Masaryktown, Florida - History


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The following is taken from A History of Hernando County 1840-1976 by Richard J. Stanaback.

A community that stands today as a symbol of ingenuity and hard work, Masaryktown also was begun during the boom periods. The vision of constructing a town on the Hernando-Pasco border was conceived in New York City, in 1924, by Joseph Joscak, editor of a Czechoslovakian newspaper. It was to be named in honor of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), first President of Czechoslovakia and resistance leader during World War I. He had been a good friend of ex-president Thomas Woodrow Wilson and was married to an American girl from Brooklyn, New York. Joscak and others formed the Hernando Plantation Company, composed solely of Czechoslovaks, to purchase land and to develop the town. I purchased 24,000 acres (97 km2), 9,500 in Hernando and 14,500 in neighboring Pasco, at $32.50 an acre on December 1, 1924. It was to be "a modern town, set in the midst of nearby" 10,000 acres (40 km2) "of rich arable land ... (situated) within" six miles (10 km) "of Brooksville on the State Highway Road Number 5 South of the City." The streets were to be named after Presidents of the United States. The investors had bought more land than they actually required, in hopes of selling the excess and using the income to pay off their own mortgages. No individual was to own more than five shares at $1,000 each.

The first contingent of settlers came in mid-1925 and immediately set out to work constructing homes and a large hotel to accommodate future newcomers. Among the early arrivals were Joseph Joscak, Clement Ihrisky, Peter Ruzak, H. Getting and John and Anna Cimbora. The Cimboras built the Masaryk Hotel with money they made from the sale of their New York tailor shop. The Masaryk Hotel opened on January 1, 1926. The Hernando Plantation Company purchased an old sawmill located in the area and supplied building materials to the settlers at cost. It also constructed a rock crusher plant to prepare limestone for roads and agricultural use. By early 1926, 800 acres (3.2 km2) had been cleared and planted with tangerine, orange and grapefruit trees, plus grapes. And a dairy had been started by Martin Drahos who hoped to expand it to 100 cows. Masaryktown then had twenty-four dwellings in place and contained about forty-three families. The hotel was often filled beyond its capacity with some recent arrivals sleeping in tents and in an old abandoned black church. Thomas Hafner was elected as the settlement's first mayor in 1926. Perhaps the first civic group was a citizenship club, which was organized to instruct the residents concerning their American privileges and responsibilities.

Masaryktown's growth was rapid during the spring and summer of 1926 and by August of that year, it contained upwards of 300 inhabitants. But somehow the company had received bad advice concerning the planting of citrus trees in such low country and during the winter of 1926-27 many of its trees were killed by frosts. The colony attempted to start over again, but the next winter was a repeat of the first, and all the remaining trees were destroyed. Most of the people than left, leaving behind only a few hardy souls, who shifted to other pursuits like truck farming and chicken raising. Masaryktown remained small during the Depression years, and only thirty-six families lived there in 1941, with few changes taking place. It revived ruing the 1950s and 1960s, as chicken farming emerged as a firm economic base for expansion, and when a number of retirees settled there. In fact, so many of the latter subsequently moved into town that by 1963 they made up more than one-half of its inhabitants. Most of them were not of Czechoslovakian descent and so today only an estimated 60 per cent of the population is of that nationality.

History of Masaryktown (1974) The following article appeared in Masaryktown Florida 1924-1974, which attributes the information to accounts by Hermina Getting Hrvol, Dominik Voscinar, Stephen Otruba, and minutes of early town meetings of Masaryktown.

In the spring of 1924, Joseph Joscak, editor of the New Yorsky Dennik, a daily Czechoslovak newspaper, began writing a column in which he extolled the beauty and pleasing climate of Florida, “where it is possible to produce as many as three crops a year.” He wanted to attract the attention of his readers to a better way of life, for most of them were employed in hard, unattractive jobs in coal mines, steel mills, and other factories of the industrial North.

Joscak had already secured information about the Orlando Plantation in Orange County, Florida, which was selling large tracts of land, supposedly suitable for the planting of orange groves, as he had long dreamed of starting a farming community of Czecho-Slovak immigrants.

