Today we are honoring posthumously, Mary Isabell Wiggins MacRae, a true pioneer of Citrus County, our “Woman of the Year”, for her relentless love of the Homosassa area and the drive for accurate accounts of history in Citrus County.

Mrs. MacRae was born in Plymouth, England and a graduate of the University of London. She taught school in London before she met James Alexander MacRae. Her father was a noted archeologist who went on many digs to the Valley of the Kings in Eqypt. Mary Isabell Wiggins and James Alexander MacRae were married on January 6, 1912 in Devonshire, England.

In July, 1914 James MacRae brought his new wife to Connecticut, where she stayed with relatives while he traveled to East Florida to find work. Someone told him about the west coast of Florida and once he saw Homosassa he knew he was home. Homosassa only had 68 residents when they arrived. He returned for her soon after and they began their new life in the United States. In 1916 he bought a general store and together they helped in shipping logs by rail to many cities in the US. In 1921 they established a wholesale fish business, shipping fish to Fulton Fish Markets in New York, Charleston, and Savannah. Along with being a true Citrus County historian, she was running their store, raising their four children, Duncan, Marjorie, Jean and Elizabeth, and found time to be given space at University of Florida to do her research on David L.Yulee.

James MacRae joined the Masonic Lodge in London, and attended meetings in Inverness, Florida. When in London he was Secretary of the London Gaelic Society for many years and was a member of the Presbyterian Church. James passed away in 1953.

James MacRae joined the Masonic Lodge in London, and attended meetings in Inverness, Florida. When in London he was Secretary of the London Gaelic Society for many years and was a member of the Presbyterian Church. James passed away in 1953.

Mary MacRae was a very beautiful, gracious lady, who loved the water and the land. When her son Duncan brought his new wife, Wilma, our guest today, to live on the property Mary told her new daughter-in-law, “Take as many pictures as possible, because it will change”. She loved having people knock on her door and ask questions about the area. She and her husband James loved telling people about their beautiful surroundings on the Homosassa River and loved entertaining for afternoon tea. Wilma and Duncan Jr. felt the same way. Her organizational ability was recognized by then Governor Leroy Collins, when he appointed her to the original advisory council of the Central Florida Junior College in 1957.

In 1963 Mary organized, and was a member, of the Citrus County Historical Commission and Society. In January, 1971, at the annual membership of the St. Augustine Historical Society in St. Augustine, Mrs. MacRae received a very prestigious “Award of Merit” from the American Association for State & Local History, for her 50 years of contributions to history, especially in her perseverance to create a Memorial out of the Yulee Sugar Plantation and the writings concerning the history of the Yulee family.

On January 24, 1971 The Tampa Tribune-Times published a page long article on Mary MacRae’s manuscript titled “The Story of David Yulee”. It was to be published as a book, but after being tied up with lawyers, it never was published. The family and a member of Citrus County Historical Society are holding the original manuscript personally.

On June 1, 1972, in St. Augustine, Florida, Mary was honored as a member of the National Historical Society, by receiving a famed certificate “For stimulating interest in and preserving the great heritage that is our American History”. Wilma, her daughter-in-law, drove Mary, her brother, Philip, and his wife Norah, who were visiting from England, to the prestigious event.

Mary MacRae’s driven interest was always of United States Senator, David L.Yulee, of the Civil War period, whos grandfather was Grand Vizier Jacoub Ben Youle, the Sultan of Morocco. It was David Yulee who made a speech in the Senate signaling Florida’s secession from the Union. As a result, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to prison. He left this area in 1865, after operating a 5000 acre plantation, growing sugar cane and making syrup in the mill.

Mary spent 50 years researching the family, which took her to the Virgin Islands, where she interviewed people in the Jewish colony. Not satisfied with the results of her St. Thomas inquiries, Mary wrote countless letters abroad. She also wrote to a synagogue in Gibralter. Later, she was given a trunkful of letters and papers owned by Yulee’s daughter, Mrs. Florida Neff, which are now in the Florida Historical Library at the University of Florida. On January 10, 1983 the Citrus County Historical Society, given to the family, for being Citrus County’s most dedicated pioneer woman, honored her, posthumously with a “Decade of Service Award” plaque. The plaque stated:

*For her appointment by Gov. Leroy Collins, who recognized her organizational ability, to the original advisory council of Central Florida Historical Society Commission.

