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FORT DODGE
a lost Florida roadside attraction

I’m a “roadside archaeologist.” My fascination with the American roadside began with an article in 1985 in the Washington Post about the decommissioning of Route 66. I’ve been “looking back” ever since.

In 2002 my wife and I moved just a few miles south of Weeki Wachee Spring, a Florida roadside attraction beckoning tourists since 1947.

After living in the area for a dozen years, I learned that there was another Florida tourist spot just up the road from Weeki Wachee - the “lost” roadside attraction of Fort Dodge.
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Fifty five years ago, an entrepreneur named Paul Bolstein opened FORT DODGE - a wild west town located on US 19 just north of Weeki Wachee Springs.

Unfortunately, Fort Dodge was only open a couple years until a little thing called Interstate 75 took all his customers away.

I had dreams of locating the ruins of Old Fort Dodge - shells of old buildings being reclaimed by nature. But first, I had to find it. The information I had was sketchy at best - various sources reported that it was 4, 6 or 8 miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring.

To find the exact location of this lost Florida roadside attraction, I headed for the land office in Hernando County. There, I located deeds to property purchased by the Bolstein Family that soon became fort Fort Dodge.

Paul Bolstein and his wife purchased roughly 37 acres on US 19 approximately 8 miles north of Weeki Wachee. I was initially worried that would put the park on the grounds of the current Winding Waters / Weeki Wachee High School.

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Documents indicated the Bolstein Family purchased three lots in an area known as HI-WAY FARMS, FIRST ADDITION. The dimension of each lot was indicated on the plat. I added up the total number of feet from the reference road (Atlanta Avenue), and converted the total number of feet into mileage. The portion of old Fort Dodge that fronted US 19 was between .87 and .99 miles north of Atlanta Avenue.

I left the land office, jumped in my car and headed to US 19. I hit the GPS at Atlanta Avenue. As I drove by Winding Waters Middle and Weeki Wachee High, the GPS began to climb - .25 miles - .50 miles - .87 miles….I cleared the school!

But - right next door sat Weeki Wachee North, a 55+ manufactured home community….exactly .87 to .99 miles north of Atlanta Avenue, where property records indicated was once the home of old Fort Dodge.

So, as far as my hopes of locating remnants of Fort Dodge appear to be dashed, but my hunt for information and memorabilia on this lost piece of Florida roadside continues.

If you would like to learn more, you You can read vintage newspaper articles below and
view pictures of Old Fort Dodge.

If you can add anything to the story of Fort Dodge, please
get in touch.


  • OLD WEST REPLICAS SET FOR SUNCOAST - Tampa Bay Times, August 29, 1962
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    OLD WEST REPLICAS SET FOR SUNCOAST
    by Chuck Albury

    When St. Petersburg’s Paul Bolstein talks about Dodge City you can almost see the glint of sunlight reflected on a steel gun barrel and hear Wyatt Earp’s measured stride along the western town’s sunbleached boardwalks.

    Bolstein plans to bring both Dodge City and Fort Dodge Kansas to dramatic and authentic life this winter on the Suncoast. He’s labored weekends on it for nearly eight months but with the hardest part behind, expects to be ready for visitors in November.

    This newest Florida tourist attraction, which Bolstein promises will be both entertaining and educational, is being built on US 19 about six miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring in Hernando County.

    Bolstein, his son Paul Jr., and Steve rice, also of St. Petersburg, are doing the work with the help of Bolstein’s daughter and other young hands like young John Murphy, also of St. Petersburg.

    Right now, Florida’s Fort Dodge is a 16 foot high wall of thin pine logs, cut in half, topped by an inside walkway, three feet from the top. The front wall some 300 feet long, is complete and sidewalls are well along. There’ll be a roofed firing post with windows at each corner.

    When the 300 square foot fort is completed, Bolstein will build the full scale replica of Fort Dodge inside.

