HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Sapling Woods including Methodist church
This page was last revised on Dec. 30, 2016.
In Tales of West Pasco, Ralph Bellwood lists some of the early residents of Elfers:
The Baillies, Old Man Bill and Uncle John, as they were affectionately called; Capt. Jack Brown and his wife, whom the writer shall always hold in affection and remember as "Grandma"; Grandma’s two brothers, Mode and Ellis Sheffield; Grandpa and Grandma Hay, parents of Mrs. J. M. Mitchell, whose husband, the late Senator Jesse Mitchell will come in for comment later. Also the large Sawyer family, of which a book could be written; the Butlers and Pittmans, John and Bill, the Andersons, the Eikels, the Swartsels, the Bakers, the Stevensons, and the Hendersons. Other families that figured in the development of this entire area were P. L. Pierce and Professor J. H. St. Clair, both connected with our school system.
1871. Anna Maria Gaines is born in what would become Elfers. Hers was probably one of the earliest births in this area. She died about 1875 and was interred in a private burial plot in what would become Elfers. [Information from Carl Gause]
March 1877. Peter Karr Baillie dies. His burial was the first in what would become West Elfers Cemetery.
1877-78. A list of Hernando County schools includes the Baillie School. A history of the Elfers schools is here.
Sept. 1887. Precinct 10 is called Bailey.
July, 7, 1892. School board minutes refer to the area as “the Baillie settlement.”
Dec. 14, 1909. The Elfers post office is established. The first postmaster was Levi D. Eiland, whose wife ran the post office and chose the name for it. Her mother’s maiden name was Elfers. A list of postmasters is here.
Dec. 25, 1912. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “At least half a dozen new houses for new settlers are being constructed in the vicinity of Elfers and several hundred acres of what is regarded as some of the best citrus fruit land in the state are being cleared in that vicinity preparatory to being planted to orange, grape fruit, and other trees.”
1913. Railroad service to Elfers is established by the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad to accommodate the shipment of citrus. The depot at Elfers was closed in November 1972, after the Elfers packing house had burned down.
Jan. 26, 1913. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports: “Judge Gifford has completed a pretty cottage on his farm near Elfers which is occupied by I. P. Butler, who is looking after the Judge’s grove. ... Mrs. Peter O. Knight and party of friends motored through here [Tarpon Springs] to the Knight farm near Elfers Thursday, inspecting the newly acquired property.”
May 9, 1913. The Tarpon Springs Leader reports:
Elfers is a village about midway between Tarpon Springs and Port Richey. The building of the railroad put new life into that section, and the way the little place has grown in the past year is astonishing. A good depot, church, store and several dwellings have been built around the railroad station, and there is every evidence of prosperity and a promise of continued rapid growth. The store is operated by Mr. J. M. Mitchell, and is well stocked with goods. The famous “Seven Springs” are near here.
June 29, 1913. The Tampa Morning Tribune, in an article by Joe M. Knight, reports, “John Gribbel, the owner of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Country Gentleman, and the Philadelphia Ledger, and one of the finest men that ever lived, has bought the Baillie place and two or three other tracts of land here and is preparing to clear his land, cultivate it, and set it out in grove besides what he already has here. D. J. Collins, Mr. Gribbel’s partner, has also purchased numerous tracts of land, some groves, including the Hay place, and is also preparing to set out more trees.”
Sept. 25, 1913. An article by Joe Knight in the Tampa Morning Tribune has:
Besides the preparing of the soil for fruit tree planting Elfers is rapidly becoming a town of importance to its section. New building operations are going on all the time and one who has visited Elfers, say, in January last would not know it now. The Elfers of today is by no means the Elfers of January. Besides the big store owned by J. M. Mitchell, Mr. Brown, of Elfers, is building another right across the street, and Mr. Peterson, of Port Richey, I believe, is putting up a first-class store, the building being erected with pressed brick, and when finished, which will not he long, will be one of the finest buildings in this section. Mr. Zimmerman has just completed his new barn and is contemplating building a new residence. Mr. Pierce’s new bungalow is now completed, and it certainly adds beauty as well as progressiveness to Elfers.