*As a director of the Florida Historical Society and representative for the origin of the Citrus County Historical Commission and Society in 1963.

*For researching the life of U.S. Senator David L. Yulee and Yulee Sugar Mill at Homosassa and its establishment as a national shrine through her efforts. (Many a time she almost bodily defended the old mill during World War II from being carried off for scrap metal).

A proclamation was made declaring May 9, 1983 to be “Mary Isabell MacRae Day” in Citrus County.

Prior to the presentation, a large article titled “Honoring a Pioneer” was in the local newspaper, showing Mrs. MacRae on her Homosassa home dock and a picture of the MacRae General Store in Old Homosassa, as it appeared on a postcard in 1950-51.

The MacRae’s lived in an old white house, which thought to be owned by Joshua Chamberlain until the store was completed. They lived upstairs in the store until 1955. They then moved into a palm log home where the five log units are presently located, on property that was built by their son Duncan. The Homosassa Inn was purchased from Helen Willard Richardson in 1917, and taken possession by the MacRae’s in 1931.The family continues to operate the business that James and Mary began in 1915. Through hard work and dedication the business has grown to include 23 cabin units, an upgraded Bait House, and a Tiki Bar, now operated by the grandson of James and Mary MacRae. The Homosassa Inn, now a beautiful white southern style home, with a large front porch, is home to Wilma MacRae, after renovations in 1993 to make it a private residence. In the Heritage Center in the old courthouse there is a room ” Mary I MacRae ” named after her. There is an exhibit titled “A Long Way Home” in that room.

Mary Isabell Wiggins MacRae died September 19, 1973 and is buried beside her husband James Alexander MacRae and daughter Marjorie E. MacRae in Stage Stand Cemetery across from the Homosassa Post Office on Suncoast Hwy (US Hwy 19).



The Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad were consolidated into the Savannah, Florida and Western Railway Company in 1901 and in 1902 into the Atlantic Coast Line Railway Company. In later years the ACL became part of Seaboard, which today is the CSX.

The train consisted of a steam locomotive, mail car, two passenger cars and a flatbed car. It would make a daily round trip from Homosassa via Crystal River and Dunnellon to Ocala. Travelers heading west could change at Dunnellon and those heading north would change in Ocala. The purpose of the flatbed car of the train was to transport cedar, machinery and wooden barrels filled with salted mullet from Homosassa to Ocala. It did not take long for the locals to refer to the Atlantic Coast Line Engine #501 as the “Mullet Express”. Some old-timers “know” that during the prohibition years the train was also a convenient means of transporting the same size barrels filled with moonshine.

Above is a timetable for the SSO&G Railroad. There are several interesting items to observe. First, notice that this was effective at “6:30 AM” on the date shown. That’s getting it right down to the minute. Then, by looking at the times of departure and the stops included (in as little as two minutes) you realize that a train had a schedule very much like a streetcar of a later age. Next, read the names of the towns where the train stopped. Most no longer exist. Incidentally, in one of the elections held in the late 1880’s to determine a new location for the seat of Citrus County government, Gulf Junction got one vote. Also, Hartshorn is now Holder. Noting that at several stations “trains do not receive or deliver freight or passengers”, one wonders why it stopped at all. Probably just to receive or deliver mail. This timetable by itself is a fascinating study of another time in the life of our nation.

A moss factory nearby would ship dried Spanish moss to Ocala. If the moss was free of leaves and twigs, it would bring as much as 2 cents per pound from an upholstery factory in Jacksonville.

The track and depot located in Homosassa were both retired in November of 1941.

Nestled in a small wooded area near Homosassa, the ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill are one of Florida’s most evocative historic settings. The picture was taken during the archaeological assessment of the mill works and equipment.