Joscak’s writings about Florida so hypnotized his readers that many, too, began to dream about a “paradise” in Florida. His close friend, Klement Ihrisky, joined him in gathering more information and informing a corporate organization for the purpose of raising funds with which to buy land in Florida. The first meeting of interested persons was called in New York City, on September 15, 1924, at which time it was announced that land was also available in Hernando County, 10 miles (16 km) south of Brooksville, bordering both sides of U. S. Highway 41. A corporation was formed, later to become known as the Hernando Plantation Company. Down-payment $1,000.00 shares were taken, giving 20 acres (81,000 m2) for each share purchased. A committee of 5 was elected to visit the two areas and to bring back recommendations for a purchase. On their return, they reported that they found the Orlando region to be swampy but that the land in Hernando County was suitable.

Milan Getting, Czechoslovak Consul for Pennsylvania and West Virginia, who also had become a shareholder, took it upon himself to write to the Agricultural Department of the University of Florida, inquiring about the above-mentioned tract south of Brooksville. The reply was unfavorable as the writer called it a cold pocket, and he suggested that they should look for land at least 10 miles (16 km) to the north near Brooksville or 10–15 miles to the south in Pasco County. Getting sent the report to the officers of the organization, who decided to seek one more opinion by writing to the editor of the Florida Grower in Tampa, who replied that the area was safe for orange growing and that he could show them thriving groves close by (Spring Lake) and others 4 miles (6.4 km) to the west of the tract. After seeing the groves, they took his advice, and purchased 10,000 acres (40 km2), later adding 14,500 acres (59 km2) in adjoining Pasco County.

On December 15, 1924, a party of about 125 shareholders assembled in Washington, D. C., coming from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, but mostly from New York. They boarded a train for Tampa from where they chartered buses the following day to take them to what they now called “Joscak's Paradise.” They found the tract anything but promising, for it was mostly uncleared land and uninhabited, except for black families at a sawmill.

For a duration of three days, they were graciously taken into the homes of Brooksville families because the new Tangerine hotel was only partly ready for occupancy. Each day they hiked in all directions over the newly purchased land. During their walks they came to the sawmill, near which stood two shacks and a small Negro Baptist Church. Farther on, they came to a small lake with a sinkhole close by. The group ate a lunch beside the lake and conducted a business meeting. First, they named the lake “Milan” after Gen. Milan R. Stefanik and Consul Milan Getting. The community to be they named “Masaryktown,” in honor of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of the newly created Czechoslovakia. They also chose the names for the streets, those running north and south after American Presidents, and the east and west streets after Czechoslovak poets, writers, and national patriots and heroes.

Next, they broke bread and buried it, a symbol of good luck, a Slovak custom. They prayed for the future of the settlement, sang “My Country 'Tis of Thee” and several Slovak hymns, closing with the singing of “Kto Za Pravdu Horí” (Whoever Seeketh the Truth), after which they walked to the parked buses on U. S. Highway 41 and left for Brooksville. Joscak took them on a tour of the city, including a stop of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Since there was no one at the station office, he had secured permission to show the party the orange groves on the premises, among which they had found a banana tree and a nut tree. Some sampled the nuts, which made them ill, and they had to be taken to a doctor in town, who, upon seeing one of the nuts, told them that they had eaten poisonous Chinese Tung nuts.

On the third day they separated, some going to see other parts of Florida, and others returning home to make arrangements for moving to Florida. Some did not return until 1925 or 1926. George Kozak was the first to erect a home, and the Cimboras built the Masaryk Hotel. It served as a rooming house for the men while they were building their homes, as well as a central gathering place for all social activities for many years. Joseph Kacir opened the first grocery store, soon selling it to Michael Svihra, who later sold it to Charles Blaha. A grammar school was built on land donated by the Hernando Plantation Company.