Dec. 14, 1913. An article by Joe Knight in the Tampa Morning Tribune has:
Elfers has certainly made a great stride since December, 1912, when I first began operations here. With only three public buildings then, J. M. Mitchell’s store, the only store here then, the school house and the church, and about three private residences. Mitchell’s home, the home of G. Brown and Mr. Register—around Elfers within a quarter of a mile radius, Elfers now boasts of the fact that besides these six structures there have been erected since last January, within the same radius, a quarter of a mile from Elfers postoffice, which is in Mitchell’s store, the new bungalows of Mat. Campbell, of the Kansas City Grapefruit Company, Harry Branch of Chicago, H. D. Tryon, of Washington D. C., P. L. Pierce, the fine new house and barn of W. C. Zimmerman, of Dunedin, the new large house of Mr. Hoy, the new home of Mr. Baker, the elegant bungalow of Mr. Swartsel, of Kansas City, H. E. Miller’s new home, the home of Haron Mann, and the bungalow of myself, besides numerous others that I could mention, but it would only take up time to go into details about each one. Now, besides the private residences, there have been erected during this same time G. Brown’s new store, fine two-story drug store, and a new packing house belonging to J. M. Mitchell, and others.
Jan. 21, 1917. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports, “Elfers now has her telephone system, and J. M. Mitchell, one of Elfers’ leading citizens, is preparing to put in an electric lighting plant, lighting up Elfers, having lights for the main street, as well as the residents. And now the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad Company is running daily trains to and from Elfers, ably handling the fruit crop as well as the passengers.”
Aug. 1917. Governor Catts appoints John Thomas Pittman (b. Mar 6, 1881; d. Apr 13, 1948) of Elfers to the county commission to fill a vacancy.
April 10, 1920. The Elfers Citrus Growers Association is chartered at Tallahassee. The first officers were President, C. Johnson; Vice President, C. M. Brown; Secretary, N. M. Swartsel; Directors, H. S. Rothera and G. S. Barker. A packing house was built later in 1920, equipped with modern machinery for washing, sizing, coloring, waxing, and preparing fruit for shipment.
Nov. 25, 1920. The New Port Richey Press reports, “On Saturday last the fine and commodious new packing house of the Elfers Fruit Growers, in connection with the Florida Citrus Exchange, was opened for business. ... It is upwards of 12 months since the grove owners of Elfers and New Port Richey decided to join up with the Florida Citrus Exchange, and through that channel market their own fruit packed in their own packing house. ... The new packing-house has an 80 by 120 feet floor space, and in height is 10 ft to the wall plate and 27 feet to the peek. ... The machinery forming the packing plant is all new and entirely up-to-date. It has been made and installed by the Skinner Manufacturing Company, of Dunedin, Florida, and is capable of meeting any demands which may be made upon it within the next few years.”
Aug. 24, 1921. The Tarpon Springs Leader reports, “It is estimated that within three miles of the village of Elfers there are twenty-five hundred acres of young orange grove, most of it just getting into the full bearing stage. There are a half dozen large groves, consisting of from one hundred acres to two hundred acres each, and in addition to these big acreages there are dozens and dozens of smaller groves ranging from five to forty acres.”
Feb. 2, 1922. The Elfers West Pasco Record begins publication. The publisher was Arthur Ray Nason. According to a Tampa Tribune article, after 45 issues the newspaper folded and Nason moved back to Tampa. According to a newspaper column by John W. Parkes, the maximum circulation was 150. An article in the New Port Richey Press on Dec. 22, 1922, reported that Nason had sold the newspaper to the Dade City Banner, which would discontinue the paper but would instead include a section in the Banner devoted to western Pasco County.
Feb. 9, 1922. The Elfers West Pasco Record reports, “E. S. McDuffy, who has been conducting a barber shop in the rear of the Edenfield & Wiggin store [in Elfers], is now occupying a building removed from the rear of the old place, and located at the cross roads.”
Mar. 30, 1922. In an advertisement in the Elfers West Pasco Record the Gulf Utilities Co. of New Port Richey offered to extend its lines to give service to the residents of Elfers if the citizens of Elfers would subscribe for and purchase fifteen $100 eight percent first mortgage bonds, part of a larger bond issue.
June 9, 1925. The Tarpon Springs Leader reports, “An act incorporating Elfers as city passed both houses of the legislature last week, and today only awaits the signature of Governor Martin to become law. City officials have already been selected to fill the offices temporarily until an election can be called, and will assume their duties as soon as the bill is signed. The last census gave Elfers a population of 300.” According to Florida Cracker Days, it was State Sen. Jesse M. Mitchell who introduced the bill to incorporate Elfers.
