You see the signs, visit the parks, play at the fields, but have you ever wondered about the names behind them?
By Cynthia McFarland - Monday, November 28, 2016
Come along and discover a bit of history about some familiar—and tucked away—places in Marion County. Your newfound knowledge could come in handy if Trivial Pursuit ever comes up with an Ocala/Marion County version!
Carl G. Rose Highway
(State Road 200, aka College Road)
Next time you’re crawling along State Road 200 in rush-hour traffic and fighting a hint of road rage, consider that in the not-too-distant past, you’d have been driving through horse pastures. That’s right. And you have Carl Rose to thank for it.
An Indiana native, Rose came to Florida in 1916 to supervise the building of Florida’s first asphalt road. The savvy businessman soon realized that the wide swath of soil-enriching limestone that ran through Marion County had value far beyond road building material.
Rose moved to Ocala in 1918, buying up thousands of acres, which then sold for $5 to $10 an acre. In 1936, he established Ocala’s first Thoroughbred operation, Rosemere Farm where Marion County’s first registered Thoroughbred was foaled in 1939. Many other breeders followed his lead, turning Ocala/Marion County into one of the world’s top Thoroughbred breeding and training sites. Recognized as “the father of Florida’s Thoroughbred industry,” Rose died in 1963.
Heathbrook (Shopping complex, State Road 200)
One of Marion County’s earliest horse farm owners, Bonnie M. Heath II, was an Arkansas native who was in the oil business with partner Jack Dudley. After Heath and his wife, Opal, moved to Florida in 1950, he and Dudley became interested in racing, campaigning under the name D&H Stables. They had only modest success until they bought Needles, a two-year-old colt so named because of many penicillin injections when he got pneumonia as a foal.
Needles became Florida’s first national champion. He was Champion Two-Year-Old Colt of 1955 and the following year became the first Florida-bred to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes; he was also Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1956. After Needles’ accomplishments, Ocala’s Thoroughbred industry exploded and today is home to 431 Thoroughbred farms that cover 70,000 acres.
Both Heath and Dudley established farms along College Road/State Road 200. As the city encroached over the decades, both farms—along with neighboring Tartan Farms—were put under contract in 1997 and eventually became Heathbrook development, something to remember next time you’re shopping in Dillard’s. Bonnie Heath also has a street named in his honor in Ocala.
Dudley passed away in 1998 and Heath in 2001. Bonnie Heath Farm relocated to northwest Marion County where it continues to be operated by Heath’s son, Bonnie III, and his wife, Kim.
Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School
1900 SW 5th Street, Ocala
This popular elementary school was named for Florida native Dr. Nathaniel Hawthorne Jones, who was born in 1897 in the town of Live Oak. After earning his medical degree in 1926, Jones began practicing in Ocala in 1928. He was the first black doctor to become a staff physician at then Munroe Memorial Hospital.
Throughout the decades, Jones became a prominent member of the community and was also known as a civil rights leader. It seemed only fitting to name an elementary school in honor of the physician who was loved and respected throughout Ocala. In the early 1970s, Jones was tragically killed during a home invasion, but the school continues his legacy.
Originally a neighborhood school when it opened in 1960, Dr. N.H. Jones became a magnet school in 1994 with a strong focus on mathematics, science and technology. Today, the school is home to about 745 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary has been named an Apple Distinguished School and a Blue Ribbon School and was recently named the No. 1 public elementary school in the state by MSN.
Fessenden Elementary School
4200 NW 89th Place, Ocala
When Ferdinand Stone Fessenden’s doctor recommended he leave New England for health reasons, the wealthy entrepreneur headed south in the late 1800s and settled just north of Ocala in the hamlet of Martin.
It was there, in 1890, that Fessenden discovered a tiny decrepit log cabin school, which had been established in 1868 to educate the children of freed slaves. Fessenden was so impressed with the efforts of local citizens to create and maintain the school that he stepped in and provided financial assistance to build a new school on the site and provide desperately needed supplies. He continued to support the school, which became known as a private academy for African-American students, until his death in 1899.
Sold to the county school system in 1953, the school was renamed Fessenden High School; it became an elementary school in 1971. History is obvious in the coquina rock construction and rural setting of Fessenden Elementary School, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Sites.
