HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Stories Told by Julia
This web page consists of the text of the booklet Stories Told by Julia. The booklet was written by Julia (Howell) Dowling (1878-1970), who grew up in northeastern Pasco County, and was compiled by Cassie Page Dowling.
I was born on March 10, 1878, over north of Clear Lake (San Antonio). My father J. J. (Jack) Howell and his two half uncles came soon after the Civil War. My grandfather was J. G. Howell. My father married Sarah Elizabeth (Sally) Smith. Sally and her folks lived west of what is now San Antonio in a community called Emmaus or Brushy Branch.
After my father and grandfather were settled in this area many of my grandfather’s daughters followed from South Georgia. Martha married Newton Carter and they settled near Fort Dade and later gave the ground for Mt. Zion cemetery and church. Another daughter, Jane, married David Sellars. They lived with grandfather and settled near Darby.
[Patricia Raposa provides the following: Please note that there are errors on the first page, where the children of J. G. (John George) Howell are named. Martha was married to Jesse Blanton; Mary was married to Newton Carter. Daughter Sarah is not named — she was married to Elijah Smith, who was brother of Sarah Elizabeth “Sally” (or “Sallie”) Smith, wife of John J. Howell. Sarah “Sally” and brother Elijah Smith were children of Manning Smith.]
My grandfather and his boys operated a grist mill (water operated) near Clear Lake. About 1888 my father moved to Owensboro which is south of Trilby and was near the Fort King trail. We became acquainted with many of the early settlers in this county as they began to arrive down the Fort King trail on their way south by way of wagon and walking. There was no other route straight down and after crossing the river it seems our place was a nice place to camp, rest their horses, so they usually stopped awhile near our place. As a child I became acquainted with the settlers and they often told me about things they had seen along the way such as crossing Paynes Prairie south of Gainesville, which pleased them very much because of the beautiful water lilies they had seen. Most of these folks brought only iron wash pots, a few farming tools, bedding, some potatoes, dry beans and anything from the previous year’s crop in a wagon, drove a cow or two, and walked along as they moved into this area.
Most of my aunts had large families so you can see I had plenty of kin. There were nine children in our family — Joe was the oldest, Mary, Elizabeth, or Lizzie as we called her, Melissa, Lott, Clorie, Rachel, and Oliver. Our family kept poor records. There were few pencils and a quill pen was used but most of our writing was on a slate.
My father, Jack Howell, was not pleased with having so much traffic going by our place so he moved over to a high hill north of Blanton to get away from the railroad and civilization. Pretty soon the Orange Belt railroad cut right by the west of his place. Then he moved over about a half mile west of where he had started an orange grove where he lived out the balance of his life.
I gained my first pair of shoes by hiring out to a neighbor to feed the cane mill all day. This was done by picking the stalks up and sticking them into the rollers which squeezed the juice out for cooking. Although we lived on a high hill north of Blanton we made good crops. When we made syrup (from cane) we over-cooked the last batch, put it in a barrel prepared with four holes bored in the bottom. Each hole would have a cane stalk wedged into it and as the cane shrunk, the molasses would seep out into another container and the sugar would stay in the barrel. This was brown sugar but made good sweetening and was nice to take to Tampa for barter.
My father had ideas of getting up in the world so we Went out straight East, forded the Withlacoochee River, went into the woods and pulled small seedling orange trees. I suppose they were accidentally planted by the Indians. We acquired two wagon loads of these orange trees and planted them. I helped my father plant out 20 acres which was later known as the Warner grove near Blanton. Then along came the big freeze about 1895 and about wiped us out, but some of these trees recovered and some of the trees are still in that grove. Some of those grapefruit trees have been known to bear 100 boxes of fruit.
I can remember going with my father to Tampa to trade. We would load the wagon with sugar, some fruit and whatever else we had. After all day trip we camped by the Hillsborough river one night and then the next day we went into Tampa to trade. We got coffee and other scarce items, came back to camp overnight and took off for home the next day — can you imagine, taking three days for a trip to Tampa?
