HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The following article was contributed by Norman Ward Carey, Irene Ward’s grandson.
Irene Ward was well known for many years for running swimming, dance hall, bar and cottage rental business at Lake Iola. She began near the southeast corner of the Lake, and then moved a few hundred feet westward every decade or so. Her business was called Ward’s Lake Iola. Our family still has a few pencils that were used to advertise the place. The pencils contain the following wording: WARD’S LAKE IOLA — DADE CITY, FLA. — "A BEAUTIFUL LAKE RESORT"
Irene was born Irene Bosch on a farm in Huntington, Long Island, of a German immigrant father and an Irish immigrant mother. I remember hearing that at least once while growing up, she was walking along and encountered and spoke with former president Teddy Roosevelt while he was out riding his horse. Later she married Clarence Barclay Ward. The two of them came to Pasco County from Huntington, Long Island, near New York City in the early 1920s.
They lived on Happy Hill road, where their daughter Rita Barclay Ward was born in 1926. Shortly after this, they moved to the southeast shore of Lake Iola, taking their frame house with them. For the first few years they also kept a residence in New York, and went back and forth from time to time. By around 1935 they had become year round residents of Lake Iola, and also had another child by that time, Thomas, who was born in 1930.
Over time, they went into the swimming business, with bathhouses on a dock over the water. They also had a dance hall, connected to the bathhouses, and also located over the water, at least at times when the lake was at a high level. One time, the level of the lake rose to within 6 inches of the floor of the structure, and so Irene Ward had the lake drained. She had a ditch dug in the northwest corner of the lake, to allow water to run off to Lake Moody. She had Mr. Larkin do the work. She also got permission from all property owners at Lake Iola as well as at Lake Moody to do it. Mr. Brigham also gave his permission, he was the owner of the land on which the ditch was dug as well as all the land between Lake Iola and Lake Moody. Some feared that when this was opened up, all the water in the Lake would rush into Lake Moody. It didn't, and Irene got the lake down to the level that she wanted. The ditch can still be seen today.
At some time a Mr. Flicker went into a competing business just to the east of Irene’s place. His place wound up burning down, and Mr. Flicker accused the Wards of having set the fire. The Wards maintained their innocence and suggested that they had seen Mr. Flicker with a gas can and that he might have burned it down himself to collect insurance after finding his business unprofitable.
Around 1939, Irene had a building built for Morris Johnson so he could lease it and run a bar a couple hundred yards to the west of the original place. About a year later he left to join the service and Irene took over running the bar. Later she sold the original place as well as the bar in 1950 to a Mr. and Mrs. Giehler and went into the cottage rental business just to the west of that. There was a clause in the sale to the Giehlers that forbade Irene from going into a competing swimming business for three years. The Giehlers filed suit against Irene claiming violation of a no compete clause in the sale. Irene was supposed to refrain from having a competing swimming business for three years after the date of the sale. Irene claimed that the swimmers at her place were not paying to swim, but were simply cottage tenants and their guests using her beach. The Giehlers disagreed with this interpretation of the clause and sued for damages. The case worked its way through several courts, finally to the Florida State Supreme Court, which agreed with a lower court ruling which in turn agreed with the Giehlers that Irene had in fact operated a swimming beach in violation of the contract but ruled that the three years were over and disallowed damages because the contract did not contain any enforcing clause. The court’s position was that it could not make a new contract or repair a defective contract and so could enforce a contract only according to its own precise language and so could not assess any penalty other than what the contract itself called for nor could the court extend the three year period. This decision is cited in other court rulings including one as recently as 2009.
The story of the Giehlers has a sad ending. One day Mr. Giehler was having trouble with his son and threatened him with a pistol that Mr. Giehler thought was unloaded because he had removed the magazine, but Mr. Giehler forgot that such pistols can have a round in the chamber and still fire one shot with no magazine in place. Tragically, he accidentally shot and killed his son. About a month later, unable to bear the pain of what had happened, he shot and killed himself. Mrs. Giehler then moved back up north, never to return. At some point after that, Floyd and Sue Rizzuto took over the bar portion of the Giehler place and ran it for about thirty-five years, the place then known as Floyd and Sue’s.
Meanwhile in 1945 Irene’s husband Clarence died of cancer. Her son Tom who had been a popular student at Pasco High and was a football standout, was killed in a car wreck on February 11, 1951 at the age of twenty. They all knew him as Tommy Ward. He played Tackle for the Pasco Pirate teams of 1946 and 1947, both championship years in which the Pirates went undefeated. At 205 pounds, he was the heaviest guy on the team each of those years. He was asleep when two friends who had got drunk at the Giehler place and were left there by whoever brought them, came to the house where Irene and Tom lived and asked Irene to wake Tom up so that he could drive them home to Dade City. This she did, to her eternal regret. Tom wrecked on the way into Dade City on old St. Joe Road, where it curves to the right just before it intersects the current St. Joe Road In those days, that was just a curve in the road, not an intersection. I believe that all three were thrown from the car, but Tom hit his head on something hard. He never regained consciousness and died at the hospital in Dade City around 5 in the morning Feb. 11, 1951. His friends landed in dirt and suffered only minor injuries. Irene always believed that one or both of Tom’s two friends did something to make him lose control of the car. One of the friends was a preacher’s son, and the other one an undertakers son. I also understand that their fathers handled the undertaking and preaching at the funeral. The undertakers son was Emitt O'Neal, whose father owned Coleman and Ferguson. Later on Emitt O'Neal was on a prison work crew working on the road at Lake Iola, and at that time sent word through someone that he wanted to speak with Irene. She refused his invitation to talk.
Also in 1951, Irene’s daughter Rita married Charles H. Carey, an Air Force service man who was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Their first child, Charles Steven Carey, was born at MacDill, and their second child, Norman Ward Carey, was born on Kindley Air Force Base, Bermuda. Their third child, Brenda Leah Carey, was born at MacDill, and their last child Donald Scott Carey, was born on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.
Irene continued to run swimming, cottage rental and dance hall business on the lake until selling the property to Robert Thompson in 1960. She then built her retirement home on her daughter Rita’s property just to the west. In 1965 she was joined there by her daughter, son in law and grandchildren when her son in law Charles retired from the Air Force. She also built a few rental units and continued the rental business until her death in 1990. She never told her age to anyone, but it was discovered that she was born in 1897 and was 93 at the time she died.
Irene had made many friends in the Dade City area, and many people who grew up in Dade City in the thirties, forties and fifties remember her various places on the lake, apparently always informally called Mrs. Ward’s place, as nearly the sole venue for entertainment in those days. Irene often liked to tell the story that at one time someone published a list of thirty millionaires of Dade City, and included her on it. She wasn't a millionaire, but some may have thought so just because she seemed to have more money than most during the depression years, and some thought that she was one of those types of millionaires who like to keep people from knowing about their wealth.
Note: I believe the Mr. Larkin who had the ditch dug was Bill Larkin, who owned some dragline equipment.
Tom and Rita Ward on a Ward Christmas card from the late 1930s (larger image)