If you visit downtown Dade City, it’s nearly impossible not to notice the stately Historic Pasco County Courthouse.
It sits in the middle of a town square, at Seventh Street and Meridian Avenue.
Originally constructed in 1909, and restored in a $2.3 million renovation in 1998, the courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 20, 2006.
With its Classical Revival style of architecture, the building at 37918 Meridian Ave., has a colorful history of its own.
For instance, there was confusion for years over who designed the red brick building, according to various accounts published in The Tampa Tribune.
Altemus Roberts was credited in local history books for designing the courthouse, but that was put into question after Gregory Herrmann, originally from East Pasco, moved to Texas and spotted a courthouse in Mason, Texas, which looked very much like the one in Dade City, the Tribune reported.
The East Pasco man learned that an architect named Edward Columbus (E.C.) Hosford had designed the Texas courthouse. He sent that information, along with a photograph, to his brother, Eddie, who was deeply involved in local history circles.
Eddie dug into old Pasco County records to find out that, indeed, the building people had believed to be designed by Roberts, actually was designed by Hosford.
Hosford’s involvement was documented on April 17, 1909 in a story by the Tampa Morning Tribune.
In that account, the newspaper reported the Pasco County Commission had approved the architectural plans submitted by Hosford, and commissioners agreed to erect “a courthouse that will be a credit to any county.”
The board also adopted a resolution to build the new courthouse for less than $35,000. A contract was awarded that May to Mutual Construction Company of Louisville, Kentucky, in the amount of $34,860. Hosford also received $871.50 for his plans and specifications.
The confusion over Roberts’ role on the courthouse may be partially due to the fact that he did design other buildings in downtown Dade City, and was the construction superintendent on the courthouse project, Tribune reports said.
While the courthouse, with its neoclassical dome and clock tower, is impressive — the design was not exactly unique.
Hosford used a similar design for three courthouses in Georgia and two in Texas.
The courthouse in Mason, Texas, was built for $39,786. It featured front porticos and Doric columns, and was built the same year as the courthouse in Dade City.
Hosford designed seven courthouses in Florida and usually worked with the Mutual Construction Company to build them.
The courthouse in Polk County, which opened in 1909, also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With completion of the new courthouse in Dade City, the county board sold the former two-story wooden courthouse structure at public auction for $500.
Part of the deal called for removing the building from courthouse grounds within 60 days, said Scott Black, a local historian who also sits on the Dade City Commission.
A bandstand was built at the northeast corner of the courthouse yard in 1925, after famed composer and conductor John Philip Sousa visited Dade City.
Sousa never returned, and the bandstand was repurposed as a World War II Memorial. The dedication for that memorial was held on Flag Day, on June 14, 1948.
The courthouse in downtown Dade City played a central role in Pasco County government for 70 years. Five additions were added to accommodate the county’s growth.
When a new courthouse opened in 1979, activities shifted, and over time, the 1909 structure fell into disrepair.
But, Pasco County Commissioner Sylvia Young championed a $2.3 million renovation, which used $1.3 million in taxpayer money and $1 million in state grants, according to Tribune reports.
The project took four years to complete, and included knocking down the additions to restore the building to its original look.
The project was not without its controversy.
Some thought it was too extravagant, particularly when Young pushed for money to purchase period pieces to furnish the renovated building.
But, that idea prevailed. Commissioners approved a $50,000 budget, and Young searched far and wide, to accomplish the job.
The building, once again, has become a center for county activities.
Except for during this time of COVID-19, the full Pasco County Commission typically gathers twice a month on the second floor.
They meet in the same room where trials were once held and hearings conducted.
Now restored to its original grandeur, the building is a symbol of pride for the Dade City community.
Its image is part of the logo for The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, and it is used as a setting for community events.
The building was rededicated in 1998, when Young was chairwoman of the county board.
And, when she stepped away from her 20-year stint on the board in 2000, she described the courthouse restoration as her “crowning glory.”
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 .