    “We’ll build the Wells Fargo office first,” says Bolstein. “The a marshall’s office and jail, tonsorial palace, bank, newspaper office, post office, general store, taking post, saloon, restaurant, Boot Hill and an exhibit area for Indians.”

    Bolstein has been dreaming of a Fort Dodge here for nearly nine years and collecting authentic items. He has barber chairs of 1872-86 period for the tonsorial palace which performed both hair cutting and tooth extractions. He also has post office boxes of those times.

    “We're not going to put on any fake hangings or shootings here,” promises Bolstein. “I don't go for that kind of stuff. People who come here will pay one price to get in and then will be free to go through all the buildings and exhibits. It's going to be a family place. Our saloon will serve soft drinks.”

    Bolstein admits his version of Fort Dodge is a bit grander than the original which was about 160 foot square and had only 12 foot high walls. But he wanted room to put all of the Dodge City buildings inside.
  • PAUL BOLSTEIN…ONE MAN’S WILD WEST - St. Petersburg Times, October 18, 1964
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    Paul Bolstein’s a pioneer with a dream – he's going to rebuild old Dodge City.

    Paul Bolstein is a sometime cowboy with a way-out image win his heart. It’s a rough hewn version of the "queen of the cow towns "– Dodge City.

    Literally by hand and sweat of the brow, the Bolstein family – wife Grace, Paul Junior, 19, Christine, 18, and Carol, 16, have built it's framework on 37 acres alongside US 19, between Weeki Wachee Spring and Homosassa Springs. They have their Old Fort Dodge will be as good, and successful an attraction as its neighbors.

    Bolstein started two years ago. He bought the land from Lloyd Hedges of Tarpon Springs (“If he wasn't so patient with the payments, we’d have lost the whole thing along time ago,” says Bolstein) As the months were on, he sank all his cash into the project: “I even borrowed on my land – to the hilt.”

    The family hacked cypress logs from the swamps to build the stockade. They bought lumber is they could raise the money, and they sawed and hammered it themselves.

    Now they're western town is nearly complete. All it lacks common sense Bolestein, is the last lump of cash, several thousand dollars. He thinks he has the money lined up. If it comes through, he plans to open any couple of months.

    When he does, visitors to Old Ft. Dodge will find a realistic western settlement full of real cowboys and Indians (a Seminole family who will live on the grounds); a soft drink saloon, complete with dancing girls; a Pony Express in frontier news paper; Florida's only Gold and silver mine salted naturally and a pony ride through what boasting calls “Mystery Mountain.”

    Citizens of old Fort Dodge, many of them Bolstein kin, will live at the attraction and work as dancing girls, saloon keepers and cowboys. Bolstein didn't plan on his attraction to be this large when he started. He has had to sell some of his horses to survive financially. Now, six different parties have offered to buy Old Fort Dodge but he has turned them all down. He wants to make the attraction is educational as possible and his proposed prices are below those of most large for attractions. Bolster, a former newspaper man who owned and operated 10 weekly papers across the country, came to St. Petersburg 14 years ago and started a riding school and horse farm and held several rodeos here.

    Like the pioneers of the Old West, who built their cities on borrowed money and sherer guts, Paul Bolstein is the constant optimist. He’s continually resisted financing that would take control of his image from his family. He's worked until his strength was as thin as his financing. As he's hung on, he told himself, and anyone else who’ll listen: "I won't give up.”
  • FORT DODGE GRAND OPENING - St. Petersburg Times, April 15, 1965
    From the April 15, 1965 St. Petersburg Times -

    WEEKI WACHEE - Fort Dodge, a few and different Florida adventure, swings open it’s stockage gate to the public at 9am today.

    Located north of here in US 19, the attraction is owned and operated by the Paul Bolstein family of St. Petersburg.

    Visitors can pan for gold in a cool mountain stream, ride a pony through Mystery Mountain, or watch a daring band of raiders bite the dust - all in one afternoon.

