Masaryktown: A Grower’s Paradise
In 1918, Bohemia became Czechoslovakia, an independent, landlocked nation bordering Poland, Slovenia, Germany, and Austria. Previously, it was part of the House of Habsburg, and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In 1848, there was a large exodus from the Czech Republic region of Bohemia to the US, known as “the 48ers,” who were escaping persecution for failed rebellions against the Habsburg monarchy. These immigrants were often farmers who were lured to America with the promise of cheap land and the freedom to make their own way.
Today, Masaryktown is a census-designated place around the intersection of US 41 and Wilson Boulevard, about a mile north of the Pasco-Hernando County line. It has approximately 1,077 people (2020 U.S. census) residing within one square mile, half of which is water. There are some wonderful farms to visit in Masaryktown, one which features its own winery, as well as a delightful Cuban restaurant located in its former hotel.
Masaryktown was founded in 1924 and named after Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, a nation with a rich culture steeped in folk traditions, which ceased to exist in 1993.
It was the vision of Joseph Joscak, editor of a Czechoslovakian newspaper in New York City to create an agricultural cooperative with multiple planting seasons and opportunity for all. He wrote so passionately about Florida that 60 Slavak and Czech people joined him in forming the Hernando Plantation Company to purchase land and develop their dream.
Cooperatively, they purchased 24,000 acres in Hernando and Pasco Counties, and the first settlers came in mid-1925. They began constructing homes, as well as a large hotel to accommodate future settlers. Mrs. Anna Cimbora was among the first settlers, and she became the manager of the Masaryk Hotel on January 1, 1926.
The Hernando Plantation Company purchased an old sawmill located in the area and supplied building materials to the settlers at cost. It then constructed a rock crusher plant to prepare limestone for roads and agricultural use.
By early 1926, 800 acres had been cleared and planted with tangerine, orange, and grapefruit trees, plus grapes. And a dairy had been started by Martin Drahos who hoped to expand it to 100 cows. Masaryktown had twenty-four dwellings in place, housing about forty-three families. The hotel was often filled beyond its capacity.
Unfortunately, the 1926-1928 killer frosts devastated the citrus groves and many Slovaks eventually left. Those who stayed moved into truck and chicken farming, keeping their beloved Masaryktown going.
Masaryktown Farmers change from Citrus to Chickens in the Late 1920s
A break in fortunes occurred when Stephen Otruba moved to Masaryktown from Aripeka and started a poultry farm. Stephen was soon followed by Dominik Voscinar, who had the first incubator installed to hatch chicks for himself and others after moving into poultry farming. All the eggs they could produce were easily sold in Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The Hernando Egg Producers, Inc. becomes the Largest Egg Coop in the SE US
A. G. Mazourek organized the Masaryktown farmers into an egg producers’ cooperative in 1953, called the Hernando Egg Producers, Inc. It became the largest egg cooperative in the southeastern United States until the 1970s, when corporate farms took over the industry.
A school, community hall, and library were constructed, and Czech and Slovik traditions were interwoven in the community, with the Beseda Dancers being a focus. These beautifully costumed dances, like American square dances, were part of the Florida Folk Festival for years. The library held hundreds of Czechoslovakian and Slavic books but was converted to a post office.
Few Slovaks live in Masaryktown today but their legacy remains.
Streets running east to west named after Slovak national and literary leaders such as Štúr, Hurban, Kollár, Štefánik, Hodža, Hviezdoslav, and Mudron. North-south streets are named in honor of American presidents such as Wilson, who assisted in enabling Czecho-Slovak independence, as well as Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln.
Masaryktown Café is located in the former Masaryktown Hotel
Today, the Masaryktown Café is the most prominent landmark. Several popular agritourism farms welcome visitors from far and wide. The Café is housed in the former Masaryk Hotel and features Cuban food, with traditional café con leche and Cuban sandwiches, as well as chicken and yellow rice with black beans. The bean soups are fabulous, and the bakery provides fresh desserts.
Thousands of people from all over the Nature Coast and the Tampa Bay area venture to Masaryktown to visit its three family-friendly farms, where they may indulge in petting farm animals, climbing on outdoor gear, wine tasting, you-pick veggies and flowers: all while enjoying the simple life with a trip to the country.
Visit One of the Family-Friendly Farms in Masaryktown
Sweetfields Farm is located at 17250 Benes Roush Road, to the east of US41. This family farm grows using organic methods, offering you-pick flowers and vegetables in spring and fall season. Their big events, however, are the sunflower maze in spring and the corn maze in fall (The corn maze was damaged by Hurricane Ian but is still available through November 6).
A pumpkin patch, juice bar, lots of climbing and jumping activities and farm animal encounters are part of the admission price. ($10.75 plus tax and online purchase fee/ages 3+). Produce, food and souvenirs are extra. Ted and Lisa Kessel began the farm with a vision to teach their children the joys of farming.
HarvestMoon Fun Farm
HarvestMoon Fun Farm is on the west side of US41, north of County Line Road. Their address is 15990 Stur Street, offering a 5-acre corn maze every fall season, as well as a petting farm, jumping pillow, cow train, barnyard playground, pumpkin patch, dairy goats for sale, food vendors and more. In the spring, a sunflower maze (of sorts) and u-pick sunflowers are featured instead of the corn maze.
HarvestMoon Fun Farm also opens the weekend after Thanksgiving through Christmas, with Santa visits and hayrides, as well as twinkling lights aplenty as the main feature. The spring and fall events are $14.95 per person, ages 3 and up, plus tax. The Christmas event is $11.95 per person plus tax.
Both Sweetfields and HarvestMoon Fun Farms stop their fall activities after this weekend (Nov. 6, 2022).
Upicktopia and Masaryk Winery
Upicktopia and Masaryk Winery, at 19125 Phillips Rd, provide guests the opportunity to get out and pick seasonal vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the fields. Then visitors may want to relax in air-conditioned comfort and enjoy tasting some of the many varietals crafted on-site from fruit grown on the farm. Additionally, Suzy’s Kitchen offers true farm-to-table brunch from 10-1 on Saturday and Sundays and late lunch to dinner from 2 to 6pm Friday through Sundays. The farm is open Friday-Sunday from 10-5, and the winery is open until 8 pm. Prepicked seasonal produce and farm eggs are for sale also.
Weekends at Upicktopia often include live music, movies outside and family activities. There are swings and tortoises, picnic tables and beautiful live oaks surrounded by farm fields, greenhouses, and creative growing stations. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are grown seasonally for u-pick, and there are pick-your-own citrus trees onsite. There is no charge to visit, only for what you consume or take home.
Upicktopia is open from October through May. The Masaryk Winery is open year-round.
As with any farm visit, it is always a good idea to contact the farm before driving if you want something specific to insure it is available that day, or if the weather may cause the farm to need to close for the day. Mother Nature is in charge of all farm activities and each of these places want you to have a good time when you visit.
Dogs and pets are not allowed on u-pick farms per USDA regulations, so please leave your pets at home.
Masaryktown is a unique place in Florida’s Nature Coast, with its cooperative history and its Slovak roots. It’s farm and family-friendly environment are strong. It is still a wonderful community with much to offer.