Friday, August 26, 2016

Disneys in Florida?

Flora and Elias Disney


Eighty years before The Walt Disney Company petitioned the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court for the creation of the Reedy Creek Drainage District, which would later become the most visited vacation resort in the world, another Disney tried to make a go of it in Florida. Many of the places they inhabited are now ghost towns or gone.

Elias Disney's Petition for Citizenship
In his 1934 Petition for US Citizenship, Elias Charles Disney stated  that he and his wife Flora Call were married in Paisley, Florida on January 1st, 1888. Flora's parents, Charles and Henrietta Call, had moved there in 1884, would live out their lives and be buried there together in the Ponceannah Cemetery. Their grave site is toward the back, marked with a vertical white stone carved to look like a tree trunk.



Today, Paisley Florida is a census-designated place in Lake County with a population of about 700. While it is part of the OrlandoKissimmee Metropolitan Statistical Area, Paisley has never been much more than a wide spot in the road, currently near where Lake County Road 42 and Maggie Jones Road intersect.  CR-42 meanders along the southern edge of the Ocala National Forest and is a pleasant drive along forested rolling hills. The north shore of nearby Lake Norris is home to Boy Scout Camp La-No-Che, which in summer time and during Scout Jamborees has a larger population than Paisley.  Paisley is also host to the Toronto Argonauts' pre-season training and free agency camp. The area was named after Paisley, Scotland. 

Argonauts at play

The 1885 Census shows Elias Disney living in District 14 (Alachua) Orange County, Florida. One source indicates that Flora and Elias were married in Acron. Another says they were married in Kismet. Acron is now gone, but back then it was not far from Mount Dora and Sorrento, which is twenty miles south of Paisely.

Acron began in the 1860’s on Acron Lake. Also spelled Ackron and Akron, it was home to a sawmill, gristmill, farming families and citrus groves. To get to Acron visitors would pay a fare of $6.00 for a steamer down the St. John’s River from Jacksonville to Hawkinsville.  From there you traveled overland by mule cart. John C. Campbell was the first postmaster in 1877. Acron originally had a population of 30 but grew to 300. The Acron School was established in 1875 with Sara Campbell as its first teacher, Flora Call would later become the second.

During this time, Elias became very fond of Flora Call, the teenaged daughter of a neighbor who lived only a couple of miles away.  The Call family had moved to Florida in 1884, after some very severe Ohio winters, accompanied by Kepple and Elias Disney, who both settled in Acron. The area was remote, with only seven families at the time. Officially designated a county on May 27, 1887, Lake issued its first marriage license exactly seven months later, in December, for the Disney-Call wedding.

Kepple Disney was not pleased with Florida and almost immediately moved back to Kansas. Primarily because of his interest in Flora, Elias bought a 40-acre farm in nearby Kismet. 


Grand View Hotel

Kismet was founded in 1884 by the Kismet Land and Improvement Company. It was near Lake Dorr, eight miles west of Paisley and featured a 50 room hotel for winter visitors. Kismet was popular until the "89 Big Freeze" which was the demise of a number of flourishing citrus towns. The Grand View Hotel in Kismet was torn down, hauled to Eustis and rebuilt on the corner of Grove and Magnolia Street, where it stood as the Eustis Grandview Hotel until it was torn down about 1955.  All that remains of Kismet today are several gravestones in the abandoned cemetery.

Bellvue Halifax Hotel

Elias sold the farm and tried managing the Halifax Hotel in Daytona Beach, but left when things slumped after the summer tourist season. Next he got a job as a rural mailman in Kissimmee, which is the first major city east of DisneyWorld today. He saved enough money to buy an 80-acre orange grove near Paisley.

The '89 freeze put an end Elias's oranges, leaving him with a young wife and newborn son, Herbert, who was born in Sorrento on December 8, 1888, and no way to make a living. The little family moved to Chicago, where Elias became a construction worker. Raymond was born in Chicago December 30, 1890, followed by Roy on June 24, 1893, Walt in December 1901 and sister Ruth in 1902. 

Walt Disney's uncle, Albert Perkins, was the postmaster of Paisley from 1902 until 1935. Jessie Call Perkins taught in several Lake County schools and eventually served as principal of Eustis High School. When her husband died, she succeeded Albert as postmaster and served until 1946.

Aunt Jessie, Walt and Irene Campbell

Roy and Walt are rumored to have both visited Paisley. The story goes that young Walt and Roy visited Jessie and Albert during their summer vacations from school. There is one photo of Walt visiting his Aunt Jessie and cousin Irene sometime in the 50's. He and Lillian also rode the train from Washington, D.C. to Key West in 1931. From there, they went to Havana for a week before returning to California by way of a steam ship thru the Panama Canal.

Paisley is only about 50 miles north of Walt Disney World. You can take the 429 north to the 414, then onto the 441 and eventually County Road 439 will hook you onto Highway 42 and into Paisley.

Eustis, Sorrento and the remains of the Kismet Cemetery are all nearby.



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