HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Nearly Forty Years in Pasco County (1923)
Z. T. Roberts of Richland Tells What He Saw Around Dade City in 1884
This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Oct. 12, 1923.
Seeing letters from some citizens impels me to come out of my shell and give some of my experiences in Hernando and Pasco counties; for 39 years ago, on May 16, 1884, I got off the F. R. and N. Railway at Wildwood, then the end of railway navigation. In company with T. F. Williams and Brother Jeff I started out on foot for Fort Dade and Tuckertown.
We stopped at Sumterville for the night. Next day we took dinner with Mr. Futch at Webster and reached Harrison Slaughter’s for supper. The next morning we left for Tuckertown. At the Lanier bridge I parted company with Williams, he going to his ranch, near J. W. Tucker’s while I took the road for Dade City. At noon I halted at the home of the late Frank Hill for water. I was met by Mrs. Hill, who was not satisfied with giving a cup of water, but invited me in to dinner, where I found a well prepared meal, which I greatly enjoyed, and spent an hour pleasantly chatting with a refined lady in the person of Mrs. Hill, whom I have always held in the highest esteem.
I went on to town and found a line of store just west of the cigar factory, now nigger town. Here I found an old boyhood chum, (Reddon Jones) keeping store. Next Shofner and Son, (T. L.) Tony Sumner, and a drug store, kept by McElroy, I think. I spent the night with John Overstreet. The post office was 1½ miles south of town on a hill, now on road two, kept by one of M. G. (illegible, probably Roe), a son-in-law of Cousin John Thrasher (?). Sim Huckabay and Bob Nelson worked the farm for Roe, and Mr. Ames worked in the store.
I left Dade City and walked down to Enterprise settlement to Mr. Sherouse and Uncle Bob Sumner’s, thence to Tom Williams’ ranch and finally landed at Mr. Joe W. Tucker’s where all newcomers would go to see the largest orange trees in the country. Mr. Tucker was one of those big hearted men that had plenty and offered a welcome to all newcomers. At that time he lived in a double pen log house, but soon after built a large dwelling house and lived like a king, and the latch string always hung outside.
J. D. Redding kept the post office and owned a fine 30 acre orange grove. He had retired from the Western Union Telegraph Company and Dan Clement was the operator, the office being one mile north. The United States mail route ended here. It was brought here by stage twice a week via Sumterville, Brooksville, Fort Dade and Hatton. There were only two roads after leaving Dade City. One, following the telegraph line by Ellerslie and Tuckertown, crossed the river at Flat Ford and went on to Lakeland and south. The other was the Fort King Road, leading to Tampa.
I started across the country to Capt. Abbott’s, which is now Zephyrhills. As I crossed the pine ridge, where I now live, I stopped and took in the situation thus, “If I can get this hill, right here I’ll put down my budget,” and I did and am still here. I put out a small grove, brought in my wife and three children and started in with great hopes, but trouble overtook me. My wife died and I put a family on my place and was gone for five years.
I returned in 1891 with my present wife and four children, and as the Good Book says “We multiplied and replenished the earth,” and God blessed our work and we still live. We had many ups and downs, more downs than ups. It was a scuffle for grits after the big freeze of 1894-95. If the railroads hadn’t have been burning wood at that time we would have gone hungry. But we hauled light wood knots to the roads and bought grub until we opened up land and went to plowing and planting and raising hog feed and we’ve had hog and hominy ever since.
I am now on the map. The good roads people are grading road four by my place, connecting Pasco and Polk from Zephyrhills to Williams Bridge. Right here I will make a suggestion to those whose land fronts the road, that we sod the shoulders of the road with Bermuda grass while it is fresh, and by the next rainy season it will take care of the road bed. What say neighbors? If we don’t help it means a bad road, or more taxes to maintain it.
I am a native Floridian, born and raised in Duval county. I commenced this scuffle November 2, 1848. If I live a month longer will reach and pass the 75 mile post. I can’t kick as high as I used to, but am still earning by grub, and then some.
Z. T. ROBERTS Route 1, Zephyrhills
P. S.—Mr. Editor, if you waste space with this maybe I’ll come back again with something that dates back to grand-dad’s experience with the Indians.
Interesting Facts of Pioneer Days in Pasco (1928)
This article appeared in the Pasco County News on April 26, 1928.
The following interesting facts about the pioneer days of Pasco county was given by J. C. Carter, at a benefit meeting for the equipment fund of the Woman’s Club, held at the club house, April 14, and was a feature of the program.
