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Community In Retrospect

Today's Proposed Development in Wimauma Area Mimics a Century Ago
By Melody Jameson melody@observernews.net
Oct 13, 2005 - 11:03:00 PM

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Wimauma's first free-standing public school was this imposing brick structure offering classes to a student body of 110 in 1915. The school, built at a cost of $6,000, stood on the site currently occupied by Wimauma Elementary. It was, according to the promoters, designated a district high school.
WIMAUMA
This community once considered "country" with a capital "C" now may be in the sights of residential developers, but the pending population surge is not the first time a Wimauma wave has been anticipated.

As large, upscale residential enclaves, such as Valencia Lakes to the west and Lake Toscana to the south, take shape, waiting for an influx of newcomers, their builders are not the first entrepreneurs to envision multiplying rooftops and bustling commerce in the hinterlands.

That first resurgence came nearly a hundred years ago when enterprising local leaders began promoting Wimauma as "� a pearl in an amethyst cluster�,"offered to sell 3,500 acres subdivided into 40-acre blocks as well as 10-acre lots — and, apparently foreseeing a population explosion, incorporated the City of Wimauma.

The "amethyst cluster" that was the pine forest surrounding the community now is hardly imagined. Those "40-acre blocks" and "10 acre lots" selling for $50 to $100 per acre are today the stuff of dreams. But the City of Wimauma remains, on the books as Chapter 11326 in the Laws of Florida, enacted by the state legislature in 1925.

Peeling Back The Layers of Time

It was the teen years of the 20th century. Peace and prosperity were the norm. World War I had not touched the thriving little settlement situated about halfway between Tampa and Manatee to the south, on a humming rail line. The term "roaring 20s" was unknown. The "Great Depression" was a nightmare disturbing the slumber of no one — certainly not the sleep of C. H. Davis or D.M. Dowdell.

Davis and Dowdell were key local players, the leadership team of Davis-Manatee Co., a real estate and agricultural firm which included the Wimauma Fruit and Vegetable Co. Davis, who is credited with naming the community by combining the first letters of his three daughters' names — Willie, Maude and Mary — was company president. Dowdell managed the farm operation. Together, they packaged and promoted to the world their corner of "the Promised Land,"according to a small booklet they produced which now is part of the Vivian Sikes Swiger memorabilia collection.

In mid-1915, as the two visionaries were laying the groundwork for anticipated boom, Wimauma was home to 700 residents, most of them engaged in farming, they stated in print. The community had grown to this level from 100 souls in just three years.

Describing it as "a pearl in an amethyst cluster," they noted "�it reposes quietly in the heart of a virgin pine forest more than 100,000 acres in extent �" It was, they emphasized, on the cusp of growth sufficient to appeal to any investor and ready to produce profitably under the cultivation skills of any farmer.

In fact, Davis and Dowdell predicted, for the investor Wimauma represented a "rising market". Land "now selling at $50 to $100 an acre will, in three years, be worth $500 to $1,000," they promised. The proof, they asserted, was in other similar Florida communities where land values had escalated when "hard roads" and "fine houses" were built.

And for the farmer, they indicated, prosperity was merely a growing season or two distant. Celery, for example, they cited, was harvested at the rate of 700 crates to the acre from a five-acre field and sold at $2.90 per crate. In other words, the field grossed $10,150 in 1913 dollars.

The story was the same in cucumbers, tomatoes and corn, they pointed out. A cucumber yield of 200 to 250 crates to the acre was easy to produce and Wimauma Fruit and Vegetable was capitalizing with 40 acres in cukes that season, they added. Similarly, 200 crates of tomatoes per acre were readily obtained and this they called "a small yield." As for corn, 30 bushels per acre were average after the land also had produced a different crop.

This agricultural activity was aided by "�a very efficient fast-freight service north�" each day, along with the four passenger trains that pulled into the Wimauma depot daily, Davis and Dowdell wrote. The station, touted as one of the largest shipping points for produce south of Tampa, also offered telephones as well as express and telegraph offices.

