This three-part series discovers the people behind the names of Oakland’s roads. Part 1 focuses on the east-west streets, now called avenues, in the historic part of town.
The town of Oakland was platted — upside down — in a uniform grid fashion in 1886. The east-west roads were named First through Eighth avenues, and the north-south connections were dubbed First through 10th streets.
In 1972, after 86 years, town leaders found a way to honor Oakland’s pioneers, first families and early elected officials — by renaming the original streets after the very people who helped put the town on the Orange County map.
First Avenue became Speer Avenue; Second became Vick; Third, Briley; Fourth, Gulley; Fifth, Henschen; Seventh, Hull; Eighth, Sadler; 10th, Herriott; and 13th, Postell.
Sixth Avenue, the main thoroughfare through the town, which in 1886 ended at Eighth/Nixon Street to the west, was later renamed Oakland Avenue and absorbed 12th Street to continue to the west. Hull Avenue merged with 11th Street. There was no east-west Ninth Street.
Railway Avenue, north of Gulley (Fourth) Avenue, became the West Orange Trail. Depot Street, between Gulley (Fourth) and Briley (Third) avenues, became Petris Avenue.
The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation has in its collection files of West Orange County’s families past and present, including many from Oakland. Who are the people behind the names?
SPEER AVENUE, previously First Avenue— James Gamble Speer, a Scotch-Irishman from South Carolina, came to Florida as an appointed member of the Indian Removal Commission in 1854. At that time, Orange County was unbroken forest and the highways were little more than cow paths. Speer qualified for judge in 1857, moved to Oakland in 1858 to begin a farm and established a post office in Oakland in 1860. He negotiated the arrival of the Orange Belt Railway in 1886. He died in 1893 at age 73. Speer Park also is named for Oakland’s original settler.
VICK AVENUE, previously Second Avenue — Helen “Dewey” Vick (1898-1993), one of six children born to Ezekiel Cummings Vick and Sarah Katherine Rutland Vick, grew up in Oakland when her parents moved there in 1903. They bought the dwelling at 4 Tubb St., which was built in 1860 and is one of the oldest homes in West Orange County and the oldest house in Oakland. Dewey Vick, who married Edward Lee Mathews, was a registered nurse and owned Colonial Corners Florist Shop, which operated out of the family garage starting in 1939. She was the first female mayor of Oakland and served three terms in the 1940s.
BRILEY AVENUE, previously Third Avenue — Samuel J. and Fannie Edna Rich Briley and their children lived in several houses in Tildenville and Oakland before settling in 1900 in a home near Lake Apopka now occupied by great-grandson Jefferson “Jeff” Voss. The Brileys cleared acreage and planted cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, and in later years, Briley purchased additional land for orange groves and, later, family homesteads. Voss’ mother, Jane Briley Voss, lives still today on the street named after her parents. Besides farming, the family has been active in education and public service. Jane’s husband and Jeff’s father, the late Jefferson P. “Jake” Voss, was a school principal and Oakland mayor.
PETRIS AVENUE, previously Depot Avenue — Joseph Petris, known as Uncle Joe, was one of Oakland's most popular citizens and famous for his fish fries. He worked for the Plant System and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as Oakland's station agent and served as mayor of Oakland in 1916-20 and 1926-28. His parents, Edmund and Louise Petris, came to Florida in 1874 and then moved to Oakland with the Orange Belt Railway Company. He was an upholsterer and made Pullman railcar seats for the railway. The family lived in a spacious house at 121 E. Oakland Ave., built by the Orange Belt Investment Company. Marcia Geraci and her husband, Tony, are the family’s fifth generation to live in the house.
GULLEY AVENUE, previously Fourth Avenue — Richard Lindsay “R.L.” Gulley was 18 when he came to Florida in 1895 with his older brothers, who were here with the railroad boom. He chose not to follow his brother to Tampa, instead farming the land and serving as treasurer at the Presbyterian church for many years. He married Nona Dunnaway, a descendant of one of the earliest West Orange County families. Richard's son, Norman, owned the B.N. Gulley Hardware store in Oakland until his death in 1968.
HENSCHEN AVENUE, previously Fifth Avenue — Swedish immigrant Josef Henschen arrived in America in 1871 as the guide of 100 skilled Swedish tradesmen, carpenters and masons guaranteed employment in citrus groves. He invested $40,000 plus 1,000 acres of land to Peter Demens’ railroading enterprise, the Orange Belt Railway Company. He was the only investor to remain in Oakland after the company folded. His family, which included wife Carolina, lived at the northwest corner of Tubb Street and Oakland Avenue in one of the homes built by the railroad company. He planted an extensive citrus grove, which he divided and sold for a profit, and served as Oakland postmaster from 1889-93. Josef (1843-1930) is buried in the Oakland Cemetery.
HULL AVENUE, previously Seventh Avenue — Horace S. “Buck” Hull served Oakland for more than 10 years as a town commissioner. His father was Simeon Benjamin Hull, the son of early Orlando pioneers William Benjamin and Emily Hull, and his mother was Marguerite Matilda Winkelman, the daughter of Oakland pioneer John Winkelman. Buck Hull’s parents built a home on purchased grove land on the west end of Oakland that is now called Hull Island.
SADLER AVENUE, previously Eighth Avenue — James Hardy Sadler came to Oakland to live with his grandfather, James Gamble Speer, after his father was killed during the Civil War. He is credited with planting the magnificent oaks that divide Oakland Avenue. According to documents, when State Road 438 (West Plant Street and East Oakland Avenue) was being widened, James Sadler stopped the “road improvement” with his shotgun as the road department approached his house. Thus, the road split, resulting in the live oaks surviving in the middle of the road. Sadler was a pioneer in raising vegetables in West Orange County and was the first to irrigate his fields. Sadler, who married Myra Minerva “Minnie” Tilden, became one of Oakland’s largest landowners and was instrumental in opening the Bank of Oakland. He is buried in the Oakland Cemetery.
HERRIOTT AVENUE, previously 10th Street — James and Elizabeth “Shug” Herriott moved to the town in the early 1920s. They brought their two young children with them and then had eight more. They also encouraged Jim’s brothers and sisters in South Carolina to make Oakland their home, as well, and there were so many Herriotts living here that locals affectionately named the family the Geechees, a name derived from the African Kisi tribe that settled in South Carolina. At one time, Herriott Avenue was called Geechee Den. Five generations of Herriott descendants have called Oakland home.
POSTELL AVENUE, previously 13th Street — Will Postell and his new bride, Lugenia, moved to Killarney from Valdosta, Georgia in the early 1900s. Will did farm work for Julian Sadler in Oakland and was a deacon at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church; self-employed Lugenia did laundry for a number of families in the area and excelled at catching fish. The couple purchased parcels of land in Oakland and built houses on the property for several of their 10 children. Francine Postell, their daughter, was an educator, served as the Oakland mayor from 1987-89 and later was a town commissioner. Five generations of Postells have lived in Oakland.
(Next week: the north-south streets from Starr to Jefferson.)