Since the starting of the groves required much capital, the new residents formed a cooperative in order to be able to buy and sell more efficiently. Paul Ravas was elected manager of the cooperative and was later assisted by Andrew Kana and Thomas Hafner. One square mile of trees was planted, with a well between every 40 acres (160,000 m2). Some farmers planted 10 acres (40,000 m2) of groves, and others as many as 20 acres (81,000 m2). They were overjoyed when the plantings were completed, but it was not long before frost occurred, one after another, necessitating severe pruning, which only weakened the damaged trees. The next winter the frosts were even more severe, killing all the trees. The disaster forced many to abandon the farms. Others borrowed money from relatives in the North in order to make a new beginning in some other way. Some fathers left for jobs in the North, from where they sent money to the wives and children whom they had left behind.

Those who stayed started raising onions, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers. But because they could not find a steady market for all their produce, this type of farming proved a failure. So more families returned to the North, never to return.

A break in fortunes occurred when Stephen Otruba moved to Masaryktown from Aripeka and started a poultry farm, soon followed by Dominik Voscinar, who had the first incubator installed to hatch chicks for himself and others who had by now turned to poultry farming. All the eggs they could produce were easily sold in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Such was the start of poultry farming in Masaryktown, a successful venture at last!

A. G. Mazourek organized the producers into an egg producers cooperative, the Hernando Egg Producers, Inc., possibly the largest egg cooperative in the southeastern United States. The small producers are all but gone, for only large-scale production is profitable today, and most of the farms have thousands of laying hens instead of a few hundred.

At this point it seems appropriate to recall a human interest incident from those early days. The writer (Hermina Getting Hrvol) and several neighbors took a day off to go to Tampa on a rare shopping trip, for in those days the road to Tampa was still unpaved. It took all day to go and return before dark. In Tampa each went her own way, meeting at an appointed spot at the end of their shopping, before returning to their auto parked in a lot off Florida Avenue. As the tired group was walking down the street, they spotted a pretty lamp in a shop window. The shade had a mountain scene painted on it. One of the women remarked that it reminded her of her native village in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains of Czechoslovakia, and that if she had the money, she'd buy it. They entered the store just to price the lamp and to count their combined cash to see if together they might have enough. The owner sensed their predicament and asked, “Ladies, where are you from?” When they said “Masaryktown,” he said, “Lady, take the lamp and pay me on your next trip to Tampa. I know the people of Masaryktown are very honest folks.”

In 1950 Andrew Oravec, Jr., and Martin Gavora opened a poultry dressing plant which was in operation until 1965. They employed 14-16 persons steadily and the firm had a large market in central Florida.

A canning factory, owned by Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Bradac, was in operation from 1932 until 1936. They employed about 25 people during the season, canning orange juice, grapefruit sections, vegetables and meats, the last mostly for people in Masaryktown. This industry did much to keep people in Masaryktown during those lean years when their farming income was too small.

Mrs. Bradac was head of the Zivena Society for many years and worked hard to get the Supreme chapter of the society to build an old folks' home in Masaryktown, for which the Bradacs were ready to donate 210 acres (0.85 km2) of land, but the society did not see fit to sponsor the project, and so it never materialized.

Masaryktown has three churches—St. Mary's Catholic Church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and the First Baptist Church of Masaryktown, constructed in the order named.

The T. G. Masaryk Memorial Library, erected in 1964, houses over 3,000 books, in English, Czech, and Slovak languages. John Juras has served as its board president and Ludevit Krch as the librarian ever since its erection. It should be mentioned that Milan Getting headed a village library during the early years of Masaryktown.

In 1932, a chapter of the Sokol organization was formed in Masaryktown. This is a gymnastic society dedicated to the building of a strong, healthy body, and its motto is: “In a healthy body there is a healthy mind.”

The Beseda dancers, always dressed in colorful costumes, often dance at dinners at the Community Hall during the winter months and at festivals at other times. Miss Frances Valenta coached the groups for many years, and Miss Anna Feriancik made most of the beautiful Czechoslovakian costumes. In recent years Barbara (Bobby) Buchtan has trained the boys and girls to perform this folk dance, similar to the American square dance.

Masaryktown has a most active “Little League” baseball club, with a field on the Community Hall grounds.

