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From the Beginning

Little did Evander Lee, Leesburg’s namesake, know that his arrival in 1857 would trigger the City of Leesburg’s biggest celebration ever, with its year-long Sesquicentennial in 2007.

Though Lee became the area’s first permanent settler, Thomas Robertson and his 21-year-old son, John Marmaduke Robertson, came first to what is present-day Leesburg in 1843, or likely a year sooner. They lived in what would become the heart of Leesburg for 11 years before Thomas moved back to Moss Bluff. John later sold his property and founded the nearby community of Whitney.

Lee came to what would later become Leesburg looking for a better climate to ease his rheumatism. What he found—bald eagles, Florida panthers and lots of fish—made him decide to stay. Even 150 years ago, Leesburg’s founder recognized the area’s strengths: its temperate winters, extensive waterways and picturesque countryside. In short order it became a small community of homesteaders with the name of Leesburg, and by 1875 it was incorporated as a small town.

Evander Lee brought with him his wife Susan and his eight children. He purchased the old Thomas Robertson homestead from James Fussell for $3,300. Several Lee brothers soon joined Evander, and his brother, Calvin Lee, is credited with giving Leesburg its name. Calvin and Evander built a log store on Main Street, where the public restroom is now located, and when Calvin went on a buying trip to New York City and was asked where to ship the merchandise, he reportedly told his suppliers to bill his goods to “Leesburg.”

In the 20 years after Lee’s arrival, the town grew, adding churches, schools, a newspaper, stores, government buildings and even an opera house. When Sumter and Orange counties split, Leesburg found itself located in the heart of the newly formed Lake County in 1887, when it was created from portions of Sumter and Orange counties.

Thousands of residents and visitors celebrated Leesburg’s Centennial with a week of events beginning February 24, 1957. But rather than have just a week of festivities during the Sesquicentennial in 2007, residents and visitors remembered and celebrated Leesburg’s pioneering spirit all year long with a different theme and different events each month.

Here are some important dates in Leesburg’s history to remember. The city was incorporated on July 12, 1875, about a dozen years before Lake County was formed from portions of Sumter and Orange counties. In 1922, the city changed its form of government to a City Manager-run municipality when the new City Charter established a City Commission. The present City Hall was built in 1926 and was enlarged in 1988. The first recorded Watermelon Festival was held in 1930, though it may have started a few years earlier. In 1934, in the grips of the Great Depression, work on Venetian Gardens was started as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project; the work helped keep food on many Leesburg tables.

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