“You can’t fight city hall!”
That’s a common expression used when someone is on the losing end of a public dispute.
But there is one case, reported nearly a century ago, that involved an actual fistfight at Dade City’s city hall.
The altercation happened in 1924 when Dade City Mayor Frederick Daniel Cosner and City Attorney Arthur Lee Auvil came to blows.
The fight took place on the chamber’s floor after Cosner made a derogatory remark about Auvil during a city commission meeting, according to a published report.
Cosner subsequently resigned in June of 1924 and was replaced by Orville L. Dayton, grandfather of Bill Dayton, an attorney in Dade City.
Bill Dayton later told The Tampa Tribune: “From all sources, it is quite clear that attorney Auvil won the fight, and very quickly!”
Bill Dayton was the president of the Dade City Historic Preservation Advisory Board at the time when the Tribune’s report was published.
Julie Hale, of Dade City, currently sits on that same historic preservation board.
She has the files and photographs that her mother, the late Mary Auvil Hale, had saved regarding her father, Arthur Auvil. He was Julie Hale’s grandfather.
The materials in Julie Hale’s collection reveal that there’s a lot more to Arthur Auvil’s story than the legendary fistfight at city hall.
Items in the collection include an account written by Mary Auvil Hale, recounting how Arthur Auvil ended up in Dade City.
He initially visited Dade City during a train trip he was taking in 1912, for an interview with a Clearwater law firm, the account says.
The train made a long stop in Dade City.
Arthur Auvil “spent the time seeing as much of the little town as he could and liked all that he saw. When he returned to the train, Clearwater was no longer an option,” Mary Auvil Hale wrote.
That same year she, her eight siblings and their parents, Ruby Sealy Auvil and Arthur Auvil, moved to Dade City.
Arthur Auvil went to work as city attorney for both Dade City and San Antonio.
His accomplishments were many.
He wrote the city charter for Dade City.
He was elected to a seat in the Florida Legislature, serving from 1927 to 1929. He was elected again in 1933.
His campaign platform opposed “putting a sales tax on the poor man’s meat, bread and other necessities.”
He served in a multitude of roles, over time.
He was chairman of the committee for the construction of the Pasco County courthouse annex in 1938.
He was a prosecuting attorney for Pasco County for 10 years and was appointed as an assistant state attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in 1935.
He had business and civic interests, too
He was a successful businessman.
He joined L.J. Gaskins and John S. Burks on July 19, 1923, when they filed a charter of incorporation for the Highlands Motor Company, with capital stock in the amount of $25,000.
Highlands Motor Company was the premiere auto dealership in Dade City, from 1923 to 1955.
The site was later occupied by a number of dealerships.
He was involved in civic life, too.
He was a founding member of the Dade City Kiwanis Club and was a member of Masonic Lodge.
And, while no one seems to know the exact details of when, why or how it happened, Arthur Auvil also was included in a group photograph with President Woodrow Wilson in the White House Rose Garden.
Jonathan Auvil, who is Arthur Auvil’s grandson, said the family didn’t even know the photograph existed until it was found in the office safe of Bill Larkin.
His grandfather, Jonathan Auvil, recalls, “often traveled unannounced to members of my family.”
Larkin was Arthur Auvil’s law partner and a good friend. He was appointed to fill his friend’s unexpired term as prosecuting attorney of Pasco County more than 50 years ago.
Arthur Auvil passed away on Aug. 27, 1951, at his home, following a year’s illness. He was 74.
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published March 22, 2023