HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
See also pictures of Aripeka. This page was last revised on Nov. 20, 2012.
Dec. 7, 1859. Maj. John Parsons and Nannie Yulee receive a deed for property in S1-T24-R16, in what would become Aripeka.
1866. Sam Jones, a Mikasuki chief also known as Aripeka, dies. [Wilfred T. Neill believed that he lived about seven miles north of the town that bears his name.]
1873. Gulf Key is settled, according to the Florida State Gazetteer.
Oct. 9, 1883. The Gulf Key post office is established.
1885. A publication reports Gulf Key is a regular stopping place for the new steamer "Gov. Safford," and its shipping consists of two sloops, one schooner, and numerous smaller craft, running between this port, Yellow Bluff, and Cedar Keys. Population: about 32. James Arnold is the postmaster.
1886. George W. C. Littell and his wife Amanda settle here. They came to Florida hoping the climate would improve the health of their son Weaver.
Nov. 12, 1886. The Gulf Key post office is renamed Argo.
1886-87. A publication shows Gulf Key with a population of 50. The postmaster is J. H. Pinkerton. The town has a school, one store, and a machine shop. Residents listed are Miss Dora Agincourt, a teacher; A. Corpitt, a painter; J. G. Guthrie, a physician; F. F. or F. T. Kuhns, a machinist; M. G. Lewis, a carpenter, A. B. Paxton, a photographer; R. G. Pine, a photographer; James Arnold; A. Cupitt; A. T. Howell; P. L. Pinkerton; C. Stevenson; S. C. Carleton; and M. D. Fallman or Fillman.
Dec. 3, 1888. School board minutes show Argo School with 19 students enrolled.
Aug. 8, 1889. J. G. Guthrie is appointed the teacher at the Argo School.
Sept. 28, 1889. A deed transfers property in S6-T24-R17 from J. H. Pinkerton and Annie E. Pinkerton to the school board.
Dec. 24, 1892. The Argo post office is renamed Gulf Key.
Aug. 7, 1893. George W. C. Littell is appointed as the teacher at the Argo School.
Feb. 11, 1895. The Aripeka post office is established. The first postmaster was George Pine, a photographer born in New Jersey in 1835. [The first post office was on the Hernando County side, and in the early days the northern part of the town was called Aripeka and the southern part of the town was called Hammock Creek.]
Jan. 6, 1896. The Gulf Key post office is discontinued.
1898. The Littell Fish Camp is built.
1905. George Pine, who earlier lived in Aripeka for twelve years, writes, “About a dozen families from Arkansas have built homes [in Aripeka], a store and church have been added, and the place has the prospect of becoming a thriving town.”
1908. John Patrick McNatt and his wife David Alice McNatt move to Aripeka. John put up a store; Mrs. McNatt was the postmistress from 1908 until she died in 1916. Their son Walter recalled there were 12 homes in Aripeka and one home in Hammock Creek.
1908. First Baptist Church is organized, according to a 1968 St. Petersburg Times article.
Jan. 7, 1908. A storm destroys a fishing camp owned by Capt. John Savarese at the mouth of Hammock Creek.
Sept. 7, 1910. The Atlanta Constitution reports that the entire town of Aripeka, with the exception of the church and school house, is now the property of E. G. Willingham, a well-known citizen of Atlanta. He bought everything for approximately $15,000. (See below)
About 1912. James B. Kolb and his wife Amanda Elizabeth move with their children to Aripeka.
Mar. 24, 1916. School board minutes refer to a school at Aripeka.
1918. The 1918-1919 Florida State Gazetteer and Business Directory shows Rev. H. E. Parsons as postmaster of Aripeka and a notary. It reports the population of Aripeka is 50. Other residents listed are C. A. Brown, fisherman; D. T. Harvey, fisherman; E. G. Willingham, proprietor of the Hotel Osawa, J. B. Kolb, carpenter; J. G. Lee, truck grower; G. W. Robinson, truck grower; and Sterling Robinson, fisherman.
1921. James Kolb becomes postmaster, opening a post office on the Pasco County side, according to the recollection of his daughter.
