All About Aripeka
Aripeka is a mix of history and natural charm on Florida’s Nature Coast. The 120-acre town is surrounded by Gulf water, marshes, a sandhill preserve and two natural fresh water springs. Aripeka is on the Gulf of Mexico, about two miles west of U.S. 19 in either Hernando County (via Osowaw Boulevard) or Pasco County (via Aripeka Road), AKA County Road 595.
Let me explain the town’s split personality: it’s partly in Pasco County and partly in Hernando County with the South Hammock Creek Bridge serving as the dividing line.
The creek is an inlet for the Gulf, and the bridge accommodates two vehicle lanes and areas for fishing. According to Eric, a young fisherman I met on the bridge, it’s possible to catch snapper, redfish, and snook at that location. What I saw in the shallow, murky water was different: pinfish, needlefish, and mullet.
Eric is from New Jersey and I am from Minnesota so we shared a laugh at how different the fish are here in Florida. When I said, “Pinfish are mostly for bait, right?”, trying to act knowledgeable, it caused another smile. Eric said, “No, you can eat them.” He also said that in the winter months, the water is crystal clear.
Norfleet’s Fish Camp and Carl’s Store are adjacent to the South Hammock Creek Bridge. The Camp is private property, but I could see several folks dressed in swimming suits having fun on the dock.
Enjoying Aripeka Florida
Other excellent ways to enjoy Aripeka include kayaking, canoeing, and SCUBA diving. Aripeka has its own library, a community farmer’s market, and even a Community Club that was constructed in 1960 on donated land.
One of the favorite places for visitors is the Post Office, located conveniently on Aripeka Road. It has gone through many different names and locations (see related section in this article), but it is an official, functioning postal service. As always, you want to be sure to check with businesses and clubs for their hours of operations before going there.
The 2010 Census reported 308 people in Aripeka, and I saw a mix of really old, not too old, sort of new, and really new homes. Some of the homes were more like estates.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Aripeka a gated community, but there are a lot of fences and gates to keep privacy for the residents. Though there doesn’t seem to be much room for expansion, I did see several real estate signs advertising homes and empty lots for sale. I guess nothing stays the same.
How Did Aripeka Get Here?
According to Florida’s Adventure Coast website, the accepted history of Aripeka is that it was named after Sam Jones, a famous Mikasuki chief, who was called Aripeka or Aripeika. “The name is possibly corrupted from Muskogee “abihka” (pile at the base or heap at the root), which was a contest for supremacy among warriors who piled up scalps, covering the base of the war-pole.” Sometimes names are more intriguing when they are left to the imagination.
An aerial view of the unincorporated town of Aripeka helps us see why it was originally designated Gulf Key. In 1859, the property was “deeded to” Major John Parsons (an original founder of Bay Port) and Nannie Yulee (whose father, Senator David Yulee, owned a sugar mill and plantation in Homosassa).
Gulf Key was officially settled in 1873 (per the Florida State Gazetteer). By 1885, Gulf Key had a reported population of just over 30 people. It had become a shipping port, which by the early 20th Century was big competition for railroad transportation.
The number of residents on Gulf Key increased by at least three in 1886 with the arrival of George W.C. Littell, his wife Amanda and their sickly son Weaver. Their reason for moving to Florida is said to have been to improve Weaver’s health. George Littell would become a teacher in 1893 at what was then the Argo School, and in 1898 he built the Littell Fish Camp.
Electricity and Telecommunications
Can you imagine when the only option for getting your mail was to go to the Post Office? Can you imagine not being able to flip a switch to turn on a light or pick up a telephone to call family or friends?
If you lived in Aripeka before 1883, you wouldn’t even have had a post office.
It wasn’t until 1947 that the Rural Electrification Administration project brought electricity to Aripeka, and 1950 when phone lines were strung up in the small gulf coast town. I found no evidence of how many people actually had electricity or phones installed right away or how much it cost.
I personally remember the days of “party lines”, where you had to share phone service and hoped no one listened in on your conversation. I’m betting that was the case in Aripeka way back then.
The Post Office is Established
The first post office in Aripeka was originally named the Gulf Key Post Office, established in October 1883. Three years later, it was renamed Argo, only to become Gulf Key again five years after that. Then, in 1895 the Aripeka Post Office was established, with George Pine as postmaster, who was originally from New Jersey. In 1896 the Gulf Key Post Office was “discontinued” and two years later the Wheeler Post Office came into being but was discontinued in 1902.
If all of that seems confusing, Fivay.org shows that “The first post office was on the Hernando County side, and in the early days the northern part of the town was called Aripeka and southern part of the town was called Hammock Creek.”
