Even though the landscape, and buildings, have changed, the history remains.
It has stood the test of time, as many things have in Dade City. And now, some of the town’s most dedicated residents want to show off that history, for all to see.
They’ve created the Dade City Historical Self-Guided Tour — a comprehensive and immersive tour of historical sites, buildings, streets, monuments and more scattered throughout town.
It was the brainchild of the president of the Dade City Merchants Association, Margaret Angell, and Mary Katherine Mason, owner of Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread. They wanted a way to preserve the town’s history that dates back to the late 1800s.
They recruited some of Dade City’s foremost historians, with the project taking more than a year to complete.
In the end, the tour came to a whopping 82 stops.
“The idea was to teach people easily, through a walking tour or on their phone or computer, of the rich history in our town,” Mason said. “And, as people travel to our town to see the history, it will show the commissioners that Dade City is worth preserving. It will show that Dade City is a destination for history and small town charm, as some people try to escape the Wesley Chapels and Tampas.
“It will help build tourism by showing the history, and preserve it, as well.”
The tour can be accessed online and started at any stop. Each stop comes with its location, history — in both writing and videos — and some of the stops have narration.
Mason and Angell also are working on physical QR codes to be placed at each stop, allowing visitors to scan the logo to bring up the tour’s site.
The formulation of the tour started back in April 2022, when Mason and Angell approached author and historian Madonna Wise, who has written extensively about Dade City, including ‘A Haunted History of Pasco County’ and ‘Dade City (Images of America).’
Wise said they reviewed the tours completed by the Florida Humanities Council and requested it help them with the tour. However, the Council was unavailable, so they formed a tour committee and began the process.
The committee includes Mason, Angell and Wise, but also Stephanie Black, director of the Pioneer Museum & Village; Melody Floyd, Dade City Chamber of Commerce who developed the Dade City Historic House tour; Wayne Sweat, longtime Pioneer Florida Volunteer and reenactor (he narrates the tour); Britton Janning, the tour’s tech guru who built the site, QR codes and more; Judge Lynn Tepper, retired circuit judge; Imani Asukile, diversity director at Pasco-Hernando State College; and, Eric Baker.
“I believe it far exceeds the tours done by the Humanities Council,” Wise said. “We tried very hard to tell the complete story with great diversity and human anecdotes.
“Our tour has 82 stops,” she added. “In many of the stops, we did comprehensive interviews — in other cases we discovered completely new history or corrected facts. The level of enthusiasm and support from the town has been phenomenal.
“The goal of Mary Katherine and Margaret Angell was to provide a model for historic preservation. The group is intensely proud of the endeavor and we tried very hard to be inclusive of the research that had already taken place by historians.”
Mason said they researched other cities that have rich histories, as well as walking tours, hoping to “follow in their footsteps.”
But as the committee kept working “thousands of volunteer hours,” the tour kept growing. Especially once Wise, who did most of the research, was enthusiastically on board.
“Eighty-two stops is definitely large (laughs),” Mason said. “Madonna, she just kept adding, too. She was like, ‘What about this one and that one?!’ There’s just so much history that where do you stop? … She’s a true historian — it’s her passion and it was difficult for her to stop.”
“It is difficult to convey the level of volunteer time committed to this project,” Wise added. “Consulting has been extensive and (the) research is often new. Some of the history is not fun, but well-documented, especially on the tour now.”
Mason said while researching other historic tours of other cities, they found each town has its own bylaws of preserving its historical districts, including the buildings. Dade City, on the other hand, has no such laws or rules, so historical buildings have been modified, renovated or, in some cases, removed altogether.
“A lot of (building) facades have been changed over the years, maybe even torn down,” Mason said. “We would like to beautify and preserve them. Owners can do whatever they want to the buildings they purchased. Our hope is the tour shows that it’s worth preserving.”
As a shop owner herself, Mason also sees the benefits of the tour, from a business standpoint. Her hope is the tour brings more foot traffic downtown, but especially on the weekends, motivating the fellow storefront owners to extend business hours.
Then the rest will be history.
“I’m from Zephyrhills and didn’t want to come near Dade City (laughs) because of the 9-Mile Rivalry,” Mason said. “I’ve learned so much now and, of course, I’m fond of my building, but also the Wells Fargo Bank building — just learning how there was a robbery there with dynamite — so cool!
“But if you’re brand-new to the city, having the tour is incredible,” she added. “It makes me want to learn all the history. … (If) more people come to our town, maybe on Sundays, then we start to see businesses open on those days. We’re a mom-and-pop town, so bringing people out to see history, and shop, will be great to see, especially new people from the tour.
“And make taking the tour totally worth it.”
Dade City Historical Self-Guided Tour
Cost: Free, but donations are welcome to the 501(c)3
Where: 82 stops throughout the greater Dade City area
Details: A comprehensive and historically informative walking tour of the numerous historical sites and massive amount of history in Dade City. The city was incorporated in 1889. The tour also is dedicated to Dennis Alfonso, who, along with his wife, Nancy, are longtime Dade City lawyers. Dennis passed away earlier this year.
Event: There will be a tour launch party on Nov. 9 at 6 p.m., at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City, featuring speakers, readings, demonstrations and more.
For more information or to even start the tour, visit DadeCityHistory.org.
Published September 27, 2023