Stop 51: The 1947 Dade City Garden Club
The Dade City Garden Club was fashioned in 1947, the same year as the famous holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” directed by Frank Capra. If you can envision a movie recollection clip of Jimmy Stewart sprinting through the fictional town of Bedford Falls, parallels with the Dade City of 1947 are abundant. Not Gower’s Drug Store, but rather Touchton’s Drug Store, offered a soda counter and local news. Likewise, as fictional George Baily’s Building & Loan did not succumb to the prevailing bank failure disasters, the authentic Bank of Pasco County survived the 1929 stock market crash, while every other bank in the county failed. The robust 1909 courthouse anchored the town, and a comparable ambiance of home was evidenced in both locations.
In the early 19th century, women became active in reform movements. The first garden club was founded in 1891 in Georgia, and in 1929 the National Garden Club was federated. The Florida Federation was organized in 1924 with headquarters in Gainesville at the University of Florida then later relocated to Winter Park. Dade City Garden Club (DCGC) took root in 1947! Thelma Gilbert, a 47-year-old Dade City woman who worked as an assistant tax collector, gathered local ladies to her home on May 9, 1947. Her vision for Dade City took life…its very own garden club. Thelma was an accomplished gardener, and the idea of beautifying Dade City captivated her focus. Her father, George Gilbert was a prominent Dade City merchant, formerly a Georgia steamboat engineer, who married Alice Jordan, daughter of local pioneers. He purchased the Dade City franchise for Coca-Cola in 1916, and bottled coke and fruit drink in downtown Dade City on 7th Street. The bottles were emblazoned with ‘Dade City Coca-Cola’ logos. The Gilbert family incorporated in 1940 with their three daughters, Thelma, Christine, and Vera as full board members.
DCGC was accepted for federation with the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs on April 21, 1948. The first flower show was just two years later, March 31, 1949, at the Dade City Woman’s Club with the theme, ‘The Spirit of Spring.’
Beautification projects, flower shows, and advocacy were paramount endeavors. DCGC landscaped the new Dade City Grammar School, National Guard Armory, Pasco High School, Pasco Elementary, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Apex Park, Lester Park, and many more locations. They spear-headed the Arbor Day with advice on saving trees. The club had its own radio show and weekly newspaper column. For fundraising, they hosted variety shows, bazaars, and fashion shows.
In 1994, Pat Carver debuted the historical Christmas ornament that show-cased the courthouse, Woman’s Club, and churches that encompassed the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Catholic denominations, schools including Dade City Grammar, two of the Pasco High School plants, and Lacoochee, not to mention the National Guard Armory, Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot, Williams Department Store, Pasco Packing Plant, World War II Memorial, Pasco County Fair, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Dade City Telephone Building, and more.
The garden club met in homes and civic locations for their monthly meetings for their first twelve years. In 1959, they purchased two acres on South 5th Street for $9,000 and subsequently paid off the debt by 1966, ceremoniously burning the mortgage paperwork. Soon after they sought to erect their very own clubhouse. St. Rita’s Catholic Church congregation gifted their historic and beloved church building (erected in 1913 as a mission church) to the club for moving, ‘to be gifted for posterity.’ Businessman Michael Giella advised the club under his contracting company and held the mortgage of slightly over $35,000 himself.
The inaugural meeting at the new clubhouse was in September of 1977, and an open house were proudly hosted in December of that year with garden club members and dignitaries from around Florida attending.
In 2017, then Club President Gail Stout and historian, Madonna Wise set up an interview at the Tampa Bay History Center research center with a son of one of the inaugural members, J. Thomas and Charlie Touchton, (trustees of the renowned history center). They recorded their story of the club and the founding members as they boasted that they had personally known nearly every founding member. They reminded us of the warm historical atmosphere of Dade City that prevailed and reminisced about a closeness of talented DCGC members who had a deep reverence and love for the historic hometown!
A recent endeavor had been the sponsored the Monarch Butterfly Festival since 2019.
In 2022, the club celebrated its 75th anniversary with a program in honor of community activist and DCGC leader, Pat Carver.