1921. Mrs. Josephine Lynch and her husband move here and buy the Os-O-Waw Hotel.
[In 1924, N. P. Lynch of Indiana arrived and purchased the only large building which he used as a hotel, according to a 1947 newspaper article. On Feb. 2, 1930, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Os-O-Waw Inn, on the gulf near Aripeka, has reopened with Alf Kuhlman in charge.” On Oct. 15, 1931, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported, “Government prohibition men yesterday reported a raid on the Osa-Wa Inn at Aripeka Tuesday morning at 3 o’clock and that Louis Neeld was held for investigation.” In 1956, Mrs. Lynch sold the hotel to Raymond Frisch from Ohio. He operated it as a lodging house and fishing camp. In a 2009 email, his granddaughter Dianna Frisch recalled, “As I was growing up I remember spending many a day roaming the hallways of the Inn and playing in the rooms, since it was no longer used as a hotel.” In 1959 Brooksville businessman Henry Holloway purchased the Os-O-Waw Inn, planning to convert it into a high class sportsman’s lodge and dining room. On Aug. 28, 1960, an advertisement offering the Osowaw Inn for sale appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It has 17 (?) rooms, lobby, dining for 200. Price: $35,000. According to a source, the Osowaw Inn burned in 1960. A Feb. 1961 newspaper article included a picture of the hotel with the caption: “Legendary Os-O-Waw Inn in Aripeka has been remodeled and the room in which baseball’s mighty Babe Ruth once slept is now the kitchen.” In a 1971 interview, Mrs. Josephine Lynch recalled, “Some kids set it afire about five years ago.”]
May 1, 1922. School board minutes indicate that Harvey and Cobb of Aripeka offered to furnish lumber for a school in return for tuition for county line pupils. Minutes of Aug. 21, 1922, indicate the board agreed to pay its pro-rata share for conducting a school at Aripeka.
Oct. 1923. At a meeting of the Hudson-Aripeka Board of Trade, J. C. Mitcham and J. B. Kolb report on attempts to have telephone lines extended from Hudson to Aripeka.
May 8, 1928. The Dade City Banner refers to “the new and beautiful Baptist church at Aripeka.”
Oct. 13, 1931. Prohibition agents raid the Ossa-Wa Inn at 3 a.m. Louis Neeld is held for investigation.
Aug. 28, 1933. An order is issued to close the Aripeka post office. [The order was rescinded after a petition was signed by 69 patrons of the office.]
1945. Postmaster James B. Kolb dies. His daughter Lizzie Bell Jackson becomes postmaster (until 1974). She later recalled there were 50 or so people living in Aripeka in 1945, and only eight or ten boxes.
Oct. 3, 1947. The New Port Richey Press reports that electricity has been brought to Aripeka as an REA project, but that residents still await telephone service.
Oct. 8, 1950. The New Port Richey Press reports: “Friday was a ‘red letter’ day for the residents of Aripeka, after two years of struggle we received the telephone lines.”
1960. A community club building is constructed on property donated in 1959 by C. E. Hines.
1962. A new post office is built. [It was expanded in 1983.]
1976. The noted artist James Rosenquist builds a house and studio in Aripeka.
1981. Margaret Pras becomes the postmaster.
Jan. 9, 1988. Singer Anita Bryant performs at the Elks Lodge of Aripeka, ending a decade-long hiatus from show business.
1989. Landscape artist Leslie Neumann moves to Aripeka.
Mar. 13, 1993. Flooding from the "No-Name Storm" causes extensive damage in Aripeka.
Apr. 26, 2009. The home, office, and studio of painter James Rosenquist are destroyed in an 80-acre brush fire.
Edward George Willingham (1839-1922)The following is excerpted from Baptist Biography (1920), vol. II, edited by B. J. W. Graham, D. D.