    Bostein said, “There’s picnic grounds here and lots of room to roam around.”
  • NEW ATTRACTION IN HERNANDO PROVIDES LOOK AT OLD WEST - Tampa Tribune, April 16, 1965
    NEW ATTRACTION IN HERNANDO PROVIDES LOOK AT OLD WEST
    by Nell Woodcock

    BROOKSVILLE – Tourist attractions crop up in the strangest places, but there is a fort located near here which gives today's modern traveler an authentic glimpse of life in the old west.

    Old Fort Dodge, located six miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring on US Highway 19, is now open to the public after some three years in the making.

    Paul Bolstein, of Brooksville, who says he is a former rodeo rider and newspaperman, selected a lonely spot between Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee Spring for his attraction.

    He has recaptured here the colorful era of late 1800s when soldiers, Indians, Cowboys, gold miners, and then assortment of men and the “light ladies” made Dodge City Kansas the “queen of the cow towns.”

    Bolstein says his aim is to provide an “educational attraction” and that he has building plans here that will keep him busy for the next 10 years.

    Now operational on the more than 37 acres of land he is developing is a replica of the old Santa Fe railroad and an 1860 model steam engine that winds it’s way through Seminole Indian village, past the stream that flows down from Gold Mountain, past the Hanging Tree and of course “Boot Hill.”

    Those who are successful when “panning” for gold in the stream will find the assayer’s office and a fellow willing to buy.

    Behind the massive fort is located more than 30 buildings including the office of Wells Fargo, the Pony Express and the post office. There's the Dodge House, a land office, as well house as the Marshall's office and an adobe jail.

    “We have genuine cowboys and professional stunt men for our shows here,” Bolestein said.

    There's the Long Branch saloon were one may “wet his whistle” on a soft drink, and down the street is a miner’s supply store in case one forgets to bring his mining pan to try his luck searching for gold in the mountain where water comes out of the “mountain” at the rate of a thousand gallons a minute.

    Bolstein stresses that his attraction is geared to give those who wander into the fort an authentic picture of life and times during that historic period of the West when the Army outpost became the target for Texas cattle drives, and the railroads changed it from a tiny oasis into a bold, brawling camp.

    While the new attraction has opened the massive gates of the old fort to the public, Bolstein says the “grand opening” of Old Fort Dodge is scheduled for sometime in June.
  • NEW TOURIST ATTRACTION USES OLD POST OFFICE EQUIPMENT - Tampa Tribune, April 18, 1965
    NEW TOURIST ATTRACTION USES OLD POST OFFICE EQUIPMENT - Tampa Tribune, April 18, 1965
    by Nell Woodcock

    Standing at the bar in the Long Branch Saloon was a tall man talking to the hostess about the contract for Postal Service he hopes to come through sometime this month.

    On the boardwalk outside, a small group of men and women could be seen brushing from their faces the dust left there from the last gust of wind to sweep down the dirt road separating the row of buildings inside the Fort.

    The ponies were restless in the corrals at Old Fort Dodge, miles away from the other settlements in Hernando County.

    Young Paul Bolstein was sipping a Coke and discussing the proposed mail service at Hernando’s newest tourist attraction located sis miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring on US Highway 19 with us and the woman who run the refreshment center there.

    There is much at this Old West attraction being developed by the Bolstein family of Brooksville that captures the imagination of the visitors.

    Being Texan the father has a genuine love for the Old West and it's heritage which shows in his choice of settling for the life of yesteryear he is depicting.

    For the person with a little imagination and a love for history, a trip to Old Fort Dodge is worthwhile.

    The post office was interesting to this reporter since the mailboxes there are the ones that were formerly used in Dade city when the post office was located beside the bank of Pasco County on Meridian Avenue.

    The mailboxes in those days were opened and locked with keys and in the section now being used in Old Fort Dodge, which Bolstein intends to have incorporated, is Box 323. This box was one which the late EL Stevenson rented when he moved to Dade City from Illinois in 1912.

