Charles A. Rollins history
Sheriff Walter C. Heinrich
Chamber of Commerce
Seminole Indians & Lake Thonotosassa
Of the many beautiful lakes scattered like gems amid the forests and hammocks of Hillsborough County, Florida, one of the largest and most picturesque is Lake Thonotosassa about fourteen miles northeast of the city of Tampa. The lake is oval in shape, several miles long, and nearly as wide, with unusually high, sloping shores and a wide sandy beach. Surrounded by magnificent forest it was from time immemorial a place especially love by the Seminole Indians who had been the occupants of this region for untold centuries before the white man first came to make a home in the wilderness.
Lake Thonotosassa was surrounded by a magnificent forest and was a place especially loved by the Seminole Indians, who called it "Tenotosassa". They were attracted to the area because of the fish in its waters and the game that inhabited surrounding forest in great abundance. Also, there were near the lake deposits of flint rocks so useful for weapons and tools. Hence comes the name of Thonotosassa, meaning "Lake of Flints". On the shores of this beautiful lake was the chosen scene of the annual "Green Corn Dance" of the Seminoles. Each year when the crescent of the new moon was in the western heavens during the month of June, there gathered the Indians from all southwestern Florida, coming from great distances to be present at this mid-summer festival. At this time was held the annual meeting of the chiefs and old men of the tribe who acted as a sort of high court to decide all disputes arising among members of the tribe and to mete out punishment for those convicted of offenses against the laws of the Seminoles. This was also the time of feasting and rejoicing over successes in hunting and in war. Marriages were celebrated and all the affairs of the tribe were settled for the year.
The early white settlers also found this region around the lake a most attractive place. But on account of the Indians who were never very friendly and often openly hostile to the white man, no permanent settlements were made here until after the first Seminole war had come to an end. Soon after Fort Brooke was established on Tampa Bay in 1823, another military post, called Fort King, was located where the city of Ocala now is, about one hundred miles north of Fort Brooke. A road, or in reality, a trail, was opened between the two forts, which became known in Fort Brooke as the Fort King road. This road led in a northeasterly direction from the fort at the mouth of the Hillsborough River, following very nearly what is known as Harney Road, on to near the south end of Lake Thonotosassa, thence along the high land to the west of and within sight of the lake, and then on aacrossthe Hillsborough River, where later a ferry was established, and then continued in a northerly direction to Fort King.
It was over this road that supplies and mail were brought to the little settlement on Tampa Bay. Over this road came some of the earlier immigrants to Hillsborough County. It was along this road that Major Dade led his band of soldiers on their ill-fated expedition in 1835.
At the close of the Second Seminole War in 1842, Chief Billy Bowlegs had his Indian village established on the shores of Lake Thonotosassa, where the beautiful estate of Belvedere (built by General Hazen in 1879), which became the home of Mrs. H.H. Stebbins, is located. It was abandoned in the late 1850's when the Indians moved further south.
White men had attempted to build homes for their families in this favored section but had always been driven away by the danger of Indian attack. In 1846, however, William Miley, a hardy pioneer with his wife and five small children had established a home, and, despite frequent danger from marauding Indians, and several flights with his family to Fort Brooke, he maintained that home as long as he lived and it is still in the family.
In the month of December 1846, there came news of hostile Indians at a time when William Miley could not take his family to the fort for protection. So he hastily gathered his children and sick wife into a fortified log cabin near his home. That night an Indian woman wandered into the neighborhood and was taken in by Mr. Miley. Before morning a son was born to Mrs. Miley and the Indian woman also gave birth to a son.
The Indian woman left in a few days, but the kindliness with which she had been treated by the white family was eevidentlyappreciated by the Indians, who thereafter left the Miley family unmolested. The baby, named Martin M. Miley, born under such trying circumstances grew into stalwart manhood, a splendid example of the sturdy pioneers who made Hillsborough County. As a young man he served with notable credit as a soldier of the Confederacy.
He was an able assistant of General Hazen in proving the value of orange growing as a commercial enterprise. At the advanced age of four score years, Martin Miley is still vigorous and active in mind and body. He still lives on the old Miley homestead.
On this farm is an orange tree with a most interesting history. When Major Dade and his company started on their famous march toward Fort King in December 1835, they rested and ate their lunch on the first day at a point about three miles southwest of Lake Thontosassa. They had some sweet oranges which had just been brought to Fort Brooke from Cuba, a rare treat in those days. They ate these oranges and dropped the peel and seeds on the ground. The seeds sprouted, took root, and grew into trees. In 1850 they were regularly bearing fine, sweet oranges. William Miley transplanted several of them to his farm. In the course of time all except one died, but that one still stands a splendid specimen of the Florida seedling orange tree. It has passed safely through the great freezes of 1886 and 1895. It has been twisted and broken by wind storm, but has recovered from all these hardships and still bears large crops of delicious oranges. This tree, undoubtedly the oldest orange tree in this part of Florida, has borne as many as ssixty-fiveboxes of oranges in one season. Just before the freeze in the winter of 1894-95 from this fifty year old tree, Martin Miley picked 9,770 oranges by actual count and sold them for one cent a piece in Tampa.
