Celebrates City's 100th Birthday!
From "PASCO NEWS, Friday, August 23, 1991"
by "BILL DAYTON, Attorney"
On Febuary 15, 1882, two men reached a pine covered hilltop in what was then the southern
part of Hernando County. There they looked down on a large and exceptionally clear lake.
The government surveyors in 1845 had missed the lake altogether and the area was
virtually uninhabited so the men probably felt that they had discovered the lake.
One of then drew a Latin prayer book from his saddlebags and read that the day was the
feast of St. Jovita. He accordingly named the lake in honor of that early Christian martyr.
Locally it had been called Clear Lake.
The two men proceeded around the lake to the hilltop where St. Leo Abbey now stands
and one of then decided that he would reserve the land for himself.
The men were Edmond F. Dunne, former chief justice of the Arizona territory, and his
cousin, Caption Hugh Dunne. Judge Dunne was one of the attorneys involved in negotiating the
Disston purchase of 1881, when Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia provided the State of Florida
with enough money to pay the interest due on state bonds, by purchasing four million acres of
land at 23 cents an acre.
In return for his services, Disston gave Dunne the option to develop a tract of 50,000
Remembering the discrimination which Romon Catholics had experienced in Ireland and
many parts of the United States in the 19th century, Dunne envisioned the land as a "Catholic
Colony," a settlement dominated by Roman Catholics, a center of Catholic civilization in Florida.
Judge Dunne placed the center of his colony a short distance to the southwest of Lake
Jovita. There he carefully planned a town, named San Antonio, in honor of St. Anthony of Padua.
For the city of San Antonio he reserved a full section of land, plotted streets and
residential lots and set aside preperty for schools, a monastery, a convent, and an orphan's
asylum. In the middle of town he laid out a pubic square in the European style.
Surrounding SanAntonio, he planned a series of villages, and set aside portions of
land to be kept in forest. True north of San Antonio would be the village of St. Joseph.
To the norteast would be St. Philip and to the northwest, St. Thomas, South of San
Antonio would be the village of Carmel, at the end of a roadway lined with line trees and
castor bean trees, called Palma Christi, grown from seeds which had been shipped to Dunne
The little village of St. Philip disappeard in a couple years but the towns of St.
Thomas and Carmel lasted until close to the turn of the century, each with a post office
and small church. St. Thomas also had a Negro mission.
By 1883, the town of San Antonio was well established with several stores, a
barn-like church with a resident priest (Father O'Boyle) and a school taught by Mrs. Cecilia
Moore. In 1884, Dunne started publication of a newspaper, the San Antonio Herald.
The early settles of the colony included the McCabe, Gailmard, Hand, Carroll, Bischoff,
Freese, O'Neal, Weaver, Flannigan and Corrigan families. Most of the early settlers were of
Irish decent, lake Judge Dunne (who sometimes spelled his name "O'Dunne").
The colony's medical doctor was Dr. Joseph Corrigan, a wealthy and well educated man,
brother of Archbishop Michael Corrigan, of New York. The doctor acquired a large tract along
the east side of Jovita and built a palatial home.
The house, with its private chapel, burned in 1915 but the palm trees which lined
the roads on the Corrigan estate can still be seen.
The colony's Justice of the Peace, Judge John Flannigan, lived in town in an elegant
victorian structure(now the Arnade Home). Judge Dunne hemself resided in a book-filled cabin
on the hilltop where St. Leo Abbey now stands.
Before the arrival of the Catholic settlers, the San Antonio area was largely
uninhabited, save by the Osburn, Tucher and Wischers families.
The small groups of Protestant "crackers" in the area generally accepted the appearance
of Catholic neighbors and even attended church with them on occasion. A French visitor to San
Antonio in 1885, counted some 60 non-Catholics at the Easter Mass.
Until the late 1800's San Antonio, like the rest of Hernando County, was quite isolated.
Long journeys by wagon or ox cart were required to reach the nearest port (Tampa) of railroad
station (Wildwood). After 1887 when the South Florida Railway passed through Dade City, Things
Pasco County was formed out of the nouthern end of Hernando. The Orange Belt Railroad was
constructed, passing through San Antonio on its way to St. Peterburg, Crops could now be shipped
quichly and efficiently to northern markets.
Many new settlers arrived and to accomodate the prosperity which followed the railroads.