Feeling the necessity of spending his winters in Florida and his summers in the mountains, Mr. Willingham turned his large lumber business over to his sons, E. M., Joseph A. and Eugene D. Willingham. After visiting every section of Florida and traveling over the island of Cuba, Mr. Willingham finally visited Aripeka, on the western coast. The only way by which he could reach the place was by boat. The impression it made upon him was so unfavorable he decided to leave the next day. But Aripeka soon won his affection, and for a number of years he has made it his winter home. In the settlement of Aripeka, building lots were sold from a large tract of land while the land as a whole was under a mortgage. This mortgage was foreclosed, and the entire town was sold and was bought by Mr. Willingham. Generously he gave a deed to each party who had bought lots. On this property is a beautiful island, on which Mr. Willingham has erected a modern residence, with every convenience, including a complete system of sewerage and waterworks. Largely through his influence a magnificent highway has been constructed from Brooksville, through Aripeka, to Tarpon Springs, and Tampa. The island on which Mr. Willingham now spends his winters is befittingly called Eden, because it is a beautiful garden of tropical flowers and fruits. The active life which Mr. Willingham has lived has made it impossible for him to be idle. In Aripeka he has cleared and developed quite a large area of land on which he grows various kinds of farm products, fruits, nuts, etc. ... In Aripeka, where he now lives, he has erected a beautiful house of worship and secured the services of a good preacher and a tactful pastor, who devotes his entire time to the church.
built with boards salvaged from a nearby turpentine factory.
Right: The post office from 1952 to 1962
Recollection of Walter I. McNattThe following oral history by Walter I. McNatt is taken from Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County 1830-1982.
I was born January 3, 1898, about twelve miles west of Dade City. Our closest neighbor was about a mile away.
In 1908, we moved to Aripeka, a small town of twelve homes. The families in town were White, Mathews, Robinson, Johnson, Jetter, Lee, Barnett, Ellis, Johnson, Kolb and Harvey.
My father put up a store, and we had to go to Hudson to pick up supplies shipped on the B&H train from Brooksville. The B&H initials honored the two towns. The train traveled through Enville, which is now Masaryktown, where a turpentine still was located. It passed Sagano, site of another turpentine still.
In Pasco, at that time, there was only one house in Hammock Creek. It was owned by Pearl Littell. There were three houses on the way to Hudson. One was occupied by Charley and Gene Carter and their parents. Aunt Jane Ryals lived in one, and Olen and Hattie Hay lived in the other house.
My mother, Mrs. David (Alice) McNatt, who was postmistress in Aripeka, died in 1915. She originally obtained the post in 1908 and served until her death. Henry Dingus carried the mail from Aripeka to Hudson on a horse.
After my mother died, Bertha Kolb, who succeeded her, moved from Aripeka to Hammock Creek, and the post office moved with her.
Aripeka NewsThis article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on Aug. 19, 1927.
HELEN LITTELL, Reporter
Quite a few are enjoying the bathing here this season. Among them are the Cappleman families of Brooksville. Some of them have rooms at D. T. Harveys, while others are staying at the Abanatha cottage.
Mr. Causner is having this home here attractively remodeled.
Mrs. McBee is expecting her parents, Dr. and Mrs. McConnel, of Atlanta, for a short stay.
Miss Catherine Harvey has returned to her home in Tampa, after visiting a while with her brother, D. T. Harvey and family.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry E. Norfleet and infant daughter of Elfers spent last week end at the home of J. B. Kolb.
Brax Graham, formerly of Aripeka, is visiting friends here.
We are glad that the road from Brooksville to Aripeka is about completed.
The grounds for the new Aripeka Baptist church are being cleared.
The church building will be erected soon.
Miss Hoab and brother of Dade City are spending a few days here.
Tom Alexander and sons Tom and Chester are returning to their home in Dade City after having completed their work here.
Jack Wardlaw has returned to Tampa, after spending a delightful vacation at the home of C. P. Littell Monday.
Friends of Charlie Carter will be glad to learn that he is improving after having been in the hospital.
C. P. Littell is constructing a large boat, which he expects to use in his fish and sponge business.
Mr. and Mrs. Skirmer and children of Tampa are staying at the Willingham place for the summer.
G. W. C. Littell is a business visitor in Tampa this week.
Miss Mildred Palmer of Elfers was a dinner guest of Ina Littell last Sunday.
Miss Bertha Kolb has returned to her home here after attending summer school in Gainesville.
Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Conner are the proud parents of a baby boy.
Aripeka NewsThis article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on Aug. 26, 1927.
