Crystal Springs

Pictures of Crystal Springs

The following is taken from The History of Zephyrhills 1821-1921 by Rosemary W. Trottman.

Zephyrhills received many colonists who came first to Crystal Springs and found that they like Zephyrhills better, or they came to visit relatives or friends in Crystal Springs and decided to buy in Zephyrhills. Because of its nearness and because they shared a high school, it seems wise to tell of its beginnings also.

The Co-operative Homestead Company with National Headquarters at 232 Nasby Building, Toledo, Ohio, bought ten thousand acres of Zephyrhills Colony land and added to it the Renfroe lands including the well known Jarve Springs, much of which lay in Hillsborough County. The Springs became Crystal Springs and the new colony, the Crystal Springs Colony.

Mr. R. K. Burke seems to be the man who acted as agent in purchasing the Colony Company and Renfroe lands. However it was A. B. Hawke, J. B. Mercer and L. L. Holford, as well as R. K. Burke who signed receipts for money received for the Florida Headquarters of the Co-operative Homestead Company.

A statement of account issued by the Crystal Springs Colony to Mr. William McCreadie, 5 Portland Park, Hamilton, Scotland, on November 16, 1916, and loaned by Mrs. John McCreadie gives a picture of the financial plan for the colony. The charges were listed as $120 for Tract 11, Section 25, Common Good Fund $120, Individual Improvements $120 and interest $5.30, totalling $365.30. A long list of payments beginning with a payment of May 4, 1912 of $24.00 in cash and continuing until May 6, 1916, with a payment of $8.75, leaving a balance of $76.40 due the Individual Improvement Fund, after 80 rods of fencing and the labor required in erecting it had been subtracted.

A fragile portion of the constitution of the Common Good Society that was a part of the land contract and a place on its cover on which a member might keep a record of his own payments survives. This tells us that the Society according to Section 23 of the constitution “is especially provided that until one hundred (100) dwellings have been established within the colony, the Co-operative Homestead Company shall act as Trustee for the society, and shall hold and administer the Commongood Funds and property in such manner as shall be mutually agreed upon between it and a majority of the resident members, and any provision of these By-laws contrary to this section shall be dormant until said one hundred dwellings have been established, whereupon this section shall become null and void. Meantime the resident members shall organize as fully as possible, so as they may intelligently advise with the Co-operative Homestead Company regarding the Commongood administration, and be fully ready to take full charge of Commongood affairs in accordance with the provisions of the foregoing By-laws.” It is this Commongood Funding and administration, first by the Company and then by the residents, that caused the Crystal Springs Colony to be referred to in many newspaper and other accounts as being a colony of socialists.

The Commongood Society’s constitution provided for the usual officers and a governing council of nine serving without compensation, meeting on the first Saturday of each month to receive and pass on such detailed and written reports of the executive committee and recommend such matters to them as may seem to them important to the society. The governing council was at first divided into three classes of one, two, and three years so that only one third would consist of new members at any one time. In addition there was an executive committee of three members that met weekly to select the heads of all departments, and all persons handling funds or authorized to transact business for the society. The executive committee was charged with making written reports together with a statement of all receipts and disbursements. A financial statement was to be printed and each resident member was mailed a copy quarterly. A meeting of the society was to be held on the second Saturday of each month at 2:30 P.M. Special meetings might be called on petition of 20 per cent of the resident members.

“All money of the society shall be deposited in the name of the society in a bank designated by the society, and all disbursements shall be by signed check ‘Crystal Springs Commongood Society, per ______ Treasurer.’ All deposits shall be endorsed in the same manner.

“The treasurer shall draw checks only on presentation of a voucher signed by the head of the department or committee for which the voucher is drawn and countersigned by the secretary of the Executive Committee.

“The society shall elect an auditing committee of three (3), who shall carefully audit the accounts of the society semi-annually and make signed written reports.

“The title to all collectively owned real estate of the society shall be vested in such trustee or trustees as the governing council shall select and shall be administered according to the will of the society expressed as herein provided.”

Early in the development of the Crystal Springs colony a community hall was built for the Commongood Society’s meetings. It was used for social meetings as well. One resident of Zephyrhills remembers enjoying the frequent dances held there. Probably before Reverend or Pastor Nutting arrived to build his last Little Brown Church, the colonists held church services there.