Once I can remember going with my Father to take a load of pigs to Tampa. We turned them all out to graze overnight while we camped. In the morning we caught an old sow and when she squealed, all the pigs would come running and we caught them, loaded them in the wagon, and continued on our way to Tampa.
When you ask about different people or places who were here when I was young and I tell you I didn’t know them, you think something must be wrong — but if they were more than five miles away, that was too far to walk. That was about the only way we had to go, and children were kept busy working on the farm during the week, and were allowed to go along with the family to places on Sundays or on trips for supplies. I can remember us children running along behind the grown-ups in the wagon to Church over at Indian Lake (near where the community college is now). There was a (foot washing) Primitive Baptist church there then.
Us kids had a grand time riding the wood-burning train. Since we lived up the tracks a little ways, we made it handy to be near a wood rack or a crossing. Mr. Bassett and Burney Lyons ran the train and they would pick us up and we would get a ride in the cab to the crossing or wood rack nearest to school when we would jump down and continue on to school.
One time a bunch of us children met the train near Blanton and rode to Chipco to attend a cane-grinding. Then we would plan to catch the northbound train back towards home.
I made the trip to the Coast each fall with my father. We camped North of New Port Richey at a salt spring. There was a large kettle set up and folks from all around came to cook-off salt. That’s how we got our year’s supply of salt. Mullet (fish) was also acquired and salted in a barrel to give us a winter supply of mullet.
Now fish and game were quite plentiful here at home so we always had meat to eat. We also went to school in Blanton when the school house was located in East Blanton, but after the railroad was built, Blanton changed. After 1887 a new school was built further southwest on land given by Mr. O’Berry.
Even though I was pretty much of a “tom boy” for a girl I thought I could act grown-up, so “Mrs. Mary” O’Berry pierced my ears by taking a red-hot needle and placing a cork on the opposite side. Then she put in ear rings. All went well for awhile until I was chasing the boys around the school house and one ring got caught in Lucius Ansley’s shirt tail. I got loose and it all turned out well.
We walked long distances to school, but after all school only lasted about three months out of the year. On the way to school we often met others and as we walked along we learned our spelling lessons and played tag along the way.
I remember when Fannie O’Berry being one of the older girls wore her bustle to school to show off her importance and as she came prissing by my desk on her way to recite her lesson to the teacher, Mr. R. O. Carter, I laid my speller on the bustle. On arriving at the teacher’s desk, he picked up the speller, read the name inside, and literally threw the book at me.
Once when there was a “political picnic” on the slough at Blanton Lake, Mrs. Martha Blanton caught Dr. Wallace Cochrane in the right position and paddled him with the back of a used, smutty frying pan. Mrs. Blanton was quite a character (as were many of that day). She was my father’s sister and called “Ducky” by the grown-ups.
We always walked in the early days. Once my sister Lizzie and I walked from our home north of Blanton to one mile north of Trilby (north of the present Page Cemetery) to attend the wedding of Rosie Brock. There was a church at this location.
There was the Mt. Olive Methodist Church south of Bowling Lake where Newton Dowling deeded the land to the Methodist Conference.
Services were held there until the Blanton community began to grow when the sawmill caused a large town to form and folks built a church in Blanton same as now stands.
We enriched our ground by penning cows. I was right good at opening our gate so Joe O’Berry could bring a herd in for marking and holding. Joe would pop his whip and give a loud whoop and I knew he was coming and would have the gate open and waiting.
Our kitchen was made of logs with a floor of Clay. My mother was very careful to keep it tip-top. There was a spring about a half mile away (where we were setting an orange grove and had a garden because of easy access to water). We had little buckets and each time we went to the grove we brought back a little bucket of white sand. On Saturdays the kitchen floor was swept and new white sand scattered all over the dirt floor. Also, all chairs and tables were scrubbed down with the sand and lye soap solution until they met my Mother’s approval.