This locality in pioneer days, 1869 and forward from that date, until 1887, was all part of Hernando county, a vast stretch without roads and means of intercommunication, with perhaps about one-third as many residents as there are now in Pasco alone. Mr. Carter came here as a small lad 1869. Mr. Carter’s father was elected to the state legislature several times, and he had to canvass all of these great stretches of countryside without roads.
In 1887, in spite of opposition, Hernando was split into three counties, Hernando, Citrus and Pasco. The nearest postoffice in 1869 had been at Brooksville; the nearest railroad at Waldo, leaving too much territory without means of communication by mails and rail. Nearly all of the older settlers of this portion had come from Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. After the county of Pasco was formed, and it was found desirable, a postoffice was established at Fort Dade, at that time a community covering a radius of some twenty miles.
Mr. Carter has in his possession the cabinet made for Mr. Ryals as his post office , and this is an interesting piece of furniture which was purchased by Mr. Carter’s father at the time he was appointed postmaster. Several post offices were located along a chain, but after the railroad came through Dade City section and this became a little town, the postoffice was located at Dade City and Fort Dade and other minor offices were discontinued.
In 1874, the first public school was opened about five miles beyond San Antonio, for this territory. Mr. Carter can remember attending that school, also that his father paid the then huge sum of $4.00 monthly for his board so that he might be near this school. And, by the way, Mr. Carter says that he is the lad who would not outspell the little lady in his class and take the head of the class from her. It actually happened that he missed the word intentionally to accede to her class leadership in spelling.
Trails were blazed through the woods, and because no one would cut a tree, the paths were exceedingly crooked. More interest was taken in education in Pasco after this section was organized as a separate county. With 33 schools in the county, the superintendent received $450 yearly, visited every school at his own expense, and made two visits yearly.
Tampa was Dade City’s market. The speaker could remember when all the stores in Tampa had not as much as varied stock as our own Coleman & Ferguson Co. has today. Six stores made up the business center of Tampa at that time and it took Dade Cityans three days to go and come with a good mule team, five days for the trip with oxen. Some interesting data—sweet potatoes and syrup were the main products hauled from Dade City to Tampa; a bushel of potatoes, OR a gallon of syrup formed the equivalent of THREE boxes of matches. Chickens were cheap—25c for a hen, and for fryers or broilers, perhaps 15c or 20c, but eggs were as high as 25c a dozen even though the hen that laid them was worth but 25c; A negro woman would wash all day, and long hours, too, for “a hen” or a 25c wage. A hen today would be a real good day’s wage, for the average heavy breed hen is worth, at 25c a pound, about $2.00 and the average wage for a day’s work for the negro woman is $1.00 to $1.50 daily.
The northern soldiers were sent to Tampa for training and their arrival was hailed with joy as it meant good markets for Dade City farmers.
Churches were few and far between, mostly log houses. Old Mt. Zion church was the first one built of lumber, and was erected by two men by hand. It stood, before the underpinning gave way and the building fell, for 50 years and the roof was still in good protection in rainstorms.
Coffins were made of lumber by the residents of towns and no charge was made for these coffins.
Cloth for men’s clothing, all made at home; shoes, home-made, from hides tanned in home tan yards; home dyed suits woven at home; spinning of household linens and women’s garments, formed part of the daily regime of the pioneer housewife. Mr. Carter showed a baby garment made by his mother for him, but this was a store bought cloth and the thread was purchased. The little article was all hand made.
When kerosene lights were introduced the folks were timid about their use. Previously, women had sewed and spun by fire light as candles were too expensive for frequent use.
There were no banks at that time. When it is remembered that human nature is prone to complain about things, it should be recalled that the early settlers of a community got along without schools, churches, railroads, postoffices, modern conveniences, lights, roads and then, it is realized how much the modern human has to be thankful for.
Telegraph lines came through Dade City first because the U. S. government wanted to establish communication with Cuba where the Spanish government was buying supplies from the United States. Thus was the Wire Road named as the first telegraph line into Dade City partly traversed its way. This was a part of the system of communication with Cuba.
There was no citrus industry here when Mr. Carter’s parents brought their family to this locality, Later, oranges were taken to Tampa by wagon, with camping outfits and bedding piled on top of this delicate fruit without a thought of its harm. Oranges were shipped to foreign markets such as New York, in barrels, via sailing vessels. One supposes that some of the fruit reached its destination hale and hearty or Florida oranges would not have become so well known.
After this interesting and instructive talk, a social hour was enjoyed, and iced tea, and fancy cookies were served.
Pioneers Sowed County’s Growth (1987)
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on June 24, 1987.
By BOB JENSEN and FRANCES LEE GARRISON
For most of Pasco’s 19th-century pioneers, the trip to their new home was hardly first class.
