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The history of Gooden Crossing

Chris Torello - Habitat for Humanity

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The Gooden Family: "They were the Habitat before Habitat came along to the area." Photo provided.

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Gooden Crossing in Largo was a busy place for construction during the spring months. Work trucks traveled in and out. The sounds of hammers, electric saws and nail guns replaced the whistle of a train that used to run through the area. Concrete has been poured, walls put up, and fresh sod laid down. Now, all that commotion and locomotion is coming to an end. The final strokes of paint have been placed on the exterior walls. The windows are inspected for any blemishes. Three brand new Habitat Homes await their owners’ arrival.

The three families who will own these homes – the Dodson-Evans, Jones, and Poole families – each took their version of a long, winding road to achieve the dream of affordable homeownership. However, the journey to these homes becoming a reality began long ago.

Photo courtesy of the Gooden Family.

A Young Couple with Big Dreams

Chester Gooden was a young man of 30 when he and his bride, Corrine, decided to leave the comforts of their community in Ocala, Florida, and move to an unknown part of the state – Largo. It was 1936 and Largo was mainly empty land with open fields for animals and orange groves. The Goodens were investing in a vision as they bought 10 acres of land for $800. No, they had to figure out what to do with their property.

“There was one store that all of us Black folks went to,” said Mr. Gooden during an interview in 1993 on the oral history of the Greater Ridgecrest Community in Largo. The interview has been preserved by the Heritage Village Archives & Library. “That one store, in downtown Largo, was a grocery store named Watford’s.”

Photo Courtesy of Heritage Village Archives & Library.

The African American community in Largo did not have many places to go in those days. Chester and Corrine used their 10 acres of land to build a neighborhood where everyone would feel a sense of belonging. One of the first examples of their kindness was in 1944 when they donated land to build the first church in the area – St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist.

“I remember when I helped build that (church),” said Mr. Gooden in the oral history interview. “We wanted a place to be proud of.”

To this day, members of the Gooden Family attend Sunday service at St. Mary’s.

Photo Courtesy of Heritage Village Archives & Library.

The Goodens were also founding members of the Friends of Ridgecrest – an organization created by residents of the surrounding area of what would become Baskins, Baskins Ridge and Dansville. More and more families moved into the area from other parts of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The Goodens would sell them pieces of their 10 acres so they could become homeowners and start new lives in Largo. Homes were built, businesses and schools were born, and the vision of a young couple from Ocala was realized.

‘The Corner’ was where it all went down

Elizabeth Helm-Frazier has ties all over the Greater Ridgecrest Community. Her great-uncle is Dan Henry, who founded the Dansville portion of Largo in the 1940s. She remembers all the events that helped shape her as a person. That includes every birthday, holiday and important life celebration. It’s easy to remember when almost all of those moments occurred in one place – her grandparents’ grocery store.

Photo courtesy of the Gooden Family.

Chester and Corrine Gooden opened different businesses throughout the Greater Ridgecrest area, but it was the Corner Drugstore on Baskin Crossing Road, simply known to many as “The Corner,” where the community would turn.

“One of my favorite pictures is me as a little girl standing on the counter of the store, with my grandmother holding me,” she said. “The Corner was where we would go to feel safe. It was where we watched the Christmas and July 4th parades. The whole community loved that store.”

The Gooden grandchildren viewed their grandparents as heroes: Two people heavily involved in their community with a focus on improving the lives of everyone who lived in the Greater Ridgecrest area. That included helping those going through hard times.

Photo courtesy of the Gooden Family.

“I will never forget when my grandfather would tell a mother ‘Just get what you need in the store and I will run a tab for you,’” said Elizabeth, who is the eldest grandchild to Chester and Corrine. “The Corner is where I got good at math and learned about credit. My grandfather didn’t want people to go without, so he made sure they had what they needed, especially for their kids. It helped keep the community moving.”

As the years went on, family and friends moved on and passed on. But through it all, the community stood strong, with The Corner and the Gooden Family serving as a cornerstone of its rich history.

Corrine passed away in 1992. Chester passed away in 2001. He was 95.

In February 2003, two years after Chester’s passing, the Pinellas County Commission honored him and Corrine by renaming Basking Crossing Road to Gooden Crossing. The celebration of the name change took place where Chester and Corrine had made one of their earliest marks in the community – St. Mary’s Baptist Church.

Photos Courtesy of Heritage Village Archives & Library.

“This celebration fits in perfectly as we recognize two selfless, dedicated role models,” said then-Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris. “The Goodens were everyday heroes, quietly working to open doors we now easily walk through. Let us make a vow to educate our young people about our past in this community and to teach them about ancestors such as Mr. and Mrs. Gooden so that their example of dignity, community service, and compassion will live on.”

Continuing the Legacy of Helping Others

Photo Courtesy of Heritage Village Archives & Library.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has built around 100 homes in the Greater Ridgecrest Community. It’s an organization that understands the need to honor and preserve history, and not just tear it down. With 19 homes already built on Gooden Crossing, Habitat was looking to add three more. The land available was at The Corner. This land was now owned by the Gooden grandkids.

“There was an original plan to put three homes on that property for our family,” said Elizabeth. “We could always come home to this area when we needed to. I remember coming home from the Army [she spent nearly 26 years serving our country] to sit and eat and talk for hours with my grandfather. Those are cherished memories.”

Family members had settled in different parts of the Tampa Bay area, and the country. Elizabeth works in Washington D.C. and lives in Maryland. The time seemed right to do for others what their grandparents had done – help families become homeowners.

“I was talking to a relative about the land and Habitat building homes there,” said Elizabeth. “They told me, ‘This is what your grandparents did for folks – they were the Habitat before Habitat came along to the area.’ We knew we could help three families – three African American families – become homeowners for the first time in their lives.”

Habitat knew it was not just taking on the land to build homes, but the history of Chester and Corrine Gooden.

“We know how much this land means to the Gooden Family,” said Habitat president and CEO Mike Sutton. “We are proud to have been chosen to help carry on the Gooden Family legacy of helping families achieve homeownership. Chester and Corrine Gooden will always be remembered in this community. Hopefully, these three Habitat Homes help to continue their story for generations to come.”

Habitat Pinellas and West Pasco Homes numbers 898, 899, and 900 will sit on that coveted property.

Photo courtesy of the Gooden Family.

“This area will always mean a lot to our family,” said Elizabeth. “This area is a village. It will always be our home.”

Gooden Crossing will always honor Chester and Corrine Gooden. Their story now includes three more families who finally have the opportunity to be homeowners.

A perfect ode to the couple from Ocala who had a vision to help others have a permanent place to call home.

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    June 12, 2024at8:39 pm

    I remember going into this area with my Mom. It was all Black neighborhoods. Baskin Crossing, Danville, and other neighborhoods in that area. It was founded and initially developed by Black folk. Black History. Thank you Habitat

  2. Avatar

    Western Largo

    June 12, 2024at3:24 pm

    Thanks for the historical insight. Glad they had a vision, lived it, and proud of it. Legendary Philanthropists. I live close to Gooden’s Crossings and enjoy the area. Great things moving to a new neighborhood generation! Glad they had a vision, lived it and proud of it. Beautiful article.

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