Fellsmere City Hall is located at 22 South Orange Street, Fellsmere, FL 32948.
Fellsmere was the brainchild of Nelson Fell, a New Zealand engineer of British ancestry. Born in 1858, Fell was educated at England's Royal School of Mines and then in Heidelburg, Germany. During the 1880s, he gained mining experience supervising projects in Brazil and Colorado for the family business. In the late 18 80s, he moved to central Florida, where he developed a sugarcane plantation and superintended drainage activities in Narcoossee in Osceola County. About 1885, he built a home at Fell's Point on Lake East Tohopekaliga, and between 1890 and 1896 served an the Osceola County commission. In July 1897, he left for the Klondike, where gold had recently beet1 discovered. The following year, the family business moved him to Siberia to manage the Sparsky copper mines. His wife, Anne Palmer Fell, besieged by floods and then severe freezes in 1894 and 1895, abandoned the Narcoossee home first for England and then in 1898 joined Nelson in Russia. During the period, the children, Marian and"Olivia, alternated between the Siberian steppes and private schools in tl1e England, France, and United States.
In 1907, after retiring from the company, Nelson Fell returned to the United States and settled in Warrenton, Virginia, where he built "Creedmoor," his permanent home about 1911. Within several years, he became intrigued once again in developing Florida real estate and drainage projects. He also devoted time to travel and writing, with several articles appearing the Atlantic Monthly. In 1916, Duffield Press published his Russian and Nomad: Tales of the Kirghiz Steppes, which described Fell's experiences in Siberia. A world traveler, he maintained homes in Osceola County, Virginia, New York, and England. When visiting Fellsmere, the family often stayed with Ernest Every, tl1e resident manager of the Fellsmere Farms Company.
Fell's ventures in developing Florida real estate—Narcoossee in the 1880s and Fellsmere in 1910—were associated with the English colony movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The movement gained impetus in 1880s when British investors and London land agents published hyperbolic pamphlets and sporting papers on the moderate Florida climate and fabulous wealth available through the cultivation of citrus. Central Florida especially became a popular site for immigrants, many of whom settled Acton in Polk County, Conway in Orange County, Narcoossee in Osceola County, and Orlando. The English colonies experienced moderate success until tl1e 1890s freezes, when many settlers lost their investments and either returned to England or moved farther south into the Florida peninsula. Fell's first venture, Narcoossee, was only moderately successful with little tangible evidence remaining of his effort. His second, Fellsmere, represents one of few English colonies established in Florida in the early twentieth century, and possesses a heritage complete with a town named for him and historic fabric as tangible evidence of the past.
In 1910, Fell helped organize the Fellsmere Farm Company, which acquired and platted 118,000 acres of muck, prairie, and pine lands nine miles west of the Sebastian River. Capitalized with $2,000,000, the company consisted initially of three stockholders from New York and New Jersey with Oscar Crosby serving as president and Nelson Fell as vice president. The board of directors included bankers, lawyers, engineers, and a railroad specialist, investors primarily from tl1e Northeast. A local newspaper, Fellsmere Farmer, began publication in 191 1 and a post office opened that year. A small electric plant was built and the company also provided a transportation link to the region. Completed in 1911 , the Fellsmere Farms Railroad extended west nine miles from the Sebastian station on tl1e FEC Railway. Operating with one locomotive and several cars, the railroad brought construction materials and dredges to the area, and transported Fellsmere produce and crops to market. Dredges cut canals providing irrigation and drainage to the farm lands. The main canal control gate was completed in June 1913, affording settlers a greater degree of protection from periodic floods.
The Fellsmere board of directors advertised the project throughout the eastern half of the United States, using an underwriter from Chattanooga, Tennessee, as its sales agent, and also maintained offices in Jacksonville. Circulars advertised inexpensive land prices and high profits available from cultivating citrus and vegetables. The company developed a ten acre "demonstration farm" to exhibit to potential buyers the assortment of crops raised at Fellsmere, including egg plant, figs, oranges, persimmons, strawberries, and sugarcane. A visitor center provided a view of the farm acres available for purchase.
Fellsmere was portrayed by its developers as an agricultural success with unlimited potential. Within two years 8,000 acres had been drained. One early production story came from the Howard and Packard farm, which in January 1912 grossed $4,200 from five acres of lettuce. One estimate quoted that sweet potatoes cost $5.00 per acre to raise, and brought as much as $350 per acre at market. Other vegetables cultivated included tomatoes, cucumbers, peanuts, corn, and squash. The farms also promoted raising spices and nuts, including macadamia nuts and cinnamon and ginger roots.
