Book captures Dade City’s history through photographs

When visitors drop by downtown Dade City, its stately historic courthouse, unique shops and good restaurants likely will impress them.

But there’s so much more to Dade City’s story, and Madonna Jervis Wise has captured that through 200 photographs of the people and places in this city that initially was known as Fort Dade.

Downtown Dade City, during the 1940s, was a thriving hub of activity. (Courtesy of Madonna Jervis Wise)

Downtown Dade City, during the 1940s, was a thriving hub of activity.
(Courtesy of Madonna Jervis Wise)

Wise began working on the volume about a year ago. She’d done another book called “Zephyrhills” for Arcadia Publishing, and the South Carolina publisher approached her to see if she had an interest in writing a book about Dade City.

Wise wasn’t sure initially if she wanted to take it on. But her family encouraged her to pursue the opportunity, and Wise decided to meet with some local leaders to see if they’d like to have a book about their community published.

John Moors, the executive director of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce, greeted the idea with enthusiasm and set up a meeting for Wise with the city’s development director. She also met with the Dade City Preservation Advisory Board, which encouraged her to write the book and provided invaluable suggestions, she said.

Wise said her husband Ernie played an instrumental role, too.

The book includes photographs of everything from old railroad depots to stately homes, from ballet dancers to orange packers. It includes photographs of the sons and daughters of Dade City, who shaped the community and played an instrumental role in Pasco County and beyond.

“Dade City is a rich historical hub,” Wise said. “For many, many decades, this county was run by Pasco High graduates.”

The book showcases the community’s diversity, covering the history of the African-American community and its migrant farmworkers.

Wise used information and photographs she gleaned from a multitude of sources. Jeff Miller of the West Pasco Historical Society provided about 3,000 photos for her to consider from his collection.

She also used photos from the collections of Helen Eck Sparkman and of Oliver and Barbara DeWitt, who provided them to Eddie Herrmann, one of the authors of “The Historic Places of Pasco County.”

The Pasco County Genealogical Society and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System’s Genealogical Collection, as well as the librarians, were invaluable resources for the work as well, Wise said.

She used photographs from The Memory Project, produced by the Florida government.

The book’s photographs convey the city’s history through its people, residences, churches, social and civic clubs, and commerce. It points out that Pasco Packing, later known as Lykes Pasco, was the largest orange packing plant in the world, in the days before freezes, blight and development wiped out much of Florida’s citrus industry.

The photographs also show homes of early residents, with many of the structures still standing today.

“My husband photographed many of the houses,” Wise said, noting some of the photos had to be taken more than once, to be sure that alarm signs and air conditioners didn’t show up in the frame.

When they were out in the neighborhoods taking the photographs, people would approach them and ask what they were doing, Wise said. When she told them about the book, she said, “they would add other pieces to the story. It was great. It was just great.”

The actual work of culling photographs, writing captions and arranging the layout was a gargantuan task. But Wise enjoyed learning about Dade City’s history and spending time with the people who helped on the project.

Besides Herrmann, other primary sources included William G. Dayton and J. Thomas Touchton.

“I probably talked to Eddie (Herrmann) nearly every day,” Wise said. “And Bill is a real storyteller. He can give you the feel for the different eras. He knew a lot of the inside of what was going on.”

Touchton, a Dade City native and leader of the effort to establish The Tampa Bay History Center, also provided valuable insights, she said. Touchton has an international reputation for the collection of maps he’s acquired, and has fond recollections of Dade City.

“He told me the most fabulous stories about growing up there,” she said.

As she conducted her research, Wise was struck by the realization that Dade City remains a cohesive community, something that’s not all that common in the 21st century.

As people page through the volume, Wise hopes it will inspire them to learn more about Dade City.

“The book is intended to be an invitation to learn more about Dade City and serve as an enticement to walk through Church Avenue, visit the historic courthouse, dine in a vintage café, or visit the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village,” Wise writes in the acknowledgements section of the book. “History must be shared to pass it on to the next generation.”

If you go …
Author Madonna Jervis Wise will offer some remarks regarding her new book, ‘Images of America, Dade City’
WHERE: Historic Pasco County Courthouse, 37918 Meridian Ave., Dade City
WHEN: Oct. 4, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
DETAILS: Other speakers at the event will include Pasco County commissioner Pat Mulieri, Dade City councilman Scott Black, Trilby historian Angelo Liranzo, and J. Thomas Touchton, founding board member of the Tampa Bay History Center

Published September 24, 2014

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