Other very interesting people who were residents were: Mr. Oldham, storekeeper; L. L. Holford, at one time (1916) Treasurer; A. B. Hawke, Sec.; J. B. Mercer, Manager and Treasurer; and R. K. Burke. All of the men who signed receipts as treasurer or manager were excellent penmen. Mr. Mercer signed his name with a flourish reminiscent of the penmanship of the former century.

Mr. Billings, a man of small stature and scholarly appearance was a violin maker. Violinists from the entire area visited his shop for repairs, tuning, and his conversation. Mr. Parks was a 95-year-old resident with young eyes. He bought and sold scrap iron during the war effort, roving far afield driving his car and visiting with his customers. He read and drove without glasses and was well informed.

Some residents moved themselves to Zephyrhills seeking higher land or influenced visitors to settle in one or the other of the two neighbor colonies. Coming from Crystal Springs to Zephyrhills was Victor Johnson’s father, mother, sister and Victor. He had come from England to Crystal Springs and then to Zephyrhills. An older brother of James Lair was a resident of Crystal Springs. When James and Ruby Lair came as bride and groom, they also bought land in Crystal Springs and grew strawberries. When farming did not prove profitable they moved to Zephyrhills and opened a small drygoods store.

Little Brown Church Was Town’s Wish

Union Congregational Church, built in 1914

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune, date unknown.


“There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood, no lovelier spot in the dale; no place is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the vale.”

The words of the old hymn, written by Dr. William S. Pitts, were inspired by a little brown church in Nashua, Iowa, where the Rev. John Nutting conducted services in the late 1800s.

And when Nutting retired to Florida in the early 1900s, he decided this state, too, needed a little brown church.

Duplicating the plans from his Iowa church, Nutting and the community of Crystal Springs built the little brown church in about 1913.

Several years earlier, the Cooperative Homestead Co. of Toledo, Ohio, had purchased 10,000 acres from Zephyrhills Colony Co. The cooperative surveyed the land and made plans for development around what was then called Jarve Springs.

The company retained all titles to the property with the understanding they would be turned over to a local administration when 100 families had settled in the community.

By 1914, 168 allotments had been taken and the administration and titles had already been turned over to an organization called the Crystal Springs Commongood Society.

The society was more or less a socialist administration in which ownership and operation was by the community rather than by private individuals.

A community building was constructed, and the first church services were held there. But the Crystal Springs residents wanted a church — preferably a little brown church.

They contacted Nutting, who was in his 80s at that time. And he agreed to retire to the new community and build the church.

As was the Iowa church, the Crystal Springs Church was Congregational. Nutting built a little house next door and painted it brown, too.

Nutting’s daughter, Jessie Nutting Priest, obtained a position teaching Latin at Zephyrhills High School.

Lifelong Zephyrhills resident Rosemary Trottman was one of Priest’s students. Trottman, whose father died when she was young, was trying to finish four years of high school in three years. Her mother was eager for her to get out and earn money, Trottman said.

Trottman would come to school early and stay late to receive special instructions from Priest, she said.

Priest rented a small house in Zephyrhills where she lived during school days. On Fridays, she’d return by train to her little brown house close to the railroad in Crystal Springs.

Once, Trottman recalled, she was permitted to travel with her teacher to Crystal Springs for the weekend to receive extra tutoring.

The teacher and her student spent Saturday night at the Nutting’s home and attended church services Sunday morning.

“His (Nutting’s) sermon was so inspiring. I don’t remember the words of it, but I remember really worshiping in the hour I was there,” Trottman said recently.

In the 1920s the Crystal Springs area flooded, and many residents moved. The little brown church became a chicken house. It has since been torn down.

Book Excerpt

The following is taken from Utopian Communities of Florida: A History of Hope, by Nick Wynne and Joe Knetsch.

