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We just drove through what?

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By Rog Patterson

Driving home from Apalachicola we passed through Sopchoppy. Now there’s a funny name for a town. And on our way to and from Jacksonville we go right by the Scrambletown general store on C.R. 314. That’s an even funnier name, eh?

These names kept nagging like a hangnail. So, with some help from Google, Heather Ogilvy’s team at the Freedom Public Library and a few other computer sources, I decided to hunt up the reasons why these and other such names came to be. My editor suggested sticking to Marion County names as much as possible to give whatever I found a local angle, so here goes – along with a few side roads.

Our forebears who came up with names for Marion County cities, towns, burgs and crossroads were not an especially imaginative bunch. They leaned pretty heavily on the local Indian words and names of early deep pocket settlers for inspiration. That may be one reason I veered off track a few times while researching these origins, finding myself fascinated by a few from other counties.

We’ll start with our Marion County favorite, Scrambletown. Just drive east on C.R. 40, turn left just over the Ocklawaha Bridge onto S.R. 314 at Nuby’s Corner and keep an eye out about 8 to 10 miles up the road. Here’s what you should look for.

Scrambletown was first a quiet spot in the Ocala National Forest for folks who wanted to get away from it all. Realizing they had to produce something for income, in the 1930s many chose distilling moonshine.

The federal revenuers were about as determined as they come and finally decided to raid those stills. The locals got wind of the intended raid … and scrambled. That’s what it says on the general store sign.

But another version just had residents scrambling for any way they could to make a living. Either way, they certainly did scramble.

Lest anyone feel I’ve played favorites … though I do have some … we’ll try doing the rest of this on-the-road-review in alphabetical fashion. That means starting with Anthony, which suddenly became famous when the Travoltas moved in.

That sleepy little settlement was first known as Anoty Place. But a Col. E. C. Anthony got things rolling to attract orange groves, cattle ranches and lumbering crews to earn his immortalization.

Then we have Belleview, one of three Florida towns so named, and simply meaning beautiful view. Blitchton is next, named for a pioneer family who managed to supply two brothers serving the state senate at the same time.

Boardman goes back to 1863 to find another pioneer namesake. Bradley came along later in 1910, named for Mr. you-know-who, and made a big deal over now being Bradley Junction a few years afterward.

Let’s start the veering business with Apalachicola, just beyond our state’s Big Bend along the Gulf of Mexico. This Hitchiti Indian word means “people on the other side,” but it also means “allies” to Choctaw Indians. To muddy the waters a bit further, the area was settled by the Creek Indians.

For me, Apalachicola really means “the tastiest oysters I’ve ever enjoyed.”

Back to Marion County, we come to Burbank.. Best guess here is Luther Burbank, the horticulturist who befriended Thomas Edison and Henry Ford during frequent Florida vacations.

Candler earned another of those family names way back in 1881 and Citra was the brainstorm of the Rev. P. P. Bishop who talked four other orange grove owners into a unanimous okay.

Already slightly behind with the veering, let’s look at Capone Island in the Intracoastal Waterway near Palm Beach. Infamous Al Capone supposedly bought it to build a getaway from his estate on Palm Island near Miami but, instead, relocated to another island called Alcatraz.

You know Cedar Key for its artist colony and seafood festivals reminding us it was once populated with fishermen and their families. An important Gulf port during the Civil War, it took three pencil factories to strip the dense cedar forests bare before they shut down.

I thought Chassahowitzka had to be a Yiddish name until learning otherwise. This swampy area in Hernando County is a Creek Indian combo of chasi for “pumpkin” and houwitchka meaning “to open,” or “place where pumpkins are opened.” I’m also told that “case o’ whiskey” is the local pronunciation.

Okay, with that out of our system, back to Marion County names like Early Bird. Why? Nobody could tell me. But I couldn’t leave a name like that out of this list, could I? A lumber company’s railroad stop on the way to Archer, Early Bird residents tried for three times for a post office over 23 years before giving up in 1914.

Then we have East Lake, cleverly identifying a community on the eastern shore of Lake Weir. It was Greek to me but Eureka, perched on the Ocklawaha River in Ocala National Forest since 1873, clearly reflects the attitude of many forest residents. Translated to “I have found it!” this little settlement’s name really does get the job done.

Fort King was the original seat of Marion County. Built next to a Seminole Indian agency established in 1825, the fort was named for Col. William King. It was here the Seminole War began when Chief Osceola’s warriors ambushed Gen. Wily Thompson and four soldiers who had been lured outside the stockade.

A very early map of Florida I found in a Key West gold shop shows Fort King and Fort McCoy in much larger type … signifying greater importance and perhaps larger population … than early Ocala.

Fort McCoy was built a bit later during the Seminole War and included brick structures. Some remains could still be seen in the 1940s. It was also a station along the Ocala Northern Railroad line and boasted a large sawmill before welcoming the VFW home in 1985. But, I’ve yet to discover who was the real McCoy.

May I veer again over to Frostproof, please? Supposedly named by northern cowboys who herded their charges to this warmer spot between lakes each winter and noticed the lack of frost in the coldest seasons. Local Indian lore insisted Lake Clinch held an immense serpent. In 1907, residents reported the monster had indeed been spotted and “must be 30 feet long.” I have yet to find evidence of any concerns over this competition from Loch Ness or Lake Champlain sources.

The shores of Lake George form part of Marion County’s eastern boundary. This second-largest lake in Florida is really a bulge in the St. Johns River. While French explorers from up-river were probably the first visitors in 1564, it is assumed the name is due to British occupation of east Florida and stuck.

Another significant body of Marion County water is Lake Weir, apparently named for a resident, Dr. Weir. However, an 1839 map refers to it as Wares Lake and 35 years later is became known as Lake Ward. So, take your pick.

The name for Marion County itself was in honor of General Francis Marion, known during the Revolutionary War as the “Swamp Fox” by his grudgingly admiring adversaries. This choice was doubtless endorsed by the county’s many early settlers who hailed from the general’s native state of South Carolina.

We’ll veer to Micanopy when Part 2 concludes this sojourn of oddball hamlets.

Rog Patterson is a Marion Landing resident, Friendship Kiwanis Club member and Citizen writer.