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J.B. Starkey Jr.
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file ( 58 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
West Central Florida land use oral history project
J. B. Starkey Jr., a former cattle rancher and land manager, talks about how he is using his land holdings. He discusses his family history of ranching, the importance of preserving land, the development of Longleaf, Traditional Neighborhood Design, the Flatwoods Adventures project, ecotourism in Florida, and pressures from developers to sell land. He also outlines some of his concerns with the water supply in Florida.
Interview conducted August 9, 2006, in Odessa, Fla.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Land Use Oral History Project Patel Center for Global Solutions University of South Florida Interview with: J. B. Starkey, Jr. Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Odessa, Florida Date: August 9, 2006 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: J. B. Starkey, Jr. & Wm. Mansfield Audit Edited by: Kyle Burke Audit Edit Date: January 22, 2008 Final Edit by: Nicole Cox Final Edit Date: January 23, 2008 WM: This is Bill Mansfield from the University of South Florida, talking to Mr. J. B. Starkey in his offices here in are we in Odessa? JBS: Odessa, yes. Mr. Starkey, we always get people to start off by having them state their name and telling us when they were born and where they were born. So let her go. WM: How would you describe your current occupation? of ah the property, you might say, in its transition phase, going from agriculture to development use homes and town centers and so forth. WM: Okay. I read in the newspaper and [the article] talked about how your dad was a rancher. Tell me about that. J BS: He grew up in St. Petersburg. His father passed away when he was ten years old. So he had to start working and help support his mother and his younger brother. He was attracted to the old cowmen, who had cattle roaming free in the south Pinellas [Cou nty] area. Every chance he got he would ride with them. He learned about cow hunting and working with cattle and riding horses in the woods. And that was all he really wanted to do. That was his true love.
2 After the First World War, he went to work for th e Post Office in St. Petersburg. Got married married my mother, who had also come to St. Petersburg at the same time [as] my father, which was in 1899. Minnesota. But hi s father, Frank Starkey had tuberculosis so he had to move to a warmer climate. He lived for several years after he got here, but he died in 1905. My mother came about the same time. Her father was William L. Straub who was the first editor of the St. Pe tersburg Times spend the rest of his life doing that, so he bought twenty acres of land, southeast of Largo. Moved out there and bought a little house, they paid $6 0.00 for. He and my mother and my sister, who was just a baby at the time um moved out there. He started adding land to it and farming and trying to raise hogs and cattle and do some farming too. [This is what he did] to try and make his living because h e wanted to be outdoors. He was a good businessman. He bought land as he could, that became available in the area, until he ended up with 665 acres. What is now Starkey Road, in Pinellas County grew up. Called it Ulmerton [run] a turpentine operation there, before that. WM: Can I get you to spell that for me? JBS: Ulmerton? U L M E R T O N. WM: Okay. JBS: So I grew up in the country. It was way out in the sticks in those days. We had a lot by feeding them garbage from restaurants and hotels. During the Second World War th ere [were] a lot of [military] bases, training bases and hospitals in the area. There was just a world of waste food, perfectly good food, and we fed it to the hogs. That was a big operation. But times changed and by 1950 they got out of the hog business a nd put in pasture grass and have had strictly cattle there, until the late fifties. We sold it in 1957. your dad sold the land and I think it said he was heart sick to see the way [the land] was developed?