Fruit became an important industry. Fellsmere promoters claimed that a grapefruit tree cost $6.50 to produce and with proper maintenance in five years would produce $50.00 annually. Oranges could furnish an unlimited income. A twelve-acre grove produced $7,000, and R.C. Campbell's 2‑1/2 acres at Fellsmere brought $2,900 in 1912. By 1916, some 750 acres were cultivated with orange trees. Even pecan trees grew well there, It seemed that virtually any plant grew well in Fellsmere muck. In the western fringe of the development 2,000 acres were reserved for sugarcane cultivation. Between three and seven annual harvests of sugarcane were reported on various farms with an average of $225 per acre per harvest. Cotton, cattle, poultry, and bees complemented an already full list of industries at Fellsmere. Terms included $55.00 per acre with one-third down, and ten acres as the minimum investment.
In July 1911, the company organized a town plan out of a small portion of farm company lands in the northern section of the development. Measuring nearly one square mile and ten blocks square, the plan consisted of an orthogonal grid with several distinctive features, including parks, diagonal streets, and divided boulevards. Avenues extended east to west displaying the names of various states of the Union. Streets ran north/south sporting names of citrus, hardwood, and conifer trees. Railroad tracks extended across the north end of the town, and Pennsylvania Avenue connected with the Sebastian Road.
Several parks interrupted the grid pattern. The largest, Washington Park, measured one block square and was contained within a circular intersection of Colorado Street and Magnolia Avenue. Three blocks to the south Magnolia Avenue became a divided boulevard with Osceola Park forming a rectangular park between the lanes. Smaller boulevards named Brevard, Broward, Florida, and St. Lucie converged on Magnolia Avenue at oblique angles forming a unified "X" pattern in the southwest quadrant of the town and cutting through the surrounding streets. St. Johns Boulevard extended at a forty-five degree angle in the southeast quadrant from the corner of Broadway and California Avenue, and ending at Massachusetts Avenue. Tallahassee Park extended for two blocks along Pennsylvania between Elm and Lime streets.
Fellsmere's town plan shares an association with an early twentieth century movement to beautify this nation's cities. The so-called "City Beautiful movement," which gained strong support nationwide during the Progressive Era, sought to mitigate the evils of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and general ugliness of American cities through the new science of city planning. The movement gained impetus from architects and city planners distressed with the extensive and unimaginative application of grid street patterns in the nation's towns. Land developers had long realized that orthogonal grid street patterns and the rectangular blocks they created were ideal for quick and easy land transactions. Although the arrangement maximized the area for building placement, little regard was given to natural features of the land. This type of city layout, while convenient for the speculator, often resulted in crowded and unattractive landscapes.
Landscape architects took the lead in introducing green spaces and original platting techniques to urban areas. Central Park in Manhattan and the Boston Park system, developed by Frederick Law Olmstead, won national acclaim for providing residents of those cities the opportunity escape from hectic city life without travelling to the country. It was not until 1893, however, during the World's Columbian Exposition that Americans on a large scale became cognizant of the possibilities of city planning. The Exposition, held in Chicago, featured a fully planned and unified collection of public and residential buildings. Designed with mostly classical precedents, the "White City," as it was dubbed, showed thousands of people who attended the Exposition alternatives to their drab and overcrowded cities. The wide publicity that the Exposition received changed the architectural tastes of the nation and led ta a new direction in city planning.
Later, a group of architects led by D.H. Burnham introduced a number of innovative features including diagonal boulevards, green spaces, circular intersections, and curvilinear streets. The cohesive blending of these platting techniques provided attractive vistas in many settings, and a seemingly peaceful and healthy environment within a city. In the wake of acclaim afforded the redesign of Washington, D.C. in 1901, local chapters of the City Beautiful movement emerged throughout the country. The establishment of cleaner and more attractive cities became one of the most enduring legacies of the Progressive Era.
Relatively few Florida cities, such as Auburndale, DeFuniak Springs, and Sebring, display town plans associated with the City Beautiful movement. The extent to which the planned features of Fellsmere were implemented remains unclear, however. The diagonal streets, although platted, may never have been constructed, and Osceola and Tallahassee parks probably were little more than sand medians. Virtually all of the distinctive features of Fellsmere's town plan have been compromised. A new school occupies Washington Park, and eliminated the circular intersection. The oblique streets in the southeast and southwest quadrants of town have been obliterated, and even the broad medians that extended along Broadway between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues have been reduced to thin strips.
