This article is excerpted from Tales of West Pasco (1962), by Ralph Bellwood.
A few years after the big Florida Boom “busted,” a man by
the name of Ed Haley came to the West Pasco area with big
dreams, which he proceeded to make come true. He was a financier
and promoter who had built Clearwater’s Fort Harrison hotel
and many other large enterprises in Pinellas County.
He acquired about six thousand acres of land which lay
mainly to the West of Moon Lake, but included Moon Lake and
numerous other smaller lakes in the area. Five thousand of these
acres he enclosed with a four foot woven wire fence with four or
five strands of barbed wire above it. The area surrounded by seventeen
miles of this fence was a natural habitat for game. To the
native game he added Virginia and English fallow deer, as well
as hundreds of wild turkeys, quail and pheasants, and engaged a
full time warden, Bill Pittman, who trapped wildcats and panther
and shot many hawks and owls that preyed on the game. It
is said that at one time the herd of deer numbered up into the
The greatest attraction and feature of the Dude Ranch was
the sprawling rustic lodge that was built of timber and logs cut
from the surrounding area. The interior of this structure was almost
indescribable. There were chandeliers made from cypress
knees, ingeniously put together and wired for hundreds of light
bulbs. A majestic stone fireplace with a huge log mantle heated
the lobby during the Winter months. Hanging on the walls, or
perched about in niches, were mounted animals and heads as well
as hawks and owls. A large stuffed alligator, so real looking that
many a guest would shy away from it, lay sprawled on the floor.
There were dining facilities where, according to Mrs. Laura McIntosh,
Haley’s sister, who lived at the lodge, four hundred meals
a day were frequently served. The meat that was featured consisted
of venison, wild turkey, quail, or fresh water fish, all of
which came from the forests or lakes on the ranch.
Included in the tremendous operation of the Dude Ranch
was a stable of some thirty Kentucky bred horses, and fifteen miles
of bridle paths that rambled about through the semi-tropical foliage
and trees, where thousands of exotic shrubs and vines had
In the spacious grounds surrounding the lodge a number of
cottages were built and furnished with rustic furniture made from
cypress and cedar which had been cut nearby. A quiet serenity,
broken only by the joyous sounds of mirth and soft music, prevailed
in this remarkable retreat, which attracted many nationally
famous people, among whom were Rex Beach and Cornelius
Vanderbilt, Jr., to say nothing about strong political and business
leaders throughout the land. It took three years to lay off and
build this mammoth playground. It was started in 1933 and
opened to the public in 1937.
Workmen on the project lived in tents during the long drawn
out process of clearing and beautifying the grounds and building
the lodge and cottages. The whole project’s cost was over $600,000.
At one time about two hundred people were employed to
care for and operate the Dude Ranch. It operated four years,
gaining popularity with each passing year, and then came World
War II. This changed everything. Help could not be found to
operate the place and people couldn't get gas to bring them to
this remote spot. The ranch had to be closed, and immediately
deterioration set in and some say Haley suffered financial reverses.
The place was never opened to the public again, and the area
where the lodge was located, including the large lake, was sold
to a real estate corporation that laid it off in lots, building hard
surface roads that make all the area accessible by car. Many fine
homes have been built in the Moon Lake Estates. The old Lodge
still remains. The once popular lounge and dining room, along
with some of the mounted animals and birds, hold festoons of cobwebs
and years of accumulated dust, but a nostalgic memory will
ever remain with all who visited or knew the magnificence of
Cattle Graze Among Roses at Old Moon Lake
Playground of Wealthy (1951)
This article appeared in the Evening Independent on Jan. 10, 1951.
By PAUL A. DAVIS
Two hundred head of cattle today roam what was once the
millionaire sportsman’s paradise, Moon Lake Gardens and Dude
Ranch, near New
But the touch of the fabulous spending hand of Edward A. Haley, one-time millionaire, its developer, still lingers on.
Cattle roam the 7,600 acres where still stand the guest cottages, lodge and casino, the planing mill
where Haley sawed his own cypress lumber, and the stables where he kept horses for the dude visitors.
The property today is owned by St. Petersburg real estate man W. H. Mitchell, with offices at 646 Central avenue. Mitchell
bought it recently for an unrevealed amount from Mrs. Laura McIntosh, New Port Richey, sister of the once famous developer.
