Deloris Woodard Riggins was the last of 16 children born to James and Beulah Woodard in the small and once-thriving community of Tildenville. It was 1955, a time when a midwife came to the home when it was time to deliver the babies in the area. Celeste Poole delivered all the black babies in this rural area south of Highway 50.
This house on Coscester Street is special to Riggins, and although she moved away after high school, she eventually made her way back about 20 years ago to the home built with her father’s hands. It has been in the family for nearly a century.
Several of her older siblings are still living, but she is the lone Woodard of her generation to remain where their roots were first planted.
Riggins smiles recalling her childhood. She admits she was a tomboy and a rebel and the ringleader in her circle of friends.
“It was just, it was carefree,” she said of her youth. “I always was in some type of trouble. … Over on this side (of Avalon Road) they had a pond that I used to always sneak out, and I loved to fish, and I would go fishing. And where they have the new (SunRidge) Elementary School at, it used to be all orange groves. I used to walk in there and hike up in there; just ripping and running, walking around.”
LIFE AMONG LABORERS
Tildenville was planned in the late part of the 19th century as a home for transplanted agricultural workers from Georgia. It was a citrus community with several labor camps.
Riggins remembers there being several near her home, including the Top Hat Labor Camp, which has efficiencies inhabited by folks — mostly young men — who came from places like Arkansas and Missouri and Jamaica to pick citrus in Winter Garden and harvest vegetables at the muck farms in Zellwood.
“My mother was like a caretaker for a lot of those young men who came in,” Riggins said. “She made sure they ate and they kept in touch with their families while they were away. She was like the mother hen.
“My dad was basically like my mom — he was a caregiver of the community,” she said. “We used to have orange trees all up in here. … They had hog pens back on the back half of this property, and he would slaughter the hogs and take them and clean them out and divide the meat and send the meat around the community and make sure everyone had food to eat.”
Riggins’ father — a pillar in the Tildenville community — died when she was 9.
The Woodards were strong Christians and regularly attended Tildenville Missionary Baptist Church.
“It was expected of me to go every Sunday,” Riggins said. “But did I go every Sunday? I went in the front door and out the back.”
She usually marched from the back door of the church straight to the labor camp.
“They always had something going on in the camp, and I had to be part of it,” she said. “It was kind of hard to tell me no, because I was a tomboy and I fought, physically. … I was one these kids who, you ever see a child whose self-esteem is low? And that’s the way I was. It seemed like everybody had something to say, always picking at me or talking about me, and I would always be fighting someone.”
A community school once stood south of the Woodard home, and this is where the children of Tildenville went for first through sixth grades. The remaining school years were spent at the segregated Charles R. Drew High School, on East Story Road.
Drew closed before Riggins graduated, so she and her classmates attended Lakeview High School. This wasn’t an easy transition for Riggins and her low self-esteem.
“I stayed in so much trouble at Lakeview,” she said. “Mr. (Robert) Ford was the principal. He was used to me being in the office almost every day.
“Back then was (when) desegregation first came about,” she said. “The kids didn’t want us coming to Lakeview; they wanted us really to stay at Drew. They did not want to integrate with us. I, in turn, ‘Because you don’t want me there, I don’t want to be there.’ I used to be a little instigator.”
Riggins graduated from Lakeview in 1972 and lived her life in several different states before returning home to Tildenville.
STAYING IN BUSINESS
The Woodards owned a community store next to the family home when Riggins was a child. It was one of three in the neighborhood. She remembers Boise Jones owned the other two, one of which was located on the west side of Avalon Road where Tucker Ranch is now.
Just west of the Woodard house was the Silver Moon Grocery & Bar, a family-owned one-room juke joint that has offered music, drink and respite to Tildenville’s residents for decades. A small piece of the original Silver Moon still stands.
COVID-19 temporarily shuttered the operation, but when it eventually reopens, it will continue offering sodas and chips and knickknacks by day and a tavern setting by night. Riggins’ nephew, Willie Woodard Jr., runs the place.
“At one time Tildenville used to be thriving,” Riggins said. “That was before the (Florida’s) Turnpike came in. When the turnpike came in, it changed everything. There used to be a camp (called South Lake) on this side of the expressway, and when the turnpike came, they had to tear those houses down.
“That became a dividing line; this was the quarters,” she said. “This was where everything was at; this was where you had to come if you wanted to purchase anything other than going up to Winter Garden.”
But, eventually, the stores closed and many of the residents went away.
“This side dwindled; you could see the decline in it because of the turnpike (and) when the freeze came through and killed all the citrus.”
But life has a funny way of coming full circle for some, as it did for Riggins. Tildenville is her home, despite the lack of businesses. And this century-old house is her home, despite the weather-worn boards and peeling paint.
“I just always wanted to stay here,” Riggins said, looking at her home and smiling.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.