In the Summer of 2008, I decided to take a vacation within my home state of Florida.  In the last couple of years, I researched my family genealogy and found out some interesting information.  I wanted to visit the cities where my ancestors lived.  This trip would give a chance to walk in their footsteps and also provide me with some hard, tangible information of what I read online and in books.  With gas being under $5 a gallon, I figured now would be a good time to avoid the airline hassles and see Florida, my own backyard.

     The following genealogy information is derived from books, online information and memory.  Please do not hold me to absolute facts.  I used this as a basic guide for my trip.  Other events have occurred, but I won't delve into the entire story here.

     The following is a summary of my Family History Tour, or a Cracker Trail.



Definition of Florida Cracker as stated in Wikipedia.

     The term is used as a proud or jocular self-description. Since the huge influx of new residents into Florida from the northern parts of the United States, and Latin America, in the 20th century, "Florida Cracker" is used informally by some Floridians to indicate that their family has lived there for many generations; and/or that they were born and raised in the state of Florida. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from "frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens
     Through my research, I found that the Summerlin family came over from England or Scotland, arrived in Virginia about 1707 and spread across the 50 states.  For this trip, I concentrated on my part of the Summerlin family that came to Florida in 1774.  Joseph Summerlin and his family lived on their property near the St, Mary's River, just north of Jacksonville.  Joseph's son, Jacob Summerlin Sr., lived in Mandarin, near Jacksonville and later settled in Lake City.  Jacob Summerlin Sr. and his family moved around to keep out of the way of the warring Seminole Indians.  His son, Jacob Summerlin Jr., received some cattle from his father and lived in Orlando, Plant City, Ft. Meade, Ft. Ogden, Ft. Myers, Punta Rassa and Bartow.

(During this time, some Summerlins moved to Ft. Pierce, where my dad was born.)

     On my trip, I traveled in the reverse order of our family's arrival.  I first visited Ft. Myers to visit Punta Rassa.  Punta Rassa is a beautiful piece of property.  Jacob Summerlin, Jr. stayed in this house as this was where cattle were loaded on ships to be sold in Cuba.


     I found this information in the Ft. Myers Historical Museum.

     The Ft. Myers Historical Museum has a section on Jacob Summerlin, Jr.  Here is a scale model of his house that used to stand on Punta Rassa (1874-1982).  After surviving multiple storms year after year, the house finally fell down in 1982.

     The model of the house was built from the original wood used in the house.

     On the opposite side of the museum hall, are placards mentioning Jacob Summerlin, Jr., and his house on Punta Rassa.


Closeup of the left side of above picture.


     Close up of the right side of the picture that sits above the last one.  The text in the placard reads as follows:

     The Summerlin house was built in 1874 at Punta Rassa for Jacob Summerlin.  A native born cracker and one of Florida's richest "cattle kings", Summerlin started shipping his own cattle from the Union docks at Punta Rassa in 1865.  When the International Ocean and Telegraph Company claimed the property for its new Havana-Florida relay station in 1866, Summerlin and his son Samuel began their own cattle pens and wharf a few hundred feet upstream.

     As the Cuban market for cattle grew, other cattlemen brought their herds to the Summerlin place at Punta Rassa.  Summerlin charged 25 to 50 cents per head of cattle for the use of his pens and wharf.  The heart-of-pine house provided room and board for the cattlemen.

     The Cuban demand for Florida beef held throughout the 1870s.  During one year alone (from June 1871 to the next June), 18,439 head of cattle, commanding a price of $301,486, moved across the Summerlin docks.

     The house became known as the Summerlin-Towles house soon after its purchase by cattlemen William "Wild Bill" Towles.  Shipping cattle by barge became less profitable after the railroads came to southern Florida in the 1920s.  During the 1950s, The Summerlin-Towles house was the base for a commercial fishing company.  In 1982, after standing for 108 years, the Summerlin-Towles house blew down.


Jacob Summerlin, Jr., (February 20, 1820 - November 4, 1893) became known as the King of the Crackers and King of the Cracker Cow Hunters.


     This picture shows Jacob in his working clothes at the time of being a cracker cowboy.  Some comments to this photo say that the corn cob pipe was a prop since Jacob never smoked or drank alcohol.


     The Fort Myers Historical Museum is housed in the old Atlantic Coast Line Train Depot at 2300 Peck Street in Ft. Myers, Florida.


     View of the ACL depot and its arches.  In old times, these arches were open to provide a flow of air throughout the depot.


     One of the major roads running through Ft. Myers is Summerlin Road.  This road was named after my great, great uncle, Jacob Summerlin, Jr.