It is not for sale. Mitchell wanted it because in the same section he owns 14,00 more acres
of land where graze 700 head of cattle owned by the real estate man.
Recent transfer of ownership brought back memories of the days
of a great spender — an early plunger who made
at least two fortunes, lost one of them, and finally sank the second
one, or most of it, into a lonely cypress swamp and woodland in Pasco
This colorful figure of the Florida boom days of the 20s died in May 1949, at the age of 73, at Asheville, N. C., and was
buried in Indian Springs, Ga., where he spent most of his years as a boy.
Haley made his first money with an auto agency in Clearwater. Then came the land boom to skyrocket his wealth. He built
the Ft. Harrison Hotel and developed Hog Island.
He sold Hog Island, located in the Gulf off Dunedin, and reached his first million.
The Ft. Harrison Hotel and Tampa Downs were ventures that followed. The track splurge cost him plenty. Depression
times came along. R. E. Olds, the auto manufacturer, helped Haley save his Ft. Harrison.
He disposed of that finally and made his second fortune. Then he bought his Moon Lake project and announced
grandiose plans for developing a veritable paradise for the wealthy in the midst of the silent, cypress swamplands, nine miles
east of New Port Richey.
Haley was no piker when it came to achieving a lavish effect, old timers say.
Mitchell rummaged around in old papers at the dude ranch after he bought it and found
letters pertaining to the purchase of 30,000 roses with which to beautify the landscape.
The roses still bloom around the Moon Lake grounds.
He purchased thousands of camellias and planted them with the roses around the shores of 120-acre Moon Lake.
To achieve an effect of beauty by night he strung electric lights all around the shores of the lake.
The lodge and clubhouse, with trophy room, covered 15,580 square feet. In the trophy room he built
a huge fireplace of native white stone. There was a pipe organ and piano in the clubhouse and a huge dining room,
The auditorium and casino was 256 feet long and 71 feet wide. It was built of white stone. Four
enormous stone fireplaces ranged down the long casino.
The dance floor was maple. It was the only wood not sawed on Haley’s ranch when he built it.
Thousands of feet of cypress was hauled from the swamps to the mill. But the maple was imported.
There was a 60-foot long bar, where, even though prohibition was the law of the land, old
timers recalled there were always white-coated bartenders to serve them.
It was reported that patrons could gamble there if they chose. But nobody ever
claimed that Haley commercialized the game. If people wanted to gamble that was their business,
according to his creed.
Five thousand of the acres were surrounded by an eight-foot high wire fence.
That was where hundreds of Haley’s deer roamed at large. Two-thousand and some more acres
were under ordinary fences.
The deer are mostly gone today and the grazing lands in this Paso county woods paradise are occupied
by peaceful herds of cattle.
Moon Lake Gardens never paid back what was invested in it, friends of the developer said. Some said
he died broke, others that he was almost broke.
But if you visit Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch you still can see the touch of a master
in lavish living.
Moon Lake Lodge Immense Building and Game Project (1933)
This article originally appeared in the New Port Richey Press. It was
reprinted by the Dade City Banner on Apr. 7, 1933.
The most outstanding development project of recent years for this
section of the state is under way around Big Moon Lake, east
of New Port Richey, where Ed Haley, owner of Ft. Harrison hotel,
Clearwater, is having constructed a hunting lodge and entertainment
grounds that will exceed anything of its kind in the state, so far as is known.
The writer was amazed when he visited the project yesterday
to note the amount of work being done on the new proposition,
there being over 50 men at work clearing the ground, sawing
lumber, hauling materials, building foundations and erecting
buildings on the immense property.
Mr. Haley recently acquired Hidden Lake Game Preserve, a 5,000 acre
tract of land, just east of this town, which is completely
fenced and is now stocked with more than 100 deer and other game animals, as well
as many wild turkeys and similar fowl, pheasants, quail and the like,
to make it a perfect huntsman’s paradise. He has
acquired another large track of land adjoining this on
the east, which contains Big Moon Lake, a large body
of fresh water, which is teeming with fish, and all
is being thrown together as part of the lodge property.
A massive lodge building is being erected, the foundation,
studding and other uprights being already in place with a crew of men busily
engaged in rushing it to completion. This structure
will have a perimeter of more than 700 feet and approximately
74,000 feet of lumber will go into its construction.
