EARLY HERNANDO COUNTY HISTORY
This page was last revised on Oct. 23, 2019.
An 1876 article by Cyprian T. Jenkins has: “Bay Port was settled in 1852 by John Parsons, I. Garrison, John E. Johnson, C. T. Jenkins and others.” (An old post card picturing Parsons’ house has “Built 1842.”)
On August 12, 1852, Thomas Henry Parsons (age 30 in Cedar Key in the 1850 census) purchased property in what would become Bayport. Parsons was a nephew to Maj. John D. Parsons (1816-1888), who later became a major property owner in Bayport. John Parsons is a merchant in the Annuttaliga Settlement in Benton (Hernando) County in the 1850 census. His home became the Bayport Hotel.
An article in the Tampa Herald on August 31, 1854, reported, “Major John Parsons had expended a large amount of his means to bring this place into notice, and will not fail in his undertaking. He has laid the town off into lots, and will dispose of them to any one that will improve them at once. He has left a beautiful square of three acres in the centre of the town for a public walk, and enclosed with all the different types of trees with which our forest abounds…. There are at present seven families living here, and, all told about sixty persons, and would be more if the people could get lumber for building purposes. A Hotel will soon be erected for the purpose of invalids; and the spirited contractor of the mail route will have a hack line to run from the Court House, whenever it is necessary, or desired, for the conveyence of passengers.”
On Jan. 7, 1853, a joint resolution of the Florida legislature relating to the establishment of a port of entry at Bayport was received by the U. S. House of Representatives.
In 1854 a post office was established at Bay Port (the town is spelled Bay Port in official lists of post offices from 1855 and 1859, but was usually spelled Bayport on maps during this period).
The name Bayport appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 7, 1854, in a report which stated that the schooner General Worth, from New York, bound for Bayport, Florida, put into the port of Norfolk with the loss of spars, sails, and rigging.
In December 1854 the state legislature made Bayport the county seat of Hernando County, effective June 1, 1855. It is believed that during the brief period that Bayport was the county seat, court was held in the home of Isaac Garrason.
An advertisement for the Bay-Port House, Isaac Garrason, proprietor, appeared in a newspaper on December 1, 1855.
During the Civil War, larger ports along the Gulf coast were blockaded and small rivers such as the Weeki Wachee became important trade routes. Union forces intercepted several blockade runners near Bayport and several skirmishes took place between union troops and confederate forces.
On July 26, 1901, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “There is contemplated quite a large hotel for Bayport for the accommodation of visitors.”
In 1912 a newspaper referred to “Miss Goethe, the popular proprietress of the Bayport Hotel.”
In 1912 the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Bayport was formerly owned by Major Parsons. The hotel and cottages were built in his day, dating back some three score years and ten, but the property has since been decimated. The heirs own a portion, Mrs. Gothe and her son Henry, a portion, and Jim Croft, L. B. Varn, W. B. Taylor and the Camps of Gainesville, the balance.”
The 1918-1919 Florida State Gazetteer and Business Directory shows F. V. Gothe as postmaster of Bayport, which it reports has a population of 25.
On Feb. 26, 1925, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Sale of the entire townsite of Bayport and 17,500 acres of the Turner tract adjoining the Bayport site, for a little less than a half million dollars, to William Richmond, of Sharpstown, N. J., and associates, by W. T. McGowan, of the McGowan Investment Company of Tampa, was announced last night by Mr. McGowan. … The Bayport site was owned originally by Maj. John Parsons. Since his death it has been owned by his nephews, W. D. and Fred Parsons, from whom it was purchased by S. Whitehurst and bought by Mr. McGowan.
On Sept. 22, 1935, Mrs. Fannie Goethe, owner of the Bayport Hotel, died at her home. She was 78. She was survived by two children, Henry Goethe of Bayport and Mrs. Kathleen Cofer of Spring Lake.
On Nov. 19, 1943, the Bayport Hotel burned, according to a 1959 St. Petersburg Times article. Another source gives the date Oct. 17, 1943. Another source gives 1941.
The Bayport post office was established on May 6, 1854, spelled “Bay Port.” The spelling was changed to “Bayport” on Sept. 24, 1895.
The post office was discontinued on May 17, 1867, and re-established on Nov. 12, 1867.
It was discontinued again in Dec. 13, 1870, and re-established on May 22, 1871.