    Stevenson was the first rural mail carrier to switch from the horse and buggy to the automobile for mail deliveries. He was this reporter's grandfather-in-law.

    The Post Office equipment used at Fort Dodge had been used at Homosassa in citrus County after Dade With built a post office on Seventh Street, and the Bolsteins, finding it in storage there, plan to put it in service again.
  • FT. DODGE - FLORIDA’S NEWEST TOURIST LURE - Variety, May 18, 1965
    FT. DODGE - FLA.’S NEWEST TOURIST LURE
    Do-It-Yourself Project Lets Visitor Mine Nuggets at Sutter’s Mill, Picnic, Etc. All for $1.65
    by Odie Anderson

    Brooksville Fla., May 18

    A new Fort Dodge, authentically barricaded behind a solid wall of halved pine and cypress, is rising in Sandland and an impatient public is already trekking down Front Street.

    This newest Florida tourist attraction, strategically located six miles north of ABC - Paramount’s Weeki Wachee Springs - home of live mermaids - and a few miles south of the Norris Co. Homosassa Springs on US 19, is the rapidly developing brainchild of Paul Bolstein and family. Significantly, it is a mere one-hour run from St. Petersburg and Tampa.

    The do-it-yourself project, with its one-mile highway stretch, was started three years ago by the Bolsteins - wife, two daughters and one son. And this particular bit of west is being won by traditional sweat, guts and imagination.

    New Yorker Bolstein, past owner of some 10 weekly newspapers, served a stint as operator of a riding school in St. Pete. This, coupled with a bit of ranching in Texas, prompted the present venture.

    The family affair is striving for authenticity. Considerable research has gone into establishing a historically accurate old west and education of small fry is high on the agenda. Emerging is a cowtown where a visiting family can find amusement for an entire day.

    CAN CAN DANCERS, TOO

    A preliminary opening found ready spectators for the Long Branch Saloon - stocked with well-stacked can can dancers - the Globe Press, Dodge House, a land office and general merchandise store.

    But the most popular magnet is Sutter’s Mill, with its mountain stream tumbling down some 300 feet into a small pond. Brook is also salted with genuine gold and silver nuggets and semi-precious stones. When panned by visitors, valuables are redeemed at the assayer’s office. Pans are provided and lucky prospectors have gleaned as much as $68 for a single gold nugget. Management purchases back the poke to re-seed Florida’s only gold and silver mine.

    Phosphorus painting highlight the history of the day of the Pony Express and it’s brief history in the cavernous Mystery Mountain. Black light plays on colorful scenes of the early west as spectators wind through a darkened area of manmade peaks. A taped recording narrates the saga of the sagebrush

    Starring as marshal of the historical replica is Johnny Dodge, film and TV character, who, with his trusty deputies, daily - and inevitably - subdues the forces of frontier crime in well done gunfights.

    Christine, the oldest Bolstein daughter, portrays an Indian princess. fitting well into the scene, while a Seminole family village adds color to the compound. Weathered wagon wheels, hitching posts and bovine skulls are used to resurrect picturesque days of the pioneer.

    A full-time artist is retained at Fort Dodge, responsible for the art work of the complex as well as roadside signs, more of which are needed to adequately air the attraction.

    LEASED SEVERAL CONCESSIONS

    The family has leased a number of concessions - the press, the steam engine, which shrilly conveys passengers around the 37 acre area, a stagecoach which catapults from the Wells Fargo office, the barbecued popcorn stand and others.

    Foreseeing the venture as more than a mere tourist attraction, the Bolsteins are planning a miniature western golf course, archery and shooting galleries and possibly square dancing to the music of The Thunderbirds, a “Grand Ole Opry” group.

    Plans have been laid for an adjacent Mexican village, which will require a tour through customs to an adobe studded compound and following an exchange of American money for South of the Border coin.

    Also plotted is an arena type area for presentation of theater-in-the-roux for the straw hat circuit and/or possibly bullfights or native talent.

