HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Story of Green Key (1974)
By JULIE J. OBENREDER
This article is taken from West Pasco’s Heritage.
This peninsula, originally known as Deer Island, was homesteaded by Cora and J. G. "Gib" Brown in the early 1900’s. Since a road did not exist at that time the Browns built a home on the island by using a ferry boat to transport the materials from Manor Beach. In the early 1930’s, however, a road of rock and fill dirt was constructed to the island establishing a roadway to the Gulf of Mexico from the mainland.
The Browns subdivided a portion of the island in l939, plat recorded on January 2, 1940, by the Board of County Commissioners. There were many inquiries concerning their new subdivision and the Browns applied to Peninsular Telephone Company for service. The company denied their request, feeling the revenue from one telephone connection would not compensate for the costly building of over two miles of lines through swampy area. Mr. Brown was nevertheless very determined and built his own line and installed the telephone. The original home was a small frame building and became quite run-down in a short time. Rather than repair the old house, Brown built a larger concrete home. The foundation ruins may still be seen at Green Key.
It was to be late in the 1950’s before more activity took place. At this time, R. K. Staley came from Indiana. He had money he wished to invest and Brown needed financing to further his development so the two men "made a deal" and the project once more was underway. Work began, dredging, pumping, and hauling of an estimated six thousand tons of sand fill. This was quite an accomplishment and a fine beach would have gone far towards promotion of the sub-division. But - fate intervened. A powerful northwester developed and the new beach was pounded by high waves for three days and nights. When the storm subsided, the beach was gone. Everything washed away. Brown, very discouraged, sold the land to a timber dealer, D. G. Blank of North Carolina, in March of 1953.
A succession of events took place in the next twenty years. The island was sold several times and after much public uproar and five years of litigation, the spot known as "Green Key" was deeded to three public bodies: one parcel to the Pasco County School Board; one to the City of New Port Richey; one to Pasco County. Title was given to these three public bodies in January, 1969. The area designated for public park use was considered too small an area for state funding, the City of New Port Richey deemed the costs of development to be excessive for their budget, thus it appeared that if anything further was to be done it would be at County expense. The Pasco County Commission Budget for 1970-71 appropriated fifty thousand dollars more for Parks and Recreational facilities than in the past years with the additional funds earmarked for improvement of Green Key Beach.
Once again work began on this project. A retaining wall was built of heavy tile tied together with a poured concrete cap, eight inches thick and twenty-eight inches wide using three number five reinforcing rods encased in the three thousand pounds of concrete that comprised the poured cap. Twelve ground anchors are tied back at proper intervals for additional strength. Thousands of cubic yards of fill sand and bottom rock was hauled in to form a beach and initially two concrete shelters with picnic facilities were constructed. Green Key is progressing very slowly but it does have potential as a public recreational park and beach for West Pasco residents. Perhaps one day soon we will see a spot for fun in the sun, to be enjoyed by old and young alike.
Bob Rees Article
The following article, which is posted at the park, was written by Robert K. Rees, who served two terms as a county commissioner. He died on Aug. 28, 1992, at age 84. The park at Green Key Beach was subsequently named for him.
There has been much controversy concerning Green Key and the proposed development thereof, and for the benefit of those among you who would like to be better informed, I will start back a number of years and bring you up-to-date on the history of this peninsula.
Deer Island, better known as Green Key, was homesteaded by Cora and J. G. “Gib” Brown, back in the first quarter of the present century. The materials that were used to build their first home had to be ferried across from Manor Beach by boat, there being no road at that time. In the early thirties, a road was constructed to Deer Island and the pass that separated Deer Island from the mainland was filled with rock and earth, thus establishing a continuous roadway to the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1939, the Browns subdivided a portion of the upland area of Deer Island and the plat was recorded by the Board of County Commissioners on January 2, 1940. Seeing a need for a telephone to answer inquiries concerning their new subdivision, the Browns asked Peninsular Telephone Company to provide the needed service. The request was denied, being that the revenue from one telephone connection would hardly compensate the company for building the necessary two miles of line through a swampy area. Brown was then obliged to build his own line, which he did.
The original frame house became so run down that Brown was obliged to build a new home, which was of block and concrete foundation of which is still evident. No further activity was noted at this subdivision until the late fifties, when R. K. Staley came into the picture. Staley came down from Indiana and had some money to invest and Brown needed financing to further his development so the two got their project underway.