3 JBS: Well, I think he was. I think that was more of a quote from me, because having grown up on that place. It was pretty land and had nice pastures and fences. It was [an] idyllic place for a young guy [to grow u p]. development. But it just made me sick to see that it was not done more up scale. You know something that you could really be proud of. I just hated to see that happen to that land. WM: Um huh. JBS: So I determined, in my mind, that when this property got to the point of being developed I wanted it to have some kind of contr ol over the type of development. Backing up, this property [the current ranch] came into the picture in the late thirties. In the early thirties my father saw that Pinellas County [the way it was growing] was going to be too crowed for cattle operations. So he started looking for a piece of land, where he of property. This property here became available he learned about it in 1936 it was up for sale by the timber comp There were sawmills here in Odessa in the early part of the [Twentieth] century. They operated until 1925. Once the timber ran out and the sawmills shut down the owners quit paying taxes on the land. It became for sal e, after three years, so they were able to buy this sixteen thousand acres for $1.50 an acre plus back taxes, which brought it to about $2.50 an acre. That was in 1937. In December of that year they drove three hundred head of cattle from the Ulmerton Ranc h, across the woods [to] up here. They spent one night just a tract of land. There were no pastures, or clearings or buildings on it. They put a fence around it an d that was the beginning of this ranch. WM: Getting back to what you said earlier, [you said] you were disappointed in the way the land was developed down in um Largo? JBS: Yes, Largo. hought it would be JBS: Well, it seemed to me at the time that it was just kind of a cheap, tacky way to develop land to which I had an emotional attachment. The fellow, who bought it, bought it as an investment. H e turned around and sold it to builders and developers, who then developed different projects.
4 And there are some nice things now, but I would like to have seen something better. I d, but I just WM: Uh huh. lot of businesses, commercial businesses, along Starkey Road, where I used to walk uh tried to do things a little differently up here. WM: Well, it sounds like no matter what they would have done it woul d have been hard to take. JBS: Yeah, it was hard to take. WM: I know this might be a difficult question to answer but when you say you have an emotional attachment to [the land], describe, if you can, what the land means to you. Or what it meant to you. JBS: Well, I just enjoyed everything about it, all of the natural features. There were some old ditches and there was wonderful quail hunting on that place. There was more quail on that six hundred acres, I believe, than on the sixteen thousand acres we b ought up here. As a kid it was just a wondrous place. I would wander around and go rabbit hunting, or quail hunting or fishing. There was some good places to fish. When they dammed up Long Bayou and created Lake rab my rod and reel, walk down to the lake, wade around and catch a string of fish for supper. I did that many a time. WM: Uh huh. JBS: It was just an idyllic sort of existence. I admired and enjoyed the beauty of the woods, and the trees and the pasture one of those things uh if you feel it and have that love for it uh not everybody understands it. WM: I know. There are places in North Carolina that I did very much the same thing, just got out in You talked about [how] your Dad recognized there would be development down around his property, overseeing the development here?
5 JBS: Yes. Of the sixteen thousand acres we originally owned, my Dad had partners when they bought the property. They had the partners were three brothers from St. Petersburg, the Cunningham Brothers: Howard, Dave and Ernest Cunningham. My Dad, he was the one who really knew the cattle business and they were interested in being part of it. So they had a buy out provision that they would agree, once a year on the value of the land, the cattle and the equipment [and] they would be willing to either to sell or to buy. If something happened to one of them, the others could buy their interest at that price. They were older men than my father and he ended up surviving, by a good many years, all of them. The last o ne to pass away was Dave. He died in 1956, or somewhere along in there. My Dad lived until 1989. But he was able to end up with the sole possession of this property. The timing worked out so that when they sold the property in Largo, the Ulmerton Ranch, ended up with total control of it in 1958, or so. It took him several years to pay it off. Then we changed the name from CS Ranch, which it was originally for Cuningham Starkey to the Anclote River Ranch. I graduated from College, in 1957 [majored in] animal husbandry. Moved here to the ranch and started clearing land. We had already cleared some l and and planted some pasture. We did about a hundred acres a year for a good many years, until we ended up with almost three thousand acres of improved pasture. The rest of it was still woods. It was [divided] into north south by the Anclote River which fl ows through the property from east to west. After my Dad ended up with the sole ownership he was advised by his attorneys and accountants, that in case of his death, the estate would have to come up with 50 percent of the value, I think it was 55 percent at that time. Fifty five percent of the value of the land would have to be paid to the government. So they decided to sell part of the land and put the money in the bank and have that there in case it was needed for estate tax. It sa development, though he realized it was going to happen. He ended up, through two sales in the seventies and the eighties, [he sold] the north half of the ranch, w hich included the Anclote River, the river bottom and hammock, to the Southwest Florida Water Management District. There was one sale that was agreed on in about 1972 and it was spread over several years. Then, in the mid eighties there was another sale, w hich brought the total to about eight thousand acres, the north half the ranch. That was preserved and used as a well field and for preservation purposes. The sales condition was that [the land] not be developed but used for water control. So it has been a well field that provided all of the drinking water for west Pasco [County] and still does so, to this day.
