One of the first ghost towns I began exploring was called Oriole located in Hernando County. Today the site is apart of the Withlacoochee State Forest and it has always intrigued me. Finding it inspired me to uncover other places like this across Florida and so far I have been on an amazing journey of history. Initially I discovered the cemetery in the woods there but overtime have found other remains from the town though not much is left. That said, some reminders of the past can still be seen throughout the area.
The first post office in Oriole was established in 1884, records indicated that it was founded by J.A. Clarkson Jr. Before the town was established families had been settling in the area during the 1800’s. They built farms and had orange groves and traded amongst each other. Over time a small community began to grow and people used to take a ferry across the Withlacoochee River to reach the area before the railroad came through. Around the time the town was established the railroad line reached the town bringing more growth to the area. Phosphate mining was a booming industry, the Oriole mining company received a permit around 1890 and operated up until around 1912-1915.
Most of the settlers were from Maine to Georgia and were part of the original families who had settled the land there before the town. The town had a cemetery which today is known as Oriole Cemetery, but is also known as the Giddens Homestead Cemetery. One of the first families who lived in the area was known as Giddens and they had a homestead nearby. It is the third oldest cemetery in Hernando County.
“The original deed to the cemetery reads: Between Charles Giddens and Sally Giddens, his wife and Seth H. Middens, Issac N. Talley, J. Frank Hall, Isaac Giddens and Mason Noble the lot hereto be used for burial purposes, lying southward from my house and more particulary described as follows, to wit-to be held in trust by said parties of the second part, and their successors, as a burial ground and for purposes of burial only.– the said parties of the second part having authority, in case of the death or resignation of any one of their number–such choice, the said parties of the second party to hold and exercise all rights usually belonging to trustees,-fence and care for said lot, to grant permission for burial therein, to assign place and location for such burial, etc.etc. containing one acre. To have and to hold said land and premises, with the appurtenances, to said parties of the second part and their successors forever. Signed on the 6th day of October 1890.”
The town was small with only around 100 people or so, Florida had many small towns like this. During 1894-1895 the great freezes happened wiping out many of the crops that these small towns depended on. Oriole most likely was effected but another problem was influenza. That also may have had large impact on the survival of the town and explains why so many died young in those days. Around 1898 the post office closed down and the town soon after was abandoned.
In the early 1900’s another small town called Croom existed just north of Oriole along the railroad line which had a turpentine still, another thriving industry in the area. There was of a sugar mill on this railroad at one time which also may have been associated with Oriole. The railroad line was once part of the Henry Plant System, Florida Southern Railroad and then eventually became the Atlantic Coast Line in the early 1900’s.
Later into the 1900’s much of the land was used for ranching and in the woods there I found remains of an old windmill, another reminder of the history. Oriole is a place that I will continue to explore, these places always stay with you once you discover them. I cherish what is left of the history and I hope that what does remain will do so for a long time to come so that future generations can experience that as well.