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.