BROOKSVILLE – If there’s anyone who knows the history behind the name of the school you graduated from, currently attend or drop your child off to every morning, it’s probably life-long Brooksville resident Frasier Mountain.
For decades Mountain, 90, has shared digitized historical records with the county, its libraries, museums, the city of Brooksville and publications chronicling Hernando’s past and present.
Hernando Today asked Mountain the history behind eight Hernando County school names: Chocachatti Elementary, Hernando High, Powell Middle, Brooksville Elementary, Dolores S. Parrott Middle, Moton Elementary, John D. Floyd K8, and Frank W. Springstead High.
In the 1830s, there was a large Native American village called Chocachatti. The warped pronunciations and spellings of the name that lasted to the modern day began shortly after the federal government staked off that land and marketed it as gifted prairie grounds to settlers from northernmost states. Altogether, about 40 forts were established thereafter, Mountain said.
“There’s a hundred different spellings of it,” Mountain said. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for somebody to call it, ‘Chic-a-chatti.’?”
Although the settlers’ prairie shared the Chocachatti name, sharing the land was the subject of an armed occupation later called the Indian Wars, in which Army officer “Powell” participated.
Both the Chocachatti village and the land gifted to Powell by the federal government, comprise the areas where Chocachatti Elementary and Powell Middle stand today.
The federal campaign desolated enough land to cover Citrus, Pasco and Hernando counties, which in 1843 were collectively established as Hernando County in memory of a perhaps relatable figure to its founders: Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto.
Two years later, in 1845, the state of Florida came into existence, and settlers fought shortly afterward for the Confederate Army in the 1860s during the American Civil War.
“(Union troops) blockaded Florida and they couldn’t get anything out or anything in,” Mountain said. “They had to produce what they had.” The courthouse burned in 1877 and many records were lost in the blaze, Mountain said, which was the catalyst that divided Citrus and Pasco counties from Hernando to their current borders.
Florida’s first public school law was passed after the Civil War, and one of Brooksville’s first schools, Brooksville Academy, later became Hernando High. The school burnt down under mysterious circumstances in 1910, and again in 1918.
“Nobody knows,” Mountain said, when asked what caused either fire at Hernando High. “Citrus took all their influence and took it to Inverness, and Pasco took all their influence and moved it to Dade City.”
Hernando High relocated to six locations, including the First Baptist Church of Brooksville, before eventually arriving to its current location.
Segregation and inequity in funding are evidenced throughout Florida’s post-Civil War school system, separating white and black students. Prior to integration, Florida A&M graduate John D. Floyd, was the principal of Moton High School, which was named after Alabama’s Tuskegee University President Robert Moton.
Following integration law, Moton High was absorbed by the school system in 1969, and Floyd became the assistant principal of Hernando High. His wife, Irabelle, was also a teacher there.
“They were the ones responsible for the transition going as smoothly as it did,” Mountain said.
Today, J.D. Floyd K8 and Moton Elementary are named in honor of Floyd.
In the 1960s, when Brooksville Elementary was still located at what is now the district office, it changed its name to Mitchell Black Elementary in honor of its principal who died. After the elementary school moved to its current location, it reverted back to its former name, where Dolores S. Parrott served as principal.
Parrott Middle School is named in honor of her.
“She was my wife’s best friend, all of her life,” Mountain said.
Proceeding into the 1970s, Frank W. Springstead served as the school board chairman and was involved in the school system for about 20 years.
Springstead’s grandfather was a dairy farmer, Mountain said, and owned a lot of property at the former Chocachatti prairie and Native American village. Springstead High is named in memory of Frank Springstead.
“He was a Standard Oil dealer, as far as his profession was concerned,” Mountain said, adding that Springstead’s father ran the city market. “Almost any one of them was successful in some other field.”
“This was not a popularity contest,” Mountain added. “Politics were very strange then. It was very local. Nowadays, nobody knows who anybody is.”