The year was 1885 - two years before Citrus County was formed by Governor E.A. Perry -- and land was selling cheaper than what it costs today to buy an airplane ticket. It was February 6th of that year when James Pritchard, a Justice of the Peace in Hernando County, and Rebecca, his wife, bought a woodsy tract of land along the peaceful Lake Henderson. The couple paid $75 for six acres of property.
According to an 1885 survey by John Otto Fines who worked for the state out of Orlando, the island was a mix of rich hammock consisting of hickory, live oak and wateroak trees. Pritchard developed a total of 10 acres into an orange grove on the eastern part of the island. A log home and a boat wharf were also located there.
A fire eventually destroyed the groves, but Pritchard Island, as it's known today, remains much like it was before; a peaceful, lakefront setting. The community adjoins the Gospel Island neighborhood (the name Gospel Island is a history itself, as it's named after a group of ministers from up north who bought land with the intentions of building retirement homes there). But we'll save that story for another day.
After numerous failed attempts to develop a subdivision, eventually James Morton of Century 21 purchased controlling interest in the project with plans to add 165 homes to the 26-acre Pritchard Island site. Fifty-six townhouses in clusters of eight were already in place, with plans to add 121 more before Morton re-platted the location in 1994. His first action was to reduce the density by 65 percent, opting instead to build 52 free-standing, single-family homes. This was done to create more community green spaces, reduce crowding and increase marketability. Cinder block houses replaced wood frame structures. The starting price for the homes was $125,000, moving upward to more than $300,000. Residential units were marketed locally as well as to newcomers to Florida.
There are 126 houses in the development, according to property appraiser records. The U-shaped, maintenance free neighborhood off Gospel Island Road is a little more than a mile from downtown, served by city water and central sewer systems. It's home to a diverse population of retirees and working professionals with backgrounds that include teaching, military service, communications, medical professionals and the federal government. Amenities include a community pool, community building, boat docks, tennis courts and nature trails, managed by three homeowners' associations.
Pritchard Island was seen as an ideal location on the water and great care was used to protect the land when homes were being constructed. Cypress trees were planted, landscaping was planned and the lake line was protected.
Pritchard Island is a short drive from numerous downtown shops and restaurants, the hospital, grocery stores and numerous area attractions, including the Withlacoochee State Trail.
Based on a survey of residents in January 2008, slightly more than half the community's population is between the ages of 60-70; about 1/3 are older than 70, with the remainder in the 50-60 age bracket. Half of the residents relocated from other parts of the county or state, while the other half are from out of state.Of those that relocated from other states, most are from the northeast or mid-Atlantic.
Over 95% of homes are owner occupied. The average person has resided in Pritchard Island for 4 ½ years, with 18 years being the longest stay. Asked what they like best about the neighborhood, residents said they liked being close to downtown, living on the waterfront and the peaceful, small town feel.