HELEN LITTELL, Reporter
Some excitement in Aripeka, a real honest to goodness bear hunt for a real honest to goodness bear. Some of the stock men found the tracks of two large bear a few miles from here, and a large hog killed and partly eaten by them, so they secured some dogs, and every one turned out on the bear hunt the next morning. However, the rain came down and saved the bear.
Miss Evelyn Harvey is spending a few weeks in Tampa.
Joseph Guthrie and sister Doris of Miami visited with G. W. C. and C. P. Littell’s family a few days last week.
Dr. and Mrs. C. F. McConnel of Atlanta, and Mrs. Coella McConnel and three children of Tifton, Georgia, have returned to their homes after a delightful week with Mrs. Myrtle McBee.
Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Kolb made a trip to Plant City this week on official business.
Ina and Madeline Littell were dinner guests of Mrs. McBee Sunday and attended church service at Hudson in the afternoon with Mrs. McBee.
Raymond McNatte’s family of Dade City were down for Saturday, bathing and fishing.
Malery Snow’s family of Brooksville are stopping at the Van View for the week.
The John and Henry Grant families enjoyed a fish fry here Saturday night.
Quite a number of the young folks of Hudson and Aripeka met at Edith and Helen Littell’s last Wednesday evening and spent an enjoyable evening playing games and making candy.
Elmo Gant spent the week end with Bartow Littell.
Mrs. J. B. Kolb is visiting in Tampa this week.
Mr. and Mrs. Skirmer and children spent Saturday in Tampa.
Mr. T. D. Cosner is building an addition to his boat house.
Up and Coming AripekaThe following article appeared in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, about Oct. 1947.
This little town of 125 persons is on the way up—fast. Lying 15 miles to the north of New Port Richey two miles west of the West Coast highway, it straddles two counties, Pasco and Hernando.
The "fertilizer" which started the rapid growth was electrification which began in the summer of 1941 and was recently completed by the Rural Electrification authority. Prior to that time the community, not so long ago having only seven families, has depended upon kerosene lamps and candles.
On the strength of having electric power, Aripeka has grown by leaps and bounds, bringing in families from Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and some from other states—All the homes, except two, are now enjoying this much needed improvement since the 'juice' was turned on a few weeks ago. No one there wants to go back to the old days of kerosene lamps and candles since the power of electricity has come to brighten their homes.
The telephone is being talked about but is a thing of the future, no telling how many years hence.
As yet, no city water is available there and it is not known when this improvement will be made. The late John B. Kolb, whose family still resides in Aripeka, and his son-in-law, Henry Norfleet, now of New Port Richey, dug the first and only well in that vicinity about 20 years ago. They picked a place which they thought would be a good spot for a well, near a pecan tree on the Kolb property, and began digging with a post hole digger. Before they got very far down the instrument struck rock, then they began to use a hand drill and went down to a depth of 98 feet. At first the water was salty but as the drill went deeper the water became better. This well is still being used by many families as their only means of water supply, while a number of other families are catching rain water for cooking, washing, and other purposes.
In 1924, N. P. Lynch of Indiana arrived there and purchased the only large building which he has been using as a hotel, known as the "Osowa Inn" which overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.
Fishing is the main sport at Aripeka for the inhabitants and winter visitors, with virtually no commercial fishing.
As one man stated, Aripeka might be called a "Pensioner’s Paradise" for those that have come from various parts of the country to make their home there look for nothing better than to live comfortably, fish for recreation, bask in the sunshine, and enjoy the quietness of a small southern community on the Gulf of Mexico, far from the noise and hub-bub of a large city.
Photo by Tom and Phyllis Lorich.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Cannon.
A Community EffortThis article appeared in the New Port Richey Press on July 20, 1961.
By C. P. KIDD
Over 30 years ago this spring, seven residents of the Aripeka area organized the Aripeka Sewing club, the group including Mmes. W. Smith, C. P. Kidd, J. R. Bryant, W. D. Coney, F. D. Cosner, Sam D. Rothell and Esther Littell. The ladies met weekly about three months of the year, or during the tourist season.
As the community grew, membership increased to about 20 in 1945, when the organization had in reality developed into a social club, since some of the group preferred games and conversation to sewing.
In 1951 it was decided to reorganize. The name "Variety Club" was selected as most appropriate and Mrs. Kidd was elected chairman.