The five-member board consisted of T.T. Ansberry as president, C. Beech as Vice-president and LL. Holford as secretary/ treasurer, with K.R. Burke and A.L.P. Nutting serving as the other two members. The cooperative store was incorporated in 1914 with A.B. Hawk, WH. Holford, C.M. Maxwell and Dohnal as the main incorporators of the Crystal Springs Mercantile Company. The Union Congregational Church of Crystal Springs was also incorporated in that year, with A.B. Hawk’s name first on the list. With the main incorporations finalized and the infrastructure in the hands of the colony members, the town was in line to do business.

One unique experiment must be mentioned in the context of trying to find a marketable product for the new colony. Because of the loam soils and some of the reclaimed marsh land still somewhat wet, an ideal crop came to mind: dasheen. Dasheen is a root crop similar to arrowroot or taro. According to the American Miller, the dried powder form gives cereals a nutty flavor and, at that time, was used widely in the cereal industry. It is similar to the root Hawaiians use in making poi. Thus the Dasheen Products Company of Crystal Springs was born in 1915. The first machinery for reducing and drying the crop was sent to Crystal Springs in late 1915 and installed on the farm of C. J. Barrett. L. M. Hawver, who worked in Tampa at the Velvet Ice Cream Company, also had a farm plot in Crystal Springs and was the first to send a crop out when he sent a seed shipment to Bonita Springs. He also sent samples to acquaintances in Tampa to try in November 1915. The experiment did not do well, and the crop for 1916 was reported as “poor” in the Fruit Trade Journal and Produce Record for November 18, 1916. It noted that J.L. Schmitt harvested only four hundred bushels on a two-acre parcel. Not much was later reported concerning the dasheen experiment, and it faded from history after the war.

The failure of the dasheen crop was not the only bad news of the year for the colony. A.B. Hawk was accused of attempting to defraud members of the Cooperative Homestead Company by filing false statements about the financial condition of the Crystal Springs colony. In May 1917, Hawk was accused of using the mail system to defraud potential colonists by misleading them into believing that they would get more than they would actually receive in benefits from the colony.

Hawk was not only on the governing board of the Crystal Springs Colony Company but was also, in 1914, the secretary of the Cooperative Homestead Company in Toledo. K.R. Burke was treasurer at the time Hawk was secretary, and both men clearly understood some of the problems that would soon arise relative to the actual springs in the town. Other disagreements arose around the same time and hampered the development of the colony, including a rather bold attempt by a Mr. Carleton to disrupt the governing of the colony. So upsetting was this attempt that the officers and members issued a special bulletin to the colony reestablishing their legitimate claim to be the elected leaders of the colony. Later, in 1916, one of the main reasons for creating the Crystal Springs Colony Company was to clearly distinguish its interest from that of the Cooperative Homestead Company leadership. Many had been upset with unfavorable comparisons with the successful Ruskin, Florida settlement, which had produced a nice return on investment and whose college was growing. Crystal Springs was different and believed itself in a better position to do things not carried out at Ruskin. Such relatively small matters festered in the small community, especially the announcement of the payment of a dividend by the Cooperative Homestead Company on Crystal Springs Colony when the financials of the latter had not been released to the members. A.B. Hawk, realizing that he was one of the points of contention, advised K.R. Burke that it would be better if he were not on the board of the new colony organization, at least until the statements had been issued and the indictment against him resolved. Dasheen and Hawk were only two of the issues that caused some to regard the colony at risk by the end of 1916-17.

The biggest crisis to hit Crystal Springs, however, began in the mid-1920s, when the question of ownership of the actual springs became the issue of the day. On March 23, 1912, A. B. Hawk, the secretary of the Cooperative Homestead Company at the time, filed a plat with the county showing the lots in the Crystal Springs colony and clearly noting the Public Parks Reservation in the four lots surrounding and including the springs. A second plat of the area also shows the springs area but allegedly does not have the reservation clearly marked. Hawk’s plat, it was declared later, did not have the proper certification on it to make it the “legal” plat of the reservation and town. The other quibble about the plat was that it lacked a proper legal description of the reservation and was therefore null and void. Yet the town had constructed a pavilion at the springs, and it was noted as the “colony pavilion” in the newspapers of the day as late as the June 3, 1919 edition of the Tampa Tribune. The property was supposed to have been transferred to the Crystal Springs Commongood Society until a fence was erected, allegedly to keep hogs and cattle around the springs and blocking what had been a common access to the springs for bathing, swimming and getting bottles of clear water.

