Eustis is one of several towns in Lake County dating to the 1870s, a post Civil War era when settlers moved southward from other states into the Florida frontier. Eustis is named after Colonel Abraham Eustis who served in the U.S. Army in Florida during the early nineteenth century. Settlement at Eustis began in late 1875, with the arrival of several homesteaders including A.S. Pendry, who became the postmaster of the Pendryville post office in 1877. In 1879, Pendry platted 80 acres of his homestead as Pendryville; the name was soon changed to Lake Eustis, and then to simply Eustis. Before railroads reached central Florida, long distance travel and shipping relied on steamboats and early settlements were concentrated along navigable waterways. Steamboats along the St. Johns River connected Eustis with Mellonville (today Sanford) and Jacksonville. In Eustis, a boat landing on the lake at the foot of Macdonald Avenue was the primary shipping point, and established that street as a commercial corridor.
In the late 1870s, seven homesteaders came to Eustis – G.D. Clifford, C.T. Smith, P.P. Morin, Augustus Gottschee, E.F. King, Mr. Level, and Mr. Conway – accompanied by John A. Macdonald of the United States’ land office in Jacksonville. Macdonald helped settlers choose a homestead site, and then recorded their claims with the federal government. Macdonald actively promoted settlement in the Eustis area.
With the arrival of the St. Johns and Lake Eustis Railway in 1880, replacing steamboats as prevalent mode of transportation and shipping, the frontier settlement of Eustis grew into a small city, with churches, stores, schools, a bank, and a newspaper. Residents voted to incorporate Eustis in 1886.
Citrus growing was a major industry in Eustis. The Big Freeze of 1894-95 and 1898-99 devastated the citrus crop in Eustis and the surrounding areas. Despite this setback and subsequent freezes, the citrus industry continued to flourish and Eustis became known as the “Orange Capital of the World.” The United States Department of Agriculture had even established a research station and laboratory in Eustis used to study plant diseases and later “became involved in pioneer research of hybridization of citrus.
In addition to the fruit and vegetables grown by local farmers, the town’s economy included tourism. Hotels (the largest being the Ocklawaha Hotel), boating, parks, and clubs attracted visitors during the temperate winter months.
The efficiency of the railroad over steamboat and horse and carriage travel made travel more desirable and the number of people traveling to Eustis increased. Tourist coming to Eustis by train would arrive at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot which formerly stood at the southwest corner of Magnolia Avenue and Bay Street. Later, in the 1910s, the Dixie Highway and paved roads brought automotive tourists to Eustis.
One of the popular past times on Lake Eustis was motor boating. It was written in newspapers that this sport could not be matched in any other section of the state. Boating on Lake Eustis has remained a great attraction for tourists and residents.
Ferran Park was the City’s first public park. It is named after Eustis pioneer and local businessman Edgar L. Ferran. The park began with the purchase of land between Clifford Avenue and Orange Avenue in 1913. A bulkhead (a concrete retaining wall) was constructed 250 feet out into Lake Eustis and extended approximately 950 feet along the shoreline. Once, the bulkhead was complete it was filled with sand from the bottom of Lake Eustis to create the park that we have today.
Seeing an opportunity to serve the tourist, Frank D. Waterman, of the Waterman Fountain Pen Company, built the Fountain Inn, a first-rate hotel in downtown Eustis. The hotel opened in 1923 and operated up until 1936 when the impacts of the Great Depression could not be endured any further. In 1937 Mr. Waterman turned the hotel over to a group of local doctors for use as a hospital which “became known as the Waterman Memorial Hospital in honor of its benefactor. Florida Hospital Waterman, as it is called today, operated in the heart of downtown Eustis for over 65 years before relocating in 2004 to its current location on U.S. Hwy. 441.
In 2013, Eustis continues to revitalize itself and features a new downtown streetscape. Traditions are also maintained like our Washington Birthday Celebration, which began in 1902 and has continued every year since then. Eustis remains a place of Culture, Opportunity, and Vitality!
- Drysdale, William. “A Florida City’s Growth: How Eustis was Built in Fourteen Years.” New York Times. December 22, 1889.
- Elliott, Brenda. Eustis Site Survey. The History Works, Orlando, Florida, 1992.
- Gumz, Bob. “Tourism, Transportation and Recreation.” In Our Town: Eustis, Florida 1912-1945,A Journey Back in Time, Complied by members of the Eustis Historical Museum & Preservation Society, Inc., Eustis, Florida, 1996.
- Jones, Lucy D. and Jo-Anne Peck. City of Eustis Historical and Architectural Survey Phase II Project: Egypt and East Town Neighborhoods Lake County, Florida. Florida History, LLC, Tampa, Florida, 2010.
- Leeper, Mary Polk. A History of Eustis, Florida, for Reference Use in the Intermediate Grades. A Research Paper Presented to the Faculty of the School of Education of Stetson University, DeLand, Florida, 1961.
- Yowler, Pauline. “Citrus Industry.” In Our Town: Eustis, Florida 1912-1945, A Journey Back in Time, Complied by members of the Eustis Historical Museum & Preservation Society, Inc., Eustis, Florida, 1996.