It will contain lounge and living rooms,
kitchen, dining room, dance hall and other modern features,
offices and everything necessary for the convenience
of the guests, who will occupy the cottages that are also being built.
There will be 100 or more of these attractive cottages
placed conveniently around the main lodge building. Each
cottage will contain living room, bed-room, bath and a porch.
A large fire place will also be a feature in each of the cottages.
All buildings are to be of the rustic type, the natural wood
without finish being used everywhere excepting for floors,
and the raters of cypress logs will be exposed. The main
building will be two stories in height, with one story
wings, a great porch surrounding the entire structure, which has a frontage
of 142 feet.
A board walk runs from the lodge to Moon lake, where a pier is being
erected and diving boards and other swimming equipment will
be installed. Boats and gondolas will also grace the lake
for the benefit of fishermen and others who wish to use them.
A complete fish hatchery is being built, the excavations
being well under way, where stock will be grown for the many
lakes on the property, to supplement the many fish already in the lakes.
An eight inch well has been drilled to a depth of 204 feet, which
will provide ample water supply for the entire project. A complete
electric power plant will be installed, furnishing lights
and refrigeration, and modern sewerage disposal will care for
the miniature town’s sanitation.
Every modern convenience will be installed for the convenience
of the guests, including a swimming pool of great length for
those who do not care to make use of the lake itself,
which will have diving towers and other features for the athletically inclined.
Various courts, including tennis, shuffleboard, etc., are planned, and
billiards and similar games will be installed indoors.
Horton Belcher, general superintendent for Mr. Haley, is enthusiastic
over the future outlook for the hunting camp, stating that
16 reservations have already been made without solicitation. He feels
that every cottage will be taken before the beginning of the season.
“If they are, Mr. Haley is ready to build more,” he stated.
An attractive grouping design for
all buildings has been arranged by Theodore Skinner, noted architect,
of Clearwater, who has made the plans for the entire building program,
and Phillip P. Hood, superintendent of construction, is seeing that
the work is carried out just as planned, taking special pains
to see that the rustic design predominates throughout.
Much interest is being shown in the new project by visitors from
St. Petersburg, Clearwater and other points. The new project
will be run by Mr. Haley in connection with Ft. Harrison hotel,
making a unique tie-up for the two hostelries, which will attract
many who would otherwise go elsewhere, and he is negotiating for more
land to add to that he already possesses, hoping to have under wire
at least 20,000 acres before the opening of the coming season.
All lumber for the gigantic project is being sawed on the
premises, from native trees, and the palm trees, of which all
columns for the porches are to be made are being cut on the lodge’s own grounds. ...
Travelers Throng to Dude Ranch (1937)
This article appeared in the Dade City Banner on Feb. 12, 1937.
Moon Lake, February 9.—Special.—Hundreds of people from almost every state
in the Union have visited the famous Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch
near New Port Richey this week. Thousands of azaleas are in full bloom and lilies
are beginning to bloom.
Much work has been done at the gardens this year. Thirty thousand red rose bushes
have recently been planted around Moon Lake. Until the new road is finished
visitors have to walk to see the roses but when the road is completed in a few
weeks, one may drive all through the gardens and see them without getting out
of the car. Of course the real flower lovers will want to go to every bed.
There are now 63 peacocks on the grounds that may be seen at different times of the
year. They look very majestic as they strut and prune themselves among the
thousands of flowers. Pet squirrels have the run of the ground and will
eat tid bits from the hand of the visitors.
A new Hammond electric organ was installed last Sunday and a two
hour concert was given by Miss Ruthy Nagel, St. Petersburg.
It is planned to have a system of loud speakers so that
the wonderful organ music can be heard all over the Garden.
Work is being rushed on the new auditorium at the edge of the lake.
It will when finished be one of the largest halls in Florida.
There will be plenty of room for the 15,000 that come to the gardens
to see the many flowers and to hear the open air concerts. A large
formal opening will be held when the 270 by 70 foot
building is completed. Native wood had been used to a large
extent which adds beauty to the huge building.
There are now over 150 men employed at Moon Lake. A
separate little town has been built to take care of the
men that are working in the gardens. Moon Lake has its
own electric plant, road engineer, and everything
else that is necessary for the completion of the tremendous
task of making Moon Lake the show place of the United States.
Six thousand of the ten thousand acres is fenced off for a game
preserve in which 4,500 wild deer are protected from hunters.
