EARLY HERNANDO COUNTY HISTORY
Historical Memories of Centralia
The writer of the article is unknown.
in Hernando County, Florida
Centralia Florida was named after a lumbering and agriculture town
by the same name in Wisconsin. Some of the people that worked at
the Hernando County saw mill lived in a settlement called Wiscon,
about 5 miles due west of Brooksville. These people came from Wisconsin
and Connecticut, hence, they called their settlement Wiscon. And today
it is still marked by an important survey monument on surveyors
charts with a U. S. geodetic bench marker which surveyors use quite
frequently when taking geographic bearings in the west side of Hernando
County. The Wiscon Road intersects State Road 50 about half way
between Brooksville and Weeki Wachee Springs.
Centralia was a short lived "boom town" that was born in 1910 and died
in 1922, and was located 4 1/2 miles north of Weeki Wachee Springs and
east of what we know today as U. S. 19 Highway, just north of Tooke Lake.
Mr. Stan Weston, a Florida state farm forester, once wrote an article
several years ago entitled, "The Death of a Forest and Town," which
dealt with Centralia. With permission we borrow parts of the story to
relate the historical memories to you.
"Seventy some odd years ago, a sea of virgin timber blanketed our
state. Longleaf and slash pine, two and three foot in diameter, gave forth
of their resinous gum, to tar the lines and shrouds, and caulk the
planks and lapstrakes op the worlds navies, and the turpentine was
used for medicinal purposes, creating the first and largest industry
in Florida naval stores. The low lands and swamps contributed the
greatest volume, highest grade, fastest growing, durable, red tide
water cypress to be found any where in the United States of America.
This wealth of timber seemed inexhaustible and lured men and industry
from all corners of the earth.
Towns blossomed, nourished by the whine of the circular and band saw.
Meanwhile, further west in the United States another boom had long
since blossomed and was beginning to fade. A non-renewable resource,
silver, gold, and other metals were running out.
Once prosperous towns were being deserted. Sage brush, chaparral
and desert sands were reclaiming their own as the flow op valuable
yellow dust from mother earth trickled and stopped. Still the sawmills
throughout the southeast whined louder and louder. No thought
was given to the future of replenishing the forest. Was not this
blanket of forest inexhaustible? Wasn't it a waste land of
wilderness, jungle, something to be removed so that 'civilization'
might advance? Leave seed trees, plant new trees, seedlings,—ridiculous
they thought. Never would this sea of virgin timber be
exhausted. How wrong they were!
In this atmosphere the town of Centralia, in west Hernando County,
was born. The mill in 1911 had an estimated daily cut capacity of one
hundred thousand board feet. This was a double band mill that to this
day has not been surpassed in volume or efficiency.
Centralia’s life blood flowed from this mill and when the timber was
cut out, the stream dried up and this thriving town of some 1,500 to
1,800 persons faded into oblivion. The prosperous stores,
commissary, grocery and dry goods and hardware, carried more stock
than any retail store in metropolitan Tampa or Jacksonville.
The store room had a capacity of four freight car loads of merchandise.
There was a standard gauge railroad that ran west from Brooksville
through the settlement of Wiscon to Tooke Lake. Just south of
Centralia and the Turner Lumber Company had a narrow gauge logging
tram railroad throughout their logging areas but never connected to
the standard gauge line on account of difference in wheel size.
Instead there was a loading and transfer platform between the two
A United States post office was established at Centralia 10 June 1910
and mail service was discontinued 11 December 1922 according to
postal records in Brooksville.
It was not unusual to see the following merchandise delivered by rail
for the commissary: 100 barrels of flour, 20 barrels of sugar,
10 barrels of grits, 10 barrels of meal, 100 cases of tomatoes and corn,
10 bags of dry lima beans and navy beans, 50 bags of potatoes, 500 cases
of soft drinks, and 10 - 45 lb. cans of oil sausage.
This commissary store was owned by Mr. Gamble. It was a huge store
that supplied the groceries, dry goods and hardware needs of the
town, and kept open from 6 am until 10 pm, and was well patronized by
the people talking around the cracker barrel of the days happenings
and subjects common of those days.
The largest log cut at Centralia was in 1912. No record was ever
made of the board feet in the entire tree. The butt cut had to be
quartered by blasting before it could be moved. The top twenty feet
was left on the flat car for the people to view. It scaled 5,476
boardfeet, enough to build a modern home.
As the ghost towns of the western gold and silver era faded from
view, so Centralia died as the forest, and its renewable timber
disappeared. Today just a few miles north of Weeki Wachee Springs
amid the black jack pine and palmetto lie the mute foundations of
the Centralia settlement and mill, the once proud master of the cypress
In the 1960s the Turner Lumber Co., the owners of the timber land
in the Centralia days, put their heavy equipment to work here preparing
the soil for a new crop of trees. Now it is slash pine.
