BELLEVIEW, FLORIDA – Let me begin by apologizing to the outstanding people I met at the Belleview city hall. Nowhere during my travels was I more warmly greeted. I simply can’t explain why I didn’t stop immediately and write about this small Florida city until now.
Instead I drove down to neighboring Lady Lake, where I was well treated, but didn’t have the same open and friendly support. In fact no one had the time to talk to me there. Perhaps the people behind the glass office barriers at Lady Lake thought they were too busy to spend their time with a stranger, or they didn’t fully grasp my mission.
Belleview was clearly different. Belleview’s slogan is: the “City with small town charm.” I found that to be totally accurate.
I especially appreciate speaking to Bruce Phillips, a civil engineer who serves as Belleview’s Public Works director. I left his office and drove to Lady Lake to visit Lady Lake’s Historical Society Museum to learn more about his grandmother, who was Lady Lake’s woman mayor for nine terms. However, the museum was only open from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00p.m. I needed to head for my next small town. This is a large country. Visiting 1000 small towns in all the states (my goal) could take more years than I have available, even working seven days a week, 365 days a year. So I must make quick stops and keep moving.
Bruce Phillips reports his grandfather, a conductor on a train, was murdered long ago. His body was thrown to the ground. As a reporter I have covered several murders in the past 60 years. Two of the most disturbing took place in North Port, Florida, But robbing a conductor on a train. Stabbing him and throwing his body to the ground while the train was moving creates a rather vivid mental picture.
However, this blog is about Belleview. The Phillips interview, which is interesting on its own, can be found on www.ThePeopleOfAmerica.com.
Back in 1884, when investors founded Belleview, Lake Lillian was called Nine Mile Lake because that was the distance from the lake to Ocala. The Belleview name is based on French words for beautiful vista.
As I understand it it, several men invested in land around Lake Lillian in the 1880s. They hoped the name would attract winter visitors and investors from the North. It also theoretically made the oranges being shipped sound more appealing than Nine Mile Lake.
According to Bruce Phillips, who has always lived nearby and has a family that goes back at least two more generations, one of the first structures built was a hotel. Early guest included retired clergymen and teachers who needed a place to stay while their homes were constructed. Northern investors seeking profits were involved in the creation of several of the small towns I visited.
As many as 60 cottages or homes were constructed in the first year or two. As early as 1886 some 300 people lived in what is now Belleview.
Since it was well before modern air conditioning, kitchens were not inside the houses as they are today. Belleview was widely advertised as far north as New England to lure those tired of shoveling snow and shivering around fireplace and smoky woodstoves a place where they could be warm.
There were house fires in the 1890s and a major fire in 1905, Phillips reports. That’s the year the city hall burned and the earliest town records were destroyed. By 1996 a total of 3,287 people lived in Belleview, and the 2010 census reported 4,492 residents. The city hall was once thebb school.
With the highly promoted “Villages” just to the south (You’ve undoubtedly seen their commercial pitches on television), and the lack of large tracts of vacant land within the city limits, it is doubtful Belleview will ever become a truly huge city.
But if you are looking for small town southern charm, Belleview had more than 200 homes for sale on the day I visited the city. Several were priced well below $200,000. Some that were very low priced were still in foreclosure – left over from the aftermath of the bursting of nationwide housing bubble.