Pine Castle Pioneer Days, 1974
Before 1870, the country around what was to become Pine Castle was great cattle raising country. Turpentine was already an important economic factor. Agriculture and small industry based on the lumber supply brought in new settlers.
William Wallace Harney was one of those settlers, moving from Kentucky to Florida in 1869. He homesteaded the land which was to become Pine Castle, and built himself a fanciful house with spires and turrets. Harney was a newspaper man who wrote articles for a Cincinnati paper. He always dated each article from the "Pine Castle," which was the name of his home.
Later he was instrumental in getting a post office for "Pine Castle." The town that grew up in the area took the name even though the original house burned in the 1880s.
Before Mr. Harney built his catle, however, the whole area was known as "Oak Ridge." One of the early cemeteries was located in the southwest corner on a ridge of high, dry land. That cemetery is still used by the pioneer families of Pine Castle.
Once, when Mr. Charlie Johns and Mr. Charles Hoffner were taking someone out to the cemetery for burial in a horse-drawn wagon, the road was so rough that when they arrived at the burial place they found they had lsot the body! They had to retrace their steps to retrieve the corps.
In 1881-2, the South Florida Railroad extended their tracks south to Kissimmee. They laid the lines beside what was then State Highway #2 leading from Orlando. It was known locally as the "Black Bear Trail." People began to move closer to the railroad and the community which was to become Pine Castle began to grow.
Mr. Charles Sweet and Mr. Leonard Tyner each bought ten acres from the Harney Homestead. The Points, Annos, and Tanners were next, clsely followed by the Johnses, Harrises, Matchetts, Evanses, Hoffners, Macys, Sullivans, Perkinses, Hansels, Crittendens, Lancasters, Speers, Wetherbees, Barbers, and others. Many of the streets in present day Pine Castle and Belle Isle now bear those names.
Some time in the 1880s the first school building was erected in the vicinity of the present elementary school. This was made of rough pine boards placed vertically on a wooden framework. The lumber came from Lake Jennie Jewel by ox cart. Mrs. O.P. Preston and Alice Leake were two of the teachers who taught there.
By 1900 the children had outgrown the original school, so a new one was built. This one was painted white and had eight grades. Mr. Matchett was one of the early teachers.
In 1912, a two-story wooden school was erected and used for some fifteen years. In 1924, a second two-story building, this one constructed of concrete, was put up. In the late twenties and early thirties, the younger children used the older building while the older ones used the concrete one.
In 1936-7, the old wooden school was removed and a new building and the present-day auditorium put in its place. By 1940, the tenth grade had been removed from the school. Then, shortly after the start of World War II with the sudden growth in population due ot the opening of the Pine Castle Army Air Force Base, the junior high grades were moved to Orlando. The Pine Castle School became the first purely elementary school in the area.
The first store in Pine Castle was built by Mr. Blitch. It was a two-story building with the first floor used as a store and the second as a dwelling place. In 1892, Mr. Isaac Aten became the storekeeper until the building burned. Then he set up another store on the other side of the street.
Mr. J.A. Wilkes built what is known as the "Sphaler Store," in 1911. This is the present wooden building standing on the corner of South Orange Avenue and Waltham Street. It is probably the oldest building in Pine Castle. The Sweeets, Johnses, Hansels, Tyners, Gardners, and Crittendens were all early merchants and businessmen in Pine Castle.
Although Will Wallace Harney was the one who brought the post office to Pine Castle, Mr. Clement Tiner was the first postmaster. The post office was officially established on December 8, 1879. In the early days, it was located in various stores depending on who was postmaster at the time. When it was Jess Wills' turn, he built a post office in front of his house.
In the mid-twenties, the post office was located on the corner of Fairlane and Orange Avenue, then known as Wills Corner. Mrs. Claudine Hansel Monroe was the postmaster from 1934 until the post office became a branch of the Orlando post office in 1935. She retired from the postal service in 1959.
In 1960, the Pine Castle post office was moved to the present building on the corner of Randolph and Fairlane Avenue.
On February 26, 1925, the citizens of Pine Caslte voted to become an incorporated city. Mr. P.M. Shanibarger was the first mayor, Mrs. Claudine Monroe the city treasurer, Will Hansel the tax collector, William Wallace the Justice of the Peace, Charlie Crittenden a councilman, and Archie King superintendent of the water works. The ciyt employed two motorcycle policemen, one of whom was known as "Bicycle Willie."
The city had great ambitions but occasionally the ambition got the better of their common sense. They decided that they needed city water. So the money was appropriated, the pipes bought and laid and the fire hydrants put in place. Only belatedly did they realize that there was not enough money to drill a deep well and to build their own water plant, and they were too far from Orlando to use the city's water. The pipes and hydrants had to be repossessed and sold at a loss.
Lack of cooperation and the Depression put Pine Castle out of business as an incorporated city. The charter was dissolved in 1929 or 1930. Then in the late thirties, Pine Castle lost out again.
The state wanted to build a new north-south highway using the right-of-way of the Old Dixie Highway which ran through Pine Castle and Taft. This meant buying up land to widen the road.
Unfortunately, the owners of the land held out for more money. So, the state moved three miles west and bought up cheap cattle land. Then they builg Route 441, or the Orange Blossom Trail. After that, Pine Castle declined as businesses moved over to the Trail.
World War II and the Pine Castle Air Force Base, later McCoy Field, brought new people to Pine Castle. Since then, the area has grown steadily. Today Pine Castle is a bustling southern extension of Orlando, seeking once again to find its own identity.