Cutting a path toward development

At 128 feet tall and 26 feet around, a bald cypress tree in Pasco County is the eighth tallest of its kind in Florida.

The Ehren Cypress Tree was photographed on Aug. 27, 1989, on property owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, near Ehren Cutoff Road.  Jack Vogel, Patsy Herrmann and Eddie Herrmann, all of San Antonio, are standing with outstretched arms, leaning against the tree’s estimated circumference of 27 feet.  The tree was spared from being cut down decades before because it had a split in its trunk. Courtesy of Eddie Herrmann

The Ehren Cypress Tree was photographed on Aug. 27, 1989, on property owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, near Ehren Cutoff Road. Jack Vogel, Patsy Herrmann and Eddie Herrmann, all of San Antonio, are standing with outstretched arms, leaning against the tree’s estimated circumference of 27 feet. The tree was spared from being cut down decades before because it had a split in its trunk.
Courtesy of Eddie Herrmann

And, it will always be protected in the Upper Pithlachascotee River Preserve, 1 mile east of the Suncoast Parkway. The land was purchased from the proceeds of the Penny for Pasco 1-cent sales tax approved by Pasco County voters.

That is good news for future generations.

Because it only took 37 years for the Cummer Sons Cypress Company to log the centuries-old cypress trees for the company’s logging operations.

Loggers like Jacob Cummer, who harvested much of the old-growth cypress in east and central Pasco County, probably skipped over this tree because of a large scar on its western side, presumably from a lightning strike.

Cummer had bought land for timber in Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana.

In 1922, the Cummer operation acquired a 100-acre site in Lacoochee to construct the largest sawmill and box factory in the South.

A railroad was built in the Green Swamp to transport cypress trees from land that totaled more than 50 square miles in east Pasco and west Polk Counties.

Many of the cypress trees were cut with an ax before the chainsaw was invented.

Using a sophisticated network of levers and racks, cypress logs as large as 6 feet in diameter were lifted out of the swamps and, at one point, produced more than 100,000 citrus crates each day.

With 700 employees and the largest payroll in Pasco County, coupons could be used as part of workers’ paychecks in the prospering downtown of Lacoochee.

In the years after the Cummer sawmills opened, a two-story, 30-room hotel was built.

The new growth in the town also included four churches, two bakeries, two drug stores, two service stations, three barbershops, two train depots and a constable.

Over in central Pasco, all was not lost when the stage line stopped running around 1856. The area was surrounded by vast stands of virgin timber.

Established along what is now County Road 583, 100 people found work at the Ehren Pine Sawmill.

By 1910, a community called Ehren had a hotel and school, along with the sawmill.

The first permanent settlers such as George Riegler, of Lutz, needed lumber from the local sawmill to build homes for their families.

Greer’s Mill was used by Jim Greer to “sawmill a new town site” as a retirement area for Union veterans of the Civil War.

Lumber magnate and former Zephyrhills Mayor I.A. Krusen built The Home Theatre in downtown Zephyrhills. Opening in 1948, it was billed “as one of the most modern movie theaters in the South, with comfortable seats, a wide stage and a glass-enclosed ‘crying room’ for cranky babies.” Courtesy of Henry Fletcher

Lumber magnate and former Zephyrhills Mayor I.A. Krusen built The Home Theatre in downtown Zephyrhills. Opening in 1948, it was billed “as one of the most modern movie theaters in the South, with comfortable seats, a wide stage and a glass-enclosed ‘crying room’ for cranky babies.”
Courtesy of Henry Fletcher

Called the Zephyrhills Colony, Harold B. Jeffries, a captain who served in Pennsylvania’s 28th Cavalry, started it with lumber from Greer’s Mill.

Even the railroad cross ties came from Greer, transported by a team of oxen owned by Brantley Smith, a great-grandfather of Lance Smith, a future developer and a member of the Zephyrhills City Council.

Greer had plenty of competition.

James L. Geiger and I. A. Krusen, to name just a couple.

Geiger’s sawmill was located south of Greer’s Mill. He was one of the five signers of the Town of Zephyrhills charter, granted by the Florida Legislature in 1915 and ratified in a special election a year later.

“At the height of his business,” Madonna Wise wrote for the Zephyrhills News on March 3, 1994, “Krusen employed 300 men, turning out a million feet of lumber per month.”

Krusen’s mill was part of the Krusen Land and Timber Company that once owned 13,000 acres, extending as far south as present-day Tampa Palms and Pebble Creek.

Despite cypress exteriors exposed to harsh winters and hot summers, many old buildings in New York City have a rooftop water tank that is hardly considered outdated.

Local sawmills were familiar with the term “tank cypress.”

Also known as “The Wood Eternal,” the heart of old cypress trees was valuable for marquee customers including the Atlantic Tank Company of New York.

And, the majority remain in use due to the unique benefits that cypress shells provide for water tanks, brewer’s tanks, oil tanks and tanks for canneries.

Cypress trees, which took centuries to grow, were felled in great numbers by logging operations.

It took only 37 years for the Cummer Sons Cypress Company to close its doors and move farther south.

In 1959, the company relocated to the Everglades to harvest a stand of bald cypress as “pond timber.”

Some of the company’s land holdings in the Green Swamp were sold to Agri-Timber, and, in 1992, that area was set aside for water resource protection and conservation by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Totaling 37,500 acres as the Green Swamp-West Tract, the area shares a boundary with Pasco County’s regional park that is operated along a section of the Withlacoochee River east of Dade City.

Local Sources

Elizabeth Riegler MacManus and Susan MacManus: “Citrus, Sawmills, Critters and Crackers: Life in Early Lutz & Central Pasco” (1998) University of Tampa Press.

Rosemary W. Trottman: “The History of Zephyrhills, 1821-1921” (1978) Vantage Press.

Pasco County Environmental Lands Division

Doug Sanders has a penchant for history and has developed his sleuthing skills through experience in newspaper and government work. For more information, or to submit your ideas for a local history column, please contact Doug Sanders at .

By Doug Sanders

Published October 28, 2015

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