Orange Holds The Seeds To Yalaha's Name

By Ormund Powers, Sentinel Correspondent - September 10, 1997

Yalaha, on the shores of Lake Harris, is one of the oldest inhabited spots in Lake County, having been a favorite of native tribes for thousands of years until the area began to be settled in the mid-1800s.

Its first permanent resident is generally thought to have been Capt. W.J. McEaddy, a South Carolinian who came to Ocala in the 1850s and moved to Yalaha in 1869 with his bride, Kizana, another South Carolinian who had migrated to Ocala.

For their home in Yalaha, McEaddy built a ''double pen'' log cabin - essentially two rooms separated by a wide breezeway. It was considered modern and even elegant in pioneer days.

McEaddy bought lakefront land and planted it with sour root stock obtained from a grove across the lake and later budding the stock from another grove, one planted by Frank Harris, for whom Lake Harris was named. Harris had purchased sweet seedlings in Sanford to set out the first citrus grove on the lake a few years earlier. Kizana was a help in many ways, not least in defending the McEaddy property. While McEaddy was tending his grove one day, his wife thought some natives were getting too close. She poked the muzzle of her shotgun between the chinks of her log house, yelled at them and they left.

Another time, history says, she clubbed a bear that had suddenly appeared at her back door. Yalaha was the shipping point to the North for the Apopka area, Clermont, Lakeland and other towns until the Jacksonville-Tampa railroad was constructed in 1884. When Yalaha was a principal port, the goods were shipped by boat across Lake Harris to Leesburg, then via steamer up the Oklawaha or taken to Silver Springs by wagon and loaded onto St. Johns River steamers. The first industry of any kind was that of growing asparagus ferns for the floral trade. John James and his family came to Florida from England in 1886 and decided that Yalaha was ideal for growing ferns as well as other plants. Yalaha was attracting people who would figure in the development of Florida. 

A Virginia lawyer named W.A. Hocker arrived in 1874 and soon was named to the Florida Supreme Court. H.H. Duncan, who would help shape Lake County, arrived at Yalaha in 1875. Duncan, a native of Springfield, Ill., had been a newspaperman and teacher in Illinois. After he arrived in Yalaha, he became a state representative, then a senator. He was one of those who helped create Lake County and named it in 1887. He helped anchor Tavares as the county seat by taking the county records from the temporary courthouse at Bloomfield, near Yalaha, rowing them across Lake Harris and hiding them in a house in Tavares. Duncan was elected the first clerk of the circuit court and served 33 years until his death in 1920.

The McEaddys were responsible for attracting to Yalaha Maj. Gaston Drake, who came down from Tennessee for a visit and stayed. Drake Point on Lake Harris is named for him. Drake persuaded his brother-in-law, Capt. A.J. Phares, and his wife to move to Yalaha. The Phareses had wide connections in the world of theater and, consequently, attracted many visitors to their Yalaha home.

When it came time to decide what to call the embryo town, it is said that McEaddy, Phares and Drake held an informal meeting in McEaddy's back yard to discuss the matter. McEaddy said that he had once offered a ripe orange to a friendly Indian and the Indian had said, ''Yalaha,'' meaning, McEaddy said, ''yellow orange.'' The three men thought that was an appropriate name

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