Building construction surged in the Fellsmere settlement during the second decade of the twentieth century. During 1911, eighteen buildings were constructed. In 1912, forty-seven additional buildings appeared along the town's streets, thirty-six of those dwellings, three stores, and several ancillary buildings. In 1913, the population amounted to 503 residents, making Fellsmere the second largest community in the county, second only to Fort Pierce in size. The Fellsmere Bank, incorporated with $25,000, opened in July 1913 and the same year a board of trade was organized. J.M. Bell, R.A. Conlding, Nelson Fell, Fred Kettle, and C.H. Pifford served as the board of directors. The Dixie Playhouse opened on Broadway and the Fellsmere Realty Company was organized with G.F. Green, D. Howard Saunders, and Stuart R. Greiner as the officers. The Union Church was organized in 1913, and a concrete company also began operations, manufacturing building foundations and paving streets. Broadway was concrete-paved as a divided boulevard, one of the first in the county.
For the first several years, Nelson Fell closely supervised the development of Fellsmere. He made monthly visits to measure the drainage progress and the development the town. Occasionally, Anne Nelson accompanied him. His daughter, Marian, also made periodic trips to the community. There she apparently met and then developed a relationship that resulted in marriage in 1914 to Patrick Vans Agnew, the City of Kissimmee attorney between 1891 and 1916. Vans Agnew also supervised the legal affairs of the Fellsmere Farms Company between 1910 and 1918. Marian and Patrick first moved lo Jacksonville and eventually settled in Winter Park, but she remained intrigued with the Fellsmere settlement. To promote literacy and culture Marian made a donation to a library association, which formed in October 1914, for the construction of a library and the acquisition of books. The building was completed in May 1915, and at the dedication ceremony U.S. Senator Nathan P. Bryan delivered an address.
Marian Fell Vans Agnew, born in 1886, was nearly as widely traveled as her father. Her early education was gained at private schools in the United States and Paris. She spent nearly ten years at Fell's Point in Narcoossee before moving with the family to Siberia in 1898, where she remained for four years. Possessing remarkable intelligence, she quickly absorbed the native language, and as part of her education translated Russian plays and stories into English. Between 1912 and 1916, Scribner's published five of Fell's translations—three works of Anton Chekhov and two by Vladimir Korolenko, some of the first Russian literature to appear in the English language. An important early translator of the Russian culture, Fell donated her publication royalties to the library association, which named the Fellsmere library for her.
The Fell family maintained a wide circle of friends throughout the country. Perhaps the most celebrated was with Henry Adams, the renowned Harvard University historian and author. Adams's correspondence is replete with letters and references to the Fells. He communicated frequently with Anne Fell. While on a lengthy trip to Paris in 1897, Adams lamented his miserable circumstances and the poor condition of the city, musing that "Paris is like Purgatory, a place where all rubbish of human nature drifts, because the Almighty does not know what else to do with it." Incredibly, while there he longed for the serenity of central Florida, ruminating that " ... but I think you have the best of it, and that the peace of Narcoossee is better than the business of London and Paris ... is not this a cool-gray landscape? Doesn't it make Narcoossee seem rich and purple? Certainly I should not be half as solitary in Narcoossee as I am in Paris." Adams held the Fells in high regard. His long association with Charles Scribner's&Sons probably helped influence the publishing house to review and publish Nelson Fell's articles on life in Russia, and arrange contacts for both Nelson and Marian with other publishing firms. In 1917, he used his influence to no avail with President Woodrow Wilson to secure for Nelson Fell a diplomatic appointment to Russia.
In May 1915, the City of Fellsmere was incorporated with C.W. Talmadge, G.F. Green, and Wallace Sherwood serving as councilmen. Patrick Vans Agnew served as the first city attorney. Over the following years, the City provided infrastructure in the form of paved streets, sidewalks, street lighting, and electrical service. In 1915, Nelson Fell helped organize a producer's exchange, which cultivated, packed, and shipped fruits and vegetables. The following year, a rival producers association was chartered to build packing houses from which to ship and market farm products. A farmer's loan association was established to assist growers with financing the purchase of land, rootstock, and seed for the cultivation of groves and fields. The dynamic influence of the Fells and other early community leaders played an important role in the progressive nature of the settlement. The city charter provided both males and females with voting privileges, the first municipality in Florida to take this progressive measure. One historian of women's history attributes the charter as the legislative beginnings of the suffrage movement in Florida.
† Historic Property Associates, Inc., Historic Properties Survey of Fellsmere, Florida, 1996, www.cityoffellsmere.org, accessed September, 2021.