6 Now Tampa Bay Water owns it and they are going to connect that system to the rest of the Tampa Bay water system so that the Starkey Wellfield can get some relief from the constant pumping. WM: Did your Dad have options to sell the land to developers or real estate people? Or was he JBS: He could have. But he wanted to see it preserved. I mean that was his first priority, of course I was all in fa vor of that too. So that left us with the south half of the ranch, where all of the improved pasture and the cattle operation was. That went along quite well until my father passed away in 1989. By then the remaining land had improved in value, so much t to pay the estate taxes. So we had to sell about half of what we had left to raise the money planning for the Suncoast Expressway. We were able to, using the Trust for Public Land who then gave it to the DOT [Department of Transportation] sold it to the DOT, thirty six hundred acres, roughly the southeast corner of the original ranch. The east half of the land we had left. That went to DOT and they turned it over to SWIFTMUD [Southwest Florida Water Management District]. So it is now preserved and part of the park [J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park]. That left us with about three thousand acres in the southwest corner [of the original ranch] which is roughly from Gunn Highway, to our west end, which is now defined by Fairway Springs and about a mile from Little Road. WM: Uh huh. JBS: So the three thousand acres we had left uh five hundred acres of that Trey and Frank, my two sons Trey has a degree i [See Frank Starkey interview with Bill Mansfield 8 24 06.] They wanted to do a development, so I was able to work out a deal where they could buy and develop a project on the west end [of the property] called Longleaf. This is a TND development, Traditional Neighborhood Design, or New Urbanism whatever else you want to call it. I had never heard of that until, you know they started talking about it. And uh I began to realize that, that is the kind of develop ment that just suited my prejudices and feelings about the land. If it is going to be developed how is you know the society and transportation and everything. And of course you try to do what you can for the WM: (laughs)
7 been sold to a the final phases of it have been sold to a developer who is very strong in to neo traditional design. WM: I was going to ask about that, but there was a question I would like to ask. When you sold the eight thousand acres to SWIFTMUD, what kind of economic gain or loss did you recognize in selling it to them rather than real estate? JBS: Well, my Dad donated two hundred and fifty acres then he sold the rest of it at less than probably what he could have gotten by selling to a development company. So he trying to get the top dollar out of it. He wanted to see the land preserved. WM: So he put the interest of the land ahead of the interest of his bank account? JBS: Yeah. WM: Okay, now tell me about the New Urbanism, or Traditional Neighborhood [Design]. at Disney World is the best example of it, or one of the first ones I guess and Seaside, up in the Panhandle of Florida, up near Destin [is another example]. WM: Uh huh. JBS: The idea is to create a village or a community, modeled after small towns that were built all over America, prior to World War II, before the move to the suburbs and urban sprawls started. Where each town has a commercial and social center t o it, that people can walk to within five minutes, to get a loaf of bread, or go to meet people or go to a meeting, or go to you know small shops. The houses are constructed in a conventional, or a traditional style. They have front porches. The houses are close to the sidewalk. The streets are fairly narrow, with on street parking and wide sidewalks and does] in a typical subdivision. The people that live in Longle WM: Uh huh. JBS: People get to know each other. You get out and walk and visit with your neighbors. They can sit on their porches and visit with people goi ng by. Just a lot of little twists and tricks you might say. Like, raising the houses, instead of a slab at ground level.
