The 50th anniversary of the grand opening of Deltona Corp’s Spring Hill community was on April 30 of this year. The county and Hernando County Chamber of Commerce will be commemorating the anniversary on July 27th at The Lake House, which was once Spring Hill’s community center. It was here where early residents gathered for community picnics and celebrations.
Janet Moscatel Croft worked for Spring Hill Developer, Deltona Corp, beginning in 1975 under General Manager Roger Norton. Croft recalls the early days of Spring Hill and some of the people who were involved in it’s development and growth.
Croft quickly moved up the ladder with Deltona Corp. “I started working part time on weekends as a front receptionist then graduated to contract sales for the entire Spring Hill development. From there I became the secretary to the first General Sales Manager, Harold Zopp. The library on Spring Hill Drive is named after him. The last position I held was in the warranty department of new homes, giving me that extra one year until the last home was out of warranty. The Administration Building closed its doors so the warranty department was moved into the [real estate] office of McGeehan and Sons,” she explained.
Croft worked alongside her sister Elaine McGeehan. The sister act was well known. Croft said, “Many of the northern agents knew about us as the sisters working together. We were able to meet people from all parts of the country and from around the world.” According to a Tribune article on Spring Hill’s 25th Anniversary, Deltona Corp maintained a sales staff of 150 to sell the Spring Hill community.
Croft’s sister Elaine was married to Connell McGeehan. Connell is the son of Margaret and Hugh McGeehan. Hugh was one of the first salesmen for Deltona Corp. He and his wife eventually opened the first real estate office in Spring Hill. Hugh McGeehan was appointed as one of the first Hernando County Commissioners representing Spring Hill.
Hugh McGeehan, who passed away in 2002, was considered a pillar of the community. He played a founding role in St. Theresa Catholic Church, was on the board of Lykes Health System and assisted in finding a location for Spring Hill Regional Hospital. He was a board member at Pasco-Hernando Community College and St. Leo University. For almost 20 years, he served as a trustee for the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative which grew from around 50,000 to more than 175,000 customers in that time period.
Croft was friendly with Deltona salesperson Betty Olsen Germaine who passed away in March at the age of 94. “She knew a lot of Spring Hill history,” said Croft. “Betty's husband Marty Olsen was also one of the beginning salesman. After Marty passed away, Betty remarried (Richard Germaine) and eventually opened The Realty Shoppe in the original Deltona Administration Building at the entrance of Spring Hill,” Croft stated.
Betty and her first husband Martin became involved in Deltona Corp in 1967 when they opened a franchise of the Deltona Corporation in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They moved to Marco Island, another Deltona community where the couple was involved with early development there. Following Deltona Corp, they landed in Spring Hill in 1974.
“The ladies who worked at the Ad Building,” said Croft would often lunch at the Spring Hill Country Club, which happened to be the only restaurant around in the beginning. At the time it was a 9 hole course and later became an 18 hole course.
Describing Spring Hill, Croft said, “Spring Hill was a close knit community.”
She continued, “We all gathered at the Community Center (now The Lake House) for picnics.” She said that residents also gathered at the Community Center for church services, first provided by St. Teresa. Eventually, different denominations shared the community center.
“The Little Red School House was our little library and craft center,” said Croft. The Little Red School House is still one of the gems of Spring Hill. Today it functions as a cozy used bookstore that generates funds for the Hernando County Library system.
Croft recalled some of the community’s main events.
“The Chicken Plunking Contest became well known throughout the country. One year Soupy Sales came as a guest...later on it was moved down to the Veterans Building on Spring Hill Drive. The big winter event was the Christmas Parade in the beginning of December...everyone, I mean everyone attended.”
She recalls that the community had only one doctor. “His name was Dr. David McGrew. He was still in the Navy so he would come up one or two days a week. His office was located in the 7-11 strip mall.” The closest doctor otherwise was in New Port Richey, Croft explained.
In terms of shopping, Croft stated, “The larger strip mall consisted of Winn Dixie at one end and Webb Drug Store at the other. The drug store had a lunch counter. It later became Eckerd Drug Store.”
West Side Elementary was the first school in Spring Hill. Croft explained, “The older children attended Hernando High until Springstead High was built years later.” Croft said that when Springstead was first built, it was “in the middle of nowhere.” Her son was one of the first graduates in 1982.
For the 1960’s, Deltona Corp did quite a lot of land use planning. They created a master plan which indicated areas for future growth as well as categorized areas for specific land uses. The original master plan only included 15,000 acres, it had seven school sites, 23 church sites, 500 acres of commercial property, and 2 golf courses. This level of land use planning was uncommon at the time.
“I hope the residents of Spring Hill get to know the history of their town. The years go by too quickly,” said Croft.