at Okeechobee until 1922 when they moved to Stuart.

darrow_family_t.jpg (10791 bytes) The Darrow Family, left to right: Dorothy Darrow, Dr. Roy Darrow, Dr. Anna Darrow, Otto Scharfschwerdt, Mrs. Lindstedt, mother of Dr. Anna, and Mrs. Darrow, mother of Dr. Roy.

 

The Darrow family's first house in Okeechobee, 1912.  Storage on left, living quarters on right end, chicken coops in the foreground. darrow_home1_1912_t.jpg (10698 bytes)

During 1912 and 1913 Okeechobee continued to grow. The March 7, 1913 issue of the St. Lucie County Tribune reported:

New buildings continue to go up here. Mr. Jernigan’s twelve room house is now well underway. Capt. H. H. Hancock’s new two story building is just being completed, now receiving its second coat of paint. Dr. Darrow’s splendid residence will be finished as fast as lumber can be had. Melville Raulerson’s new building will soon be completed. Smith Drawdy will begin to build a nice house in a few days. W. L. Bragg’s new residence is now finished.

W. L. Bragg, Mr. Hunt, the civil engineer, Peter Raulerson and H. H. Hancock rode out Tuesday afternoon to select a site for a cemetery for our town, and after examining several tracts of land decided the most suitable place for such purpose in the township is on the east side of Taylor Creek near Taylor Ford, Mr. Hunt will locate the grounds, make the plat and turn it in to the Okeechobee Company for their approval.

The site was described as a "beautiful, high ridge with tall pines, live oaks and other trees common to the country," the writer remarking that it was "a choice place for a burying ground." One of the oldest marked graves in the cemetery is that of William H. Raulerson who died January 6, 1914.

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Sugar cane grinding mill on homestead of Peter Raulerson. Note the cane juice running from trough beneath the mill.

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Syrup boiling plant on Hancock homestead, 1913

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Okeechobee Lumber Company sawmill, 1913

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Home of Henry H. Hancock under construction, January 1913

Work on the railroad continued and by September 1913, the clearing and grading of the right of way was reported to be within four miles of Okeechobee. But the railroad was not to be completed for some time. In October 1914, the line was "about finished," with the main track having been laid into town and work continuing on the siding. Known officially as the Kissimmee Valley Extension, the branch left the FEC’s main line at Titusville, turned up to Maytown, and then headed south through Chuluota, to Kenansville and then to Okeechobee.

Arriving in Okeechobee on September 14, 1914 was Dr. Carter Randolph Bibb, a dentist and native of Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Bibb was delayed at Chuluota for six months before securing transportation to the Okeechobee area on a train loaded with men who were working to lay the tracks. Soon after his arrival he set up practice as Okeechobee’s first dentist.

Okeechobee’s first barber was Charlie Winkler, who arrived on a boat one week before regular train service began. He opened up a shop on 7th Street (now S.W. 2nd St.). Albert Berka, a native of Austria, opened a bakery next door to the barber shop.

The first "hotel" in Okeechobee was operated by William Lee Coats, who had married Ada, daughter of Peter Raulerson. The Coats opened the establishment in December 1914, which was described in the Fort Pierce newspapers as the Okeechobee Hotel. Actually, it was their family residence in which they supplied a few rooms for boarders.

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Ellis M. Meserve

The first person to arrive on the first regular passenger train to Okeechobee was Ellis M. Meserve, a native of St. Augustine. The nineteen year old Meserve worked for the First National Bank of St. Augustine and became acquainted with J. E. Ingraham who told Meserve of his plans for Okeechobee and inspired him to move to the growing community. In poor health, Meserve decided to make the move. The following excerpt is from an article that appeared in the Okeechobee News, January 14, 1965:

Ellis Meserve resigned his position on December 31, 1914 and bought a ticket for Okeechobee where he planned to open a store. He caught the first regular train to Okeechobee, 3rd day of January, leaving Titusville about 3:00 p.m. and arriving in Okeechobee at 4:00 a.m. on January 4, 1915. It was a mixed train with one wooden coach having a division in the center for colored people. When the conductor called "all out for Okeechobee" he grabbed his suitcase and stepped out into nothing. He turned to the Conductor and asked where the town was, to which the man replied, "Boy, you’re standing in the middle of the Court House door!" There had been no heat on the train and it was chilly, Florida type winter weather. Meserve was cold and hungry. The conductor told him that by following a little cow trail, for about a mile, he would find a creek. Upon reaching the creek and still seeing no sign of a living thing, he decided to retrace his steps and take the train back to Titusville. On the trip to the creek he had seen some sort of a little building through the trees. When he found the train had already left he again went back down the trail to the building which was the L. M. Raulerson store located (across from the present-day) Hancock Oil Station. Meserve bought crackers for his breakfast and got water to drink from the pump. The Raulersons arranged board and room at the home of Mrs. W. L. Coats...

