Unveiling the Layers: Oriole
In a recent article, I met with three history hikers in the town of Oriole, Robert Bechard of Taped From Florida, Chris Harbig of Dirt Medic and Joe Dunn of Florida Trailblazer. This sparked my interest in discovering a little more about the forgotten town. So, on the property of Dr. William LaRosa and his wife Dorothy which encompasses part of the town, I spoke with two Hernando County residents who have an extensive background of Hernando County history, Frasier Mountain and Dave Thomas.
There is over 600 acres that is known to be the original establishment of Oriole, centered right along Oriole Lake. Oriole was a town in Hernando County alongside of Oriole Lake and about 1 1/4 miles from the Withlacoochee River. It was settled in 1884 by J.A. Clarkson Jr. having the population estimating around 100 people.*1
“Oriole is depicted on the map of Florida, 1889: http://fcit.usf.edu/florida/maps/pages/3500/f3574/f3574.htm”
When Dr. and Mrs. LaRosa purchased their property back in mid-1970's to have a better grazing area to raise their cattle there stood two original homesteads. “There were two houses that we tore down and a matter of fact the septic tank was still there too,” Dr. William LaRosa said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know (about the history),” he lamented.
Before the railroad tracks were laid, Purdie James Pemberton along with other family members built a ferry, Pemberton's Ferry*2 . This ferry was used for transporting the wagons and buggies back and forth from Sumter County to Hernando County. This may have been the beginning of Oriole and helped to establish other towns around Hernando County.
Frasier Mountain, explained that his father was born in 1891 and was the only family member to be born in Oriole as the other siblings were born in Alabama and Georgia. In 1887 the Mountain family came to Pemberton Ferry and crossed the river. The farthest they got was to Mondon Hill. “There was a contact in Oriole and the family was going to work there,” Mountain said. He also recalls two houses and a general store owned by Mr. Spector. “My dad worked at Spector store,” Mountain stated.
“My grandfather came from North Carolina when he was eight or nine years old, and they came down here in an Ox cart,” Dave Thomas said. During that time when his grandfather’s family settled in Hernando County, there was a Seminole Tribe on the east side of Sugar Lake which they would conduct trade. “Everything was nothing but wilderness here until the railroad cut in,” Thomas explained.
When Frasier Mountain was born in 1923, not much was left of the town of Oriole. During the 1850-1870’s there may have been a half a dozen citrus farms. Citrus began the growth of Oriole and when the limestone quarries developed, the town grew.
W. Clyde Lockhart and Francis B. Coogler were entrepreneurs, got their finances together and built the first plant (shed), which was located on the LaRosa property. “They did this (dug out the limestone) with a mule and scoop,” Frasier Mountain stated.
Crossing the gate onto the LaRosa property, one can imagine what it would be like living in Oriole. Many homesteads caressed the lake; neighborly conversations heard as children run around playing silly games, waiting for the train to pass. To visualize this in daguerreotype print, one can truly grasp the history.
The first post office, was located in front of the property and was established in Oriole back in 1884.*3 Along with the post office there were homesteads, a flag station, a store. There may have been a church and schoolhouse. Across the property there remains over ten graves of resting spirits of young children and adults.
“Oriole exist[s] today, it’s finest it’s ever been, because it’s left alone,” Frasier Mountain said. “These acres are protected.”
We would like to thank Frasier Mountain a long time Brooksvillian; a Hernando County Historian and Dave Thomas who has worked in the railroad industry for many years for taking the time to discuss the birth and silence of Oriole.
A special thanks to Dr. William LaRosa and his wife, Dorothy, their Daughter Susan and her husband Rodney Cooper for the wonderful tour and hospitality.