Oviedo’s self-guided historical trail is underway

Chicken tracks painted onto Oviedo sidewalks could mark a path connecting some of the city’s important historical events, places and figures. 

Over the next several years, The Oviedo Preservation Project (TOPP) has a goal to install markers displaying historical data at 20 locations around the city. The group said a map will be created for a self-guided historical tour. The proposed name for the future route is Chicken Tracks Trail.  

This month, Oviedo’s third marker was installed in front of the Wheeler ‒ Evans House, which Benjamin Franklin “Frank” Wheeler, Sr. built with his wife, George, in 1928. The house, located at 340 S. Lake Jesup Ave., is one of five structures in the city on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wheeler’s daughter, Clara Lee Evans, grew up in the home and then lived there as an adult with her husband, John Evans, who died unexpectedly in 1982. She continued to live in the house until her death in 2010. The home has been preserved to the period in which it was built – with everything, from the furniture to the drapery, being from the 1920s – in order to maintain its standing with the Register. It largely sits unoccupied except when serving as temporary living quarters for Reformed Theological Seminary students, who come from all over the world to visit RTS’s Oviedo campus, which is located on Long Lake, off of East Mitchell Hammock Road. 

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“It has a lot of memories for us,” said Arthur Evans, Clara Lee and John’s son, of the home at the unveiling of the sign on May 6.  

The 10-acre tangerine grove that once surrounded the house was the first grove his grandfather bought. The Wheeler family would later amass more than 1,500 acres of citrus groves, spanning four counties. 

“I think it’s great to keep some of the old Oviedo here,” said Bertha Ramirez, who lives down the street from the house. “There’s so much development, so I think it’s great to keep this house here.”

A photo tour of the house

Two other historical markers have already been installed by TOPP:

  • The site where a U.S. Naval plane crashed at the intersection of Clark Street and S. Lake Jessup Avenue, narrowly missing hitting the Oviedo School (now T.W. Lawton Elementary School), in 1962; 
  • Boston Hill Park, honoring Henry “Hal” King, Sr. a Major League Baseball player hailing from Oviedo, and King’s coach, Harry “Big Newt” Boston, Sr. who built the baseball diamond so Black children had a place to play ball during segregation. 

TOPP Treasurer Tom O’Hanlon said that folks often approach him with ideas for markers. One he said they plan to pursue is a marker at Sweetwater Park where a public pool was buried because, evidence suggests, the city was forced to integrate the pool. 

“We’re going to put all of our dirty laundry on that sign,” he said. 

O’Hanlon said TOPP has worked closely with the city on the project, adding that the city installs and maintains the markers. TOPP’s executive director is Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek. 

Although TOPP officials say it’ll be two to five years before all of the markers and the pathway connecting them are in place, three more historical markers have already been approved by the Florida Department of State:

  • One for Henry Jackson, a Black man who homesteaded 40 acres of land in the early 1900s, creating the Jackson Heights community, at Jackson Heights Middle School
  • One for Foster Chapel, the church originally built on the land that’s now the Oviedo Cemetery in 1878 before it was rolled on logs nearly 10 years later to its current location on King Street (now First United Methodist Church of Oviedo).  
  • And one at Solary Park to honor Antonio Solary’s wharf on the southern banks of Lake Jesup. It was one of four wharfs that the growth and development of Central Florida depended upon, as they were the only access points for goods and passengers from the north. 
A path and proposed marker locations have already been mapped out by TOPP. Image courtesy of Tom O’Hanlon.

Funding for the project, which totals $50,000 ($2,700 per marker) has already been raised by TOPP but board member Deb Jepson said it takes four to six months to research and write the language for each marker. The state and county approval process takes an additional six months, she said. 

Jepson reads biographies and past news articles, conducts interviews and makes records requests. For the naval plane crash, she requested a report from the U.S. Navy. It then must be approved by the state. 

“I like doing the research,” she said, adding that in doing the research for the Foster Chapel marker, she found a Florida Times Union article from 1889 that reported that not long after the church was moved from its Oviedo Cemetery location, a raging fire ripped through the area, destroying wooden grave markers and a grove of oak trees. 

Jepson also said that she found a report that a community member sat inside the church, playing the organ, as it was rolled on logs across town. 

For the Solary Park marker, she said the TOPP board, which consists of five members, is considering telling the story of the Isis sternwheeler boat that sank in Lake George in 1882, killing three crew members. The boat was used to carry fruit to Jacksonville. 

O’Hanlon said he believes the number of markers will be closer to 24, considering the number of requests TOPP gets from residents. 

“One of the blessings that this community has is its long history,” he said.

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