HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY

Lacoochee


A Chandelier Sheds Light on the Old Cummer Hotel’s Past

The man has been identified as Otis Clark. Photo courtesy of Nell M. Woodcock.

By EPHS STAFF

Our search for a good picture of the Cummer Hotel has yielded something more tangible, a brass chandelier from the hotel located near Cummer Sons Cypress Company’s office and the company commissary in Lacoochee. The four-light electric fixture is one of two saved before the hotel was demolished in the 1950s.

It was a matter of networking that led to the chandelier. J. W. Hunnicutt’s cousin, Vivian Head Sparkman, who was born in Lacoochee, recalled that a co-worker at City Hall in Dade City had a light fixture from the old hotel in her home. When contacted, Mary Alice Altman said she had worked at City Hall for 33 years. In the late 1950s her husband went to the hotel when Buford Dowdy was preparing to demolish it. Mr. Altman purchased two chandeliers and later gave one of them to Dowdy. The Altmans refurbished the one they kept and today it is hanging in the dining room of their home.

We have communicated with Mr. Dowdy who now lives in Georgia and we hope to have the rest of that part of the hotel story for a future update.

A glimpse of what was inside that old 42-room frame building before it was demolished is found in an undated newspaper clipping from the Tampa Tribune. It’s the story of three mill workers touring the hotel with a reporter. The trio included Leon Burnsed, manager of what was left of Cummer Sons Cypress Company’s mill buildings, by then owned by Wood-Mosaic, Inc.; R. J. Brabham, who had worked at the planing mill and owned a grocery store downtown; and Otis Clark, a train engineer. All of them long time residents of Lacoochee, including the reporter Nell Woodcock.

Here’s their story:

Stepping inside the lobby of the two-story frame building they recalled how the huge double doors used to swing open to the ring of the dinner bell and workers trooped into the spacious dining room to their usual tables three times each day.

Upstairs, Brabham recalled the room where he once boarded and now where nothing more than a single electric drop cord hung from the ceiling in the empty room.

Standing in front of the fireplace he remembered the card games held their in the evenings and the time “Old Man White,” an engineer, had appeared late one night with a gun in a holster on his hip and ordered the men to quiet down so he could get some sleep.

The old man seldom showed any signs of anger and most boarders saw little of him behind the newspapers he read and saved. They were stacked to the ceiling in his room behind a door. Brabham recalled the newspaper overflow was kept at the end of the hall close to White’s room.

Stepping outside on the upstairs balcony only a bench remained where once high-backed rocking chairs had lined the balcony and one could rest his arms on the banister and glance down the street to the “pay-office.” Here once a week employees formed long lines and office workers inside passed them their wages in “cold cash” through an office window.

High-backed rockers and swings also lined the front porch downstairs where diners rested after a hearty meal supervised by Miss Seni Goodwin. The meals were prepared by Celie Missouri, sometimes assisted by her husband Robert who worked at the mill. (Celia and Robert lived in an apartment next to the kitchen in the hotel.)

Stella Pope provides a glimpse of Lacoochee and the new hotel in 1926 when her father, Alvin Pope was being transferred from the Sumner mill where he had worked since 1911 to the new one in Lacoochee. The Sumner mill, located near Cedar Key, had burned three months earlier in February that year. Her Lacoochee Memories and letters are on file with EPHS.

In Lacoochee Memories Stella writes: As I think back to that hot, sunny Sunday afternoon in May, 1926, when Daddy drove Mother, Miriam, Dottie and me into Lacoochee in our Model T. Ford touring car, my first impression was not a good one. As I looked at the sandy streets with not a tree in sight I thought to myself “this is a desert.” Daddy hadn’t said anything about Lacoochee being a desert but everywhere I looked I could see nothing but hot sandy streets and yards with no trees.

Daddy drove us to the company hotel where we were to stay until our furniture arrived. The front porch of the hotel was lined with rocking chairs and most of them were occupied by men of various ages, mostly workers at the mill. We three children scrambled out of the car in a hurry as we had been confined in it for several hours and were glad to get out. Mother and Daddy followed us and when we got to the porch Daddy introduced us to everyone there. After we put our suitcases, toys and other belongings in our room, Daddy showed us some more of the town, but that did not change my impression. All we saw were more sandy streets, rows of company houses neatly arranged in blocks and each yard enclosed with a wire fence, but no trees.

We enjoyed our supper at the hotel that night as everyone gave us a friendly welcome but trouble arrived when we went to bed. The five of us were in one room with two double beds. We three children slept in one bed and we slept fairly well, but I don’t think Mother shut her eyes the whole night. She sat up most of the night with the light on killing bed bugs. Needless to say, as soon as it was possible after breakfast, we moved into our house on the street south of the hotel across from the payoffice. I don’t think Mother could have stayed another night in that hotel room even if we’d had to sleep on pallets on the floor of our new home. Fortunately, our furniture arrived and we slept in our own beds.

Once the three of us became adjusted to Lacoochee and its differences we loved it. There were lots of children to play with on our block -- the Charlie Ferrells, the McDonalds, the Berkstessers, the Parramores and the Grantham’s and in the next block there were even more children. End of this part of Stella’s Lacoochee Memories.

In a letter dated October 30, 1997, Stella wrote: after the Troy Jones family moved from Sumner to Lacoochee in 1933, Daddy and Mr. Jones began having nightly games of checkers in the lobby of the hotel. Almost every night after supper Daddy quietly left the house for the hotel where he met Mr Jones. Then the two of them would sit down at the table in the middle of the hotel lobby and battle it out for a short while. Of course, none of us children were allowed to go and watch -- I guess it was a man’s kind of thing. Daddy and Mr. Jones obviously enjoyed these contests. They had known each other for a long time and were good friends. I understand there was a regular group watching these games but I know nothing more.

Editor’s note: Many families moved to Lacoochee from Sumner when that mill burned in 1926. Probably many of the men on the porch of the hotel who Pope greeted when he and his family arrived in Lacoochee had worked with Pope before. Pope was superintendent in charge of operation when that mill burned, according to Stella’s October 13, 1997 letter.

A current view of the hotel’s chandelier; picture courtesy of Allen Altman.

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