    Envisioned is a constantly changing line up of entertainment, well spiced with book learning’ and catering to repeat family trade. Hopefully, Ford Dodge will soon be granted a charter designating it an incorporated town complete with US Post Office and with personnel of the establishment supplying the required population.

    Meanwhile, adults are paying a reasonable $1.65 entry fee, children under 12 traipse through the massive gate with its yet-to-be completed block house without charge. Picnic ares are provided in well shaded areas.

    Bolstein has clung doggedly to his controlling interest - resisting capitalistic offers which foresee for Fort Dodge a goldmine similar to that of Six-Gun Territory, some 50 miles northwest in the heart of Florida’s horse racing country. This compound, too, has an ABC-Par neighbor, the Silver Springs spread.

    Pay dirt is a mere trickle at Fort Dodge to date. However, the compound which was only a sign by the side of the highway for many months is beginning to make noises indicating that its owner has struck it rich. Proper pushing can put it on the map.
  • HIS WILD WEST IS IN FLORIDA - Staten Island Advance, August 27, 1965
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    by Judith Ayers

    Fort Dodge, given a rebirth in Florida by former Staten Islander, employing professional cowboys and complete with an authentic Seminole Indian village, is a hot-wild, bronco-busting, gold-digging replica of the famous old western town.

    “To recapture and authenticate the heritage of the frontier,” is what Herman Paul Bolstein, his wife, son and tow daughters have been trying to do for the past three years at their wild west fort in Weeki Wachee, near St. Petersburg, Florida.

    The fort itself aims at genuine duplication of the fact and flavor that went into the Arkansas cow town. The Long Branch Saloon is there, the Globe Press, Dodge House a land office and the general store.

    The biggest attraction is Sutter’s Mill. This has a mountain stream, salted with gold nuggets and other precious stones, that rumbles down 300 feet of mountain into a small pond. Visitors may pan the stream and redeem their valuables at the fort’s assay office. Some lucky prospectors have received as much as $68 for their finds.

    An educational emphasis is stressed throughout the fort’s amusements. Phosphorus paints relate the history of the days of the pony express and the tales of Mystery Mountain. “Black light” highlights colorful scenes of the early west as spectators wind their way through a darkened area of peaks. The tape-recording narrates the western saga.

    Gunfights between Johnny Dodge, marshal, and the outlaws, like one Mexican desperado, (Bolstein’s son Paul) are well played in suitably concluded with a good guy victorious.

    Christine, one of the Bolstein daughters, plays an Indian princess and blends in well with the other real Seminoles in their “Chickees,” or thatched shacks.

    Scattered throughout the fort are cow skulls, wagon wheels, dirty, evil looking cowpunchers, a working stagecoach, a steam engine, a Wells Fargo office, and plenty of picnic areas.

    The Bolsteins have been making plans for a Mexican village, "across the border,” which will require passing through customs, and a currency exchange.

    They also envision having the fort legally incorporated into a town with it’s own post office and a required population.

    Fort Dodge is just one of the many fascinating adventures Herman Paul Bolstein has undertaken. Brought to the Island as a child, he attended Port Richmond and McKee high schools. He has several relatives here and many friends.

    At the age of 29 he left the Island, and in his words, "rough-necked in the oil fields, rodeoed, was a bronco buster and had my own Wild West shows. He also owned a rodeo corporation, did some ranching and was the owner and operator of 10 weekly newspapers.

    He started out his varied career as a cartoonist for the National Youth Administration in 1939. He had studied art on the Island and at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn before doing cartoon work.

    In 1944 he left the Island and began the widely diverse series of activities that eventually led him to Fort Dodge Florida.

    He's been away for a long time but visits the Island occasionally. Whenever he returns however, "I always have a nostalgic feeling of coming home."

    Perhaps this accounts for the "Royal welcome "he and his family bestow on the Island visitors to Fort Dodge.
  • FLORIDA HAS FORT DODGE - Fort Lauderdale News, March 29, 1966
    Florida now has a Fort Dodge, patterned after Matt Dillon’s hometown and located on US 19 some six miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring.

