Dade City Featured In National Magazine

DADE CITY—Carol Godwin is a free lance writer publishing primarily travel, business and life style articles in national publications. A native, Floridian, she was born in Miami, grew up in Sarasota, and recently relocated from Jacksonville to Falls Church, Virginia. As the wife of a career Army officer she is accustomed to moving from one area to another.

When the editor of ”Where to Retire” magazine, Mary Lu Abbott, asked Godwin if she was familiar with Dade City, Godwin was happy to tell her she had driven through here numerous times and liked it very much.

Reprinted with Carol Godwin’s permission, here is her delightful article in the Spring 1996 issue of ”Where to Retire.”

Forget Beaches – this Florida town has hills, oak trees and antique shops

In a state known for its palm trees and beaches, Dade City boasts of neither. “Florida isn’t all beach,” observes Louis Sciafani. “People normally think Florida is flat but the Pasco County countryside has rolling hills, citrus groves and ranches.”

“It’s not the Florida most people envision,” adds Richard Barraclough. “No (or few) palm trees – they’re an hour drive south to the other Florida. Dade City is very friendly small-town America.”

Janet Chouinard surprises most people when she says, “I live on a hill” – something she didn’t expect to find in Florida.

To Josephine Bellows, Dade City “reminds us of a quiet town on Long Island. The traffic is not heavy and there are no crowds of vacationers. I-4 (slicing the state east and west near Tampa) is like the Long Island Expressway.”

The Sciafanis, the Barracloughs, the Bellowses and Janet Chouinard, all former residents of the Northeast, have found Dade City an ideal place to retire. And for good reason – Dade City is a quaint, award-winning small town nestled in Central Florida’s undulating hills northeast of Tampa.

A recognized Main Street community, the city’s people oriented Streetscape Plan of canopied oaks, fine eateries and shops are a welcome change of pace from increasingly crowded, busy cities.

“Dade City is clean and picturesque, with nice little lunch places and a Main Street full of antique shops and boutiques my wife loves,” says Louis Sciafani.

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles dubbed Dade City ‘Florida’s Outstanding Rural Community of the Year 1994.” Of the 99 cities and towns profiled by authors Richard and Betty Fox in “Where to Retire in Florida,” Dade City is one of only five places that each author ranked a five-star retirement place. High on the list of good impressions is the warmth, friendliness and helpfulness of the townspeople.

Long known for its graceful oak trees that shade neighborly byways, the town of about 6,000 residents recently was recognized as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to tree planting and environmental stewardship.

Preserving History

Incorporated in 1889, Dade City was originally settled as an agricultural community in Florida’s rich citrus region. Succulent fruit still comes from the environs, including the little community of St. Joseph, known as the Kumquat Capital of the World. Several back-to-back winters of hard freezes forced some citrus farms to other options that now include hothouses of decorative foliage and hillsides of fresh Christmas trees popular with the locals and families who drive from Tampa to cut their own.

Dade City’s small 2.8 square-miles city limits harbor a treasure trove of historical sites, with 63 structures listed on the historical registers of the Dade City Historical Advisory Board and the Pasco County Preservation Committee. The Pioneer Florida Museum clusters six historic buildings on 21 acres, giving an authentic glimpse of early Florida.

Proof that everything old is new again, the circa-1912 Seaboard Coastline Railroad Depot is back in service, thanks to Amtrak making Dade City the first new addition to its train schedule in several years and the only stop in Pasco County. The depot is scheduled for renovation.

One of Florida’s first Rails-to-Trails Programs created a 47-mile linear park on a former railroad right-of way stretching from Citrus Springs to Dade City. Today, the Withlacoochee State Trail is a wonderful place for walking, hiking, jogging, skating, bike riding or horse back riding. The park’s new welcome center occupies the old Trilby railroad yard.

Proud of his roots, tennis professional Jim Courier is a favorite son who let the French Open crowd know exactly where Dade City is on the map. Baseball’s Mutt Cat Grant, country singers the Bellamy Brothers and opera star Janette Thompson also are proud to claim Dade City as their mutual hometown.

More and more retirees are discovering the area, settling in Dade City or outlying communities. In Pasco County, 32 percent of all residents are age 65 or older.

Phyllis Smith, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, says, “As Tampa continues to grow north, many larger developments are moving into Pasco County. People come to look, discover our charming Main Street and quiet neighborhoods and can’t believe this place is here.”