Little boys wore a little shirt (only) as a garment until they were about five years old.
We had lots of fun with my little brother Oliver when he was a giggly little boy. There was a blind woman who lived by the trail and we would try to slip by her house but she would call out, “Is that you, Oliver?” All would giggle and go running off home.
When we moved to Blanton hill papa built a log kitchen. He was a great one for doing his own work. The logs were handy, they came off his clearing. These he cut and piled nearby. When work was started, he would roll and stack by cutting notches to fit using spikes to handle using rope pulleys. All pitched in and we soon had a nice room with clay floor.
A log rolling was held to clear the land. The trees were cut with crude tools such as a club-axe or broad-axe, leaving about a two foot stumpage. The top and brush were trimmed off and burned. The logs were cut into 8 and 12 feet lengths. Then a day was set up for the log rolling. Neighbors came from all around and the women brought baskets of food.
The men equipped with a hand-spike (a strong stick to fit the hand about 5 feet in length - one for each two men) was placed at each end of the shorter logs and one also in the middle for the longer logs. With a man holding each end, the log was rolled onto the spikes. Then with a man at each end of the log, four to six men would carry the log to a pile and roll it off the spikes. When completed the huge pike of logs were burned with the aid of light wood, which was plentiful.
At noon a fine meal was served and when day was done, another neighbor had a nice patch cleared and ready to begin his house-raising. Word got around when a day was set for the raising and it was a great affair. Before the day arrived logs had been cut, peeled and dried. When the men arrived they began by placing a squared off sill on blocks the long way of the building. The first log was placed at the ends, another log laid in place, a notch cut, then turned over to fit the one below. As they went up the sides, a man would climb up the line and straddle the log and cut the notch. When the desired height was reached, the day ended and the house was ready for shingles. As usual it was a big occasion for eating. The shingles most likely had been rived and stacked and then they were pegged down and the family would move in. The holes had to be chinked with clay mixed with moss and a stick or clay chimney was added.
There were no deep wells with pumps in this area until the coming of electricity about 1930. There were a few dug wells and water was brought to the surface with drawing up a bucket. A few cisterns that when dry in drought times caught water from the roofs. So if you got your clothes washed, you used water from a lake or spring. There were many community wash places. Wash pots (big iron kettles) were set up and lots of folks took turns at washing at the branch or lake. You drug supplies and clothes there usually on a sled pulled by a horse. The pot was heated and filled with nice clean water with lye soap added. Clothes were soaked, rubbed with a washboard and put in the pot to boil for awhile. Meantime they are punched with a stick and lifted with a stick to remove from pot. Then they were given a good rinsing before hanging on the line to dry.
The small children helped by making a fire and keeping it going, dipping water and other chores. One lady told how she shut the children in the house on wash day so she could go to the lake to wash. They did not have a change of clothes.
There was a time soap had to be made at home. A wooden ash hopper was filled with hardwood ashes. This was often placed under the eaves drip of the roof. Water was trickled down thru the ash and when it came out the bottom it was lye. This lye was mixed with fats saved from butchering, trimmings of bacon, and grease. All was put into a large iron pot in the yard and cooked-off. There was an art in combining the right amount of water with the fat and lye to come out with a nice soap. Old times always made soap on a certain moon for if on the decrease of the moon, the soap would shrink. The hot soap mixture was poured up in pans to harden. Soap was stored in the smoke house and used for a long time.
Floors were scrubbed with a handmade brush made by putting corn shucks through holes in a board. This had a handle and was pushed around. The floor is wet and liquid lye soap is added. When it seems to be clean enough, water was splashed on and swept and the floor is clean “clean.”
To make a broom in the fall, broom sedge was gathered. A handful was cleaned by stripping extra with a fork, then the handle end or stubby end is wrapped with a string.
An iron pot with ten gallon capacity or larger was a very necessary part of early life in our family. One is still owned in the Bowling family that was brought from Wildwood when that was the southern-most end of the railroad.
