Today, hundreds of new homes dot the horizon in central Pasco County, and hundreds of miles of roads criss-cross the once isolated countryside.
But, long before railroads, automobiles, buses, and our modern paved roads, the stagecoach was king.
Reminiscent of the Wild West, the earliest stage route passing through the heart of what would become Pasco County was started sometime in the early 1850s by a businessman named Walker.
Like most, this early route was established as a government contract to carry mail and later expanded to include passenger travels.
The standard coach could travel an average speed between 4 and 7 mph and could cover between 70 and 120 miles, on a good day. But, in Florida, the bad, sandy roads slowed travels even further, wearing on the team of horses, the teamsters and passengers alike.
The coaches made regular trips between stages or stations — a place of rest for the weary traveler or where the teamster hitched a fresh team of horses to continue along his lengthy route.
But, even prior to the actual establishment of a regular station, our area was frequented by stage teamsters and travelers seeking relief from their hot, slow ride through the Florida wilderness still inhabited by native Indians.
Newspaper account captures the scene
Traveling from Tampa to St. Augustine in March 1853, an unnamed "wayfaring" traveler had the tales of his journeys published in national newspapers, when he visited one of the first settlers in the region.
As reported in the New York Commercial Advertiser:
"First night out from Tampa, twenty-five miles, arrived at 7, found family all sitting by a log fire out in the yard : no fire place in the house : man did not rise to greet us, or even turn in his chair to see who we were : that was the (slave's*) business : sat there till near nine waiting for supper, which was served out on the porch. Venison fried with pork, sweet potatoes, corn bread, and arrow root - no tea. No doors to the chamber, and only a broken shutter on the window; put up bed quilts; air came in freely between the logs..."
Situated north of today’s Ehren Cutoff Road, the home visited was that of central Pasco pioneer Capt. Robert Duke Bradley. But, within a year of this visit, the Bradley family moved about 5 miles north to settle in Darby, leaving the area void of settlers.
In July 1855, the proprietary ownership of the stage route changed hands when Pilatka resident Hubbard Lott Hart was awarded the mail contract. Like previous owners, mail wasn’t all that Hart’s Concord Stage Company carried. He also advertised passenger services on his route, stretching from Pilataka south to Tampa, with at least eight different stations in between.
To better accommodate his passengers and teamsters, Hart established several new stations along the lengthy route, and he purchased several new coaches and plenty of fresh horses.
The route cut through the central part of what would eventually become Pasco County, in 1887; records show that by 1858 a regular station was established deep in the woods, off today’s Ehren Cutoff Road, in the uninhabited woods near the former Bradley home.
This station, located 26 miles north of the main depot in downtown Tampa, became widely known as the 26-Mile-House.
26-Mile-House employed a regular crew of hired horse tenders. When the stage arrived, the tired horses were unhitched, and fresh ones, already harnessed, were hitched in their place — this change made in only one or two minutes.
This brief stop also permitted passengers an opportunity to stretch, use the toilet facilities, or to fetch some fresh water. Stations often served meals and in some cases offered overnight lodging.
Letter describes life at 26-Mile-House
Recently, a letter mailed from 26-Mile-House, Florida, surfaced, offering some rare insight into the station’s early operations. This letter, dated Oct. 3, 1858, was mailed to route owner Hubbard Hart from hired horse tender and Brooksville resident William B. Allen.
In his letter, Allen reports that “every thing on our rout all right except bay horse of Brooksville team. Is quite lame on his game leg-- don’t know what the cause. He came so quite sudden, nothing visible to cause it. Mr. Adam sent word to get Charley if I need him. Greys are mending very fast.
"Roads are better than when you was down, not so much water. Some bad places yet, where the road is washed. Weather quite pleasant, having cool nights.”
Allen also reports he and his hired hand, Massey, were getting along fine but had recent reports of yellow fever in Tampa — bad news at any station.
According to Citrus, Sawmill, Critters, and Crackers, stage services were irregular during the Civil War but were finally resumed afterward.
Between 1866 and 1868, land records also reveal several new property owners with interests around 26-Mile-House, where the first group of cabins was built.
Making regular stops at 26-Mile-House, for the next 40-plus years, the creaking stagecoaches and neighing horses traveled the sandy route through central Pasco.
With the beginnings of the railroad industry, by 1889 Hart’s business of transporting goods and passengers was beginning to decline. On Dec. 12, 1895, Hubbard Hart died following an injury suffered during a fall from a trolley car in Atlanta, where he was attending a business meeting.
Hart’s Concord Stage Company was eventually taken over by his brother-in-law. But, unable to compete with railroad transportation, the central Pasco line finally stopped services around 1907.
So prominent, the marks of this early stage route are still evident in our community through such names as Twenty-Mile Level Road, Concord Station and Stagecoach — the latter two, communities off State Road 54.
*Editor's note: Some content in the 1853 newspaper excerpt has been edited by writers and staff as to not be offensive to our readers.