Dec. 11, 1925. The New Port Richey Press reports that Sen. Jesse M. Mitchell was elected to a one-year term as the Mayor of Elfers, and that the city council would consist of E. P. Campbell, R. E. Bailey, J. W. Saunders, P. L. Pierce, and T. J. Hill. [Information on Rev. Mitchell, the only mayor of Elfers and its leading citizen in this period, is here.]
Jan. 1, 1926. The New Port Richey Press reports: “Plans for a state bank in Elfers became actuality the past week when a group of influential citizens of New Port Richey and Elfers applied to the capital for a charter. The new institution is to be capitalized for $15,000 and Warren E. Burns is to be president. Work will be started at once under the direction of Mayor J. M. Mitchell of Elfers on a building for the new financial home. The building will be erected on a site opposite the packing house on the Dixie Boulevard and will be of stucco and modern construction under plans which call for an expenditure of $25,000.” The Dade City Banner reported on Jan. 8 that Mayor Mitchell is to be vice president, and the directorate is comprised of Charles W. Barnett, Edward Campbell, Edgar A. Wright and E. F. Smith. It is believed that the bank never opened.
Jan. 29, 1926. The New Port Richey Press reports the city councils of Elfers and New Port Richey appointed committees to study a possible merger of the two cities. The newspaper reported that “some months ago” an earlier plan to unite the two cities was rejected at a public meeting of New Port Richey residents.
April 15, 1926. The Gulf High School Junior-Senior Banquet is held at the Kissimmee Inn in Elfers. [West Pasco’s Heritage identifies the manager of the Kissimmee Inn as L. E. Rousseau in 1927.]
Nov. 16, 1926. The Dade City Banner reports:
Elfers, Pasco’s citrus city on the west coast is justifiably proud of the new business structure recently erected by State Senator J. M. Mitchell. The building fronts on the Dixie highway, the main route of travel through the city, where it is seen by everyone, and attracts much favorable attention. It is constructed of brick, with a stucco finish in a tone soothing to the eye, and is two stories in height. The lower floor contains three store rooms, one of which is occupied by the post office, a suite of offices for Senator Mitchell, and banking parlors, to be occupied by a bank that is being organized there. The upper floor contains seven three room apartments, each fitted with private bath. The building cost in the neighborhood of $50,000.
(On Feb. 20, 1927, the Tampa Morning Tribune referred to the building as the Mitchell Apartment building.)
Dec. 31, 1926. The New Port Richey Press reports election results. For mayor: J. M. Mitchell, 29; C. W. Weddle, 22. For council: Tom Hill, 24; John L. Williams, 23; Lawrence Anderson, 22; A. R. Twitchell, 19; and J. W. Saunders, 3.
Apr. 8, 1927. The Dade City Banner reports that the incorporated city of Elfers covered seven square miles, with 2.5 miles of Gulf frontage, and that it had a population of 400.
May 9, 1927. A census completed on this date shows 303 persons living within the corporate limits of Elfers, all of whom were white. The Elfers voting precinct had a population of 554, of whom 21 were black.
June 12, 1931. The Dade City Banner under the headline “The City of Elfers Has Been Abolished” published the following article: “Pasco county has one fewer incorporated municipalities than it had when the Legislature convened, according to the House Journal of June 4. That Journal shows that Senate Bill No. 953, ‘A Bill to Be Entitled an Act Abolishing the City of Elfers, in Pasco County, Florida, and Repealing Chapter 10540 (No. 518) Special Acts of 1925, Creating said City, and Repealing all Acts Amendatory Thereof,’ was taken up on motion of Mr. Larson, representative from Clay county, and was passed by a vote of ninety-two ‘yeas,’ and no ‘nays.’” (However, see below.)
Dec. 16, 1932. The Tarpon Springs Leader reports:
J. M. Mitchell was chosen for his fourth two-year term as mayor of Elfers without opposition in Tuesday’s municipal election. He has held the office since Elfers was incorporated as a city in 1925. Tom Hill and J. L. Waddy were re-elected to the city council, also for two-year terms. Hill is president of the council. Hold-over members whose terms expire in January, 1934, are Arthur Chamberlin, R. L. Moore and P. L. Pierce. The council will meet and organize January 9. A record vote of 88 was cast in the election. C. A. Walters and L. B. Edenfield were defeated candidates for the council.
According to Florida Cracker Days:
But the taxes were too high for the depression years and many residents were on the verge of losing their property. A group of grove owners got together to back a candidate who would oppose Senator Mitchell and incorporation. Samuel W. Getzen of Bushnell carried the banner for the grove owners against Senator Mitchell. On winning the election, Senator Getzen introduced a bill in the Legislature dissolving the incorporation of the city.
