Will Wallace Harney: A one-man chamber of commerce

Tributes~Will Wallace Harney: A one-man chamber of commerce

Will Wallace Harney: A one-man chamber of commerce
Download PDF

Date of Birth: 
June 30 1832
Date of Death: 
March 28 1912

Will Wallace Harney was the son of Indiana University mathematics professor John Hopkins Harney and the former Mary Wallace. He was named for his maternal uncle, the famous poet William Ross Wallace (1819-1881), and was thus encouraged from birth to become a writer himself.

As a young man, Harney studied at Louisville College in Kentucky, and worked as a teacher and high school principal. During the War Between the States, he worked for The Louisville Democrat rather than serving in either army.

After the war, Harney married Miss Mary Mayer Randolph, daughter of Judge William Mayer Randolph of New Orleans, Louisiana. Mary was a sickly woman, and they came to Central Florida in hope the warm climate would improve her health. Sadly, she died at their Orange County homestead in 1870, leaving Harney a young widower with a small son (William Randolph Harney) to raise by himself. He would pine for Mary the rest of his life, a tragedy he frequently conjured in his poetry.

Harney also wrote frequent prose, including several descriptions of what pioneer life was like on the Central Florida frontier. In fact, he earned enough money form his writings that he was able to build a fanciful "pine castle" on the western shores of Lake Conway, just south of Orlando. The house became such a landmark its name was eventually adopted by the small town that grew up around it.

Mr. Harney was a proponent of Florida's development, and established a newspaper ("The Kissimmee Bittersweet") to further that ambition. His writings have been credited with bringing many settlers, particularly from the states of Kentucky and Ohio, to the area south of Orlando in the 1870s and 1880s.

Late in life, Harney retired to Jacksonville, where he lived with his son and published a collection of his favorite poems: "The Spirit of the South." He died in that city, but was buried next to his much-beloved wife Mary at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando.

Harney's memory continues to be preserved in Central Florida at an annual festival: Pine Castle Pioneer Days (www.pinecastlepioneerdays.org).

Place of Birth: 
Bloomington, Indiana, United States
Place of Death: 
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Primary State of Residence: 
Pine Castle, Florida, United States

Add new comment