Scott Carrigan Field at Clyatt Park
1401 SE 17th Street, Ocala
The families who come to the field and the many young athletes who play baseball in Ocala should know that Scott Carrigan Field is named for a boy who was truly an inspiration.
Obsessed with baseball long before he attended school, Scott officially began playing at the age of 8. Coaches say he was as good a pitcher as there was in little league.
At age 11, Scott was diagnosed with leukemia. Although the cancer diminished his strength, it couldn’t dampen his courageous spirit. He continued to play the game he loved. A sixth-grade student at Osceola Middle School, Scott died in 1981 at age 12. After his passing, several coaches went to the city council requesting the field be named in his honor.
Fred King Playground
5641 SE 113th Street, Belleview
When this community-built playground opened in February 2008 at Belleview’s Cherokee Park, the dedication and ribbon-cutting honors went to Fred King. A long-time coach who has impacted the lives of many area children, King happens to be the grandfather of Cynthia Brown, Ocala Style’s office/production manager.
One of King’s goals has always been to provide recreation opportunities to kids, especially those who need safe places to get outside and play. The 2.1-acre park site does just that, thanks to King’s efforts. When working in Belleview’s Recreation Department, he reached out to KaBOOM, a national non-profit playground construction organization and The Home Depot. Thanks to their contributions—and that of community businesses—the innovative playground became a reality.
Kids love the playground’s imaginative design, which includes gliders, climbers, bridges and tunnels. King, 90 and now retired, appreciates the fact that the playground named in his honor is still being happily used.
Lillian F. Bryant Recreation Complex
2200 NW 17th Place, Ocala
The Lillian F. Bryant Recreation Complex honors the efforts of a Florida native who was born in the town of Welaka. Bryant was an African-American woman who obtained her bachelor’s degree in education in 1944 and her master’s in education in 1952. She went on to become a teacher and was also principal of Howard Academy Elementary School and Madison Street School in Ocala.
Retired from the Marion County School System in 1961, Bryant was involved in the civil rights movement and was an ordained deacon in the AME church. She was a member of the historic Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Ocala, where she was also part of the ministerial staff.
The Lillian F. Bryant Recreation Complex opened in 1988, shortly after Bryant’s death. Although Bryant never had children of her own, the complex named for her has benefited countless young people over the years through after-school programs, summer camps and athletic competitions. Numerous community organizations also host events at the complex.
Letty Towles Dog Park
3201 SE 24th Street, Ocala
Letty Towles, a Florida native from Miami, moved to Ocala 41 years ago, drawn to the area’s majestic oak trees, rolling hills and rural atmosphere. A professional dog trainer for over five decades, Towles has trained countless area canines. She says the inspiration for the park, which she opened in November 2003, was born from her training experiences.
She realized that many dog owners, especially those in senior communities, didn’t have fenced yards. She wanted to give people a safe place to get out of the house, play with their dogs and meet other dog lovers. The Letty Towles Dog Park does just that. Covering over five acres, the totally fenced park includes separate sections for small and large dogs. All dog owners are welcome as long as they follow the rules.
Towles handed over operation of the dog park to the City of Ocala in 2013, and they named it after her.
“I was surprised you didn’t have to be dead to have something named after you,” laughs Towles. The park is part of the Jervey Gantt Recreation Complex.
Jervey Gantt Recreation Complex 2200 SE 36th Avenue, Ocala
Jervey Gantt may have been born in Charleston, South Carolina, but he lived in Ocala since 1951, where he was the Recreation and Parks director for the City of Ocala until retiring from that position in 1980. An avid tennis player, Gantt helped bring tennis and baseball programs to Marion County’s youth.
In recognition of his significant contribution to local athletics, the 60-acre recreation complex was dedicated to him in 1984. Gantt died in 1989 at the age of 77. Jervey Gantt Recreation Complex is home to multiple athletics fields, exercise trails and a memorial garden. It’s also home to the Jervey Gantt Aquatic FUN Center, which is open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
E.D. Croskey Recreation Center
1510 NW 4th Street, Ocala
The oldest established center in Ocala, the E.D. Croskey Recreation Center was built in 1951 and was initially called the War Memorial Auditorium/Recreation Center. For decades, locals knew it as the “WMA.”
