How Dade City Became our County Seat

With its proud heritage and promising future, how did Dade City become our permanent county seat?

Prior to 1887, there was no Pasco County. Instead, we were part of what was then known as Hernando County—encompassing all of today’s Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco Counties.

On , because of its sheer size and an enthusiasm among the residents for division, Florida Gov. Edward A. Perry signed into law a bill to divide Hernando and make the counties of Citrus and Pasco.

When Governor Perry signed the bill, he designated Dade City as the temporary county seat and appointed our first board of county commissioners and other officials.

From there, the new board eventually convened in a temporary courthouse offered by Dade City businessmen Coleman and Ferguson, until a permanent county seat could be determined and permanent courthouse built.

So, how did Dade City move from the status of a temporary county seat to the distinction of a permanent one?

According to county commission records, on March 14, 1889, W.B. Lynch presented a petition signed by 320 Pasco County voters asking for an election to change the county seat.

After accepting the petition, the board set a special election for Thursday, April 11, 1889.

There were eight communities nominated for Pasco electors to choose from: Dade City, Gladstone [San Antonio], Pasadena, Urbana, Fort Dade, Clear Lake, Jefferson, and Owensboro, according to commission records.

Of the eight communities nominated, several tendered commitments for the building a permanent courthouse, if electors picked their town.

The citizens of Dade City committed with an executed bond for $6,000 while J.L Clarkson offered a $6,000 bond for Urbana; Pasadena gave a draft for $6,000 signed by Thomas Mclenden, a non-resident; and P.A. Demens, president of the Orange Belt Railroad made an obligation of $500 on behalf of Gladstone [San Antonio] to better any courthouse plans and specifications.

According to the History of Pasco County Florida by J.A. Hendley, interest in the special election caused quite a stir among residents.

In Dade City, residents encouraged the Protestant clergy to take an active part in the election against the Catholic colony of San Antonio [Gladstone], who was actively vying for the seat.

It was the first time religion entered the political affairs of our county

Dade City’s African-Americans residents also had an important role in the election process. It was suggested they organize a company with a captain and band to march to the polls to vote at the same time.

According to History of Pasco County Florida, on election day, Henry Macon and Dan Hattfield, leading black residents of the county, dressed in long black swagger coats; tall silk hats, and had a great silken sash extending over the left shoulder, pinned with a bunch of flowers.

Marching two by two and keeping step to the martial music of a string band, behind these two great leaders, a large company of black men followed carrying a banner that read: Dade City for the court house.

But, concerns over ballot box stuffing loomed over the process. Pasadena resident John Waller even stood lookout to make sure that didn’t happen.

When Waller looked up from his concentrated efforts of watching the ballot box, he saw the regiment of black men marching and reportedly said, “who in the hell is that bunch coming yonder?”

Henry Coleman told him, “that’s just another crowd of preachers that you heard so much about.”

The Results Are In

Five days after Pasco electors cast their vote to determine the new county seat, on April 16, 1889, county commissioners convened to canvass the returns from their special election.

With a total of 765 votes cast, the results revealed an overwhelming majority in favor of making Dade City our permanent county seat.

According to records of the canvassed results, Dade City won the vote with a 227 lead over its fierce competitor Gladstone [San Antonio].

The voter break down shows Dade City received 432 votes, while Gladstone only received 205.

Of the other six communities nominated, Pasadena received 96; Urbana, 20; Fort Dade, 4; Clear Lake, 2; Jefferson, 2; and Owensboro, 1.

According to supervisor of election records, a break down by precinct or district shows the overwhelming majority in favor of Dade City came from their own precinct, with 180 votes cast in that district alone.

The results from other districts or precincts in favor of Dade City were:

District 1, Macon [Tribly]:  59 votes

District 3, Richland:  60 votes

District 4, Wesley Chapel:  26 votes

District 5, San Antonio:  7 votes

District 6, Chipco:  45 votes

District 7, Saint Thomas:  24 votes

District 8, Loyce:  0 votes

District 9, Hudson:  8 votes

District 10, Anclote:  9 votes

District 11, Earnestville:  14 votes

In the weeks to come, we’ll delve into the controversies over the building of our first permanent courthouse, which followed this special election.


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