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THE OSCEOLA BANK VAULT
And a Florida town that was torn down…

If you drive through the community of Geneva and follow Osceola Road all the way to the end, you’ll see a large bank vault sitting in the edge of the woods. This vault, that is actually the size of a small house, is all that remains of the town of Osceola that once sat on the banks of the St. Johns River. This is not a case about a ghost town; this is about an abandoned vault in the middle of nowhere and an entire town that was torn down in 1940.

In 1916 the Tidewater Cypress Company of Cedar Key organized a new company, the Osceola Cypress Company and built a huge sawmill and a complete town at this location. During the second Seminole war, in 1837, this was the site of King Philip’s town, a Seminole camp. After the Civil War the area was known as “Cooks Ferry” until the Florida East Coast Railroad Company bridged the river in 1911 and changed the name to “Bridge End.” With the railroad and the river, this was an ideal location for a big sawmill operation. The town of Osceola took its name from the famous Seminole warrior of the same name.

Osceola covered 350 acres and was complete with houses, a doctor’s office, commissary store with filling station, school, company office building, boarding house, post office, barber shop, railroad, sawmill and big lumber yard. The railroad hauled cypress logs to the mill from timber operations farther south around Lake Okeechobee. Each day, two hundred workers at the mill turned-out 60,000 feet of lumber which was a record production for any sawmill in Central Florida.

Osceola was a well-designed, progressive community with sidewalks, residential areas with white picket fences, running water, indoor plumbing, a sewer system, telephone service, and its own electrical power system, which was promptly turned off at 10 pm each night. After dark a night watchman served as the town’s “police force.” The abandoned bank vault, which once held the company’s books and payroll, was part of company’s office building. The big, brick, walk-in vault was the only place in town safe from fire and robbery.

In 1926, the Chamber of Commerce referred to Osceola as “The principal commercial and industrial community in the county.” During the boom years of the 1920s, it was predicted that Osceola would become the largest town in Seminole County. Osceola was a hardworking community, but it was not without its recreation, each week dances were held in a big house by the river and a “juke joint” for the entertainment of the working class.

“Osceola was a fun place to live,” recalls Louise Sullivan of Clewiston, who lived there as a child from 1934 to 1939. “Besides fishing, we’d pick violets, and play hide and seek in the stacks of drying lumber. There was an Indian mound near the railroad bridge where you could find arrowheads. Mrs. Silvers, who lived in the first house, taught me how to paint silhouettes on glass which we put foil from cigarette packages behind them. There were about ten houses on both sides of our street. Osceola had three residential sections, one for the management and their families on the main street, two areas for the labor employees, one for whites and one for blacks.

The school teacher lived with us and shared a room with me. The school went to the sixth grade, all in one classroom that was at one end and on the other end was a stage. I got ten dollars a month to clean the school and paid fifty cents each week for piano lessons taught by the doctor’s daughter. The water was hauled in for drinking because local water did not taste good, but we used it for washing and bathing. Ice was delivered by truck. It was my sister’s job to put the sign in our window for ice that let the ice truck know how many pounds we wanted. The lights went out at night at the same time; they would “blink” a warning to let us know it was time for bed. Then the electric was shut down until the whistle blew next morning. We lived in Osceola until 1939.”

By 1939, the Osceola Cypress Company had started moving its operations to Port Everglades. In 1940 the last residents of Osceola moved out and the buildings were dismantled and sold off for lumber. During World War II, the U. S. Government purchased a large tract of land in Osceola and built an auxiliary airfield for training navy fighter pilots. In the early sixties, the abandoned airfield became a popular Central Florida drag racing track. In recent times this area has been used as a Seminole County land fill. The only reminder of the town that once stood here is the old abandoned bank vault sitting in the woods at the end of Osceola Road.

Weird Florida

 

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