Lela Smith Dusenbury

Mrs. Dusenbury was born in Henderson County, Kentucky about 1875 and was educated in the schools of that county. Just out of high school she went to the University of Colorado to take a special course to become a teacher. Desiring to come to Florida, she had already applied for a position as a teacher in Miami. Just as she entered school in Colorado she received a telegram offering her a place as the principal of the school at Lemon City, a suburb of Miami. She accepted the position and left for Florida.

She was teaching there when the school was closed due to an outbreak of yellow fever. About the same time an opening for a principal became available in West Palm Beach and Mrs. Dusenbury, then Miss Smith, accepted the vacancy and stayed for many years.

While she was at West Palm Beach her parents moved to St. Petersburg where a daughter was living. They had planned to move on to Miami if they didn’t care for St. Petersburg, but finding it a delightful city, put down roots by buying a block of land near the high school on fourth avenue north. Mrs. Dusenbury visited and believed the area to have a bright future. She had been living at the Palms Hotel in West Palm Beach. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Stoners, who had become close friends had encouraged her to go into the hotel business, so she bought a six room residence on First Avenue just west of Fourth Street and moved her parents into it. She then went back to West Palm Beach for a while to teach and acquire money to pay for the purchase. Once it was paid for Mrs. Dusenbury came back to St. Petersburg with the idea to make the place a boarding house. That was about 1907. She built instead a ten room addition and started the Dusenbury Hotel. Through the years as the hotel turned a profit she added more rooms. Along the way she also bought other properties.

In an interview in 1923, Mrs. Dusenbury is quoted as saying, “I saw that St. Petersburg was going to be a very large city, from the time I first came here. I had the vision and I selected my location knowing that if I had the property I could always build. That has been the secret of my success.”

She was an important part of the building of St. Petersburg and its booster organizations, taking an active part in much of the affairs of the city.  She was married to William P. Dusenbury in 1905 and had one daughter, Adeline. Mrs. Dusenbury died in 1942.

Author: Linda Flowers

Source: St. Petersburg Times; ancestry.com

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