HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
1883. J. G. Blanton, for whom Blanton is named, acquires property here and builds a log cabin east of Blanton Lake.
1884. A post office is established east of Blanton Lake. Horace J. Charles was the first postmaster.
1886-87. The Florida State Gazetteer lists these residents: H. J. Charles, general merchandise; J. W. Charles, general merchandise; Evans Bros., shingle mill; A. F. Newkirk, physician; and farmers James Miller, J. M. O’Berry, F. E. Blocker, and S. O. James.
1887. The Orange Belt Railroad comes to Blanton. The community relocated from the west side of Blanton Lake to where it is today.
1900. L. B. Bessenger comes to Blanton and buys the turpentine business. See the recollections of his daughter Lillian Bessenger Hines here.
1910. The Blanton Packing Co. opens, according to a 2004 Tampa Tribune article.
Jan. 1, 1913. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “The Tampa Bay Land Company is very busy at this season driving prospective buyers over its lands in autos. It has sold fifteen hundred acres in the vicinity of Blanton and the Jessamine Grove to Germans from Minnesota, who expect to soon settle on the tract with people of their own nationality from the north.”
Nov. 13, 1914. The Dade City Banner reports, “Mrs. Raymond Hitchcock, wife of the noted actor, and her brother, arrived in the city Tuesday and are making their headquarters at the Edwinola for the present. Mrs. Hitchcock bought the old Blanton tract, consisting of 300 acres, last year, from Mr. Stewart, manager of the Hippodrome, of New York, who was here last winter, and expects to spend the winter here in improving her property, setting out a large orange grove on it in the near future. The Blanton estate is about six miles from town, and Mrs. Hitchcock and brother, should they decide to stay here, will probably buy property and build a winter home in the city, managing their grove from this place.”
Dec. 24, 1914. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “Blanton is now becoming famous as a heavy shipping point of kumquats, the lovely little ‘gold orange,’ some 400 crates of this fruit having moved out last week by express. The crop this season is larger than ever before, the fruit is bright and exceptionally large in size. C. J. Nathe, Messrs. Blocker and Dowling and Jessamine Groves are all heavy shippers of the kumquat fruit. The Jessamine Groves report shipments of 250 crates of ‘gold oranges’ last week.”
June 19, 1915. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that the community was shocked and saddened by the death of James Berry Miller, a prominent resident of Blanton.
Feb. 7, 1919. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “The fruit growers here are shipping a car of fruit every day from the Blanton packing house. They bought the fruit of the Jessamine grove. There has already been shipped over 40,000 boxes of fruit from Blanton this season. The Jessamine Grove’s Nurseries are very busy shipping citrus fruit trees, roses and ornamental plants from their large nurseries near Blanton.”
Mar. 4, 1921. The Dade City Banner reports: “J. M. O’Berry, the pioneer of Blanton, has deeded to Sanford Blocker and Fred O’Berry as trustees, to hold in perpetuity as a public park, the triangular piece of land in the village of Blanton between the station, the postoffice and the street.”
Dec. 20, 1923. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports:
BLANTON-JESSAMINE, Dec. 19.—Fire of an unknown origin destroyed the packing house belonging to Capt. George Warner of Tampa between 2 and 3 o’clock Sunday morning. Two Atlantic Coast Line cars loaded with rock for the hard road to the county line were badly damaged, and but for the heroic efforts of the people of the community, who kept dashing water on it, the large packing house of J. R. Jeffords of Clearwater would also have been destroyed. The fire was first discovered by E. W. Dansby, a local merchant, who was awakened shortly after 2 o’clock by the crackling of the flames. He immediately began firing his pistol and shouting until he had awakened all of the other people of the town. There was no chance whatever to save Capt. Warner’s packing house, which was a galvanized iron structure, as the entire interior was a mass of flames, and every effort was put forth to prevent the flames from spreading. The origin of the fire is a mystery.
July 14, 1924. The Blanton Packing Co. begins work on a modern packing house which is expected to be ready for business on Nov. 1.
Oct. 29, 1926. The Dade City Banner reports, “Frank Simpson, colored fireman on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, was instantly killed and six other employees of the road were injured, one of them probably fatally, when extra freight train No. 815 collided with Work Train No. 273 on a curve one mile north of Blanton, six miles from Dade City, about 11 o’clock Thursday morning.”
Aug. 5, 1927. Mary F. O’Berry, wife of John M. O’Berry, thought to be the oldest female resident of Pasco County, dies at her home in Blanton. On Aug. 14, Mr. O’Berry died.
Feb. 11, 1932. S. J. Ansley, age 92, dies. He was thought to be the oldest resident of Pasco County.
Sept. 27, 1932. The Parker & Compher store in Blanton is destroyed by fire.
Historic Church Turns 91 (1997)
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Sept. 15, 1997.
By WILLIAM YELVERTON
BLANTON — The busy days of railroad lines and citrus packing have passed by this east Pasco community, but the small white church with the red doors is going strong.
Blanton United Methodist Church is celebrating its birthday Saturday — 91 years of fellowship, history and the sounds of its bell signaling another Sunday service on Spring Valley Road.
