HISTORY OF HERNANDO COUNTY SCHOOLS
The Ozello School
The Ozello School (Truxal)
The following is excerpted from a 1985 article “Early Schools in Hernando County” by Nellie L. Truxal.
In 1880, the little settlement of Ozello had a serious problem in locating a school. Until this time the only school was a tiny building on a point of land on the bay. A family had settled there and since there was no school, the mother collected eight or ten children and taught them herself. As other families moved into the area and settled on both sides of the St. Martin's River a new school was needed. People on the south side of the river didn't want the school located on the north side. People on the north side didn't want it on the south side. Finally a compromise was reached. The school was built on an Indian mound on a small island in the middle of the river. This was agreeable because it was said that a child who could not row a boat by the time he was six years old was beyond the hope of education. The peak enrollment at this school was fifty-two pupils.
After 1887 Ozello was no longer a part of Hernando County but it is of interest to note that the school continued to operate until the mid 1940's. By that time the older children wanted to attend high school in Crystal River so all of the pupils were transported there by bus. A school boat picked up the children in the morning and took them to the bus. After school they returned to Ozello by bus and were taken home by the school boat.
Mr. Robert Wells of Crystal River, who attended the island school many years ago, described it as a 24' x 30' building with a wood burning heater and three hanging coal oil lamps. There were never any electric lights in the building. He had very pleasant memories of the school, except for one man the teacher who made derogatory remarks about the community and the way of life there. He was “run off” by the pupils and replaced by a woman teacher. Robert Wells remembers the school as being like a big happy family. He related that after the school closed it was used as a polling place for a time. When a storm washed the building off its blocks it was finally demolished. The island in the middle of the river is still known as “School House Island.”
The Ozello School (Dunn)The following is taken from Back Home: A History of Citrus County, Florida, by Hampton Dunn.
Another landmark went up on the west side of the county in 1880: The neat little schoolhouse at Ozello, which was to gain world-wide recognition as “The Isle of Knowledge” when noted cartoonist Robert L. Ripley featured the unique school in his syndicated newspaper feature, “Believe It or Not!” Mrs. Epie Bullard, went to school there and has researched the history of the island. She reports the school was built on an island in the center of the St. Martin River because the people who lived there could not agree to have it built on either side of the river. Finally, they decided to put in on an island equal distance from each side. Families living in Ozello were the Heads, Debusks, Stanalands, Stephens, Browns, Martins and Boatrights. Mrs. Bullard recalled, “The most amazing thing to me at the time was the fact that all the children from first to eighth grade had to row a boat to school. Needless to say, we had plenty of muscles, blisters, and worn out seats.” On Sundays, the old school was used as a church, this time with parents using the boats.
At first, there was a log house with a palm-thatched roof that was used for the school, then later came a frame structure. It was phased out in 1943. According to Mrs. Cattie P. Martin, a former teacher at Ozello, the. school reached its peak attendance of 52 pupils back before “The Freeze” of 1894-95. Other teachers who taught at the Ozello school were Miss Marian King, Miss Bessie King, Miss Emily Vause, Miss Rosa Hammond, Miss Leila Zeilner, Miss Mamie Love, Mrs. Jessie Gay Winn, Miss Bessie Martin, David Tyre, Mrs. Cattie Priest, Mrs. Idella Wells, Miss Sallie Jim Moore, Miss Mary Dell Waring, Miss Sallie Feliston, Alfred O'Steen, Miss Anne Ashworth, Mrs. Katie Lashley, Dan Rooks, and. Miss Elaine Barnes.
Since 1943, when Mrs. Martin resigned as teacher, the children have been transported by school boat and bus to Crystal River school. School boats have been used in many Florida counties since schooling became mandatory in 1939.