The commercial district bustled, too, with four general stores, an apothecary or drug store, bakery, blacksmithy, large packing house, doctor's office and post office, the leaders noted.

Nor was education neglected. Wimauma offered the offspring of its residents a large, two-story, brick school building designated a "district high school" and serving a student body of 110 in 1915, it was reported. Built at a cost of $6,000, the imposing structure was located on the site now occupied by Wimauma Elementary, remembered James Smith, another local native. The current school replaced the earlier one in 1928.

And the promoters did not ignore another gem in their midst — the 300-acre Wimauma Lake. At 50 feet in depth, the freshwater body fed by underground streams offered "�unsurpassed fishing, boating and bathing�" plus a northwest shore "�rivaling many ocean beaches�", they wrote.

Not so incidentally, the 20th century pro-development duo also emphasized that the lake's "�pure, fresh, uncontaminated water�" provided crop irrigation "�far superior to the mineral, artesian water�".

Wimauma as it was, circa 1915, is evident in this photo appearing in a booklet prepared by the Davis-Manatee Company, probably the community's first real estate promoter. The shell grade, according to the publication, led to the north shore of Wimauma Lake, past frame dwellings which surrounded one of the settlement's first churches. Wimauma in the teen years of the 20th century was being promoted both as a excellent real estate investment and as a fine site for the homesteading farmer.
A City is Born

As the '20s roared in, Wimauma apparently continued to prosper. And, at mid-point in that decade, the Florida legislature enacted Chapter 11326 establishing the City of Wimauma, fixing its territorial limits, authorizing its jurisdiction and outlining the power of its officers.

The new municipality, encompassing all or part of several sections of land, thusly was empowered to sue and be sued, to acquire and dispose of both real and personal property, to take and hold property for public or charitable purposes as well as establish such facilities as parks and playgrounds, city offices and police stations, schools, hospitals and courthouses.

Governance of the new city was entrusted by official act to a mayor, vice mayor and city clerk., with W. B. McKenzie named the first mayor, R.T. Thomas the first vice mayor and F.M. Carlton the first city clerk until successors could be chosen by election. "Doc Harris,"the community's first doctor and another early leading citizen, was the first elected mayor in the recollection of James Smith.

The legislation further gave the little city authority to draft and pass more than 40 types ordinances, including some now outlawed such as setting apart separate residential districts for the Caucasian and Negro races. It also outlined in detail the organization of the new municipality, assigned supervision of roads, streets and alleys, and covered taxing powers. The 1925 act was amended in 1931 with Chapter 15504 which specified additional taxation matters.

Changing Times

Within just a few years, however, national economic conditions directly affected the young city. Following the stock market crash in October, 1929, conditions worsened border to border and in the early '30s, just about five years after its incorporation, Wimauma was feeling the Great Depression.

Work became scarce. Sawmills that had flourished on the timberland around the settlement were impacted, the young turpentine industry, also dependent on the pine forest, took a financial hit and the resources necessary to raise profitable crops grew thin.

Like such communities everywhere in the country, Wimauma hunkered down, banded together and came through, aided to some extent by Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. But the concept of Wimauma as a city apparently was a casualty; it simply ceased to function as a municipality.

Yet, the enabling legislation remains untouched in the Laws of Florida, according to Candace Hundley, director of Hillsborough County's Legislative Delegation Office.

Today, almost 100 years after Davis and Dowdell spoke so glowingly about the community "suggestive of Romance, Peace, Plenty!," it is undergoing a comprehensive planning process aimed at guiding its development in decades ahead. What's more, the "�town lots and houses of every description for sale" that the early promoters envisioned are on the current market. The greatest difference between then and now, between a Wimauma lot in 1915 and a developer's local lot today, is simply a matter of cost.

The Observer News welcomes information about South County communities suited to retrospective treatment, and particularly any documents related to their pasts. Contact Melody Jameson via e-mail at melody@observernews.net.



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