HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Our Barrel of Stories
Each time the EPHS barrel marked “Lacoochee Stories” starts running dry a special event or a phone call brings a shower of memories to be shared with our readers. We want to report that the October “rains” were good for us and the watermark on the barrel is beginning to rise.
It began with the 2013 October Scarecrow Festival and Tractor Pull near Dade City, Pasco County. FL. This October 20th event took place on the 20-acre Pioneer Florida Museum & Village grounds. More than 2,000 men, women and children showed up to play for a day. They flooded the numerous historical and support buildings. One of them, The Cummer Building, features the 1920-1960 sawmill town of Lacoochee and the company that sustained it.
Group pictures of Cummer Sons Cypress Company employees standing near the mill where they worked attracted lot of attention. So did church congregations and school class pictures. Some onlookers were just curious, others studied the pictures for familiar faces. One woman, Ursule Pope, found her great uncle, Henry Duval Pope, in one picture. And her father, Wallace Jordan, in another. She said both men still live in the Lacoochee area. Her great uncle is 90+ and very alert, according to Ms. Pope.
Several visitors, including some from other states, stopped by the table staffed with EPHS volunteers to share and compare by-gone days and memories from the past.
One woman who had worked for Agri-Timber, the company that purchased Cummer’s holdings on its demise, had a special story to share. She described for us the interior walls and furnishing of our exhibit building as they looked when the Agri-Timber family used it as their “guest house.” It was the place for special family events or extended family visits. In Cummer’s hands, the small buildings with a connecting breeze way, located on a vast track of ranch land, had been used as a hunting lodge.
Other historical structures open that day included Lacoochee’s early one-room, fully equipped school building; the privately owned and fully stocked C.C Smith General Store ; and Cummer’s 1913 Porter Steam Engine. This locomotive, with a flat rail car holding century old cypress logs, guards the entrance to the Museum. Nearby is the 1896 railroad depot that served a major railroad junction located at Trilby, Fl., a mile distant from Lacoochee.
The day after the celebration, EPHS received several telephone calls unrelated to that event.
Tommy Green of Dade City put us in touch with Betty Forsythe North, 90, who lives in Jacksonville. Tommy at one time worked with Betty’s late husband, L. C. North, on a survey team that “counted” cypress trees growing in the Everglades. They scouted for timber prior to Cummer setting up logging camps and sending crews into the swamps to harvest trees for shipment back to the Lacoochee mills.
As a young girl, Betty and her parents lived in a downstairs apartment at the Cummer Hotel. Her father worked at one of the mills. Entertaining her bridge club in the hotel lobby was her mother’s favorite past time. Her brother Dale worked at Cumpressco. I have vivid memories of the bright yellow girls bicycle Betty owned. Also a number of black and blue bruises acquired before I learned how to ride it.
When Bill Mahaffey, 80, called from Quincy, FL, he had just recently discovered our website. “I copied everything that was there and absolutely love it,” he said. “It brings back some wonderful memories.” He was born in Lacoochee.
Bill’s father, William James (Jim) Mahaffey, was Cummer’s third and final Superintendent of the entire sawmill mill operation. Jim Mahaffey grew up around his father’s sawmill in north Florida. Later he joined Cummer at Sumner in Levy County before their operation was moved to Lacoochee.
The Mahaffey’s home, usually referred to as the Pope house, was next door to the home of the Superintendent of the Crate Mill, Charlie Berkstresser. Their houses were across the street from Cummer’s pay office. Their backyard abutted the hotel property. Bill recalled “the hotel was more of a boarding house than a hotel.”
After a telephone call from June Young Farmer, 80, of Ridge Manor, Florida, EPHS pulled out the barrel marked “Dade City Stories.”
Farmer’s early childhood was spent in the Lake Pasadena community south of Dade City. This area of Pasco County is widely known for its hills ranked among the highest in the State of Florida. An 1898 landmark here, the Lakeview Highlands Hotel, was touted as a haven for elite Bostonians and others “from up that way.” The multi-story hotel with verandas overlooking the lake and citrus tree studded hillside was destroyed by fire around 1899.
EPHS welcomes telephone calls, e-mails, and regular U.S. mail from anyone who wants to share a bit of history with us. It may take a while, but we in turn will share your information with our other readers in future updates. We appreciate being invited to participate in events such as those sponsored by the Pioneer Florida Museum Association and other groups with similar interests.
East Pasco Historical Society