Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
Comments by Sisco Deen
At the beginning of this history, I mentioned General Joseph Marion
Hernandez and his Bella Vista Plantation. Bella Vista is now our beautiful
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.
Between 1923 and 1936, the generalís former plantation very nearly became
General Hernandezís daughter, Lucia Catalina (Louisa Caroline) married
George Lawrence Washington in St. Augustine on 07 Jan 1845 and this family
became the owners of Bella Vista Plantation which later became known as
Washington Oaks. Lousia Caroline Hernandez Washington died about 1859 and
George married about 1865, Miss Eleanor S. Stephens from New Jersey.
Charles Minor Washington, youngest son of George Lawrence and Eleanor
Stephens, acquired sole ownership of Washington Oaks from his fatherís
other heirs in 1914. Charles sold the property in 1923 to Ed and Lillian
The Johnsonís rather quickly sold a five-sixteenth interest in the
property to L. F. Galloway of Seminole County and another 5/16 to Claude
In 1926, the Johnsonís and their associates of the Coastal Holding Company
transferred title to Section 39 and Section 40 Ė Bella Vista and most of
the old Mala Compra plantation Ė to the Hernandez Estates Corporation of
which Ed Johnson was president.
The land was subdivided and a plat of the Hernandez Estates was filed with
Flagler County preparatory to selling tracts to the public. These events
were occurring just as the Florida real estate boom began to collapse.
In 1927, Hernandez Estates failed to pay the property taxes on Sections 39
and 40 and all plans for development there came to a halt.
For the next ten years or so, these properties fell into many hands with
the selling and buying of tax deeds. On April 7, 1936, Louise P. Clark of
Westchester County, NY, the future Mrs. Owen D. Young, purchased
Washington Oaks. In 1965, the Youngís donated most of the property to the
State of Florida who turned it into Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.
INTRODUCTION: THE WASHINGTON OAKS STORY (research paper)
(Forward and introduction to report by Mildred L. Fryman, Ph.D. October
Florida Department of Natural Resources)
At the time project research began, the known background of Washington
Oaks consisted of a mixture of documented information and undocumented
stories about the property and its owners. Although there were some
kernels of documentable fact embedded in this mixture, the resulting
product can best be characterized as a traditional story as opposed to a
history of the property. The origins of the major story lines in this
tradition remain a mystery. As often happens .in popular history, they
probably evolved over the years as one person after another uncritically
passed them on, perhaps with a few embellishments. One of the main
objectives of the current project has been to sort out fact from fiction
in preexisting "history" while trying to understand how the misconceptions
The traditional story of Washington Oaks begins with the acquisition of
the property by Joseph Marion Hernandez as a land grant from the Spanish
government. The story does not include information about any prior use of
that land. According to the next major story element, Hernandez presented
Washington Oaks to his daughter Louisa as a wedding gift on the occasion
of her marriage in 1844 to George L. Washington. George and Louisa receive
credit for constructing a two story home at Washington Oaks, a home in
which they supposedly lived for over a decade. What use they made of the
land use is not discussed in this version with one exception. The story
reports that the Washingtons put in an artesian well just before they
moved to North Carolina in 1856.
The popular "history" of the property suggests that George L. Washington
returned to the area in his later life and lived at Washington Oaks with
his oldest son, George L., .Junior, who died at the family residence there
in 1892. Two years later, so the story goes, the elder George also passed
away, leaving the property uninhabited and unused for many years. One
local tradition relates that the Washington residence at Washington Oaks
burned early in the 19005, while' another version suggests that the house
there survived until the 19205. The story then jumps to the acquisition of
the property by Owen Young without accounting for any events of .the early
20th century relating to Washington Oaks.
Current research aimed at substantiating these "Washington Oaks"
traditions produced instead strong evidence negating much of this
George and Louisa -Washington married in 1845, not 1844: Research produced
no indication that George and Louisa-Washington as a couple ever possessed
legal title to Washington Oaks and no suggestion that the Washingtons ever
lived on that land. When Louisa's father made his will in 1856, he listed
"Bella Vista".Plantation (Washington Oaks) as one of the properties which
were his to bequeath.
In actuality, he owned only half interest in that land; his deceased
wife's estate held the other half interest in "Bella Vista" .Joseph
Hernandez instructed his executors to sell that property as soon after his
death as probate legalities would permit and to give half the proceeds of
that sale to his daughter Louisa Washington; the other half of the
proceeds were to be applied to Hernandez' account" with his wife's estate.
At the time that will was made (April, 1856) , George and Louisa
Washington already had moved to North Carolina. It seems very unlikely
that they or Hernandez ever erected a dwelling on Washington Oaks.
Joseph Hernandez died in 1857; his daughter Louisa Washington lived only
until the spring of 1859. Since her father's estate remained open for many
years because his properties were so heavily encumbered with debts, Louisa
never received her inheritance. Late in the 1870s, the estate executor
petitioned the courts for permission to sell Washington Oaks and other
Hernandez estate properties in order to pay outstanding obligations.
Another of Hernandez' daughters purchased the land at that time. It is
possible that Louisa's heirs received the half share of the proceeds of
that sale as instructed in Joseph Hernandez' will; no information was
found to support or negate such an event.
Late in the 1880's, George L. Washington actually bought Washington Oaks.
Research produced information suggesting that perhaps he actually began to
use the property in the mid-1870s through some sort of family agreement.
It is clear that someone had built a house at Washington Oaks by 1887. In
all probability, George Washington constructed that house between 1875 and
1880 as a sportsman's retreat for himself and a country home for Ernest
Washington, his youngest son from his marriage to Louisa Hernandez.
Ernest apparently did not remain in residence at .'the Washington place"
for too long, but the Washington family seems to have continued to use the
property as a Florida retreat for some time. George L. Washington, Jr.,
did indeed die at there in 1892, having lived there for about two years
prior to his death. His father, George, Sr. died elsewhere in 1894. The
Washington heirs remained in possession of the project tract until late in
1923. Research produced no evidence indicating clearly when the main
residence at Washington Oaks burned; accumulated information and map
evidence supports acceptance of the later .'popular history" date for that
event (in the 1920s) as opposed to an earlier date of circa 1903.
In'1923, the property was sold to unrelated parties who planned to develop
that land and some adjacent property into "a subdivision called "Hernandez
Estates"; The collapse of the
Florida land boom in the mid-1920s and the national depression of the,
1930s prevented that plan from becoming a reality. After Louise P. Clark
(the future Mrs. Owen D. Young) received title to the property in 1936,
the property began to be referred to as "Washington Oaks".
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