Camp Monroe attacked, Orlando steals election

On this date, Feb. 8, 1837, in Sanford history, Camp Monroe, a U.S. Army garrison that would later become Fort Mellon, was attacked by Native Americans during the Second Seminole War.

The Florida Territory was acquired by the U.S. from Spain in 1821, but settlement of the region was slow because of the ongoing Seminole Wars. A U.S. Army fort on the St. Johns River in Palatka was destroyed by fire in 1835 by the Seminoles, leading to the establishment of Camp Monroe on the south side of Lake Monroe. The camp was located on what is today the eastern end of the Sanford RiverWalk.

In her book, “The History of Fort Mellon,” the late Sanford historian Christine Kinlaw Best used old survey maps to determine that Camp Monroe was quite large. The camp stretched from San Carlos Avenue (the western boundry ofthe Seminole County Services building) to Virginia Avenue, 6 blocks to the east and from the shore of Lake Monroe (pre-seawall), to 2nd Street. It was surrounded on three sides (west, south and east) by breastworks – later actual walls – and on the north by Lake Monroe. A pier was built from the heart of the camp into the lake so that steamships could unload supplies.

There wasn’t a lot to the 1837 battle at Camp Monroe. The Seminoles attacked the camp in the early morning, and U.S. Army Captain Charles Mellon was the only U.S. Army causalty. The camp was stenghtened and renamed Fort Mellon, in his honor.

Following the fort’s reenforcement, the town of Mellonville was founded in 1842 by Daniel Stewart. In the late 1830s, General Zachary Taylor, who later be elected U.S. President in 1848, built a supply road from Fort Mellon to Fort Brooke, which we know it today as the city of Tampa. Mellonville was a major trading center for Central Florida through the early 1870s when Henry Sanford began creating what would be his namesake city.

When Florida became a state in 1845, Orange County was created from the southern half of Mosquito County and Mellonville – not Orlando – was named the county seat. As the Orlando Sentinel’s Jim Robison noted in a column, by 1871 “… Mellonville’s school had the largest enrollment in Orange County with 50 students. (Orlando had 30 and Apopka had 25.)”

Mellonville, and perhaps Sanford, would have remained the county seat of Orange County if not for some shenanigans by a man named James Speer. In 1856, Speer helped promote a referendum to choose a county seat. Mellonville was a natural choice given it’s status as the center for commerce in the region, and Apopka was also a popular choice.

Speer had other ideas.

On election day, Speer invited all of the militia members from Sumter County to a free picnic at his house, with plenty of booze on hand. In those days, militiamen could vote in a local election if they were in the area on that day. So to repay Speer for his gracious hospitality, all of the militamen voted for Orlando to become the county seat.

There’s no doubt that this turn of events would eventually lead Sanford’s notorious mayor Forrest Lake in 1913 to chop off the northern half of Orange County and create Seminole County, but that’s a story for another date.

By 1883, the city of Sanford had grown larger than Mellenville and the town dissolved it’s government and became a part of Sanford.