“Little is known!”
Leo Wolf conveyed a tiny downtown Orlando parcel to P. Phillips, a transaction that at first glance appears to have little intrinsic value. A closer look though finds a window to a treasure trove of central Florida history. The reason for taking a closer look at an old 1916 deed was Leo’s surname, as the party of the first part happened to have the same last as that of the maiden name of the wife of the party of the second part.
Reading that “little is known” about Della Wolf, wife of Florida’s 20th century citrus grower, Dr. Philip Phillips, were words that served as a call to action for me. All of the mystery that is central Florida history is what had enticed me to begin researching the past in the first place. As local researcher know, one finds the tantalizing little is known phrase often while digging into central Florida’s past.
The one truth I’ve learned after a decade of researching central Florida is that to fully understand the real history, one must include research of the spouse, and her family. This is the case as well for the story of Orlando’s Dr. P. Phillip, a pioneer said to have first lost his grove in the Great Freeze of 1895, departed Florida, and then returned to achieve his family’s fame and fortune.
About that Mr. Leo Wolf:
The 1916 Orange County document cited above identifies, “Leo Wolf (unmarried) of Scott, Mississippi, party of the first part, and Dr. P. Phillips of Orlando, Florida, party of the second part.” The 1910 census of Scott County, Mississippi, at the Village of Forest, lived Leo H. Wolf, age 35, living with his parents, Ben & Anna Wolf.
Was this the same Leo Wolf? The 1910 census listed as well the names and ages of three siblings, as well as a grandson. Sloppy handwriting suggests the grandson was “Nalter Philipo, Age 4, born 1906 in Florida.” Census takers had visited the Scott County family on May 7, 1910. Walter Phillips, the second son of Philip & Della Phillips of Orlando, was visiting his grandparents. A month earlier, Orange County census takers also included four year old Walter, listed on April 18, 1910, as residing with his parents in Orlando, Florida.
A decade before the 1910 census, Leo was living with his parents in Scott, Mississippi, with the same three younger siblings, and two older siblings, a brother Ezekiel, and a sister, Della B. Wolf. The 1900 census lists Della as being 23 years old, born March 1877.
The Mississippi Marriage Index, 1800-1911, records a January 20, 1901 marriage, at Scott County, Mississippi. The bride was Della Wolf, the groom was P. Phillips.
Believed to have been a native of Alabama, in large part because of Della herself, the reason was likely due to Della’s family history. The parents of Della (Wolf) Phillips, Benjamin & Anne (Kosminsky) Wolf, were married May 17, 1876 at Mobile, Alabama. Anne’s father, Abraham (at times spelled Kozminski), had been a Polish immigrant. Arriving in the United States in 1849, settling at Mobile, and established a clothing business that was still going strong at the time of his daughter’s wedding in 1901.
Leo Wolf’s Occupation:
The party of the first part in 1916, “Leo Wolf of Scott, Mississippi” not only leads us to learning the true identity of the wife of Dr. Phillips, Lou Wolf’s occupation in 1900 and 1910 reveals much about the Wolf family, and even more about Dr. Philip Phillips.
Ocala Banner Newspaper, November 1, 1901
Ten (10) months after marrying, “Dr. P. Phillips, of Forest, Mississippi”, ran an ad saying he had 200 head of Hereford Bulls and Heifers “acclimated for Florida. Now is the time,” said the ad, “to do away with the scrub cattle of Florida by crossing on the best beef cattle in the world.”
The extent of influence Della Wolf’s family played in a choice of careers of the then 27 year old Dr. Phillips is uncertain, but it’s important to note that Della’s father, by the time of the 1901 Phillips marriage, had been in the meat business for three decades. Each of Benjamin’s sons, by 1901, had followed in their father’s footsteps.
Dr. Phillips comes to Florida (again?):
During the fifteen (15) months between the Forest, Mississippi advertisement, and a January, 1903 notice published in the Ocala Banner, telling of the delayed arrival of Dr. Phillips’ Herefords to Florida, the first of two boys was born to Philip & Della. Named Howard, the family’s new addition was born March 27, 1902 at Lebanon, Tennessee.
Married 1901 at Forest, Scott County, Mississippi; Howard Phillips was born 1902 at Lebanon, Tennessee. Dr. Phillips’ Herefords arrived at Ocala, Florida, coming direct from northwestern Texas, according to the Ocala Banner, in February, 1903. The herd was then taken, that same month, to Arcadia.
Ocala Banner Newspaper, January 9, 1903 (not 1093!)
Was the 1903 arrival in Florida the first for Dr. Philip Phillips? According to this pioneer’s time-honored history, this was in fact his second time in Florida. Dr. Philip Phillips, says local legend, had a grove at Satsuma, and lost the grove during Florida’s Great Freeze of 1895.
Phillips of Satsuma:
US Highway 17 passes through Satsuma today, a roadside village fifteen miles south of Palatka. First established in 1882, on land originally known as the Hernandez Spanish Land Grant, New Englanders Whitney and Hodges offered grove sites to anxious settlers desiring to cash in on the 1880s Citrus boom. Putnam County became a sprawling citrus farming region, but two back-to-back freezes, the first December 29, 1894, followed 40 days later by an even worse freeze, February 7, 1895, wiped out nearly all of Florida’s citrus crop.
Dr. Philip Phillips was 20 years old at the time of Florida’s Great Freeze, born, said his 1921 passport application, January 27, 1874. While it is certainly possible a 20 year old Tennessean ventured south and established a grove prior to December, 1894, the challenge for historians is to ascertain the accuracy of such a claim.
Satsuma, Florida had its very own Post Office, a mail station established when Philip Phillips was a mere ten (10) years old. Henry B. Phillips was appointed Postmaster of that office on March 4, 1884. Was this Satsuma Postmaster related to Orlando’s Dr. Philip Phillips?
“Little is known,” that popular central Florida history saying so goes, about the 19 century chapter in the life of Dr. Philip Phillips. And that’s the chapter I find most interesting in the story of CitrusLAND. Part TWO of this Blog will continue with “Louise & the Other Doctor Phillips!”
Della (Wolf) Phillips was among the earliest of 20th century frontierswomen to arrive in an undeveloped yet ever-expanding central Florida. Remarkable women however had already contributed immensely to settling this remote land.
CitrusLAND: Curse of Florida’s Paradise, (2013 and in Second Edition 2016) is not only a true history of 19 century central Florida, but each of 12 chapters begins with a dedication and brief biography of one very special frontierswoman.
Visit my website for details of this book and others by this author. And stay tuned, Rick’s Blog Part 2 is up next.
Bibliography is available upon request by emailing [email protected]