In 1887, Pasco County was born, having separated from Hernando County, and taking Aripeka with it! All of this must have been unsettling for the residents. We don’t know how many towns or areas in the United States have gone through name changes over the decades… But that’s another story.
Aripeka has the Prospect of Becoming a Thriving Town
That is a quote from former Postmaster George Pine. He also noted that a store and church were built in the small bayside town, and several families from Arkansas built homes.
By the early 1900s, things were beginning to thrive. In 1908, the First Baptist Church was organized.
The Aripeka Company was a corporation developed by Richard Abbey Ellis. The company’s main goal was to sell small tracts to be used solely for building homes.
Another quote from Ellis which appeared in a 1908 edition of the Tampa Morning Tribute states an addition goal: “…to keep out speculators, thus securing industrious, law-abiding home-makers for citizens, and keeping out, or, when necessary, driving out, the lawless, undesirable element that so often gets control of and ruins settlements that would otherwise be most desirable.” Wow!
That was way before the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
In fairness to Mr. Ellis, his company did provide financial help for emigrants who could repay the loan “out of the land itself.” Eventually, as it turns out, Ellis did not have enough money to gain title of the town. He had to sell.
Aripeka Keeps Thriving
E.G. Willingham was a prosperous lumber merchant from Atlanta, Georgia. In September 1910, the Atlanta Constitution reports that Willingham bought the entire town of Aripeka, with the exception of the church and schoolhouse. The purchase price was $15,000.
At that point in time, there were many homes, a couple of hotels, some stores, the post office of course, and even “parks, a church, schoolhouse, and everything pertaining to a first-class community.” Willingham planned to develop the town even more and make it into “an important municipality.”
As early as 1917, he was the owner of the Hotel Osowaw, which he sold to Mrs. Josephine Lynch in 1921, who in turn sold it to N.P. Lynch in 1924.
Ironically, the hotel, then called the Osso-Wa Inn, was raided by Prohibition Government agents in the pre-dawn hours of October 1931.
The Os-O-Waw burned in the 1960s. According to local lore, Babe Ruth lost his World Series ring in a privy at the Inn.
Who put the Famous in Aripeka?
Most folks who have lived in Pasco, Hernando or Citrus counties have heard about Babe Ruth having stayed in the Osowaw Inn and a couple of cabins in Aripeka. It’s true. Apparently, The Babe loved to hunt and fish while in the area. Other local lore says some of The Babe’s Yankee teammates were with him on occasion and even Jack Dempsey.
At one time Aripeka had its own artist colony. In 1976, James Rosenquist moved to Aripeka. The well-known Modern/Pop art painter lived there until April 2009 when a raging brush fire destroyed his home, office studio and all of his artwork.
Aripeka’s artist colony also attracted landscape artist Leslie Neumann, who moved there from New York in 1989. She still lives and paints in what she calls “paradise”.
Remember Anita Bryant? She was pretty famous as a singer in the 50s and 60s, perhaps most notably for Paper Roses, that she recorded long before a very young Marie Osmond hit the charts with it.
The former Miss Oklahoma, orange juice spokeswoman, brand ambassador for the Florida Citrus Commission and anti-gay rights activist ended “a decade-long hiatus from show business” by touring in a motor home while she lived in Florida. In 1988 Bryant performed at the Elks Lodge of Aripeka. The 80-year-old now lives in her home state of Oklahoma.
Storms, Tornadoes and Earthquakes
Yes, there has been some earthquake activity recorded at Aripeka. The City-Data.com website shows the most recent activity in the Aripeka area occurring on September 10, 2006, registering a magnitude of 5.9 which was classified as “moderate” and occurring “286.6 miles away from the city center.”
That same website reports that tornado activity in the Aripeka area is “slightly above Florida state average”. In 1966 and 1983 tornadoes reached enough wind speed to cause death and damages.
Probably the most unforgettable storm to hit the Nature Coast was on March 13, 1993. The No Name Storm hit the coast at around midnight without warning.
Aripeka was one of the “hardest hit areas” that included Hernando Beach, Bayport, Pine Island and Weeki Wachee Gardens. There was one death reported in Aripeka, but the damage to all of those areas was tremendous. As a Times staff reporter wrote on the 25th anniversary, “The storm had no name. But few will forget its angry face.” It was also dubbed “The Storm of the Century”, and hopefully the 21st Century won’t find a way to compete with that frightening moniker.
Ending on a High Note
Aripeka is still a quaint, peaceful town, almost more akin to a village. Houses line the banks, folks fish from the bridges, motorcycles, and cars ride through on the main road, and the vibe is colorful and filled with nature. Another gentle step back into history