The Variety Club grew and continued to function as the main social outlet of the community until Mr. and Mrs. P. M. Deitz came to Minnow Creek. This civic-minded couple immediately joined the club and later proposed an expanded program of activity.
On Feb. 6, 1953, Mrs. Deitz mailed a postal card to every woman receiving mail at the Aripeka post office, with the following notation: “You are invited to attend a meeting to be held Feb. 11 at the Smith store, for the purpose of organizing a community club.”
Thus, the Aripeka Community Club came into being, with Mrs. W. T. Morgan being named president. Library, publicity, refreshments, entertainment, planning and hobby show committees were named and the club was in business.
The “Library Station” which was opened in the community hall a short time later was the only library of this nature in the state. It was a branch of the F. E. Lykes Memorial Library in Brooksville, of which Miss Rosalie Norris was librarian at the time.
Miss Norris would load her car with books and take them to Aripeka, hauling back the ones she had delivered the previous month. This library was kept open two afternoons each week for a number of years, or until television began to take its toll.
In addition to organizing the new Community Club, Mrs. Deitz donated five dozen place settings of stainless steel tableware and was instrumental in securing 25 chairs. She and Forrest Gooding also took the lead in purchasing a piano and 30 hymnals, with the help of other members.
E. W. Reichardt was elected the president of the club in 1955. A board of five directors also was named and the organization was granted a charter, following which by-laws were adopted in March, 1955.
Arrangements were made with the Withlacoochee River Electric Co-op in Dade City for installation of street lights in 1955, and a committee was appointed to make plans for a new community clubhouse. Although C. E. Hines offered to donate a lot for this project, it was not until 1959 that the definite action was taken along this line.
In the meantime, Ed. Smith served as club president in 1956-57, Fred Bautz in 1958 and W. Ralph King was elected to head the group in 1959.
In response to a request by Mr. Hines that final action be taken on his offer of a lot, a meeting was called and a decision reached to accept his proposition. Donations and pledges were made toward a new clubhouse at this meeting and Club Treasurer D. O. Coon was delegated to canvass the community for additional funds.
A date was set for clearing the half-acre plot and some 20 men and several women showed up with hoes, rakes, saws, axes, etc., to complete this portion of the project in short order.
In general, the canvassing committee found ready response to the appeal for funds. Additional money was raised by such projects as fish fries and chili suppers, so that by early this year the treasury warranted actual start of construction.
Facilitated by donations of materials and labor, building operations progressed rapidly with the result that on Sunday, Mar. 13, Aripekans proudly dedicated the fine 34x54 clubhouse, made possible by the concerted efforts of the entire community.
Taking the lead in bringing the dream to realization was a committee having as its members D. C. Koon, chairman; J. C. Girton, Community Club president; W. R. King, Wm. D. McIlrath, Bob Girton and Geo. Martin.
by Meridy Norfleet-Mendoza. 2006 photo by Jeff Miller
Babe Ruth in AripekaIn Tales of West Pasco (1962), Ralph Bellwood wrote:
The hotel at Aripeka was equally popular. The one at Hudson was destroyed by fire but the Aripeka hotel still stands. Perhaps one of the most famous and colorful personalities of the nation, Babe Ruth, frequently came to this section to enjoy fishing and hunting. He made his headquarters in the old hotel and threw many parties for the "greats" in the baseball world. The Babe’s favorite fishing spot was Hunter’s Lake, a few miles East of Old Aripeka. It was on the lake that the "Bambino" learned the art of casting with rod and reel, under the tutelage of young Billy Conner (W. A. Conner, who now lives at Hudson). In those days Billy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. A. Conner and family lived at Hunter’s Lake. In recalling those old days, Billy said that Ruth was a cane pole fisherman, but once introduced to the rod and reel the case pole was forgotten. Billy says the hardest task in teaching the Babe to cast was to hold down the power of that mighty right arm, which heaved many a plug to parts unknown when he was learning to cast. Billy, though just a boy at the time, was a good teacher, and made an expert fisherman of Babe Ruth.
A Tampa Tribune article on Sept. 30, 1991, has:
One former resident does recall Ruth’s visits during the mid-1920s.
