HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Pasco County Commission
Early Pasco County Commission Meetings
By EMILY LARKIN
This article appeared in the Tampa Sunday Tribune on July 12, 1953.
Minutes of Pasco County’s first commissioners’ meetings, recorded in faded ink, and recently rebound along with other old records, are proof that even 66 years ago the county fathers were faced with all manner of ticklish problems. Among them were how to quarantine the brand-new county from the yellow fever epidemic that had broken out in Tampa; how much bounty to pay for wild cat scalps; and where to build the court house.
July 18th will be the 66th anniversary of the day when Pasco’s first five commissioners, just appointed by the governor, assembled “pursuant to an act to divide the County of Hernando and to create and establish the counties of Pasco and Citrus from portions of Hernando.” This momentous piece of legislation had been engineered that Spring, mainly by the late Col. J. A. Hendley, one of this county’s most colorful figures, who. for several years before his death was known as the last living member of Florida’s constitutional convention.
Colonel Hendley of the new town of Dade City and the late R. C. Bankston, also of the eastern end of the then over-sized Hernando, had been sent to Tallahassee to lobby for the bill. Judge Samuel Pasco of Monticello, just elected United States Senator by the state legislature, according to the custom at that time, was enlisted to help get the bill across, and in gratitude for his assistance, the new county, which the home folks had wanted to call “Banner,” was christened Pasco.
The first recordings in this first minute book state “the meeting was called to order by E. G. Liles. W. R. Lieburn, D. T. McLeod, J. B. Hudson and J. J. Gillet were present.” Liles was elected chairman. Of the five pioneer families represented by these men, only those of Hudson, who represented the west coast, and of Gillet, who represented what is now the Land O’ Lakes section, are known to be still living here. All five of the first commissioners are dead. J. B. Hudson, brother of ex-Sheriff I. W. Hudson, died only recently.
The commissioners and the appointed county officials—H. H. Henley, clerk; G. M. Roberts, treasurer; N. P. Bishoff, tax assessor; R. J. Bradley, tax collector; J. A. Grady, sheriff; D. O. Thrasher, judge, and W. 0. Jones, surveyor, found themselves without a court house, and to procure an appropriate building was naturally the first order of the day.
Two weeks after the first meeting the commissioners, having disposed of the matter of dividing the county into commissioners’ districts, little different from those of today, were ready to tackle the court house problem. Strange as it sounds today they had two bidders contesting as to who would give the county the best building, at a cost of nothing at all, at least for the first two years.
Dr. E. A. Hill first offered “the upper story and lower right-hand room” of a building he owned for $20 a month, but his offer was quickly outclassed by a written communication from Coleman & Ferguson Company, pioneer mercantile firm which stayed in business the best part of a century. It contained a pencil drawing of a building to be offered for two years free of charge, and proposed to secure its completion by September 5 with a $5000 bond. They wrote, “The court room will be on the ground floor and will be very stout and durable. The rooms upstairs will be very stout and well built and by far the most comfortable rooms in town and better located.”
Their rival then wrote out his proposition, tendering “the use of the upper portion of my large building, free of rent for the term of two years, and in addition a clerk’s office in the lower portion of said building.”
Coleman & Ferguson Company came back with “We will also give you a room for clerk’s office on ground floor and plenty large for all purposes, say 20x24”. Dr. Hill countered with, “I further agree to tightly seal the first two or last two rooms in the hall and partition dividing same.”
The board at last voted 3 to 2 for the Coleman & Ferguson building, which was to be located right in the center of the new town, near the present location of Touchton’s drug store. Because of the coming of the railroads in 1885 the old settlement of Ft. Dade had been abandoned, the citizens hurriedly rebuilding their stores and homes in the new townsite and naming it Dade City.
In September the commissioners met, went to inspect their first court house, voted it was okay, and moved in. It wasn’t long, on account of the boom sparked by the railroads, until the commissioners were arguing about floating a bond issue for a really pretentious court house. Someone’s dreams were dashed, for the court house they finally got in another few years was just another frame building which many oldtimers remember. It stood just north of today’s court house and explains why the present building, recently enlarged the second time, is not centered on its grounds. A. J. Burnside, clerk for 40 years, remembers moving in 1910 from the frame building into the one where his son, Stanley Burnside, clerk, now has his office.
