Cherry Lake

Cherry Lake is a small community located less than five miles from the Georgia State Line in Madison County. It has been home to one of the state’s most vibrant 4-H summer camp programs since 1937, but it was a hub of activity long before that time.

Excerpt from the 2013 official Florida Highway Map published by the Florida Department of Transportation, showing Cherry Lake in Madison County.

Excerpt from the 2013 official Florida Highway Map published by the Florida Department of Transportation, showing Cherry Lake in Madison County.

According to Dr. Alonzo Blalock, who grew up in the area during the mid-1800s, Native Americans originally called Cherry Lake by the name “Ocklawilla.” The terrain surrounding the lake was well-suited for farming, and as more American settlers began venturing into Florida in the 1820s and 1830s, several selected Ocklawilla as the place to make their fortunes. Lucius A. Church, a New Hampshire native and former Georgia merchant, moved into the area around 1830 and bought up two thousand acres of land for a plantation. Other early settlers included the families of William L. Tooke and Reddin W. Parramore. Both of these men were from North Carolina, but spent time in Georgia before moving south into Florida. By 1837, the local post office carried the name “Cherry Lake.” The name stems from the presence of wild cherry trees near the water’s edge, according to Allen Morris’ book of Florida place names.

Several collections at the State Library & Archives touch on Cherry Lake’s history through the years. Members of the community who served the Confederate Army during the Civil War and later received a pension from the state, for example, may be traced through our collection of Confederate Pension Applications. The application below was filed by Thomas J. Blalock, who lived near Cherry Lake when the war broke out.

Confederate pension application (1909) for Thomas J. Blalock, one-time resident of Cherry Lake (click the image to enlarge and view full application dossier).

Confederate pension application (1909) for Thomas J. Blalock, one-time resident of Cherry Lake (click the image to enlarge and view full application dossier).

Cherry Lake was also at times the headquarters of a voting precinct, and at least two militia units were formed there. The muster roll below, for example, lists the members of a company of volunteer militiamen commanded by Captain Charles Williamson. The unit formed at Cherry Lake in September 1870.

Muster Roll of Captain Charles Williamson's Company (Company K) organized at Cherry Lake, Florida in September 1870 (Box 2, folder 16 - Record Series 1146, State Archives of Florida).

Click the image to enlarge. Muster Roll of Captain Charles Williamson’s Company (Company K) organized at Cherry Lake, Florida in September 1870 (Box 2, folder 16 – Record Series 1146, State Archives of Florida).

During the Great Depression, Cherry Lake became the scene of a more profound development. As the American economy continued to spiral downward in the early 1930s, the federal government embarked on an unprecedented series of projects to jumpstart economic activity – President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was one of several agencies coordinating this work. In the early 1930s, FERA bought up 15,000 acres on the shores of Cherry Lake and made plans for a community to house families resettled from crowded urban areas. The idea was to develop the land into a farm and industrial plant that would sustain the inhabitants and help take pressure off the cities. By 1935, well over a hundred families had been relocated to Cherry Lake from Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami, and elsewhere. Officially, the new settlement was called the Cherry Lake Rehabilitation Project. This was later shortened to “Cherry Lake Farms,” which was the name given to the post office in December 1935.

Construction of temporary barracks at Cherry Lake Farms for incoming families (1935).

Construction of temporary barracks at Cherry Lake Farms for incoming families (1935).

The community had everything it needed – roadways, water, electricity, a meat market, a general store, public meeting spaces, and housing. FERA and the Cherry Lake settlers tried several avenues for making the community profitable. At first, they tried raising sugar cane. The project was not successful, so they moved on to raising grapes. This too failed to pass muster, but residents had some luck manufacturing furniture and small crafts. Chairs, desks, tables, and other home furniture were constructed, along with ashtrays, table pads, artificial flowers, and other articles for sale.

Sawmill #2 at Cherry Lake Farms (1935).

Sawmill #2 at Cherry Lake Farms (1935).