Built in the early 1900s, Blanton has far less members today — just less than 20 — than when founded. Although the numbers are down, spirit is high.
"You’re not just somebody sitting in a pew here," said Teresa Couture, a 37-year-old nurse who attends with her 11- and 13-year-old boys.
"There are real people. Nobody’s putting on. Everybody is accepted for who they are. It is very warm and very comfortable."
Blanton Methodist dates to 1906. Its first congregation worshiped at Mount Olive Church about a mile away. But some members felt Mount Olive was too far from Dade City, a written history goes, so a new church was built near Sweetwater Road.
Will Heacock and Tom Jordan built Blanton on land donated by fellow pioneers Henry P. Blocker and his wife. Some members of Townsend House Church near Hancock Lake joined in 1928 when that church stopped regular services, the history states.
Later, the congregation "diminished" because lumber and turpentine industries moved.
Blanton’s mission statement: "To provide a nurturing, caring church home and spiritual fellowship for anyone who enters our doors."
The church is made of wood. The bell attached to a rope in its steeple rings every Sunday morning at 11. The red doors mean everyone — no matter the dress, the age, the background — is welcome, members say.
In the middle of the service it is customary to stand, touch a neighbor’s hand and say good morning. Every couple of months, members, who range in age from 10 to the upper 80s, bring a covered dish of food and eat together.
Their pastor is Christine King of Lakeland. King is shared with Community United Methodist Church in San Antonio to the south. She leads the service at Community, then heads to Blanton.
Pat Dunnick travels 40 miles to Blanton from her home in Hyde Park in Tampa. Round trip: 80 miles.
A real estate appraiser, Dunnick, 50, realized Blanton was special when she first saw it last year while on business in the area. At the time she wasn’t attending any church.
"I saw the building, a real, tiny — you want to say schoolhouse — but a church," she recalled. "And they had a banner out front. They were celebrating their 90th birthday, and it just really drew me.
"I thought about it and thought about it, and I went back up a couple of weeks later. I was having some personal problems in my life at the time, and the people just opened up their arms and made me part of the family immediately," Dunnick said.
"I feel like the traveling that I do — what I get out of the service and the fellowship with the other parishioners more than compensate for that," she said.
Couture also has been attending for about a year. She said she fell in love with the people.
"It’s a warm, nurturing environment," said Couture, who lives near the church and has a key in case somebody needs to get in. "If you’re not there, you are really missed. We’re concerned about you and your family. If somebody’s not there, we’ll say, so-and-so has gone on vacation."
The church leans a little to the right. Literally.
Its foundation has sunk on the right side, Couture said, causing the structure to tilt a little.
Blanton is having a dinner to raise money for repairs Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. Barbecue chicken by legendary cook Roy Hardy will cost $5 a plate, and gospel music will be played.
The event also will serve as the church’s birthday celebration, Couture said.
Everyone is invited, just like to church.
Packinghouse Bears Fruit For Museum (2004)
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Sept. 3, 2004.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
There was a day when ripening oranges rolled from the bins into the wash. They were polished, dried and graded before being bagged for shipping.
The system remained the same for many decades until the killer freezes of the 1980s hit the citrus industry hard and left the Blanton Packing Co. vacant in 1989.
It deteriorated for more than 10 years until the Pioneer Florida Museum Association took on the task of preserving the structure and transforming it into a citrus museum.
The project started in 2000 when the packinghouse was donated to the nonprofit museum by James Witter Holmes, son of Ted W. Holmes, who owned and operated the packinghouse from 1957 until his death in 1989.
When he died, the doors where closed, with the contents intact as if it were still operating.
When offered the structure, the museum gladly accepted, thrilled with the idea of refurbishing equipment and restoring the packinghouse as a tribute to the citrus industry.
But the structure was too large to move whole to the museum grounds. It was dismantled and moved piece by piece from Sweetwater Road and reconstructed at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village.
Money for the first phase of dismantling, moving and storing the items, as well as architectural plans, came from a joint grant from the Pasco County Commission, which contributed $30,000, and $35,000 from Historic Preservation Grant Assistance through the state Bureau of Historic Preservation.
State grant money totaling $300,500 also was used to reassemble the packinghouse, which will be on display during museum’s Pioneer Florida Days Festival. The festival has been rescheduled from this weekend to Sept. 11-12.
Although the building is complete, it won’t be open to the public yet because of safety issues around the old equipment. Additional funding is needed to return the equipment to working order, Curator Donna Swart said.
The Blanton Packing Co. was built in 1909 by two Clearwater men known only as Mr. Jeffords and Mr. Smoyer. It opened in 1910.
A community news item in The Dade City Banner in December 1914 reported the business was busy, with a stream of wagons bringing in the fruit. The packinghouse had expanded that summer and was running with new equipment, the newspaper reported.
The operation was for a time the best equipped packinghouse between Ozona to the south and Leesburg to the north.
It had the capacity of three cars of fruit a day, but because of the lack of mature fruit, only two cars were being processed during that December. By Jan. 16, 1920, the packinghouse was processing seven cars a week.