Back in the minutes of September, 1887, the mapping out of the first election districts is recorded. There were only 10, named as follows: 1, Macon (now Trilby); 2, Dade City; 3, Richland; 4, Wesley Chapel; 5, San Antonio; 6, Chipco (now Blanton); 7, St. Thomas; 8, Loyce; 9, Hudson, and 10, Bailey.
At the same time the board made a demand on Frank E. Saxon, clerk of Hernando County, for certified copies of all records in any way relating to the interest of citizens in Pasco County.
Names of well-known old-timers appear among the “road commissioners” appointed in their respective election districts: J. R. Sumner, A. A. Boone, Pled Wilson, M. F. O’Neal, William Sultenfuss, Jack Osborne, and L. G. Govreau.
It was voted that the commissioner districts also serve as cattle districts, and cattle supervisors were appointed, presumably to make life a little more difficult for the well-organized cow thieves of this area.
Still in the first September of its existence, Pasco County pridefully appropriated $300 for a display in the Sub-Tropical Exposition in Jacksonville. C. M. Thomas was authorized to build a house for the display and to take charge of all the details.
Sealed bids were opened for erecting a bridge “on Handcart, near Mrs. Hi11’s,” referring to the “Handcart Road,” almost as ancient as the Ft. King road. The bridge was to be “across the double branch two miles south of the sawmill of John Wells.” At the same meeting $8 a month was voted to the county’s first pauper.
Under the date October 17, still in 1887, is recorded a special meeting for the purpose fortunately unheard of today: “In view of the fact that yellow fever is raging in Tampa and for our own protection, the board assembled to take some steps to establish a quarantine against infected sections.” Telegrams were sent to mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Lakeland, stating that Pasco County was quarantined against Tampa and all points south of here.
It was voted to appoint two quarantine guards for the following places: Flat Ford, Cooper’s Ford, the F. R. & N. R. R. crossing, the Hillsborough River, Burnt Bridge, Anclote, and if necessary, Trout Creek. Their compensation was to be $1 a day and $1 a night. The records show quite a payroll for these guards, but, so far as is known, there was no outbreak of yellow fever here. Later minutes show that Peter Wilson was allowed $3 for boarding a quarantine prisoner.
The first petition for permit to sell liquors, wines and beer, made by J. C. Calhoun, was unanimously rejected by the commissioners in November of the same year.
About this time wild cat scalps appear very frequently in the lists of county warrants. Cat scalps brought $3, and enterprising cat hunters often received $6 or $9 a month. The following February the commissioners voted no more bounties on cat scalps, but a little later on they were paying them again.
In July, 1888, almost a year after the first board meeting, yellow fever was still considered a danger. Dr. G. M. Roberts was appointed quarantine physician, and it was ordered that outsiders couldn’t stop in Dade City without a health certificate from him.
County printing went to the Pasco County Democrat, published by Capt. J. B. Johnson, at $80 a year.
In 1889 the minutes show that R. M. Ray was superintendent of schools. One of the school board members was Jim O’Berry, father of the late E. B. O’Berry, who served as county superintendent, and was grandfather of Winn O’Berry, clerk to the present school board.
The first recorded justices of the peace were J. W. Higgins, B. L. Ray and J. K. Davis.
Everyone was demanding roads, and according to the minutes numerous “blazers” were appointed to blaze the approved routes.
Many bridges were built and more were needed. In 1889 E. G. Gailmard of San Antonio was allowed $100 for a mule “which died from injuries received from falling in Clear Lake bridge.”
In April of 1889, in accordance with a petition of residents, an election was called to determine if there should be a change of the location of the county seat. J. C. Carter and J. K. Davis were among the election judges.
According to old-timers, this election was as hot or hotter than any held in Pasco County. A total of 765 votes was cast, which, considering the scattered population of that time, was proof of plenty of interest among the backers of the rival communities.
The picturesque historical sketches written by Col. J. A. Hendley shortly before his death include the following paragraph:
The Negroes also played an important part in this election. Henry Macon, a barber, a big yellow fellow; and Dan Hartfield, a big black fellow, were the leading negroes in the county. It was suggested to them that they organize a company, have a captain, a band; and all march to the polls and vote at the same time. On the day of the election here came Henry and Dan, dressed In long black Jim swagger coats; tall silk hats, and each with a great silken sash extending over the left shoulder down to the hips; a bunch of flowers pinned to the sash on the right breast; just behind them a great company of negroes, waving banners, marching two by two, and keeping step to the martial music of a string band; inscribed on cash banner was: Dade City for the court house.
