Memories from the Past: The Developer of the World’s Largest Citrus Empire
1876 – William John Howey – 1938
- William John Howey was born on a farm in Odin, Illinois on January 18, 1876 and by 1900 at 16 years old, began selling insurance.
- Howey started his first citrus development in Winter Haven, Florida in 1908. Over the next six years, he established citrus developments at Lake Hamilton, Dundee, and Starr Lake, having turned uninhabited country into productive groves.
- In 1914, Howey moved to Lake County, where he began buying land and developing his plans for “City Inevitable”.
- In 1917, Howey’s 18 hole golf course was designed by George O’Neil of Chicago, Illinois.
- Some 60,000 acres were amassed by the William J. Howey Co. by 1920. Howey acquired the raw land for $8-10 per acre. Once cleared, cultivated and planted with 48 citrus trees, each acre sold for $800-1,200.
- While established as the town of Howey in 1920, the name was changed and Howey-in-the-Hills was incorporated on May 8, 1925. William J. Howey served as Mayor from 1925-1936.
- During the Florida land boom years, Howey sold thousands of acres of raw land resulting in thousands of visitors to central Florida and the sale of millions of boxes of premium citrus. By 1926, the company claimed to have planted 14,000 acres of citrus trees.
- After two years of construction and $250,000 in costs ($3.4 million in today’s dollars) the “Howey House”, a 7,200 aquare foot mansion was completed for Howey on the hightest point in town, acress from the golf course. The home’s 15 acres, known as “The Park” were planted with some 1,000 different trees and flowering species. On January 8, 1983, the Howey Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- In 1928 and 1932 campaigns, William J. Howey ran for the Republican Governor of Flroida. Although Howey lost, the candidate garnered more than the required 30 percent of total votes cast, which gave credence to a two-party, statewide system and the new Florida Republican party. Howey remained the titular pary head for eight years, until 1936.