The name Doug Sanders will ring a bell with regular readers of The Laker/Lutz News.
Especially those who enjoy history.
Sanders dropped by the newspaper’s office a little over five years ago, offering to help us tell the story of the region’s history.
It was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Since then, Sanders’ columns have unearthed interesting facts about community landmarks, forgotten places, and people who have played a pivotal role in shaping the area’s history.
His columns resonate with people who are deeply rooted here, and with newcomers, too, who want to know more about the place where they now live.
And, we’re lucky enough to continue sharing Sanders’ work.
Sanders said his interest in history began in 1963, as part of a class visit to the home of Wilbur Wright, co-inventor of the airplane.
That visit to the farmhouse and museum near Millville, Indiana, left an indelible impression.
“It was just amazing to me: Here’s a man in history that changed the world, and he came from some humble beginnings. The homestead went back to 1865,” Sanders said.
“It’s something that filled my imagination that day,” he said.
It also sparked his interest in pursuing stories and preserving history.
When he arrived in Florida, in the early 1980s, he became enamored with learning more about Pasco County’s past. Over the years, he’s formed friendships and received help from other local historians, including Jeff Miller, Keith Bailey, Ted Johnson, Scott Black, Bill Dayton and Madonna Wise.
He’s done quite a bit of research over the years and has shared some of what he’s learned through periodic columns.
One of his favorites focused on a document possessed by Martha M. Fountain, of Zephyrhills.
The document, originally bestowed to Samuel Warren Fountain, was signed on Dec. 15, 1864. It bears the signature of President Abraham Lincoln, and has been passed down through generations of Fountain’s family.
Sanders wanted to know if it really was Lincoln’s signature on the document.
So, he set off to find out.
It took him two years, and ultimately a trip to Springfield, Illinois, where he discovered the document, now 156 years old, was marked with an engraving of Lincoln’s original signature.
While the signature wasn’t directly applied by Lincoln’s hand, Sanders still felt a sense of satisfaction, from tracking down the facts.
There were a couple other bonuses, too, he said.
For one thing, he made a new friend: Norm Schmidt. Schmidt, who lives in Akron, Ohio, had read Sanders’ column about the document, after receiving a copy of the column from Donna Swart, a former mayor of San Antonio.
Schmidt offered to take Sanders to Springfield, Illinois, where the men found out that the signature was an engraving of Lincoln’s signature.
The men also traveled to Lincoln College, where, as it turns out, the document is now housed, as part of the exhibits at Lincoln Heritage Museum.
Sanders also enjoyed the challenge of trying to determine whether President Calvin Coolidge ever stayed in Dade City, as local legend claimed for decades.
His painstaking research yielded a detailed timeline that Sanders believes makes it impossible for the local legend to be true.
Still, if someone can produce hard evidence of a Coolidge visit, Sanders would love to see it.
Other satisfying columns featured James Emmett Evans and William M. Larkin, Sanders said.
Evans was known as the citrus king and was a pivotal figure in the development of frozen juice concentrate. Larkin was a cattleman and lawyer, a member of the Pasco County School Board and chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Sanders’ columns often bring little-known facts to light.
One column featured the acting career of Roy Barnes Jones, a character actor who was born in Dade City.
Jones used the stage name Roy Roberts, and at the height of his career, his face was familiar to millions. He played recurring roles in such popular programs as “McHale’s Navy,” “Bewitched” and the “Dick Van Dyke Show.”
But, Sanders doesn’t just write about people. He also writes about the region’s places and events.
He called attention to the historic Cow Palace in Dade City, a venue that attracted some of the biggest names in soul-blues and R&B music, including B.B. King.
The Cow Palace was part of what is known as the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” defined by National Public Radio as “a touring circuit that provided employment for hundreds of black musicians and brought about the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
He also told the story of the Historic Pasco County Courthouse, an iconic building in downtown Dade City, that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Readers of that column would learn the building, located at Seventh Street and Meridian Avenue, was erected in 1909. They also would find out that despite its impressive neoclassical dome and clock tower, the structure’s design was not exactly unique.
The architect — Edward Columbus (E.C.) Hosford — used a similar design for three courthouses in Georgia and two in Texas.
In other columns, Sanders has written about challenging times the region has weathered.
He wrote about the hurricane of 1921, which made landfall with sustained winds of 115 mph near Tarpon Springs, on Oct. 25, 1921. At the time, it was considered the most destructive storm to hit Florida since 1848.
The hurricane caused considerable damage throughout the region.
The Sunnybrook Tobacco Company, in Dade City, for example, reported losing nine barns and 110 acres of shade-grown tobacco. The damage was estimated at $100,000.
The Dade City Banner was forced to abandon its offices, the Mt. Zion Methodist Church was demolished, and the storm damaged roofs, toppled trees, took down smokestacks and flattened water tanks, among other things.
The region has had its health scares, too.
While today’s news is dominated by COVID-19, headlines in the past have covered yellow fever and the Spanish influenza, among others.
Over the years, Sanders has written about life’s trials and triumphs, its death and despair.
He’s done much of his work the old-fashioned way: Through interviews, old documents, personal visits and newspaper archives.
“It takes a lot of effort to track this stuff down,” Sanders said.
Just about anything can be found on the Internet, but that’s not good enough, Sanders said.
“You’ve got to find out if it’s fact or not.
“Even though we have modern technology, there’s still nothing to replace shoe leather,” the history columnist said.
To read Doug Sanders’ Knowing Your History columns in their entirety, just visit LakerLutzNews.com, and search for Doug Sanders on our website.
Published August 12, 2020