By Erika Webb
To pass through Seville is to imagine what might have been -- if not for yellow fever, if not for unlikely freezes bearing down on citrus crops, if not for progress elbowing rail-commute toward obscurity.
The remnants of promise remain. Passers through can't help but look right at the old school house, sprawled beneath an old live oak's branches, or left at what once was Byrd's Store. But then, all too soon, Seville is in the rearview, merely a picturesque memory of a piece of the journey to someplace else.
But some of it, or at least two historic buildings, has been preserved.
"Once dubbed the 'Tangerine Capital of the World,' Seville evolved in a number of ways since the 1880s. The excellent quail hunting, the Seville Hotel, its town baseball team and a tour boat called the Alma May were sources of community pride," according to the West Volusia Historical Society's website.
The family names Prevatt, Raulerson, Wilson, McBride, Cade, Lawrence, Causey, Cowart, Lawson, Robinson, Register, Braddock and others spatter area maps, and the history, of this largely agricultural community.
Many of those names mark the graves in Seville's non-denominational cemetery, situated on a gentle slope overlooking Lower Lake Louise. In the back, are the graves of Seville's African-American residents, in the segregated stillness.
Ike Ward is laid to rest there. His epitaph reads: "Born into slavery; Outlived 16 wives; Died a free man." Mr. Ward lived to be 120 years old.
Seville was founded in 1882 by William Kemble Lente, described as a "prominent railroad and real estate man," in his obituary printed in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, Sept. 5, 1889. The paper reported he had inherited a "princely fortune," which he "either lost or tied up in such a manner that it was un-remunerative."
Mr. Lente was 30 at the time of his passing in Seville.
The Dispatch went on to report that "a fear that he had involved others in his reverses drove him to desperation and suicide."
Those "others" were northern investors who bought into his idea of creating a vibrant community alongside the railroad tracks.
For a time his idea, and the town -- once, but no longer, incorporated -- flourished. There were hotels, shops, grocery stores and a restaurant. Northerners seeking warmer temperatures were deposited next to the "grand hotel" at Seville's train depot, which, according to the historical society's website, received high praise from top brass:
"Teddy Roosevelt, who during a stopover with his Rough Riders, declared Seville's log depot the most attractive he'd ever seen."
Mr. Lente's company established an elaborate water and sewer system with a pump, boiler and two large cypress storage tanks. The water was supplied by spring-fed Lake Louise.
But Seville's heyday was brief. The spread of yellow fever in 1887 and 1888 halted transit to and from the state. The government forbade it and tourists were too afraid to come anyway.
Things improved somewhat after the outbreak, but a citrus freeze in 1894-95 further weakened the probability of Seville being the hub it had promised to be only a decade earlier.
Today, with a population of 614, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, ornamental floriculture -- the fern industry -- is the primary farming endeavor. There are still some cattle ranchers, a few citrus growers and watermelon crops. A large segment of Seville's population is represented by migrant workers.
The two most well preserved buildings are the Seville Public School House and the Trinity United Methodist Church Sanctuary. They have been designated by the Volusia County Historic Preservation Board as historic properties, a recognition program which began in the 1990s.
From the time of its construction in 1913 generations of children were educated the old school house, which grew from four rooms to the sprawling facility it is today. By the 1960s grades seven through 12 were taught at the new T. Dewitt Taylor High School in Pierson. By the 1990s sixth graders followed.
The elementary school was closed in 2008, the first in a series of school closings by the Volusia County School Board due to budget cuts.
That's when the Seville Village Improvement Association set about saving it, and the tree out front, from demolition and removal.
On Jan. 30, 2009, the Historic Seville School became the property of the Seville Village Improvement Association, purchased from Volusia County using funds from donations and an ECHO grant. It is now the community resource center and home to Little Pandas Childhood Development Center.
DeLand resident Eleanor Sweat McCormick grew up in Seville. She helped her dad build crab traps for the men who fished in Lake George. Her family attended the Baptist church. She can remember when the Seville school didn't have screens in the windows and at lunchtime, she said, "The boys would bail out the windows and go to the lunchroom."
Ms. McCormick recalled being taught Bible verses and watching plays in the school's large auditorium, and, she added, "The janitor was always good to us kids."
"There's a lotta fond memories. I hated to see them do away with that school," Ms. McCormick said.
A swimming hole near the cemetery is where she was baptized. She attended dances and community dinners at The Park House. Members of the Baptist and Methodist churches often attended services together, and the pastors had dinner at the homes of their congregants.
Tami Davis works in the tiny Seville Post Office where the writing literally is on the wall. A historical synopsis of the area and a letter mailed from the post office in 1885 hang there, sources of community pride and remembrance. A steady stream of residents comes and goes. Ms. Davis knows them all.
She was vice president of the Seville Village Improvement Association when the group undertook saving the school.
"My kids went there. It was wonderful," Ms. Davis said. "It was like a private school. Everybody knew everybody."
The improvement association formed nearly a century ago at The Park House, also owned by the association, where women met to can food.
"There's a lot of history here," Ms. Davis said.
Local historian Laura Creel and her husband Damon live on Lake Louise. Ms. Creel said she loves the feeling of looking back through time at a stand of palm trees across the lake. She is certain they are the same trees she sees in a picture she has of the pioneer days in Seville.
"So many Floridians, and even Volusians, have never even heard of Seville and know nothing of our contribution to the citrus industry or the railroad," Ms. Creel said. "After yellow fever, the citrus freezes of the 1890s, 1950s and 1980s the fact that Seville has survived and exists at all, is a true representation of the pioneering spirit. Seville's experience mirrored so many early Florida towns. Although we haven't been incorporated in over a century, our community is still thriving and I am blessed to live here."