Thomas H. Parsons May 6, 1854 John E. Johnson Oct. 12, 1854 Andrew J. Decatur June 29, 1857 Marshall W. Garland Jan. 16, 1860 John Sylvester Nov. 12, 1867 Laura M. Garrison Nov. 9, 1868 Horace H. Hale May 22, 1871 Laura M. Garrison Nov. 27, 1872 Jesse S. Bruner July 14, 1875 L. B. Sanders Oct. 24, 1880 Jesse S. Bruner Apr. 26, 1881 John Parsons Jan. 23, 1882 Linn B. Sanders June 14, 1883 Miss Frances A. Coryell Aug. 3, 1887 Warren J. Parsons Jan. 2, 1889 Isaac N. Garrison Sept. 24, 1895 Mary A. Willingham Jan. 9, 1896 Walter J. Turner April 15, 1896 Elvira A. Whisenant May 12, 1897 Joseph L. Goethe Feb. 14, 1899 This office was classified on July 6, 1915. Frances Goethe was appointed on June 18, 1910, and took office on August 1, 1910. The office moved 70 yards north on June 17, 1927. Again moved 100 yards west on April 19, 1929. Mrs. Marie G. Greeson (acting) Oct. 11, 1935 Mrs. Marie G. Greeson Dec. 23, 1935 Mrs. Agnes M. Goethe (acting) Nov. 18, 1939 Mrs. Agnes M. Goethe Feb. 3, 1940 Site changed 700 feet east on Jan. 17, 1941. This office was discontinued March 15, 1954, and Rural Route established.
This article was taken from Hernando County – Our Story, by Alfred A. McKethan.
Mrs. Fannie V. Goethe, affectionately known as “Ole Miss,” was truly one of the colorful and interesting personages of old Hernando County. This highly regarded lady operated the Bay Port Hotel, which was the colonial home of John Parsons. This hotel was for fishermen and for those seeking recreation of almost any kind. Fine food was served family style, and the hotel was, for its day, a very satisfactory place to visit.
Mrs. Goethe not only served as manager of the hotel, but as postmistress too. She and her son, Henry Goethe, maintained a commercial fishing operation shipping fish from Bay Port to many sections of the country. The fish were iced down, moved from Bay Port to Centralia by wagon and shipped out of Centralia by rail. This was an important industry, and quite a number of local people were engaged in this operation.
Mrs. Goethe operated a “token store” which included fishing tackle and boat rentals. The locals gathered around this store, and many interesting tales were told about old Hernando County. Mrs. Goethe, herself, added greatly to the color of the place that the early settlers enjoyed and those that have followed have always enjoyed and held dear.
After Mrs. Goethe died, the property declined and was no longer operated as a hotel. Most of the old buildings, including the old hotel, burned in the early 1940s, and today only a small number of buildings remain. One house remaining is owned by Theodore Coogler.
Bay Port is still a sleepy fishing village representing one of the few places on the west coast of Florida that is primitive in nature.
Old Bayport Cemetery Reflects History of the County
This article appeared in the Brooksville Sun on Aug. 17, 1951.
By EDITH F. CRAIGIE
Bayport, long a favorite rendezvous of Brooksville people who like its quiet appeal, has undergone a sort of face-lifting in recent years. But one place which has not changed is the old cemetery on the hill, just this side of the Adrian Bell cottage.
Nobody seems to know much about its history, except that it has been there a very long time. Not far from the road into Bayport, and still accessible by foot, the wilderness is creeping up on it, and some of the tombstones are a bit askew, as the accompanying pictures will show. Huckleberries grow in profusion in the vicinity of the old graves, and no doubt snakes find it a happy hunting ground, for very few sightseers visit the place these days. In the spirit of brooding peace, there is a sense of forgotten people and forgotten times, an eerie, out-of-the-world atmosphere that is almost palpable.
The following inscriptions were copied from the headstones in the ancient burying grounds:
No one knows how the tombstones were transported to Bayport but perhaps they were brought in by water. According to the Hon. H. C. Mickler, a retired Hernando County Clark, [a son of] Maj. Garrason (or Garrison) was the first white male child born in this county. There are said to be more people buried in the Bayport cemetery than are accounted for by headstones, the graves having long since been leveled and eradicated by the inroads of time and nature.