April 28, 1933. The Tarpon Springs Leader reports that the bill introduced by Sen. Samuel W. Getzen to abolish the City of Elfers had been passed by the Senate and that passage by the House was expected before adjournment later today. According to the article, the bill would become effective on July 1.
March 1, 1965. The new Elfers post office opens.
March 6, 1966. the Elfers Citrus Growers Association packing house is destroyed by fire, causing an estimated $250,000 loss. A newspaper article quoted Harvey Snell, manager of the plant since 1948, as saying that about 25 to 30 per cent of the loss was covered by insurance. He said that 75 local persons were employed at the plant and about 100 were employed as pickers in the field. No one was injured but a nearby home and restaurant were also destroyed.
June 24-26, 2012. Tropical Storm Debby causes extensive flooding in western Pasco County.
Elfers — Present and Future
Fertile, Gulf-Stream-Protected Region in Which Hard-to-Please World-Travelers and Most Exacting Scientific Fruit and Vegetable Growers Have Invested
The following article was transcribed by Eddie Herrmann from an undated (probably 1915) publication identified as the Tampa Tribune Semi-Tropic Florida, Yearbook 15.
Could any better testimony as to the fruit-yielding qualities of the soil and climate of the Elfers section be offered than that of men who have had years of experience in Southern California — men who have left that favored section in order to develop groves in this infinitely more favored place? No? Well, here are the opinions of two authorities on fruit growing in both localities.
The following are excerpts from a letter written to Maj. D.F. Conoley, president of the Tampa & Tarpon Springs Land Company, by John F. Groene, for years a successful lawyer and fruit grower of Los Angeles, who purchased 400 acres in the Elfers and Tarpon Springs section three and one-half years ago, and has since been engaged in developing grove property: “My experience in Southern California and here (Tarpon Springs) shows me conclusively that this is a far better citrus fruit country than California. The soil is better adapted to citrus fruit growing, it costs less to clear and prepare the land for planting, fruit can be grown without irrigation, it is of better quality and we are closer to markets. The West Coast is peculiarly adapted to the growing of citrus fruits. ”
“This is certainly a poor man’s country for citrus fruit growing. In California good citrus fruit land cannot be purchased for less than $400 an acre, and it then costs from $100 to $250 per acre to get it ready for planting. Then arrangements must be made to irrigate, and by the time the grove is planted a considerable outlay has become necessary and there are (illegible) to wait from four to five years for the trees to (illegible, probably “come”) into bearing. It is a rich-man’s proposition there. I lived in Los Angeles eight years and owned an orange grove near Monrovia, California, and am well versed with conditions in that State.”
Mr. Groene, who is well acquainted with climatic conditions in various parts of the country, lives near Tarpon Springs year ‘round. He states that the climate in that section, summer and winter, is superior to that of any other locality.
“The people of this section of Florida do not know how to grow citrus fruit; it grows simply because it can’t keep from growing.”
This declaration was made by George W. Kern, who moved many years ago from Ohio to the Redlands fruit section of California, where he engaged extensively in the cultivation of citrus fruits and the grapes for which the section is famous. Mr. Kern had been in the State several weeks, and had thoroughly investigated the offerings of other fruit growing counties, before going to Pinellas, where he selected and bought from the Tampa & Tarpon Springs Land Company eighty acres on which to begin the cultivation of citrus fruits and grapes as well. Mr. Kern stated positively, in the presence of the writer, that in all his experience he had not seen anything to equal the fruit producing qualities of the lands of Northern Pinellas and Southwestern Pasco counties, and no trees as large or productive of fruit of the finest quality. He declared that in future years his operations would be confined wholly to this locality.
Other experienced California growers have expressed opinions of equal force. The land referred to in the Holy Writ as “flowing with milk and honey” may not have been that remarkably fertile domain in Northern Pinellas and Southwest Pasco Counties, of which Elfers is the location blessed capital, but it is in every way worthy of the Biblical description. A two-hour automobile ride from Tampa, over one of the best hard-surfaced highways in South Florida, or a shorter trip over the recently completed Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad, will prove to your satisfaction, Mr. and Mrs. Homeseeker, the truth of this assertion. This is not only a “rich man’s paradise”, but a “poor man’s country” as well, for it offers opportunities to both. If you are a “doubting Thomas” on this score, read what Californians say about it.
