By Charles Nelson
While some may grumble about increased traffic or jammed restaurants during ‘Snowbird’ season, most of us treasure our winter neighbors. ‘Snowbirding’ has a long tradition in eastern Hillsborough County.
Around 1880, our very first snowbirds migrated to the town of Limona, a once thriving community supported by a booming farm and lumber-based economy. Few remnants of Limona remain as the village was completely absorbed within Brandon beginning in the 1950s. Historic Limona Cemetery on Lakewood Drive is one of the few visible reminders.
In 1876, Judge Joseph Knapp founded Limona by claiming a 160-acre homestead which he christened ‘Limona Farm’ based on the Spanish word for lemon. Knapp became an ardent booster of Limona praising its unrivaled climate, healthfulness and agricultural potential. He wrote letters to the editor in Wisconsin and New Mexico successfully persuading settlers to migrate to the new community.
Knapp’s booster efforts were frequently opposed by ‘squatter’ cattlemen who occupied the land but who had not filed legal claims with the government. Knapp, along with other homesteaders, received threatening letters promising that the only plots of land they would occupy would be a 2’x6½’ plot for their coffins. Despite those threats, most Limona homesteaders stayed and prospered.
In 1877, Judge Knapp met Edward Pratt—a surveyor hired by the Elgin Watch Company of Illinois to find a winter vacation colony for its retirees. Knapp convinced him to take a look at Limona. Pratt fell in love with the area and sent reports back to Illinois of an unspoiled lake region dotted with high sandy ridges and an acceptable climate, perfect for retirees as well as for citrus, cattle and timbering.
As a result, the Elgin Company purchased land in Limona and encouraged employees and retirees to invest a portion of their earnings in those business opportunities and to secure winter homes in a welcoming climate. While several Elginites took up permanent residence, several families made Limona their winter home, traveling north for the summers. These were SouthShore’s first snowbirds!
The community established a post office in 1877, and a railroad depot came a few years later linking Limona to Plant City. By 1883 the population had climbed to about 400 residents. Limona prospered as an independent, small community until the Depression years, when it began to steadily decline in population. Afterwards, the railroad station shut down, the post office closed in 1964 and the town merged with Brandon in that same era.
Despite the hustle and bustle of modern Brandon, there remains a treasured window into life of early Limona. Scott and Julia Moseley moved to Limona, from Elgin, Illinois, in 1882. Their home, The Nest, was built in 1885, following a fire that destroyed their first cabin. The Nest sits today in a lovely wooded area, next to Portillo’s on Brandon Boulevard. Though not accessible to the public, this original 1885 house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can read much more about Limona and the Florida woodlands of 1882 – 1886. An excellent collection of letters and photos is available at the Hillsborough County Public Library: Come to My Sunland: Letters of Julia Daniels Mosely from the Florida Frontier, 1882- 1886. It is well worth checking out!