Clothes were boiled once a week, lard and certain meats were cooked off at hog killing time and soap was made — all with the same pot.
To set up housekeeping beds were made, called rope beds. Timbers were fitted together by weaving rope across and then tied. This made a very neat bed. Many mattresses were made by filling a large sack with hair moss. Moss was boiled, dried and shook until nothing was left except hair.
Sweet potatoes were a major food. They were baked, roasted in the coals or made into a variety of pies or puddings. One favorite was a pone made from grated sweet potatoes, seasoned with syrup, a few spices and baked. For a change, cassava was also made into a pudding (a white starch root), grated, flavored with sugar and spice and maybe milk, eggs, butter, etc. This was good eating. We now get the same in tapioca.
I married Charlie (Charles Edwin) Dowling, son of Newton on December 23, 1896, and raised six children on our farm and orange grove on the south side of Dowling Lake. During the years when my children were small, my husband rode the cattle range for Lykes Brothers out of Brooksville and I and the children did the farming.
During this time it was not unusual for boys 12 or 14 years of age to ride range (herd cows) and help with the cattle drives. Most of the large herds of cattle were driven to Tampa for shipment to Cuba and elsewhere. Many young boys worked for saw mills, turpentine stills, and helping build the railroads.
Almost all our food was grown at home but by peddling and bartering we were able to have a little extra money for family needs such as shoes, flour, sugar, and coffee.
Many a time I have fished in Bowling Lake with a baby in a box and Jack home watching the other children. Then after catching a good mess of fish, I would load up the wagon with any fresh vegetables we had and the fish and take off to Trilby to sell or trade what I had.
I wasn’t the only one who peddled — most all the neighbors did the same. Mrs. Susan Ansley Mayo was a widow with two small girls. She would peddle dairy products and vegetables and, in this way, with her cows, she supported her family.
I’ve heard folks tell how when Charlton Hines was no more than 12 years of age, he would load up a wagon and go all the way from Moody Lake area to Fivay (over near Hudson) with fruit and vegetables.
In my later years I made the acquaintance of a lady raised on the Ocklawaha River near Gainesville. When I told her of my first shoes, she told me how she earned her first shoes by catching skunks and selling the hides. Now she got in a hurry because someone told her she could stomp the animals and she had to live in the smoke house for a few days, but she got her shoes (brogans) and they were “good ones.”
I remember when Pasco County was separated from Hernando County and became a new county, a man on horseback came riding by each farm and shouted the news. If someone died, the news was passed around by man or boy on horseback.
As my boys grew up they liked to go hunting and fishing. They would hitch the horse to the buggy, fill a lard can (lard cans held about five gallons, were made of tin with a tight fitting lid, and would float when fording the river). This can was filled with bread and biscuits, maybe some bacon — for they planned to stay a few days. They fished and killed squirrels and deer.
Once they brought home a baby deer, another time a small whooping crane (bird). The deer was quite a pet. She followed us around like a dog. It was impossible to slip away from her. If she decided to go along you, you would not know she was coming for quite a spell and then all at once there she was. We thought once that we were dodging her when we were going fishing, but when we got out in the boat and threw out our bait, well, there she was. She would get out in our lines and stomp around — always up to some mischief. You couldn’t eat an orange without serving her, but she never ate food you had had about your mouth first. As she grew older, she began to rove further from home and someone shot her.
The whooping crane grew to be a big bird. He bossed the place. Children were not safe near him because he pecked them. If he was restrained behind a fence, he would prance madly and whoop. Our family gave him to Ed Haley when he had his Moon Lake development over near Port Richey, where he had a lodge and game preserve.
We had acquired the property adjoining my father’s original orange grove and planted kumquats and oranges. During the 1920’s we picked fruit and shipped by rail in barrels and fancy pack in bushel baskets and boxes to the New York consignment market. It was mostly in this manner that I was able to send my son Lewis to Emory University to dental college and support our large family.