Among the investors in and developers of citrus fruit and vegetable lands in the neighborhood of Elfers are men of millions, who have spent years in Southern Europe and Southern California, who have at last found an ideal home and grove location in this fertile and warmed-by-the-gulf-stream region. Others are the leading financiers and business men of Tampa — men who have lived from ten to thirty years in Florida — and who, knowing the peculiar advantages of every county in the State, chose the Elfers region for activity in agricultural and horticultural lines.
Still others — and in larger numbers — are men who have spent their lives in tilling soils of various sections, and who have selected this spot because they believe it will yield more in dollars and cents, and prove a better home place, in summer and winter, than any similar area in the country. In every instance the scores of men who have invested in and are developing lands in the Elfers neighborhood have been “from Missouri,” who have had to be “shown” in the matter of fertility of the soil, superiority of climate and advantage of location. The fact that they have been “shown” is the best possible advertising argument that can be used in behalf of the whole region.
One cannot appreciate the beauties of the Elfers region without visiting it which (illegible) invited (illegible) Tampa & Tarpon Springs Land Company, of which Maj. D.F. Conoley, a pioneer banker and developer of Tampa, is president and general manager, to do. Thousands of tourists and winter visitors have for many years regarded the Pinellas peninsula, until a few years ago a part of Hillsborough County, of which Tampa is the county seat, as the most favored part of Florida, and no section of that breeze-swept peninsula is superior in any way to the northern part, nor to the southwestern corner of the adjoining county of Pasco. Statistics of the National Department of Agriculture show that the fertile acres of Florida yield from two to five times as much, in dollars per acre, as the best lands of other States — and the lands of the Elfers region are the cream of Florida lands, with climatic, water frontage and drainage conditions that make the prospect all the more pleasing.
There is no other part of the State of Florida where a shore line running from northeast to southwest can be found. There is no outlying line of keys in the Elfers region, and the warm waters of the Gulf come directly to the shore line, which is without the usual wide fringe of saw grass flats found north and south of that part of the west coast of Florida. That section is nearer to the current of the Gulf stream, which sweeps in toward the shore but a few miles off that point, as it starts to flow down the southern side of the State into the Atlantic Ocean. This gives that area a diagonal shore line which all the winds that bring cold weather from the Northwest strike at right angles, thereby giving perfect protection from frost to the section lying within five or six miles of that shore line, even though those more remotely located are seriously injured at the same time by frost. This has been demonstrated year after year, and standing in that section now are citrus fruit trees that were planted in the ‘sixties. These have never been injured by cold to any greater extent than to lose the fruit hanging on the trees at the time an unusual blast struck them, while two hundred miles further south trees were killed by the same “cold snap.”
The productivity and versatility of the lands in the Elfers neighborhood have been demonstrated for decades by actual operations, and even where the most careless methods (or no methods at all) were employed. The proof has proven even more emphatic since Tampans and others began the development of the region on a large scale, and a soil survey made by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1913, and distributed in September 1914, gives the reasons. A copy of this soil survey may be had from the Department of Agriculture. The map accompanying the survey shows the section immediately around Tarpon Springs and Sutherland to be almost wholly the highest grade of Norfolk sand, which is the not only the best soil for citrus fruits, but which also a highly productive soil for vegetables of all kinds. The lands which are not of the Norfolk sand variety are muck lands, which are even more desirable, and they are sought in all countries because of their exceeding richness and lasting qualities, to say nothing of their versatility. Even the novice in agricultural endeavor, though, knows the value of muck land.
The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad system has long (illegible, probably “served”) the west coast section of Pinellas County giving a freight and passenger service that meets every need during the summer months and making all needed additions during the winter seasons. The tourist patrons who spend winter after winter on the peninsula demand fast passenger service, and they get what they demand. During the past year, however, the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railway, which operates in conjunction with the Seaboard Air Line, making another through train service to the East and West possible, has been extended from Tampa into Pinellas County, with Tarpon Springs, principal sponge fishery port of the world, as one of its principal traffic-producing points. With such trunk lines as the Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line traversing the heart of the productive section, there will never be danger of fruits and vegetables rotting in the groves and fields because of a shortage of “rolling stock.” With the fast refrigerator trains of these trunk lines operating, Pinellas County is five days nearer to the Eastern markets — the country’s greatest centers of population — than Southern California.
