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Pasco to begin task of documenting its history

The county will use a $20,000 grant to catalog historical architecture.

Driving on U.S. 19, it's easy to imagine that the historical architecture of west Pasco has succumbed to death by a thousand strip malls.

But traces of an architectural legacy dot coastal Pasco, from the old fishing community of Aripeka in the north to the turn-of-the-century lumber town of Odessa in the south.

Documenting that heritage will get a lot easier with the announcement last month that Pasco captured a $20,000 grant approved by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

Pasco's growth management department plans to combine that grant with a matching contribution from county taxpayers to catalog photographically what's left of west Pasco buildings erected before 1950.

Identical architectural surveys of unincorporated central and east Pasco will probably follow in the next two years.

Project coordinator Katherine Burbridge said the survey is needed considering the rapid development of Pasco, soon to get more rapid with the February opening of the Suncoast Parkway.

The county learned a hard lesson about historical neglect from the fate of the old lodge from the Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch.

The lodge, hewn from local virgin cypress, was the centerpiece of a millionaires' resort that operated from about 1937 to 1942 on what is today Moon Lake Road. Guests included Babe Ruth, Lana Turner and Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.

The building stood mostly empty for decades until an arsonist torched the place in 1996.

Most of the surviving antique architecture is much less grand than the lodge but equally deserving of preservation, Burbridge said.

She singled out the concentration of cracker-style bungalows in Elfers, fishing village architecture in Hudson and smatterings of mill town remains in Odessa.

If some of the surveyed buildings are falling apart, Burbridge wants to help owners apply for preservation money from Community Development Block Grants.

"Odessa has some real interesting history and I want to get to that before developers plow it under," Burbridge said.

The best estimate of the number of historical buildings comes from the 1990 U.S. Census, which counted 2,805 homes in unincorporated Pasco built before 1950.

That number doesn't include commercial and governmental buildings, including old stores and post offices, that the county plans to tally in its survey.

Among the goals of the survey is to create national historic districts, which could become, like Tarpon Springs, tourist draws.

_ James Thorner covers growth and development in central Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 226-3458 or thornersptimes.com.

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