    One of the newest of the state’s attractions, Fort Dodge is the brainchild of Paul Bolstein and family.

    Considerable research has gone into the project of Fort Dodge, which has emerged as a full fledge count town, complete with a Long Branch Saloon, stocked with can can dancers, the Globe press, Dodge House, a land office and general merchandise store.
  • FORT DODGE OPENS TODAY - Tampa Bay Times, April 16, 1965
    FORT DODGE OPENS TODAY

    WEEKI WACHEE - Fort Dodge, a new and different Florida adventure, swings open its stockade gate to the public at 9 AM today.

    Located north of here on US 19, the attraction is owned and operated by the Paul Bolstein family of St. Petersburg.

    Visitors can pan for gold in a cool mountain stream, ride a pony through Mystery Mountain or watch a daring band of raiders bite the dust – all in one afternoon.

    Bolstein said, “There's picnic grounds here and lots of room to roam around.”
  • IT’S OLD FORT DODGE. WHERE THE WEST WENT WILD! - St. Petersburg Times, Sunday April 25, 1965
    IT’S OLD FORT DODGE. WHERE THE WEST WENT WILD!
    By Thomas Rawlins

    It's not often that an attraction actually gives you the chance to get back the money you plunk down at the box office. And leaving with more cash in your pocket that you had when you arrive is unheard of. But then a lot of strange things happened in Old Fort Dodge.

    And a lot of strange things are happening at the new Old Fort Dodge, Paul Bolstein’s cowtown attraction that has been something of a Suncoast landmark during it’s several years of construction. Located on US 19 six miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring, the attraction was built entirely by Bolstein and his family. Many who have watched their progress said they would never open, but last week the first paying customers walked Front Street in Old Fort Dodge.

    They found that the streets were dusty and that some buildings were still under construction. But then old Dodge was dusty and buildings were always being built and torn down. So it makes the Suncoast version seem even more authentic.

    Authenticity is what Bostein is striving for in his attraction. There isn’t much of the glitter that often accompanies amusements of this sort, but there is alot of educational value and enough fun to keep the family entertained for the day

    Front Street in Old Fort Dodge contains a long row of stores and shops including the Dodge House, the Globe printing office, the US post office, the Long Branch saloon and Wells Fargo office.

    The Wells Fargo office is the start of the unique pony ride. Parents lead the kids through a “mystery mountain” that contains back lit scenes depicting the history of the pony express while a taped voice narrates the saga of the express.

    There is a miniature railroad that winds around the old Fort Dodge complex. The engine is a replica of the first steam engines that crossed the Great Plains and forced the Pony Express out of existence.

    There are the usual gunfights (well done), Boot Hill, hanging tree and Indian village (the Seminoles should move in this week), but the most fun is the gold stream with the real gold.

    Tumbling down off a tall mountain, the stream flows some 300 feet into a small pond. Salted along one million or so small stones in the bed of the stream are gold, silver and semi precious nuggets. Visitors get a mining pan from the supply shop and pan the stream. Bolstein will assay and buy back anything they find. And thar’s gold in that thar stream that makes is all worth the effort.

    You may not get rich. But you sure can't lose.
  • FLORIDA HAS IT’S OWN FORT DODGE - Philadelphia Inquirer, October 16, 1966
    FLORIDA HAS IT’S OWN FORT DODGE
    by Bob McHenry

    Florida now has a Fort Dodge, authentically patterned after Matt Dillon’s home town, and conveniently located on US 19 some sic miles north of Weeki Wachee Spring, and about 50 miles north of St. Petersburg.

    One of the newest of the state’s attractions, Fort Dodge is the brainchild of Paul Bolstein and family. The Bolsteins qualified themselves for such an operation by a bit of ranching in Texas followed by the operation of a riding school in St. Petersburg.

