Situated at the major intersections of U.S. 41 and State Road 52, every day there are thousands who pass through the unincorporated community of Gower’s Corner.
But, what these travelers may be unaware of is how this former piece of no-man’s land came to be called Gower’s Corner and how it developed into an active roadside stop.
So, this week we explore the origins of Gower’s Corner and the man behind its early development: William Arthur Gower.
Who was William Arthur Gower?
Born January 6, 1881, according to the Tampa Tribune, at age 13, the Georgia native went to work for pioneer lumberman Martin F. Amourous, partaking in fistfights to beat out other applicants for a job as office boy.
From there, the relationship between employer and employee only grew into a lifelong friendship.
Working for the pioneer lumberman, Gower lived in a gambit of Georgia sawmill towns including Cordele, Moultrie, Tifton, Ty Ty, Sunset and Crossland, but it was no simple life.
According to Ralph Gower, William’s son, “We customarily lived in company housing, and only on rare occasions did we enjoy electric lights, running water and inside plumbing.”
Then, in 1905, the Gower’s made the move to Pasco County where Amourous and four other partners had purchased more than 250,000 acres for their Aripeka Sawmills.
However, due to health reason, the Gower’s initial visit to Pasco County was short lived and they were eventually forced to return to Georgia.
In about 1910, after being offered a position as superintendant of the Aripeka’s operations at Fivay, the family returned to Florida, never looking back.
According to the recollections of his son, when the Fivay operation closed in about 1912, superintendant Gower not only sawed the last log through the mill, but he was also given the mammoth task of liquidating the company’s custom-made machinery.
After the lumber operation finally ceased, the family’s Fivay home was torn down, and with every board marked, was rebuilt on Tampa’s Ballast Point, but not before Gower built a portable sawmill and, for a time, continued to cut the unexhausted supply of timber, which he manufactured into 2-by-4 boards for lumber and crossties for the railroad.
After moving to Ballast Point they quickly realized Tampa was not another sawmill town, according to the Tampa Tribune.
Although, according to the 1920 census, William A. Gower is shown with an occupation as timber agent, a position he held until the early 1930s when the family opted to return to Pasco County.
And it’s here where the history and story of Gower’s Corner begins.
Development & Acquisition of Gower’s Corner
For years it has been the belief that William Gower acquired his Gower’s Corner property from his previous employer the Aripeka Sawmills.
However, a tedious check of Pasco County land records reveals that these lands were actually acquired at public auction and not through private acquisition.
But, there’s much more to this story.
On April 10, 1926, for $6,000, Gower became the mortgagee to then owners West Coast Enterprises Inc, Lorena E. Popham and J.H. Popham.
According to mortgage records, this loan to the Pophams and West Coast Enterprise Inc. was for the explicit purposes of “erecting a filling station.”
The Pophams further agreed through the mortgage that no other gas stations or businesses, having for its purpose the sale of gasoline, motor oils, or tires, would be built on their property
In 1930, after failing to fulfill the terms of the mortgage, Gower filed suit against the Pophams and West Coast Enterprises Inc.
On July 15, 1930, the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court ordered that the mortgaged premises be sold at public auction, following a public notice of said sale in The Zephyrhills News.
Conducted by special master R.B. Sturkie, the public auction was held on September 1, 1930, at which time William A. Gower gave the highest bid of $6,000 and thereafter received full title to what would soon become Gower’s Corner.
Sometime between 1930 and 1935, Gower and his wife, Daisy, relocated from their Tampa home to Pasco County and thereafter took over management of the Popham’s gas station.
This strategically located land encompassed all four corners of the State Road 52 and U.S. 41 intersection, and because of the previous restrictions, Gower now had the only gas station for miles around.
By 1945, he and his wife made the addition of a grocery store to attract more travelers passing through what, at that time, must have resembled a no-man’s-land.
And, with most of the population concentrated 20 miles to the east or west, according to the Tampa Tribune, Gower was also notably recognized for keeping the peace.
Wielding an axe handle and carrying a canister of tear gas, when trouble did occur he was “quick as lightening” and wasn’t afraid to respond—he just hated people who caused trouble.
And, while he may have been a tough going peace keeper, many residents remember him as a kind and gentle man who was always nice to his neighbors.
In the late 1950s, after more than 20 years of managing the gas station, it was time for the 70 year old Gower to retire.
So, he sold his gas station and store interests to J.W. Chapman, who continued the business for another 3 decades. Chapman is also the namesake of today’s Gower’s Corner, Chapman Square.
After selling their business, the Gowers returned to Tampa where the lived the remainder of their lives.
On August 25, 1978, William Arthur Gower died while living in a Tampa nursing home. His wife, Daisy Harris Gower, preceded him six years earlier and both were laid to rest in the Myrtle Hill Memorial Park.
In 1984, 50-years after Gower took over management of the gas station, the old two-story building was demolished and today a brand new Hess gas station stands in its place.
So, next time you pass through the busy Gower’s Corner or gas up at the Gower’s Corner Hess Station, remember the man behind the name—William Arthur Gower.