HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Lumber Mill Was Town’s Foundation (2003)
The following article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on June 13, 2003.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
LACOOCHEE – Several historic sites still dot the countryside. But many pieces of the past are no longer standing in this once-thriving mill town in northeast Pasco County.
One such place was the old kindling house, which was still around in the mid-1980s. The house – the last of several built in Lacoochee during the 1930s – finally is gone, according to Lewis Abraham, a Dade City Realtor.
Abraham grew up in Lacoochee during the days when the town prospered after Cummer and Sons Cypress Co. established the lumber mill.
Earlier in its history, Lacoochee was home to many wealthy citrus and strawberry farmers until the freeze of 1895 wiped out those industries and the town.
Things changed when the Cummers came from Michigan, building a modern, fully electric cypress sawmill and box factory in Lacoochee in 1922. The mill was used to cut the company’s cypress, pine and hardwood timber holdings in Central Florida.
The company also built rental houses for employees and company stores. But the town grew quickly after the mill opened, and soon there was a two-story, 30-room hotel, four churches, two bakeries, two drugstores, three garages, two service stations, two department stores, three barbershops, several restaurants, two doctors, two train depots and more than 1,000 registered voters.
Lacoochee survived the Great Depression – mainly because the mill remained open and continued employing the majority of the town’s residents. During those hard days of the 1930s, some residents built their homes from the kindling wood the mill gave away free, Abraham said.
When a log came into the mill, it would be steamed. Lumber was cooked and moisturized so it could be sheared and would come off in smooth strips. Cypress boards would be air dried outside on slanted slats.
Pecky cypress, now an expensive lumber used as a decorative wood, was considered a “nuisance lumber” then, Abraham said. “We use to call the stuff cockroach hotel.”
Mill workers cut pines for veneer to be used at the crate mill. But when the lumber was too hard, the company would give away the kindling wood. Most people wanted it for fuel for wood-burning stoves. But a few industrious folks took the kindling and transformed it into houses, Abraham said.
Few of the kindling houses survived the years. The kindling particularly was vulnerable to sparks from wood-burning stoves and overturned oil lamps. Electricity didn’t come to the outlying areas of Lacoochee until the 1940s when Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative Inc. provided access.
But in the mid-1980s there was one surviving kindling house beneath moss-covered oaks in Coulter Hammock where Abraham played as a child. Already vacant and deteriorating in the mid-1980s, the house was beyond restoration and since has been lost to time, Abraham said.
The kindling on that house had been used on the inside and outside walls. The kindling on the outside walls was made into shingles by cutting the wood into rectangles and then angling the bottom by hand. The basic roofs in those days were made of cypress shingles, but in later years tar paper was nailed over the cypress roof on the kindling house.
Cummer and Sons Cypress Co. closed in 1959 and with it the town of Lacoochee began to dwindle. But the bond that was formed between its residents and the town during those prosperous years has remained. Many return year after year for a reunion to rekindle old friendships. Others have never left.