HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
By SCOTT BLACK
This article originally appeared on the East Pasco Historical Society web site, which is scheduled to close down in 2017. The creators of that site have allowed me to import articles from their site to fivay.org.
What brought the original settlers to the fertile lands of the Withlacoochee River area now known as Trilby? Memories of the land of former soldiers from south Georgia who fought in the Seminole Wars in Florida may have also held some attraction, but land offered by the federal government through the Homestead Act of 1862 was surely the greatest draw.
Members of the McLeod, Croft, Blitch, and Daniel families made up the largest group of early residents in the 1870’s, joined also by the Weeks, Bradham, McRae, and Edwards families. Some of these families intermarried several times, which surely made the early settlement (then part of Hernando County) seem more like an extended family.
The relationship of these pioneers began before they moved here, as some of them came during the same time period from New River County (what is now Bradford and Union Counties) and were together in Lowndes County, Georgia even before then. These family names can be spotted today in the Trilby Cemetery (as well as in the nearby cow pasture Hebron Cemetery), along with names of their relatives who married into other families through the years.
A post office with the name of Pinan was established here in 1880 and William McLeod was the postmaster. It was discontinued the next year.
Commerce came to the area in 1884-85 with construction of the South Florida Railroad, part of the Plant System. At that time, the town of Macon was surveyed and mapped by Col. J. A. Hendley, who would later be a partner in the town’s first drugstore and would be a member of the state constitutional convention the next year. Another post office opened in 1885 under the name of McLeod, but the name was almost immediately changed to Macon.
Soon, the Florida Railway and Navigation Company extended its lines nearby, crossing the South Florida Railroad a short distance south of Macon at Owensboro. Macon’s new sister community, Lacoochee, sprouted a few miles to the east along this line.
The Florida State Gazetteer & Business Directory in 1886 listed Macon with a population of 130 and boasting six stores, two steam sawmills, one free school, a Baptist church, and a hotel and numerous farmers and growers. Its rail presence was noted with oranges and vegetables documented as the principal shipments and land selling at $5 to $50 per acre.
In 1887, construction of the Orange Belt Railway, a narrow gauge railroad being developed by Russian immigrant, Peter Demens (originally Pyotr Aleksoyevich Dementyev), reached Macon. This rail construction came from the east, having begun at Lake Monroe near Sanford, ultimately linking Lacoochee and Macon by rail, and then turning southwest, where construction ended the next year at St. Petersburg.
When Pasco County was formed in 1887, the northeast border of the new county was pushed upward to the river to include Macon and Lacoochee, in boundaries conveniently set by lobbyists for the division, Col. Hendley (later to be both a state senator and state representative from Dade City) and Dr. R.C. Bankston, who also had Macon ties. Due to the confluence of the three railroads in the area, the two towns were considered highly desirable by the new county’s promoters, which explains how the northern county line acquired its prominent "hump."
Macon residents were prominent in the new county government. Daniel McLeod was appointed by the governor to serve as a county commissioner and Henry C. McRae was soon elected as a state representative and also later served as sergeant-at-arms for the Florida Senate. Stephen Weeks was also an early county school board member.
The Plant System acquired the Orange Belt Railway in 1895 and began converting it to standard gauge and regrading its intersection with their South Florida Railroad. This required the demolition of the original depot and resulted in the platting of a new town at the site. It was called Trilby and the name of Macon was gradually phased out, with the post office not officially accepting the new name until 1901.
The name’s origin was linked to the worldwide craze that occurred with the 1894 publication of George DeMaurier’s "Trilby," a tale of Bohemian life and hypnotism in Paris. Trilby has been called the first of the modern novels and, due to its provocative nature, it was the topic of much discussion during that time.
A romanticized story behind the renaming is that Mrs. Henry B. Plant so enjoyed the novel that she convinced her railroad developer husband to name one of his new railroad stops for the book. The ever-devoted husband complied with her wish and Macon became known as Trilby.
Articles in some of the news tabloids of that time confirm that the town was named for the much discussed novel. In fact, both The Critic of October 31, 1896 and Leslie’s Weekly of May 20, 1897, in continuing stories about the Trilby novel phenomenon, told about the rough little railroad settlement in Florida with the famous name and foretold a promising future because of its magical new name.
In platting the streets of Trilby, names were assigned from characters in the book. There was a Lorrimer Street, ZouZou Avenue, Sweet Alice Avenue, Taffy Street, Madame Angele Avenue, Gecko Street, Antony Avenue, Little Billee Street, Dodor Street, The Laird Avenue, Ben Bolt Avenue, and Durien Street. The new Plant System passenger and freight depots were built to face Svengali Square.
If there was ever any romance associated with this gritty railroad town, it was in being bestowed with the Trilby name. Just as the heroine Trilby, the endearing tone-deaf waif of the novel, became an overnight singing sensation due to being mesmerized by the villainous Svengali, so did the community of Trilby quickly become an economic force when blessed with the dual advantages of its celebrity name and its position as a rail intersection. This will be described in more detail in the next segment about Trilby’s boom town era.