Self-made citrus grower built 1920s survivor by Lake Eola

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Lake Eola Park's new green addition on the park's east side has been complete since midsummer, replacing houses that dated from 1915 to 1930.

For some neighbors and fans of the iconic Orlando park, it was tough to see the houses go. It would have hurt more, though, to see the 15-story building a developer proposed in 2008 for the site opposite the children's play area.

In 2009, the Trust for Public Land bought the 1.3 acres from the developer to hold the land for the city, which bought it from the trust last year. Preservationists hoped all five houses on the site could be saved and reused, but city leaders said their aim was to enlarge the park's green space. The Trust's offer to give the houses to anyone willing to move them prompted a flurry of inquiries, but ultimately four of the houses came down earlier this year to be replaced by a carpet of grass.

If you followed the saga, like the hundreds of folks who signed "Save the Lake Eola Five" petitions, you know all this. If you haven't been to the park recently, though, you may not realize that one of the "Lake Eola Five" remains, and it's a honey — a two-story survivor from the 1920s — a major era in Orlando's growth.

Survivor in stucco

The survivor of the Lake Eola c Five — the house at 512 E. Washington St. — offers a lovely example of the Mediterranean Revival style so prevalent in Florida during the 1920s.

"The architect is unknown," according to information from Richard Forbes, Orlando's historic preservation officer, "but future research may yield an answer." Several notable architects were designing in this style during the 1920s in Orlando, including the pioneering team of Ida Annah Ryan and Isabel Roberts.

A permit was issued for the house in May 1924 to George S. Marsh Jr., then 51, who built it for $9,500 — a sizable amount of money at the time.

Marsh apparently had done well in citrus, and he seems to have worked his way to success. If my readings of census records are right, he was born in North Adams, Mass., in early 1873. His father worked in a shoe shop. His schooling extended only through the eighth grade. As a young man, he moved to Albany, N.Y., where he married Anna, a child of German immigrants; his occupation is listed as a fruit seller.

By 1910, the family was in Brooklyn, N.Y., where George continued in the fruit and produce business. The household included daughters Anna, 13, and Alice, 3, and a Norwegian housekeeper, Kathrine Nilsen.

Fruit seller to grove owner

By 1918, though, the Marshes had moved south to Orlando, where George gave his profession as "citrus grower." From the mid-1920s on, they lived in the house they built at 512 E. Washington until after World War II. Daughter Anna attended college, something neither of her parents had done, and worked as a bookkeeper; daughter Alice was a public-school teacher.

After the war, the Marshes sold their house by Lake Eola to May Adkinson, whose husband, Hal, was also in the citrus business, and moved to Winter Park and what's now considered one of that city's most distinguished houses: Merrywood, the home at 1020 Palmer Ave., that Winter Park architect James Gamble Rogers II designed for the Plant family in 1939.

George Marsh, the New York fruit seller turned Central Florida citrus grower, lived at the Palmer Avenue estate until his death at age 90 on Feb. 11, 1964. Now I'll think of his family whenever I walk past the house he built by Lake Eola, wondering where Alice taught school and other facts about the Marsh family. Restored by the city, 512 E. Washington St. will be used for park offices. It's great to have it with us still.

Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at jwdickinson@earthlink.net or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.

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