The name itself embodies its German roots: Friedrich Froebel opened the first kindergarten in 1837 in Blankenburg, Germany. He encouraged children too young to attend elementary school to participate in “creative, imaginative, and spontaneous play” to learn about the world around them. Kindergarten literally means children’s garden.
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody started the first English-language kindergarten in 1860 in the United States. She became the spokesperson for the growing kindergarten movement, and by 1880 there were more than 400 kindergartens in 30 states.
Kindergartens were largely private until the mid-20th century, when they began to be part of public schools. Such a private kindergarten was built in Arcadia in the Villa Rica Subdivision and was called the Villa Rica Kindergarten, according to the 1926 Arcadia city directory. Nelle M. Saxon, wife of Roy F. Saxon Jr., was listed as the superintendent. The structure has Mediterranean Revival-style character,s including archways, low-pitch roof, stucco exterior and terra-cotta ornaments.
In the 1920 U.S. Census, the Saxons lived in Brownville, and Roy worked with his father as “owner and manager” of a “retail merchandise store.” He later became president of Sunniland Development and Investment Co. They continued to reside in Brownville. Produced by Florida Productions, Inc., a 15-minute silent film of Arcadia in 1926 includes footage of children playing at the Villa Rica Kindergarten as well as at Memorial Grammar School, and at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, known locally as “the orphanage.”
The property known today at 621 E. Cypress St. was originally a larger parcel owned in 1892 by Robert A. Mills and his wife Delilah Mills. They sold the 11 acres to Albert W. Gilchrist, whose “East End” subdivision of Arcadia is adjacent property. He sold a portion of the property to the “Trustees of Special Tax School District No. 1” in 1917, and this was eventually where Memorial Grammar School was built—now the site of the playground at Memorial Elementary School.
In August 1925 the trustees sold the north half of the property to J. I. Whidden, and he and wife Chessie C. Whidden sold it to Sunniland Development and Investment Co. It was platted as lots 1 through 6 inclusive of Block V of Villa Rica Park.
On Oct 6, 1925, Sunniland sold lot 6, block V, of Villa Rica Park to Nelle M. Saxon and her husband Roy, and they received a mortgage from DeSoto National Bank of Arcadia for $4,000—it was satisfied on March 17, 1928.
On March 30, 1926, an attorney for S. F. Griffin filed a labor lien against the Villa Rica Park Subdivision for work completed. After the bill was paid, the lien was settled two weeks later. Perhaps this construction produced the elaborate entrance structure at the west end of Maple Street.
In addition, the city of Arcadia sold bonds in October 1926 in the amount of $75,000 for paving the streets of Villa Rica Park, and each property was assessed a paving lien.
In 1928, the Saxons again mortgaged the Villa Rica Kindergarten property to the Mortgage Company of Maryland. As with many during the Great Depression, they did not make the scheduled payments; nor did they pay city or county taxes or the paving liens. The company filed suit against the Saxons, and a special master sold the property at public auction.