Two events occurred in 1923 that would have a significant impact on the community of Lacoochee, in Northeast Pasco County.
Arthur and Waldo Cummer — as the grandsons of Jacob Cummer — brought the Cummer Sons Cypress Company to the county.
The fully electric cypress sawmill and box factory would go on to become one the largest sawmill operations in the United States.
The company also would play a role in providing jobs for survivors of the Rosewood Massacre, which occurred in January 1923.
Contemporary news reports said that massacre — which destroyed the tiny Black community in Levy County — resulted directly from a white woman’s false claims that she’d been raped by a black man.
In his book, published in 2005, author William Powell Jones recounted how managers for Cummer “arranged for a train to drive through the swamps, picking up survivors of the Rosewood Massacre and offering them housing and employment in the brand-new colored quarters in Lacoochee.”
Arthur and Waldo Cummer’s father, Wellington Wilson Cummer, first arrived in town with his riding gear, complete with jodhpurs and boots, holding a riding crop under his arm.
“It was strange attire compared to the casual dress (of the day),” noted Nell Moody Woodcock, a long-time resident of Lacoochee and later a reporter for The Tampa Tribune.
Woodcock’s name is among nearly 100 links on the Pasco County history website, Fivay.org — featuring people sharing memories of the Cummer Sons Cypress Company.
Jacob Cummer, known as “Uncle Jacob” to family and friends, had vast timber holdings in several states.
Arthur Cummer explained why the company chose to locate in Lacoochee, in testimony given before the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission, in 1934.
“We located the sawmill plant at Lacoochee in order to be in reasonable reach,” Arthur Cummer said.
Described as a point of entry for what is now known as the Green Swamp of Florida, logs arrived at the new Lacoochee sawmill from land that totaled more than 50 square miles in Pasco, Sumter and Polk counties.
The Green Swamp is one of the state’s largest watersheds as the headwaters for the Peace River, Withlacoochee River, Ocklawaha River and Hillsborough River.
In the 1920s it was “a vast reservoir of 100-year-old cypress trees,” as described by Woodcock, in her recollections on the Cummer mills in Lacoochee.
At its peak, workers lived in approximately 100 homes along sand streets with wood sidewalks in Lacoochee.
Cummer was the largest employer in Pasco County with more than 1,100 employees, and it was one of few employers across the country that provided jobs during the Great Depression.
Having the largest payroll in the county made the Lacoochee office a prime target — and the company fell victim to three masked bandits who escaped with $11,700 in cash.
The work was grueling.
Ronald Stanley, who was put on a logging train by his father one summer in the early 1940s, was among the workers.
He described the tough working conditions he faced, recorded on the Fivay.org website.
He awoke at daybreak and spent hours waist-deep hauling sawed-down cypress logs out of the swamp.
It was hot, and there were mosquitoes, and the danger of snakes and alligators.
“For all this summer fun, I was paid $.45 per hour (typically under $5 per day),” Stanley recalls on Fivay.org.
During World War II, Cummer employed 50 German soldiers from the prisoner of war work camp in Dade City.
One POW was 18-year-old Arthur Lang, a tank commander from Erwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps.
He was smitten by a teenaged girl named Mildred.
He managed to exchange handwritten notes to Mildred when no one was looking. She worked with her mother at the Cummer’s crate mill.
“I regret it to this day that on the last day there, I could not shake her hand,” Lang wrote after he was back in Germany, after the war.
At Lacoochee, the Cummer operations were immense for this self-contained company town.
The sawmill alone measures 228 feet by 45 feet. The mill also included a veneer plant, which was 228 feet by 45 feet. It also had a crate factory, of 200 feet by 100 feet; and a lathe and shingle mill, with a capacity of 60,000 lathe per day, according to the story “Big Cypress Mill Completed at Lacoochee, Florida,” published in The Manufacturer’s Record on Nov. 22, 1923.
From 1934 to 1940, the Cummer mill in Lacoochee averaged 13 million board feet each year. The company set a record in 1937, producing 25 million board feet.
To make sure that it was not all work and no play, the company sponsored a semi-pro baseball team called the Lacoochee Indians.
That team won the Central Coast championship in 1947, in a league that also included San Antonio, Dade City and Brooksville.
James Timothy “Mudcat” Grant recorded memories of his father working at the Lacoochee mills. He later became the first black American League pitcher to win a World Series game in 1965.
Mudcat also recalls weekend movies starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
“Every time I go to Angel Stadium, Gene (Autry) comes through, and we get a chance to speak,” Grant told the St. Petersburg Times on April 9, 1989. “The first thing he says is: ‘How is everything in Lacoochee?’”
Autry was the owner of the Angels Major League baseball team from 1961 to 1997.
Alyce Ferrell, who worked at the Lacoochee Post Office, met her future husband at a dance at the armory in Dade City.
He would fly low over Lacoochee in his Corsair F4U fighter aircraft and dip one wing of his plane. That was a signal to let Alyce know he needed to be picked up at the Army/Air base in Zephyrhills.
In 1945, Alyce married that instructor for Marine fighter pilots: Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr.
Years later ‘Ed McMahon’ would begin a 36-year career as the announcer and sidekick for television talk show host Johnny Carson.
During the decade of the 1950s, the Green Swamp was heavily logged by the Cummer Sons Cypress Company.
The company, which hummed along for decades, finally came to its end near the close of the 1950s.
“It took time to process all the logs which had been gathered at the Lacoochee sawmill, but the last cypress was finally milled on June 5, 1959,” wrote historian Alice Hall for The Tampa Tribune on July 14, 1984.
Although the community voted against incorporating as a town in 1954, several companies have attempted business operations at the old Cummer site including Wood Mosaic Corporation, Interpace, GH Lockjoint, and Cal-Maine Foods.
A precast concrete plant is currently up and operating as a supplier for major road projects in Florida. The Dade City Business Center bought this site in 2019 for $1.2 million and is leasing the land to the concrete plant. Nearly 100 new jobs are expected, once the plant is running at full capacity.
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 August 18, 2021