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Stop 51: The 1947 Dade City Garden Club

Copyright © 2024

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.

  • 1891

    The very first Garden Club was founded in Georgia.

  • 1927

    The Florida Federation was organized with headquarters in Gainesville at the University of Florida and relocated later to Winter Park in 1947.

  • 1929

    National Garden Club was federated.

  • 1937

    Dade City Woman’s Club hosted their first Flower show with prizes; and planned to have annual shows. Several of the ladies would later join Garden Club.

  • 1947

    Thelma Gilbert organized a meeting of local ladies in Dade City interested in gardening and beautification.

  • 1948

    Florida Federation of Garden Club federated Dade City Garden Club.

  • 1949

    First Dade City Garden Club Flower Show was held entitled, “The Spirit of Spring."

  • 1953

    Flower show at the Pasco County Fairgrounds entitled: “Old South,” represented 18 consecutive years of Garden Club Flower Shows as of 1953; club received National Rosette Award for Flower Show.

  • 1958

    President Joyce Covington advocated for a garden center; Garden Club requested that Dade City gift them three pieces of property but deal fell through; a huge contender was the Osceola Hotel on Meridian Avenue.

  • 1959

    Club purchased 2.3 acres on South 5th Street for $9,000 with $1,000 down. The club voted 19 to 8 to purchase the property, and subsequently paid off the mortgage.

  • 1959

    City Manager, Charles Jackson consulted garden club on trimming trees and removal of diseased trees in town.

  • 1965

    Dade City was dedicated as a bird sanctuary.

  • 1966

    Paid off mortgage and club conducted ceremony to burn the mortgage document.

  • 1976

    St. Rita’s 1913 Mission Church was gifted for posterity to the Garden Club.

  • 1977

    1977 (February) The 1913 St. Rita’s Church building was moved across town by Tillman Smith of Lakeland.

  • 1977

    Michael Giella, local realtor/builder, advised the club on renovation and held the mortgage of slightly over $35,000.

  • 1977

    (September): Inaugural meeting in new facility, and open house later in December.

  • 1980

    Mortgage for $35,000 for the renovation was paid off and another mortgage burning ceremony was held at the Dade City Garden.

  • 1983

    Club was featured in “The Florida Gardener Magazine,” with front page cover and article.

  • 1992

    Club created butterfly sanctuary at Pioneer Florida Museum with Carolyn Falls, chairman. She and Mary Y. Smith created garden and program with VFW and proclamation “Save the Butterflies" was given on March 16, 1992 with State officers attending.

  • 1994

    Pat Carver debuted the annual historical ornament, 1909 Pasco County Courthouse.

  • 1997

    Oak trees at 1909 Courthouse were saved by Pat Carver and County Commissioner, Sylvia Young.

  • 1997

    Pasco County Commission honors club with proclamation on 50th anniversary; celebration is held at the founding location, Thelma Gilbert’s home on Meridian Avenue.

  • 2001

    Joan Pryor installed as first Vice President at Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, 75th annual state convention and awards were given for her outstanding work as director of Wekiva Youth Camp for two years; Environmental Education Award from the Deep South Region of the Southern States in the National Council of State Garden Clubs; and the Esther Broshe Educational Exhibit Award for educational; Yvonne Sickler was also presented Hall of Fame Award.

  • 2003

    Mayor Scott Black of Dade City designated “Joan Pryor Day” on October 22 to honor Joan Pryor, newly elected President of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs; Dade City Garden Club hosted 240 members of the district at the Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club for the fall meeting.

  • 2005

    Dade City Garden Club facilitated Blue Star Memorial Freedom Garden Dedication with the Blue Star Memorial Marker to honor veterans with Congressman Ginny Brown-Waite at Lester Park. 2007: Garden Club celebrated 60th anniversary with theme, “60 Years and Still Growing, Still Beautifying, Still Sharing and Protecting” with 130 members and president Theresa Frese presiding.

  • 2015

    Pat Carver, Environmental Chairman spoke at County Commission to support statewide ban on hydraulic fracking.

  • 2019

    Dade City proclaimed Monarch City, USA, the fifth designation in Florida for city’s efforts to maintain the survival of monarch butterflies with Dade City Mayor Camille S. Hernandez and Dade City Garden Club President Debbie Parks. Club’s Monarch Project awarded first place by National Garden Club for category of pollinators.

  • 2022

    Celebration of 75th anniversary with presentation of memorial monument for Patricia Carver.