Meserve chose the lots where his present store is located and purchased them from the Okeechobee Company. He returned to St. Augustine to purchase building materials, hired two carpenters, came back and constructed his building. He and his carpenters lived in tents near the building, cooking outside over an open fire and drinking water from a nearby pond until they could get their well dug. It took about one month to finish the two story building, which was the first commercial building in the business part of where the town is now located.

After settling in Okeechobee, Mr. Meserve married Faith, the youngest daughter of Peter Raulerson.

okeechobee_hardware_side_1915_t.jpg (4503 bytes) Ellis M. Meserve's Okeechobee Hardware and Furniture Company, 1915

The year 1915 was a time of rapid and impressive growth for the town of Okeechobee. In January 1914, a plat had been drawn up by the Okeechobee Company dividing the townsite into blocks with a long park extending from the Florida East Coast railroad tracks eastward to Taylor Creek. North and South Park Streets bounded the park on the north and south. Streets running east and west were numbered progressively, starting with First Street at the bottom (southern) end of the plat. Streets running north and south were given descriptive names, mainly of Indian origin. Starting at the railroad tracks the streets running north and south were named: Okeechobee, Seminole, Osceola, Hicpochee, Miami, Kissimmee, Parrott Avenue, Tallahassee, Cherokee, Hiwassee, Micanopee, Meredith, and Oklosknee. [ During the early 1970’s these Street names were dropped in favor of numbered Streets and avenues ] The main dividers in the plat were Parrott Avenue, which ran north and south, and Flagler Park, which ran east and west.

Mail service which had come by horseback from Fort Drum since 1902 was discontinued in January 191 5, and subsequently came by rail.

As stated earlier, Meserve’s Okeechobee Hardware and Furniture Company was the first commercial building to be completed on the townsite. Lewis M. Raulerson constructed a large two-story building on the east corner of South Park and Osceola (SW 5th Ave.) which was occupied in the spring of 1915. The structure was built of metal in imitation of cut stone blocks and was then painted. It housed Raulerson’s Department Store and the Okeechobee post office. L. M. Raulerson was the town’s first banker, his business being known as L. M. Raulerson and Co., Bankers. It was purchased by and merged into the Bank of Okeechobee which was established in 1914, with W. L. Bragg as first president. The Bank of Okeechobee was housed in a small brick building located on the site of the present-day Masonic lodge until a $10,000, two-story new structure was erected next door to accommodate the bank’s growing business. The new building was occupied in the summer of 1915 with the following slate of officers: W. L. Bragg, president; L. M. Raulerson, vice president; and T. C. Beavers, cashier.

L. M. Raulerson Department Store on right, built in 1915.
Darrow building on left, built in 1915

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The Darrows put up a two-story building on South Park in early 1915, adjoining Raulerson’s Department Store. Part of the ground floor housed Dr. Roy Darrow’s Park Pharmacy. The other half of the ground floor was rented to the Scharfschwerdt Brothers, Edward and Otto, who had recently come to Okeechobee from New Orleans. A third brother, Louis, arrived, in 1916. The Scharfschwerdts operated a hardware store in their part of the Darrow Building and also constructed a garage on the south side of the block which sold automobiles, parts, gasoline, oil, and tires. In another building located behind their garage, the Scharfschwerdts established the town’s first movie theatre, which opened for business in July 1915, with 200 persons at the first showing. An electric wire was run from the garage to the theatre to provide power for the movie. The motor used to generate the power often broke down and the audience would have to wait until it was repaired to see the balance of the picture. The garage remained open until World War I when Edward and Otto Scharfschwerdt went off to serve in the armed forces. The theatre remained opened during the war but it closed soon afterwards. Eventually, Otto and Edward moved to Fort Pierce, but Louis continued to operate the hardware store until his death in 1949.

