By Charles Nelson
Drive along Balm Wimauma Rd. today and look for the town of Morris Park. Once a dream of Ruskin’s founding father, George Miller, there is virtually no evidence today that Morris Park actually existed in the early 20th century.
By 1911, the new town of Ruskin was a thriving, cooperative community, and Miller sought to create a ‘twin town’ to the east. Through a complex series of land deals involving Wimauma Founder Captain C. H. Davis, Miller acquired development rights to lands northeast of Wimauma.
It was here, midway between Wimauma and Balm, along the Seaboard Air Lines rail tracks, that Miller laid out his new town: Morris Park, named in honor of William Morris of England. Morris was the philosophical successor to England’s John Ruskin, whose ideas of social organization and education initially inspired Miller to found Ruskin in 1908.
To fund the new venture, a large pine mill was put into operation at Morris Park in about 1911, supporting a reported 200 employees and their families. A shingle mill, with an annual capacity of 50,000 shingles, was also opened at the ‘Big Cypress’ six miles west of Morris Park. The new town was platted for development, and land sales were managed by the Ruskin Colony Extension Company.
Railroad expansion was critical to this planned community. The Seaboard Airlines already ran through Wimauma and Balm, but a new midway station was sought to serve the sawmill and Morris Park. That main line station would then connect Ruskin to Morris Park with a brand-new electric railroad (the Tampa Tribune refers to it as a ‘trolley line’), providing service in Ruskin from 4th St. (now, US 41) and Bellamy Ave. (today’s Shell Point Dr.).
To serve the new shingle plant, a 10-mile ‘loop’ railroad was to connect with the Ruskin-Morris Park Line and run to Big Cypress and back. In the middle of that loop, a new town was to rise: Aurazoda. That unusual name was coined by Miller, who named it for his three daughters: Aurora, Zoa and Georgadda. He admitted that he got the idea from his friend, Captain Davis, who founded and named the town of Wimauma after his three daughters (Wilma, Maude and Mary).
True to Ruskin’s cooperative ideals, 250 acres was reserved within Aurazoda for a ‘welfare farm’ owned and operated by the Morris Park Welfare Society. The proceeds from the farm’s output would extend public utilities and improvements under the direction of the Welfare Society. All of the driveways within this truck farm were to be lined with cabbage palms to make a good substitute for a public park.
Early growth in Morris Park seemed promising. By February 1913, the town boasted a boarding house and a store. A Sunday school was organized in Welfare Hall. A thriving poultry industry arose. By May 1913, the new railroad station opened. Growth continued into 1914 with announced plans for a canning factory and a cane mill. The telephone connection with Ruskin became a reality.
Beginning in 1915, however, Miller seemingly lost interest in Morris Park. In a major blow to the town’s survival, the sawmill closed, and its employees and their families moved away. By 1916, Miller’s and Ruskin’s attention was diverted by World War I, which took many of Ruskin’s young men, resulting in the eventual closing of Ruskin College.
Few land sales are reported in 1918/19 and plans for connecting rail lines were abandoned. The community never recovered, and by 1930, much of the town’s lands were sold in chancery court.
In 1963, Hillsborough County commissioners published a legal notice that plats known as the Town of Morris Park “shall be closed, vacated and abandoned and all right of the public in and to the land is renounced and disclaimed.” Miller’s dreams of a twin sister to Ruskin faded into history, and the evidence of a community at Morris Park disappeared as well.