The election returns as set down in the commissioners’ minutes were: Dade City, 432; Gladstone, 205; Pasadena, 96; Urbana, 4; Ft. Dade; 2; Clear Lake, 2; Jefferson, 2, and Owensboro, 1.
An entirely new board of commissioners took over on May 6, 1889, composed of H. W. Coleman, chairman; Allen Hill, J. H. Pedrick, J. A. Smith and J. W. Jackson.
Colonel Hendley, whose wife, Mrs. Dollie Hendley, was prominent throughout the state in the Federation of Women’s Clubs; and whose son, Dr. J. R. Hendley, lives here today, was county attorney for 25 years, was the first senator from Pasco County, and served several terms in the legislature.
Early Commission Meetings Place To Socialize, Catch Up
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on July 18, 2001. The image at left shows the original hand-written minutes of the July 18, 1887, county commission meeting. These minutes are housed at the Pioneer Florida Museum.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
The discussions today center around topics such as tax increases, water and development. And most likely, those in the audience won’t find today’s Pasco County Commission meetings all that entertaining, unlike those conducted when the county was first formed in 1887.
When the governor signed the bill on June 2, 1887 that formed Pasco from the southern portion of Hernando County, he designated Dade City as the temporary county seat and appointed county commissioners and other officials.
The first Board of County Commissioners met July 18, 1887, electing E. G. Liles as chairman. The other commissioners were W. R. Lilburn, Daniel McLeod, J. B. “Bird” Hudson, and J. J. “Jack” Gillet.
The first county officers also were approved at the meeting that day. H. H. Henley was clerk of the circuit court; G. M. Roberts, county treasurer; Nick P. Bishoff, tax assessor; Robert J. Bradley, tax collector; J. A. Grady, sheriff; D. O. Thrasher, judge; and W. A. Jones, surveyor.
Their salaries were established later and ranged from $500 for the justice of the peace to $2,000 for the clerk of the court.
The first meeting was brief. The only other action taken was voting to have the clerk order supplies for the officers from a firm called Walker, Evans and Gogswell Co. of Charleston, S.C., handwritten records show.
But the brevity wouldn’t carry over. It wasn’t unusual for later meetings to go on for hours.
One of the reasons was that most residents attended, said local historian Bill Dayton. It was entertainment, especially for rural folks who could socialize while finding out what was happening in the new county.
It was also common for the officials to give long-winded speeches trying to impress the audience, which often responded with applause, Dayton said.
Fight Over First Courthouse
The meetings also could be heated, beginning with the second one on Aug. 1, 1887 when the board accepted proposals for a temporary courthouse.
Doctor E. B. Hall offered to rent to the county the upper story and lower room of his building in the area then called Fort Dade for $20 a month for two years.
But his offer was upstaged by prominent businessmen H. W. Coleman and W. A. Ferguson. The twosome submitted a written proposal along with a pencil rendering of a two-story building they promised would be completed the next month. Coleman and Ferguson offered the use of the building rent-free and even posted a $1,000 bond to guarantee it would be finished on time.
The Coleman and Ferguson building called for a “very stout and durable” courtroom on the ground floor. The building was to have “the most comfortable rooms in town.”
Hall countered that he also would offer his building rent-free and would provide a clerk’s office on the lower floor. Coleman and Ferguson came back saying they, too, would provide a clerk’s office.
In a 3-2 vote, Hall’s proposal was turned down in lieu of the Coleman and Ferguson offer.
But that didn’t end Hall’s efforts.
At the Sept. 5 meeting, the board had to call witnesses to testify that the location of the recently accepted courthouse offer by Coleman and Ferguson was in Dade City at the time the county was created. Some said it was. Others said the building was not in the city.
The board finally decided the building was in Dade City and went ahead with plans to relocate commission meetings from Hall’s building. It was probably on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Dade City.
It was in that area that Fort Dade sprang up. But when Seaboard Railroad came to town, building a depot south of Fort Dade, the old town was abandoned and merchants moved to what is now Dade City.
Businessmen fought to have the courthouse located in their respective towns, knowing its location would bring in business.
Hall’s final attempt to keep the courthouse in Fort Dade came when he filed a lawsuit to prevent county records from being moved from his building. It was the first civil lawsuit filed in Pasco County. The court decided in favor of the defendant, the Pasco County Commission, according to information from J. A. Hendley, the first county attorney.
