Howey in the Hills History and Story

The town of Howey-in-the-Hills was founded by William John Howey and incorporated as “Howey” back in 1925. His vision was to build a citrus empire and being the quintessential promoter (and to better capitalize on the rolling hills of the area) he dubbed the area, “The Florida Alps”. In 1927  the name was officially changed to “Howey-in-the-Hills”. Now we are not sure where those “Florida Alps” are nowadays, but at the time Howey had a vision and those “Florida Alps” were quite a site.

Howey marketed the land to investors and over a period of four years, he housed prospective buyers in temporary housing on the shores of Little Lake Harris. This site was referred to as “Tent City”.  As business picked up, he built the Floridan Hotel on the south side of town, and his mansion on the north side. He also built the Floridan Country Club and golf course in 1928. Howey is credited with building the first citrus juice plant in Florida, right here in Howey-in-the-Hills. He sold juice under the name “Lifeguard” and today, Silver Springs Citrus is operating at the very same location.

Now Howey-in-the-Hills may have had it’s start in 1925 but the area has history long before then. Construction of the first hard surface roads did not even start in Lake County until the early 1900’s. Prior to that most transportation was on it’s waterways. In fact, the Harris Chain of lakes can be followed up through the St. Johns River and eventually take boaters to the Atlantic Ocean.

Boaters On Little Lake Harris
Howey in the Hills Entrance
Howey in the Hills Entrance
William J Howey
William J. Howey

Back in the day these waterways were the “I-4” of Florida and during the Civil War they were regarded as “strategically important”. During the war, the St. Johns River was the scene of intense fighting and on more than one occasion Confederate troops hastily hid their Gold bullion and cargo in hard to access creeks and lakes to avoid capture by Union troops. 1864 saw intense fighting on the river and more than twelve ships were sunk on the St. Johns alone. A recently discovered ship, the Maple Leaf, went to it’s watery grave on the river as a result of a Confederate mine. The steamer had contained supplies for Union regiments.

Stricken vessels like the Maple Leaf were fair game for Confederate troops to salvage if they could avoid capture. Union gunboats guarded the mouth of the river against blockade-runners and patrolled the lower portions of the river, but were not able to venture into the smaller creeks that led further inland. These routes were often utilized by Confederate soldiers who would salvage stricken vessels and take their cargo to areas that union gunboats could not follow.

One legend has it that near the end of the war, a Confederate paymaster was being pursued by Union gunboats and made for safety in the smaller creeks heading inland. Records reveal that he wrote, “Being chased by enemy, course of action, head inland South West. After a day and one half journey, hid payroll at a point in the backside of a lake leading to smaller creeks. Nearby island rises from the water. payroll, buried in the west hump of the rise.”

It is said they buried a million-dollar payroll and $300,000 in gold coins. Could this location be the backside of Little lake Harris? A small island can be seen just outside JB Boondock’s front windows and a swamp area is to our right. Was the chain of lakes a hideaway during the war? We may never know.

HighWay Bridge Across Little Lake Harris
Highway Bridge Across Little Lake Harris

After the war, the St. johns River became a popular tourist destination who came via steamboats. This gave access to the chain of lakes including Little lake Harris where JB Boondocks makes it’s home along the western shores. By 1885, seven steamboat lines operated out of Palatka, rivaling Jacksonville as one of the major port cities along the St. Johns River. A Fishing Camp and marina were added years later and JB Boondocks location has been a “Watering Hole” in one shape or another ever since.

Whether you are searching for trophy Bass (the National BASS MASTERS tour visits the chain every year), Civil War treasure or just an ice cold beer and some great food to enjoy with friends, we are GLAD TO HAVE YOU WITH US!

Old Floridian Hotel Howey in the Hills
Old Floridian Hotel Howey
Howey Fire Truck
Howey Fire Truck
The Howey Mansion
The Howey Mansion