HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Ellerslie is said to have been founded by James Goodwin Wallace, a doctor, as a health resort.
Wallace claimed to be descended from the early Scottish historical figure William Wallace, who is known in history as the Knight of Ellerslie. This probably explains the origin of the name of the town.
Wallace founded the town, four miles south of Dade City, in 1881, according to Hendley.
A Hernando County schools document shows that the Ellerslie school was in operation for the school year from Oct. 1, 1883, to Feb. 15, 1884. (The school does not appear in earlier annual lists.) The teacher is shown as Miss Belle Meacham and the trustees as J. G. Wallace and P. R. Weaver.
The Ellerslie post office was established on Jan. 28, 1884, with postmaster Oscar Meacham. Later postmasters were Manning R. Rountree in 1887 and Willard F. O’Neal in 1888.
Hendley lists the first settlers as Dr. J. G. Wallace, Oscar Meacham, John Sumner, Emett O’Neal, R. B. Sturkie, J. P. Emerson, D. E. Wallace, Harold Dobson, Thomas Williams, E. A. Farra, M. F. O’Neal, John White, and Thomas Cheek.
The Florida State Gazetteer (1886-1887) has:
ELLERSLIE. Population, 27. Oscar Meacham, postmaster. This place was first settled in 1883. It is situated on the line of the South Florida Railroad, 25 miles southeast of Brooksville, the county seat, and 2½ miles north of Richland, the shipping station. Has a school, church, saw mill and store. Oranges are the principal shipment. Tampa is the nearest banking point. Mails on horseback from Brooksville Tuesday and Friday. Plant City is the nearest present express office. Unimproved land sells at $5 to $50 per acre; improved at $20 to $100. Anderson & Co., grocers. Mrs. L. D. Austin, teacher. M. T. O’Neal & Co., saw mill. Farmers and growers: J. R. Sumner, Robert Sumner.
On Aug. 2, 1915, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Tom Bailey and R. H. Connerly of Ellerslie were doing business in Zephyrhills Monday. They report among the business transactions of their community the sale by T. M. Nichelson of his ten-acre farm at the generous price of $150 per acre, which shows the steady increase in land in this part of the State.”
On May 11, 1917, the Dade City Banner reported, “Work is progressing rapidly on the installation of the large saw mill which is being built at Ellerslie by Mr. A. T. Squires, of Palatka. Mr. Squires has associated with him Mr. M. J. Thompson, also of Palatka, who is acting as general superintendent. Mr. Boughman, of St. Petersburg, will have charge of the selling end of the business. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and children have rented the Phinney bungalow and are pleasantly located. Messrs Squires and Boughman are stopping at the Osceola.”
On June 7, 1924, the Tampa Daily Times reported on the death of George L. Vernon at his home in the Ellerslie settlement. He was described as one of Pasco County’s most highly respected citizens and one of the most successful farmers in the county.
Ellerslie Found Its Place in History
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 15, 2001.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
NEAR DADE CITY - The town of Ellerslie exists only in history books now. A surprise freeze crippled the citrus industry and doomed many pioneer towns.
He was a doctor with health problems. That combination led James Goodwin Wallace to found a town he touted as a health resort four miles south of Dade City.
But a mistake in recording his land resulted in Wallace being forced from the town he named Ellerslie. The great freeze of the winter of 1894 and 1895 forced others from Ellerslie, and all that is left today is a bend in the railroad track that runs parallel to County Road 35-A.
Wallace was a Confederate surgeon, serving with the 10th South Carolina Regiment during the Civil War. After the war he came to Florida and founded Leesburg in Lake County, serving as its first mayor. He put in two terms as mayor, then studied law and was admitted to the Florida Bar, serving two terms as state attorney for the Leesburg district.
His hectic lifestyle caused havoc on his health, and in 1876 Wallace moved to relax at the shores of Lake Buddy, now Lake Pasadena on the outskirts of Dade City.
But his R & R didn't last long.
Wallace soon opened a law practice in nearby Fort Dade and within three years established the first newspaper in the county, the Fort Dade Messenger. [see note]
Wallace also filed for homestead on land on the east end of the ridge of hills beginning at Lake Buddy and extending toward Tuckertown, now called Richland. There, Wallace founded Ellerslie in 1881.
Local historians believe Wallace named the town after some significant spot in Scotland.
He claimed to be a descendant of Gen. William Wallace, a Scottish patriot and leader in the struggle against Edward I of England, according to information written by Wallace’s granddaughter, the late Rosemary Wallace Trottman of Zephyrhills.
Wallace used his newspaper to promote Ellerslie as a health resort and also solicit investors to build a sanitarium there.
The sanitarium never became reality, but the town did develop around Wallace’s sawmill, one of the first in the county to use a circular saw.
Then in the fall of 1882 two men came from Kentucky after reading about the area in Home and Farm, published in Louisville. The letters to the paper were written by D. H. Thrasher, justice of the peace, as well as a land agent in the area that included Ellerslie.
The twosome, M. F. O’Neal and E. A. Farra, stopped at Thrasher’s house, called Double Kitchens by the Pond, and he showed them maps from the land office at Gainesville.
The maps showed Wallace’s property as vacant, apparently a mistake made by Wallace in the township or range of the land when he made his homesteading application to the land office.
O’Neal and Farra proceeded to homestead the land. The two bachelors built a double-room house on the line between their lands. One room was Farra’s homestead, the other O’Neal’s.
But Wallace had already built a house on a corner of the land he thought was his. The situation ended up in court and was settled when O’Neal agreed to pay for the building Wallace had put on the land.
The settlement forced Wallace to move elsewhere and when the house later burned, O’Neal stopped payment.
Even without Wallace, Ellerslie prospered, with early settlers John R. Sumner, Emett O’Neal and Oscar Meacham establishing stores. A post office was established in 1884, with Meacham as the first postmaster. A Methodist church was built by Joseph and Elizabeth Smith, and Atlantic Coastline Railroad constructed a depot at Ellerslie.
But then came the freeze called “the granddaddy of them all.”
A balmy early December of 1894 gave false security to grove owners. But on the night of Dec. 29, temperatures dropped to 18 degrees and the freeze lasted three days. Young trees were killed and unpicked fruit was destroyed.
Because it was late in the season and the loss was minimal, growers still hoped for a second crop.
Temperatures warmed by January and trees started to sprout. The sap had also started to rise. Then on the night of Feb. 7, 1895, temperatures plunged below 15 degrees. Citrus branches snapped, crippling not only the citrus industry but also leading to the demise of many pioneer communities.
The post office continued to serve Ellerslie until 1907 when the town vanished, except from the pages of history.
[Note: The Fort Dade Messenger was founded by others in 1882, but about a year later W. C. Sumner became publisher and J. G. Wallace became editor.]