Lacoochee – Fire of 1958



The Fire of 1958


E. H. Capes was born outside Lacoochee in 1943 in a house near the Withlacoochee River on land now known as the Crooked Tree property on State Road 575. When that house burned, the family moved into Lacoochee and lived in the area known as the Bungalow Quarters where his sister, Mary Ellen, and his brother, James were born. Their parents, Eula Harrelson Capes and Troy Capes were married in 1941 when Eula was still living with her dad, Hugh Charles Harrelson. Hugh Harrelson, was a night watchman at the mill. Troy Capes worked at the planing mill where around 1944 he lost his right hand in one of the planning mill machines. In 1964 when E. H. was in the Air Force, his parents moved to west Coit Road in the second house facing north in front of the Cummer Hotel. He recalls being able to sit on their front porch and see Lacoochee’s First Baptist Church.

E. H., a retired postal employee, lives in Dade City and worked for the Dade City Police Department before spending 22 years at the front window of the Dade City post office. His grandfather Hugh Harrelson died in 1949. Troy Capes died in 1977 and his wife Eula Harrelson Capes died in 1990. Both are buried in the Lacoochee cemetery.

James graduated from Pasco Hernando Community College and worked with the Pasco News, Tampa Tribune, and Saint Petersburg Times. James never married and was living in the house on Coit road when it burned down around 1998. After that, he moved to St. Petersburg and worked for U. S. Security Associates. James was a man who loved life and had an enormous amount of friends. He spent a great deal of time writing poems, songs, and short stories, many of them about the Lacoochee area. He had a quick wit and a creative mind. The poems were much better than he thought they were. He never sought recognition or compensation for his writings as he wrote only for his own enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. He hoped that someday someone would record one of his songs and he would hear it on the radio. But James did not live long enough to realize that dream. He passed away February 3, 2011 at the age of 61. James was born in December of 1949, so he was only eight years old when the fire occurred. It left its mark on even the children. It was something none of us would forget. It was a loss to everyone. Here is James’s poem on the fire of 1958.

This road here was main street. This used to be downtown. Desperation struck the match that burned Lacoochee down.

There were wooden sidewalks. There were shops and stores. Displays in most the windows And open signs on doors.

I awoke in darkness When I heard the whistle blow. That was the warning signal That let everybody know.

First one building caught fire; That sparked another blaze. The night sky of Lacoochee Was a smoky, blurry haze.

Three grocery stores fell victim, A drygoods store or two. It didn’t spare Abe’s drug store As the conflagration grew.

The firemen and the townfolk Fought to gain control. Somewhere among that rubble There lies Maple’s barber pole.

We stood in awe and sadness. Things would never be the same. Lacoochee was consumed that night By one giant, hellish flame.

When dawn gave way to daylight We couldn’t help but look. We wondered what was left behind And what the fire had took.

There were cinders, soot, and ashes Like we were bombed in war, Then, one two-story building, They, at least, saved Howard’s Bar.

Some doused the final hot spots, Too tired to cry or cheer, While others quenched dry palates As Howard’s served cold beer.

Some people loudly cursed their luck. Some launched a silent prayer. Some just shook their heads and said, “Sometimes this life ain’t fair.”

Cummer’s mill was laying off. The future was uncertain. Did someone try to close our town And drop the final curtain?

Some may call it arson, But they have no evidence. Stranger things have happened That we call coincidence.

The Brabhams and the O’Quinns And the Wilders tried To resurrect some hopes and dreams From those that burned and died.

Some others relocated And tried to start anew. The others did the best they could. All did what they could do.

This road here was main street. This used to be downtown. Desperation struck the match That burned Lacoochee down.

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