By 1910, Denham was a name familiar to most Pasco residents as a small community that emerged at the intersection of today’s State Road 54 and U.S 41, following construction of the Tampa Northern Railroad.
Aside from today’s Denham Oaks Elementary School in the south-central part of the county, this name has been completely lost.
But, the history behind the origins of this former community and its name leads us down the path of the lesser known and on a journey into the life and career of a United States railroad pioneer—Captain William B. Denham.
Born March 1, 1849, in Monticello, Florida, William Bailey Denham was the son of Scottish immigrants William and Elizabeth Scott Denham, who arrived to United States on September 27, 1836, from East Lothian, Scotland.
By 1840, the Denham family migrated from New York City to the Florida Territory, settling in Jefferson County, where William Sr. engaged in and owned a very successful mercantile business in the town of Monticello.
As a young child, William Jr. was exposed to some of the earliest forms of industrial revolution and lived less than 10 miles east of the mule driven Tallahassee Railroad—one of the first operational railroads in the United States.
But more importantly, by 1858, when young William was about 10-years-old, he witnessed the arrival of the railroad to his own hometown.
The magnificent steel-wheeled, steam-driven locomotives were a marvel to everyone, and obviously left an unforgettable impression upon little William Denham, who, by age 25, had taken to employment with the Wilmington, Columbia & Augusta Railroad.
With this company, Denham went to work as an engineer building and laying the tracks for the same massive steam-driven locomotives that he witnessed as a child.
But, by 1880, he moved his way into a new position that opened many new doors—chief engineer of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railway, owned by future railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant.
For more than two decades Denham worked for Plant’s railroad, leaving his mark by implementing many improvements and policies which allowed for more efficient operations.
And with his learned knowledge of the industry, by 1900, a year after Plant’s death, Denham became general superintendant of the entire system stretching from South Carolina to Florida.
According to some accounts, Denham was even described as Henry Plant’s “right-hand-man.”
In 1902, Denham even oversaw sale of the Plant System to the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, allowing him to keep his position with the new owners.
Before his retirement from Coastline, in December 1904 Denham achieved one of the highest position within the company, assistant to the fourth vice-president—a position he held for less than a month.
Following his so-called retirement, Denham found his way to brief employment with the Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad, a line leased by Seaboard Airline Railroad—direct competitor of his former employer.
So, by now you’re probably wondering, what does this have to do with Pasco County and why did we name a town and depot after this well esteemed railroad man?
After his brief stint with the F.C. & P. Railroad, on January 15, 1907, the Tampa Morning Tribune reported Denham had been appointed general manager of the Tampa Northern Railroad, although still under construction at the time.
Stretching through the heart of Pasco County, the Tampa Northern Railroad Co. had big plans for the area and Denham was the man to make those plans happen.
Incorporated May 14, 1906, the company’s grand plan called for a 500 mile railroad line stretching from Tampa, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, where it would connect with the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railroad.
On January 1, 1908, trains started running the little more than 46 miles of track between Tampa and Brooksville, but not before Denham’s personal inspection during a private tour on June 27, 1907.
On several occasions between 1907 and 1910, he took to the Tampa Northern rails for inspection, and in many instances passed through, and perhaps stopped at, the little depot and Pasco community named in his honor.
But, on June 28, 1910, the Tampa Morning Tribune announced Denham’s resignation as Tampa Northern’s general manager for a similar position with the Gainesville-Midland Railroad, his resignation effective January 1, 1911.
Throughout his local employment, Denham strongly supported the advancement of Tampa and its surrounding communities and stood firmly for the building of Union Station and expansion of the Port of Tampa—his resignation was a great loss to the area.
After a short stint with the Georgia & Florida Railroad, in 1913 Denham worked for his last railroad company when he accepted a position with the Ocala Northern Railroad.
By 1915, his ailing health took him to Philedelphia, where, on October 27, 1915, he died.
Denham’s remains were returned via the railroads he once managed, to Monticello, Florida where he was interred in the family’s plot at the Roseland Cemetery.
The Denham community of Pasco County encompassed one-square mile at today’s intersection of State Road 54 and U.S. 41, but its few residents had no cemetery, school, or church.
Instead the railroad based community relied on a small sawmill at its center, and was complete with housing, commissary, and its Denham depot, where goods were shipped to and fro.
By 1934, the Denham name began appearing in school board records, after construction of the two-room Myrtle-Denham School.
The Denham community name remained a prominent feature on Pasco County maps until 1949 when the Land O’ Lakes name came to the forefront, and historically significant names like Denham, Myrtle, Drexel, and Ehren became less and less prevalent, until they have almost been lost.
Today, many of the Florida and Georgia railroads built or managed by Captain Denham are still actively used, including the old Tampa Northern running parallel with U.S. 41, although now owned and maintained by CSX.
So, as you pass through the old town of Denham or visit the nearby Denham Oaks Elementary School, remember the well seasoned railroad man behind the name—Captain William Bailey Denham.
Fast Facts about William Bailey Denham:
William Denahm was brother-in-law to Pasco County’s namesake Senator Samuel Pasco married Jesse Denham on October 28, 1869 in Monticello, Florida.
William Denham married Caroline Ware (1858-1922).
During his employment with the Tampa Northern Railroad, Denham and his family lived in the Hyde Park district of Tampa, first living on Beach Street and then Plant Avenue.
According to reports, Denham visited Pasco County on several occasions and even spent time in the town of Fivay, Florida on the county’s coast.