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Zephyrhills, a 'Tin Can Tourist' town, oozes history

ZEPHYRHILLS — Driving through Zephyrhills today, it's easy to miss the ghosts of the past.

But Margaret Seppanen and her friends see ghosts everywhere — in the World War II-era barracks where she attended elementary school, in old records, even in the land itself.

Although they live in 2008, members of the Zephyrhills Historical Association are lost in Old Florida. And they like it that way.

"There is so much history in Zephyrhills," said Seppanen, the association's president. "You can know these people personally."

Association member Bill Kustes thinks sometimes about the pine stumps that covered the landscape in the early 20th century, after the lumber companies took much of the forests and left.

Even termites wouldn't eat the stumps, but the Hercules Powder Company found them valuable for perfumes and turpentine. So valuable in fact, that the company built 60 homes for their employees and even paid farmers for the stumps on their land.

The company's imprint on the town is visible in the land it gave the town, with stipulations that it be used for education and recreational purposes. Zephyrhills High School, Woodland Elementary and the Hercules Aquatic Center sit on that land today.

Kustes, a former teacher and businessman, recalled how the city grew from a tiny Tin Can Tourist town into the community it is today.

Tin Can Tourists were the first snowbirds who journeyed from the North in the early 1900s to enjoy the nice weather. The story goes that they brought their food in cans and heated it on their car engines, giving them their name.

Genevieve L. Smith, another member of the association, said two roads led from the north down to Florida, with many seeking Lake Zephyr as their destination. Eventually the "Tin Can Campers of America" was formed and visitors returned each year to sing songs, exchange stories and enjoy socializing with people from various states.

"The townsfolk were happy to have them," Smith said. "They sold eggs, fruit and vegetables to them."

Margie Partain, who also grew up in Zephyrhills, believes understanding and knowing about local history creates an appreciation for those who came before her.

"I think about the struggles that people went through to get us to where we are now," she said.

Members of the Zephyrhills Historical Association include those who lived and grew up in the region, as well as those who moved here later in life.

Zephyrhills Historical Association meetings and presentations are free and open to the public. The group, which has about 20 to 25 active members, is interested in sharing its knowledge and is seeking new members.

"There are people from four and five generations back," Kustes said. "So there is a rich history here."

On Saturday, Zephyrhills celebrates Founders' Day. During the event, the historical association is sponsoring the History Home Tour, a self-guided tour of 18 historical homes and buildings.

>>If you go

Zephyrhills History Home Tour

Maps can be picked up at the Zephyrhills Historical Association booth on Main Street during the Founders' Day Celebration.

Zephyrhills, a 'Tin Can Tourist' town, oozes history 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:29am]
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