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Wesley Chapel is rich with history, even if it's less known

Wesley Chapel
Posted at 11:51 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 10:02:39-04

WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — When we set out to find the history of Wesley Chapel, it was a little harder to come by.

Every website we found pointed us to a local author, Madonna Wise.

Wise wrote a whole book on the history of Wesley Chapel and how we got to the city that's known today.

Wesley Chapel's history is unique. Once you talk to Wise, you'll realize back in the 1840s and early 1900s that living in Wesley Chapel was almost like living in the Wild West.

It's also not as talked about. You don't hear as much about the history of Wesley Chapel as you do places like Dade City or Plant City. In fact, hardly any original buildings are still standing in Wesley Chapel.

Wise says, "Probably the nicest one, and the best example is that Cracker Country at the State Fairgrounds, they have the Daniel Smith homestead, and it is a perfect example of a cracker house."

"There was moon-shining, there were turpentine stills, there was cash crop farming," explains Wise.

That's the way the Wesley Chapel settlers lived.

In fact, Wise learned, women were very involved in the operations of the day, something almost unheard of for its time.

"The other interesting thing that I found about this town is they had remarkable women; Porter was quite a frontier woman. Reuben Barnes, his two daughters, they rounded up cattle, the whole thing. There was a remarkable midwife in that area too," explains Wise.

If you live in Wesley Chapel, you're probably quite familiar with Highway 54. But what you may not know is, "But it was known as the road to nowhere because it was an agreement between Hillsborough County and Pasco County for a hurricane evacuation route. And they got into a dispute over it," explains Wise.

Funny story, that dispute lasted about 10 years before anyone decided to complete the route.

"One of the things the area claims is the Reutimann racing family, people know David Reutimann, from the area families have told me many times that they used to practice racing or that that strip of road because, you know it wasn't connected."

And when we say Wild West, at some points in time, we mean it.

"There was a famous feud that occurred there. It was Ellis and Gillette," explains Wise.

"And there's a tombstone at Countyline cemetery where the father of Thomas Gillette has a warning engraved on the tombstone for the Ellis family."

Many of the roads across Wesley Chapel are named for its first settlers, too. Boyette, Smith, all named for families.

Those same families would go to what was called Fifth Sunday back then.

"And interestingly, that the Double Branch Baptist Church was known for, I didn't know this terminology. It was known for the Fifth Sunday sing, so any month in the year that had five Sundays, that those months would have the fifth Sunday where they did all-day singing," explains Wise.

Everyone from town would come to that, and if you didn't show up, you bet someone would come looking for you to make sure you were okay.

You can read more about Wesley Chapel and its history in Wise's book, available here.