Chance Discovery

Richard and Joan Baraclough came to Florida seven years ago from the Wilmington, DE, area. With three grown children on the East Coast, they set Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina as retirement options. Their first move was to a manufactured-home community in the Tampa Bay Area


Joan, 61, a housewife and former bookkeeper, likes to dabble in ceramics, crafts and water aerobics and to browse Dade City’s appealing Main Street shops.

We discovered Dade City totally by chance and are happy to be here,” says Josephine Bellows. “We were coming down to look at an apartment in Lake Wales (south of Orlando) and got off I-75 because the drive was boring. We took Highway 301 to Highway 98, saw the big sign for South Fork Manufactured Home Community, went in and fell in love with it.” Josephine, formerly with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and her husband, Albert, both 62, lived all their married life in Patchogue, in Suffolk County, NH, before moving to Dade City last May.

“I always wanted to retire at 62 so I could be at home with Albert, who was disabled on the job with the post office. We’d thought about retiring in Pennsylvania to be close to our son, but the weather there was not what we wanted. It’s much easier and much nicer to be where it’s warm,” Josephine says.

Janet Chouinard came from Chicopee, MA, to central Florida several times to look for possible retirement locations when her husband became ill three years ago. With a sister in Zephyrhills, only 15 minutes from Dade City, and friends living at a nearby mobile home community, also in Dade City, she stopped next door to check out South Fork. Janet liked its quiet yet friendly atmosphere so much that she bought a place there the same day and moved in three days later. South Fork’s neighborly warmth reached out to her when her husband died in late ’94.

“I was down and didn’t do much for a while,” says Janet, 63, mother of six and grandmother of 14 grand children scattered throughout Massachusetts, North Dakota and Idaho. Janet, a computer technician for 16 years with Digital Equipment Corp. in Westville, MA, now stays busy with the St. Rita Catholic Church Women’s Club and South Fork activities, including crafts, line dancing, swimming, bingo, exercise and potluck dinners. “And,” she adds, “I’m crocheting 14 afghans for my little ones.”

South Fork, an adult manufactured home community offering swimming pool, shuffleboard and clubhouse with activities, is about five miles from downtown Dade City and two miles from a shopping center. Manufactured homes here cost from $37,000 to about $58,000; residents lease the lots for their homes. The park currently has about 100 spots occupied but will eventually accommodate approximately 240 homes.

“Most homes in Dade City are under $100,000,” says a local Realtor. “A good portion are in the median range of $40,000 to $55,000. The low cost of living was a big factor in the Bellowses relocating in the area. “My retirement is at a minimum and New York apartments are simply too high. If my husband passes away, I do not receive his pension. The cost of living is much better in Florida,” says Josephine. “Albert planned our retirement by saving through IRAs, 401(k)s, watching the financial news and reading books on the subject. He did the best with the money we had.”

Investing in Individual Retirement Accounts at work helped Janet Chouinard save. Thanks to the sale of a large home in Massachusetts, she was able to pay cash for her South Fork home and make the upgrades she desired, such as ceramic sinks and a mirrored wall and chandelier in the dining room.

All moves have some surprises. For the Bellowses, the Dade City area’s excellent medical facilities and health care systems proved unexpectedly welcome. Since their relocation, Albert underwent another back operation and recently suffered a heart attack. He highly praises the care he received at both Columbia Dade City Hospital and East Pasco Medical Center.

“The care was a great surprise,” adds Josephine. “Albert is progressing slowly and when he’s back on his feet we’ll do a lot more in the community.”

Dade City’s annual calendar of events keeps people on the go to everything from quilt and antique shows to bluegrass festivals, Seminole War battle reenactments and sporting events.

Decembers are wrapped up with gala goings-on that include the Magical Night Christmas Parade, Country Christmas Stroll down Main Street with shopping galore and tasty treats, entertainment and carriage rides, Christmas Open House at Pioneer Florida Museum, Church Street Christmas and a Bluegrass New Year’s Eve Party.

“We may have to turn on the air conditioning to enjoy a Yuletide fire while we decorate the Christmas tree,” says Phyllis Smith, “but it’s better than shoveling snow.” The North’s icy chill and the job, says Louis Sclafani, are the things they – and other retirees – miss least. Friends and family are missed the most.

“But it only takes the kids two and a half hours to fly down from New York,” adds Josephine Bellows. “They could spend that much time in traffic.’’

Janet Chouinard hopes some of her six children eventually will follow her to Florida.

All pleased with their choice for retirement, only Louis Sclafani would have done something differently: “If I’d only known how well everything was going to work out, I’d have retired sooner.”

”Where To Retire” magazine is published by Vacation Publications, Inc., 1502 Augusta Dr., Suite 415, Houston, TX 77057-2484.