Hernando County

written and submitted by: Roger Landers

this article appeared in the Hernando Times Edition of the St. Petersburg Times Monday, March 19, 2007.

After Congress approved the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, most of the early settlers to our county came from Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Over the next 100 years, settlers and immigrants from other states arrived. Four from Kentucky stand out: Joseph May Taylor, William J. Barnett, James R. Temple and Junius M. Rogers.

All born in the 19th century, these men represent only a few of the pioneer businessmen of Brooksville. Two of them remained here for their entire careers and two of them did not.

However, their mark on the community remains.

Joseph May Taylor

Taylor was born in May 1826 in Jefferson County, Ky., and graduated from the University of Louisville in 1848 with a degree in law.

He came to Florida about 1849, and by 1853 had purchased 40 acres in Hernando. In 1854, he was chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and county judge.

Two years later he platted the new town of Brooksville. That same year he married Sarah Jane Frierson, daughter of Aaron T. and Hester Ann Mills Frierson.

When Dr. Benjamin W. Saxon, the delegate to the session convention of 1860, died in Tallahassee, Taylor replaced him.

Having been active in the state militia, he served on the staff of governors with Madison S. Perry and John Milton. Perry promoted him to the rank of general and sent him to Fort Brook in Tampa to take command of the post. The volunteer forces were feuding among themselves, and within a short time Taylor resolved the issue.

At the end of the war, Taylor requested a special pardon for his service to the Confederacy. He sent a lengthy letter to fellow Kentuckian Joshua Speed, the attorney general to President Lincoln.

In the letter, he stated, "I regard the slavery question as settled by our defeat, and as it was the only question which gave rise to others that divided the North and South, I see no reason why I could not become a good and loyal citizen of the United States."

Soon after sending the letter, Taylor moved with his family to Texas and later to Oklahoma. He died in Cleveland County, Okla., in January 1892. His tombstone reads General J.M. Taylor.

William J. Barnett

Barnett was born in Kentucky about 1842.

In 1861, many young men of the border state chose to serve the South in the Civil War. Barnett volunteered in Helm's Brigade, Second Kentucky Cavalry. In 1862, Barnett was captured, confined at Camp Chase, Ohio, became quite ill and later was included in a prisoner exchange.

Making his way to Florida and volunteering in the Florida "Cow Cavalry," he served in the Hernando region.

After the close of the war on July 4, 1865, he married his longtime sweetheart, Virginia Hope, the daughter of William Hope, a prominent planter.

Barnett was active locally, and in August 1869, a prisoner on the way to jail wounded Barnett and Deputy David L. Sellers.

Barnett and his new wife remained in the Brooksville area. He "read law" with a local attorney and was admitted to the bar in late 1869.

Barnett served in many positions of trust for the county. He was assistant state attorney for the 6th District, justice of the peace and a notary public.

A Tampa newspaper reported: "(Brooksville) has but one lawyer in full practice, Col. W.J. Barnett, who is a wise counselor of sterling integrity, unblemished character and a Christian gentleman."

Barnett became the first mayor of Brooksville in 1880.

In the late 1890s, he moved his family to Port Tampa.

However, the family returned to Brooksville just after the turn of the century. He died of cancer Jan. 24, 1909, and was buried in the Hope family cemetery.

James R. Temple

Temple was born in Bowling Green, Ky., in 1839, and his parents died when he was young. Orphaned, he moved to Mississippi and was educated to become a teacher. He taught in Mississippi and later in Kentucky.

When the Civil War broke out, Temple volunteered with the Union and served as lieutenant in the 59th Ohio Infantry. His unit was engaged in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga and Atlanta.

After the war, he went to Indiana and began teaching. He entered the University of Kentucky Medical School and graduated in 1870.

Temple opened his medical practice in Spencer County, Ind. His interest in and support of education continued as he served as school superintendent and also taught.

While in Indiana, he met and married Mary McCoy, daughter of Henry J. McCoy.

When the McCoys and Temples moved to Hernando County in 1882, they lived at Istachatta and later moved to Brooksville. Temple had an active medical practice and drugstore.

He remained active in education, teaching chemistry at Hernando High School and serving as school superintendent from 1887 to 1893.

Temple, along with several other local veterans, organized the Blue and Gray Association. This organization sought to promote love of country and mutual respect.

He was active in the Methodist church and served as captain of the local volunteer militia company.

The Temple family moved to Hall County, Texas, in 1897. There, Temple practiced medicine until his death about 1909.

Junius Marvin Rogers

Rogers was born Sept. 20, 1880. He attended business school in Lexington, Ky. He married Alice Spencer Mudd in August 1903 and for several years was in business in Greensburg, Ky.

In 1910, the family moved to Brooksville. Mrs. Rogers had lived for a time in Brooksville as a child and fell in love with the home of William S. Jennings on Olive Street. She persuaded her husband to purchase the home, and there the three Rogers children - George, Mary Belle and Margaret "Weenie" - grew up.

"Uncle June," as the extended family called Rogers, worked in Brooksville. He purchased the New York Racket Store in 1912. Soon the store became a full-line department store at the corner of Fort Dave Avenue and Main Street.

Rogers served on the School Board for 24 years. At one time, when Hernando High School was about to lose its accreditation, he subsidized the teachers' pay with contributions from local merchants.

Active in local affairs and a steward of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rogers was a driving force in the business district of the county.

When he died in May 1968, Alfred McKethan said of him: "I had a high regard for Mr. Rogers; he ran a tight ship."

The impact of the Rogers family is still evident in the 21st century. Many will recall Lingles 5 & 10 and the Christmas House with Weenie and Mary Belle. The Christmas House remains open today under new ownership.

Roger Landers is retired from the Hernando County School District, where for nearly 33 years he was a teacher, principal and district administrator. He is the historian for the county's Heritage Museum, historical adviser to the new Hernando County Historical Advisory Commission and a member of the Florida Historical Society. He can be reached at roger58@gate.net.

Sadly, in early 2010, Rogers Christmas House closed its doors on Christmas for the last time. Ravaged by the twin foes of a sagging economy and mismanagement since the death of Weenie Rogers Ghiotto, the current owners had no option but to shut down the business. The demise of this business marked a sad day for Brooksville and Hernando County as the Christmas House drew tourists to the area from around the world. The Christmas House, cottages and property are currently for sale.