The bank of Pasco county was established in Dade City in 1889.
During this period the Order of St. Benedict began to make its mark on the developing
Father Gerald Pilz, O.S.B., succeeded Father O'Boyle as parish priest and a group of
Benedictine sisters arrived to manage St. Anthony's school and found a private girl's school
at their convent. Holy Name, then located in the former Sultenfuss Hotel at the north end of
The building was moved in 1911, by use of a pulley and two oxen, to the hilltop where
Holy Name Priory now stands.
In 1889, Judge Dunne conveyed his own lands to the Order of St. Benedict and a small
party of monks let by Father Charles Mohr, O.S.B., arrived to establish a monastery and Catholic
school and to found the town of St. Leo.
The monks added to the groves planted by Judge Dunne and built a large frame structure to
contain a monastery, school and church. In the early days, St. Leo provided instruction which
would now be considered on both the high school and junior college level and granted a degree
called "Master of Acccounts."
It was a military school at first but the military aspects were slowly abandoned during
the early part of the twentieth century.
About the same time St. Leo was being established, the Barthle family led a number of
Catholic immigrants from the German Empire into the area of founded the village of St. Joseph.
A little board and batten church was built and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The whole area was permanently affected by steadily increasing number of German settlers.
By 1896 San Antonio's newspaper was no longer the Herald but the Florida Staats
Zeitung. Undaunted by the great freeze of 1895, which severely damaged the citrus industry
and caused the demise of many Florida towns, German families experimented in a wide variety of
crops and, for a time, made the Catholic colony a center of the strawberry industry.
San Antonia and the surrounding area maintained a distinctly Germanic character until
the era of the first world war when Florida was convulsed with an unprecedented wave of
anti-German feeling combined with a strong anti-Catholic movement led by the state's governor,
Sidney J. Catts.
Governor Catts was widely quoted(and widely believed) to the effect that the "German"
monks at St. Leo had an arsenal and were planning to arm the Negroes for an insurrection in
favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II, after which the Pope would take over Florida and move the Vatican
to San Antonio(and of course, close all Protestant churches).
A number of German Settlers moved away to friendlier parts of the country. Others
stayed and took the pressure.
Abbott Charles of St. Leo published several dignified responses to the extravagant
claims about Catholic "plots" and many local Protestants made a point of appearing in public
with their Catholic neighbors.
When Catts visited the Pasco County area, he generally omitted the anti-Catholic
portions of his speeches.
During the first two decades of the century, the Benedictines constructed the first
concrete block building in Pasco County. St. Leo Hall at St. Leo was begun in 1906 shortly
after the Pope raised St. Leo's status to that of an abbey.
The building was completed at the end of World War I. St. Scholasica Hall at Holy
Name convent, was completed in 1912.
The architet for these structures was Brother Anthony Poiger, O.S.B. He designed
the buildings, manufactures the concrete blocks used in them and supervised construction.
Both structures still stand, after more then half a century, monuments to the industry of the
Benedictine pioneers at St. Leo and Holy Name.
In 1926, during the Florida land boom, San Antonio was reorganized as the "City of Lake
Jovita" and its boundaries extended a considerable distance. In an effort to "modernize,"
Judge Dunne's street names were changed, Sacred Heart street becoming Rhode Island Avenue, Pius
IX Avenue becoming Curley Street, etc.
When the Depression made it clear that the "boom" was gone, the town changed its name
back to San Antonio and withdrew the city limits to the section lines where Judge Dunne put
them in 1881 and where they are today. The secularized street names are about the only
remnants of san Antonio's "boom-times" modernism.
St. Leo functioned as a college preparator school for boys into the 1960's . Holy Name
Academy functioned as a private girl's school during the same period, until St. Leo and Holy
Name closed the secondary schools in order to make their facilities available for st. Leo
Junior college, now a four year liberal arts collage.
A community with deep roots in the past and strong agricultural ties, Judge Dunne's
Catholic Colony is now comprised of the cities of San Antonio and St. Leo, the
unincorporated village of St. Joseph and miles of orange trees and pasture lands.
The central role played by the Catholic church in the life of the community and the deep
commitment to agriculture of generations of residents are, like San Antonio's town square,
reminders of what Judge Dunne envisioned in 1881.