     (One of the simplest pleasures I noticed right away was the fact that everyone knew how to spell and say my last name without having to repeat myself.)

     As you drive on Summerlin Road, you will see all sorts of references to Jacob Summerlin, Jr.  The list is composed of Summerlin Square, Summerlin Bend, Summerlin Commons, etc.


     While in Ft. Myers, I wanted to see another part of Summerlin history on Thomas Edison's Estate.  The last time I visited the estate, I was near ten years old.  I remember a lot, but there was no mention of the Summerlin home, at least that I remember.

     To the right is a combined photo showing Thomas Edison's Lab in Ft. Myers.

     The Summerlin House (later known as the caretaker's house after Edison moved in.)

     The center gable-roof section of the Edison's Caretaker's House existed on the land when Thomas Edison purchased the property from Samuel Summerlin in 1885.  The cracker-style house was used as a stopover for cattle drovers moving herds down the old Wire Road (later named McGregor Boulevard).

     Samuel Summerlin was the youngest son of Jacob Summerlin, one of the largest cattle owners in the state.  In the early 1860s, Jacob Summerlin had a crude road constructed from Fort Ogden to Punta Rassa.  He built shipping pens and a dock where boats went off to Cuba with cracker cattle and returned with commodities of flour and sugar.

     In 1878, Jacob bought the wharf and existing facilities at Punta Rassa from Captain F.A. Hendry, as well as 1,000 acres of land for cattle holding.  He moved to the site with his son Sam.  By 1880, Jake owned or controlled the cattle shipping through Southwest Florida.  In 1883 the Spanish Government placed a high tariff on imported beef.  Jacob decided to sell all of his south Florida holdings to several sons, including Sam who stayed to continue the family business.

     Sam purchased the section of land he eventually sold to Edison from Francisco Abril in June of 1879 for $500.  Edison purchased the property for $2750.  The cracker house must have been built in the early 1880s.

     Edison planned from the outset of designing his tropical retreat to retain the "Summerlin House".  He was prepared to move it if necessary, but was able to repair the home to be used for employees at the original location.  In 1903 Edison made the first round of additions to enlarge the house and added an inside bathroom.  In 1928 he added the L-shaped addition with the apartment above and car and tool storage below as the home is seen today.

     The Summerlin House is located just north of the Edison Study.
     The Summerlin House is located east of the Edison pool.

     Here is a view looking north on the Edison estate.  To the right is the Edison guest house.  Further north on the right is the Edison house with the study roof just barely in view to the north.
     The view of the Caloosahatchee River from Edison's back porch .

     Edison used this pier to bring in supplies and furniture.

     I returned to the Summerlin House to take some pictures inside.  As I stood on the porch, I wondered if door knobs could talk, what a fine story they could tell.  If they spoke in English.

Left:  Front door knob on the outside

Center:  Front door knob on the inside

Right:  An internal door door knob

(It is uncertain if these knobs are the originals.)

     This is a view inside the Summerlin House from the back looking forward to the front door.  The house is being used as a photo gallery.

The front room.

View of the texture of the walls and ceiling.

(The modern conveniences were added later.)

     Looking out of the Summerlin House, seeing the driveway to McGregor Boulevard.  Across the street is where Thomas Edison has his laboratory, and gift shop.
     After visiting Ft. Myers, I traveled further north to Bartow, Florida.

     Jacob Summerlin, Jr., spent the later years of his life in this town.  He bought the Blount Homestead and created Bartow and the Polk County seat.

Pictured:  Blount Family

     One year following cessation of hostilities brought on by the war, Jacob Summerlin made an extraordinary gift. In 1866, he donated 120 acres of land (comprising the present day downtown area of Bartow) to establish a county seat, churches, and a school. He personally donated cattle to insure families wouldn’t starve and donated $1,100.00 dollars to build Bartow’s first two story building (housing the Masonic Lodge on the upper floor, and a school on the lower). The school was named Summerlin Institute in his honor.


     Jacob Summerlin placing the cornerstone of the Summerlin Institute.  The new Summerlin Institute was a substantial building with a large tower. It was heralded as the only brick “school house” south of Jacksonville.


Pictured:  Summerlin family at the Summerlin Institute on opening day.

     The Summerlin Institute was later renamed to Bartow High School.



Summerlin Institute in Bartow, Florida

     The Polk County Museum has many fine exhibits on Jacob Summerlin concerning his life and his generosity.

     I counted five individual sections where the museum covered his life, his cracker cowboy days, his donation of 120 acres to the town of Bartow, his time in Orlando and creation of the Summerlin Institute.