As stated above, the best advertising argument in favor of the lands in the Elfers region is the exacting and hard-to-please character of the men who have invested in and are developing thousands of acres there. Among them is Maj. John Gribbel, of Philadelphia, a large stockholder in the great publishing house which issues the Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman, Ladies’ Home Journal and other publications, also a director in other large corporations of the Quaker City, and president of the Tampa Gas Company. D.J. Collins and J.D. Shattuck are Philadelphians of equal note who are Elfers investors. Among the Tampans interested are Peter O. Knight, the most successful corporation lawyer of Florida, who was one of the originators of the movement for developing the section; W.C. Thomas, general manager of the Tampa Hardware Company, one of the largest wholesale concerns in the South; J.A. Griffin, cashier of the Exchange National Bank; Rosco Nettles, general manager of the Tampa Gas Company; J.C. Woodsome, general manager of the Tampa Electric Company; I.S. Craft, for many years an officer of the Knight & Wall Hardware Company, pioneer wholesale hardware house of South Florida; D.F. Conoley, who resigned his position as cashier of the First National Bank and accepted the presidency of the Tampa & Tarpon Springs Land Company; C.C. Martin, one of the leading phosphate (illegible, probably “magnates”).
These same people during the planting season just past, planted over 20,000 citrus fruit trees of different varieties. In addition to these, about one hundred newcomers from other States, weary of tilling unproductive lands, have bought and are rapidly developing property in tracts of ten acres or larger.
One of the wealthiest investors in the Elfers fruit and garden lands had this experience before deciding to “try his hand” at agriculture and horticulture in the region. Being past middle life, he had travelled the world over a number of times, and had spent a number of winters in Southern France, Southern Italy and other parts of Europe, famed for its mild climate. He finally was forced to give up the annual sojourn in Europe on account of distance from his business interests and inconvenience of travelling, and spent eight or ten winters on the East Coast of Florida. He finally decided to abandon Florida, however, on account of the raw winds that sweep into the East Coast from the Atlantic, but having invested in Tampa it became necessary for him to visit the city during the month of January. While in Tampa he accepted an invitation to visit the Tarpon Springs and Elfers region. As a result of the climatic and soil conditions found there, he immediately purchased a large tract of land for development and for a winter home. This was some two and one- half years ago, since which time the gentleman has visited Elfers as often as his large business interests in the East would let him, summer and winter. On each trip his enthusiasm has increased and he has repeatedly increased his holdings. No man in the United States is more interested in beautifying cities and rural sections than this gentleman — in fact he has a nationwide reputation on account of this particular praiseworthy hobby — and if the Elfers region did not possess marvelous beauties, advantages and a superior climate he would never have become even slightly interested.
COL. KNIGHT’S EXPERIENCE
The experience of Col. Knight, who is noted for his far-sightedness and sound business judgement, was similar. He has resided in Tampa and South Florida for more than thirty years building himself from the “ground up” in the legal and financial circles of the State, with absolutely every section of which he is thoroughly acquainted. He, too, has travelled the world over and until four years ago was not in the least interested in anything of an agricultural nature, although the owner of large acreage, some of which is in the famous Caloosahatchee River section of Lee County. Having made several trips to Europe, he was induced to visit the Pacific Coast. He spent much time in Southern California and became deeply interested in the fruit industry of that State. He saw that the California soils were nothing like as good as those of this section, and that the climatic conditions were not as suitable for citrus culture. While the quality of California land was not as good as South Florida lands, he found the price of these lands to be much higher, and that the cost of clearing and planting was three or four times as much. Irrigation he found to be absolutely necessary in California, also that more fertilizer was required, and it took two years longer to produce a bearing grove. He found also that the Californians are five days further from the Eastern markets than Florida, entailing a profit-killing freight rate in comparison with those that should be given Florida fruit growers, and that climatic conditions in South Florida were infinitely better. Returning home, he decided to become a grower of citrus fruit as an investment, and, after careful investigation and consideration, decided on property within sight of the town of Elfers, in the southwestern corner of Pasco County, and just four and one-half miles northeast of Tarpon Springs, in Northern Pinellas. He now has more than one hundred acres planted in citrus trees, all of which are over one year old.
JOE KNIGHT A FACTOR
It is due largely to Joe Knight, son of Col. Peter O. Knight, that Elfers stands today a recognized factor in South Florida development. He has not only carefully supervised the farm and grove, “San Souci”, but has paid particular attention to the newspapers and has kept the press, especially The Tribune, informed of the various steps of development and progress made in the Elfers section. This has attracted the attention of thousands of people to Elfers and today it is known to practically every well informed man in South Florida.
