by ROCCO MAGLIO
HERNANDO SUN WRITER
As you drive through Spring Lake you pass Old Trilby Road. The road is named for a town in present day Pasco. How Trilby got its name is an interesting story. Jeff Miller, historian and retired Pasco County teacher, mentioned this fascinating story of Trilby at a recent West Pasco Historical Society meeting which prompted us to look into the story.
Trilby was originally named the McLeod Settlement. In 1885, a post office opened in town and the name was changed to Macon after the small town of Macon Station in Alabama where the McRae and Ravesies families came from.
Peter Demens built the Orange Belt Railway which connected Sanford to Tarpon Springs and went through Macon in 1887. The Orange Belt Railway was purchased by Henry Plant who was a developer and railroad builder in 1895.
When Plant purchased the Orange Belt Railway, he set about to convert the track from narrow gauge to standard gauge. The changes would result in Macon becoming a railroad hub. Several of Plant’s routes ran through Trilby. Plant’s plan also involved changing the name of the town from Macon to Trilby, which is said to have been Mrs. Henry Plant’s favorite novel. In 1902, the post office made the name change from Macon to Trilby official. Trilby had enough rail passenger traffic that they had an all night diner. When Plant’s company platted Trilby, the streets were named after characters in the book. The streets do not appear to have been constructed. The main square was named Svengali Square.
Trilby was the name of a popular novel by George du Maurie. The novel was published from January to August in Harper’s Monthly in 1894. It was one of the most popular novels of its time and sold 200,000 in the United States. A memorable character from the book- Svengali, has entered the lexicon. According to Merriam Webster dictionary Svengali is a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another.
Trilby O’Ferrall was the heroine of the book. She meets Svengali while working as an artists’ model in Bohemian Paris. She is tone deaf, so she is unable to sing well. Svengali hypnotizes her, enabling her to sing and she becomes a sensation. Svengali controls and manipulates Trilby. Trilby and Svengali’s relationship form just a portion of the book, but it is the part that has been woven into our culture.
Beside giving us the name of a nearby town, Trilby also gave us the word Svengali. According to noted writer and critic Luc Sante the novel had a “decisive influence on the stereotypical notion of bohemia” and it “affected the habits of American youth, particularly young women, who derived from it the courage to call themselves artists and ‘bachelor girls,’ to smoke cigarettes and drink Chianti.”
Trilby is a unique name for a town. The name also has a colorful history. Today the town is mostly gone along with the railroad, but the name and the history remain.