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Brandon's beginnings and earliest residents discussed at roundtable event

BRANDON - Pioneer John Brandon brought his wife and six children to Tampa from Mississippi in 1857 in covered wagons. He acquired acreage and began farming in what is now the Brandon/Seffner area. He later bought another 500 acres for 75 cents an acre. After his death, his second wife, Victoria Brandon, donated 40 acres to Hillsborough County to create a town, which the surveyor called Brandon. The early Brandons also gave land for a school, a Methodist church and parsonage and two cemeteries, said 75-year-old Mike Brandon, of Riverview, in an interview. According to a family history compiled by Mike Brandon's mother, Lily, the Brandon family descended from Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and the duke's wife, Mary Tudor, sister of England's King Henry VIII and widow of King Louis XII of France.
Mike Brandon read excerpts from his mother's manuscript in honor of the 155th anniversary of John Brandon's arrival in 1857, at the annual Community Affairs Dinner on Feb. 21. A highlight of the dinner, where nonprofits in the community are honored, was a panel discussion about the Brandon area's history, featuring members of some if its oldest families. "This is the first time we've invited the pioneering families to share their stories," said Janine Nickerson, vice president of the Community Roundtable, a networking group for local nonprofit organizations, which hosted the event. On the pioneer panel with Mike Brandon were Claire Simmons Bryan; her daughter Judy Darsey, representing the King family into which Darsey married; Helen Mulrennan Powell Young; and longtime residents Dick Stowers and Paul Dinnis. The King family, of Irish descent, came to Brandon in 1881 from South Carolina, Darsey said at the roundtable. Years ago, a replacement street sign for King Avenue in Brandon, named for the family, was erroneously painted to read "Kings" Avenue, and it has been called that ever since, said Bryan, in an interview. Valrico Seffner became Seffner Valrico Road in a similar mix-up, she said. Stowers said his childhood dream was to become a funeral director. A latecomer to Brandon (in 1929), he thought the Brandon family home on State Road 60, then called Hopewell Road, would make a wonderful funeral home. He bought the house in 1960, and it is now Stowers Funeral Home. At the time, you could look west from the house and see a couple of businesses, a few homes, and nothing else between there and U.S. 301, he said. It's been really exciting to be a part of the area's change and growth, Stowers said. "It's a privilege to be part of this community," he said. Dinnis said his contribution to the greater Brandon area was helping create the first public lending library in the 1950s, built on the back of a little book exchange that the Brandon Women's Club started with donated books. Bryan, whose family is not related to the Bryans for whom Bryan Road is named, grew up in Boyette and attended first through 12th grades at Brandon School, where McLane Middle School is now. She graduated in a class of 49 students in 1941. Bryan was on Brandon School's first yearbook staff and gave the annual its name, "The Eagle." She played trumpet in the school's first band. Teachers who lived in Tampa stayed overnight weekdays in Brandon, because it was a difficult trip back to Tampa, she said in an interview. Bryan's family farm kept them fed through the Depression. She picked strawberries to earn cash, but recalls neighbors who were so poor they pulled Spanish moss from trees to sell for mattresses. The area has "changed dramatically since 1970," she said in an interview. The roads have been paved, the groves turned into houses. "The dairies are gone," she said. "They used to stop traffic on Parsons Avenue so the dairy cows could cross." But Bryan loves having a mall in Brandon. "You don't have to go to Tampa any more," she said in an interview. "But traffic is horrendous out here, and you used to wake up in the morning smelling orange blossoms; now you wake up smelling gas fumes." Eighty-nine-year-old Young's great-uncle, John Mulrennan, came to Florida in the early 1860s as a soldier of fortune with the Confederate Army. After the Civil War, he applied for a federal land grant for 160 acres, contingent on his farming it for five years. He died of a mosquito-borne disease before the five years ended. "My grandparents came down and took over, and my grandfather obtained the land grant," she said in an interview. "My poor grandmother — imagine her coming from Brooklyn, N.Y., with two little bitty boys. And this place was a wilderness then. My great-uncle lived in a little one-room hut and cooked in iron pots over a fire outdoors. What a difficult life; it's no wonder they died young." Young's own family didn't have electricity on Durant Road until 1936, when she turned 13. Members of the Mulrennan family were instrumental in starting Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon, but Young is Baptist and attends Cornerstone Baptist Church. Young and her late brother, Martin Michael "Bud" Mulrennan, donated the family homestead to Hillsborough County for a school, Mulrennan Middle School. The John A. Mulrennan Sr. Public Health Entomology Research & Education Center at Florida A&M University was named after Young's oldest brother, who served about 40 years in Florida as a public health entomologist. He discovered ways to control mosquitoes that virtually eliminated St. Louis encephalitis in the state.

Contact Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.
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