Gunn Highway in western Pasco and Hillsborough counties is known for being a a well-traveled suburban Tampa road and its proximity to Citrus Park Mall. However, a long, storied history is associated with this once 30-plus mile stretch of road.
Part 1: Gunn Highway’s Past — Tampa
Construction on Gunn Highway first started around 1920, and was completed in 1925. It began in Tampa and ran to New Port Richey in a curvy, generally northwest fashion. New Port Richey at the time was considered the next great destination, both for visitors drawn to the Gulf of Mexico waters and the promise of a new railroad.
New Port Richey had Dixie Highway (later U.S Highway 19) coming from the south, bringing in people from St. Petersburg and Clearwater. However, no direct road existed coming from the more populated city of Tampa.
The namesake for Gunn Highway is former Hillsborough County commissioner John T. Gunn. Gunn was born in England in 1858 and came to the U.S. in 1870. After settling in Tampa after living in Syracuse, NY, Gunn became a successful grocer, a President on Tampa’s City Council, and a Hillsborough County commissioner.
The entire stretch of Gunn Highway started out as a dirt road built by convicts. Once finished, maintenance was done on an as-needed basis by land owners along the route. At the time, Gunn Highway was considered a crown jewel of highways in Florida.
On its Tampa end, Gunn Highway began at the current intersection of Hillsborough Avenue and Lincoln Avenue in west Tampa. As Gunn Highway opened in 1925, that stretch of Hillsborough Avenue became US Highway 92 in 1926. Previously, Hillsborough Avenue was a direct route via Memorial Highway to the City of Oldsmar, established in 1916. Until the 1950s, Hillsborough Avenue was considered the northern extreme of Tampa. Areas west of the Hillsborough River, other than West Tampa, were mostly unsettled. The boondocks.
The original Gunn Highway took a path along present day Lincoln Avenue, Idlewild Avenue, Himes Avenue, Humphrey Street, Dale Mabry Highway, and Lazy Lane. Lazy Lane continued on a northwesterly path, crossing the Seaboard railroad, and joining present-day Gunn Highway near its current intersection with Linebaugh Ave.
In the mid 1950s, Gunn Highway was realigned to curve into Busch Boulevard (State Road 580) just north of the railroad track. Dale Mabry Highway at the same time was expanded north to Pasco County and an interchange overpass was built with Busch Boulevard/Gunn Highway.
Part 2: Gunn Highway, As Seen Today — Suburbia
Northward, Gunn Highway travels through the a few former spots on the map. Places unheard of and unrecognized today. Places that may occasionally pop up on a Facebook post, and you think, Where’s Mullis City?
The first dot on the map was Mullis City, which is the current intersection of Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue. A few small structures were in place in the 1940s, mostly on Linebaugh Avenue. Today, a small road called Mullis City Way runs in a northeast-southwest fashion between Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue.
Another dot was a place called Spivey. It was a railroad crossing location; the same line that Gunn Highway crosses the first time near Linebaugh Avenue. Today, that rail line location is the Gunn Highway crossing for the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. The area just to the northwest of the crossing was mostly swampland and a few ponds. Today, it’s the site of Westfield Citrus Park mall.
After a short run due north, the highway made a westerly curve at Citrus Park. Today, the curve is the intersection of Gunn Highway and Ehrlich Road. The Ballyhoo Grill stands at the southeast corner of Gunn and Ehrlich, and part of its structure dates back to 1913 The restaurant was then a house that sat between the highway and the railroad.
Citrus Park is an aptly named small town known for great agriculture. The Citrus Park School, built in 1911, still stands today on the south side of the road. It was the area schoolhouse until Citrus Park Elementary opened on the same property in 1958.
Just west of the school, Gunn Highway made a curve to the north. Today the curve is an intersection with Sheldon Road, which goes south. To the west of the intersection was a large orange grove; one of many that made Citrus Park a fitting name. The groves are now the site of Sickles High School.
Part 3: Gunn Highway, As Seen Today — Farmlands
Shortly after Sheldon Road, Gunn Highway becomes two lanes. A few shopping centers sit near the intersection with South Mobley Road as the highway nears Keystone. North of South Mobley, Keystone has maintained more of an old school look. Descendants of the original 1920s Gunn Highway land owners still own some of the land in Keystone. This is one of the few stretches of Gunn Highway today with no bike lanes, mostly as the result of opposition from local owners who want to keep Keystone as a refuge from the surrounding growth.
Race Track Road is the next traffic light north, one of the rare intersections with no retails. Race Track Road heads southwest to Oldsmar as well as the Tampa Bay Downs horse racing facility.