In a Feb. 28, 1971, St. Petersburg Times article, Mrs. Josephine Lynch showed a reporter a picture of the Os-O-Waw Hotel, which she and her husband owned, and identified Babe Ruth in the picture. Mrs. Lynch is quoted, “He used to come here all the time, just to rest.”
On Feb. 25, 1932, the Brooksville Journal reported that Babe Ruth was in town last Friday, stopping for several minutes at the Amstutz Garage for gas and oil.
According to Old Brooksvile in Photos and Stories, Ruth liked the fishing at Aripeka, Bayport, and Homosassa.
Photos by Jeff Miller.
Aripeka Recalls the Florida of an Earlier DayThis article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on May 17, 1987.
By FRANCES LEE GARRISON
ARIPEKA - To visit Aripeka, a few miles north of Hudson, is to step back in time. This tiny fishing village, which straddles the Pasco-Hernando County Line on the coast, has many claims to fame, the most astonishing of which may be that it has changed little since its early days.
Oh, it has electricity and telephones and running water and the residents drive cars, not horse and wagon rigs. But the little houses are simple and unpainted, with windows open to catch any passing breezes.
At the little park by the Norfleet fish camp store by the Hammock Creek bridge, a large sign sets the tone of the place as you read the following words: “No alcoholic beverages, except what’s sold in store. Watch your mouth and respect others so families and everyone can enjoy the park more. No open fires and no profanity.”
As you cross the first Aripeka bridge coming northwest from U.S. 19 on Old Dixie Highway (CR 595), you notice a little time-weathered wooden cabin where a large board sign in the yard proclaims that in 1919 Babe Ruth fished here and that Jack Dempsey trained here in 1921. They also played poker together, according to the sign.
Actually, according to Lizzie Bell Jackson, former postmistress who has lived in Aripeka longer than any other resident (since 1911) the real Babe Ruth cabin was originally near the Os-O-Waw Hotel, which burned in 1960.
That little cabin is now on the Robbins property across from the parsonage of the Aripeka Baptist Church. Mrs. Jackson confirms that Babe Ruth came to Aripeka for fishing and stayed in that cabin.
In addition to “the Babe” and Jack Dempsey, Aripeka—which was first called “Wheeler”—claims at least a passing acquaintance with Ponce de Leon in 1513, Hernando de Soto in 1539, legislator Corwin Pearl Littell and aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright.
A large hand-lettered sign in the yard where the second Babe Ruth cabin stands lists all those famous people and tells you that, "It was here, (in Aripeka) in the 1880s that the coastal steamer Gov. Stafford took on freight and passengers, and where the village fishermen have always cast fate and soul to the mercy or rath (wrath) of the Sea."
Adjacent to the second Babe Ruth cabin are some other old buildings shadowed by tall fir trees and palms. Facing the inlet on the Gulf of Mexico is a large house with wide porches that Mrs. Jackson said her daddy, J.B. Kolb, built long ago of long-lasting "heart pine."
Other old buildings near the house are labeled "Aripeka General Store 1918 and a blacksmith shop of the 1920s." While these may be typical of those early times in Aripeka, it is not certain they are authentic.
These buildings stand in the county of Hernando. Pasco County, which was carved out of southern Hernando in 1887, starts at the bridge by the second Babe Ruth cabin. A small portion of that property is in Pasco.
The U.S. Post Office in Pasco is on the original site of the post office opened in 1921 by Kolb. Mrs. Jackson says the very first post office was about 1 1/2 miles from the present one. It was being closed by the government, but Kolb said if the government would keep a post office in Aripeka he would operate it.
Her father operated it until he died in 1945, when Mrs. Jackson became postmistress. She retired in 1974.
This tiny town of yesterday is said to be named for Chief Aripeka of the Seminole Indians. The legend on the sign listing famous people of Aripeka calls Chief Aripeka "most fierce and skillful warrior in military history who, at over 100 years of age led his proud and never defeated Mikasuka warriors into many battles from here to the Everglades vs. U.S. aggression."
In "History of Broward Co.," it is said that in 1858 when the U.S. government gave up trying to defeat Aripeka, who had holed up in the Everglades, the Indian chief was down to just 12 warriors.