A Century Later, The World Knocks

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Feb. 26, 2006.


CRYSTAL SPRINGS – Where Central Avenue dead-ends, this small community looks like it has for generations: tall oaks and pines, dirt roads, a barn-style roller rink with smooth Tennessee maple floors.

But look at a Pasco County planning map, and you’ll see how the landscape is changing. Thousands of houses – and people – soon could close in on this former socialist colony.

To the west, a mini-city of 7,000 houses is planned. Other projects to the west and north will add more than 2,500 units. Slowly, suburbanization will creep around this rural community in southeast Pasco, where the springs that supply Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water flow.

Home prices in Hillsborough County have fueled a hot housing market in Pasco. Until recently, rural east Pasco – long a haven for middle-class retirees – stayed under the radar. Southeast Pasco wasn’t even a blip.

Developers ignored the Crystal Springs area, which seemed too out of the way for commuters.

Not anymore.

Tucked just south of Zephyrhills, near the Pasco-Hillsborough county line, most of the community sits west of State Road 39. For motorists heading south toward Interstate 4, Crystal Springs slides by the passenger-side window: a few small houses, a church, a carny selling elephant ears from a roadside stand, a Circle K gas station, an ancient sign advertising the roller rink.

Most of the community lies beyond that fleeting glimpse, in a network of modest mobile homes and dead-end dirt roads.

“We’re just one little town trying to survive,” said Betty Giles, 82, a Crystal Springs native whose grandmother was among the original socialist settlers.

Residents worry that Crystal Springs, which is not incorporated, could be overwhelmed by development. Growth from Zephyrhills to the north, unincorporated Pasco County to the west and the Plant City area in Hillsborough County to the south is expected to bring about 9,500 homes.

A planned development that would be built at an old dairy farm would front Crystal Springs Road, one of two paved roads that wind through the community and pass the springs.

As their cars kick up dust on their way to S.R. 39 or Chancey Road, the main routes leading to Tampa, newcomers will see aging double-wides and concrete block houses – places valued at less than half or a third of what the new houses will go for.

But they won’t see the rich, complicated past of this almost forgotten piece of Old Florida. In Crystal Springs, there’s not a library or museum to preserve the history, which lives almost entirely through longtime residents.

The Spirit Of Cooperation

At the turn of the century, idealists from the North thought they could find utopia in Florida, buy virgin land cheaply and farm side-by-side.

Some went to Ruskin, a socialist community in south Hillsborough County.

In the early 1900s, an overflow of Ruskin settlers headed north. The group grew and in 1911, as the Commongood Society, they founded Crystal Springs. It was official the next year.

The settlers drew up plans for a town square, bathed in the springs, grew sweet potatoes, strawberries and a “miracle vegetable” called dasheen, a root vegetable similar to the potato and also known as taro. They split the profits from the harvest.

“Everyone had a deed,” Giles said.

That worked for a while.

Many settlers were urbanites drawn to the idea of rural life, but they weren’t wholly successful living it.

After 100 families had moved to the area, the founder of the community, A.B. Hawk of Toledo, Ohio, was supposed to give over control to the residents. He didn’t.

Disputes about property rights split the community. Arguments broke out at Commongood meetings. Some people moved away.

In 1927, Hawk sold part of the land to a New York financier, causing more uproar. Much of the controversy centered on who owned the springs, the heart of the community.

Generations later, a similar fight would erupt, further separating the community from its roots.

By most accounts, Crystal Springs’ socialist experiment had failed by the late 1920s. The vegetables didn’t bring in enough money. The town square never materialized.

Still, the spirit of cooperation lived on. Much of the community’s social life revolved around the Crystal Springs Community Association hall, where residents held meetings, attended school and danced to a player piano.

In many ways, that communal spirit lingers today.

Residents still participate in association meetings, voting on when they should clean up the community cemetery or how much they should spend on a Wal-Mart gift card for a needy family.

They also deal with a problem common to many isolated, rural communities: methamphetamine. Every month, a Pasco County sheriff’s deputy briefs the community association on crime statistics. At recent meetings, he has urged forming a neighborhood watch and talked about how to spot meth labs.