The Masaryktown Recreation Club, a leading civic and social organization, has for many years provided entertainment, especially for the children of the community. It sponsors the Halloween party, the Christmas party, and the Easter Egg Hunt. It has bought much playground equipment and utensils for the Community Hall kitchen, as well as over 600 books for the library, just to mention a few of its community projects.

John Kubicek, a dedicated community leader, was instrumental in getting a post office for Masaryktown. He formed the Improvement Association, which had the street lights installed and financed their cost for many years. This association did much for the beautification and improvement of the community.

Masaryktown residents have always been patriotic citizens. During World War II, its men faithfully took turns at spotting and reporting all aircraft seen flying over the area. The women collected donations for the Red Cross and participated in all its programs. But the citizens are most proud of the then young men of military age, who ALL volunteered and were accepted in the service of Uncle Sam. Joseph Lacko made the supreme sacrifice in the Philippines and Stefan Knezo was lost at sea.

The women of Masaryktown were the first to form a club in the community and for many years they have served delicious chicken dinners, not only just for social gatherings, but for fund raising for the community, the clubs, and Masaryktown churches. The dinners are held, on the average, two per month during the winter months. The tasty pastries, especially the strudel and kolacky, are a treat for those who come to the dinners.

On September 28, 1974, Masaryktown lost its Community Hall by fire. This had been the Community center ever since school centralization when the original grammar school was converted into the hall. In the early years the little Baptist church was used as a hall. This still stands and is now the home of Mrs. Agnes Fuchek and her daughter.

For other accounts, see the Tampa Tribune's Florida Accent of January 24, 1971, and the Brooksville Sun-Journal of July 29, 1965, and February 7, 1971.

Losing an Old Friend in Landmark (1997) The following article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Mar. 23, 1997. By DAN DeWITT

Milan R. Cimbora was 5 years old when his parents moved from New York to open the Masaryktown Hotel, and he was put to work almost immediately.

A good portion of his childhood was spent washing dishes and helping his father brew illegal beer. In the summertime, they used to set out over what then was open range in a Model-T station wagon, looking for resinous heart pine. They loaded it in the car and, back in the yard of the hotel, split and stacked it.

"I mean this was all summer long," said Mr. Cimbora, 77.

Although cutting wood hasn't been necessary since 1936, when the three-story wood building just north of the Pasco County line on U.S. 41 was wired with electricity, the burden of running the restaurant has remained substantially the same.

Ursula Garnett, the cook, arrives at 6 a.m. to start her soups and roasts, early enough to sometimes see the back yard of the hotel grow light through the big windows in the kitchen. Judy Vonberg, a part-owner, works 12- and 14-hour days, six days a week. Even on Saturdays, when the restaurant opens only for dinner, she is there early in the morning to begin cooking barbecued ribs.

"It's too hard for Judy," said her stepmother, Edlo Schaefer.

"Nothing is bought frozen and microwaved. It's all fresh. And that takes work."

Mostly to free themselves of the constant labor, the family is selling the building and everything in it at an auction April 26.

A buyer might keep it open as a restaurant, said the real estate agent handling the sale, Betsy Micek, but experience tells her that is unlikely.

The restaurant - the building, land and the business - went on the market 18 months ago at the seemingly low price of $117,000, she said. Five people were interested enough to pay for inspections. The estimates to upgrade the sagging structure to food service standards ranged from $35,000 and $100,000.

"People saw that and opted to pursue less-daunting career options," she said. "They bought easier businesses."

So the building will probably end up as an antique store, Micek said. The spiritual home of a unique community quit putting up guests in the late 1950s. Now, despite the fame of its chicken dinners and the red neon sign in the window that says "FOOD," its last meal will be served Easter Sunday.

The construction of the hotel in 1925 coincided with the founding of Masaryktown.

Joseph Joscak, a resident of New York, touted the idea of a Florida settlement in his Czechoslovakian newspaper. Milan Cimbora's parents, Anna and John, were among the first to take him up on it, building the hotel with money they made from the sale of their New York tailor shop.