J. G. and Minnie McNeff (MacNeff) came down from the north and constructed a two-story building directly south of Raulerson’s. The ground floor housed the Okeechobee Drug Company, owned by Dr. Francis E. Thomason and Rufus P. Fletcher. Fletcher was a pharmacist and was general manager of the drug store. The upstairs portion of the building was occupied by McNeff’s Northern Hotel, which featured piped running water and sanitary plumbling fixtures. Across the street was Arthur Nasser’s Southern Hotel. In the southwestern portion of the business district was DeLoach’s Hotel. On West North Park Street was the E. W. Bond Lumber Company which owned a 30,000 square foot main yard, a private spur to the FEC railroad, and a 1250 square foot office building, store room and shed building.

Business and community leaders organized the Okeechobee Board of Trade, April 8, 1915, with C. R. Darrow as president, W. L. Coats, 1st vice president; H. H. Hancock, 2nd vice president; George T. Rice, secretary; and T. B. Owens, treasurer. By May 1915, the group had 90 members.

With the arrival of the railroad in Okeechobee, the catfish industry centered its activities there. No longer would it be necessary to send the fish down the New River Canal to Fort Lauderdale where they would be loaded on northbound trains. The T. A. Bass Fisheries Company moved its headquarters from Fort Lauderdale to Okeechobee in April 19 1 5 and built a large packing house.

By the first week of June they were shipping four to seven cars of fish a week out of Okeechobee. Soon to follow was the Southern Fisheries Company in May 1915. Other fish companies which eventually located at Okeechobee were the Everglades, Standard, Gulf, and Booth fisheries.

taylor_creek_and_railroad_t.jpg (8754 bytes) Taylor Creek Okeechobee

Sale of land continued on a large scale. W. L. Bragg retired April 30, 1915, as resident agent and representative of the Okeechobee Company and was succeeded by Douglas E. Austin.

Okeechobee City was incorporated by Ch. 7208, Special Acts 1915, of the Florida Legislature. [The town’s name was changed from Okeechobee City to the City of Okeechobee by Ch. 8313, Sp. Acts 1919, which superseded Ch. 7208, Sp. Acts 1915. ] Rep. Penney of St. Lucie County introduced the bill incorporating the town and it was passed before the adjournment of the legislative session. June 4, 191 5 was the official date of incorporation. Gov. Trammel appointed the following slate of municipal officers: Mayor-Peter Raulerson; Clerk and Assessor-Henry Chandler: Councilmen: L. M. Raulerson, W. L. Coats, Dr. C. R. Darrow, S. J. Drawdy, and C. L. Hatch. A giant celebration was held the following month which included a fish fry, foot and horse races, greased pole contest, baseball game, and musical program. The first meeting of the City Council was held July 13, 1915. The following are the minutes of that meeting:

 

 

Council Chamber, Okeechobee, Florida,

 

July 13, 1915

Council met at 8 o’clock p.m. Members present were Coats, Darrow, Drawdy, Hatch and Raulerson. Present also at the meeting were Mayor Raulerson and Clerk Chandler. Otis R. Parker of Fort Pierce was present to advise the Council.

The Council organized by electing Chas. L. Hatch as its President and C. R. Darrow as President Pro-Tem. The Council transacted the following business, Viz: The Council fixed the second Tuesday at 7:30 o’clock p.m. in each month as its regular meeting date. Moved and carried that the Council meet at 4 o’clock on Wed. evening, the 14th. inst. to consider applications for the position of Chief of Police and Tax Collector. Moved and carried that the seal of the City of Okeechobee in the following words: "City of Okeechobee, Florida" and the following described monogram: "A Lake-a Boat with Sail Hoisted" be adopted as the seal of the City. Moved and carried that a Mayor’s Court Docket, a minute book and an ordinance book be procured as well as the seal adopted, also the necessary Stationary etc. On motion Council adjourned till July 14th 1915.

On July 1, 1915, the Okeechobee Call, the town’s first newspaper, was established. The editor of the weekly paper was George T. Rice, who moved to Okeechobee in early 1915. The Call was printed in Fort Pierce by A. K. Wilson. A number of interesting items were included in the September 23, 1915 issue:

The Okeechobee Hardware and Furniture Co. have now in stock a line of coffin accessories that are unequalled in quality. The management are in a position to take complete charge of a funeral.

Mrs. McNeff, popular manager of the Northern Hotel, has installed a fine piano and piano player in the vestibule of the hotel for the pleasure and entertainment of the guests. Mrs. McNeff certainly does all in her power to make her place one of comfort and pleasure to the traveling public.

