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Pinellas County History

Pinellas County's earliest visitors were Panfilo de Narvaez (1528) and Hernando DeSoto (1539). They reported the area to be inhabited by the Tocobagan Tribe. After enslaving the natives and setting dogs on them, the Spanish asked if there was any gold around. the Tocobagan told the Spanish to go North. This sent the Spaniards into the territory of the ferocious Creeks of Georgia and Alabama. So few Conquistadors survived the experience that "Punta Pinal" (Point of Pines) remained shrouded in mystery for another two hundred years.

By the time Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, the Tocobagans died and were replaced by the Seminole Indians. The Seminoles settled largely north and east of Tampa Bay. What is now Pinellas County remained largely uninhabited with the exception of camps of American and Cuban Fishermen.

Around 1832, Count Odet Philippe of France abandoned a settlement on Florida's East Coast in the face of hostile natives and moved to what is now Safety Harbor. Philippe introduced citrus to the area and persuaded a few more settlers to move here. The area was then part of Hillsborough County.

But, by 1880, despite the establishment of Fort Harrison in what was then called Clear Water, there were only about 50 families. Three events conspired to dramatically change all that in the next decade.

First was a report to the American Medical Convention in 1885 the Pinellas Peninsula was "The Healthiest Spot on Earth".

Second a land developer named John Constantine Williams wanted to create a city in the Southern part of the peninsula. Pyotr Dementyev, a Russian immigrant turned entrepreneur, agreed to run his Orange Belt Railroad from Central Florida to Williams' holdings. Legend has it that the two men flipped a coin to see what the name of the new town would be. Dementyev won, and named the town St. Petersburg, after his home town in Russia. Williams settled for naming the largest hotel for his home town of Detroit.

Clearwater, with its high bluffs overlooking a deep harbor on the Gulf, had grown too. And when the county was split away from Hillsborough in 1911, Clearwater was named the County Seat. Other residents began to pour in, attracted by the balmy climate, (the peninsula is always cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than Tampa).

Other immigrants came. Tarpon Springs attracted Greek sponge fishermen and today has a thriving Greek culture. Safety Harbor grew up around its world famous spa. The offshore beaches were then settled.

Today, Pinellas County offers visitors and residents alike a cultural atmosphere, a stable economy and weather that is envied by even fellow Floridians.

Tarpon Springs

The first settlers of what is now known as Tarpon Springs were A.W. Ormond and his daughter, Mary, who came to Florida from Ninety-Six, South Carolina , in 1876. They built a cabin near Spring Bayou. A year later, J.C. Boyer, an adventurer from Nassau sailed into the bayou. He and Mary were married and the first family in Tarpon Springs began. In 1879, Mary named her small settlement Tarpon Springs after the great tarpon that inhabited the bayou. It has been noted that the fish Mary saw were really mullet.

Hamilton Disston, a wealthy saw manufacturer from Philadelphia, bought four million acres of central westcoast Florida land from Governor W.D. Bloxom, paying 25 cents an acre and saving the state from bankruptcy. Anson P.K. Safford, the first territorial governor of Arizona, who came here as a land agent for the Disston Corporation, founded the city in 1882. Another associate of Disston, John K. Cheney, studied the area carefully and proceeded to promote the area as an exclusive winter resort after Safford's death. The townsite was carefully laid out by W.J. Marks and surveyed by John C. Jones. In 1884, a post office was established and a railroad survey by Granville Noblit was done. It paved the way for a railroad depot to be built.

Tarpon Springs was incorporated on February 12, 1887, just 11 years after it was first settled, with a population of 52 residents. A man named Wilber F. DeGolier was its first mayor. In 1890, Cheyney discovered much money could be made by harvesting sponges growing in the Gulf of Mexico. John Cocoris was the first Greek to settle in Tarpon Springs, and soon brought many sponge divers from the islands of Greece to harvest the sponge beds.

Tarpon Springs still maintains its reputation as the largest natural sponge market in the world with annual revenue in excess of $5,000,000. Commercial sponges come chiefly from the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida and the Mediterranean Sea. There are some 9,300 square miles of sponge yielding bottom in the Gulf of Mexico yielding four varieties of sponge. Sponge auctions are usually held on Tuesday and Thursday. Peaceful Spring Bayou, the site of the first settlement, today is the site of the annual church observance, Epiphany. It is celebrated every January 6th (the date is always the same). It commemorates the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, when the holy spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. The officiating clergyman is always the Archbishop or a distinguished Bishop assisted by the priest of the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Tarpon Springs. Following the liturgy comes the blessing of the waters, when the Archbishop and the clergy adjourn to a marble kiosk in the courtyard. Making a sign of the cross over a symbolic bowl of water, the priest then prays for calm seas and the safety of all sailors, and for blessings on the faithful. Clergy and congregation then form a procession to Spring Bayou .The ecclesiatics, from Archbishop to alter boy wear embroidered robes of gold and crimson and bear jeweled crosses and croziers. With them is a young woman in white , bearing a white dove which symbolizes the Holy Spirit.

