HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
By NICK HARPER
I was not born in Lacoochee and never lived there but I have fond memories of visiting and playing with my friend Charles Pire in this unique little town where our grandfathers worked for Cummer Sons Cypress Company.
His grandfather was Charles Berkstresser, Superintendent of the Crate Mill. My grandfather was Raymond R. Harper who was foreman of the shingle mill. My grandfather’s brother, Alvin J. Harper, worked at the lumber yard and I believe he was foreman of that department, but I’m not sure. All of them lived on the same street between the pay office and the mill complex. Other families who lived on that street were the Charlie Ferrell family and Josh Groover and his wife Alice. The Groovers had two children, Melanie and Wayne.
Mr. Groover worked at the company pay office and later, after the mill closed, at the Bank of Pasco County in Dade City. I was born and raised in Dade City and Charles was raised in Lacoochee. Our fathers, Fred W. Harper and Keith Pire, were best friends who had attended St. Leo Preparatory School together in San Antonio, Florida. Dad married Marguerite Goshorn of Key West and Keith married Miriam Berkstresser, of Lacoochee, My mom would travel from Key West during the summer months and spend time in Dade City with her Uncle and Aunt; Judge Orville L. and Ella M. Dayton. Aunt Ella was the principal of the school in Trilby.
After their marriages, our mothers became best friends and Charles and I spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ home. His grandmother’s name was Bannah, I believe I only heard someone call her by name maybe once or twice, but to me, she was always Mrs. Berkstresser. She passed away when I was 13, sometime in 1954.
Their house was located on a corner across the street from the pay office and the commissary. It had two stories, was green in color, and had a large room surrounded by windows on a third level. Charles and I built a lot of model airplanes up in that room.
I called Charles’ Dad “Uncle Keith.” He had a garage in Lacoochee full of cypress knees from which he would build table and floor lamps. I had one of them for a long time, but don’t remember what happened to it.
It was not unusual for Charles and me to walk unaccompanied to the sawmill and watch, from a safe distance, as a big saw moved back and forth on a carriage and cut huge cypress logs. The noise was deafening and I really don’t remember if the workers had ear protection or not.
One of the things I thought was really neat was the wooden sidewalks all over Lacoochee. It seems like there was plenty of excess wood to build them with. Another fascination was the trains that used to transport logs and lumber to and from the mills. Those steam locomotives always seemed to be running around Lacoochee with bells ringing and whistles blowing.
My grandfather Raymond R. Harper died in 1949. I was eight years old at the time of his death and therefore I don’t have many memories of him. I can still remember him sitting on a swing that was on the front porch of the house. Other than that I just can’t recall much about him. I do remember my Dad telling me once that because of the initials for Raymond Rufus he was known as “Railroad” Harper. I have seen a picture of him wearing a hat, standing in front of a huge cypress log. I am told he was six foot tall and this log must be a good two foot taller than him.
Lacoochee is always a topic of discussion when I get together with my longtime Dade City friends, Tony and Barbara Rhoden. The Rhodens lived in Lacoochee when they were married in 1958. Tony’s Dad, Benjamin Franklin Rhoden, was foreman of Cummer’s field crates division where Tony worked as his assistant. Tony recalls that Arthur Dees was foreman at the warehouse and Ellis McClure was foreman over the pallet mill.
Barbara’s uncle, Glen Durden and his wife had a grocery store in a little settlement outside Lacoochee. The Rhoden’s said they remember the 1958 fire that destroyed many of the stores in Lacoochee. Three blasts from a shotgun, the standard distress signal in an emergency, had awakened them to that tragedy.