The rich highlands to the east and west of Lake Thonotosassa invited settlers who slowly developed productive farms and became successful and prosperous. The greatest influence in building up this community into a ddeluxesuburb of the growing city of Tampa was General W.P. Hazen, who came to Florida from Ohio in about 1878. He immediately acquired large land holdings along the shores of the lake and began the ddevelopmentof an estate which he named Belvedere and which today rivals in substantial beauty anything in Florida.
It was a great undertaking in those pioneer days to attempt the building of a lluxuriouscountry mansion. But General Hazen, overcoming all difficulties, making use of timber from the surrounding forests, and importing costly woods and furnishing materials, built the magnificent residence which is still one of the show places of southwestern Florida. This beautiful home is located on the old Fort King Road, originally laid out by Major Francis L. Dade in 1835, over which he led his forces on their march which ended in the famous massacre and which is now the main street of Thonotosassa. This road is now bordered on both sides by magnificent oaks, set out by General Hazen, and which form a beautiful arch for miles. The house set back at some distance ffromthe road is surrounded by beautiful sub-tropical shrubs and palms and other trees. From the rear of the house a long gentle slope of lawn and orange grove extends down to the lake, offering one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable.
When General Hazen came to Hillsborough County there were practically no real orange groves. Each farmer had a few orange trees or, in a few cases, small groves with an ooccasionalgrapefruit tree. Hardly any one tthoughtof raising oranges for sale except locally and the grapefruit had not come into favor as food.
General Hazen saw that there were possibilities of profit in raising oranges and grapefruit as a commercial enterprise. Most of the trees in the county were tough, ugly, little shrubs raised from seed or in a few cases budded from the Dade orange tree on the Miley farm. It was therefore difficult for General Hazen to find suitable trees for his projected grove. However, with Martin Miley as his chief assistant, he bought here and there from the farmers for many miles around such orange and grapefruit trees as they were willing to sell, and had them carefully set out at a good distance apart. He kept this up until he had the first large, well-planned grove in this region. Today the groves of Belvedere estate are among the largest and best producing groves of the state.
On one of the trips to buy orange trees for this grove a large grapefruit tree fifteen years old was secured from Robert Williams who lived one mile south of Dover. It was dug up, pruned and carted to a chosen place on the Hazen estate where it was carefully replanted on March 4, 1881, the day on which James A. Garfield, an old friend of General Hazen, was inaugurated President of the United States. The tree was named the Garfield tree and is known by that name to this day. This tree, one of the oldest and largest grapefruit trees in eexistence is worthy of a detailed description. It is forty feet high and has a spread of fully forty feet, a circumference of eleven feet at the base and the first branches are ten feet from the ground. The tree, although more than three score years of age is still in perfectly healthy condition. It bears an abundance of the finest seedling grapefruit. In one year as many as forty boxes of fruit have been produced on this one tree.
The estate, with its beautiful mansion and extensive productive citrus groves, under the care of its present owner, Mrs. H.H. Stebbins, is kept in splendid condition, and is well worth seeing both as a scene of beauty and as an example of what can be accomplished with the natural resources of Hillsborough County.
As early as 1854 there were enough settlers, widely scattered to be sure, around Lake Thonotosassa to form a community which began to realize their common interests and needs. As in other pioneer communities in America the desire for religious service of some kind was felt as a common interest. On the east side of the lake lived the Franklins, Stevens and Smith; on the west side were the Mileys and the Wilders; and on the south were the Gallahers, the Mitchells and various members of the Sparkman family. Representatives of these families decided to establish a church and 1854 the first religious service was held under the shade of a large live oak tree at Wehumba Creek Ford. The minister was Jeremiah Harman, a Baptist, and so the church was regularly organized as a Baptist Church. George Smith and William Miley were the first deacons. This church tree continued to be the meeting place until in 1856 a log church was built on the east side of the lake. Later a large, wooden church was erected on the site of the old log cabin church.
Thonotosassa, as well as the other parts of the county, felt the effects of the boom and the superior possibilities of its shores as beautiful sites for country homes were realized by many. Thus the future of this section is assured.
Chapter XVII titled "Thonotosassa" from "History of Hillsborough County" by Ernest L. Robinson