Signs of the Past
They probably look like any ordinary city streets, tree lined with quiet houses on both sides. The names on the street signs - Dampier, Tompkins - might not generate a second glance, unless you grew up in the area and know the history behind the names.
You can imagine the horse and carriages that used to wind through this quiet neighborhood. The nearby railroad utilized during the 1890's phosphate boom has since been converted into the Withlacoochee recreational trail. This corner, Dampier Avenue & Cherry Street was the western boundary of what was once called the Township of Tompkinsville, housing some of the areas earliest settlers.
A Town is Formed
In 1868, a 35-year-old Civil War veteran named Alfred Tompkins, later known as "Uncle Alf", moved from Lecanto to a sparsely populated section of land next to the Tsala Apopka lakes chain then considered part of Hernando County. In June 1887 -- almost 20 years later --the area would become Citrus County when Governor E.A. Perry split the enormously sized Hernando County into three separate counties. Tompkins served on the first county commission in 1887 and was central in envisioning what we now know as Inverness.
Tompkins, a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, also served as a 1st Sergeant in the Third Seminole Indian War. When he arrived in the area, he bought about 60 acres of land off of what was then called Pearl Street and moved his family and several relatives into his home. Tompkins and his wife, Frances, shared the residence with eight others.
Tompkins took to the task of having mail service established in the fledgling community next to the lake. According to the late author Hampton Dunn in his book Back Home, Tompkins used his own money to personally deliver the mail for six months until a post office was commissioned. In an attempt to lure settlers into town Dunn wrote, Tompkins purchased most of the land and then gave the lots away. One of the giveaways was to his brother-in-law, Francis M. Dampier Sr, who will later be credited for surveying, mapping out and clearing land to form the new town of Tompkinsville in honor of "Uncle Alf".
Tompkins was a part owner of the Florida Orange, Canal and Transit Co., as was brother in law Dampier. It was a natural that some of the town's initial residents worked for the railroad companies that passed through town. The old Atlantic Coast Line rail depot, pictured above, still stands today and can be found on North Apopka Avenue near the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Per local historian D. Dale Hughes in "A History of Inverness", Tompkinsville was platted March 10, 1887 on 160 acres of land. The plat was written up by John E. King of Lecanto, the Hernando County tax collector at the time. Tax records indicate the town's population was about 20 people around this time. Besides Tompkins and Dampier families, residents included William Turner, owner of the Apopka House hotel.
Dampier became the county's first tax collector in 1887 and served as the town constable. He and his wife, Ida May Spivey Sinclair, lived in a two story, 10-room house with three fireplaces and glass doors on the corner of Bay Street and N. Line Ave. The home, which Dampier built in 1880, was the first in town to be constructed of sawed lumber. While unique, it's not surprising, as Dampier built a steam powered saw mill at the end of Line Avenue next to what was then called Lake Morrison (now known as Little Lake Henderson). The saw mill was the first in the county and one of the first in the state, according to Dunn.
In addition to the sawmill, Dampier operated a general store across the street from his home. Dunn attributes Dampier with being one of the first chain store operators, after opening the store in Inverness, two in Holder and commissaries at several phosphate mines in the area. Though Dampier's education never exceeded the sixth grade, during the course of his life, he would be County treasurer, Mayor, City Councilman, and Police Chief.
A New Era
At its height, Tompkinsville was "a substantial village of some 250 persons, most of whom were employees of a large lumber concern that operated just east of the junction of today's U.S. 41 and Turner Camp Road", so reports the Citrus County Chronicle, November 3, 1949. The town limits steadily grew through land purchases, with Tompkins continuing to participate. On June 17, 1886, he sold 302 acres of land near Pritchard Island to state Senator Austin S. Mann for $5,840. Then on April 7, 1888 the Citrus County Star article noted "$7,000 worth of property changed hands in Tompkinsville last week. The purchasers are men of considerable wealth. Great improvements are anticipated." Again on August 28, 1888 an article stated "$20,000 of property changed ownership" near Tompkinsville the prior week. One can only guess, Tompkins was involved. Likely one of "Uncle Alf's" best land deals is documented on a deed dated, June 13, 1890 and signed by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, showing Tompkins purchased 160 acres from the United States for $100, all due to an Act of Congress of April 24, 1820, allowing public sale of vacant land to the highest bidder.