Another factor has been the policy of the company which owns the bulk of undeveloped land in this section. Any man who appears to be willing to get out and dig for his own advancement stands a chance with this company. It does not expect to make its money out of the first payment and “take a chance” on the profit. A man may buy for cash or he may buy without paying down a nickel, only in the latter case he must bring along sufficient evidence that he is honorable and a man who does not shirk. And the neighbors, especially Joe Knight, will lend him every assistance.
MANY “MAKING GOOD”
Among those who are devoting their entire attention to developing groves and growing vegetables in the Elfers region are two business men who resigned positions paying them more than $5,000 annually in order to engage in this health-giving and profitable work, and they could not be induced to return to their old positions today. One of the Tampa men referred to in the list given above harvested, on five acres, 1,500 crates of cucumbers during the month of October, which he sold in Tampa for $1.25 per crate and better. One of the “show-places” of the section today is a twenty-acre tract on which Mr. Frank Giess, an elderly German far past sixty, settled three years ago. He now has ten acres under cultivation, mostly in citrus fruits, but without any help whatever has produced various profitable crops of vegetables, producing a few months after his arrival an enormous crop of sweet potatoes, some of which he sold to retail merchants at more than one dollar a bushel. There is not a man in the Elfers region who is not more than satisfied with his investment and enthusiastic over his prospects, whether he be a developer of the multi-millionaire class, or a man with small capital who has had years of experience in cultivating the soils of other States and countries.
PERIOD OF DEVELOPMENT
The development of the Elfers region did not begin until 1910. At that time business men who had lived in Tampa from ten to thirty years, believing in the future possibilities of the section, bought up all the unimproved land in the southwest section of Pasco and the northwest section of Pinellas, because, knowing Florida as they did, they believed the soil of the locality to be the best in the State for the production of citrus fruits and vegetables, also that it was one of the best protected sections insofar as cold waves are concerned. They also saw the section’s wonderful advantages for the building of winter homes. These gentlemen have gone on quietly selling to newcomers and to “home folks” as well, and because of their endeavors the section is developing rapidly.
Truly, the Elfers region is a present and future Eden for rich and poor alike. It is an Eden built on facts; not fancies.
The Empire “Sans Souci”
This article appeared in the The Chronicle on June 20, 1974.
By GLEN DILL
Only a few acres remain of what once was the center of citrus growing in western Pasco County, and perhaps soon it will be swallowed up by the uncaring jaws of bulldozers. Strangely enough, the name of the property is “Sans Souci,” which means “without care,” and by today’s standards this could have a double meaning.
Located on S. R. 595 in Elfers, Colonial Hill homes now cover most of “Sans Souci’s” old pasture lands, and some of the most beautiful citrus groves in all Florida. In 1912, Joseph M. Knight left Tampa, settled on this 400 acres and began the groves. Later, he also raised blue ribbon Jersey cows and Duroc hogs, along with cattle, horses, and mules.
Joe Knight, born in Tampa in 1890, came from an illustrious family on both sides. His ancestor served with George Washington at Valley Forge in the Revolution, in the War of 1812, in the Seminole Wars, and in the Civil War.
His father, Col. Peter O. Knight, born in Freeburg, Pa., became a great lawyer and outstanding figure in Florida and the Southeast. He was a State Attorney and Legislator, he turned down a seat on the U. S. Supreme Court, was a power behind thrones in politics. He founded the Tampa Electric Co., and helped found many firms, railroads, banks, and the Tampa Tribune. He was active in civic, fraternal, and philanthropic works. He secured the capital to complete Davis Islands, and the Peter O. Knight Airport there is named for him. Joe Knight’s mother was Lillie Frierson, from a distinguished Southern family of Sumter, S. C. Her father was one of the largest cotton planters and slave owners in South Carolina.
Mrs. Joseph Knight was also a pioneer Southerner, and her family founded Parrish in Manatee County. She bore two sons, Joseph Jr. and Peter O. Knight III. They served in Army and Navy in W W II and Korea, and after their service ended, they joined their father in operating “Sans Souci Groves,” their birthplace.
In 1929, Joe Knight was a member of the committee of 50 men, and its executive group of nine, who organized the citrus industry when it had fallen into a chaotic condition. He ws a leader in the organization of the Elfers Citrus Growers Association in 1920, and in its affiliation with the Florida Citrus Exchange. At one time, he wrote for various citrus magazines and newspapers, and also wrote articles on sports in co-operation with Grantland Rice, who was a great friend of his.
