Eatonville is a small town located between Altamonte Springs and Winter Park, specifically just six miles north of Orlando. It was the first all-black city that was incorporated incorporated into Florida. Eatonville was established in 1887 after being settled two decades after the Civil War ended by former slaves. It was founded by Captain Josiah Eaton and two other officers and later named after him as he later became Mayor. The second oldest house in Eatonville was The Moseley House and one of two remaining examples of the pre-1900 wood-frame structures typical to the town.
“Hidden in the theme-park sprawl of greater
Orlando…lies a quiet town where the pride and complications of African-American
experience comes to life” (Cave, 2008). Eatonville is a small town located
between Altamonte Springs and Winter Park, more specifically, just six miles
north of Orlando. Some would even say that Eatonville was placed right in the
middle of present-day Maitland. Although this town is small in size, it is
filled with rich history and beauty.
Eatonville is the first all-black
city that was incorporated into Florida. The town was first recognized and “established in 1887
after being settled two decades after the Civil War ended by former slaves”
(Bryan). It was founded by Captain Josiah Eaton and two other officers and was later
named after Eaton when he became Mayor. It was first settled by newly freed
slaves coming from northern states, like Georgia and Alabama, during 1880. Among
them were slaves that had stayed with a few of the Indians when many Seminoles
and Cherokee Indians were being kicked off their lands and moved towards the
Central Florida area in the 1880s.
Eventually, these new settlers started acclimating to the
land and restoring it; they began planting crops and building on it. At first,
a man named Joseph E. Clarks had wanted to buy the land for the sole purpose of
it being an all-African town, but was unsuccessful in trying to purchase the
land. Eventually, that is when Lewis Lawrence, Josiah Eaton, Joe Clarke and a
few others came along and bought 112 acres of land to establish the town. In
fact, the first ten acres of the land had gone towards the start of a church.
This was also occurring during the end of the Reconstruction and Renewal era,
while other new towns were also emerging. “Eatonville was officially
incorporated as of August 15, 1887, after twenty-seven black voters had shown
their intentions of creating a municipality” (Bryan). From there, Eatonville got its start and was on its way to
becoming a town.
This site is of historical significance today because it
still maintains its status as a predominantly all-black community and one of
the first black towns to be established in Florida. It was also once known as
Maitland. In fact, if you were to ever enter Eatonville, you would find out a
few minutes into driving down Kennedy Boulevard that you are out of the small
town and in present-day Maitland. Although the town is not too large, it is
full of life.
“Thus the first town
to be organized, governed and incorporated by African-American citizens in
this country was born. Central to the early life in Eatonville were
three institutions – the church, the school and the family” (About, Town of Eatonville). To this day, those three institutions are
still the main heart and soul to the town of Eatonville. The life of the city mainly revolves
around its church, The St. Lawrence African Methodist Episcopal Church, and school, which once was, Robert Hungerford
Preparatory High School. The school “was founded by Professor and Mrs.
Russell C. Calhoun in 1889, sat on land that was donated in the memory of Dr.
Robert Hungerford, a white doctor who had died while caring for sick African
Americans” (Bryan). The school had closed back in 2009 due to budget cuts that
were made. Family also remains as an important part of small town, as almost
everyone there knows each other and has known one another for generations past.
Eatonville is best known for those reasons, its rich
heritage, and for how it “played a big role in literary history” (Eatonville History). Famous author Zora
Neale Hurston that wrote Their Eyes Were
Watching God had based some of the story in Eatonville. Hurston is known
for playing a key role in the city, being one of the first to include the small
town in her novels and introducing it to the rest of the world. She told the
world all about the small town, where it is located, who lives there, and what
the citizens living there have gone through. Because of Hurston, the town opened
the Zora Neal Hurston Museum of Fine Arts back in 1990. The town also has an
annual Zora Festival in her honor every January that’s full of celebration and
life. “’ Zora saved Eatonville’” (Cave, 2008). Hurston and her works continue
to be known for what helped the town get its start, get through its rough times
of racial discrimination during segregation, and give the town a whole new
The Moseley House
Early residences in Eatonville were mainly single-family, 500 square-foot wood frame houses,one-story with no more than 2 or 3 rooms. One significant example of this type of house was located at 11 Taylor Avenue, Eatonville, Fl.. Taylor Avenue is the eastern boundary of Eatonville and is the location of Jim and Matilda Clark Moseley's home.The Moseley House is situated in Eatonville, FL, which is located in Orange County and is 6 miles north of Orlando, FL. This town is known for its historic significance because it is recorded in Eatonville’s Historic District in the area of Ethnic Heritage (Black) and Community Planning and Development as the oldest black incorporated and inhabited municipality in the United States and has some of the oldest houses.(History Makers-The Moseley House)
The Moseley House is the second oldest remaining structure in Eatonville, and one of two remaining examples of the pre-1900 wood-frame structures typical to the town. It was constructed between 1888 and 1889 and has been restored and is furnished with period pieces. The house is associated with descendents of two first-generation Eatonville citizens: Joe Clark, which was Eatonville’s founder and the second mayor, and Mrs. Matilda Clark Moseley, niece of Joseph E. Clark, who was married to Jim Moseley, son of Sam Moseley, who was Eatonville's fourth mayor. Miz Matilda, or Tillie, as she was known, was Zora Neale Hurston's best childhood girlfriend. (“The Moseley House in Winter Park, Fl”) Hurston was a frequent visitor at the Moseley house.
Even though the house has been renovated, it still retains features distinguishing it as an archetype of the houses found in Eatonville at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The Moseley house, now a Museum, was restored by Zeta Educational Thespian Association, Incorporated (ZETA), a non-profit organization and Florida State Leadership Conference, (FSLC) Inc. with support from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources and other community based businesses and organizations.
In 1889, Florida becomes the first state to use the poll tax to disenfranchise black voters. (The Black Past) Florida’s legislature passes a number of laws designed to disenfranchise African-American voters. The provisions include a poll tax and an “eight box law,” under which voters are required to place ballots in correct boxes which are then shifted throughout the day. Between 1888 and 1892, voter turnout among African-Americans dropped about from 62 percent to 11 percent.(Context of ‘1888) This is significant since Eatonville is one of the African American communities in Florida and using poll taxes could only limit them to vote since most of them did not gain that much money, leading to only the rich in the African American Community to be able to vote.
As political and educational opportunities increased during and after Reconstruction, so did the number of black communities. Callahan Neighborhood was one of Orlando's oldest black communities originating in 1886.In 1888 the Second Bethel Baptist Church frame vernacular style building was completed and served as a school for the black community. The pastor, the Reverend Henry Shaw, was the first to minister to the local African American turpentine, sawmill and phosphate workers. (Florida Black Heritage Trail)