They came on horses and in ox carts from their homes in Georgia and Alabama, Missouri and the Carolinas, these rural people who would become known as Crackers.
In these days before the Florida land boom, they weren’t looking for instant riches, just a new place to build and plant and harvest.
What they found was a land of lush green vegetation and vast pine forests. Scattered inland to the east were palmetto palms, cypress and oak trees. Swampy marshes laced with mangroves stretched from the Gulf of Mexico west to what is now U.S. 19.
Today, U.S. 19 is Pasco’s main street, crowded with people in air-conditioned cars on their way to the subdivisions, shopping centers and fast-food restaurants that have sprung up near the highway.
The landscape is not all that has changed. Although many of the people on the road are recent arrivals, their motive is different. They do not come to Pasco to strike out anew; they come to enjoy retirement after their working years are over.
In the 100 years since Pasco was carved out of Hernando as a
separate county, residents have lived and worked through booms and busts, fair weather and freezes, as the county has developed from an out-of-the-way agricultural land.
The centennial story includes:
The pioneers who settled the land that became Pasco County in 1887 were met by hardship.
But they also found a virtually untouched land where fish and game were for the taking, building materials were at hand and crops could be grown year-round.
In 1887 there were about 5,000 of them, scattered among small communities throughout the county. Many of the towns had just three or four families in them, and now no longer exist.
The fertile land sold for between $25 and $50 an acre, and produced tobacco, rice, sugar cane, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes and oranges.
One of the pioneers was James Washington Clark, who came to what is now Port Richey in 1872 because of his cows.
Livestock roamed unfenced in those days, and the Clark cattle developed a penchant for travel, said Frances Clark Mallett, a local historian and Clark’s granddaughter.
They repeatedly sauntered down Old Salt Road to the coastal area where Port Richey is now, “and Grandpa Clark would go and bring them back.”
Finally he decided he liked the coastal area and moved there, marrying Frances Louise Hope of Brooksville the same year. They had five children.
Typical of many of the settlers, Clark had a deep sense of community responsibility. There were only three families living in the area at first. They were Clark, Aaron McLaughlin Richey – who was called “captain” because he had a schooner – and the Malcolm Hill family. When a school was needed, Clark built one on his land and served as a trustee with Richey and Hill.
Carving out a new county
The area that was to become Pasco County was originally a part of Hernando County, with the county seat in Brooksville. People in the southern part of the county disliked having to travel such a long distance for court and other legal business. It was a long, tiresome journey by horseback or ox cart.
Those complaints sparked a drive to divide Hernando. Two Pasco leaders, Dr. Richard Bankston and Judge J.A. Handley, led the way.
The name “Banner County” was proposed for the southerly section. Although the legislators favored the division, they didn’t like the name because each one thought his county was a “banner” county.
As a compromise, the name Pasco was chosen in honor of the newly elected and popular U.S. Sen. Samuel Pasco of Monticello.
The bill, which also carved out Citrus County from northern Hernando, passed both houses unanimously.
On June 2, 1887, Pasco’s 738 square miles officially became a separate county.
Dade City was selected as the county seat. The new board of commissioners for Pasco County held its first meeting in Dade City on July 18, 1887. The chairman was E.G. Liles.
The first census of Pasco County, according to a history compiled by the West Pasco Historical Society Inc., was taken in 1890 by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The population count was 3,249. In the 1960 U.S. Census, 36,785 people were counted. By 1970 the census was 75,955. Today, county planners estimate the population at 253,500, and Pasco is one of the fastest growing counties in the state.
In the same year the Pasco became a county, the railroad came to Pasco.
The first train of the South Florida Railway owned by the Henry B. Plant system steamed into the new depot on Dade City’s Main Street near the Dade City Cemetery.
Construction of the railway actually began in 1885. But for about a year, said William Dayton, a Dade City lawyer and local historian, the railroad kept one elderly man working a few hours a day on the railroad bed so the company could say the rail line was under construction. This gave Plant time to interest investors, and by 1887 the run from Wildwood to Dade City was established, Dayton said.
About 1885, it was rumored a second railway line was coming into Dade City. Due to some quiet lobbying by Coleman & Ferguson General Store owners, the railway station was built on Meridian Avenue, conveniently close to their store, Dayton said.
This railroad was the forerunner of Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Co., which still operates in Dade City and Land O’ Lakes. Service to Elfers and Tarpon Springs was discontinued Dec. 30, 1986.
Trilby, north of Dade City, was expected in those early days to grow into a big railroad center. But it never happened; Trilby remains a small town.
The arrival of the railroad meant that orange growers and farmers could get their produce to markets with more speed and far less risk of spoilage than ox carts offered.