The opening of the San Antonio branch of The Bank of Pasco County stands as a tribute
to the financial success of the desendants of those settlers who cleared, plowed and fenced
the wild pinelands nearly one hundred years age.
From "PASCO NEWS, Friday, September 6, 1991"
The Founding of the Catholic Colony of San Antonio:
by DR. JAMES J. HORGAN
Professor of History, Saint Leo college
What we are commenorating today is the centennial of the incorporation of the town
of San Antoino. But the founding occurred ten years earlier. What happened 100 years ago
August 7 was that the voters of this community went to the city hall and voted to incorporate
formally as a town, and also had an election to choose a mayor and a board of aldermen for the
There were 36 people who voted in that election. The incorporation was not unanimous.
They vote 28-8 in favor of it. and they chose G. S. Bowen as mayor and five, aldermen,
including Pat McCabe, the patriarch of the family that still continues with many members in San
This, evidently, was the first election that was ever held here -- because for its
first ten years San Antonio was something of a monarchy.
This was a very unusual community. It was setted in systematic fashion under the
direction of Judge Edmund Dunne, who was a former federal judge from Arizona, Who had a vision
to found a colony for his fellow Catholics, as something of a cultural refuge.
In the summer of 1881 he got an opportunity to do so through an unusual set of circumstances.
The State of Florida was going bankrupt and, in order to raise funds, the State decided
to sell much of its only asset; its public domain, its land. So the State of Florida sold 4,000,000
acres to an entrepreneur from Philadelphia named Hamilton Dission for $1,000,000 -- 25 cents an acre.
Judge Edmond Dunne handled the legal arrangements for that sale in the summer of 1881, the
sale of what's called the "Disston Purchase." As a result, Dunne was given by the Disston Company
the control of eventually 100,000 acres of land. He didn't now it. But Judge Dunne had a right
to control the disposition of this 100,000 acres of land that he selected from the Dission
Purchase , and he used it to found what was formally called the "Catholic Colony of San Antonio."
Let me read you a description of Dunne's account that he gave to a newspaper reporter in
1885 of how he came to found the Catholic Colony of San Antonio and the circumstances of his
arrival here. The colony was established in 1881; Dunne himself arrived on February 15, 1882.
Here is Judge Edmund Dunne speaking to a newspaper reporter from the Baltimore Catholic Mirror
in August of 1885:
"The great Disston purchase of 4,000,000 acres in Florida was made about June 1, 1881.
I was selected by Mr. Disston as his attorney to go to Florida and to assist in the selection
and to supervise the taking out of the title deeds. I obtained, as part of this arrangement
the right to have the first selection, out of the purchase, 50,000 acres of land for a Catholic
colony, with the privilege that when I had sold a certain amonut I should have the funther
privilege of takeing another 50,000 acres for the same purpose."
"This contract was made August 10, 1881. On August 19 I was in Florida and began the
work of this selection. On February 15, 1882. I made my selection of the first 50,000 acres
and had established the initial point of the settlement at a place now know as San Antonio,
on the southwest shore of Lake Jovita."
Dunne went on to describe how he
came to choose this particular area, which was selected after many weeks of searching, and
chosen for particular reasons. he contacted his cousin Caption Hugn Dunne, who had served in
the Union army during the Civil War and was a resident of Atlanta, and who was familiar with
Florida from a previous trip:
"I telegraphed him to come and help me select the site for our first settlement. He
met me at Jacksonville and we examined the country together. After examining every thing from
Sumterville to Tuckertown, a distance of thirty miles from north to south and crossing the
reservation repeatedly from ten to fifteeen miles from east to west, we chose this place on
Clear Lake as by all odds the place to start the settlement, with a view to health, and orange
and grape culture."
and he continues:
"The colony reservation is on a plateau of high land, considerable higher than the
Fort Dade region. The selection was made after many weeks tramping on foot through the country,
with the partlcular object of trying to find a high, dry country, free from malaria. The town
of San Antonio is on the very apex of all the high land of that region."
So he laid out his plan in the summer of 1881, and arrived here on February 15, 1882. That
happened to be St. Jovita's Day, and since Judge Dunne was a Serious Catholic, that's the
reason why he changed the name of the lake from its traditional name Clear Lake to Lake Jovita
-- because he arrived here on St. Jovita's Febrnary 15, 1882.