About 1924, Charlton Hines, who had worked for Jeffords and Smoyer, and Sanford Blocker went into business together.
Blocker was depot agent and Blanton postmaster at the time and remained a silent partner, according to Lora Blocker. Her husband, Norman E. Blocker, is Sanford Blocker’s grandson, and she is gathering information about Blanton for a Web site, www.my-blanton.com.
Most of the fruit packed in Blanton was under the labels of Blue Moon, Heart Brand and Hillside. Slogans, such as “Pasco County Highlands Citrus Fruit is the Best,” also adorned the labels.
At that time, there also were peach and tomato packinghouses in the area. Peaches were packed under labels such as Clay Hill and tomatoes under labels such as Belle of Pasco by shipper L.J. Pemberton.
Many packers would “just throw up sheds” near the peach orchards or tomato fields, Blocker said. “Some packinghouses were no more than sheds. They were poles holding a roof up and they called it a packinghouse,” Blocker said.
Sanford Blocker died in 1934 and his interest in Blanton Packing Co. was sold to Hines, who continued to operate the plant until 1940 when it was sold to Charles Edwards.
Edwards sold to Ted W. Holmes in 1956. Holmes, under the name Holmes Fruit Co., ran the operation until his death in 1989.
Holmes was a Realtor in Tampa who first saw the old packinghouse in 1947 when a hurricane had knocked all the fruit off the trees. He had come to Blanton with a buyer to purchase Pasco fruit.
“When I saw this place, I said‘That’s the most dilapidated, run-down thing I’ve seen in my life,’” Holmes said in an interview in the mid-1980s.‘`And here I wind up buying it 10 years later.”
Holmes said at that time he bought the packinghouse because of his‘`compassion for children at Christmastime. The only time I got oranges as a child was at Christmas.”
Holmes bought the packinghouse as a hobby” and started packing gift fruit.
In years before, the fruit was packed for commercial use, but under Holmes the packinghouse operated only two weeks each December.
Church’s History Entwined With Town’s (2004)
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Aug. 20, 2004.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
It’s been nearly 100 years since the pioneer congregation gathered at an old structure that has stood at Spring Valley and Sweetwater roads since 1906.
Lora Blocker can tell you many of those congregants’ names. Blocker said a conversation many years ago with a woman who once attended the church yielded the answers.
Members of the late Newell Rabb’s family still attend Blanton Methodist, including her daughter, Ruth Hill; granddaughter Susanne; and grandson Jeffrey.
A picture of the congregation is displayed on a Web site developed by Marinell Davis of Sarasota. Blocker is a regular contributor of information she has collected about Blanton’s history. The site is at www.my-blanton.com. blanton.com.
Blocker said the identity of the photographer is unknown, but she said it’s possible the person was one of many professionals who took and sold pictures at the time.
Blocker’s husband, Norman, is the great-grandson of one of the early founders of Blanton.
According to information she collected, today’s congregation of Blanton Methodist Church represents a page of history that dates to the founding of the community, which is about six miles west of Dade City.
The church, originally called Mount Olive Church, was on Dowling Lake, about a mile north of the present church. That land was given by Newton Dowling and his wife.
The earliest records, dating to 1895, show Mount Olive Church was on the Pasco circuit with seven other churches: Prospect, Townsend House, Bethany, Wesley Chapel, Providence, Richland and Central Chapel.
The same circuit later included missions in Hudson, Keystone Park, Anclote, Verene and Loyce. The Rev. J.M. Mitchell assisted with the missions and was a forceful evangelist preacher‘`ready to serve wherever called,” according to information Blocker found in church records.
In 1887, when Orange Belt Railroad came through Blanton, residents moved to‘`town,” and the community relocated from the west side of Blanton Lake to where it is today.
The railroad platted a town, and John O’Berry and Henry P. Blocker obtained lots for a church and parsonage.
In 1903, a two-story house at Lenard, a railroad station between Blanton and Trilby, was moved. The move was made in three sections, using horse- drawn rollers. The house was rebuilt on the parsonage lot.
The old Mount Olive Church was sold to Tom Jordan, who removed the steeple and moved the remainder of the church to be used as a house. The steeple was left on the property, and neighborhood children used it for a playhouse.
Jordan and Will Heacock built the new Blanton church in 1906.
Among the first pastors were circuit riders who lived in the parsonage, including the Revs. J.T. Duncan, A.P. Johntry, W.Z. Danzler and J.M. Dieffenwierth.
In 1917, the parsonage was sold to Lela C. Page and remains next to the old church.
When services at the nearby Townsend House were discontinued in 1928, many members transferred to Blanton.
The church’s interior was remodeled by 1947. A building used as an educational hall, with Sunday school rooms, kitchen and fellowship hall, was moved to the church lot during that period.
Early settlers, including the O’Berrys and Blockers, had their funerals at the church, and many of their descendants worship there.
The Web site to which Blocker contributes includes Sunday school records from Mount Olive Church, as well as two old photos and two recent photos.
Although the site includes plenty of information about Blanton, Blocker and Davis consider it a work in progress and are seeking more information and photos.