Awakening Days at Dead River
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts, Department of Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Awakening Days at Dead River traces the history of a remote public park in north Hillsborough County that was once a privately-owned riverside enclave with modest cabins, and home to a popular fish camp on the Hillsborough River. The timeframe focuses on the mid-twentieth century to present, with a contextual background of earlier history in the immediate area. The story recounts the adventures and challenges of a select group of homeowners and visitors who experienced life on the Hillsborough and Dead Rivers during that timeframe. It also shows how the area evolved into a public property when regional flood control trumped private landownership, in some cases through eminent domain. Finally, the story shows how this event altered Dead River’s course from Florida developed, to Florida reclaimed, the clues of the former often hidden by the growth of the woods. Research entails: interviews with former Dead River homeowners and their families (some shared photographs), and people who frequented the fish camp; a journal with text and photographs by Dead River homeowner Arthur Yates; interviews with two year-round live-in rangers who have overseen Dead River since it became a park; studying records of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD or Swiftmud), the state-run agency that acquired the property to manage regional flooding , including detailed appraisals, maps and correspondence; interviews with Swiftmud iii officials associated with Dead River; and keeping a first-hand journal of observances walking the woods at Dead River and paddling its waters. As offered above, Dead River Park has many intriguing themes worth studying. That several of its former residents and weekenders are still living, are still Floridians, and have distinct memories of their “Old Florida” fun, makes it a timely study, as well. Finally, since Dead River Park is a public entity, it is worth knowing its history; parkgoers might embrace its legacy as theirs.