Other action taken by the commission that first year included mapping out election districts. Precinct 1 was at Macon, now Trilby; Precinct 2, Dade City; Precinct 3, Richland; Precinct 4, Wesley Chapel; Precinct 5, San Antonio; Precinct 6, Chipco, near Blanton; Precinct 7, St. Thomas, west of St. Joseph; Precinct 8, Loyce, in north-central Pasco; Precinct 9, Hudson; and Precinct 10, Bailey, near today’s Holiday. In August 1888, Precinct 11 was established at Earnestville, south of Lake Pasadena.
Liquor Sales Debate
Another controversy arising at commission meetings that first year was a vote in October to decide whether liquor could be sold in the county.
Only voters in Wesley Chapel and St. Thomas favored alcoholic sales. The majority of voters in Macon, Dade City, Chipco, Loyce, Hudson and Bailey were against it.
Richland and San Antonio were thrown out after the commission decided the votes there were illegal. Richland residents testified the poll list included names of railroad workers who were not Pasco residents. Others testified that the San Antonio votes included two brothers who were thought to be “insane, crazy, weak- minded.”
Liles, the board chairman, filed a protest against throwing out those precincts, saying the voter lists had been inspected and approved. The county was never dry until the 1920s under federal prohibition.
The first commissioners were also concerned about the yellow fever epidemic in Tampa and held a special meeting on Oct. 17, 1887 to establish a quarantine.
Even in the early days the commission had to deal with welfare. Paupers usually received 30 cents a day or $5 a month from the county. The paupers' list was continually growing, the records stated. Neighbors of those in need would approach the commission, telling tales of woe. The commission usually offered assistance until the needy could become self-sufficient.
The commission even offered one way of making money. The board paid $3 for each wildcat scalp turned in. Bear scalps fetched $5 apiece.
County Commission Minutes, Aug. 1, 1887
Thanks to Jeff Cannon for transcribing this document.
Pursuant to an act to divide the different Counties of the State into County Commissioners Districts each County to be divided into five districts. The County Commissioners proceeded as follows to divide said County of Pasco.
District No. 1 D.T. McLeod Commissioner
Commencing at the North East Corner of Pasco County thence West on Northern boundary of said County to Range line dividing Ranges 20 + 21 thence South on said Range line to Tp. line dividing Tps 24 and 25, thence East on said Tp line to Eastern boundary of County thence North on Eastern boundary of said Co. to the point of beginning.
District No. 2 W.R. Lilburn Commissioner
Commencing on Eastern boundary of said County on Township line dividing Townships 24 and 25 thence West on said Tp to Range line dividing Ranges 20 + 21 thence South, thence South to Southern boundary of Co. thence East on Southern boundary of said Co. to the SE corner of said Co. to Tp line dividing Tps 24 + 25 being the point of beginning.
District No. 3 J.J. Gillet Commissioner
Commencing on Section line dividing Sections 13 + 24 Tp. 25, Range 20 thence West on said Section to Range line dividing Range 17 + 18 thence South on said Range line to the Southern boundary of said County thence East on Section boundary of said County to Range line dividing Ranges 20 + 21, thence North on said Range line to the section line dividing Sections 13 + 24 Tp 25 R20.
District No. 4 E.G. Liles Commissioner
Commencing in the North East Corner of Tp. 24 Range 20 thence West on said Tp line dividing Tps 23 and 24 to Range line dividing Ranges 18 + 19 thence South on said Range line to dividing Ranges 20 + 21 thence North on said Range line to the N.E. Corner of Tp 24 Range 20 E.
District No. 5 J.B. Hudson Commissioner
Commencing at the North East Corner of Tp 24 Range 18, thence West on Northern boundary of said County to the Western boundary of said County thence South on Western boundary of said Co. to the S.W. Corner of said Co, thence East on Southern boundary of said County to Range line dividing Ranges 17 + 18 thence North on said Range line to Section line dividing Sections 18 + 19 Tp 25 R18, thence East on said Section line to Range line dividing Ranges 18 + 19 thence North on Range to the NE Corner of Sp 24 R18.
On motion we adjourned until 2 O'Clock P.M.
At 2 O'Clock Meeting called to order
Moved and seconded that we proceed to receive propositions as to the temporary location of Court House.