First they rigged up a small dredge and attempted to pump sand up on the point of the island. This didn't work, as there was little sand among the oyster beds and rock that comprised this area. Seeing that this method was not practical, they then cleared all the mangrove trees and underbrush from this immediate area and proceeded to haul in sand from a sand pit on East Indiana Avenue, just one fourth mile east of Congress Street. This sand was clean and of the proper texture and it appeared that a fine beach would soon be born. After some three months of hauling, an estimated 6,000 tons of sand had been deposited over the cleared beach area, reaching from the edge of the water, inland to a depth of some 100 or more feet.
This was truly a fine accomplishment and a fine beach and would have gone far toward promotion of this subdivision. However, fate intervened, a powerful northwester developed and the high waves pounded this new beach for three continuous days and nights. When the storm had subsided, nothing was left but rocks and roots. All the sand had washed away. Since that time, no further attempts had been made to develop Green Key.
After Staley and Brown had failed in their
attempt to provide a beach on Deer Island (Green Key),
Staley moved from this area and in March 1953,
Brown sold to D. G. Bland, a timber dealer from
North Carolina. Bland held this property
until 1955, when he in turn sold to Philip
Berkowitz, Al Elfenbein, and Sol Hochberg,
then owners of the property which is now Gulf
Harbors and other upland and submerged property
in this immediate area
Howard Burkland, a nationally known developer, came to Pasco County in the late fifties and purchased the gulf front property, which is now known as Gulf Harbors, and other upland and submerged properties. In November of 1958, he also purchased Green Key from the above-mentioned owners. Burkland then made application to the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund to purchase and develop certain submerged lands lying adjacent to his newly acquired holdings, the bulkhead line to be established by the Board of County Commissioners.
Clair Kohler, then Mayor of New Port Richey, together with Council Members James Grey, Mrs. Enes Eggleston, Harold McIntyre, Frank Smith, and Dennis Eggleston, seeing an opportunity to provide beaches and recreational areas for the local populace, entered into an agreement with Howard Burkland, the developer. Under the terms of this agreement, Burkland was to provide a public beach area, together with public access roads, for certain considerations pledged by the City of New Port Richey. This is evidenced by a resolution adopted by the City Council on January 26, 1959.
A similar agreement was entered into between Burkland, the developer, and Pasco County, whereby the developer would be required to set aside for public use, including a school site, a certain percent of his newly developed lands. On May 10, 1960, at a regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Pasco County, a motion was made and unanimously adopted, requiring all gulf front developers to set aside for public use, 10 percent of the developed lands. This action by the Commissioners was commended in an editorial of the St. Petersburg Times on May 13, 1960.
Howard Burkland was by now encountering unforeseen difficulties in the development of his gulf front property, which at that time was known as Floramar. First, Cate Engineering Company, who had contracted to excavate the canals, apparently had not taken proper tests of the areas to be excavated, which turned out to be, literally, solid rock. Progress was slow and costly, as the entire length of these canals had to be drilled and blasted. Also, underground springs added to the woes of the contractor that resulted in his going broke. This unexpected turn of events forced Burkland to buy expensive equipment and to attempt to dig the canals himself. This was more than Burkland had bargained for and in December 1961, Burkland sold his interests to Sumner Sollitt, a financier from Chicago.
Sollitt, apparently aware of the fact that there was no time limit set for delivering of the parcels for public use, seemed to be making little if any effort in this direction and it appeared that the covenants between Burkland and the public bodies may be further delayed or possibly abandoned.
The prospect of this created a public uproar, which resulted in a lawsuit being brought in the interest of the aforementioned public bodies. The various intricacies, technicalities, and ramifications that followed in the settlement of the five year lawsuit that followed, are far too complex for the untrained mind to comprehend. However, in the final decree, Deer Island, better known to you folks as Green Key, was deeded to three public bodies, they being Pasco County School Board, the City of New Port Richey, and Pasco County, in lieu of the promised acreage in the original Burkland agreement. Title was given to these public bodies in January 1969.
In the fall of 1968, I sought the district five county commissioner seat and was elected to that post. This, I thought, would put me in a position to initiate action necessary for the fulfillment of this recreational development. Another project I had in mind was a sanitary landfill, since there was at that time no place where citizens could legally dump various types of refuse, which resulted in indiscriminate dumping along roadways and on private property.
These two projects would work well together, since sand is a by-product of a sanitary landfill and would be just what we needed for the filling of Green Key. It took some time to locate a suitable landfill site but after months of searching, I located a ten-acre tract, which had a 47 foot elevation and a sand depth of 30 feet or more. I then urged the County Commissioners to purchase the ten acres, which they did.
After the purchase, it took some time to survey the plot, build a fence, establish and improve an access road and advertise and purchase suitable equipment for the anticipated operation. By the early months of 1971, our new landfill was operating nicely and sand was piling up.
