There he sat behind the cash register, bored out of his mind. The days seemed to inch by, sometimes with virtually no sales to show for it. In the height of the Great Depression customers to Lloyd Truman Cronk’s hardware store near Sandusky, Ohio were few and far between.
As his mind wandered awaiting the next patron, he thought about the great boats upon nearby Lake Erie and the Huron River. His mind transported him upon a sailboat, which he dreamed to own (should the languid 1933 economy ever again recover). He purchased plans for a model boat, picked up a block of wood and started to carve the fantasy vessel.
Before he knew it his 26-inch creation was complete. It was impossible to tell from the impeccable workmanship that then 41-year-old was a rookie at such handiwork. Being well pleased with the new-found hobby he immediately started creating a miniature story-and-a-half house; then he turned his effort to a stone pebble covered church.
On and on the cycle continued, until Cronk had assembled quite a display at the Milan, Ohio storefront. A perceptible uptick in foot traffic began to take hold. First it was a just few curious locals, but soon customers from Huron, Norwalk and other surrounding towns began to make the trek to see the small but impressive exhibit.
“If they will come… to see a few small objects,” Cronk asked himself, “why would not many of them attract still more?”
By 1934 the display had become too large for the hardware store. Ripping out his wife’s flowerbed in the front yard of their Seminary Street home, Cronk built a rock garden to display the growing village. Word began to spread as the exposition kept expanding.
His neighbors were none too happy when their quiet Sundays were suddenly being interrupted by up to 700 sightseers. But seizing upon opportunity, the entrepreneur put out a donation box and his 13-year-old daughter Beverly sold candy and soda to the eager crowds.
The following year the family made the attraction official, putting up high board walls around their property and charging admission. Though today its name would be considered politically incorrect, area newspapers carried its ads, and soon visitors began to pour in by the thousands.
The guestbook boasted folks from all 48 states and 15 foreign countries. Of course it didn’t hurt that the residence-turned-attraction was just three blocks down street from the birthplace of famed inventor Thomas Edison.
The revenue from the hardware store was — well — diminutive compared to the mini-city by 1937, so the Cronk gave up the business to devote his full effort to being the mayor of “Midget City.” That year the tourist destination welcomed an astounding 25,000 patrons!
Each year the exhibit grew exponentially with over 100 buildings by 1940. The sprawling mini-opolis was made with exacting detail. The sandstone church (walls covered by over 4,000 pebbles) featured a belfry that upon close inspection had two delicate pigeons each 3/16 of an inch tall.
The little town included a ten-story bank building with 244 windows. Underground there was over half a mile of wiring, lighting each building from within at night. The electrified train made its rounds through both the commercial district and rural countryside section of the city, stopping automatically at the depots along the way. City traffic lights illuminated appropriately. There was a school, fire department, cemetery, shops, churches, banks, farm houses, mills, and dozens and dozens more. Each and every one oozing with intricacy and love its creator bestowed upon it.
Much to the delight of their Milan neighbors, in 1942 the family relocated to nearby Mitiwanga along the shores of Lake Erie. The attraction remained there for the next three tourists seasons, next door to the Patio Tavern — which itself is still in operation.
Then in 1945 Lloyd and Constance Cronk decided it was time they leave the Buckeye State and head for the sunshine of fast-growing Central Florida. They settled in Maitland and secured a dedicated venue for Midget City midway between Orlando and Sanford along Highway 17–92.
The Longwood location was on the east side of 17–92 across from Wildmere Avenue, about one mile north of Dog Track Road. Taking a little creative license (and hypothesizing from the position of Lake Irene in the photo below) its modern-day equivalent might be the Centra Care building.
Longtime residents recalled in a 1996 Orlando Sentinel article that signs along 17–92 during those years beaconed autoists to stop by. In the same style of “See Rock City” signs in the Appalachians, guests were encouraged to “See Midget City” as they passed through. Many area students found their way to the petite village on field trips, where they often returned home with souvenir tiny furniture pieces that set them back 35 cents.
In light of Florida’s growing reputation as a haven for northern “tin can tourists,” the attraction was similarly successful in its new location. Thousands of motorists admired its perfectly-scaled edifices, well-manicured lawns and greenery, paved streets with curbed sidewalks, citizens and wildlife, signs, inscriptions and graffiti, waterways, bridges, public transportation system, and hundreds of other miniaturized objects.
Nine years later in 1954, the Cronks decided to uproot again and moved to Texas. This time Lloyd’s labor of love would stay behind. The attraction was sold to local residents Byron and Louise Kimball, who moved it several miles down 17–92 to Fern Park — just south of the Jai Alai arena at what is today the beefed-up flyover intersection with State Road 436.
While the Kimball’s (both local realtors) delighted in sharing their acquisition with the world, they never looked at it as a big moneymaker. Their daughter Kathleen Kimball Ihrig, a retired Orange County teacher, ran the new location. It operated solely upon donations, usually around 50 cents per family, which she happily pocketed as her allowance money.
When Ihrig left for college in 1958 the family sold Midget City for $1,200 to a man whose name escaped all recollection. The little city’s destination was reportedly Maggie Valley, North Carolina; however, the Kimball family failed for years to find anyone in North Carolina or elsewhere to hear of it since. Nor today does the internet in its infinite vastness yet lend us any clues.
What became of it after the town left Central Florida? We may never know but would sure love to find out!