HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Lacoochee, My Hometown
By WILLIAM W. (BILLY) MAHAFFEY
I was born in the little sawmill town of Lacoochee, Florida on April 28, 1933 and left there kicking and screaming in 1949. I moved away then only because a series of strokes left my father unable to continue his responsibilities with Cummer Sons Cypress Company, and my parents decided that it would be best for us to move back to north Florida. Even then I had a little reprieve due to the generosity of my best friend’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Claud Andrews. They invited me to stay with their family in Lacoochee to finish out the tenth grade at Pasco High School delaying my move for several months.
My father was Jim Mahaffey, sawmill foreman, and, after Mr. Pope’s death, superintendent of the entire sawmill operation. According to Clifford Couey, who ran the Cummer commissary, I grew up on “Silk Stocking Street,” the street where mostly mill foremen and superintendents lived. We resided first in a house at the end of the street across from the Ferrells, and later we moved up the street to what was known as “the Pope house.”
My childhood in Lacoochee was idyllic, so much so that in later years I convinced my young daughters that it was a town where the streets were paved with gold and money hung from the trees. It was an exaggeration to say the least, but it gives you an idea of how much growing up in Lacoochee meant to me. The years I spent there, the many memorable events, and the people of those times shaped my life and remain extremely important to me to this day.
My father grew up in northern Florida’s rural Gadsden County where my grandfather, John W. Mahaffey, farmed, operated a saw mill, and was the proprietor of a store in Gretna, Florida. He was one of nine children. Each of the brothers was responsible to help run various aspects of my grandfather’s businesses. My father was the saw mill man. After spending two years as a “Wagoneer” in the American Army in France during World War I, he returned to Gretna to help with the saw mill. In 1922 he married my mother, Wilma Fletcher, who was also from rural Gadsden County.
It was not long after their marriage that my parents decided that my father should take advantage of a job opportunity with the Cummer Sons Cypress Company in Sumner, Florida. It was there that the first two of their children, Jeanette and Mary Louise, were born. After the mill in Sumner burned, the Mahaffeys followed the Cummer Company to the new operation in Lacoochee. There the couple was blessed with three more children, Jimmy, born in 1929, Billy (me) born in 1933, and the baby, Harriet Ann, born in 1935. During the Depression when Cummer shut the mill down and had to lay off workers, my father was retained as a watchman enabling the family to get by.
I was two years old when Harriet was born. Events of that time changed our lives and, I am sure, were instrumental in my being “adopted” by the entire Lacoochee community. During my mother’s pregnancy she was diagnosed with cancer. Several doctors told her that they would have to “take the baby,” for they feared that she could not survive the pregnancy. My mother and father prayed about it and decided to leave it in the hands of God.
Thankfully, both Mama and the baby survived. After that, however, Mama’s health was precarious, and as a result, family members from Quincy volunteered to take Harriet and raise her. From that time forward the youngest member of our family spent the school year with her Quincy family and the summers and Christmas vacations with us in Lacoochee.
As I look back now, I am certain that for the next sixteen years the loving Lacoochee community made a determined effort to help take care of the youngest Mahaffey boy, a little red head with a lot of mischief in his heart. They opened their hearts and homes to me and along with my parents and siblings gave me the best childhood a boy could have. For that I am extremely grateful. It is the stories from those special years that I want to share.