The Coming of a Town
The history of Eatonville is most interesting, it was founded by three Union officers, Captain Josiah Eaton, Captain Lewis Lawrence and another officer who is unknown. Following the Civil War, these men left America to settle in South America but during their voyage they turned back and settled in Florida.
To give a little background, at this moment in time there were black in Central Florida who had been brought there by Seminole and Cherokee Indians. The Indians had stolen the black slaves from many states along the coast. Over time, many of the Indians and former slaves that did not move west, stayed in Central Florida.
Captain Eaton and the other two officers found the land in Central Florida very inhabitable, not just for living but for development. They developed the ran around Lake Maitland, thus giving us the City of Maitland we know today. The former slaves who stayed in Central Florida were used to help clear the lands, and a black community popped up beside Maitland where the workers lived.
Remember, Union officers founded Maitland, so as the town developed and grew nobody in the town thought of excluding blacks from being town officials. Tony Taylor, a black man, was elected as the town’s first mayor. And another black man, Joe Clarke, was elected town marshall.
Clarke has envisioned an all black town and was determined to make it happen. He discussed the idea with Captain Eaton and Captain Lawrence, both of which supported the idea. After a year of planning, Eaton and Lawrence bought a parcel of land adjacent to Maitland and built a church and hall, for general assembly. Shortly thereafter, in August of 1887, the town of Eatonville received its charter of incorporation from Tallahassee.
Not Your Ordinary Town
Eatonville was what many of that time called a “race colony.” Rather than being pushed to the undesirable areas of a town by whites, many blacks would establish independent communities – as was evident the creation of in Eatonville.
As previously stated, Eatonville was a very superstitious town. Many of the residents believed in hoodoo, or conjure. Likely rooting from African beliefs, black cultures believed that the communities hoodoo doctor could use the power of roots to alter situations with magical powers.
Many in the community used hoodoo to cure various ailments, more specifically when they don’t have faith in conventional science and medicine, or when belief was that an enemy placed a hex on them.
Hoodoo saw its presence in the community thrust into the national spotlight by Zora Neale Hurston, who constantly wrote about the secret practices in her novels and poems.
Hurston’s belief was that their beliefs were a serious religious practice that only had slight connections to superstitions.
Many of her novels and poems have a strong sense of hoodoo and there is almost always an Eatonville presence in them.
Eatonville’s Impact in the Community
Eatonville not only has a rich heritage and played a big role in literary history, it also was home to Robert Hungerford Prepatory high School. The school was named after Dr. Robert Hungerford, a white physician from Maitland who was teaching the local black men reading and writing.
The school was modeled after the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1889 and was founded by Russell and Mary Calhoun. The school was designed to educate the black youth of Eatonville in a wide variety of subjects, specifically life skills. The school even had gardens and chicken coops on campus.
Students also lived on campus and were given jobs or chores to perform. Classes offered included: cooking, housekeeping, blacksmithing, agriculture and many more. As time went by, more technological classes were offered, including radio and mechanical drawing.
The school was a private school until 1950, when the courts gave it to Orange County as a public trust. Hungerford closed in 2009 due to budget cuts.