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Historic Dupree Gardens - Published Articles

War Wilts Dupree Gardens
by Carol Jeffares Hedman, The Tampa Tribune (Nov. 1, 2002)

There was no big, talking mouse. The place didn't have a twisting, looping roller coaster.

But for a brief time in the 1940s, 25 acres of lush flora in central Pasco County drew tourists from around the country as one of the first roadside attractions in the state.

Called Dupree Gardens, it began as a pastime for J. William Dupree.

The Tampa attorney was injured in a car accident in 1933 that left him recuperating for an extended period. He retreated to the 900 acres he had bought for hunting in Pasco County.

Located east of what was then State Road 5, now U.S. 41, and Ehren Cutoff, Dupree built a log cabin and spent his days planting an exotic garden of flowers, fruit trees and palms.

The gardens were so beautiful that Dupree’s friends persuaded him to open the property to the public.

Billed as the “Blossom Center of Florida,” Dupree Gardens opened Dec. 1, 1940.

The gardens had a lodge, complete with a gift shop and tearoom.

Electric-powered glass-bottom boats floated around Dupree Lake fronting the lodge.

Dupree Gardens was an immediate success.

Some 42,000 tourists visited the first year. It was no wonder with rave reviews like that by Jacksonville journalist MacDonald Bryan, who wrote in the Florida Times-Union on March 22, 1942:

“Snapdragons, poppies; pansies and iris; violets, sweet alyssum and candytuft; calendulas, delphinium and narcissus - great medallions of them on the evergreen carpets of grass - all these are there with their yearly vindication of the sweet promise of new life and new hope.

“In richer bloom, too, are the thousands of azaleas. Their colors range from the soft tones to the flamboyant. Great magnolias, orchid trees, redbud and dogwood have put on their fanciest garbs in obeisance to spring. Bold flame vines make dramatic splashes of color as they climb skyward to the topmost branches of towering palms. Chaste Easter lilies and callas march along the borders of paths, and waxy camellias top, it would seem, every stem of giant bouquet-like bushes.

“Dupree Gardens are 25 acres of a fresh source of joy to lovers of horticulture. Interlinking trails play their part in the skillful blending carried out under the direction of J. W. Dupree, the Tampa attorney, whose love of flowers caused him to create this beauty spot on his 900-acre estate.”

War Brings Cutbacks

Visitors, many service men and women, from throughout the nation thronged to see the gardens during the tourist season Nov. 15 to May 1.

But timing was bad for Dupree Gardens.

World War II brought gas and tire rationing, restricting tourist traffic. Dupree unsuccessfully attempted to organize bus tours from Tampa.

And in compliance with wartime regulations, the gardens had to make cutbacks. The kitchen and gift shop were closed in 1943. Then the electric-powered boats on the lake were stopped.

The final blow came when the government issued a ban on unnecessary private travel.

Dupree posted what had become a familiar sign: “Closed for the Duration.”

But Dupree kept up his gardens and they even played a part in the war effort in 1944.

That Oct. 3, National Airlines marked its inaugural daily direct air service between Tampa and New York City with a 14-passenger Lockheed Lodestar making the six-hour and 20-minute trip carrying a humidor of Havana cigars for New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The plane also carried camellia blooms from Dupree Gardens that were auctioned for the war effort.

The blossoms made headlines when airline president Ted Baker won the bid with a pledge of $250,000 in war bonds.

The blossoms, displayed on black velvet backgrounds, were said to have amazed florists on Park, Madison and Fifth avenues who found it “inconceivable that Florida could offer fully matured camellias in this season.”

Dupree Gardens was reopened for a brief time in 1946, mostly for civic events and private family gatherings.

Dupree sold the property in the early 1950s, with some of it developed as home sites and a parcel that included Dupree Lake opened as a nudist camp. Some 400 acres were citrus groves.

The lodge was converted into a private residence. The tearoom burned in 1995.

And the native lime rock ticket booth stood for years as the only reminder of the once-popular attraction.

Although the site was listed in the 1992 edition of Historic Places of Pasco County, compiled by members of the Pasco County Historical Preservation Committee, a marker designating the location wasn't erected until earlier this year.

In August, a developer announced plans to build about 1,100 homes, plus some commercial space, on 471 acres that includes the Dupree Gardens site.

Beazer Homes plans to save the ticket booth as part of a nature preserve. Some of the original flora still grows on the property, and plans are to use the name and history of Dupree Gardens in marketing.

Website provided by The Dupree Gardens Historical Society.
Official Dupree Gardens Homepage