Nowadays this type of pine has been proven by its wide adaptability
to the varied soil and moisture conditions of western Florida, capable
of producing the greatest volume of timber in the shortest time.
What a story could we tell, if these early timber men had planted
a tree for each that they harvested. Time alone will paint this
The last 48 years, about 7 million trees were planted in Hernando
and Pasco counties. This past few years close to 2 million seedling pines
were set out. The Turner Lumber Co. planted about 1 million alone.
The impact of such a planting program by private land owners will be
keenly felt by our economy in the not too distant future.
In conclusion I would like to say, "We may not raise another Centralia
but we can and must save our forests. Many logging companies now
employ registered foresters to protect growing stock for the future
harvests. Foresters assist landowners in profitably managing those
stands of timber that still exist. They show woodland owners how to
sell trees, but save their forest."
This concludes our historical topic and the Hernando Historical
Museum hopes you have enjoyed the selected subject. Thank you
very much for listening and please do come again and bring along
Centralia: A Logging Town That Ran Out of Logs (1977)
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on April 11, 1977. A larger version of this photo, with a caption,
By WILFRED T. NEILL
In several previous articles of this series I've mentioned
our numerous "ghost towns"—settlements that have long
since vanished. One of the most interesting ghost towns of
our area is Centralia, six miles north of Weeki Wachee on
the west side of U. S. 19.
Centralia was a logging town first settled in 1910. It was
named by Edgar Roberts after his home town of Centralia,
Ill. [see note below] Roberts and his brother owned the Central Cypress
Lumber Co., which cut giant cypress, and sometimes other
timbers, in Hernando County and vicinity. The brothers
had the logging town built primarily to provide housing
and services for their employees.
Centralia grew to be a sizable community, with about
1,500 men, women and children. (By way of contrast, the
Hernando County seat, Brooksville, had only 500 inhabitants
at the time.) Centralia’s main street was of sand, covered with
sheets of cypress bark, and the sidewalks were
made of cypress slabs. Small white-washed dwelling houses
bordered the main street on each side. Other houses were
scattered about, most of them in the shade of liveoak trees.
There was also a one-room schoolhouse, with
about two dozen pupils whose parents worked for the logging company.
The school likewise accepted a few children
from nearby families who were not involved with sawmilling
The teacher usually was a young woman at the start of
And there was a boarding house, the Centralia Hotel. It
was occupied mostly by bachelors who worked for the logging
company, but it also took in guests who happened to
be passing through that part of Florida. There was a restaurant,
the Hungry None, which served meals at almost any
time of day or night. There was a drugstore, a non-denominational church, and a movie house called
the Flicker Palace.
But Centralia’s best-known building was George
Gamble’s commissary. The Tampa Northern Railroad
came into town, hauling logs in and lumber out; and Gamble
could use the railway to bring in goods for sale in his
store. Occasionally he'd receive as many as four freight
carloads of goods at one time.
Gamble’s commissary sold flour, cornmeal,
grits, sugar, salt, coffee, seasonings, medicines, garden produce,
clothing, yard goods, household utensils, tools, kerosene—everything
needed by the loggers, sawmillers and
their families. In fact, Gamble imported not only necessities
but even luxuries, including Greek delicacies such as
feta cheese, olive oil, roka and black Calamata olives.
Indeed, the commissary was better stocked than most
stores in larger cities of the Gulf coast. Quite a few people
came to Centralia from other settlements, to buy from
At his own expense Edgar Roberts built a branch railway
line from Centralia to Tooke Lake, about 2 1/2 miles
way. At the lake there was a turpentine still operated by
Lewis S. Petteway, a close friend of the Roberts brothers. There
was no turnaround at the lake, so trains backed in from Centralia to load Petteway’s turpentine.
Roberts made sure that his employees' needs were
taken care of. For example, he kept a doctor on the staff.
The doctor, who made his calls in a Model T, had no shortage
of patients; for the loggers and sawyers suffered a good many accidents. Malaria was a problem, too.
A Brooksville dentist, D. L. Heddick, was under contract
with Roberts to take care of Centralia’s dental needs.
Nor did Roberts overlook the necessity for fun and recreation.
There were various social events, including Saturday
night square dances that drew crowds from Brooksville,
Dade City, Aripeka, Port Richey and several
communities that have since vanished from the map.
Obviously Roberts had a well-run operation. He had, in
fact, the most efficient sawmill town in the area. Logs were
hauled in by train, dumped into a pond and floated to the
mill. Here they were loaded onto a ramp, where heavy
chains pulled them into the saws. Double band saws cut the
rough timber into finished boards. Power for winching and
sawing was provided by four large steam boilers.
One day in 1912 the Centralia sawmill received its
largest log, a cypress timber that yielded 5,476 board feet of
lumber. For several weeks the tree’s gigantic top was displayed
on a flatcar for people to marvel at.