Game of all kinds is plentiful. Recently a wild
board was killed that weighed over 200 pounds. Its head
was mounted by Oscar Swed, Moon Lake taxidermist,
and is now on display in the ranch house, where other
animals killed on the place are on display in life-like poses.
Many visitors have said the Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch
are worth a trip from everywhere. Until one has visited
the Gardens one cannot realize the beauty spot
that has been made in the wilds of Pasco county. A few years
ago it was a wilderness; now it is a show place that
people come from every state to see.
A complete stable is maintained with horses available
at all times for the convenience of guests who care to ride on the
Excellent meals are served at all times. Dade City and New Port Richey
offer near-by hotel accommodations.
Fishing has been excellent this week. A 12½ pound black
bass was caught in Moon Lake the first of the week by one
of the guests. It will be mounted and put on display.
Speckled perch are just beginning to bite.
Many fishing parties have reported good catches
lately. Guides are always available.
The Banner has just received a congratulatory
telegram from United States Senator C. O. Andrews
on the presidential approval of the WPA project for
the rebuilding of the Moon Lake Road, which he believes
will be of great benefit to the county.
Aloysius Coll Associated With Big
in Florida (1937)
This article appeared in the Daily Courier, Connellsville, Pa., on
May 21, 1937.
Aloysius Coll, a former Connellsville resident, co-author of the
Connellsville centennial 584-page “History of the Borough of
Connellsville,” one of the most thorough and authentic volumes
written of the early Indian and Colonial trails and events of this
section of the nation, is now associated with one of the biggest
attractions in Florida, and the only enterprise of its kind in that
State. In a note to the editor of The Courier he gives a few facts
concerning this enterprise, the Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch.
Unusual features are under construction now, completing a development
work which has continued for nearly 10 years.
Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch is a 14,000-acre estate located on
the beautiful new government aid road No. 210, which connects the
Tamiami Trail on the east with Road 19, the Florida west coast gulf
shore highway on the west. The estate covers the area from the Gulf of
Mexico near New Port Richey, a town many Connellsville people know,
just a few miles north of Tarpon Springs, to a point six miles inland.
In this vast beauty spot, one of the most historic and unusual in all
Florida, are the headwaters of the famed Anclote River, and of the
equally famous Pithlochascootee River. On the estate also, and all
bordered with primitive forests of cypress, bays, magnolia, pines,
maples and other trees, giant ferns and rare plants of the semi
tropics, are 20 magnificent crystal-clear lakes, in size from that of
Big Moon Lake, 140 acres, to little bodies of water hidden in the deep
forest. In part of this estate is a game preserve of about 7,000 acres,
in which are 5,000 Virginia and English fallow deer, wild turkeys,
African partridges, English ringneck pheasants, sacred ibis, egrets and
every form of mammal and bird known to Florida, including vast flocks
of wild ducks, other migratory birds, many of which are remaining
through the whole year under the protection given in the preserve.
Recently the first of the 2,400 fawns in the 1937 crop was picked up in
the brush. The Pinellas County Conservation Association organized a
caravan of motor cars, drove from St. Petersburg to the ranch and game
preserve and the president of the association, A E. Pendergast,
christened this first fawn “Pinellas” with a shower of rose
petals as the babe of the woods was held in the arms of John S. Smith,
mayor of St. Petersburg.
The development of the great acreage of natural beauty, forest,
lake, river, huge “sinks,” or lakes set deep down from the
surface, includes a huge lodge with its big verandas, stone fireplaces,
dining room, women’s lodge; an auditorium, now nearing completion, 260
feet long, with two wings, one a porto cochere 40 by 40 and another 40
by 80; the largest private nursery and greenhouse in the state, if not
in the United States, covering acres; 35,000 rose bushes, bedded to
surround Moon Lake with four miles of radiant blooms at the rate of
about 80,000 a day; rare fruit trees, shrubs, millions of flowers,
lilies in their lagoons, blooming all the year; the papyrus plant, from
which the ancient paper was made and known as the bull-rush in which
Moses was found; huge stables for the Kentucky thoroughbreds, and a
training ground built around a lake; pea-fowls, turtles, wild life such
as it probably is not found otherwise in the state; rustic cabins for
guests who remain for a week or more; two saw mills operating for
construction within the grounds, using the native timber; a steam power
plant for the mills and for generation of current.