8 and yet it is easier for them to [sit on t he porch] and talk to people on the sidewalk. There is a village green, a little town hall, a swimming pool and a playground there. But and play catch or they can get up a touch football game. in your car and drive, get out on a major highway and go to a big sports complex or someplace to be able to play any outside games o r to do any walking or hiking. And hiking and bike trails are a part of it too. WM: Uh huh. JBS: So we see the TND concept, where you have small village clusters that are concentrated in the middle. You have oh town homes and houses, businesses combined where you can work downstairs and live upstairs. Have an office downstairs or whatever. [You can] have people more densely settled in the center of town then it spreads out as you get further from town. WM: Uh huh. JBS: By the time you get on the outs are more scattered and then you have access to more preserved land, with trails in it and natural points of interest. By having people at a higher density on a smaller area, then you can preserve more l and, rather than trying to build just spreading everybody out. WM: Did it take a lot of convincing to get you on board with that? JBS: To keep me on board? WM: Well, because you talked about how you the idea of development was something JBS: Well, there are things about any kind of development that I hate to see happen. No matter what you houses on it and putting pavement on it. But, having said that, the realities of the when I year and a half ago. WM: And DRI stands for? JBS: Development of Regional Impact.
9 WM: Okay. affic on the roads. And down the road you know pay for some improvements to that intersection. The same principles go with schools and utilities and water. All of those things have to be addressed. And envi ronmental permitting and acceptability is a real big issue. That has to pass muster with the Army Corps of Engineers, SWIFTMUD DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. You name it. Even the surrounding counties have to sign off on it. Every agency in the west coast of Florida has or them to respond. There will be some negotiating back and forth. WM: Has there been any negotiations about it at this point? answer that. Well here here it is (JB S reaches for report). WM: Goodness gracious! This is the information that you presented to them? JBS: Yes. WM: Can you give me a brief idea of what information is in [this volume]? I see maps and photographs and many meetings where [it was discussed]. The big issues are transportation, you know what roads [are involved] an innovative ways. Like the road system, we thought early on that we would need an extension of Gunn Highway, north of [State Road] 54 and then come back and go west to hook up with Longleaf and villages in between. But the traffic consultant, that we had, pointed out that rather than having one four lane roads. You can move more people Side 1 ends; side 2 begins.
10 JBS: ng land that the big highway does. traffic. WM: Oh yeah. JBS: Two lane roads are more winding and sportation and environmental concerns are the biggest issues I think. WM: Okay. I just want to make sure I understand you correctly. You all came up with the idea of this development, Longleaf, and then you took the proposal to who? JBS: We hired a consu lting firm, and engineering firm out of Orlando, Gladding Jackson. Their name should be in the front of that [report]. They have traffic people; they have ettes where their people and our people they have engineers that we use here and friends you know surrounding landowners invited to participate and get the road throu fascinating process. patient [with me] if I ask some obvious questions. JBS: Yeah, okay. WM: But y ou got the engineering firm to study it, but you also consulted the landowners around [the proposed development]? JBS: Yeah, just as kind of a courtesy you know we invited them to [do] presentations, not so much for their input but just uh WM: To keep then informed? JBS: Yes, to keep them informed. WM: And what kind of reaction did you get from them? JBS: Well, everybody that was on you know there are only two or three that have land, ortive. Some of them think maybe Usually when they hear WM: Well it is different. I would