The crime talk contrasts with the hall itself, rebuilt in 1982 and decorated with homemade floral curtains and sepia photos of past members. A yellowed front page from a 1918 edition of The Crystal Springs Colonist hangs on the wall. The paper boasts of open land and “our springs.”

“Through the competitive system, success is too often merely a monument to superior cunning, skillful deceit and conscienceless oppression,” the newspaper reads. “We stand for true success – the kind where cash dividends are accompanied by health and happiness – mentally, morally and physically.”

Lofty goals.

Such idealism likely will retreat further when big-box stores and subdivisions surround Crystal Springs.

The Springs

Over the years, attendance at the association’s monthly meetings has dwindled. Of the estimated 1,175 people who live in the community, 39 belong to the group. About 15 show up regularly.

“A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” said Cindie Cornelius, 50, past president of the association.

Cornelius grew up in upstate New York but made Crystal Springs her home 19 years ago after her husband, Ron, became the postmaster. She was drawn to the open spaces for her horses.

Cornelius became involved in community affairs, serving as the association’s president for seven years.

She’s not sure she likes the changes she’s seeing now.

“I don’t think there’s enough services, enough shopping. There’s not enough schools, that’s for sure,” she said. “And where are we going to get the water?”

Part of Crystal Springs’ identity slipped away 10 years ago when the popular swimming hole at the springs closed, many say.

The springs have been the source for Zephyrhills bottled water for years. In 1996, the owner, Thonotosassa rancher Robert Thomas, allowed Nestlé to pump more water. Then he closed the springs to the public.

The prolonged fight drew national headlines and scarred the community. Even today, many don’t want to talk about “the water wars.”

They do talk about the impending growth.

Development has been the hot topic at Crystal Springs meetings for months.

The questions are typical for any place bracing for growth: What’s going to happen to our roads? What about the schools?

Though newcomers – and cars – will increase the need for services in southeast Pasco, some current residents are skeptical that their needs – such as paved roads – will be met.

“We’re going to be ignored again,” Judy Wagner, 42, who has been lobbying the county to pave her street, said at an association meeting.

The Cemetery

One of the community’s many dusty roads leads to Crystal Springs’ dead.

The original settlers set aside land so community members could be buried free. Residents still are.

To visit, go to the post office on S.R. 39 and ask the postmaster for the key. Then travel down a dirt road shaded by pine trees and you’ll come to a locked gate, beyond which lies the cemetery.

In late summer, bugs bite at visitors’ bare ankles. Dry earth crunches underfoot.

But people come here – to visit relatives, lay fresh flowers and maintain the grounds.

On a recent visit, Cornelius brushed aside long grass hiding gravestones. She and other community association members regularly clean up. Vandals, who break in to drink beer and party, leave behind trash and sometimes topple gravestones.

“When we cleaned, we found markers in the woods,” she said.

No one is sure how many people are buried here. The Hillsborough River trickles through the woods nearby.

Soon, the back yards of 325 families in the planned Hidden River subdivision could encroach on the woods, the river and this quiet place.

Hidden River is one of the smallest of the subdivisions that would encircle Crystal Springs. Plans for Two Rivers Ranch, west of the community on the west side of U.S. 301, call for 7,000 houses.

Cedar Crest Village, part of Rucks Dairy at S.R. 39 and Tucker Road, will bring about 778 luxury apartments and a shopping center. Its residents, expected to be young professionals who work in Tampa, will commute along S.R. 39 – past Crystal Springs.

The Roller Rink

On a recent Friday night, kids lined up outside Crystal Springs Roller Rink, a community institution since 1939.

It’s at the west end of Central Avenue – the part where the asphalt ends and gravel and dirt begin.

Here, moms who slipped on the rink’s white suede rental skates as children pull up in minivans and SUVs to drop off their children, who do the same.

The rink is far from fancy: There’s no air conditioning, no heat, no rock or pop music.

“I wasn’t born with no air conditioning,” said owner Truman Rooks, 75.

Beginners make their way around on spindly legs. Older kids glide by on their own inline skates. This night, Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” whines over the stereo system.

Spring Becker, 33, who grew up skating on Friday and Saturday nights, sticks around to watch her children.

