Edward Nelson Fell, for whom Fell's Point on East Lake Tohopekaliga and Fellsmere in Indian River County Florida take their names, had seen most of the world before arriving in Florida. The youngest son in a British family of entrepreneurs, Fell already had an impressive worldwide resume before coming to Florida, where he founded two communities, the English colony of Narcoossee and the farming town of Fellsmere.
Fell's father, Alfred, was an Englishman who in the mid-1800s took his wife and children to New Zealand, where he ran a successful wholesale business. Fell was born in Nelson, New Zealand, in 1857. The family, then including seven children, returned to England two years later.
The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a neighbor when the family was living on the Isle of Wight, mentored Nelson Fell on the arts and literature, including his own poetry.
Fell's father later sent him to Heidelberg for a year to learn German engineering techniques. Nelson Fell's first job would be working for his older brother Arthur.
Fell had made his choice early in life. He had six older brothers and sisters, greatly reducing his chance of inheriting enough to live a life of leisure. Arthur Fell, the oldest son, would be a knighted member of Parliament and the head of the family-owned businesses.
He was 27 and working as a mining engineer in Colorado when his brother decided the family should invest in Florida land.
The Fell family and partners bought 12,000 acres of raw frontier Florida east of Lake Tohopekaliga, Kissimmee, Florida including 2,000 acres that would become the English colony of Narcoossee. Nelson Fell and British Lt. Col. William Edmund Cadman took charge of dividing the land into small farms for sale. Also, Nelson Fell began plans to drain 2,500 acres of marshland.
His brother's instructions were to establish a community "commensurate with his family standing."
Nelson Fell prospered in Florida, enough to attract the attention of Anne Mumford Palmer, whose father was a New York judge known to all the right people. She grew up in a "cosmopolitan lifestyle," spending much of her childhood abroad, mostly in Paris.
They married in 1885, the year after Arthur Fell sent his young brother to frontier Florida. Their first child, Marian, was born in 1886 in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y. Another daughter and a son followed, but the Fells would rear their children in a land known for mosquitoes, rattlesnakes and alligators in Florida.
Narcoossee was not Paris, and the Florida frontier was not New York. It must have been a rugged challenge for Fell's wife and children, especially when Nelson Fell was absent for long periods on family business.
In 1890, steamboat captain Rufus E. Rose, who had come to Florida to work for Disston and became the first chairman of the Osceola County Commission, encouraged Fell's successful campaign for county commissioner. It was the beginning of a long-standing relationship between Fell and Rose, who later was the state chemist who encouraged Fell to drain land bordering the Everglades for sugar cane and other farms at Fellsmere.
Arthur Fell, always looking for the next opportunity, saw huge prospects in copper mining on the other side of the world from Narcoossee, and his young brother was just the man for the job.
Leaving his wife and children in Florida, Nelson Fell left the Sunshine State for the bitter cold of Siberia.
After meeting with his brother in London in 1901, Nelson Fell's destination was the great treeless plains of Central Asia in what then was the Russian frontier and what today is the wilderness in the Kirghiz Steppe in Kazakhstan. Arthur Fell had become a member of the British Parliament where he "had learned that there were tremendous investment opportunities in central Asia."
Joined by one of his Narcoossee agents, Charles Piffard, Nelson Fell in January 1902 boarded the Trans-Siberia Railroad for a 2,000-mile journey. They rode horseback for the last 600 miles.
Fell would write a 1916 book about his years running a primitive copper mine, Russian and Nomad: Tales of Kirghiz Steppes. Back in London, he reported to his brother that buying and running the Spassky copper mines would make unlimited profits. Fell returned to Russia in 1903. Soon he told his family to leave their Fell's Point home in Narcoossee Florida and join him in Russia. That decision was made easier by floods and freezes in Narcoossee that had made it necessary for the family to move. Fell also persuaded his future son-in-law, Kissimmee lawyer Patrick A. Vans Agnew, to abandon his law practice to work in Russia.
Silver and copper mining in Russia made Fell, then 52, a rich man. In 1909, he returned to the United States with plans to retire to a Virginia estate. His wife was making plans for their oldest daughter's marriage to Vans Agnew, who planned to return to his law office in Kissimmee. The younger Fell daughter, Olivia, soon would marry Vans Agnew's brother, Frank.
Nelson Fell had bought a Virginia estate with plans to retire on the riches he had made in Russia. Vans Agnew, still enthused by his business success in Russia, persuaded his father-in-law to undertake a second Florida challenge, draining thousands of acres of the Everglades and building the town of Fellsmere from scratch.
The challenge proved too much. In 1917, after six years of frustrations, the Fellsmere Tribune reported "the close of the greatest and most complete drainage proposition in Florida," a failure brought about by skepticism about Florida land promotions, flooding and tight money resulting from the outbreak of World War I.
Fell's auditors found that the company was bleeding money and unable to keep up with the massive drainage expenses. With World War I breaking out in Europe, plans for a colony of Belgian, Dutch and French farmers in Fellsmere evaporated. Also, the company's title to the land was clouded by a probate dispute.
Fell managed to keep his company afloat until mid-1915 when storms flooded the farmlands and town. Fells helped the farmers and the townspeople recover, but the company couldn't afford to drain enough land to keep land sales going. By June 1916, the company couldn't pay its debts. A court-appointed receiver took over. Fell lost everything he had invested.
By 1917, Fell had retired to his Virginia estate. He died there in 1928.
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