Linking the past to present
by Christopher Olson
(This piece was written for the Lake Morton Century Homes project but is a great resource for Dixieland)
How did I get into researching an historic home? When my cousins told me they were considering buying an older home in the South Lake Morton area, I did what anyone would do by going online to see what the real estate sites had for details and pictures. After that, though, after I realized the house’s age, I became curious about what the neighborhood looked like at that time. How many homes were on that block when the house was built? I did not know much about the development of the area but new that the city limits were pretty close that long ago and I thought that most of the area was still full of citrus groves. The more I dug the more interesting the history got. Eventually, in July of 2018, the idea came to me to try and put together some type of coffee table books as a Christmas/house warming gift to them and my journey started in earnest.
South Lake Morton History
Some (24) platted developments combine to form today’s historic South Lake Morton neighborhood. The oldest was filed in 1886 and the last one was in 1925. One-third of the platted developments were just after the turn of the century with another third being registered in the teens, mainly 1911 and 1912. The final third came 1922-1925. After that, further development began of land to the east of South Lake Morton (the Biltmore Park development) followed by many other developments (like Seminole Heights, to the southwest of Lake Hollingsworth), as Lakeland continued to push south and east in its growth. This period around 1925 saw amazing growth in Lakeland as citrus groves were purchased and then developed by contactors into platted neighborhoods.
Check out some of the online resources for deeper, historical information about Lakeland and Polk County:
- History Guide of Polk County
- Naming of Polk Lakes
- U.S. Dept. of Interior, South Lake Morton Historic District application
Property Description, Plats and Deeds
Try https://map.polkpa.org/ first and dial into your property on the map. This will provide you with the parcel number. Click on your property (or simply look up your parcel by street address or number if you already know it) to take you to your parcel information page. Note that a little down on the page is your property’s parcel information. For example, you may see a note like, “Dixieland Revised PB1 PG 67.” This is telling you that your house is in the Dixieland Revised neighborhood and can be found in Plat Book 1, on page 67. For the moment, just note the PB/Page on a notepad and set aside. Scrolling down a little further, you can also find electronic copies of deeds for your property. For the moment, just note the OR Book/Page for each on a notepad and set aside.
Online Plat Books & Deeds
I mentioned the plat history earlier so you can better understand the patch work of plats that form South Lake Morton. Using the Book/Page information you found on the property information site, use the following website to begin looking for original street and lot lines for your property and development.
Select “Book/Page”, select type of book (Plat for plats or OR for deeds), then enter the book and page numbers you noted previously. You will see a list of available documents you can view. Click on the one you want and it takes you to a new window which eventually shows you a digital copy of the image. Note that you can save this to your computer using the tabs at the top of the page once the image is visible. The plat drawing helps you understand what your property’s original lot(s) size was but these drawings also include some amazing other details. For example, on the Dixieland Revised plat drawing, there are two private parks noted, one on the south end of Lake Morton and another on the north side of Lake Hollingsworth. In other plat drawings you may find that the land across the street from your house used to be an orange grove. Read the title block and any other notes as they help you know who/what company financed the development of your area and other tidbits that may become useful in your later research. Returning the Search tab, enter one of your OR book/page numbers to view one of your home’s recorded documents. Key details to note are: Date of Sale; Seller & Buyer Names & Addresses; Plat Book numbers; Property Description; and, even Mortgage Information if the buyer is assuming the seller’s mortgage.
- Pictures: Lakeland Public Library’s Digital Collection and visit the Library’s historical room as well for resources that might not be digitized. Also here
- Records: The library also holds historic phone books. Using the buyer/seller names from the deeds you viewed, you can review the phone books to confirm the dates the families lived at your address. Some phone books, especially older ones, also include profession information.
- Internet: Sometimes just searching for a name or address on the internet yields new and surprising treasures. For example, remember the developer’s name noted at the top of the plat drawing? Search for that company and the name of our development and you might just find someone selling an original real-estate sales map from 1924 promoting the new neighborhood to potential Tampa buyers. Is the real-estate agent’s name on the sales brochure too? Now you have something else to investigate. I have often been surprised how one thing leads to another, etc….
- Antique Shops: Antique shops often have boxes of local post cards, or maps or other ephemera. This is a bit of a shot-in-the-dark way to seek out documents on your house, but you have pretty good odds of at least finding old Lake Morton and Lake Hollingsworth images – it may be the citrus grove picture you find is where your house was later built.
I have been doing ancestry research for decades and recommend Ancestry.com if you are set on finding out more about the previous owners, or just about the original owner. Did the original owner build the house too? Where was the family from and how big was it? Is that family still around (either local or moved away) and are they reachable? Perhaps they have family stories and pictures to share as well. I have been impressed with how many families remained local and are willing to share information with the new owners of their former home. What made the house special to them? This is the type of intangible information you may be lucky enough to find that turns your home’s story from a street number to a warm and loving home with a history enriched with “first Christmas” or “first child” or “our first home together” stories.
Getting to know Christopher Olson
Born in Lakeland, Christopher Olson has been working on a historical non-fiction book due to publish this year about a Seattle pioneer family. He has a bachelor of Marketing from the University of Idaho and an MBA. After working on a coffee table book on the history of his home in the Biltmore-Cumberland and then another for his cousins in South Lake Morton, a century home, he met Michael Maguire. Since, he has continued to assist Michael’s Century Home project as a volunteer researcher.
“Design guidelines were established to provide guidance on compatible changes to and treatment of existing historic district properties, as well as to assist in the development of sensitive new construction. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation are used as the basis and reference for Lakeland’s Design Guidelines. Design Guidelines provide standards by which the Historic Preservation Board Design Review Committee and staff evaluate whether alterations to existing buildings and new construction in the historic districts are architecturally appropriate. A Certificate of Review will be granted if the proposal is consistent with the Design Guidelines, and must be granted prior to the issuance of building and demolition permits. These Standards and Guidelines are used by the Historic Preservation Board to evaluate all exterior alterations, demolitions, and new construction within the City’s seven historic districts.”
Emily Foster, MAHP, AICP
Senior Planner, Historic Preservation
Community & Economic Development Department
863-834-6094 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Man Behind It All: Michael Maguire
In 2019 Mr. Maguire created the Lake Morton Century Homes project to commemorate homes in the Lake Morton Historic District that had been built 100 or more years ago. His work to strengthen the community and celebrate its perseverance has been nothing short of amazing. In June of 2020 Michael was approached by Jason Hagerman, the secretary for the Dixieland Neighborhood Association, about creating a sister project in the nearby neighborhood. Michael quickly agreed to meet and discuss the topic. The two met, socially distancing of course, in the summer of 2020 to discuss what this might look like in Dixieland. A decision was made to create the Dixieland Century Homes Project to directly mirror the project in Lake Morton. Michael agreed to help create the design for the Dixieland marker and provide any assistance possible. Funding for both the Lake Morton Century Homes project and the Dixieland Century Homes project is made available through The Maguires of Lakeland, a business he founded with his late wife Phyllis. Dixieland will be forever grateful for the generosity and devotion Michael has shown our greater community.