Today’s community of Wesley Chapel is a bustling place with The Shops at Wiregrass, Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch and Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, to name just a few community landmarks.
Motorists stream down State Road 54 and State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and there are new subdivisions, restaurants and businesses popping up.
But not much is generally known about the history of this place which had settlements dating back to the 1840s.
A book being written by local historian, Madonna Wise, will shed light on that early history.
Wise has been meeting with descendants of families that have deep roots in the Wesley Chapel community and she’ll be sharing photographs and anecdotes in an upcoming book to be published by Arcadia Publishing, out of South Carolina.
Wise has written similar books about Zephyrhills and Dade City for the publishing company.
She expects the Wesley Chapel book will be released in early 2016. It will likely be about 220 pages and will contain at least 180 photographs, she said.
It will have chapters about the area’s pioneers, its ranches, economy and community institutions.
Tracing the history of Wesley Chapel has been challenging because the community, unlike Zephyrhills and Dade City, has no city government or nucleus of old town buildings to help reveal its past, Wise said.
But she has found a wealth of information through families who still live in the area and who have vivid recollections of the community long before Interstate 75 sliced through it and developments, such as the Saddlebrook Resort, began to be built.
Wise said she relied on her background in genealogy to help her track down families to interview.
By using those resources, she found Marco Edward Stanley, of Gainesville, who arranged for Wise to interview his mother, Lillie Sapp Stanley, a 95-year-old, who still lives here.
“She (Lillie) lived in the area on a ranch. She knew everyone,” said Wise, who met with her and other members of the Stanley family.
As she conducted her research, Wise said she discovered that many families with deep roots in the community still live there.
“Everybody is related to everybody,” Wise said, mentioning the Coopers, the Stanleys, the Hills, the Smiths, the Barnes, the Boyettes and others.
“There is this close nucleus of families. They really deeply care for each other. They know all about the cousins. Who moved here. Who moved there,” Wise said.
David Brown, a descendant of the Barnes family, told Wise: “We cared about each other. If you didn’t show up for church one Sunday, somebody would come check on you.”
Much like in Dade City, Wise said, one interview led to another.
Marco Stanley encouraged Wise to talk to his cousin, Bill Smith.
“So they set up a meeting for me to talk to Bill,” she said. “Bill’s sister is 92. Her name is Ruth Smith Adams. She’s still sharp as a tack.”
“Bill says to me on the phone, bring butcher block paper,” Wise said.
To his knowledge, nobody had ever drawn a map of the settlements, she added.
Wise’s book will have that map.
“We’re talking 1900. It’s not right at the beginning because the settlements started in the 1840s,” she said.
“They told me where to draw,” said Wise, noting they worked on the map for about four hours and have revised it since.
“It shows where early families lived, including Ped Tucker and Thomas Boyette and Jacob Godwin, she said.
“And then they would tell me things like, ‘This is where we held the rodeo. And this is where the old log school was before the Wesley Chapel school. And this is where we went swimming.’,” the author said.
Wise conducted 15 interviews, each lasting four to five hours, or more.
During those chats, she also found out about some of the area’s clandestine activities, including moonshiners and gator hunters.
Tracking down the area’s history has been fun and interesting, Wise said.
Published September 16, 2015