“Nothing’s changed,” she said of the dimly lit rink and the community she grew up in.

But she knows it will. Soon.

“I would rather my children grow up in a small community where we knew everybody rather than it be so crowded,” she said. “I don’t want to look out my window and, you know, see house after house after house.”


Population: 1,175 Racial makeup: 93.6 percent white 5.4 percent Hispanic 0.6 percent black 0.7 percent American Indian and Alaska Native 0.1 percent Asian Median age: 36.5 Median household income: $42,578 Median home value: $68,800 Percentage of mobile homes: 59.8 Average price of houses being built in nearby Zephyrhills: $180,000 to $350,000 Estimated housing units to be built nearby: 9,500 Sources: 2000 U.S. Census, Zephyrhills city records

Crystal Springs History

The following is taken from the former Save Our Springs web site. It was written by Terri Wolfe.


Northeast of the bustling Florida metropolis of Tampa, Florida, lies a quiet, wooded wetland area known as “The Green Swamp.” This area of swampy flatlands and sandy ridges stretches across an 850-square-mile area. Many forms of water resources connect to create this complex hydrology.

The springs, rivers, creeks, cypress swamps, the Floridan aquifer under its limestone covering and seasonal rainfall, all play an important role. A change in one form can affect all the rest.

Crystal Springs is located just south of the Green Swamp and about 15 miles north of Tampa. The springs are an essential ingredient in natures intricate design, providing a constant flow of crystal-clear water to the Hillsborough River.

This entire region is rich with history. Prior to the mid 1800’s the Seminole Indians hunted and fished along these same river banks. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of human life along the river dating back as far as 10,000 years. The cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace have grown along the banks, originally depending on the river for transportation and a conduit for commerce.

Today the Hillsborough River is responsible for the majority of the local drinking water and is a primary resource for biodiversity and recreation. According to the 1949 Florida Government Handbook, Crystal Springs contributed 41.8 million gallons a day to the river’s flow. Today’s estimated contribution is somewhere between 24 and 30 million gallons a day.


In 1911, records document that A. B. Hawk from Toledo, Ohio, formed The Co-operative Homestead Company. Developing a 24,000 acre tract of land he had purchased in Florida, Hawk offered 10 to 40 acre farms for sale. He advertised that “The Crystal Springs Colony” would provide a way for the “average man” to get a farm home in the finest of climates. In an effort attract potential investors, he promised perpetual access to the springs with their purchase. Hawk described these waters as “A Fountain of Health,” a public domain which would forever provide homesteaders with clean water to drink and a swimming hole to enjoy.

On March 23, 1912, a PUBLIC PARKS RESERVATION was declared and recorded on a plat of the 40 acres called Crystal Springs.

One colonist described the springs as a beautiful crystal river, bountifully stocked with fish and shaded by overhanging trees. Another colonist, E. S. Oldham, said he read about Crystal Springs in a magazine while living in Canada. Many families like the Oldhams and the Eikelands came from far away to settle in this new-found oasis. They became a farming co-operative, raising cabbage, sweet potatoes and sugar cane.

They even did some experimenting with a miracle plant called dasheen, whose every part was edible, the greens tasting like spinach and the tubers like potatoes. By 1914 the Crystal Springs Colony had grown to approximately 300 people. They were hard working families, living their dream and believing they had found a great new way of life.


According to the land purchase agreement prepared by Hawk, when the colony population reached 100 families, control of the springs would be given to the colonists. When that time came, he refused to turn over the springs and as time went by, his land deals became more and more suspicious. It appears that his own mortgage payments were coming due quicker than he could sell the land, so in 1916 Hawk and his associates decided to form the ‘new’ Crystal Springs Colony Company. The plan was to have the original Homestead Company give the unallotted lands and outstanding contracts to the new company in exchange for stock. A few months later, Hawk was indicted for mail fraud, but somehow he was able to escape conviction.

By 1920 the colonists discovered that upon making final payment for their land, Hawk explained that he was unable to issue a Warranty Deed. At the same time, he guaranteed that their investment was safe, offering them stock in his new company instead. He promised that the new company would donate to the colony at least 10 acres around the springs for park purposes, including a sufficient portion of the springs to ensure a perpetual water supply. In spite of mounting evidence of fraud, Hawk was able to continue his operation while the colony grew to a population of 2000.