     Jacob Summerlin and his third wife, Francis Knight Zipperer Summerlin.

     Jacob Summerlin's headstone and grave is located in Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow.  Jacob's grave is on the left, next to his last wife, Francis.

Closeup of headstone

A wider view of the Summerlin plot.

     Oak Hill Cemetery was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places on February 12th, 2003.

Plaque reads:

Oak Hill Cemetery

Established by the founding families of Polk County, even before the county existed.  Oak Hill Cemetery was known as the "Old City Cemetery".  Resting below the majestic oaks are family names that resound through the annals of county history.  Here rest veterans of the Seminole Indian Wars, The Mexican-American War, The War Between the States, The Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean Conflict.    Mothers, daughters and children too, rest in slumber below the graceful shade.  The trials and successes of a community are found among the stones' stories.  Sleeping eternally here also are many known but to God.

The sign leading into the Oak Hill Cemetery in Bartow.


     For more photos of the cemetery click here.  I decided to make a separate section for those interested in historic grave sites or may have family buried here.

     In areas south of Bartow, there were a couple of forts that provided a safe refuge for travelers, and locals alike, from Indian attacks.

     The picture shows a house at Fort Meade.  The fort did not look like what you would expect a fort to look like.

     To the north of Bartow, south of Lake City and near Alachua, lies what is left of Newnansville.  I remember reading that the Summerlin family stayed in Newnansville during Indian attacks and raids on their home in Alligator (later named Lake City).  They even were held up at the fort when the Indians came to Newnanville.  After the conflicts subsided, they returned to Alligator.

     Newnansville was originally settled about 1818. There was a post office, church, school, hotel, courthouse, and a fort.  When the railroad came through from Fernandina to Cedar Key it stopped in a small area called "Hog Town" (later named Gainesville). The courthouse was moved to Gainesville. Eventually a railroad spur would come near but not near enough and create the town of Alachua. The remaining businesses moved near the railroad and shortly Newnansville became a ghost town in 1890.

Historical Marker on the Newnansville Site (Photo by Mike Woodfin)

My next stop was Lake City, Florida.

     I did not take any pictures in Lake City.  The only museums I found was closed during my visit.  From what I have read, Jacob Summerlin's father, Jacob Summerlin, Sr. owned most of Lake City.  From documents, the town was originally an Indian town, named Alligator.  Jacob Summerlin, Sr. renamed the town to Lancaster, after a friend.  After Jacob Summerlin Sr.'s passing, the town was named to Lake City.  Jacob Summerlin, Sr. traveled between Lake City and Tallahassee quite often since Jacob was a representative for the state.  Some records have Jacob Summerlin, Jr. being born here.

My next stop was Jacksonville, Florida.

I did not take any pictures.

The Summerlin Family came into Florida around 1774.  They came from Camden County, Georgia into the northern tip of Florida across St. Mary's River.  They had some land in the area.  Later on they moved to the Mandarin area in Jacksonville.  Some time after that move, they moved to Alligator (Lake City).
     The last stop on my Family History Tour was Orlando, Florida.

     Jacob Summerlin spent some time in Orlando.  He was a key figure in creating Orlando as the county seat by providing money to build the Orange County Courthouse.

     His method of making a living was by raising cattle.  He mainly sold the cattle to Cuba and used the money to buy more cattle and more land.  Apparently on the side, he owned and operated the Summerlin Hotel in Orlando.

The Founding of Orlando

     When the second Seminole war ended in 1842, American settlers began following soldiers into Central Florida. Originally named Jernigan after Aaron Jernigan who came from Georgia in 1843, the town's name was permanently changed to Orlando in 1857. The name is credited to Orlando Reeves, a U.S. soldier who was killed in 1835 by an Indian's arrow while on duty at what is now Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando.

     For many years Downtown Orlando was settled on cow country. In 1857, Robert Ivey, a soldier in the Seminole wars, homesteaded 640 acres near Lake Eola which his cattle used as a watering hole. In 1873 Jacob Summerlin, known as the "Cattle King of Florida," bought 200 acres around and including Lake Eola.

     In July, 1875 by a vote of 22 men from the 85 residents, the City of Orlando was officially incorporated. The land for Lake Eola was donated to the City of Orlando in 1883 by Jacob Summerlin. Jacob's two sons, Robert and Samuel, are credited with giving the lake its name, Eola, after a lady they both knew.

This is Google's cache of which used to exist at one time.

Lake Eola today (2008)
     The information concerning my family history was obtained through various sources.
... and many more.

This page was last enhanced on Tuesday, August 05, 2008