Sometime prior to this, the council of the City of New Port Richey had invited we commissioners to meet with them. The purpose of the meeting was to request Pasco County to turn the County’s 15 acres over to the City of New Port Richey who in turn were to develop this tract together with the city’s 15 acres, into a recreational park. The proposition sounded good and we commissioners agreed to meet with them at a later date to work out the terms of the agreement.
About a month later we met again and we commissioners were prepared to deed our 15 acres to the City of New Port Richey, providing that the developed area would always be used for public use and open to all. However, the councilmen of the City of New Port Richey had changed their minds. Apparently, the cost of the developing, as estimated by their engineer, was greater than they had anticipated and the proposed project collapsed. Being that the State of Florida was not interested in developing an area this small for a state park, it appeared that Pasco County would have to proceed on its own, if we were to create this desirable and sorely needed recreational facility.
In the preparation of Pasco County’s 70-71 budget, $50,000 more was appropriated for the Parks and Recreational Department than in the past years and the additional appropriation was earmarked for the improvement of Green Key. Also, Commissioners Stevens and Rees were named to take charge of the Parks and Recreation Department. In the meantime, I had consulted 3 different engineers with reference to the development of our Green Key project. Commissioner Red Stevens and I made 2 trips to Tallahassee to consult with knowledgeable officials concerning the proposed development. Topography maps that were prepared by David B. Smith, Engineering Consultants from the cities of Gainesville and Lakeland, were helpful in our plans.
In August of 1971, a new dump truck was purchased for the Parks Department and designated to haul sand from the landfill to Green Key. George Bopp, editor of the New Port Richey Press, was present when the first load was dumped and took a picture and wrote a short story of the event. Being that it requires more than 6450 cubic yards of sand to fill one acre to a depth of 4 feet, which ties the truck driver up for 28 weeks, public participation in the fill project was invited. A large sign was erected, stating the types of fill that are prohibited, such as garbage, stumps, auto bodies, appliances, tin cans, etc. Public compliance has been relatively good, with few exceptions. All fill materials have been properly covered with good clean sand and compacted with our bulldozer. This fill will remain their forever. The same filling procedures were employed here that have proven satisfactory worldwide, even though a few sidewalk superintendents to not approve.
The retaining wall is constructed mainly with concrete tile, which cost the County nothing but the hauling. These tiles are tied together with a poured concrete cap, 8 inches thick, and 28 inches wide. Three number 5 reinforcing rods are encased in the 3000# concrete that comprises the poured cap. Twelve ground anchors are tied back at proper intervals for added strength. This wall will still be in service when the few critics have moved on to a WARMER climate.
It must be clearly understood that I do not receive any compensation over and above my salary for the thousands of hard hours that I have spent in the planning and implementation of this long overdue facility. To see this project shape up is far more gratifying to me than to attend ribbon-cutting ceremonies, for the sole purpose of posing for the photographer. I have never figured that the latter is of any value to the taxpayer.
Some localities are infected with a small group of nit pickers, obstructionists, misguided crusaders, and their ilk, who, to satisfy their own sadistical or political ambitions, will attempt to deny the populace the improvements and facilities that they, the taxpaying public, have every right to expect. We don't need to mix politics with public improvements; these improvements are for all, irregardless of their political beliefs. Let’s keep it that way.
Compliments of Your County Commissioner,
Paid for Personally by Robert K. Rees, Private Account.
Gip Brown’s Green KeyThe following article is taken from Tales of West Pasco by Ralph Bellwood.
Green Key lay off shore just South of the mouth of the Cotee River since its formation, no one knows how long ago, without an owner except the State. The old Goady fish camp stood on piling about a hundred and fifty yards off shore of the island, where fishermen found rest and protection from the weather for many years. We have spent some happy hours in this old shell of a house, waiting for the tide to change or listening for a tarpon to blow.
No one seemed to want the Key, which had only a fringe of high ground that remained above high tide except when a tropical storm blew in, with the rest of it covered by rushes and mangroves, until the Boom came in the early twenties. Then all at once several people cast their eye on it with the thought of acquiring it from the State. As we say, it was State land, hence in the course of time these "would be" owners turned to Tallahassee to look into buying it.
An Elfers man, Gip Brown, with a keen insight of the laws pertaining to an old Homestead Act, and a strong belief that "Possession is nine points of the law," built a shack on the strip of high land on the gulf side and strung some wire around the island. It was quite an undertaking to transport lumber and other building material out to the island in a skiff, which was propelled by "poling" it, but Gip stuck at the job tenaciously and soon established living quarters that he and his wife moved into. We know all about the Browns' trials and tribulations and the secluded life they lived on the island, for the year they were out there we lived in their home on the mainland, rent free. The only obligation we were under to them was to look after and milk their Jersey cow that roamed the woods in the day time, but always showed up in the evening at milking time.
