Kerr City Ghost Town | Marion County, FL | c. 1880s
[**This property is no longer open for public tours. Please respect the privacy of its property owner**]
Nestled deep in the Ocala National Forest and tucked neatly between the St. Johns and Ocklawaha River lies the remains of a long-forgotten town. Resting along the shores of a beautiful lake, this townsite was first documented in 1835 by a government surveyor named Robert Ker who named it Lake Kerr. The surveying group was run off quickly by Seminole Indians who drove them back to Fort King (present-day Ocala). The area was settled some years later by a farmer from the Carolinas named Williamson who operated a large cotton plantation here until the Civil War. Shortly after the war was over, crops were converted to citrus and new settlers from the North began to arrive. In 1884, Kerr City was carved out of 205 acres of woodland as the second city in Marion County, Ocala having been the first. The Swan, Henley, Terry, Giles, Ford, and Elliott families were some of these early settlers.
A stagecoach road had run through the area since the 1860s and the new town became a frequented stop for travelers on the route from Palatka to Tampa after crossing the St. John’s River. As the town grew, they built a combined church/school building, a sawmill, a post office, and a hotel as they settled into their new lives on the banks of this tranquil lake. They built homes, planted crops, and made plans for their future here.
Kerr City School
This was the original schoolhouse, built c. 1885. This building stood many years after its students were gone, but was damaged by vandalism and arson attempts so frequently that the town’s current caretaker was forced to take it down. Photo Courtesy and Property of the Florida Memory Project.
But things would not go as they had hoped. Just 10 years after the town was officially platted, a devastating freeze hit the area, destroying all of the area’s crops. The winter of 1895 would bring an equally devastating freeze which dealt the final blow to the citrus-based economy. Farmers and their families left to find work elsewhere; the school and pharmacy shut down; the church closed its doors. The stagecoach was surpassed by the quickly-expanding railroads and with no agricultural goods to ship anymore, this small community hidden away on the lake became obsolete. By 1905, the town was mostly abandoned with all of its buildings standing like skeletal reminders of the life that used to be there. The town was reoccupied for a time in the 1920s but vacated shortly after and the post office closed in 1941.
Kerr City Hotel
Built c. 1884 by Dr. Junis Terry who came from Chicago with his wife. After the town had become mostly abandoned, a preacher and his ‘flock’ relocated here for its tranquility and moved into the hotel which had been vacant. One morning, the flock awoke to find all of their possessions, money, and preacher gone. They came to think of the hotel as an evil place and in 1907, burned it to the ground.
But a member of the town’s original founding families, George Smiley began buying the surrounding properties that had been left behind by their one-time neighbors. By 1955, their son Fletcher owned what remained of the town. Still in the family after all these years, the entire property is maintained by Fletcher’s grandson, Arthur Brennan.
Arthur credits his grandfather with preserving this town in more than just the obvious way. He reports that lightning fires are common in Ocala National Forest and present an incredible danger to these old wooden structures but Fletcher, who graduated from Stetson University in Electrical Engineering, installed lightning rods on the trees in the 1920s.
Arthur and his wife Gwynne have cared for and lived here since 1957. Of the 14 buildings on the property, 5 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many of their buildings still stand along the old stagecoach road and here, away from highways, traffic, and the commotion of urban living, you can almost imagine what it might’ve been like 100+ years ago when the town was alive with life.
Kerr City Boarding House
Built in 1885, this building sits just along the old stagecoach road and was the stopping point for weary passengers and their horses along the way. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings used to stroll along this very path where I stood on her retreats to Kerr City. This home became Fletchers’ (Lillian and George’s son) home when he was the caretaker.
This Texaco pumping station, which still works, was installed in 1925 and is the oldest operational pump in the state of Florida.
Kerr City Post Office | c. 1880s
This was the Kerr City Post Office, built in 1880 just along the stagecoach road. The post office closed in 1941, although this place has seen quite a bit of activity since. Paranormal investigators from around the world have traveled to Kerr City to study what some might call a haunted place. The central point of most of these studies is this old Post Office building.
According to many who have been here, some of Brennan’s own family and staff included, have shared stories of encounters with spirits in this home. Specifically of one of the towns residents (and last post master) Sarah, who according to reports has flowing red locks and inhabits the second floor where her bedroom used to be.
The unusual placement of the door 1.5 floors up was to accommodate the height of the horse-drawn wagons along the stagecoach road that picked up and delivered mail here.