Milan Cimbora still lives in Masaryktown, just south of County Line Road, with his wife, Violet. In their living room, Mrs. Cimbora picked up a photograph of about 75 of the first settlers, posing at the entrance of the orange grove planted that first year. The pioneers were exclusively Slovakian, originating from the more rural, eastern part of the former Czechoslovakia, not the urban, Austrian-influenced west.

"See that little bow-legged boy in front?" she said, pointing out a small, blond child squinting in the sun, "That's my husband."

Another picture shows a crowd on the porch and the yard of the hotel. It was one of several excursions that Joscak organized to encourage more settlers. The Cimboras would put up as many of the visitors as possible in the hotel, Milan Cimbora said, and his mother fed them all from a huge pot of goulash, served in a bowl with a spoon and a hunk of rye bread.

"You didn't get no knife," he said.

Regular restaurant customers did get a full array of silverware, but no menu. Because she had only a small wood stove, Anna Cimbora cooked enough of one main dish - roasts or chicken paprikash - to feed everyone.

She kept a cow, and from its milk made her own cheese and butter. She raised vegetables, which she canned, and rabbits, chickens and pigs, which she butchered behind the hotel.

"She was very busy; she cooked constantly," said Violet Cimbora, who worked at the hotel before she was married.

One of John Cimbora's primary responsibilities was to make beer and, because it was during Prohibition, to make sure that only certain customers knew about it. The batches of homebrew fermented originally in the hotel's small cellar and later, when the operation expanded, in the garage next to the hotel.

"My job was to put a little sugar in each of the bottles," Milan Cimbora said, part of the final fermenting process that gives beer its fizz.

The finished product also was hidden in the garage, in a false plywood floor beneath the Model-T. John Cimbora enclosed the porch on the south to set up what amounted to a speakeasy, a beer hall only for trusted customers.

"Now it can be told," Violet Cimbora said. "It must have been a good recipe because people came from all over."

When the law periodically caught up to his father, Milan Cimbora said, he would hire a lawyer from Tampa to arrange for him to pay a fine at the Sheriff's Office.

"He went out the back door and started another batch," he said.

But the hotel was primarily known not for furtive beer drinkers, but for the weekend celebrations open to all of the residents of Masaryktown. Freezes killed the groves, which had unwisely been planted in low ground where the coldest air settled. And the residents struggled to find new enterprises, mostly chicken farms, just as the Depression was setting in.

On Saturdays and Sundays, though, most of them came to the hotel to eat, drink and dance to polkas played by local accordion players, and later to big band music on the hotel jukebox.

"When I first got there, the hotel was really nice, really beautiful," said Jerry Vacenovsky, 76, who moved to Masaryktown in 1937 and now lives in Ocala.

"The people, the farmers, used to go there every Saturday with their families, and they used to have music, and the children would play in the yard." Serving old-country food

John Cimbora died in 1947, and Anna Cimbora sold the hotel in 1950 to the Clement family, which continued to operate the restaurant and hotel, at least for a few years.

Under some subsequent owners, the restaurant was mostly just a bar. It had closed altogether when Harold Schaefer, a mason doing stucco work in Spring Hill, noticed it on his way home to Tampa.

"He was driving by and said, `Someone ought to check into that building.' We sometimes used to say, if he'd known all the work it was going to be, he'd kept on driving," Judy Vonberg said.

Schaefer and his wife, Loraine, bought the restaurant in 1977. He was the member of his family who had a passion for food, Edlo Schaefer said. Harold Schaefer, who is now seriously ill, married Edlo Schaefer after the death of his first wife.

He resurrected the restaurant and reintroduced the Czech food.

(The menu errs, though, by calling it this, Violet Cimbora said. The dishes with a Hungarian influence, especially those made with paprika and sour cream, are Slovakian.)

Like the Cimboras, Harold Schaefer sometimes served vegetables he had grown himself. Also, as a nod to its origins, he kept the neon sign that called it the "Masaryk Hotel," though he never booked a single guest.

Schaefer's personality, especially his somewhat oddball sense of humor, became apparent as well. People ordering a chicken dinner would sometimes be presented with a rubber chicken on a platter. At the entryway, he put up a toilet seat that told customers to "Seat Yourself."