Along with “Sans Souci,” many other old groves in Elfers have been taken by developers in recent years, especially since the 1962 freeze, the worst in our state since the great freeze of 1895. In reminiscing on this subject recently, Peter O. Knight III, Joe’s son, recalled other bad freezes in recent years. He and brother Joe had to worry through 19 frosty nights in 1940, and bad ones in 1957 and ’63, as well as ’62. The latter also damaged some shrubs and trees in the “Sans Souci” yard, especially the huge eucalyptus tree, whose top branches are still bare. However, it has grown back up to about 120 feet, and remains the tallest landmark on S.R. 595. This road is old U. S. 19, the “Old Dixie Highway.”
The yard plantings were of particular delight to Joe Knight, mostly planted by himself. Peter told me that most of these trees and shrubs came in one large box, look today at the luxuriant growth! Overwhelming the yard are old Southern friends like oak, pecan, camphor, silver oak, and the eucalyptus. Others are beautiful date palms, rubber, loquats, and a towering monkey puzzle tree! Huge stands of bamboos are here, along with shrubs and hedges, cactus, azaleas, lantana daisies, and other wild flowers, embraced by native Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses. And all of “Sans Souci” is surrounded by the various citrus trees that made it all possible, even kumquats and calamondins.
Joe Knight’s original house, built in 1912, was made from oak and pine trees cut on the property. When dismantled about 1950, this fine wood was used to help built the Knight home at Bellair Beach. The present house at “Sans Souci” was built around 1958 by Peter and Joe Jr., and lived in by grove foreman Ernest Stephens. We thank his Widow Mabel, now Mrs. Cartha Harper, and Cartha, for helping us to “revisit,” along with C. A. Walters, Viola Beck, Vic Campbell, Harvey Snell, and Raymond Pierce, all old timers. Raymond steered me in the sinkhole jungle which now is found south of Sandpiper Dr. This “sink” is about 100 yards in diameter, and 100 feet deep. Harvey told me that the Elfers Growers are now in their 54th year. The only interruption came in 1966 when the Elfers packing house burned to the ground, but they soon started up again at their present Palm Harbor location. Many employees have been with them for decades, and many co-op members have sent them citrus for 30-40 years, and some since they started in the 1920’s!
My especial thanks to Peter Knight for sharing memories of “Sans Souci.” As a teenager in 1936, he remembers seeing their horse and mule barn burn after being struck by lightning. One particularly funny incident he recalled about his father, and related to me in his delightful Florida “cracker” accent.
It seems that Joe Knight had a huge 1200 lb. Duroc hog that he was mighty proud of, named “Ole Jim.” It had won the Grand Championship for seven years straight at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. When “Old Jim” died, Joe had a b. . . watch fob and chain made from the hog’s tusks, and fitted to his expensive pocket watch. The family always knew that Joe thought more f the chain than he did the watch, and one day it was proven. Walking along a downtown Tampa street, a thief grabbed Joe’s watch and chain, and ran. In fast pursuit, Joe bumped into a policeman, who said, “Where do you think you’re going?”, and Joe answered, “After that thief, he stole Old Jim’s tusk.”
In closing, how I envy the old water tower, on which is painted “Sans Souci.” As its name implies, “without a care,” it looks down on a restful, peaceful, serenely beautiful yard, the last reminder of a wonderful estate, which once was the greatest in the area. Wouldn’t it be nice if the owners of the property, area residents, developers, and the Pasco County commission, could all get together and somehow arrange to preserve the beautiful yard as a park? It has long been this writer’s dream that this become a reality, a fitting tribute to this most interesting pioneer family. And of course it should be named, “The Peter O. Knight Park — Sans Souci.”
Was Elfers a “Sundown Town”?
Terry Kline personally recalls seeing a hand-painted “Don’t let the sun shine on you...” sign at the intersection of Grand Boulevard and State Road 54.
In Tales of West Pasco (1962) Ralph Bellwood writes, “When we first came to Elfers, there was a sign nailed to a pine tree close to the road leading from New Port Richey. A grove of tall pines covered the area where Swartsel’s grove is now flourishing. Scrawled in large letters was, ‘Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you, hear.’”
Bellwood writes that the background of the sign was a massacre of blacks in Elfers that followed the murder of a white shopkeeper in Elfers. Bellwood writes that the massacre would have occurred “around 110 years ago at this writing.” However, there certainly was no place called Elfers in 1852 and evidence of this incident seems lacking.