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The History of Apopka

Apopka Historical Society celebrates its 55th anniversary


Against the American backdrop of 1968, the little town of Apopka began preserving its historical heritage to honor those who came before them.

It was a tumultuous year in which the United States experienced change, turmoil, and social progress. Triumphs like Apollo 8's orbit of the moon and Boeing's 747 jumbo jet's first flight coincided with the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and riots over the Vietnam War. Social values were changing.

Against this American backdrop, the little town of Apopka began preserving its historical heritage to honor those who came before them.

"Why is the historical preservation so important?" Apopka Historical Society President Maribel Brinkle asked at the May 15th City Council meeting. "Our story is the very foundation on which a community is built. It tells the story of the people who came before us and their struggles and triumphs. The events that shape our town into what it is today." 

Maribel Brinkle, President of the Apopka Historical Society
Maribel Brinkle, President of the Apopka Historical Society

Brinkle and other members presented the Apopka Historical Society's history on its 55th anniversary.

The Society's secretary, Trudy Weiss, gave more insight. 

"In the early 1900s, Apopka advised the Apopka Light, Water, and Ice Company managed by Adelbert M. Starbird to "lay pipe" for water and direct poles for wires," she said. "Work was supervised by Council, and electric lights were turned on in Apopka on February 10, 1915."

According to Weiss, the company provided electric lights for the streets and neighborhoods of Apopka. Edward Rufus Prince opened Apopka's first bank, "The Prince Bank," in 1885, which paved the way for Apopka State Bank to open in 1912. The lumber industry blossomed. Workers used it to build buildings, railroad ties, boxes, and crates. 

"Amos Starbird and his sons were engaged in almost every aspect of the lumber business from the mid-1880s until after World War 1," Weiss said. "The Consumers Lumber Community was founded and became the largest single employer for nearly 20 years until 1957." 

Judy Ustler Babb, a member of one of Apopka's oldest families, discussed her grandfather, Harry John Ustler's contributions to the community. Babb said he started his business, Ustler Brother Nursery, which specialized in foliage. Ustler moved to Apopka from Springfield, Ohio, for new scenery and a desire to start over again. 

"My grandfather, Harry John Ustler, started the Foliage Industry in Apopka in 1912. His business was so successful that Apopka became known as the 'Foliage City,'" Babb said.

Ustler was among the first four men inducted into Florida's Foliage Hall of Fame in 1977. 

During her presentation, Brinkle said an article from "The Apopka Green Street" in May 1968 influenced women from the Apopka Women's Club Historical Committee to create the Apopka Historical Society. The organization was created after the Pioneer Day festival in the fall of 1967. 

The first museum was opened in 1971, occupying three floors of City Hall.

Edward Miner donated the artifact collection to the museum. They were previously on exhibit at the fall festival in 1967. Sixteen years later, the museum moved to the second floor of the Capitol Building on Park Avenue. 

As the artifact collection grew, the museum moved to the Carroll Building in 1987 and the City Annex in 1992. A large capital fund campaign raised money to move the museum to a more suitable location. In 2001, the Apopka Historical Society moved to its current location, a log cabin building at 122 East Fifth Street in Apopka.

Lorena Potter, the Society's curator, said that the museum's first president was Elizabeth Grossenbacher, and its vice president was Mildred Whiteside. Its first board of directors included John H. Land, Elin Larson, and Mary Lee Welch. They opened the museum as a non-profit organization and handled its operations. As time went by, more people donated artifacts, such as census records, pictures of family and other residents, paintings, fossils, and sculptures to the museum.

Brinkle said the museum's purpose in celebrating 55 years is to preserve Apopka's historical legacy, honor the work of older generations, and pass it on to the next generation. 

"It is a torch we carry from the generations before us," she said. "One, we pass on with pride. It is about a commitment to our shared past, present, and future. This celebration is a statement to the dedication of the Apopka Historical Society and all you who support this initiative." 

Apopka, History, Apopka Historical Society, Museum of the Apopkans, Apopka City Council, How can I get involved with the Apopka Historical Society?


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