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Family honors from whence it came

Published April 19, 2007


TARPON SPRINGS - More than 80 years separate the youngest from the oldest descendents in this pioneering Florida family. And few of them bear the family name of their most famous descendent, Wyatt Jackson Meyer.

But Sunday, as the unseasonable cold weather kept them in coats and avoiding the shade, more than 30 members of the clan gathered for an afternoon reunion at Anderson Park on Lake Tarpon, where Meyer built a home in 1915.

It may be the same lake, but it is an entirely different century.

* * *

Meyer's descendents trace their roots to the area back 138 years.

It was 1869, when Meyer's parents traveled the five days by oxcart from Ocala to the north bank of the Anclote River to settle in the wilderness area that would become Anclote.

They erected the first log cabin along the north bank, planted citrus trees and began sowing the seeds of a family, and a community, that would help shape the history of the Tarpon Springs area.

That same year, Meyer was born. He is believed to be the first child born in Anclote who was not American Indian. He would eventually work in the area's fledging sponge industry, before it came to define Anclote and the Tarpon Springs area.

Meyer also had a hand in Pasco County real estate, owning and selling land throughout the area. He helped build the Anclote Key Lighthouse, where his brother, Robert S. Meyer, served as assistant and principal keeper for 43 years.

* * *

In 1915, Wyatt Meyer built a home on Lake Tarpon, where he raised six children.

"He's really, really Old Florida," said Rachel Spilman, 82, of Tarpon Springs, the oldest daughter of Meyer's oldest child.

Spilman is one of the last living links to Meyer, who died in 1958 at 88, leaving 19 grandchildren and 52 great-grandchildren among his descendents. Another grandchild is Spilman's first cousin James Seeley, 85, who traveled with his wife from Rocky Mount, Va., for Sunday's reunion.

"He was one of the original sponge fishers," Seeley said proudly.

The home Meyer built on Lake Tarpon is now gone; it was demolished a few months ago to make room for new housing.

"That was very sad for me," Spilman said of the loss of the family landmark.

But that didn't stop Spilman, the self-appointed family historian and member of Tarpon Springs Historical Society, from calling the clan back together again. It's the sixth year Spilman has organized the gathering, which draws from far and wide.

She hasn't always lived here. Spilman raised her four children in Maryland, but returned to Tarpon Springs in 1980 to be near her siblings, of which she is now the only survivor.

"He always had rowboats for us," Spilman recalled of visits to her grandfather's lake home. "It was great growing up there."

As she and the adults talked Sunday, the sixth generation of the clan played in the park. More than 80 years separates Camryn Leitzell, 4, from the oldest in attendance at the reunion. Her family traveled from Pennsylvania.

Nearby stood Spilman's niece, Marilyn McCall from Gainesville: "We come because Aunt Rachel wants us to."

[Last modified April 18, 2007, 23:00:44]

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