11 Tell me about the [Flatwoods] Adventures Project. JBS: After that last sale of land to the DOT and it ended up under SWIFTMUD that cut the ranch about in half. So we had to sell the cowherd, sold half the cows. T he cattle operation then was not really economically viable as a business, by itself. So I started looking for a different use of the land that would provide some income. things you could do, hunting [reserves] wild game farms (telephone rings) and things like that. But the one that appealed to me most was eco tours. I attended the Babcock Ranch eco tour, out from Fort Myers and talked to them. It sounded good. So I thought close as we are to the Tampa Bay area and the population center we have here, I believe So I bought a school bus and cut the top off of it and built a safari bus out of it and hired a lady to manage it. In fact she worked for a company that did the business plan for it. from people who come, but there is just not enough of them. WM: Uh huh. JBS: At one point I considered closing it down or going for a not for profit status. Laura [Starkey] is involved with that, but also looking at the future development and the conservation side of the lan d we have left. [See Laura Starkey interview with Bill Mansfield. 8 9 06]. We want to preserve all most all of the land that is not developed in pasture. The wooded area, which is up adjacent to the Wilderness Park, will be preserved. It will be an ameni ty for the people that live here and for the public too. It will have trails and demonstration projects and land management things different ways of managing the woods. WM: You said that you visited the Babcock Ranch and had a conversation with those folk s about eco tourism? JBS: Yeah. WM: Tell me more about that, please. JBS: Our tours here, or the ones there? WM: Well that, but the conversation you had with the people at the Babcock Ranch. You said that convinced you to start your own eco tourism. JBS: Yes.
12 WM: So tell me what they said to you. JBS: Well, they just described I went on the tour and that was pretty self explanatory. I kind of modeled my tour after some of their ideas. He told me, it takes a lot of time, a lot of going out and meetin g people and talking to people and presenting to folks. Which I The tour deals with history and cattl e ranching and environment. [There is] a lot of native plants and animals and how they were used by the Indians and the early settlers. [There are] little stories about a lot of plants and things that are out there. People find it very interesting. We ha palmetto, and pines, flatwoods and then the oak scrub and the cypress swamp, which we that, but we do have a couple of alligators in a pen. [laughs] expected. JBS: Yeah. WM: But is that the kind of information that the Babcock people gave you? That you n eeded to have wildlife? JBS: Yeah, yeah yeah. And they have more to show, in that area, than we do. They world of alligators in there. Then they have a pen with some cougars in them. You know, WM: Do you want me to pause the recorder? JBS: Yeah. pause in recordin g WM: All right, so do you see demand for the Flatwoods Adventures, the eco tourism, do you see that growing as the natural areas of Florida [are] developed? JBS: Yes, but of course what we are doing is newer dev elopments are taking the historical and environmental side, or more so than
13 trying to do preservation and trying preserve the heritage and the flavor of the land. I think B exley [Ranch] our neighbors to the east are doing the same thing. I think people keeps from completely destroying what makes Florida special. WM: Uh huh. JBS: So ah kind of a coming thing. It just makes sense, in a lot of ways to try and preserve what you can. WM: One of the things I read in the newspaper was um about the nature center? That SWIFTMUD Well let me back up again and ask a question. There was a Pasco County Tourist Development Council? JBS: Uh huh. WM: Tell me how you worked with them. What kind of assistance [did they] provide? JBS: They d id some marketing. I am on that council. WM: Okay. JBS: This is the only destination type tourist attraction in the county. There are other things that attract tourists, like the Dade City Pioneer Museum and the downtown area and a lot of festivals that go on, especially during the winter months, which are big draws for tourists. But this is the only place of its kind, privately run. So the TDC [Tourism Development Council] does some marketing and promotion that [mentions us]. They have brought us grou ps of writers from magazines and travel companies and tour operators and such as that. WM: Did they give you any advice on promoting Flatwoods? pretty much up to t he business. WM: They left that to you to handle. Okay. I also read a brief article about uh that SWIFTMUD contributed to the construction of a nature center?