Water and food, with the exception of fish, had to be boated out to the Key. Kerosene lamps gave them light during the long Winter months. It was a long and lonely year of homesteading, but as a result they obtained title to the island, and perhaps it was the most profitable year of their lives.
After acquiring the Key Brown got a dredge on the job and built a road from the mainland to the island. A road which for thirty-five years has taken thousands of people to the beach for swimming and sun bathing. In time the little island may be gobbled up by dredges and converted into waterfront homesites, but we are sure it will remain in the memory of the thousands who have frequented it, as a quiet retreat where many happy hours have been spent in peace and contentment.
Once Known As Deer Island, Rees Park Area Blossoms
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on July 26, 2001.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
NEW PORT RICHEY - Million-dollar homes are being built along the isolated property that leads to what is now Robert K. Rees Memorial Park.
But less than 100 years ago the land was deemed useless, wanted only by those with adventurous spirits.
The 50 acres of swampland west of New Port Richey was known as Deer Island in the early 1900s. At high tide, only a small portion was above water, and that was covered with mangroves and rushes.
It wasn’t until the real estate boom hit Florida in the early 1920s that anyone wanted the state-owned property.
Seeing possibilities for the island, J. G. “Gip” Brown set out to homestead the land. Brown’s wife, Cora, had come from another pioneering family. She was the granddaughter of Capt. Samuel H. Stevenson, one of the earliest settlers in west Pasco who founded the Seven Springs community in the 1830s. [probably not that early--jm]
The Browns built a shack on the strip of high land on the Gulf side of the island, bringing materials for their home by boat, according to Pauline Stevenson Ash, Cora Brown’s niece and author of the book Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County. With the exception of fish, the couple also had to bring in all their food by boat.
After living an isolated life on the island for a year, the Browns were deeded the property and Cora renamed it Green Key Island.
In 1930, Gip Brown and his nephew, doctor Oris K. Bragg, rigged an old Buick motor to dredge sand for a small causeway between the island and mainland to make it accessible.
In 1939, with hopes of developing the island, the Browns applied to Peninsular Telephone Co. of Tampa for service. But the utility, which was bought by General Telephone Co. in 1957, thought revenues from one connection wouldn't pay for running the more than two miles of line through the swampland. The Browns’ request was denied.
Still determined to develop the island, the Browns financed two miles of wire to secure their own line and installed the telephone. But the property remained undeveloped.
The Browns continued to live on the island in the summer and spent winters at their Montana Avenue home.
In the early 1950s, the Browns teamed with R. K. Staley, who had come to west Pasco from Indiana with money to invest. Work began on dredging and pumping water, and some 6,000 tons of sand was hauled in to build a beach.
But a three-day storm sent high winds and waves to ravage the island. When the storm subsided, the Browns’ dreams had been washed away.
In 1953, the Browns sold the land to timber dealer D. G. Blank of North Carolina. Several other owners followed until litigation, the land was divided and deeded to the Pasco County School Board, the City of New Port Richey and the Pasco County Commission.
The commission paved Green Key Road and appropriated $50,000 to develop a beachfront park, named after former county commissioner Robert K. Rees. It remains today as one of only four county parks with Gulf frontage.
On Oct. 30, 1936, the Dade City Banner reported that work had been underway for about a week on a road to Green Key. The WPA was paying for the labor, and the county was furnishing the equipment.
On Sept. 5, 1947, the Dade City Banner reported:
Dade City, New Port Richey, and Pasco county residents are at last to have a bathing beach at Green Key Island, just west of New Port Richey. Dredging is well under way and it is expected by New Port Richey civic leaders that the development of the Green Key resort by the purchaser, R. K. Staley, will result in considerable benefit not only to the city itself but to Pasco county as a whole. Completion of the Green Key project will fill a long needed want for the residents of upper Pinellas and west Pasco counties in the way of bathing facilities and recreation; the nearest beach being at Clearwater, twenty-two miles south of New Port Richey. Numerous home sites are planned on the mile-long island as well as resort buildings. The beach will be developed first, then as soon as a good road to the island is built the plans call for a pavilion, filling in of the complete island, hotel, general store, filling station, yacht basin, etc. This resort, long advocated in this section, is expected to result in a boom and population increase as well as bring many visitors to this area. When finally developed it is expected that it will be one of the best resort and beach sections on the West Coast.