An area of about 400 acres is beautified in a most magnificent
layout of rock gardens, lagoons, miles of flower beds, thousands of
palms—all so introduced as to preserve the natural and
distinctive beauty of the Florida west, which is the most lovely part
of the state.
All the lakes have been enriched with all known plant foods for
fish, turtles and wild fowl. In Big Moon Lake at one stocking 90,000
big mouth bass were released, at another time 45,000, so that in the 20
lakes the very best fishing in Florida is provided.
There are 10 miles of bridle paths through the most beautiful parts
of the preserve and ranch. Since the State, the National Government and
the county authorities all have special interest in such a game
preserve and definite preservation of forests and wild life, the Moon
Lake enterprise has become something different from other attractions
in Florida. More than 200 acres of the forest and gardens have been
lighted. A special new system of reproduction and broadcasting has been
installed, so that as one wanders through the lightened gardens and
forest the music of a grand opera performance may be sounding in every
part of the vast estate, and in communion with the wild birds and the
strange sounds of primitive forest at night.
The operations include a department in taxidermy, with skilled
artists in charge, and the mounted specimens are considered of the best
in the nation. On the estate are two eagles nests or aeries, the
nesting places of many rare birds.
Recently, for the first time in Florida and probably in all the
country, the proprietor started to floor a portion of the forest; all
that big area between the new auditorium and dancing salon an Moon
Lake. This floor is raised high above the ferns and marginal waters of
the lake, and is fitted around the trees. Concrete forms were sunk to
ground level, rising slightly above the floor level, and these become
flower beds, thus converting this great outdoor tea room and dance
pavilion into a forest garden, the cypress trees, with their feathery
foliage and festoons of Spanish moss, carrying the system of tinted
lights. The new auditorium has a dance floor of polished maple to
accommodate 2,500 or more; it is in heavy beamed rustic, with four
Guides are furnished if desired to hunt the deer in season, wild
turkey and other game and for fishing. On the lakes are power boats and
row boats. The dining room draws on the poultry pens. There are about
20,000 chickens, thousands of turkeys, ducks, guineas; the fish is
served fresh from the lakes or the Gulf of Mexico.
On Aug. 4, 1933, the Tarpon Springs Leader reported that
the Moon Lake lodge was formally opened “last Friday
night.” D. B. McKay, former mayor of Tampa, acted as toastmaster.
According to the article, “There is still much work
to be done in beautifying the grounds and completing the remaining
cabins. Although there are now about seven cabins
complete and in the course of construction Haley plans to have 50 two-
and three-room cabins in the development.”
The Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch began operation in 1937.
A photograph in the Dade City Banner of Apr. 23, 1937, has this caption: “The new
rustic auditorium at Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch, New Port Richey, is 260
feet long, 70 (?) feet wide, with two wings, one a porte cochere 30 by 40 feet, another
40 by 80 feet. It has four large fireplaces with stone chimneys, is built in heavy,
rustic cypress, and a feature is the promenade decks extending from the loggia to the
immense tea garden, bordering Moon Lake. Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch, with its
14,000 acre estate, the state’s biggest herd of deer, wild turkeys, African partridges,
ring neck pheasants, Kentucky thoroughbred riding horses, training grounds, 35,000 roses
in full bloom, fishing, boating, millions of flowers and 200 acres of lighted natural
beauty and imported wealth of rare plants, trees and shrubs is one of the big attractions
The WPA Writer’s Project described the facility as follows: “A private game preserve of 7,000 acres
enclosed with a wire fence. The tract has been stocked with wild turkeys, deer, otter, beaver, and numerous
game birds. Trails wind through the woods and along the shores of Moon Lake; the gardens are planted with
azaleas and roses. Various buildings and cottages have been erected for the accommodation of visitors.”
On July 23, 1938, members of the Florida House of Representatives held an informal caucus at the new Moon
Lake Gardens for the purpose of choosing a speaker for the 1939 session.
Robert L. Sumner of Dade City purchased Moon Lake Gardens in March 1951 from
James W. and Dorothy Schluter of St. Petersburg.
In August 1954, Sumner sold the property to Alexander T. Spare of Chicago.
On Sept. 22, 1996, the lodge at the Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch, which had been empty in recent years,
was destroyed by an early-morning fire set by an arsonist.