The mill could turn out 100,000 board feet a day, and on
many days it did so. But the supply of timber would not
last forever. In 1917 Centralia had 160 acres of land stacked
with lumber piles 15 feet high—but there were no more
trees to cut.
And so "Queen" Roberts, Edgar’s young daughter,
pulled and tied down the cord on the big steam whistle that
had so often called the sawyers to work. The whistle roared
for a while, then died away. People went home, packed
some possessions, and left. Centralia was dead, abandoned.
In time the houses vanished, destroyed by termites and
brush fires. But the float pond remains, and the
ramp up which the great logs were winched, the concrete
slab on which the water tank once stood, the brick foundations
of the sawmill and the depot. Rails and cross-ties are
gone, but the route of the Tampa Northern Railway can
still be traced.
Today the area is pockmarked with holes. For Centralia’s
garbage pits and outhouse excavations have lately
been dug into by collectors in search of old bottles and other
relics. The ground is littered with scraps of glassware
and chinaware, old bricks, broken tools and toys, rusted
cans. The trash of 1910-17 has become the antiques of 1977.
Edgar Arvil Roberts (b. March 13, 1893, Paintsville, Ky.; d. Jan. 1969, Hernando County) was
still living in Paintsville in 1920, so the statement above that he named Centralia for his hometown,
Centralia, Illinois, may be incorrect.
Roberts was appointed postmaster of Centralia on June 10, 1919. A picture of Roberts is here.
An article in the Tampa Morning Tribune of Aug. 1, 1917, referred to Roberts as general manager of Central Cypress Lumber Co. of Centralia. A 1915
article referred to him as president of the Central Cypress Co.
See also the web site Centralia Garden Railroad, maintained by
Doug Brainard. The site has information about his garden railroad and the town of Centralia.
Some of What Remains of the Centralia Mill
Photos and captions by Jeff Cannon
The front grate or door from a Prince Wood Burning Stove, found in the
community of Centralia, a short distance from the mill site. This stove
was likely used in one of the homes in Centralia.
A man-made vat used to supply the trains with water found along the old railroad spur between
the mill site and Centralia. This vat was constructed on the edge of a lake and has its sides
shored up with wood.
The mill workers used these ramps the pull the logs from the mill pond to the sawmill.
Typically there were chains hooked to the logs after which they would be wenched up to the mill for cutting.
Portions of brick walls, standing about two feet high, which served as the foundations to another one of the mill buildings.
Portions of brick walls that stand about two feet high, which served as the foundations to another one of the mill buildings.
These large concrete and brick remnants sit at the top of the ramp and were used as the foundations to the sawmill.
Remains from the well which supplied water to Centralia.
Centralia Historical Marker
The Centralia historic marker was dedicated on Sept. 23, 2017. It is south of Centralia Road on U. S. 19.
This site was once the location of one of Florida's largest lumber
mills. As demand for insect and rot resistant cypress increased, the
J.C. Turner Lumber Company began the logging of over 15,000 acres of Red
Tidewater Cypress, cedar and pine in coastal Hernando County. The Turner
Company financed the construction of the mill in 1910. It was known
locally as the Tidewater Cypress Mill. Eighteen miles of narrow-gauge
tram lines were laid through the swamp to connect the mill and logging
areas to the Tampa Northern Railroad. Laborers used steam-powered
skidders to transport cut logs onto railroad cars. The logs were then
dumped in a pond near the sawmills. The large double-banded saws,
powered by electricity generated from four steam boilers, could cut
100,000 board feet each day. The finished wood was stacked in a 160-acre
drying yard for up to four years. The dried wood was sent to the planing
mill to become roof shingles, lath, and construction lumber. The
finished lumber was sold locally, or transported sixteen miles by rail
to Brooksville, where it continued to the port in Tampa and was loaded
onto ships headed to the company's wholesale distribution yard on the
Hudson River in New York.
Located a few miles north of Weeki Wachee, the "boom town" of Centralia
sprang up to support the 1,200 mill workers and their families. The
wealth of timber seemed inexhaustible, luring men and industry from all
corners of the earth. A post office opened in 1910 followed by other
businesses, including a general store, drugstore, Mrs. Varn's Centralia
Hotel, the Hungry None Restaurant, and a Greek bakery. The general
store, run by George Gamble, boasted more stock than any store in larger
towns like Jacksonville or Tampa. Centralia offered other amenities such
as a resident doctor and dentist, schoolhouse, and community church
offering Catholic and Protestant services. There were no saloons,
however, as the mill's general manager, Edgar A. Roberts, forbade
drinking. Soda pop was the drink of choice. The trees were exhausted by
1917, and the mill shut down soon after. The town struggled along for a
few more years, but was mostly abandoned by the 1920s. Only the
foundations of this once mighty mill remain. The Turner company reseeded
the land with slash pines in the 1960s. Purchased in 1985 by the Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the land became part of the
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.