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The Historic Places of Pasco County - Dupree Gardens
by James J. Horgan, Alice F. Hall, and Edward J. Herrmann (1992)
J. William Dupree, a prominent Tampa attorney with a penchant for gardening, developed a 25-acre "Blossom Center of Florida" on this site, which flourished as a major tourist attraction during World War II.
After injuries sustained in an auto accident kept him from his profession for an extended period, Dupree began to develop an ever-expanding garden on his 900-acre country estate near Ehren. At the encouragement of his friends, he decided to open part of his beauty spot to the public. It would have been hard to find poorer timing for the venture, for it was 1941 and the eve of war.
Dupree Gardens was a feature-rich attraction: the lodge had a gift shop and restaurant, and electric-powered boats skimmed the lake that fronted the lodge. Visitors thronged to see the gardens - as many as 30,000, many of them servicemen and women - from throughout the nation during the annual November 15 to May 1 season.
With America’s growing involvement in World War II, however, Dupree Gardens was affected. Gas and tire rationing restricted tourist traffic. Dupree attempted to organize bus tours from Tampa, but there was not enough business. In compliance with wartime regulations things had to be cut back. In 1943, the kitchen and gift shop were closed, and then the electric boat trips were eliminated. Finally government officials issued a ban on unnecessary private travel and Dupree posted signs reading: "Closed for the Duration."
The gardens did play a role in the inauguration of daily direct air service between Tampa and New York City by National Airlines on October 3, 1944. The 14-passenger Lockheed Lodestar which made the six-hour-and-20-minute trip carried not only a humidor of fine Havana cigars for New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, but also camellia blooms from Dupree Gardens, which were to be auctioned for the war effort. The flowers created a sensation when airline president Ted Baker placed the winning bid for them by pledging to buy $250,000.00 in war bonds.
Florists on Park, Madison, and Fifth Avenues were amazed with the quality of the blossoms, finding it "inconceivable that Florida could offer fully-matured camellias in this season." Newspapers reported that the flowers were displayed on black velvet backgrounds for maximum impact and appropriately credited to Dupree Gardens.
The Dupree Gardens lodge still stands and is the residence of the current owner, Fran Hendrix; the rest of the former estate has been developed into houses. The only external reminder of the once magnificent attraction is the old native-rock ticket booth.
Website provided by The Dupree Gardens Historical Society.
Florida's Original Roadside Tourist Attraction