Life at Cherry Lake wasn’t all about hard work, of course. The residents made regular use of the settlement’s spacious auditorium, hosting plays, picture shows, and first-rate musical entertainments. According to eminent Madison County historian Edwin Browning’s account of Cherry Lake Farms, even the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and bandleaders Chick Webb and Jan Garber were featured on that stage in its heyday.

Scene from a community play at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Scene from a community play at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Ticket stub for an event at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Ticket stub for an event at the Cherry Lake Auditorium (circa 1940s).

Most of the Cherry Lake infrastructure returned to private ownership during and after World War II. Many of the residents returned to their former homes or moved elsewhere. A few families stayed in the area. The state’s 4-H program began leasing a 12-acre tract of land on the west side of the lake for camp operations around 1937. That property was later acquired outright for 4-H purposes, and remains a headquarters for year-round 4-H activities today.

Attendees of the Cherry Lake 4-H camp in either 1937 or 1938. 1ST ROW L-R: Milton Cave, Melvene Smith, Gloria Bailey, N. Colbern, Bascom Coody, Willerdeen Pulliam; 2ND ROW : Faye Smith, Franklin Stokes, Ruby Stokes, Ed Smith, Jr., Louise Brown, Joe Smith Pulliam.

Attendees of the Cherry Lake 4-H camp in either 1937 or 1938. 1ST ROW L-R: Milton Cave, Melvene Smith, Gloria Bailey, N. Colbern, Bascom Coody, Willerdeen Pulliam; 2ND ROW : Faye Smith, Franklin Stokes, Ruby Stokes, Ed Smith, Jr., Louise Brown, Joe Smith Pulliam.

Are you researching the history of a Florida community? How about your family’s Florida roots? The State Library & Archives have the resources to help you find what you need. Search Florida Memory for documents and media in digital format, search the Library Catalog for rare Florida publications, or plan a visit to our research facility in Tallahassee.  Have a question about our collections? Not sure what you’re looking for? Contact us by email at Archives@dos.myflorida.com and let us know how we can help.

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10 thoughts on “Cherry Lake

  1. My grandfather, father, and uncles worked at Cherry Lake building the docks on the lake. I would love to be able to access the old files from back then.

  2. Terrific article about Cherry Lake. It’s been a favorite recreation place for generations. The Depression Era info is fascinating! Thanks for the wonderful read.

  3. So much to tell you about the dances at Cherry Lake. Mary Brinson and Jack Wade told me so much about the fun they had there when the big names in music came through.

  4. My grandfather K.W. Adkinson was the first man to bring settlers to Cherry Lake from Miami. He drove the semi truck, helped load up the people’s belongings and drove them here along with his family!!I can’t remember how many families he brought here but i know it was quite a few!!I just wish i had listened to his stories a little closer!! Mom still has vouchers for the store for sugar and gas!!!

  5. It’s really cool to read about everyone’s grandfather and the cheery lake farm with its economic proposal . My father told me a few yrs back when I ask him to go fishing there, that my grandfather was once a constable back in the early thirties . I’m also interested in how to get proof.

  6. Hi I’m from Bonaire GA and I have never heard of Cherry Lake Farms until I was walking to my mail box today and found a coin in the dirt. The coin has the property of Cherry Lake Farms Inc 1937 and on the other side it has 100

    • Sure would like to see a picture or maybe aquire that coin. I live at Cherry Lake and have deeds recorded back to 1882 when my family first settles here. I’ve been looking for a price of Cherry Lake Money for quite a while DGW

  7. We moved to Cherry Lake when my Father came home from the Navy after WWII. As best I can remember(I was in 4th grade)my grandparents and parents bought 2 of the 4 houses left on the market. Many of my friends families were original residents and there were also some military families like ours. The purchase was supposed to be temporary…just until things “settle down”. We never moved. There was a school for grades 1 thru 8, then we went to Madison for High Sch.

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