Bayport Cemetery Photos
These photos were taken by Jeff Cannon in August 2005 and provided to this web site. Please contact him for reproduction rights.
Markers Removed from the Bayport Cemetery
These headstones were found in a local pawn shop and were court ordered to be given to the Pioneer Museum, which now has the headstones on display at the May-Stringer House in Brooksville. 2007 photos by Jeff Cannon.
Bayport Hotel Built Before Civil War (1952)
The following appeared in the Tampa Sunday Tribune on May 11, 1952.
Mrs. Chris A. Lock, of Dade City, makes this interesting contribution to the current discussion of the history of Bayport:
“I visited Bayport a number of times years ago, when the old hotel was there. It had puncheon floors, a hole in one wall made by a cannon ball during the Civil War, old mahogany high four-post beds with hard-wood pegs set in the frame from which strong cords were woven to take the place of springs–then unknown–mahogany valances over the windows, etc. The location was lovely, a sort of promontory. The old building stood on a high foundation structure–to prevent damage by water backed up by storms.
“That river has a deadly history, including Civil War tragedies. It was used by many blockade runners; and during the prohibition era it was used by smugglers. There was a great cave or cellar in which contraband liquor was stored. It was common knowledge that many prominent men were engaged in the traffic–even some who were avowed prohibitionists, but who yielded to the temptation to make some easy money.”
Mrs. Lock remembers the story of the pioneer Goethe who once lived near Dade City and the feud over land titles in which a man was killed. It was established that he was a relative of the famous German poet of the same name. She says there was also a John Goethe who lived at Port Richey about 1887.
Bayport History (2004)
The following is excerpted from an article by Dan DeWitt published in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 8, 2004.
The Bayport Hotel was built on the island in 1842, the same year as passage of the Armed Occupation Act, which opened Central Florida to settlement.
Traffic at the port was especially vigorous during the Civil War, when large quantities of cotton produced in Central Florida were exported, said Virginia Jackson of the Hernando Historical Museum Association.
“Other Southern states were not producing goods because their fields had been destroyed, and Florida became a premier cotton-producing state,” Jackson said.
The port was protected by three cannons that shot grapefruit-sized balls from what residents still call “the battery” – the western edge of Bayport, where Fagan plans to build the boardwalk. The cannons, however, failed to prevent the escape of Union soldiers who met their ship at Bayport after burning barns and killing livestock during the Brooksville Raid in July 1864.
Frances Goethe was the dominant figure in Bayport in the years after the Civil War, when Bayport was a popular resort – in the winter for Northerners and in the summer for families from Brooksville.
Goethe, who moved to Bayport in the 1870s, took over management of the hotel after the death of her husband, George, in 1909, said Glenna Goethe, 82, her granddaughter-in-law. [See note below.]
“She probably wasn’t 5 feet tall, but she was independent,” Glenna Goethe said.
“You didn’t pull any wool over her eyes. … You walked a straight line around Fanny.”
She was the central figure in an obscure chapter of Hernando history when in 1897 she gave birth to stillborn
quintuplets. And she was at least an observer during the notorious Prohibition years, when Bayport was a major destination for liquor imported from Cuba.
Richard Cofer, a Hernando High School history teacher and a descendant of Frances Goethe, said his grandfather once told him that rum runners “stacked bottles of liquor as high as a small house” near the Bayport Cemetery.
It was shipped to Brooksville in peanut trucks and then sent north on freight cars with forged manifests identifying the cargo as Irish potatoes. Soon after a local trapper was suspected of telling federal agents of the smuggling, a mysterious Cuban man checked into the hotel, Cofer said.
“They brought in this Cuban assassin, and he killed (the trapper) and then left in a rum boat.” 2,100 acres or nothing
The hotel burned down in 1942, Glenna Goethe said, in a spectacular blaze that could be seen from downtown Brooksville.
That Bayport didn’t change much in the aftermath may have been, as Kilby said, because the Whitehurst family scared off potential buyers by insisting that all of its 2,100 acres, including marshland, be purchased as a package.
Or maybe it was because the land “was never marketed that aggressively,” said family member George Whitehurst of Brooks
NOTE: A reader of this page has pointed out an error in the above article. The husband of Frances Virginia Goethe was Joseph Lawton Goethe, called Joe. George was Glenna Goethe’s husband.
More Bayport Photos