David Levy Yulee an outstanding historic figure

David Levy Yulee was one of Florida’s most outstanding historic figures. He was born June 12, 1810, on the West Indies island of St. Thomas. He came from a prosperous Jewish family, but as an adult changed his name and his religion, becoming a Presbyterian. His father showed great interest in the new territory called Florida. His father in 1817 had bought 36.000 acres near Micanopy, where he settled with his family.

When David was nine years old, his father sent him to a private school in Virginia and later to law school in St. Augustine. He married the daughter of a Kentucky governor.

Yulee first served as Florida’s territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, where he obtained a grant for a railroad survey of Florida. He also was an outspoken defender of slavery and promoted removal of Native Americans from Florida. Like many southerners, he was outraged at the presence of runaway slaves among the Seminole. In both Washington and Florida, Levy was an effective speaker in the movement for statehood.

He proposed state and federal sponsorship for a railroad from the Atlantic coast of Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. He intended to have this railroad run through his property. Construction of the Florida Railroad, the first in the state, began in 1855 at Fernandina on the east coast, and was completed at Cedar Key in Levy County in April of 1861.

When Florida entered the Union in 1845, the legislature elected Levy to the United States Senate. His influence was so extensive in Florida that in 1845 the state named Levy County in his honor. When the legislators were de viding Hernando County into Citrus, Hernando and Pasco County, they also changed Senator Levy’s name as well.

He became Senator Yulee by an act of the Florida legislature in 1845. A moderate pro-Union faction defeated him for re-election, but he regained his seat in the Senate in 1854, taking a less fierce attitude on southern rights. Yulee served until the secession crisis, when he resigned in order to serve the Confederacy.

Though a politician, Yulee stayed involved in agriculture. Yulee was said to have a large assortment of sweet oranges on his plantation. This variety is appropriately named the Homosassa Orange and is still considered a favorite fruit today.

In 1851, 69 workers built the Yulee sugar mill, using expensive machinery imported from New York. The operation employed some 100 slaves. The mill was in operation until 1864. For 13 years, it was a time of peace and prosperity for Yulee, until the Civil War drove him to a fateful decision. In 1861, he made the hard choice of serving in the newly created Congress of the Confederacy, but resisted the idea of using his rails to make connections that would better aid the war effort. The mill served as a supplier of sugar products for Southern troops, and his mansion became a stockpile for ammunition and supplies.

In May 1864. A Union naval force burned his home on Tiger Tail Island in the Homosassa River to the ground. The ruins of this mansion are shown in the above picture of 1920. Federal troops destroyed the plantation buildings during the Civil War, but the sugarhouse was spared, contrary to local reports. The sugarhouse was burned through the carelessness of cattlemen in June 1869. The mill, located inland, escaped damage, but never resumed operation after the war ended and eventually fell into ruin. The picture below was taken around 1920.

The ruins of Yulee’s sugar mill, including the old iron boiler, kettles, chimney, and mill machinery, still are preserved and they are included today in a state park. Yulee abandoned sugar production after the Civil War.

Yulee was briefly imprisoned in Georgia, accused of aiding the flight of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet. After a presidential order from Ulysses Grant, he was freed and resumed his railroad interests. He died in New York in 1886.

Hewn from native limestone. The mill has been partially restored. It currently consists of a large chimney with an extending structure about 40 feet long that houses the boiler. Beside the mill’s remains are parts of the grinding machinery.

First presented to the Citrus County Federation of Women’s Club in 1923, the 6-acre Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins site was deeded to the state in 1953. Since then the Florida Park Service has made several improvements to this small wooded area in Homosassa, Florida. With the most recent stabilization effort of the masonry in 2006 (picture above), using the original Lime and sand mortar mix proportions, the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park has become a true landmark of Old Homosassa.

Visitors can tour the ruins at their own pace with the help of a concrete path and interpretive plaques. The site also offers picnic facilities. With 10 days notice, a guided tour for groups of 10 or more can be arranged based on the availability of park personnel.