The outside of the building looks about the same as it did decades ago. Inside, the floor is covered with linoleum, and the walls are paneled and crowded with artwork for sale. This, as well as the beer steins, snow globes and other gifts, is the part of the business overseen by Edlo Schaefer. She also sells the double-bed-sized afghans that she can create in one day of rapid but absent-minded crocheting.

It is in the kitchen, as well as the loaded-down plates of food that come out of it, that the restaurant's origins are most obvious. The menu offers lunches like kielbasa - sliced and served on freshly baked bread - and roast pork in gravy served with peas and mashed potatoes. Side dishes include sauerkraut, of course, and new potatoes deep fried and dusted with seasoning salt.

The dinners are even more suggestive of eastern and central Europe: chicken and pork paprikash, stuffed cabbage rolls, and sauerbraten.

One afternoon last week, Garnett, 59, had pots of red cabbage with wine and vinegar and bay leaves simmering on the stove, along with collard green soup and pork tips in gravy.

Inside was a mammoth roasting pan, nearly a yard square and a foot deep, with four football-size bundles of meat simmering in broth. It was flavored with nothing more than onions, celery, salt and pepper, she said.

"Don't go telling our recipes," said Judy Vonberg, who, along with her husband, Alan, have been running the restaurant for about 11 years, since Harold retired.

"Everybody knows how to make a pork butt," Garnett said.

"I'm not sure about that. I make them at home, and they never come out as good as yours," Vonberg replied.

The back wall of the kitchen has a row of big windows with a view of the yard. The dishes are washed in stainless steel sinks rather than a dishwasher. The white stoneware rests above a central counter on white shelves. The shelves sag, because the ceiling they are attached to sags too.

To get to the walk-in refrigerator, well-stocked with jugs of wine and flats of eggs, Micek, the real estate agent, walks out the back door and over flooring of slats that look as though they came from old vegetable crates. She points out a crack at the base of a door jamb, indicative of one of the building's main problems, its settling foundation.

"The building can be jacked. It can be reattached," Micek said. "It's a wonderful old building. And we're still hoping someone will come in and buy it whole cloth."

Whether that does or does not happen is not a big concern to Vonberg. Her husband, who for most of the past 11 years has devoted as much time to the restaurant as she, recently went into the mobile home service business. But Vonberg is thinking more about the work she won't have to do after the closing than what she will do.

"If we ever go to a party, I'm not making cole slaw, and I'm not making any macaroni salad," she said.

"I'll be glad when it's gone," Edlo Schaefer said. "I'll get my life back when it's gone."

So mourning the restaurant's passing is left to other people, like the Cimboras - who think the Vonbergs have done a great job with the restaurant and hate to see them give it up - and Garnett, who has worked there 17 years and four months. In an apron, flushed from the heat of the stove, she looks at home in the old kitchen.

"I'm sad. I'm really hurting about this," she said.

Plenty of customers are sad, too. Sharon and Albert Roller, who own a cattle ranch nearby, are such regulars that they hope to buy the big round table where they usually sit. Jim and Judy Jones, owners of the Airport Flea Market on Spring Hill Drive, say they are served even if they arrive after the lunch hour is officially over. Usually they call before they come, Jim Jones said, "and Judy puts my beer in the freezer for me."

"We can come in and ask for just about everything," he said. "Judy, Alan and Edlo, those people are our friends," Judy Jones said.

The once authentic Czech-Slovakian, Hungarian influenced restaurant is now Cafe Masaryktown. A Cuban restaurant quoted for having the "best Cuban sandwich" north of Ybor City.

Read more about this topic:  Masaryktown, Florida

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    Don’t give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can’t express them. Don’t analyse yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
    Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966)

    The history of our era is the nauseating and repulsive history of the crucifixion of the procreative body for the glorification of the spirit.
    —D.H. (David Herbert)

    “And now this is the way in which the history of your former life has reached my ears!” As he said this he held out in his hand the fatal letter.
    Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)