According to Dayton, oranges were a good money crop. He said a grower with a 100-acre grove could “retire on one crop.” A five-acre grove could support a family, he said.
The big freeze of 1894-95 spelled disaster for some growers, but others made a comeback.
The railroad also opened the door for the timber boom.
The lumber community of 5-A, near Hudson, laid its own spur lines into the pine woods to make it easier to tap the growth of virgin timber and later ship it north.
Peter A. Demens, who came from Russia and became a naturalized American citizen, was instrumental in financing the Orange Belt Railway, which ran from Sanford to Trilby to St. Petersburg. The narrow gauge railroad was another branch of the Atlantic Coast Line, part of the Plant railway system, and was acquired by Demens in payment for a debt.
The Orange Belt line cut across the county from the east diagonally to the southwest, proceeding to Tarpon Springs and St. Petersburg. The Orange Belt provided access to the timber in the county’s forests.
5-A, named after five men who owned the huge sawmill and had last names beginning with the same letter, had a booming operation from the turn of the century until the 1920s, said Dayton.
Possibly thousands of folks ventured into the area, counting on the wealth of West Pasco’s pine trees.
“You could travel for days and see nothing but pine. The lumbermen couldn’t conceive of it ever running out,” Dayton said.
So confident were these pioneers that they sold only the best pine, destroying the lesser-grade knotty pine and sending the clean heartwood all over the country instead, Dayton said.
The boom ended when the lumbermen had depleted the virgin timber supply and found themselves out of work. After ravaging the forests, they moved on, leaving mainly a ghost town and sawdust-spewing fires that burned for years afterward.
The big pines also produced turpentine, and small “turpentine towns” appeared near the railroad routes but not close to other towns. The communities of Loyce and Sagano northeast of Hudson grew up around the production of turpentine.
Harvesting turpentine was a rough business that operated with what was virtually slave labor, Dayton said. Violence was a fact of life in the labor camps run by white men who brought in former slaves to do the work.
The turpentine industry also helped wipe out many of the pine trees in West Pasco. The crude methods of extracting the pine gum that later was distilled into turpentine would kill the trees after three or four years. The towns would then fold.
Though the lumber and turpentine camps shared the common bond of pine trees, they had nothing in common otherwise, Dayton said. In fact, the lumber crews looked down on turpentine types, as did the general population.
“‘Those godless folks without souls’ is a phrase I’ve often heard was spoken about members the turpentine community,” Dayton said.
The 1900s brought Florida’s boom, built on land speculation. Pasco had its share, too. According to Ralph Bellwood, author of Tales of West Pasco, a frame house close to the railroad station in New Port Richey sold three times, first for $3,500 and the third time for $6,500.
The railroad, the advent of the automobile, electricity and the telephone all played a part in expanding tourism.
Hotels opened, such as New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel. Two of its investors were film stars Thomas Meighan, who had built a large home in New Port Richey, and Gloria Swanson. Comedian Ed Wynn was master of ceremonies on opening night. [Information in this paragraph may be incorrect — jm]
According to West Pasco’s Heritage, a history compiled by the West Pasco Historical Society Inc., lots were sold to Meighan, Wynn, Swanson, composer Irving Berlin and professional golfer Gene Sarazen. [Information in this paragraph may be incorrect — jm]
Meighan built a large, formal estate home overlooking the Pithlachascotee River at what now is Meighan Court off S Boulevard. Most of the estate has been subdivided into housing, but servants’ quarters and the quarters of Meighan’s chauffeurs still stand.
The Meighan Theatre, now the Richey Suncoast Theatre, a hearty structure built in 1926.
Meighan met up with land developer George Sims and launched an ambitious plan to make New Port Richey the moving picture capital of the South.
Although George McGuire, the historian for the Richey Suncoast Theatre, says Meighan and his Hollywood buddies chipped in to build the 500-seat theatre that opened July 1, 1926, other historians say a corporation called the Richey Amusement Co. started the theatre.
The first silent movie shown, entitled The New Klondike, was about the Florida land boom years. Starring in the movie was “naturally, Thomas Meighan,” McGuire said.
A golf course was built at Jasmine Point. Champion golfer Gene Sarazen became the golf pro. According to West Pasco’s Heritage, Sarazen influenced many wealthy and prominent people to come to the area. He built a Spanish-style two-story home in Jasmine Point across from the Meighan estate. Sarazen now lives on Marco Island, near Naples.
Pasco attracted other celebrities in the early 1900s as well. In Aripeka there is a little time-weathered wooden cabin where a large board sign in the yard proclaims that in 1919 Babe Ruth fished here and that Jack Dempsey trained here in 1921. They also played poker together, according to the sign.