From 1925 to 1928 a series of transactions took place with agreements, deeds, and powers of attorneys changing hands under a darkening cloud of suspicion. When the mist finally cleared, a group of five Hawk associates, falsely claiming to represent the colony landowners, signed the rights to the springs over to Hawk’s new company. The colonists were furious. They filed complaints with the courts in Tampa citing plat maps and the day the springs were dedicated as a public park reservation. In an article published September 27, 1927 in the Plant City Courier, E. S. Oldham, representing the Common Good Society of Crystal Springs, argued that the ownership of the springs rightfully resided with the colonists. He declared, “I would have not bought the land if the springs had not been included.” Eventually in 1927, in a surprising development 200 miles away, a federal judge in Jacksonville decided the colonists complaint to be null and void. “It was over with before my mama could get there,” said Betty Giles whose family came from Wisconsin to settle in Crystal Springs. “The hearing was supposed to be in Tampa.”


Once the land was declared free and clear, Hawk could sell the springs and pay off his debts. “That’s when all the trouble started,” said colonist Victor Eikeland. “He sold it, but nobody knew how he sold it. The springs were supposed to belong to the landowners, but somehow he sold them too.” Adding to an already volatile situation, a man named Waters leased the spring and with it the right to bottle the water. He then constructed a fence around the springs to protect what he considered to be “his” property. For the first time, the colonists were actually being denied access to their source of water. In the 1927 newspaper article entitled “Crystal Springs Society may destroy fence again,” Colonist Oldham said the fence at the spring had been torn down on advice from their attorney and would probably be torn down again.

The protest continued until finally in 1929, the springs were sold to private owners in New York, one of whom was financier Otto Kahn. The oldtimers will tell you the story of how colonist Kenneth Burke was murdered over the ownership dispute. Legend has it that he was pushed in front of a train on his way to New York with proof that the sale was illegal. [Web site note: This legend is not true. It was Kenneth’s father, Richard W. Burke, who died on Aug. 7, 1912, falling under a train at the Zephyrhills station. Witnesses described the tragedy, saying that he collapsed at the train and may have become ill or died before the train arrived. Thanks to Erica Freeman for this information.]


Over the years, the physical contours of the springs have changed as well. Once in the late 1920s and again in the early 1940s, local residents say the spring was dynamited to enlarge the swimming hole. The more recent blast actually stopped the flow of the springs for several days.

Frantically, construction crews worked with bulldozers and drag lines to restore the flow. Once they recovered from this near catastrophe, a dam was built to control the level of the pool they had created. Through it all, the springs remained open to the public.

In 1944 Mabry and Crowder from Tampa purchased the spring and in 1975 sold it to the Thomas family, the current owner of the spring. By this time many original colonists had moved away, but those who stayed kept the stories alive of the time when their precious springs were taken away.


For 20 years, the Thomas Family maintained the spring and kept it open to the public while developing a lucrative deal to sell water and truck it to the Zephyrhills bottling facility.

However, when Perrier/Nestle purchased the Zephyrhills Water Company in 1987, things began to change. To accommodate Perrier’s increasing demand for water, Bob Thomas suggested they install a PVC pipe in the heart of the spring to pump water underground to the bottling plant. By the early 1990s, Perrier’s plans for the spring broadened to include larger steel pipes and pumps to upgrade their operation.

In 1996, Robert Thomas, President of Crystal Springs Recreation Preserve, shocked the community by locking the gate and closing the spring to the public. He justified this action in a public announcement saying he planned to conduct scientific research. The residents feel the more believable reason was to keep Perrier’s abuse from public view. This closure prompted outrage and a united community effort to “Save Our Springs.” People still insist the spring was stolen from its rightful owners and is now being exploited at environmentally dangerous levels. Residents fear future generations may never know again the beauty and joy of the springs they call home.

In the fall of 1998, oldtimers gathered in Crystal Springs to reminisce about the times they spent at the Colony. They believe that the spring should be returned to the people to enjoy the way it was meant to be. Future web site space will be devoted to their stories.


