This week we explore what could possibly be considered one of Pasco County’s last frontiers—Deer Island.
Now known as Green Key, less than 90 years ago, Deer Island was nothing more than mangroves and saw grass.
But today, with its paved causeway, county park, and Gulf access, you’d be hard pressed to find a deer on Deer Island.
So, how was it that this little piece of no man’s land came to be one of only four Pasco County parks with Gulf frontage?
Deer Island, the Homestead
In the mid 1920s, Deer Island became one of the last pieces of federally homesteaded lands in Pasco County, which is where the history of our little island begins.
Consisting of a little more than 42 acres, it was in the 1920s when John Gippson “Gip” Brown and his wife, Cora Stevenson Brown, made a claim to the land under the May 20, 1862 homestead law.
The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land,\ and file for an official deed of title.
The occupant had to be 21 or older or the head of a family, live on the land for five years and show evidence of having made improvements—and the process was open to anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government.
So, the Browns went to work on making their claim. The first challenge: Adding improvements to an island that had no mainland access.
Using a skiff, the Browns transported lumber and other building materials from Manor Beach to the secluded island and stuck to the job of building a modest living quarters.
According to Tales of West Pasco, with the exception of fish, food, water, kerosene, and the simplest living necessities were all boated out to the island, including their Jersey cow.
By 1927, a survey shows that Gip Brown had completed the task of building two distinct structures on the island, with a dock jutting out into the Gulf from their main living quarters.
But, the rewards for their hard work paid off. On June 24, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed the deed giving the Browns full title to their Deer Island homestead.
Green Key Beach, the Subdivision
After gaining title to the 42 acre island, the Browns went to work on one of the most significant improvements in the island’s history— building a causeway from the mainland.
The pass that separated the island from the mainland was filled with rock.
According to Florida Cracker Day in West Pasco, with aide from his nephew, Dr. Oris K. Bragg; they rigged up an old Buick motor to dredge up sand.
Then, in 1939, the northwest portion of the island was subdivided into 64 home lots, dissected by streets with such names as Green Key Boulevard, Gulf Road, Tarpon Way, Mangrove Street, Palm Street and Pompano Way.
And, after being denied telephone connection by the Peninsular Telephone Company, the Browns themselves funded and strung nearly two miles of line through the marsh.
However, the calls from interested buyers of home lots didn’t come pouring in and, by the late 1940s, only three or four lots had been sold.
It was then the Browns partnered with R.K. Staley, who had the financing and money to invest in advancing the Green Key Beach subdivision.
And, to help spur development, Staley and Brown attempted to dredge a white sandy beach on the island’s western tip, but this soon proved to be impractical due to the lack of sand and the abundance of rocks and oyster beds at the location.
That’s when they decided to clear all the mangroves and underbrush from the immediate area to haul in sand from a sandpit on New Port Richey’s east Indiana Avenue.
After nearly three month of hauling approximately 6,000 tons of sand, the new beach was beginning to take its form.
But, Mother Nature soon intervened with a powerful storm that pounded the beach for three days and nights. When the crashing water subsided, all their hard work had been washed away leaving nothing behind but roots and rock.
After the failed attempts of development and nearly 20 years of investment into the Green Key project, the Browns reached the tough decision to sell their island interest.
On March 14, 1953, Gip and Cora Brown sold the 42-acre island to Daniel G. Bland and W.R. Lanphear, each having half interest divided equally.
In turn, Bland and Lanphear mortgaged the island back to the Browns for $25,000.
The Browns' transfer of property to Bland and Lanphear noted that it was subject to right-of-way for Green Key Road, and approximately two acres south of the right-of-way dedicated for a public park.
Bland retained ownership of the island until 1955, when it sold to Philip Berkowitz, Al Elfenbein, and Sol Hochberg, owners of the property which we now know as Gulf Harbors.
In November 1958, Howard Burkland purchased Green Key and soon thereafter entered into an agreement with the City of New Port Richey to provide a public beach area, together with public access roads, for certain considerations pledged by the city.
A similar agreement soon followed with Pasco County.
However, in December 1961 Burkland sold the land to Sumner Sollitt, who made little effort in fulfilling the previous agreements.
After lengthy litigation with Sollitt, in January 1969, the courts ordered the land be deeded equally to Pasco County, New Port Richey, and the Pasco County School Board.
That same year, county commissioners appropriated $50,000 in their next budget cycle for improvements to Green Key, finally allowing public access to the little island.
Over the course of the next few years, more than 6,450 cubic yards of sand was brought into the previously designated public park site to create the public beach.
Today, the three or four home lots that were sold by the Browns in the 1940s still remain in private ownership on the north side of the island, surrounded by the land owned by New Port Richey.
The southern half of the island is owned by Pasco County and is the location of Green Key Beach.