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In 1843, Frank Sperry was born in Bethany, Connecticut, he was educated in the Fort Edward Institute, managed a farm and a grocery and eventually went on to found the Sperry Manufacturing Company, makers of carriage hardware. A vacation in 1886 brought him to Orlando and he was so very pleased with the town that he made it his residence and purchased extensive city property.
Once Frank Sperry had settled in Orlando, he started the South Florida Foundry and Machine Works, which developed into a large enterprise and Orlando’s first real industry. Sperry was active in the business for a number of years, but sold out his interest because of failing health. He also began to have a great interest in the growing of citrus in the county. He served as mayor of Orlando and was also a member of the Park Commission. In 1913, while serving with the Park Commission, he donated the final piece of land on Lake Eola that completed a ring around the lake. On that land, he donated $2,000 to see placed there a beautiful fountain that stands to this day and bears his name as a reminder of his generosity (see images on right). The fountain, made of wrought iron was described on a postcard as a “large acanthus leaf with a duck base surmounted by a bittern set in an octagonal masonry basin with eight vases.”
In 1912 the First Unitarian Church of Orlando was officially founded. It was the first Unitarian Church in the state of Florida and after about a year its members were able to purchase land and build their first church – named Unity Chapel, a name that was common for Unitarian churches throughout the mid-west where the church’s ministers Reverend Gordon and Reverend Safford originally came from. Unity Chapel was located on the North East corner of Central Avenue and West Street. West Street was renamed Rosalind Avenue a few years later after the women’s organization, the Rosalind Club, First Unitarian’s neighbor.
The members of the new congregation included Frank Sperry and his wife Mary. Reverend Safford organized the Florida Equal Suffrage Group in Orlando and became its president in 1913. The following year she helped organize the Men’s Equal Suffrage League. Sperry, the newly elected mayor of Orlando became its first President. Both organizations would help change the perceptions of their fellow Orlandoans, and in 1919, Orlando’s leaders passed an ordinance enabling the women of the city to vote in all municipal elections. The ordinance went into effect more than a year before the national woman suffrage amendment was ratified.
At the age of 73, Sperry died suddenly. The city of Orlando subsequently passed a resolution that stated: “Resolved that in the death of the honorable E. F. Sperry, Mayor of the City of Orlando, on August 13, 1916, the whole city of Orlando has sustained an irreparable loss . . . . that the Public buildings of the city be draped in mourning for 30 days.”
Lake Eola’s First Fountain
The original fountain at Orlando’s Lake Eola Park bubbled for the first time in early 1914 — the gift of E. Frank Sperry, city pioneer and mayor.
Sperry arrived in Orlando from Connecticut in 1885 and, with partners, began the South Florida Foundry and Machine Works, which became the largest operation of its kind in south Central Florida.
Made of wrought iron, Sperry’s fountain featured figures of ducks and a bittern — the large, spouting bird at the top. As it neared nearly a century in Florida’s storms and dampness, the metal was deteriorating badly.
A bronze replica, made with molds from the original, replaced the iron fountain in 2011 and promises to keep Sperry’s legacy flowing in the park for at least another century. It’s on the Central Boulevard side near Rosalind Avenue.