14 JBS: They built in the Starkey Wilderness Park, which is the park they own, they built a natu re education center, up there near the entrance to the park. The park is only way back into it. Right around the [northwest] area, right up in the corner, everybody can go there. There are pavilions and playgrounds, cabins you can rent and facilitates. They build this study center, a place [up there] for a classroom and meetings and so forth. Starkey Wilderness Park]. WM: Well, it was jus t a short piece and I wanted to find out about that. What do you see for the future of the Flatwoods Adventure Safari? JBS: Well, I think the eco tour, as I envisioned it, is probably not going to really carry offshoot to it we have added a pavilion, which I built four years ago, to rent out to groups for events of different types. We were having a uh there is room for expansion in upgrade it and we can see maybe [constructing] a retreat or center, a place here for groups to come and use facilities and have some seclusion and experience the outdoors. Laur a is working on that institute. Should be a combination of study and retreat facilities and eco tourism too. WM: Uh huh. the place to a fellow who has a string of hor here and some of them will come back and take the tour. (telephone rings) So it remains to be seen just what will [develop]. You start out with one set of preconceived ideas and it evolves into something a lot different. WM: Well it still seems to be in the formative stages. JBS: Yes. How do you describe your motivation for that? And the answer might seem obvious to you and e verybody else, but historians would be interested in understanding your reasoning behind that.
15 y and environment you find in Georgia and Alabama and all around the southeastern coastal areas. But south Florida, from here south is pretty unique and very delica over development. The vast majority of people, [who] live h and what we need to do right. A lot of people become concerned when they move here. But anyway I hope to help educate p and remove the natural systems. There are so many intangible things. But I think it is important [to ask that question]. I t hink it will help people to understand how folks have a devotion to ah home. JBS: Uh huh. established that kind of relationship. WM JBS: To help people have some roots. WM: Yeah. Give their roots a place to grow, if nothing else. JBS: Yeah. you want to comment No, not now. deposited in [the] Special Collections o f the University of South Florida Library, where it will be available for future research. We need your permission for researchers to have access to this.
16 JBS: Okay. JBS: Ok ay. your picture? WM: Okay. Great. Let me to it. T hat question is what kind of pressure have developers put upon you to sell? Have they been calling you and asking you to sell? be entitled to then go forward with construction plans and permits. Which is another six nothing is going to happen [snaps fingers] ject, because to their side of the bargain. Or we can joint venture JBS: No, the new development. We call it Starkey Ranch. WM: Oh. go through to develop land, either for agricultural use or for residen tial or commercial use. JBS: Uh huh. planners and engineers. They have to put the together, in that book you see there
17 [referring to bound vo not completely paved over. JBS: Yeah. Well, I had that feeling too. I hate it just runs against my grain to have some ancing act. You have to farmers and ranchers will do to the land, but what the next guy who owns the land will WM: Can I ask one more question? JBS: Sure. WM: You ta lked about [your] awareness of the delicate environmental in this part of Florida, when or how did your awareness of the balance of the environment take place? When did that take place or how did that take place? WM: Uh huh. me, one time we were riding horseback in the woods and I pointed out something. [My unwittingly c ontributed to it with ranching. We used to try and get rid of water on our pastures. Many of our pastures stood in water two or three months of the year. We had to get rid of the water. So we did some drainage and so forth. But um changing the water tables has resulted in changing the plant communities. I think the biggest environmental problem that Florida has is exotic pests plants especially. Brazilian peppers, cogan grass and the soda apple and air potatoes. The list goes on. There are dozens of them that are a real problem and new ones coming in all of WM: Well, it sound
18 JBS: (laughs) WM: Would that be an insult or a compliment? you know to do anything militant. But [I am] trying to do things and influence things in the right direction. WM: Some people would take that as either an insult, or a compliment. responsible folks out there, wh o are concerned. WM: They talk about stewardship of the land and we need to care for it, so it will keep giving back to us. And that sounds like a good place to stop. So, again, let me thank you for taking the time to talk with me. JBS: Okay. All right. WM: Let me turn this thing off and then you can say whatever you want to. JBS: (laughs) Okay. end of interview