McIntosh celebrates its 100th anniversary


McIntosh's Avenue G in 1920. Since 1983, this 94-acre hamlet has been a National Historic District. (Courtesy photo)

Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 6:44 p.m.

MCINTOSH — McIntosh is a town that time just may have forgotten.

Facts

McIntosh Centennial Celebration

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Town of McIntosh, midway between Ocala and Gainesville on U.S. 441
Info: 591-1047, www.townofmcintosh.org

Except for its yellow blinker at U.S. 441 and Avenue G — the only electronic traffic-control device for miles — and some businesses along 441 built in the past few decades, McIntosh is much the same as it has been for, say, the last 100 years, only with more shade now.

The live oak trees lining narrow streets on either side of the central Van Ness Park are 100 years bigger today; not much sunlight streams through their canopy. Yet, what green-filtered gleam does sift through glimmers on central district homes, many built in the late 1800s before the Legislature decreed McIntosh a town. Since 1983, this 94-acre hamlet has been a National Historic District; 62 of the original 68 structures in the designation remain.

Among the building styles, according to the original historic district application, are “frame vernacular (Cracker) although the influence of the Gothic Revival, Queen Anne and Bungalow styles is evident.”

They're all part of the charm that is this burg midway between Ocala and Gainesville, a charm the 450 or so residents here honor on Saturday with McIntosh's Centennial Celebration. And they've extended an invitation to share their memories at the memorial beginning at 10 a.m.

“I don't think it's going to be as big as the 1890's Festival,” said Marshall Roddy, owner of the McIntosh Village Antiques a few steps from the traffic blinker. “But certainly there are a lot of people in the area who are interested in us.”

Added Town Manager and Clerk Debbie Gonano, “It's a centennial, it happens only once every 100 years. We don't know what to expect.”

Not that it matters, really, whether a handful or an overwhelming crowd shows up. There'll be walking tours of homes and music most of the day.

Still, this is a day for residents and their friends to look back and remember what time has overlooked.

It sounds familiar

Most people hereabouts know of McIntosh either by driving through it on U.S. 441 or by its annual 1890's Festival in October, a day that marks the town's 19th century roots when the town was a powerhouse community in North Central Florida.

The daylong event has been known to draw 40,000 folks from all parts of the state as well as other states into the tiny confines of the town that ambles from the original banks of Orange Lake to up-the-hill on the west side of 441.

The festival was launched 40 years ago by Margie Karow, who with her husband, Dave, bought the community's first postmaster's house in 1969 — a house built in 1888 — and converted it into the Merrily Bed & Breakfast across Avenue G from Van Ness Park.

In its earliest days, the McIntosh Gay Nineties Festival was a way to raise money to move and restore the town's historical railroad depot. It did that, and today funds various community projects as well as scholarships for community youth.

The renamed festival “brings back memories for people,” Karow said in a 2006 interview. Margie, who used to dress in 1890s attire for the festival, died in 2010. Yet the festival carries on, bigger than ever.

It's the homes

The centennial Saturday is likely to be more sedate. According to the agenda for the day, activities begin with a patriotic flag opening and display of period memorabilia at the Civic Center in Van Ness Park. Churches in the area will be open for touring, and there'll be vintage car, tractor and horse carriage displays.

And the homes. “A lot has already been done about some of the more magnificent homes,” Gonano said. “It's a collection of Victorian and Cracker houses, a style known as vernacular.”

So she spent the 15 months researching the rest of the buildings, and compiling her findings into a 72-page booklet.

“Unlike most towns and cities in Florida, the town of McIntosh has changed little since the 1930s,” she wrote in the opening pages. “The McIntosh Historic District is significant for its tangible, largely unaltered, representation of an important period in the history of Florida.”

Not surprisingly, one of the homes is owned by David and Debbie Gonano. They've lived in McIntosh about seven years, moving here from Coral Springs in South Florida. The vernacular house they bought was built in 1896 by Jennie Walkup-Robinson and Samuel Robinson, who was appointed the first mayor after McIntosh was incorporated on May 22, 1913.

“I'd hope through my research to find an old photo of the house,” she said. “But I didn't.”

Yet she described the house as “the first house in town with electric, and by 1920, a building standing where the garage is now located housed a Delco Electric Unit Plant, which was a portable electric generator and battery system.

“Electricity generated from the plant lit four houses and commercial establishments in town. Also, the plant generated electric for a few street lights in town at a cost of $10 a month.”

The Gonanoes' first impression of McIntosh? “It's just so beautiful, a special town,” she said. “It all just seems to fit — the oak trees, the houses, the small-town atmosphere. I think everybody has that impression when they make that turn from 441.”

In the beginning

According to most histories of McIntosh, little is recorded about the area before the 1880s when Col. Charles Brush — son of Nehemiah Brush who bought 4,000 acres that encompasses McIntosh in 1849 — began a push to populate the holdings. The Florida Southern Railway running through the settlement in 1881 presented McIntosh with a tie to the outside world; citrus and vegetables flowed north. The area was known for its squash.

There are accounts of a plantation nearby in the 1820s owned by Col. John Houston McIntosh; the plantation and its sugar mill were destroyed by Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War between 1835 and 1842. It's generally accepted the town is named for Col. McIntosh, though he never held land in the town proper.

By 1895, the town boasted a doctor, postmaster, Western Union, church, meat store, school, pharmacy, ice house, millinery shop, hotel, general store, grocery stores and a packing house. Some 14 years after incorporation, McIntosh was described as “the capital of North Marion” in Ocala newspapers.

Notables with connections to McIntosh include Charles Millican, founding president of the University of Central Florida in Orlando; Dr. Henry Clay Walkup, who lost his right arm at 16 in the Battle of Gettysburg; William Henry Belk of the Belk's Department Store chain; O.S. “Buddy” Huff, chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission 1962-1971; Mordecai Gist, owner of the Bird Island Cruise featured on “Ripley's Believe It or Not” and great-great grandson of the Revolutionary War general of the same name who served alongside his third-cousin George Washington; and James Christian, a state legislator.

A way of life

Ironically, many of the residents planning Saturday's centennial are “newcomers” — folk like the Gonanoes and Roddy who've moved into McIntosh in the 21st century.

“But they're involved,” said Kathy Walkup, an Ocalan who married into one of the town's oldest families and has lived here “most of my adult life,” she said. “I've only lived here 45 years; I'm a newcomer,” she laughed.

It's gratifying so many newcomers are “honoring our history,” Walkup added. But it's not surprising.

“We celebrate the town and a way of life we cherish and want to preserve,” she said. “It's a lifestyle that's disappearing.”

Perhaps, but certainly not in McIntosh.

Rick Allen can be reached at rick.allen@starbanner.com.

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