The Forest Avenue Series
This is the second in a two-part series entitled “The curious history of Forest Avenue.” The series investigates the origin of the road’s name, details the racial climate during the time Forest Avenue was established, and ultimately asks two fundamental questions: Who or what was this road named after? And what should happen to Forest Avenue going forward? During part one, we took a trip down Forest Avenue, visited a church with an interesting name, went back in time to the Civil War, and visited Apopka, Circa 1920s.
Today we let the City of Apopka and Orange County weigh-in on the idea that Forest Avenue may have been named Forrest Avenue. We explain the motivation to publish this series, and we make a recommendation about Forest Avenue moving forward.
Part Two: What does the City of Apopka and Orange County say about Forest Avenue?
There is a 95-year-old road in Apopka named after a Civil War general that was also a one-time leader of the Ku Klux Klan? That’s a lot to comprehend or believe based on anecdotes and circumstances in 1923.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The Apopka Voice reached out to the City of Apopka, Orange County, and the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office for information on Forest Avenue.
Phil Martinez of the Apopka Planning and Zoning Commission researched the history of Forest Avenue and found a plat map for a “Dream Lake Addition” that references the road.
In an email to The Apopka Voice, he wrote:
“I haven’t found any documents showing an original name. The oldest document is attached, showing that the name “Forest Avenue” applied in 1923.”
However, LaVerne Davis, a CCF/Cadastral Mapper III with the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office, discovered the name “Forrest” written in the description of the same Plat Map.
In an email to The Apopka Voice, she wrote:
“I’ve searched the plats along Forest Avenue. The earlier plats didn’t always include street names for the interior streets. The only plat that I’ve found with the street name was Dream Lake PB H PG 48, which list the spelling as Forrest Avenue. Forest is bounded on the North by Oak St. and on the South by E 8th St at an RR R/W.”
Jason Henry, the Administrative Operations Coordinator for the Orange County Property Appraiser, confirms and clarifies what Davis found. In an email to The Apopka Voice, he wrote:
“After speaking with (the) mapping (department), the previous plat that I sent includes the spelling Forrest in the description, just not as the street name. The surveyor provided the explanation in February of 1923. As to when the spelling was corrected to Forest, unfortunately, we do not have that historical data as it would come from the city.”
Here is the enlarged description in the plat map referenced by Davis and Henry:
So what does this prove, and what is the purpose of the research?
While it will never be known for sure that Forest Avenue was named after General Nathan Bedford Forrest, there is undoubtedly a lot of evidence to prove it was possible, even likely.
There is the spelling of “Forrest Avenue” in the description on the 1923 plat map. There is the spelling of Forrest Avenue Baptist Church. There was the spike in monuments, schools, and streets named after Confederate icons in the 1920s which was the time when Forest Avenue was established. There were also racial tensions and popularity of the KKK in Apopka and Northwest Orange County in the 1920s. There was an eyewitness account of Pastor Barker, who said he recalled the name being Forrest Avenue. And there is the absence of a “noteworthy forest” to name Forest Avenue after.
But despite the strong possibility that Forest Avenue was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, it is doubtful that a single Apopkan today sees that street name and thinks about the Civil War general or has any feelings at all about Forest Avenue being a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. This is not about tearing down a Confederate monument or changing the name because it’s thought to be offensive. That’s not the point of the research, the series, or a call for action.
The Apopka Voice is proposing that the community take a positive, proactive move to correct a potentially tainted (whether known or unknown at the time) street name and transform it into something Apopka can be proud of.
The name of a street so entwined with the history of Apopka should exemplify something positive or noteworthy about its community. This iconic road should not have even a hint of being connected to a Civil War general who has no ties to Apopka, or even a forest that never existed. A street like this should be named after a person who is also a part of Apopka history, that bridged communities both north and south of 441. A person who spent time in City Hall and is one of Apopka’s iconic treasures.
It is for those reasons that The Apopka Voice recommends Forest Avenue’s name be changed to honor Commissioner Billie Dean by calling it Billie Dean Avenue.
Dean’s family history mirrors racial struggles of the 1920s
Commissioner Billie Dean is a brash, outspoken fighter. He has been for 24 years on the Apopka City Council, as a soldier on the battlefields of Korea, and as a teacher in the classrooms of Phillis Wheatley and Apopka High Schools.
His family history made it a requirement.
Dean announced last summer that he will end his career on the City Commission in 2018, thus closing the book on one of Apopka’s political legends.
“I just think it’s time,” he said. “After 24 years I think I have served the community well and I think I have brought a lot of good to the community. I feel it’s time for me to step aside and allow someone younger and with new ideas to step in.”
To fully understand Dean’s storied career, you must first understand his roots, which in many ways began in Morriston, Florida circa 1920’s. Dean was not alive yet, but his family was about to experience an incident that would shape it for generations to come. Much like Northwest Orange County and Apopka in the 1920s, Morriston was experiencing intense racial tensions that drove the Dean family away from their home permanently.
Dean has always been the voice crying out in the wilderness that is South Apopka for change, and improvements, and there have been highs and lows to that fight.
“South Apopka has not changed a lot except the county has paved some streets,” he said. “For years South Apopka had nothing but dirt, sand and clay roads. Central Avenue was a clay road when I came here in 1963. Michael Gladden Boulevard was a sand street. Other than the pavement, not much has changed.”
Perhaps Dean’s most fulfilling moment in the fight to bring improvement to South Apopka came in March with the beginning of the Habitat for Humanity project (Juniper and Arbor Bend) to bring 58 houses to the struggling community.
“It’s a God sent endeavor to do something on this side of the city,” Dean said. Affordable housing in South Apopka is what I have been fighting for as long as I’ve been a commissioner. Habitat taking the reins is just what we need.”
“Look over there,” he said pointing across the street past Juniper and Arbor Bend.” You see those houses? My wife and I built those homes. Beautiful 2-bedroom duplexes, 21 of them we built. Back in the 80’s. For decades I have been calling for this. This has been necessary for decades. I have been asking for this type of project well into the previous administration. This is a godsend for this community. They called it the Graveyard Quarters because of all the shacks they built right next to the graveyard. But no more.”
In many ways, Dean’s life and his emergence in Apopka politics run concurrent to the story of this historic road. Both Dean and his family weathered the racial tensions of previous eras. Like Forest Avenue, he has an iconic stature in Apopka.
Dean also has a lifetime of service to this community, and like the West Orange Trail bridge that crosses 441 alongside Forest Avenue, he too was able to bridge the communities of Apopka both north and south.
In April, Dean will watch as a new member of the Apopka City Commission is sworn-in to Seat #1… a seat that he has occupied for three decades. Dean will begin the next chapter in his life after rising to vice mayor of the second largest municipality in Orange County, after becoming the undisputed champion of South Apopka, and after re-writing a family history that was nearly erased in the 1920s.
It’s not enough to send this man into retirement with a warm “thank you for your service,” and a party. He is the last of a legacy of longstanding incumbents, and these giants of Apopka politics are not to be forgotten. They are to be revered and remembered timelessly. Dean is a legend who replaced a legend (Alonzo Williams) on the Apopka City Council.
Now Apopka should replace the name of Forest with Billie Dean.