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Tavares (/tvriz/, tuh-VAIR-ees) is a city in the central portion of the U.S. state of Florida. It is the county seat of Lake County. The population at the 2020 census was 19,003, and in 2019 the population was estimated to be 17,749. It is part of the OrlandoKissimmeeSanford Metropolitan Statistical Area. The name is a popular Portuguese surname and toponym.
Tavares was founded in 1880 by Alexander St. Clair-Abrams, a newspaper and railroad man from a Creole family in New Orleans. He gave it the surname of a Portuguese ancestor. In 1883 a post office was established; by the next year, a hotel, three stores, a sawmill, and eight cottages were built. St. Clair-Abrams's dream of Tavares as the state capital was not realized, but in 1887 it was designated the county seat of Lake County. St. Clair-Abrams later chartered a railroad from Tavares to Orlando. In 1919, Tavares incorporated as a town.
In 1949, the Groveland Four, were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949. One was killed after fleeing, and three were convicted at trial in Tavares. The two adults were sentenced to death and the minor to life in prison. The Supreme Court of the United States overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial for the two capital defendants. One was killed while being transported to Tavares in 1951. Walter Irvin survived the shooting by the sheriff and was convicted again at trial. In 1955, his death sentence was commuted to life. He was paroled in 1968 and died in 1970. In 2016, the city of Groveland and Lake County formally apologized to families of all the men for injustice; in 2017, the Florida Legislature issued a formal apology and exonerated the men, calling on the governor to officially pardon them.
Tavares is at 28486N 81441W / 28.80167N 81.73361W / 28.80167; -81.73361 (28.801670, -81.733548). It sits on an isthmus between Lake Eustis to the north and Lake Dora to the south. The city of Eustis borders Tavares to the northeast, and Lake Harris is to the west.
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