In "The Story of Florida’s Seminole Indians" by Wilfred T. Neill, the Indian’s name is spelled Aripeka. He also was known as Sam Jones and his settlement deep in Big Cypress Swamp was called "Sam Jones Old Town," according to Neill.
Aripeka Baptist Church Celebrates 100 Years (2010)
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 20, 2010.
By MINDY RUBENSTEIN
ARIPEKA — The "friendly little church by the sea" lives up to its reputation.
"You're a visitor the first time; after that you're considered home folks," said Pastor Joe Simms in his soft, Southern accent. "That's just the spirit of the church. Not only friendship but 'familyship.' "
Aripeka Baptist Church celebrates its 100th anniversary as a congregation this weekend. The small white church sits tucked away in a fishing village on the west coast of Pasco County, north of Hudson. And while many things have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant: The old-fashioned church is the hub of the close-knit community. But people now come from all over to share in its charm.
"You don't choose your family, but your spiritual family you do choose, and we really are a family," said Simms, who is in his sixth year at the church. "We worship together and have outreach in the community, doing what's right, and right is according to the word of God."
Louise Geiger, the unofficial historian of Aripeka, jokes that she fills that role because no one else wants to. "I've been a member longer than anyone else," she said. "I went to church there before I was born."
Her grandfather James Kolb, or Papa Kolb, donated the land and helped build the original church on the front of the lot. That building is now the fellowship hall. A fire a couple years later destroyed the church, so he rebuilt it exactly like the one that burned, Geiger said. She has pictures and documents she's collected over the years, which she keeps at her house, just off the main road.
For now, the Aripeka folks run their own post office, and everyone in town knows each other. The church attracts people from the surrounding communities, including Hernando Beach, Spring Hill, and even Port Richey.
But the "old-timers" serve as the matriarchs of the town and the church.
"It's taken on different personalities," Geiger said. It was once a plain building with just a front door. Then they closed in the porch and added another porch with a walkway, and then added the steeple.
The church sees bigger crowds now. While they used to have just 14 members, they now have more than 100.
Her mother and aunt both went there until they died, as well as her aunt's family and her seven children, who are still in the community.
"I don't miss a service, period, unless I'm sick," Geiger said, including Wednesday prayer meetings, Sunday school, and preaching Sunday morning and evening.
Geiger's cousin Verna Sloan just celebrated her 70th birthday and boasts that she also hasn't missed a service.
"I told everybody I was born on Sunday and that's probably the only day I missed going to church," she said. "I've been going there all my life. It's a very, very friendly church and everybody helps each other. I've been to some bigger churches that were not as friendly."
When Sloan found out she had cancer, she learned just how much the church and the community mean to her. She has been getting chemotherapy treatments and now wears a hat. On Sundays after church she goes with her friends for lunch, then they take walks along the marsh, go shopping, and come back for services that night.
"That's when it's nice to have a small church because they all rally around you," she said. "I love those people. … They're my second family."
Some of her family members moved away, but they all retired back to Aripeka. She has seven siblings in the area. Geiger is her "double first cousin" — two brothers married two sisters.
"A lot of the town people will come and then just keep coming," Sloan said. "People out of Spring Hill like to come to a small church." And the close-knit community welcomes them.
Sloan explains one of the practical reasons Aripeka hasn't changed over the years:
You cannot build on marsh grass. And since the Gulf of Mexico is on one side, and marsh grass is on the other, that doesn't leave much room for development. "There's very little, if anything, left to sell here," she said.
Carol White, 63, recalls the days of outhouses and no electricity. "There's a lot of changes," said White, who is Sloan's sister. "A lot of people have come and gone," but "it's still a small country church."
She remembers walking to church and Sunday school as a kid. Her children and grandchildren also went there.
"Everybody knows you and everybody goes to the church," she said. "It's what we've always known and what we'll always know."
Pastor Simms is hoping for a big turnout this weekend, including regulars and newcomers to Aripeka Baptist Church who want to cross the bridge for some Southern hospitality and old-Florida charm. "As I tell everyone, we still ring the bell for Sunday school. It's a throwback to the way things used to be," he said. "We believe the old ways are the best ways."
Contact Mindy Rubenstein at email@example.com.