Fox’s Corner stands at Gunn Highway’s intersection with North Mobley Road. Fox’s Corner today is mostly a small, older shopping center with a feed store, a furniture store, a gas station, and other small shops. Though there are signs of urbanization, the farming and quaint culture have mostly remained unchanged through the decades.
The winding, still two-lane road makes its way through mostly farmland until it reaches its next lighted intersection with Van Dyke Road. The old farmland and an old roadside stand exist on the west side of Gunn Highway. On the east side sits two relatively new shopping centers, serving the people of Lutz just to the east. A smaller shopping center and car wash sit at the northeast corner of Gunn and Van Dyke, the architecture being a nod to the old wild west and cowboy culture of the area.
Gunn Highway continues through more of the usual lakes and farms, and even a public library before it hits its next intersection: Tarpon Springs Road. The completion of Gunn Highway served as another milestone for Tarpon Springs. Finally, a direct route existed linking Tarpon Springs (and its thriving sponge industry) and Tampa. The intersection was a town once known as Lake Fern–named in conjunction with a body of water to the northwest of the intersection.
Not far north was a road connecting Gunn Highway with downtown Lutz. Vernon Road, now known as Lutz-Lake Fern Road, was a three-way intersection which was realigned in the 1980s to make Gunn Highway more streamlined at that point. The old Lake Fern School sat where the intersection with Lutz-Lake Fern sits today. Other than about 60 houses that were built in the late 1980s and after, the area remains fairly intact. Cows and orange trees are still abundant.
Gunn Highway soon crosses into Pasco County, and into the town of Odessa. Odessa has had a history of industry, but the nature of industry has changed over the years and decades. Through the changes, a few newer industrial parks still dot the landscape.
State Road 54 is the final junction for Gunn Highway as it stands today. Convenience stores dot the southeast and southwest corners. Farther back from the southwest corner sits the Gunn Highway Flea Market. The prior road configuration shows Gunn Highway running west of the current flea market along a stretch now known as Old Gunn Highway. At the intersection of State Road 54 and Old Gunn Highway is where Gunn made its trek west. Odessa-Denham Highway (Highway 209) made its way east mostly along the current State Road 54 towards Denham, now known as Land O’ Lakes.
Part 4: Gunn Highway’s Past — Elfers and New Port Richey
Gunn Highway continued as its own highway until State Road 54 was named and expanded westward around 1960. Gunn Highway ran just north of and parallel to the Atlantic Coast Line railroad until it made a northern split near today’s intersection of State Road 54 and Trinity Boulevard.
For aviation buffs, West Pasco Airport sat near the 54/Trinity Boulevard intersection from the late 1960s until it closed for good on October 1, 2004. From 1977-2004, it featured a single, paved 5000′ 8/26 runway that ran almost parallel to Trinity Boulevard. The X’ed out paved runway remains today, though new developments are expected to demolish it in the next few years.
Along this former stretch of Gunn Highway from Trinity Boulevard to Little Road is the area now known as Trinity. New housing subdivisions, restaurants, and retails are dotting this stretch more and more. However, the largest landmark is the Medical Center of Trinity hospital that occupies the south side of the road before Little Road.
Little Road is part of the next north-south stretch of Gunn Highway, which ran for about a mile before turning west at the current intersection of Little Road and Old County Road 54. After the end of the Gunn Highway routing, Little Road was expanded north to Port Richey and Hudson, and south to Trinity Boulevard just short of the Pasco-Pinellas County line. Little Road is now a major north-south thoroughfare through west Pasco, an alternative to traffic and strip mall-laden US Highway 19.
The Old County Road 54 stretch of Little Road is still two lanes and soon converges back in with State Road 54. The old Gunn Highway continued westbound to the old City of Elfers. Elfers was incorporated from 1925-1933, but still showed up on maps commonly until the 1990s. Today, few references of Elfers remain. The center of Elfers is at the current intersection of State Road 54 and Grand Blvd.
From here, the New Port Richey-bound stretch of Gunn Highway took off to the north up Grand Blvd. Four years after the opening of Gunn Highway, in 1929, US Highway 19 took over the stretch of Grand Boulevard. A mixture of smaller retail businesses, other commercial buildings, and homes dating back to the 1920s are the scenery along the road.
North of Marine Parkway, Grand Boulevard makes a right-hand curve to the northeast. Bearing left at that point, you’ll end up on Crafts Street, a short two-lane road. At the end of Crafts Street is its intersection with Gulf Drive. This is the assumed northern end of Gunn Highway, based on a 1943 map.
For a look at more photos along Gunn Highway, please click here to visit the Take the Highway Photography Facebook page.
Please feel free to comment in the box below with questions and comments. In addition, your experiences and insight on Gunn Highway are welcome. Any additional history? Drop a line below.