He chose the name San Antonio for this community because St. Anthony of Padua is a saint
Catholics ofter pray to when they have lost something. Judge Dunne himself, as he later said,
had been lost in the desert some years earlier when he was prospecting for silver, and he
prayed to Saint Anthony in the hope that he would find his way. And suddenly he noticed a camp
fire off in the distance and thus was rescued. And so with his long-term plan to found a
Catholic colony, this name "San Antonio" had been continuously in his mind.
He began the actual settlement in the summer of 1882. As he was promoting the colony in
Catholic newspapers, especially throughout the Northeast, he would send descriptions of life
in San Antonio in the hope of attracting settlers. Here's a description Dunne wrote of what
life in San Antonio was like at its very beginning in the summer of 1882. It appeared in a
letter he wrote to the Catholic Review of Brooklyn, New York in August of 1882:
"...our colonists all came in the most trying season of the year, the beginning of summer,
with no accommodations prepared, no conveniences attainable, no wells dug, nothing in general
but lake and pond water to drink: sleeping on the ground with or without bedding: all very
trying to health.
"Then there was a planting season coming in July, and a feverish haste to get some orange
trees in the ground immediately, in consequience of which our colonists worked long and hard,
late and early, in sun and rain, felling trees and grubbing ground, heavy work even for the
cool of winter.
"The women had to cook outdoors without shelter from the sun or rain, and with but little
to cook and small veriely to eat. We have had 40 persons here of ages ranging from 1 to 70
So San Antonio in its first few months had 40 settlers. The peak of its population in this
period of the 1880s was 400 people in 1885.
Judge Dunne remarked at this time how, from his perspective, life had advanced in that three
years from the very first settlement to the summer of 1885 when, by his standards, things were
flourishing. He told this to a newpaper reporter:
"...there are about three hundres people in the colony, with a Catholic church built, free
of debt, a resident Catholic priest, a parochial school, a post-office, three stores and a
number of residences. Also another town is established three and a half miles northwest of San
Antonio, named St. Thomas with a post-office.
"Four miles south of San Antonio the town of Carmel is established, a colony store being
erected and application for a post-office made."
Dunne envisioned that San Antonio proper would be the hub surrounded by a ring of satellite
Carmel was laid out about five miles to the south. Villa Maria was planned for one mile to
the south. Saint Thomas would be some five miles to the northwest, and St. Philip five miles
to the northeast.
And as part of his regulations in those years, all the settlers had to be Catholic, and not
only that, they had to have a letter from a priest certifing that they were in good standing. In
his sales of land through the Disston Company, Dunne could control who the settlers would be.
Land was very cheap: $1.25 an acre to as much as $5 or $10 an acre, depending on its location.
In his effort to attract people he wrote these accounts of colony life throughout that time.
In fact, this town is noted for still having desendants from some of those early settlers, who
called themselves "colonists." Madaline Beaumont's parents, for example --Mary Hand and Louis
Govreau -- read Judge Dunne's letters while living in Missouri in the mid 1880s and moved down
here to this Catholic Colony of San Antonio because they found appealling the descriptions
that he gave.
The Catholies-only regulation was something of a controversy and only lasted about six
years. Here's a commentary from a visitor from Pittsburgh, who came through here in the
summer of 1884 and was very impressed with Judge dunne, but who disagreed with Dunne's idea
that the settlement should be for Catholics only. This was an interview he gave to the
newspaper the Pittsburgh Leader in June of 1884. His name was W. B. McCaffrey:
"San Antonio is the town of Judge Dunne's colony, situated on a beautiful lake in
Hernando county. You will not find the name on the maps, as yet, but it is lacated near Fort
Dade. The colony is in a flourishing condition and numbers at present 256 souls.
"The judge controls 100,000 acres of the best land in the state, and is a most noble
gentleman. To know him is to like him, but I think he is too hard on the sinners. He will
only sell land to the catholics who show a certificate from a priest that they are practical
"I asked the judge if he wouldn't take a few of the lax Catholics and show then a good
example with the idea of making them practical. He answered, no; that the colony was not a
missionary society: that his idea was a community leading a life of virtue as Christians should.
"I would not live in his colony for two reasons: First, I would not purchase a home where a
Protestant friend could not purchase beside me; secondly, I don't wish to rest with the saints
before my time.