As the shape of the town of Tompkinsville increased due to land purchase, it wasn't too long after that new faces and a new identity began to emerge for the town. A Jacksonville firm agreed to build a new courthouse, if the townspeople agreed to change the name from Tompkinsville to Inverness. For the sum of $2,000 and following a September 20, 1889 declaration by Dampier and others stating they wished for the town's name to change, Tompkins sold Tompkinsville to the firm and it became the Town of Inverness. Why Inverness? Local legend describes a Scotsman associated with the purchasing firm, lonely for his birthland, thought the landscape resembled that of his hometown, Inverness, Scotland.
A Victorian-style courthouse was constructed in the 1890's on Courthouse Square by the Read-Parker Construction Company for $49,965, adding an $800 clock tower. The courthouse was made of flash brick, featuring hardwood and terrazo flooring with fireplaces to provide heat. The building was situated on a 1-acre parcel at a 45-degree angle so that all main roads led to its entrances. The courthouse housed state representative offices, police headquarters, court staff and other officials before it was deemed overcrowded and a newer courthouse was built down the street. The Historic 1912 Courthouse stands today in the downtown square as a beacon to an illustrious past and a steadfast future.
The discovery of phosphate in Floral City increased growth to the area. Phosphate, used in munitions, led to the construction of rails and other infrastructure near the town of Inverness. The increase of traffic to the area caused people, mainly from Florida Orange, Canal and Transit Co., to seek the relocation of the county seat to Inverness from Mannfield (named temporary county seat in 1887 when the county was formed). In 1891, Inverness was selected as the permanent location of court and government operations; it became the official County Seat.
On February 3, 1913 the Inverness Power Co. became franchised to produce electricity in town. Soon after, lamps lit up the downtown area. In 1917 Inverness took another step up, as the Town became a City, incorporated on March 5th. Two years later, at the age of 85, Tompkins died July 25, 1919. He was buried in Tompkins Cemetery in Lochloosa Lake, where he grew up as a child.
The area once considered Tompkinsville lies between Cherry Avenue to the west, Little Lake Henderson to the north, Big Lake Henderson to the east and State Road 44 to the south. According to March 2008 Property Appraiser records, there were 33 homes and businesses on the tax roll in the area once considered Tompkinsville; the number is deceiving, however, since the former Town of LaBelle eventually became known as Tompkinsville before becoming the City of Inverness. According to records, there were 81 listed homes and businesses in the area once called LaBelle.
Virtually all of the brick buildings in downtown were built around the time the city was first formed, including the Masonic building (1910) and the rows of shops along West Main Street. Major transformations have changed the look of downtown, such as the rerouting of U.S. 41, streetscape improvements and moving towards the vision of a pedestrian/bicycle friendly City on the Lake.
Dampier's home at 301 Bay Street, where he, his wife and five children resided, was a Historic Landmark Home and unfortunately had to be razed December 10, 1987 due to deteriorating conditions. A grassy lot next to more modern homes marks the spot where the home once stood. Dampier died August 11, 1949 at the age of 90. A eulogy said "His good influence as an active citizen for more than 60 years will be felt by generations to come," Dunn noted. Dampier, his wife and other family members are buried in Dampier Cemetery off U.S. 41 South just outside the city limits.
Parts of Tompkinsville, where Dampier and others lived, remain much the same as they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a few homes dating back to the early 1900's. Other parts have been modernized with small offices situated along parts of Tompkins Street. Another significant change was the renaming of Pearl Street to Dampier Street, in recognition of Dampier's work as one of the city's earliest founders.
Eleven residents were randomly polled in 2008 to obtain a "present day" glimpse of the neighborhood makeup.
- Fifty-four percent of residents are over the age of 60; 46 percent are between the ages of 20 and 60. The average resident has lived in his or her home for 14.43 years. All residents polled owned his or her home.
- Fifty percent moved into the neighborhood from out-of-state: one resident from overseas, 30 percent county natives, and two residents who relocated from another part of the state.
- The majority of those who relocated from out-of-state moved from the northeast.
On services, residents would like to see community type activities, such as a Neighborhood Watch, a Community Cleanup program and maybe a neighborhood block party to get to know their new neighbors. They enjoy City events and welcome new ones, especially those which take advantage of the neighborhood parks.