The name “Jose Martí” had little meaning to the public in the summer of 1892 when he came to Ocala with a delegation of Cuban exiles to address workers in the new cigar manufacturing industry that was just beginning to show some success, David Cook reports.
Ocalans were introduced to the art of rolling cigars during the Semi-Tropical Exposition, which had closed its doors for good earlier in the year after what amounted to a two-year run. The cigar-making exhibit was one of the hits of the massive multi-county fair based in a huge new building on West Broadway (now West Silver Springs Boulevard).
Local investors, always looking for new ways to make money, quickly saw profits that could be made from establishing a cigar industry, and they set about attracting Cuban refugees skilled in the art of rolling cigars. Most of the workers originally had been involved in making cigars at Key West.
For reasons not clear at this point in history, new plants for the manufacture of cigars were established in an area between Martín Luther King Avenue west to Southwest 27th Avenue, mostly along what was then West Broadway. Speculation is that the men investing in the new industry owned property in the area.
Martí City is born
This location quickly became known as “Cuba City,” but later took the name “Martí City” after the appearance of Jose Martí and others in Ocala to promote the cause of freedom from the much hated Spanish.
Within a short period of time, the location was platted as a separate town, complete with its own town council, mayor and town marshal. Population growth came so quickly that it seemed like a miracle had come to pass.
A t the time when Martí and his delegation came to Ocala the first time, in July 1892, the Ocala Banner was reporting a great building boom in what it called “the West End.” The newspaper said, “Quite a number of cottages have gone up and many more are to follow.”
Barrento’s cigar factory was about ready for occupancy of a large three-story building. The La Criola Company already had announced plans for a factory similar to Barrento’s in another three-story structure.
“There are several other factories in the process of being built in West Ocala,” the Banner reported. “All promise well for Ocala,” the newspaper commented.
Reception for Martí
A reception was given for Jose Martí and his group at the Montezuma Hotel on Main Street, located in the same block with John Dunn’s Merchants Bank. This is the hotel that was later remodeled and renamed the Harrington Hall Hotel. (The site is now a parking lot for Bank of America.)
One member of the visiting delegation was a Polish gentleman, George Roloff, who “left a position of wealth” to devote the past 10 years to the cause of Cuban independence. He also had served in the Confederate army, where he was a captain in an Alabama regiment and later was on the staff of Gen. Breckinridge.
Another visitor was Serafin Sanchez, who was based in Key West and personally acquainted with some of the workers who were moving to Ocala. Also in the group was J.D. Payo, editor and publisher of “El Yaro” at Key West.
The Banner, however, was taken with Jose Martí, who was identified as a lawyer and orator. The Banner called him “a man of ability who was Uruguay’s representative to the Pan-American Congress,” which had been held in Washington a year earlier.
Attendees interested in Martí
There were many of Ocala’s prominent citizens in attendance, and the Banner said they listened to Martí with great interest and evident sympathy. Banker E.W. Agnew was called to the speaker’s platform to sit with the visitors. He was praised for providing financing for some of the cigar ventures that were taking place in the community. But, of course, what Martí was looking for was financing for the Cuban revolution.
Another Ocalan, Bill Kendrick, was asked to speak because he had visited Cuba three times recently. He said Cuba was the most lovely spot on Earth, and that he had great sympathy for the Cuban people in their fight to overthrow the Spanish government.
He said he would back the Cuban revolutionaries in every way that he could. Martí and his group could not have been more pleased with the outcome. The Banner did not say how much money Martí was able to raise while he was in Marion County.
He would return to Ocala again to seek more money. He seemed to be everywhere there was a concentration of Cuban exiles. Locally, the greatest honor he received was the naming of the cigar district Martí City.
Martí City gets organized
With the growth that took place almost spontaneously in Martí City, a school was found to be necessary. To become a real town, the community saw the need for a bank or at least some type of banking facility.
There had to be a café or two where the men could congregate and talk politics. Since all of the exiles were Catholic, it was necessary to establish a church where regular services could be held. It was amazing how quickly a town could be organized, complete with its own government.
The street trolley, which ran from the Florida Peninsular Railroad station on North Magnolia to Broadway, then west to the Semi-Tropical Exhibition grounds, was extended to serve Martí City. This mode of transportation was mule-drawn, on iron rails.
Not all of the families living in the community were Cuban. Some of the Italian families, who had fled the failing Welshton community near Lake Weir, moved into the area, working primarily in the cigar manufacturing business. The town lawyer, Neil Allred, was not Cuban. But Martí City was mostly a Cuban community.
For the original report go to http://www.ocala.com/article/20111002/COLUMNISTS/111009987/1005/sports01?p=1&tc=pg