 

The Okeechobee Drug Company announced that it would move about October 1st to the new Davis Building on the corner of South Park and Miami (SW 3rd Aye). O. O. "Buckshot" Davis was the owner of this new two-story structure which, according to the paper, was receiving its "finishing touches." After completion of the building, Davis opened a furniture store there.

The September 23rd issue carried ads for C. A. Underhill’s Okeechobee Barber Shop, between McNeffs and Raulerson’s; F. M. Mobley, Builder; and Okeechobee Blacksmith Shop, W. P. Alford & Sons, proprietors.

The November 25, 1915 issue announced the death of prominent civic leader Capt. M. C. Lilly. Henry L. Chandler’s City Dairy carried an advertisement which boasted "pure milk, clean milk, rich milk - From a herd of pure bred Jerseys. Delivered at your door morning or evening. Let us put you on our route."

As early as 1912 members of the Church of God met in the Union Church building at Okeechobee. Methodists held services as early as March 1915 with the Rev. W. O. Troutman. Their first regular church building was constructed in 1916. On May 9, 1915, the First Baptist Church was organized with fifteen charter members. The Rev. S. W. King of Fort Pierce conducted the first services in the Scharfschwerdt Motion Picture Hall. The Baptists held the first services in their own newly constructed building on March 26, 1916. The Rev. S. F. Reade, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Pierce, conducted services in Okeechobee during the year 1916, also in the motion picture theatre.

Some early Okeechobee schoolteachers were Emma Bell, Pearl Holt, Gertrude Mender, and Arthur Weaver. The two teachers during the 1914-15 term were Victoria Ingraham and Alma Gibson. By the fall of 1915 the little frame schoolhouse on South Parrott Avenue had become so crowded that a tent addition was set up. Adelaide Summerlin, Alma Gibson, and Victoria Ingraham taught during the 1915-1916 term. Construction began March 18, 1916, for a new two-story brick building and the cornerstone was laid May 17th. The Masons, who had recently organized a chapter in Okeechobee, conducted the service, leading a march from the site of the old school to the new. Documents placed in the cornerstone included copies of the Fort Pierce News, St. Lucie County Tribune, Fellsmere Tribune, and Okeechobee Call, and a list of city and county officials. The new Okeechobee Public School was opened during the 1916-1917 term.

Okeechobee’s first Chief of Police or City Marshal was Benjamin F. Hall, who was appointed July 14, 1915 and served until September 1915. On October 12, 1915, J. W. Raulerson was selected and held office until March 14, 1916. On that day the council appointed William E. Collins. Better known as "Pogy Bill," Collins received his nickname during the early fishing days when he took to market a boatload of small inedible fish normally used only for bait. "Why, them’s pogies!" the other fishermen yelled, and his name was Pogy Bill from them on. Collins was born of American parentage in an American ship in the harbor of Sydney, Australia. Arriving at Lake Okeechobee in 1910, he soon became a leader of the local fishermen. After receiving their pay, the fishermen came into Okeechobee on Saturdays and proceeded to take the town apart. Brawls broke out with cowboys who were also in town to have a good time. Merchants who were tired of their stores being torn up appealed to Justice of the Peace Henry Hancock for assistance. In defiance, Pogy Bill sent word to Hancock that he would throw him into Lake Okeechobee. Judge Hancock was not intimidated and on the next occasion in which Pogy and his boys caused trouble they were arrested and placed in a railroad box car which served as the local jail. In court the next morning, Pogy glared at the Statutes of Florida book on the Judge’s table and warned, "I ain’t gonna be sentenced with no Goddam Sears and Roebuck catalogue!" Pogy was sent to the more substantial jail in Fort Pierce and was eventually sentenced to 90 days imprisonment. Fortunately, Judge Hancock and other community leaders realized that Pogy was basically a good man, capable of being reformed. He was released from jail on the promise that he would henceforth act on the side of the law. Before long he was appointed City Marshal and served until 1918 when he became Sheriff of Okeechobee County.

In November 1916, the Florida Farmer and Homeseeker reported the following:

Okeechobee is a new town which has sprung up in the past two years as if by magic, and is now attracting attention as a fruit growing, truck and general farming section of South Florida, as well as having an abundance of cypress and pine timber of first growth, naturally of large size and best quality. It is also the port of entry for the enormous fish industry on Lake Okeechobee. Over its Onoshohatchee River (Taylor Creek) is carried a freight and fishing business which totals over $1,500,000 in a year.

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Okeechobee Depot