The following documents are recorded at the Dade City Courthouse

1911 J. P. Renfroe conveyed property described as SW quarter of the NW quarter of Section 35, Township 26S, Range 21East, to R. W. Burke

1911 Two months later, R. W. Burke and wife, Elizabeth, conveyed a warranty deed to A. B. Hawk, but stayed as partners

1911 R. W. Burke, Elizabeth, and Hawk conveyed a warranty deed to The Co-operative Homestead Company

1912 Legal plat recorded with springs as common good land

1913 The Co-operative Homestead Company gave Power of Attorney to J. B. Muller.

1925 Crystal Springs Colony, with Hawk as president and L. L. Halford as secretary, formed an agreement with W. J. Wilson in the amount of $243,000.

1926 A group of five members of Common Good Society of Crystal Springs, claiming to represent the citizens of the community, gave all rights to spring to Co-operative Homestead Company.

1926 W. J. Wilson signed a twenty-year lease with Edward Waters for water rights

1926 Crystal Springs Colony Company with Hawk as President registered a certificate saying all free and clear.

1927 Waters, representing the Crystal Springs Colony Company, received the judgement against the colonists. Their claim was null and void.

1928 Waters signed agreement (assumed to be water rights) with Meinhardt.

1928 On the same day Crystal Springs Colony Company, with Hawk as president, conveyed a warranty deed to Meinhardt

1929 Meinhardt conveyed a warranty deed to Paskill Corporation

1944 Paskill Corporation conveyed a warranty deed to Crowder and Maybry

1975 The Bob Thomas family purchases the property known as Crystal Springs.

A New Town (1912)

The following article appeared in the Miami Herald Record on June 20, 1912.

Crystal Springs is the name of a new town which is being established at the southern edge of Pasco county, on the Seaboard Air Line railway, about midway between Plant City and Dade City. Several thousand acres of the surrounding lands have been laid out in ten-acre farm tracts, of which several hundred have already been purchased by colonists from the north. A number of Florida people are also said to be buying allotments on this location. Already a village of more than thirty dwellings has been established.

Obituary — Richard Burke

A TRAGIC DEATH. — Word was received here Wednesday afternoon of the tragic death of Richard W. Burke near Crystal Springs, thirty miles from Tampa, Florida. No details were given in the first telegram to his wife, but later dispatches stated that he was killed by the train at Zephyr Hills, a station about five miles from Crystal Springs.

The news of his sudden death was a shock to his wife and to his many friends in this city. Mr. Burke was here for several weeks this summer and left for Florida about two weeks ago, accompanied by his son Kenneth. He was at the head of a Co-Operative Land Co. of which he was one of the organizers and spent most of his time at Crystal Springs the past year or two.

Mr. Burke was about 52 years old and has been a resident of this city some seventeen years. He came here from Clarks Mills where he conducted a general store for several years. While he was engaged in the mercantile business he studied law and after being admitted to the bar he disposed of the store and removed with his family to this city and formed a partnership with E.S. Schmitz and continued in the practice of law up to a few years ago when he quit to devote his whole time to the real estate. Mr. Burke was city attorney during the Stolze administration from 1905 to 1907. He was a successful lawyer, an honest and well read man, a good citizen, a kind husband and father. He is survived by his wife and one son Kenneth, also two sisters, Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mrs. Butler, both residing in the northern part of the state. The body will be brought here for burial.

Manitowoc Pilot, Thursday, August 8, 1912 pg. 1

Other Notes

The following is from an article in Florida Scuba News in April 1998.

Crystal Springs Colony was founded in 1911 as a socialist enclave, where property was shared and collective enterprise was established for the common good. Central to colony life were the springs, prized as much for their aesthetic value as for physical and economic sustenance. In 1916, some of the colony’s investors, needing to pay off some debts, formed the Crystal Springs Colony Corporation. Claiming to represent the town, they seized ownership of the spring in 1925 and sold it without the community’s permission. A tactical change of venue to federal courts across the state proved prohibitive for the strapped colonists, who ultimately dropped the case. The controversial transfer of ownership under these conditions has given springs supporters ammunition to argue that ownership of the springs should revert to heirs of the original colonists.

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