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"Why do they call it that?" The ghost town of SUMICA

9:59 AM, Mar 9, 2011   |    comments
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  • Lakeland Police Capt. Victor White holds the coin he discovered in this Lakeland PD photo.
  • The SUMICA coin discovered by Lakeland Police Capt. Victor White is shown in this Lakeland PD photo.
  • The SUMICA coin discovered by Lakeland Police Capt. Victor White is shown in this Lakeland PD photo.
    

A mysterious treasure found in a ghost town leads to the story of a Bay area community that vanished nearly 100 years ago.

Why do they call it SUMICA?

As a boy, Lakeland Police Captain Victor White dug up -- and forgot about -- a curious stop sign-shaped coin. In early 2011, he found it again, tucked away in his house.

Stamped on the lightweight metal piece:

GOOD FOR 25 IN MERCHANDISE
FLORINDA MILL - SUMICA FLA.

Where is SUMICA? Wrong question. Where was SUMICA?

"The lost town of SUMICA was a place that was kind of a -- I guess a rite of passage, so to speak, as a kid. Those who were there before you introduced you to where that place was, and you just explored," Capt. White said.

A bustling burg a hundred years ago -- SUMICA had more than two dozen homes, a post office, and a general store -- all built around a sawmill in the woods of southeastern Polk County.

When the trees were all cut, the whole mill was taken apart and moved away.

The people of this mystery town left behind nothing. Well, almost nothing. A few concrete and brick foundations mark the spots where the mill and other buildings stood. Plus, there's Captain White's coin.

White decided to give his coin to the Polk County Historical Museum, in the old county courthouse in Bartow. But he figured they'd have a bunch of them lying around and wouldn't even want the relic.

It turns out Captain White's coin is the only one of its kind known to exist.

"It's a trade token that was used in lieu of real money for purchases at the commissary or general store," Polk County Historical Museum curator Tom Muir explained. The museum has one other SUMICA coin, a square 5-credit piece, but the octagon valued at 25 may be the last one like it anywhere.

SUMICA is pronounced "soo-MY-cuh" and rhymes with Formica, the stuff countertops are made of.

The ghost town's name is an acronym. It stands for a French company that operated the sawmill here: Societe Universelle de Mines, Industrie, Commerce, et Agriculture. It translates to Universal Company of Mining, Industry, Commerce, and Agriculture.

The remains of SUMICA are now part of a preserve set up by the county and water management district. Captain White did his exploring as a kid. But if he found that coin today, things would be different.

The concrete foundations that are the only obvious indication of the lost town are now in a protected area. So, anyone who takes something from there faces legal consequences.

Muir, the curator, hopes one day professional archaeologists will follow in the kid-sized footsteps of young Victor White and explore this real-life ghost town.

"It's a wonderful piece of Polk County history that's hidden and is being rediscovered," Muir said.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We'll be featuring new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m..

Check out previous editions of "Why do they call it that?" plus links to photos and maps from Tampa Bay's past at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Connect with 10 News multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm
twitter @graysonkamm | e-mail at this link | or on Facebook

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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