In February 2000, the center was renamed for Edward (E.D.) Croskey, who worked for the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department for 35 years and retired in 1987. An African-American, Croskey was dedicated to making his community a better place for youth. This father and grandfather, who passed away in October 1998, was widely known as a kind and generous soul who loved kids and working with them.
The E.D. Croskey Recreation Center, which is located within the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Complex, is home to the Junior Magic Basketball Program. A variety of creative programs are offered, including a kids’ summer program.
Todd C. Prosser Park 1200 SE 11th Avenue, Ocala
This serene 1.74-acre park provides a place of respite and natural beauty in the heart of Ocala. Visitors who eat lunch at the picnic tables or walk beneath the majestic old oaks are enjoying the same peaceful surroundings once beloved by Todd C. Prosser as a boy.
The Prosser family has lived in the Ocala area for nearly four decades; Todd often played in the park as a child. After Todd’s untimely death of a heart attack at age 25 in November 2000, his family turned to the Adopt-a-Park program to memorialize this special location in honor of their son. The Todd C. Prosser Park was dedicated in 2001.
Barbara Gaskin Washington Adult Activity Center
210 NW 12th Avenue, Ocala
Barbara Gaskin Washington, an African-American woman much loved and respected by her community, put her beliefs into action. She not only had a distinguished career in the Marion County school system but also spent her lifetime serving her community. Those who knew Washington said she “embodied the civic call of being part of the solution.”
She was a member of the NAACP, the Governor’s West Ocala Revitalization Council and the Ocala Racial Harmony and Cultural Awareness Task Force. Washington promoted youth through her involvement with Boys and Girls Clubs and worked with the city on numerous revitalization and beautification projects. A plaque in the center, which was named for Washington in 2010, honors her as “a woman who was dedicated to opening eyes and touching hearts.”
Located in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Complex, the Barbara Gaskin Washington Adult Activity Center was designed exclusively for adult citizens, offering a location for numerous programs and activities.
Newton A. Perry Aquatics Center
3001 SW College Road, Ocala
A self-taught swimmer, Newt Perry attended the University of Florida on a swimming scholarship. After graduating, he became a physical education teacher and then eventually a principal, but he continued to teach swimming and even appeared in movies. He was the stunt double for Johnny Weissmuller in two Tarzan films.
In 1955, Newt Perry and his wife, Dot, launched Perry Swim School in Ocala. During his lifetime, Newt taught an estimated 120,000 students to swim, including his nephew, Donald Arthur Schollander, who won a total of five gold medals and one silver in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.
Located on the campus of College of Central Florida, the center with its Olympic-sized heated pool was built in 1978, and Perry was on hand for the dedication. He passed away in 1987, and the Newton A. Perry Aquatics Center was renamed in his honor in 2002.
The facility serves swimmers of all skill levels and ages—from infants to seniors—in the Marion County area and is home to several high school swim teams, Marlins Swim Club, Ocala Masters Swim Club, SwimAmerica swim lessons and the Ocala Aquatics Splash Camp, among other programs.
Frank DeLuca YMCA Family Center
3200 SE 17th Street, Ocala
Thanks to a $1 million donation in 2012 from Ocala businessman and philanthropist Frank DeLuca, the Marion County YMCA was renamed the Frank DeLuca YMCA Family Center. The donation helped with a major renovation that added about 14,000 square feet to the existing 36,000-square-foot building.
A long-time Ocalan widely known for his DeLuca Toyota dealership and charitable pursuits, Deluca made the donation because he believes in the Y’s focus on children and families and how it “improves the overall wellness of our community.”
Polly Palmer Park 3700 SW 27th Avenue, Ocala
This 12-acre city park was originally called Paddock Park after Paddock Park Development donated it to the city in August 1984. It was renamed Polly Palmer Park by the Palmer family in remembrance of their devoted mother and wife.
Today, this privately maintained park is still a tranquil spot to enjoy a picnic by the pond, feed the geese, listen to the soothing fountain or meander across the footbridge over the brook.