The Townsend House in Clermont Serves as a Museum

By: Florida Division of Historic Resources Staff

Virgil Hawkins monument in Lake County honors the sacrifices he made.

Florida has a rich and diverse history.  African American landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in Lake County.  While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public. 

The Townsend House

480 West Avenue
This building is the home of Clermont’s first black residents, James and Sally Townsend. James Townshend founded and was minister of the St. Marks African Methodist Episcopal Church and established the area’s first black school. The house was moved to its present location, restored and now serves as a museum featuring artifacts and history of early settlers and residents. 407-314-7382,,

The Ace Theater

1609 East Bates Avenue
Built in the late 1940s, the Ace Theater served as the place for African American moviegoers in the Eustis community during segregation. The building was later used for church services. Restoration plans for the structure are underway. (352) 589-6448.

Eustis High School Annex – Curtright Campus
East Bates Avenue
Built in 1925, this school served African American students during segregation. Originally named the Curtright Vocational High School, it is now a ninth-grade center.

Mt. Olive Cemetery
North of U.S. Hwy 441 between David Walker Drive and Dillard Road
This public cemetery was established for African Americans in Eustis at the beginning of the 20th century. Markers bear the name of Black Mutual Aid Societies and Black Fraternal organizations such as: Beauty of Tangerine Chambers, Rising Sun Chamber, Queen of Sheba Chamber, and Knights of Pythias. The cemetery was designated a local historic landmark by the City of Eustis in 2004. (352) 357-6576 ext. 2101.

Mount Dora

Virgil Hawkins
1906-1988, Attorney

Virgil Darnell Hawkins made many personal sacrifices that desegregated Florida’s universities allowing other African Americans to pursue a law degree. In 1949, Hawkins applied for, but was denied entrance into the University of Florida Law School. He filed a law suit against the State of Florida. When the suit was filed, the state opened a law school at Florida A & M University as a defense to his lawsuit. Hawkins refused to enter FAMU School alleging that the state, by opening the school at historically black FAMU was maintaining discrimination. After nine years, the state agreed to desegregate the UF Law School, if Virgil Hawkins withdrew his request for admission. His withdrawal, giving up his own opportunity for entrance, made it possible for others to enter the UF Law School. Thereafter, the school was open to others who qualified, regardless of race. He completed law school in Massachusetts. However, that school was unaccredited. His request to take the test and be admitted to the Florida Bar after graduation was denied. At age 70, after much litigation, the Florida State Supreme Court agreed to admit Virgil Hawkins to the Florida Bar as a means of “righting a wrong”.

Adapted from Florida Black Heritage Trail, published by the Florida Department of State, in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA, copyright 2007. For more information on African American sites, please visit Additional information can also be found at:

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