Evan P. Bennett


In December 1949, Ray Strong of Windsor, Canada, came to Starke, Florida, by chance. He had traveled to the Sunshine State to find property to build a motor court, but he missed his appointment in Lake City and, to "kill time," drove to Jacksonville. On his way back to Lake City Strong decided to tak a long route through Starke. He "liked the looks of the town," and, two months later, Strong's El Rancho Motel-"modern in every respect"-opened for business on US Highway 301, one mile south of Starke. The El Rancho was not the only motel built near Starke that year; in fact, Highway 301, one of the busiest road in Florida, promoted economic opportunities that few entrepreneurs could ignore. Many in Starke hoped to take advantage of Florida's massive boom in the years following World War II, and business leaders in the small town ought to push Stark from backwater to big city.