tampabay.com

Kitschy, maybe, but sights say home

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published May 3, 2007


SPRING HILL

In New York, there's the Statue of Liberty and a certain style of pizza. The same goes for Chicago, with the Sears Tower and that other style of pizza. And in Los Angeles, there's the business of making movies and those big white letters on top of that big hill. Even tiny Fayetteville, W.Va., has a claim to fame - people come from all over the world to parachute down from the world's second-largest steel-arch bridge over the New River Gorge. So, in its 40th year, what puts Spring Hill on the map? While some may claim that it's the "Taj Mahal" - Spring Hill Fire Rescue's new Station 3 - there's more that defines Spring Hill than most realize. But it isn't the sparkling icon of suburban sprawl that is Spring Hill itself. And, no, it's not one of the Wal-Marts. Beyond those original Deltona homes built 40 years ago, and the City of Mermaids built 20 years before that in Weeki Wachee, Spring Hill's list includes four landmarks and one now-defunct event that ruffled feathers from all over.

Built by the Deltona Corp. in 1968 to let those coming up U.S. 19 know that they had arrived in Spring Hill, the fountain remains an icon.

Located at the traffic-clogged intersection of Spring Hill Drive and U.S. 19, it's the only historic landmark in Spring Hill, as declared by county commissioners in 1992.

Three days a week, thanks to current restrictions, a thin sheet of water washes over a brick semicircle and falls into a circular basin painted a bright aqua blue to match the letters that announce Spring Hill.

Those groovy '60s-era letters were salvaged from the original fountain, which was moved from the first spot years ago to make way for the widening of U.S. 19 to six lanes.

The bricks were crumbling. Pipes that channeled water were too small. And the electrical pump system was hazardous. The county spent nearly $100, 000 to move the fountain 70 feet east.

The Little Red Schoolhouse

Built by the Deltona Corp. in 1970, the red building with white gingerbread trim was used by the developer as an office, and became the Spring Hill Branch Library in 1984.

Since then, the library has moved from the 3, 000-square-foot location on Kenlake Avenue, just off Spring Hill Drive, to a new building named after Harold G. Zopp, the former Deltona sales chief who helped launch Spring Hill.

Hernando Friends of the Library operate a used bookstore in the Little Red, selling both donations and library castoffs for just about nothing.

The building has largely looked the same for decades. Over the years, it has reminded transplanted Northerners of the buildings they left back home.

The Other Dinosaur

A few miles south of the big one, this smaller peachy-pink dinosaur hybrid - it's a cross between a brontosaurus and a stegosaurus - has watched the traffic on U.S. 19 for 45 years.

Now outside a barber shop, the dinosaur once guarded the entrance to the Foxbower Wildlife Museum that was next door in the shopping center plaza.

For years it was owned by a man named Gerald Foxbower. He built the dinosaur to attract attention to his business, which was full of animals who met their fate in taxidermy. The latest owner of the shopping center now officially is in charge of the creature.

Over the years, the pink dinosaur has been defaced with green and red spray paint, and pelted with bricks. It was even maligned in the Encyclopedia of Bad Taste in 1990.

Some have tried to get the pink dinosaur designated as a historic landmark, but those efforts have never panned out.

In the meantime, 63-year-old barber shop owner Bob Lilley says he will continue to give people directions to the "other" dinosaur many people mistake for the one outside his shop.

"A lot of people say they were told that whatever they were trying to find was supposed to be right across the way or next to the dinosaur, " Lilley said. "Then I explain to them that there are two, and tell them about the other one down the road."

The World's Chicken-Plucking Championship

Until 1995, Spring Hill was the home of the World's Chicken-Plucking Championship.

The idea started as a gimmick by the Deltona Corp. Over the years the event morphed into a fundraiser for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209.

For more than 30 years, based on a recount of the festival published in Mark Jury's 1977 Playtime! Americans at Leisure, here's what happened on the first Saturday in October:

Members of the Spring Hill Presbyterian Church choir, dressed in rubber beaks and formal wear - called the Chicken Concerto - clucked in harmony to songs like the William Tell Overture.

Then an Evil Kchicken, a guy dressed up like a chicken, might attempt to leap across Lake Hunter on pedal-powered sky cycle.

And then there was always the Ms. Drumstick Contest.

Women and adolescent girls wore burlap bags over their upper bodies - with slits at their eyes so they could see - and were judged on the shapeliness of their legs.

After that, it was time for the main event. The announcer called the pluckers to the stage. At one time there were as many as 10 teams of about five people each plucking away at as many as 12 chickens (killed that day) handed to their teams. Whoever got done first won.

The announcer told the crowd (usually several thousand) that the birds (later specified as killed humanely) would be soaked in hot water for 15 seconds. When they were good and wet, then it was time to pluck.

After the birds were ready, it was time to pluck. The crowd went wild. Feathers flew. Sometimes there was blood.

It was usually over in less than a minute.

After the awards were handed out, people went on with eating their chicken dinners, drinking a wishbone fizz concoction and topped the day with some "chicken bones" ice cream.

Complaints and protests by animal rights groups spurred the demise of the championship contest. But it lives on in history books and the memories of Spring Hill's longtime residents as yet another unique aspect of their Florida dream.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

For those tooling north on U.S. 19, the big concrete dinosaur that now houses Harold's Auto Center meant that Weeki Wachee Springs was coming up soon.

"We knew we were almost to the mermaids when we saw the dinosaur, " said 52-year-old Roberta Reese of Brooksville. "We lived in Largo, and my grandparents used to take us to see them all the time. I got really excited when I saw that dinosaur."

Since 1977, Spring Hill residents Harold and Irene Hurst have owned the 47-foot-high, 110-foot-long monster. Built in 1960, the dinosaur was a Sinclair Refining Co. gas station, whose mascot was a brontosaurus-looking animal.

When Sinclair stopped selling gas in Florida, the Hursts turned the dino into an auto shop. Since the mid '90s, cars have been repaired in the belly of this beast.

The structure has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, been on national TV and in a variety of publications around the world.

The Hursts' son, 55-year-old Dana, now runs the shop. He tells people who stop by the story of the concrete animal. To change the light bulbs that make the creature's eyes glow green and red, a friend comes by with his bucket truck every so often.

More coverage

Celebrating Spring Hill Friday: What it was like to be young in early Spring Hill.

Sunday: The changing demographics in a community.