"The last reason and the name of Saint's Rest, which I gave to the colony, amused the
judge highly. I do not wish to convey the impression that the judge is a narrow bigot or hates
Protestants, but he has an idea, and he is determined to carry it out. He is the only man in
Florida who sells good lands at low prices."
So, one major issue of colony life at that time was the homogeniety of Catholicism, which
was the vision that Dunne had and the reason San Antonio was founded.
Another major issue of the 1880s was the conflict between the Irish Catholics and the
German Catholics. There were about 400 people here at its peak of settlement in the mid-1880s,
and about half of them were German, a little less than half were Irish, and then there were some
French Catholics as well.
The Germans were unhappy with the Irish priest, John O'Boyle. They wanted a German-speaking
priest to present religious services in their own language. So Judge Dunne, of Irish background
himself, in order to appeal to the interest of his people, arranged to have a German-speaking
priest sent here to provide bilingual services.
Such a priest arrived --a man named Gerard Pilz -- in May of 1886. This is how the Benedictines
happened to come to Florida, how Holy Name Priory come to be established, and how Saint Leo Abbey
and Saint Leo college come to be founded; because of the conflict between the German and the
Irish Catholics in the Catholic Colony in the summer of 1886.
Gerard Pilz was a Benedictine priest from St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., and his
arrival settled this conflict between the English-speakers and the German-speakers because he
was able to present services in both languages.
Dunne himself is to me a very interesting man. He was imperious in many ways, but he was a
visionary. He had a lot of conflicts., toward the end, with his colonists, but he was well
respected throughout the early years of San Anionio.
Madaline Beaumont told me that when she was growing up in San Antonio, Judge Dunne's name
was regarded heroically. Dunne himself left here in 1990 in the midst of a number of troubles,
largely because he had overextended himself financially. So Judge Dunne was not here when the
municipality incorporated, the centennial of which we are commemorating today.
Finally, let me read you a description of San Anonio on the eve of the incorporation whose
centennial we are now commemorating. This is an account from the Tampa Journal, a newspaper
which ran a series of profiles about the towns along the Orange Belt Railway. The acticle is
from November of 1889, and it decribes the very place where we are standing now:
"The streets are all broad at least 80 feet, and there are plazas and plazas. The convent"
-- which used to be located just to the north of the park --
"which is a handsome building, is
in a large lot, while before it is a four acre baseball ground, said to be the largest in the
That's where we're standing now: a four-acre baseball pround in 1889.
"It is perfectly flat
and almost as smooth as a floor. The church and parsonage stand in another four acre lot,
planted with orange trees. Indeed the center of the town is one immense count.
"There can never be sickness on this account. By no possibility can the houses crowd
each other. The building lots thenselves are twice as large as in other towns. Judge Dunne
in laying out the town worked on the principle that where land is so plenty plenty can be
spared. Another innovation is that the town is so platted that the houses all face either east or
west, thus allowing the trade winds in sweep through them, insuring always fresh air.
"There are five stores in the town and a most excellent hotel, the Pasco House. The house
itself is plain and neat, the table fine, everything being cleanly and as far as possible
"A most excellent sign is that ones sees no loafers anywhere around."
And finally the report concludes:
"Although a Catholic community there are many Protestant settlers, and everything moves on
I suppose that might be a theme we could pick up on for our commemoration today -- that
life is San Antonio, from its beginnings, has been reasonable harmonious. And I might say also,
has been reasonable harmonious. And I might say also, it seens to me that this community in the
past century has changed little. At its peak in population in the "colonial" period, there were
400 people who lived here. There are only a few hundred more today. What we are really
remembering is this distinctive feature of our community: the close knit sense of harmony that
many people feel.
And in our centennial commemoration, that is a persisient value we can keep in mind.
Editors Note: This was the centennial address Dr. Horgan presented in the San Antonio city park
on August 11. He has done extensive research on the history of San Antonio and Saint Leo and is
the author of
"Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey,
and Holy Name Priory."
The book is available for $24.95 from the Saint Leo College Press, P.O.
Box 2247, Saint Leo. Fl. 33574 also at the Saint Leo College Bookstore.
Check out these web sites
"San Antonio, Fla"
"St. Leo, Fla"
"Saint Leo Abby"
"Saint Leo University"
"Dade City, Fla"