top of page

Historical Society and Museum reopens in time for New Port Richey Centennial

By Pat Morris, Originally published via Suncoast News

NEW PORT RICHEY — Like most renovation projects, it took way longer than expected, but the Rao Musunuru M.D. Museum and Library of the West Pasco Historical Society reopened Dec. 22 after being closed for three months.

The museum operated its programs out of adjacent Peace Hall in Sims Park while it underwent three months’ worth of renovations, replacing the antiquated bathroom, adding badly-needed supply closet space and upgrading the kitchen mostly used by staff, but also pressed into service for special events for the public. 

“It took way too long, and there’s still some finishing touches needed, but the good news is we opened, so we’ve finally got everything back together,” museum curator Mario Caruso told the Suncoast News. Dr. Rao Musunuru paid for the infrastructure improvements — “He has been very generous.” In addition, an anonymous donor provided two computer stations for the library wing, which also underwent a cosmetic facelift. “We did a major cleaning, too,” Caruso said, “and put in a new floor.”

The museum and library are housed in a two-room 1915 schoolhouse relocated to Sims Park from Seven Springs in 1980. The museum houses several permanent exhibits, including Native American, New Port Richey, Elfers and other communities, “Hollywood of the East” (a one-time hopeful designation for New Port Richey), Famous Residents and more. It is currently reaching out to West Pasco police and fire departments for artifacts to expand its first-responders exhibit. The library wing includes hundreds of books on Florida and West Pasco history, copies of local newspapers and local high school yearbooks, much of which has been or will be digitized. 

In addition to museum tours and stationary exhibits, the historical society offers a variety of off-site programs, such as the extremely popular walking tours of downtown New Port Richey and monthly presentations on mostly local historical topics. A docent-led boat tour up the Cotee River from Sims Park to the stilt houses in the Gulf and back is being planned. 

“Now that we’re open again, we’d like to see the community come in,” Caruso said. “Especially with the Centennial.” 

New Port Richey Centennial 

The museum and library covers West Pasco history from before the European incursion, but because New Port Richey is its most developed city and essential the “downtown” of West Pasco, as well as the physical home of the museum, its history features prominently in its collections and activities. And given that this year the city will be celebrating its 100th year, New Port Richey history will be the focus of a lot of activity. 

And it is the focus of a 2024 calendar now on sale in the museum gift shop — the $5 goes to support exhibits and programs. Put together by a group of volunteers, the calendar features historic pictures taken in each month of 1924 as well as tidbits of local history both large (the first Chasco Fiesta was held on March 3, 1922) and small (New Port Richey first got dial-up phone service on Jan. 26, 1948). Caruso noted that 2024 also saw the first class graduate from the original Gulf High School (now the Schwettman Education Center and a hot topic of debate over what the city, which recently acquired the building, should do with it). During the 1920s, New Port Richey also saw the building of the now-renovated Hacienda Hotel on Main Street and an influx of celebrities that, for a time, made it look like West Pasco could become an East Coast hub for the nascent film industry: “the Hollywood of the East.” 

That never happened, and what probably also never happened were many of the legends of pirates, smugglers and gangsters long rumored to have set up shop in New Port Richey and environs. 

“As far as pirate history, I’m not sure how real a lot of that is,” Bob Langford, president of the historical society, told the Suncoast News. “I think a lot of that comes from Gasparilla, and Gasparilla is all made up. It gets people thinking there were pirates running around here all the time.” 

The same goes for gangsters, he said. “Al Capone was never here. Supposedly he used to spend nights at the Hacienda and hung out at Moon Lake and all that, but that was impossible. He was in jail at the time.” He and Caruso also said tales of massive gangster activity smuggling in alcohol during Prohibition are urban legends. 

“Whether people want to believe it or not, moonshining was very popular in this part of Florida (at the time),” Caruso said. “They could have gotten all the liquor they wanted during Prohibition without sneaking it in. They probably had customers just bringing it right to their door. This was not Chicago, New York City, the Wild West. 

“Gloria Swanson was never here,” Langford said. “She has a parking lot named after her, but she’s never been to New Port Richey. Esther Williams never lived here, although she may have visited her aunt who did live here.” 

And, he said, Johnny Cash really was here. 

Which brings up the point that the actual history is interesting enough without having to embellish it, he said. 

“History — your own personal history and the history of where you live — is to me very interesting,” Caruso said. “To have true and correct history I think is very important, too, as opposed to somebody’s story, and made up and embellished things. Real history is interesting enough. There are so many interesting characters that were in New Port Richey that we don’t need to stretch the truth.” 

Caruso hopes more West Pasco residents will visit the museum and library, and attend its programs, to learn about that history. Located in Sims Park at 6431 Circle Blvd., the museum is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., and special tours at other hours can be arranged. It will also provide speakers for club meetings and other events. Admission is free to members, $5 for adults, $3 for students ages 13 to 18 and $1 for children ages 3 to 12.

For upcoming events, membership information and more, visit

By Pat Morris

Originally published via Suncoast News Jan 5, 2024


bottom of page