    Considerable research has gone into the project of Fort Dodge, which has emerged a full fledged cow town, complete with a Long Branch Saloon, stocked with can can dancers, the Globe Press, Dodge House, a land office and general merchandise store.

    GENUINE NUGGETS

    However, the most popular spot in the 37-acre compound is Sutter’s Mill, with its mountain stream tumbling down some 300 feet into a small pond. The pond is salted with genuine gold and silver nuggets and semi precious stones. When panned by visitors, valuables are redeemed at the assayer’s office.

    Nearby, a king sized sand box is seeded with trinkets where small fry dig for their own brand of treasure.

    Cavernous Mystery Mountain depicts the story of the pony express and its brief history, with black light playing on the colorful scenes of the early west.

    SEMINOLE VILLAGE

    There are repeated gun fights, which the “good guys” and the Sheriff invariably win, and a Seminole family village adds a distinctive note to the community.

    The entrance to the area is invitingly spiced with bright Indian teepees and horse drawn wagons of the past ear. Here, also, is the trading post, with its refreshment corner and a choice of western and Florida souvenirs.

    Behind the solid barricade of halved pine and cypress posts, historical Fort Dodge spreads its many attractions.

    A miniature steam engine shrilly conveys small passengers through the wooded area and a stagecoach leaves at intervals from the Wells Fargo office.

    Essentially a family affair, Fort Dodge offers visitors the opportunity to bring picnic lunches and spending a day enjoying a visit into the past.
  • FT. DODGE LIES IN RUINS OF FINANCIAL PROBLEMS - St. Petersburg Times, December 24, 1967
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    The sandy streets and crumbling buildings no longer echo with the sounds of the once prosperous tourist attraction which was abandoned about a year ago by those who dreamed of establishing another major attraction on Florida's West Coast.

    The old Long Branch saloon, Dodge House and Delmonico’s lie empty and ravaged by vandals along with the remainder of the buildings shich formed the sprawling complex called Fort Dodge on US 19 about 5 miles north of Weeki Wachee.

    The problem encountered by it’s builders was financial, according to Pinellas County banker-manufacturer George Ruppel.

    Ruppel, who incidentally is chairman of the Pinellas County Commission, holds the mortgage on the Fort Dodge property jointly with his four brothers.

    “It was one of the few bad investments we've made,” said Ruppel as he spoke of the crumbling city. “It would've taken another $40,000 to save it and make it successful.”

    The originator of the idea was Paul Bolstein, a promoter who now lives in Pensacola. One former associate.B. Richards, describes Bolstein is the man with the ideas, and said others furnished the money for the attraction.

    Richards operated the O.K. Corral, a western-type second hand an antique store which is now situated just south of Fort Dodge. The Richards dismantled their business and moved away when the attraction folded.

    Ruppel foreclosed on the $20,000 mortgage, and has taken title to one portion of the 37 acre tract. L.F. Hodges, Tarpon Springs retiree, owns the 7 acres which front on US 19.

    Hodges has been trying to lease the property, and now plans to split it up and sell it in small pieces.

    Ruppel feels the property has good potential. He would like to see someone take it over but most of the buildings and fixtures have been badly damaged or stolen by vandals.

    Few panes of glass remain unbroken, doors have been ripped from their hinges, pipes pulled up from the ground, and electrical fixtures torn out.

    The breastworks of the fort are falling, and the Fort Dodge Jail will never again hold prisoners.

    Two small signs remain on the walls of what must have been a gift shop. The close out bargains advertised Indian head dresses for "only 10 cents” and coconut heads for 89 cents.

    Ruppel estimates the complex, built about four years ago, would have been valued at around $100,000. But now he considers it's worth reduced to the land value alone.

    Many think it could've been made into an attraction which would complement Homosassa Springs and Weeki Wachee, thus adding to the ability of US 19 to attract tourists to the upper Suncoast.

    But the complexities brought about a joint ownership of the land and the decaying condition of the attraction would make a revival of Fort Dodge and the splendor of the Old West seem most unlikely.
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