Hon J.S. Thrasher in behalf of Dr. E. A. Hall as follows, We will furnish the County of Pasco the upper story and the lower Right hand Room now occupied by Dr. F.P. McElroy for $20.00 per month for two years.
Mess. Coleman Ferguson and Co. submitted the following proposition in writing.
To the Honorable Board of County Commissioners of Pasco County,
Enclosed please find pencil drawing of the buildings we intend offering the County of Pasco for the period of two years free of charge. We will have building complete by Sept. 5 1887. For which we propose to secure you with a Thousand Dollar bond for the guarantee of having the said buildings completed by the time mentioned, when that is done + then we turned over to you then the bond to be null and void. This property is unencumbered and your right to it for two years cannot be disturbed in any respect. The Court Room will be on ground floor + will be very stout + durable the room up stairs are very stout + well built + by far the most comfortable rooms in town + better located. Hope you may see proper to accept our proposition. I so do it in writing and oblige.
Coleman Ferguson and Co.
Dr. E.A. Hall submitted the following in writing
Town of Dade City
To the Hon Board of Aldermen of Pasco County
Signed this 1st day of Aug 1887
Personally appeared before me the above named parties who acknowledge that they executed the foregoing lease for the purpose and uses therein contained and expressed. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 1st day of August AD 1885
D.O. Thrasher, County Judge
Mess Coleman Ferguson and Co submitted the following in addition to first proposition
Dr. E.A. Hall added the following.
Moved and seconded that we accept proposition of Dr. E.A. Hall as submitted in writing lost by a vote of two for and 3 against accepted. On motion the proposition of Coleman Ferguson and Co. was accepted and Clerk ordered to make acceptance in writing.
A communication from the School Board of Instruction of Pasco County was read and ordered layed over for future action. Moved and Seconded that the application of Jacob H. Delcher as student to the East Florida Seminary be layed over for action until the Sept term of meeting.
Motioned + Seconded that we tender Dr. E.A. Hall a vote of thanks for the use of hall.
County Commission Minutes, Sept. 5, 1887
Thanks to Jeff Cannon for transcribing this document.
Dade City Fla. Sept 5" 1887
Meeting of the Board called to order Members present E.G. Liles, W.R. Lilburn, D.T. McLeod, J.B. Hudson, J.J. Gillet. Minutes of the last meeting were read and approved
Petition from citizens asking for an Election on Article XIX was received and layed over for future action.
Moved and seconded that we proceed in a body to inspect the building offered by Coleman Ferguson and Co as Court House and offices for the use of Co and to meet at 1 O'clock.
At 1 O'clock the meeting called to order
Moved and seconded that we call in three citizens of Dade City to prove whether the place being the SE4 of Sec. 27 Tp 24 R 21 E where the new Court House now stands was in Dade City at the time the act was created making the County of Pasco.
Dr. F.P. McElroy testified as follows, the land where the Depot of the F.R and N.R.R. was a part of Dade City on the second day of June 1887 and I considered part of Dade City being the SE4 of SE4 Sec 27 Tp 24 R 21.
Dr. G.M. Roberts testified as follows according to my best recollection an election was held here over two years ago, electing Mayor, Aldermen and other officers and the incorporation extended 1/2 a mile each way from the SE corner of SE4 of NE4 of Sec 27 Tp 24 R 21 was included in Dade City.
R.B. Jones testified as follows the land included in SE4 of SE4 of Sec 24 Tp 24 R 21 was not considered Dade City at the time the act passed creating the Co of Pasco. M.G. Rowe testified I was P.M. [Post Master] at Dade City and considered the SE4 of SE4 of Sec 27 Tp 24 R 21 a part of Dade City.
Moved and seconded that we proceed to vote on receiving the buildings offered by Coleman Ferguson and Co as temporary location of Court House and offices for two years. The vote being called resulting unanimously accepting buildings as offered by Coleman Ferguson + Co
Moved and seconded that we adjourn to the new Court House
Meeting called to order
Moved and Seconded that pension certificates be granted to M.W. Page, Thos. J. Holton, Robert. J. Bradley
Applications were presented from Albert Tucker Mr Platt as Students to East Florida Seminary
Moved and seconded the cost bills in the case of the State Vs.
Horace Anderson as presented be endorsed and ordered paid as follows,
Moved and Seconded that we adjourn to meet at 9 oclock A.M.