After the invocation, the dove is released to fly over the bayou. The Archbishop casts a white cross into the bayou and about 50 youths leap out of a semicircle of small boats and scramble to retrieve it. The one who brings it back to the Archbishop kneels for a blessing and is assured of good fortune for the coming year.

The shores of the bayou are lined with spectators for the "cross diving". After the ceremony, the crowd drifts to the Sponge Docks for a Glendi- an afternoon of feasting on Greek food and a festival of dancing. The celebration ends in the evening with the formal Epiphany Ball.

It should be emphasized that the Epiphany celebration is a serious religious observance reverently performed.

The above is from the book, "Tarpon Springs, Florida- the Early Years" by Gertrude K. Stoughton.


When this area was known only to the native Indians (Timucuan, Calusa and Appalachia tribes), clear springs gurgled from the banks into the bay. The springs, long since gone, were located along the high bluffs upon which City Hall and downtown Clearwater are now situated. Early settlers called it Clear Water Harbor until 1895 ,then Clearwater became one word and in 1906 Harbor was dropped.

Florida became a territory in 1822 and during the Seminole Indian Wars of 1835, the government built the original Fort Harrison located on the bluffs where Harbor Oaks is now. The fort was abandoned in 1841 and is commemorated by a plaque on Druid Road in downtown Clearwater. The first Blacks came to the area with the Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528. The first white settler was French Dr. Odet Phillippe. He established St. Helena Plantation in what is now Safety Harbor and raised citrus. His daughter married Richard Booth, and these pioneering families' names are still well known in Clearwater.

The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave 160 acres to any head of family or single man over 18 who would bear arms and cultivate the land. The "father of Clearwater", James Stevens and Samuel Stevenson were among the first settlers. After a visit in 1841, James Parramore McMullen and his 6 brothers settled in the Clearwater area.

The first settlers who farmed mostly vegetables and cotton faced hardships such as the 1846 Hurricane and a viscious storm in 1848 also. The first paper "The Clear Water Times" was established by Rev. C.S. Reynolds. When the first narrow gauge railroad was built in 1888, the Clear Water Harbor community had about 18 families. Later, Henry Plant, the foremost Central and West Florida developer of the time, built a standard gauge railroad through Pinellas County. To boost his passenger business, he built several grand hotels including the Belleview Biltmore in 1897. The Florida real estate boom began in earnest in 1921 and peaked in 1925. The bottom fell out in the bust of 1927, foreshadowing the 1929 market crash and nationwide depression. When "Pinellas Point" was first settled it was Western Hillsborough County. It was a long day trip to travel to the courthouse in Tampa, so by act of legislature, Pinellas County was created on January, 1912, with Clearwater as the county seat.

The City of Clearwater was incorporated on May 27, 1915.That same year the city built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach.

The Philadelphia Phillies professional baseball team began spring training in the 1940's.

For more information, please refer to "Yesterday's Clearwater" by Hampton Dunn and "Clearwater: A Pictorial History " by Michael Sanders in the Clearwater Public Library.


Dunedin is the oldest city on the west coast of Florida south of Cedar Key. In 1852, the first deed was recorded in the Hillsborough County courthouse ( Pinellas was a part of Hillsborough until 1912). Right after the Civil War, settlers started coming. The first recorded settler was Richard L. Garrison who received a government grant for 160 acres on Curlew Creek in 1852.

Early Dunedin residents were boating enthusiasts. Around 1870, John L. Branch, proprietor of Dunedin's first store, built a dock somewhere between Sunset Point and Main Street for the purpose of unloading supplies from sailing vessels. Dunedin soon became the trading center for the entire area because it was a seaport. Two Scots, J.O. Douglas and James Somerville, built a general store on the waterfront. The only way to get here at that time was by boat from Cedar Key or by horseback.

George L. Jones from Marietta, Georgia built another general store across from Douglas & Somerville's and put up a sign "Jonesboro". The 2 Scots thought that Jones might get more business that way so they decided to put up the name DUNEDIN, which was gaelic for their hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland to compete with him. The settlers preferred Dunedin over Jonesboro so the canny Scots petitioned the federal government for a post office. They got it in their store, put up the name Dunedin over their store and outfoxed Mr. Jones. This was in 1878.

In 1888, the first railroad came here from around Ocala, through Tarpon Springs and down to St. Petersburg. It was built by Peter Demens, the man who gave St. Petersburg it's name after his hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia. He went broke and later the Atlantic- Coastline Railroad acquired his railroad.

In 1884, the West Hillsborough Times, the first area newspaper, was printed. According to the Dunedin Historical Society, the newspaper " was printed in Dunedin for a few months, then sold to A.C. Turner in Clearwater. In 1892 it was sold to Rev. R.J. Morgan of St. Petersburg for $1200.00 and renamed the St. Petersburg Times". The Dunedin Yacht Club and Skating Rink building was built in the early 1880's.

In 1899 Dunedin incorporated with the Mayor/Council form of government and in 1926 a new charter was secured using the Commission/Manager form of government.

By 1920 the population had reached 642 persons. The city has continued to grow primarily as a residential area, with an estimated 1994 permanent population of 34,857. The peak season, November to March, sees an additional 1,500 winter residents and tourists.

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