Dupree Lakes is a nice community in Pasco County near Ehren Cutoff. The homes look great and the area is well-maintained. Just driving through, you can see it’s a pleasant residential area.
But it’s not a destination for visitors or anything. Nobody’s going to buy tickets to go see it, and they don’t need a gift shop to accommodate all the people looking for souvenirs. It’s not a tourist attraction, after all.
But almost 75 years ago, it was. A tourist attraction, I mean.
Back then, Dupree Lakes was Dupree Gardens, and there were no homes — just 25 acres of colorful flowers, vines and palm trees.
Trails and fruit trees.
Green grass and bushes.
A gift shop and a tearoom.
It was a popular tourist destination that attracted people from all over the country.
Think of it as being like Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg, only bigger and better. No offense to Sunken Gardens, of course. I’ve been there, and it’s a nice spot. But by all accounts, Dupree Gardens was a really big deal, especially for its time.
It was actually part of a larger estate owned by J. William Dupree, a Tampa attorney. And by “larger,” I mean 900 acres.
But the section called Dupree Gardens attracted as many as 30,000 visitors during its season from mid-November to the end of April, and had a reputation for being a beautiful place to visit.
It was especially known for its exotic flowers: Violets, poppies, magnolias, azaleas, calendulas and camellias. Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t know much about flowers. Aside from the violet, I had to look up each one to see what they looked like. I even had to double-check how to spell some of them.
But by looking at the old photos, you can tell that it was a special place. No matter what you had going on in your life, it was a unique escape that was visually stimulating, natural and tranquil. Nothing else looked like it.
By the way, it wasn’t just flowers and trees. You could eat in the restaurant (located in the tearoom) or take an electric-powered boat ride across the lake. That was a pretty unique experience for people. Remember, it was the early 1940s.
So what happened to Dupree Gardens? Well, it was the early 1940s. The attraction got off the ground right as World War II was heating up. That also was a pretty big deal, and the restrictions placed on people — gasoline rationing and limited private travel to save resources for the war — made it hard to attract enough visitors.
Dupree Gardens limped along, but the strain of the war took its toll, and eventually, it closed down. The land was sold, the flowers made way for home development, and Dupree Gardens became nothing but a very pleasant memory.
Well, not exactly. The ticket booth is still there. But there are no attractions, no tickets to sell and nobody to sell them to you even if they had some.
On the bright side, there are no long lines. You can walk right up to the booth any time you like, with no waiting. There’s just nothing to buy.
Still, it’s worth a quick trip just to see the original ticket booth and the plaque marking it as one of the Historic Places of Pasco County.
More than seven decades ago, people walked up to that same booth for a chance to see a nationally known attraction right in this neighborhood.
And now, it’s a neighborhood in itself.
Things change. But it’s worth remembering that Dupree Lakes was once Dupree Gardens, and it’s still a unique part of area history.
Published May 28, 2014