I spent last weekend on a little trip from my home in Tampa to do some antique shopping in Dade City and eat at the famous Lunch at Limoges luncheon at the 1908 Williams Department store. You are missing the Real Florida when you don’t visit a few of Florida’s wonderful small rural towns.
Dade City is a one hour drive north of the Tampa Bay area on I-75 at the FL 52 exit or an hour and a half from Orlando west of I-4 and northwest on US98 in Lakeland.
People coming from I-75 had the added treat on diverting North off Curley Street to see rustic downtown San Antonio with its old Catholic school and the 1913 St. Charles Inn, built by Charles Barthle for the long gone Orange Belt Railroad.
Continuing east on FL 52 you reach the lakeside campus of St. Leo College started in 1890 as a monastery by the Benedictine monks. While St. Leo has a lovely school campus, the institution offers classes online all over the USA and on military bases.
You should stop at the St. Leo Abbey Church (1948), a Lombardic-Romanesque structure with Indiana limestone trim noted for its famous interior and marble Christ crucifix. You’ll recognize the image as a replica of a certain controversial cloth in Europe.
St Leo Abbey: Please Go Inside
Stroll over to St Leo Hall (1915), a four-story concrete building designed by Brother Anthony Poiger. The new boys dorm was named for actor Lee Marvin, despite throwing a youth out a second-story window while a student in 1941. Across FL 52 is a rough trail which contains the Garden of Gethsemane (1935) leading to the Our Lady of Lournes Grotto.
CONTINUE EAST ON FL52 along Meridian Avenue into DADE CITY. If you like Victorian masterpieces I would turn right on 15th Street and then left onto Church Avenue’s Historic District. At 37412 Church is the First Presbyterian Church (1894), a wooden Gothic, As you travel east along Church toward downtown, you can’t help to notice the fine Victorian houses and large yards that showed that in its agricultural days the town was quite prosperous with citrus and cattle.
CROSS 12TH STREET. The last house on the left, opposite the Gothic First Methodist Church (1889), built of heart pone and cypress by James E. Lee, is the Gray Moss Inn (1910), 37641 Church, the Mediterranean Revival Brummer House when President Calvin Coolidge lunched here in 1923..
The Gray Moss Inn Minus Calvin Coolidge
TURN RIGHT ON MERIDIAN AND LEFT ON 9TH STREET to see the Edwinola Inn (1912), once a two-story concrete inn, now a large retirement center. RETURN TO MERIDIAN and TURN LEFT to reach the commercial district. Like so many small Florida towns many of the old stores are now antique shops, filled with items you may not find in large towns.
As you CROSS 8TH STREET, on the left is the 1924 Coleman-Ferguson Store , Meridian Street. In 1884 Henry Coleman and William Ferguson started a store which promoted the tiny town. Next door is the Bank of Dade City (1917), a financial institution that did not survive the Florida Land Bust and became a store.
The stores on Meridian downtown are the oldest in town; the Treiber Building at 37846 was built in 1900 as a hardware shop. More interesting is the Old City Hall , now a store, past the courthouse toward the Old Railroad Depot, a classic structure.
People coming from Orlando will arrive downtown on 7th Avenue (US301) and should park to tour the downtown antique shops. The center of town is the Pasco County Courthouse (1909), a two-story brick Beaux-Arts classic by Artemus Roberts. The nearby 1921 band-shell is a landmark.
WHERE TO HAVE LUNCH: After a visit around Historic Downtown Dade City, you will hopefully have reserved a spot at (20) LUNCH ON LIMOGES , 14139 South Seventh Street, a wonderful bistro located in the middle of the 1908 O. N. WILLIAMS DEPARTMENT STORE. People travel for miles to eat here. In your downtown travels you will find other restaurants and even a tea house.
I Had The Pecan Grouper
After downtown VISIT THE Pioneer Florida Museum (567-0262), four miles north on US301. You’ll love the 1864 Trilby Depot, the 1864 Overstreet House, the Lacoochee School, and the Enterprise Methodist Church.
The Overstreet House Furnished Like 1860
There is a complete packing plant and a collection of some of the finest Victorian carriages and a unique oil carriage which supplied area farmers. ADMISSION is charged. NOTICE: The cows and horses surrounding this quiet spot are now part of the museum – they are real Dade City residents.