Commonly known as Florida’s ghost town, this old settlement is tucked away deep inside the Ocala National Forest.
Kerr City lies on Lake Kerr off of Lake Kerr Road (CR 316), a few miles west of SR 19. It’s in the midst of Ocala National Forest, lying between the St. Johns River on the east and the Ocklawaha River on the west.
The area was originally a cotton plantation prior to and during the Civil War. After the war there was an attempt to grow oranges for northern markets. As settlements in central Florida go, Kerr City was one of the earliest, being only the second one in Marion County, platted in 1884. George Smiley was considered to be the founder of the city.
Prior to the construction of the railroad, the settlement served as a way station for stage coaches between the St. Johns River steamboats and Ocala. The stages would run along Beulah Avenue through the middle of Kerr City, stopping in the settlement that had a hotel and other facilities.
In the winter of 1894 and 1895 there were state-wide freezes that all but destroyed the emerging citrus industry. The freezes were so severe. Not only did they destroy the fruit, but many of the trees were killed off, which meant that a quick recovery the next season was impossible. Those freezes hit Kerr City hard with many people giving up and moving away.
With the coming of the railroad, the way station was no longer needed and Kerr City never rebounded. In 1908, the Ocala National Forest was created around the settlement. By World War II, very few people lived nearby and in 1942 the post office closed.
George Smiley continued to live in the settlement and as other people moved away, he would purchase their land, eventually possessing nearly all the property in Kerr City. By 1955, it was Smiley’s son Alfred Smiley who owned it all.
In later years, one of the descendants of early Kerr City settlers ended up owning the area. Arthur Brennan renovated some of the old homes and rented them to vacationers.
Beulah Ave and the rest of the platted streets were never paved and today look much like they did in the late 1800s. The area is still carved out of southern live oak and longleaf pine forest. Even on a sunny day, the settlement is mostly shady.
Installed in 1925, the Texaco gas pump still sits in the center of the settlement. As of 1988, it was reportedly still functioning and dispensing gas. By 2014, the pump no longer appeared to be functional.
It’s currently unclear as to what the future holds for the Kerr City site. As of 2014, Mr. Brennan still lived there and I believe that as of 2020 he is still on the property. It would certainly be a shame if Kerr City was allowed to deteriorate and disappear back into the forest.