Putnam County, Florida
St. Johns River
Welaka (river of lakes) was originally a 500 acre tract purchased by James William Bryant from Miguel Crosby on July
6, 1852 and was originally known as Mt. Tucker. The first Welaka post office was created on May 27, 1851, Bryant
served as the postmaster from 1855 to 1858, and was a state legislator in 1856. Before the Civil War there were large
boarding houses. All destroyed in the war. The town was incorporated on June 21, 1887 as Welaka. J.S. North served
as the first mayor.
1869 (A guide-book of Florida and the South by Daniel Garrison Brinton)
A capacious hotel is in process of erection. Three large sulphur springs are in the immediate vicinity, which could
doubtless be applied to sanitary purposes. The soil is good, and well adapted to oranges. Eight miles east of Welaka is
Dunn's Lake, a beautiful sheet of water twelve miles long and three wide, abundantly stocked with fish. Its shores
abound in game, and many rich plantations are on and near it. The soil is unsurpassed by any in Florida, and has
always borne a high reputation.
Opposite Welaka, the Oklawaha empties into the St. John. The latter river at this point is about 500 yards wide.
A Winter in Florida by Ledyard Bill, 1869
Near the mouth of the Ocklawaha is the old town of Welaka, once the site of an Indian village, and afterwards a
flourishing Spanish settlement: now scarce a vestige of either of these populations survives to tell of their existence, so
completely has time leveled every thing.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The first service of this church was conducted by Rev. Williams in the school building in 1878. Other early services were
held in homes or under the oak trees. Mr. Reed of Jacksonville donated land for the construction of a church building,
which hosted its first service on December 26, 1880, and which was consecrated on June 3, 1881.
On June 29, 1885, Octavia Stephens donated the bell in the tower in memory of her daughter. The lectern was donated
in memory of Justus Selah North's wife, Nancy Ripson.
It was built of horizontal heart pine board siding. Inside walls are formed by a herringbone pattern of two-inch
tongue-and-groove boards. The church was closed for lack of support, and reopened in 1889 while Rev. E.C. Belcher
was its pastor. The social hall is named after Rev. John McTammany, who served the Crescent City church.
Northern Methodist Church
The church was organized at a meeting in Broad's Hall on September 14, 1879. It was known as the Northern Methodist
Church, part of the Welaka Methodist Episcopal circuit. It operated a Union Sunday school, renamed in 1882 or 1883 as
the Undenominational Sunday School.
R.J. Broad donated this site for the church in 1885 and the building was dedicated on May 5, 1889, by Bishop Newman.
A two-story hall next door was bought in 1906 and used as a parsonage.
In 1957, adjoining land to the northeast was bought from Hugo and Dorothy Wendel, and that same year the church
affiliated with the Georgetown church, sharing a pastor with it.
The Big Freeze of 1895
Before the freeze Welaka had not only been engaged in orange production but was a wine producing area. Houses held
wine cellars to store line. The big freeze of 1895 killed both grape vines and orange groves. The third industry of
Welaka was the fishing industry. The Welaka Seafood Company, O. H. Morris Fish and Crab Co. and the St. Johns
River Crab Company were a vital part of the economy between 1879 - 1974. Loddie McLeod served as the postmaster
from 1911 to 1945 and owned the McLeod Fish Company here on the river. He opened a fish camp in 1906.
The Welaka Mineral Water Company was incorporated on November 15, 1907. The mineral water came from a
subterranean spring 329 feet below the surface. The spring maintained a constant temperature of 70 degrees.
William Williams owned a grocery store here which was run by his son-in-law, Emory Green. The building was later
converted to a casino. The mineral water was discovered on the casino grounds. The casino was leased to James A.
Wilson, and under his supervision mineral baths were given by attendants with water supplied by a spring 392 feet
below the surface. The company had its own electric light plant in the cellar and the bath water was heated by steam.
The baths were supposed to leave one deliciously refreshed with a longing for another dip in the invigorating saline
water. The town installed two pumps to provide water for drinking and bathing. In 1908, the company's president was Dr.
The casino was later converted into the town hall.
Dr. Winston Stephens
Dr. Winston Stephens owned the Stephens house and a small slave house. Dr. D.C. Main, the only physician in town in
1910, bought the property.
School House and later City Hall
In 1918, a building was erected as a one-room concrete school for eight grades. The W.P.A. later added on two more
rooms, modifying the first room to be an auditorium. It reduced to six grades during World War II, with grades seven and
eight going to school in Crescent City.
This replaced a small frame schoolhouse erected at the corner of Orange and Canal Sts. in 1875, consisting of two
classrooms and cloak rooms. On the left side of the building, a cistern caught rainwater from the roof, which was then
pumped into the school to a pitcher pump and sink. That school burned down in 1918.
This school closed in the mid-1960s, and thereafter children were bused to Crescent City. This building was converted
to the Welaka Town Hall.
The first hotel in Welaka was the McClure House owned by David and Mae McClure. R.J. Broad built two houses selling
to Clarence Greenwood who used one for a store and the other for a post office. Broad sold them to Mr. Metz. He
combined the two to form the Welaka Hotel, which opened on December 10, 1908. It was renamed in 1921 as the
Sunnyside Hotel. The hotel contained the post office beginning in 1949.
In 1926-27, the Colonial Inn was built and operated by the White twins for elderly guests. It was used by the Blue Ridge
Military School of Hendersonville, North Carolina, as its winter home during the early 1940s.
H.C. Richards and W.S. Middleton, Jr. sold it to Forrester Woods of Jacksonville. He converted it to the fishing lodge
known as the Sportsman's Lodge in about 1947.
The first aquarium was built in 1929 about 200 yards north of the present one. William Dunson supervised the
construction by the CWA.
It was established to house specimens of fish native to this part of Florida. It was closed during World War II and
reopened on June 22, 1949. The new aquarium and other related buildings were completed in 1964 under the
supervision of Al Wilson.