According to Lizzie Bell Jackson, former postmistress who has lived in Aripeka since 1911, the real Babe Ruth cabin was originally near the Os-O-Waw Hotel, which burned in 1960.
That little cabin is now on the Robbins property across from the parsonage of the Aripeka Baptist Church. Mrs. Jackson confirms that Babe Ruth came to Aripeka for fishing and stayed in that cabin.
Ed Haley, promoter and builder of Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel, bought 6,000 acres at Moon Lake east of Port Richey and transformed it into a palatial playground for the rich and famous. According to Bellwood, 400 meals a day were served in its dining halls. Five-thousand acres were enclosed for a hunting preserve stocked with game, and there were 15 miles of bridle paths. It is said that Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. and many political business leaders were entertained there.
Transportation was further advanced with the construction of U.S. 19 parallel to the Gulf coastline. The state Department of Transportation headquarters in Bartow has records only back to 1927, according to spokeswoman Kathy Palmer. She said that at that time U.S. 19 was a state highway and was paved.
The gas shortage during World War II caused a decline in the Moon Lake Dude Ranch and Gardens, as it was called, and in 1962 the property was divided into homesites.
The big change in Pasco came after World War II, when retirees began to come from colder lands to the north.
“Quality of life” – translated as affordable housing and warm weather – changed the face of Pasco.
The “$5,990” helped spur the post-war Pasco boom. That was the typical cost of Pasco’s standard two-bedroom house, a price that made Florida retirement affordable.
Northern tourists who were enamored of the state after vacationing on the more pricey beaches to the south found themselves wondering how they could afford to make their home in the Florida sun.
As they drove back north on what was then a lonely two-lane highway called U.S. 19, the “$5,990” signs jumped out.
“People saw the signs, and they stopped in and bought homes like they were buying a loaf of bread,” Pasco Property Appraiser Ted Williams said in a 1982 interview.
Although Pasco can’t brag about the most scenic beaches in Florida, the magnetism of the coast also played a part in the growth on the west side.
“I don’t know why exactly, but people seem to be interested in living near the water, even if they don’t own a boat and don’t fish,” Williams said.
Post-war development was concentrated mainly on the west side, where property owners also were more willing than their East Pasco counterparts to sell to developers because the land was not as productive for either citrus or cattle.
Building on that land was especially attractive because of the freedom with which developers could subdivide and build; it was not until the mid-1970s that Pasco passed comprehensive zoning laws. In the years before that, developers built with pretty much a free hand.
In the 1960s, retirees flocked to West Pasco to snatch up the bargain homes in subdivisions such as Colonial Hills, Orangewood Village, Tahitian Gardens and Holiday Lake Estates. Pasco’s population more than doubled, and the median age in the county leaped from 38.5 to 53.4.
An example of how an area changed can be seen in Elfers, an unincorporated hamlet nestled just south of New Port Richey along State Road 595, once was home to just citrus groves and cattle.
Sans Souci, a 250-acre grove owned by the Knight family and situated 1/4 mile south of what is now the intersection of County Roads 54 and 595, continued to flourish until “the ’62 freeze that knocked everybody back,” Joe Knight Jr. said.
The Knights replanted and were back in full production by the late 1960s, but “subdivisions began to encroach, and about all we could do was sell” Sans Souci, Knight said.
Today, Elfers is home to more than 12,000 people and many subdivisions and small businesses.
The development trends were clear by the 1970 census, which showed that for the first time more people lived in the west than the east. That tilted the balance of power from county seat Dade City to the new residents clustered around the increasingly congested U.S. 19.
In 1950, 81 percent of Pasco’s population lived on the east side. By 1980, only 21 percent lived there, and 70 percent of Pasco residents were living in a 3-mile swath along U.S. 19.
The economic activity in the county today can is reflected in Pasco’s largest employers, a list dominated by service businesses.
Number one is the Pasco County schools, with 3,500 workers. Next are Lykes Pasco Packing Co., the Dade City juice processor, and the Pasco County government with 1,400 employees each.
Rounding out the top 11 are three hospitals, Saddlebrook resort, Publix grocery, Oakley Brothers Inc., Saint Leo College and the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.
The influx of the elderly has shaped Pasco’s economy.
“It is important to recognize the economic role of retirees as a domestic industry, and not just a component of the population,” says a growth management study commissioned by county officials last year.
Instead of the normal process of people following economic activity, in Pasco the people – retirees – moved here first, creating the jobs that have expanded the economy and attracted more young people.
As the study put it: “Growth itself has been the growth industry of Pasco County.”
Pasco County Census Figures