Wallace Brooks Park
Located on the shoreline of the Lake Tsala Apopka chain, Wallace Brooks Park can be found via land negotiation at the end of Dampier Street, just minutes from central downtown.
Who Was Wallace Brooks?
Thanks to an article written by Cathy Kapulka of the Inverness Pioneer, we learn much about Wallace Brooks from interviews with past friends and acquaintances. The late Daniel Sawyer, an Inverness resident since 1933, reminisced about his good friend. "He was the oldest black citizen in the City of Inverness at the time," said Sawyer, and the park was named after his longtime pal for that reason.
The park was dedicated on May 21, 1968 and designated as a segregated park for African/Americans. Sawyer said that Brooks worked for the Inverness rail company, Atlantic Coast Line Railway and he frequently walked the railroad tracks (now part of the Withlacoochee State Trail). "He did a lot of walking," Sawyer said. "He used to walk all over town. He walked around every day with a burlap sac on his back. I don't know what was in it." Per Sawyer, Brooks was an average man, short in stature and mild mannered.
A 1910 Pasco County census lists Brooks as lodger and a laborer at a sawmill. In 1917, the Polk County registrar captures a birth date of Dec. 1, 1882, as well as his occupation as mill laborer at the Lake Wales Lumber Company. The 1920 Pasco County census is more vague, but still includes Brooks. In 1935, Citrus County census reports Brooks was born in Florida, 52 years old and married to Georgia born, Mary Brooks. Wallace had a fourth-grade education and Mary a seventh-grade education with occupations as a laborer and a housewife. A slight twist in the 1945 Citrus County census stated that both Brooks and Mary had third-grade educations and Mary's age was also inconsistent. Agewise for Wallace, if the census is correct, Brooks was 85 at the time the park was dedicated to him. No other records were found to document Brooks' life.
Sawyer said that Brooks lived with Mary in Lincoln Park off of S.R. 44 in Inverness and died sometime in the early 1970s, buried in Pine Hill Cemetery. According to the Citrus County Historical Society, there are no records of Brooks being buried in Pine Hill Cemetery; however, there are a number of unmarked graves. His wife, Mary E. Brooks was born on July 26, 1889 and died on July 15, 1960. Citrus County records do show Mary listed in the historical society's cemetery headstone list for Pine Hill. It's possible Wallace Brooks is buried with her, without a headstone.
Luther Cason, owner of Cason Funeral & Cremation Services in Inverness, bought Dampier Street Funeral home from Eli White in 1987. White handled most of the African American burials in Inverness. He said it was very possible that White handled Brooks' death but records were destroyed prior to his purchase. "Most of the time they (deceased) are buried with their families," Cason said. "But there's just no record." A search conducted at the Florida Department of Health's Office of Vital Statistics showed no death records for the dates that Brooks was thought to have died, sometime between 1970 and 1975. It is possible that he died out of state.
De Soto Was Here
That's right! In 1539, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto came through the area in search of the silver and gold that legend said was buried in hidden cities. De Soto and 600 of his conquistadors had sailed to the west coast of Florida, arriving at Tampa Bay (near the present day Town of Ruskin) and steadily making their way north.
According to artifacts discovered nearby and journal entries from DeSoto's expedition, it is believed de Soto very likely camped with his men at the site of the present-day park, before continuing toward what is now Tallahassee. A kiosk marking The de Soto Trail route is located off U.S. 41 between Inverness and Floral City.