Section 1: History and Origins
Established in 1926: A Refuge for Black Migrant Workers
Charleston Park was founded in 1926 as a refuge for black migrant workers and their families. Originally one of five neighborhoods in unincorporated Lee County, the community was started by a group of white farmers who bought 44 acres intending to sell it to migrating black farmers. Later, the Riggens Sisters, especially Jenny, purchased 80 acres of land and resold it for $10.00 per acre.
A Close-Knit Community
Over the years, Charleston Park developed into a small yet close-knit community situated near the Alva community, bordered by its historical orange groves. The early residents mainly worked in the surrounding agricultural fields, while later generations found employment in construction, farming, and education.
Section 2: Building Homes and Infrastructure
During the era of segregation, the availability of homes for black families was limited. As a result, many black families bought land at affordable prices and built their own homes in Charleston Park. This sense of ownership and pride in their community contributed to its unique character.
Growth and Limited Infrastructure
In 1960, the Smith Family relocated to Charleston Park and built a wooden two-bedroom house on a purchased lot. During this time, the community had limited infrastructure, with only one main road in and out, and other pathways were dirt lanes. The only illuminated path was Railroad Ave, which had a light due to the presence of railroad tracks.
Section 3: Community Development and Transformation
The Charleston Park Community Center
In 1994, the Charleston Park Community Center underwent renovation by the Lee County Department of Human Services. Since then, it has been utilized for various purposes, serving as a local youth center, United Way House, Safe Place, Career Resource Center, and a central meeting location for several community groups. The center has played a crucial role in fostering community engagement and development.
Alice Washington: A Resilient Leader
Alice Washington, affectionately known as Ms. Charleston Park, was a longtime resident coordinator and a prominent figure in the community. Originally from Georgia, she came to Florida as a child after a daring rescue orchestrated by her older brother, Burdie, who rescued their mother and siblings from wage slavery. Alice dedicated her life to advocating for equality and the common good, supporting community projects, and registering her neighbors to vote.
Section 4: Recent Developments and Continuing Legacy
New Leadership and Ongoing Legacy
In June 2005, Lee County Parks & Recreation partnered with Lee County Human Services to provide summer camp and after-school programming for elementary-aged children in Charleston Park. This partnership aimed to enrich the lives of the community’s youth and strengthen ties between local services and residents. Additionally, in July 2017, Lashay Russ was hired as the resident coordinator, following in the footsteps of the esteemed Alice Washington. As the current resident coordinator, Lashay continues to uphold the community center’s role in fostering a strong sense of community and preserving Charleston Park’s historical significance.
Charleston Park boasts several historical landmarks that reflect its rich past. These include Ms. Martha’s Place, a tavern with historical significance, Mr. Sammie Edmundson’s service station, the Riggen sisters’ motel on Roundtree Ave, and a single convenience store. These landmarks provide a glimpse into the community’s past and its vibrant history.
Charleston Park is a historically significant community that emerged as a refuge for black migrant workers and has since grown into a close-knit neighborhood. With its legacy of self-reliance, community development, and resilience, Charleston Park remains an essential entity in Lee County’s history. The community center continues to serve as a hub for various activities and groups, fostering a strong sense of unity among its residents. As the community evolves, it retains its historical charm and contributes to the diverse tapestry of Lee County.