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FIVAY: AN ARISTOCRATIC BOOMTOWN GOES BUST

Almost a century after the state's largest sawmill folded up, the newly named Fivay High School that opens next year honors the town whose influences are still seen - and that eventually gave rise to New Port Richey.

For several years, the whining of the sawmills never let up.

Crews worked night and day at the lumber mills of Fivay, harvesting pine and cypress from the virgin timber of west Pasco County. The railroad brought workers in from Brooksville and hauled lumber down to Tampa, where ships took the raw planks across the eastern seaboard.

Fivay was an impressive boomtown around the turn of the century. The Dade City Banner described it as "an aristocrat among lumber camps."

At its peak, it boasted the largest sawmill operation in the state. Many of its wood-framed houses had electricity and indoor plumbing. It likely had the first bank in the area. And the town doctor founded west Pasco's first hospital: a six-bed clinic with a private birthing room where the physician would actually be present to deliver the baby, a precious rarity for women in those days.

But the village that sprouted in 1904 was a near-ghost town by 1912, when an ad in the Tampa Daily Times offered the entire community for sale.

It was time for someone else to make a mark with Fivay. And now, a century later, a new high school will do just that.

Last week, the Pasco School Board gave the name Fivay High School to the campus under construction at State Road 52 and Chicago Avenue - a stone's throw from the heart of old Fivay at State Road 52 and Little Road.

The school will open for classes next fall.

Folks like Jeff Miller, a Gulf High School math teacher and amateur historian, applauded the move.

"It will certainly increase awareness about a part of local history which I think very few residents know about, other than people who have lived here all of their lives," Miller said.

The town was originally known as Five A's, drawing off the surnames of the Atlanta businessmen who founded the Aripeka Sawmill Co.: Henry M. Atkinson, Preston S. Arkwright, Martin F. Amorous, Charles F. Ayer and Gordon Abbott.

Initially the workers commuted by rail from Brooksville, but the 1910 Census shows about 600 people made their homes near the mill.

The workers dammed up Bear Creek to create the mill pond, where logs were stored until they were ready for the mill. Shifts were staggered so the mill was in constant operation.

Entrepreneurs moved in with three hotels and a commissary stocked with $40,000 in merchandise. A post office and two telephones connected the town to the outside world.

Scores of resourceful workers found Still Sink, a watery sinkhole near town, to be an ideal place to set up their moonshine stills. The homemade booze turned Fivay into "a hell-raising town on Saturday nights," according to news accounts. Gunfights erupted and bodies were hauled out to the cemetery every weekend.

Punishment was dished out using the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog: To determine the fine for any given offense, the local justice of the peace would randomly select an item in the book and announce the price.

By 1909, Aripeka Sawmill had two double-band mills that processed 150,000 feet of timber a day, and the owners announced plans to build two more mills at a cost of $250,000 apiece. One of the original Five A's, Martin F. Amorous, bought out his partners later that year and left Atlanta for Fivay to personally oversee the operation. The Fort Pierce News reported the town was valued at $5 million.

The mill was at its peak in 1910, then quickly went bust. A 1911 ad in the Atlanta Constitution announced the mill equipment was for sale: "Engines, boilers, complete band sawmill outfit..." A year later, the entire town was on the market.

"Here's Ready-Made Town For Sale at a Bargain," read a March 2, 1912, article in the Tampa Daily Tribune. "Fully equipped with hand made electric lights, waterworks, 104 houses, hotels, stores, all you would want in any 'regular' town."

"It's rather unusual to be offering a town for sale," Aripeka Sawmill auditor J.W. Broaddus acknowledged in the article, "but it's the proposition we are making."

The sawmill shut down. The town withered away.

Some have speculated the mill simply exhausted the timber supply. But local historian Jeff Cannon suspects the business financially buckled. In later years, several other companies tried to revive the mill, so there must have been more trees available.

"It was very common for a sawmill and turpentine town such as Fivay to dry up and to move on," Cannon said. "In fact, Pasco County is home to several ghost towns such as Fivay."

The relics of Fivay are scattered across west Pasco. Masonry from the old dam still lines Bear Creek. Houses from Fivay were dismantled and sold to newcomers in Port Richey and other communities. Bricks from Fivay's hospital were used in 1919 to build the Land Office (Milbauer) Building, the first brick structure in New Port Richey.

But Fivay's greatest legacy comes from all the trees it took away. In 1911, Aripeka Sawmill sold a patch of cleared land to P.L. Weeks, who formed a company with his brother and another partner to develop the land.

The city of New Port Richey was born.

This article is based on historical resources compiled by Jeff Cannon and Jeff Miller, as well as information in Times files. Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at bgrumet@sptimes.com.

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