Hello there. Peabody here. And this is the WAYBAC Machine for traveling through time. And this is my boy, Sherman. Speak, Sherman. Hello. Good boy.
We will begin at the end of the line, Sherman, in 1987. It marked the end of a very important period in Pinellas County.
2010 1994 1987
You see, my boy, trains played a very important part in this country’s history. Why, without trains, Tarpon Springs might not even exist today! Tarpon Springs Depot 1915 Educator click to continue
Why were trains so important, Mr. Peabody? Let’s use the WAYBAC to find out, my boy. First stop, 12,000 years ago. Tarpon Avenue – looking west
1775 1491 12000 years ago
No one knows the names of the people who first lived in Florida or fished its waters. Archaeologists tell us that some might have lived along Florida’s Gulf Coast as much as 12,000 years ago. They call these people Paleo-Indians - the very first residents of the Americas. Silver Springs Mammoth, courtesy of Florida Traveler
Archaeologists learned about the Paleo-Indians from the tools they left behind. They made their tools from a glass-like stone called chert - the strongest stone they could find in the western part of what would become Florida. Photo courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History
As time passed, the climate grew warmer, and as the great glaciers in the north melted, the level of the oceans rose, covering much of coastal Florida where the Paleo-Indians had lived. Gee, Florida was a lot bigger back then! Image courtesy of Florida Fisheries Science Blog
The warmer climate made life easier for fish and shellfish, however, so by around 4,500 years ago, Native Floridians lived comfortably on a diet of fish, clams, Artwork by Dean Quigley and oysters, no longer required to follow the game animals they had relied on earlier.
Archaeologists learn about early Floridians by studying the items found in ancient trash heaps called middens, where people tossed shells, bones, broken pottery and worn out tools. Shell Mounds Ft George Island 1878, courtesy of FloridaMemory
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Many years ago, archeologists also examined Native Floridian burial mounds, which contained human bones and other items. One well-known archaeologist named Frank Hamilton Cushing visited Tarpon Springs in 1896 to pick up a boat for an expedition to Marco Island. Frank Hamilton Cushing, portrait by Thomas Hovenden, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
While waiting for his boat, he learned about a Native Floridian burial ground that had been named for Anson Safford, a well-known Tarponite. Cushing and his crew uncovered over 600 human skeletons in the Safford and nearby Hope mounds, as well as exotic goods of galena, mica, and greenstone and jewelry made of quartz and copper. This jewelry showed that Native Floridians traded with other Native Americans far to the north. Crystal Pendant Copper Pendant
Spring Bayou, photo by R C Turple 2014 That’s awesome, Mr. Peabody, but what does that have to do with trains? I’m getting to it, my boy. Be patient.
Although some early Spanish explorers travelled along Florida's Gulf Coast, none of them stayed for long. The Spanish and the Native Floridians clashed, and ultimately, the First People of Florida vanished, replaced temporarily by the Seminole people from the North, who later relocated to the Everglades area. Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Times
The earliest white settlers arrived in the Tarpon Springs area around the end of the Civil War. Farmers and fishers drifted in, built cabins, and Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, FloridaMemory began growing oranges and other crops. Over the years, more families arrived, built more cabins, and grew more crops.
The Joshua and Mary Boyer cottage, now located at Heritage Village, Largo Florida Mary Ormond first lived in a cabin near Spring Bayou with her father, then in this cottage after marrying Joshua Boyer. She loved watching the fish jump in the Bayou, especially the giant tarpon, so she decided that their settlement should be called Tarpon Springs.
Anson Safford, known as the founder of Tarpon Springs, grew up in Illinois, then moved out west to dig for gold in California. He made a name for himself after President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him governor of the Arizona Territory. Anson P.K. Safford Governor of Arizona Territory 1869-1877 Ulysses S. Grant President of the U.S. 1869-1877
Later, Safford returned east where he met Hamilton Disston, a man who became wealthy by purchasing 4 million acres of Florida land for just 25 cents an acre. Hamilton Disston
The Disston real estate deal forced many Florida homesteaders - people who had claimed land by living and farming on it - to buy their land again from Mr. Disston. He profited by charging them much more for the land than he had paid for it. Early Tarpon Springs Street Scene, courtesy of TSAHS
More people moved to Tarpon Springs, drawn by its natural beauty, natural resources, and near-tropical climate. Yet the only way to reach the area was by boat or mule wagon. That changed in 1887. The Mary Disston on Spring Bayou, courtesy of TSAHS
1887 The year 1887 was very important in the history of Tarpon Springs. It saw many changes in the community.
During the early years, the settlement was difficult to spot from the sea after the sun went down, but in the 1880s, the Federal Government was establishing a chain of lighthouses to help protect the coastline. So, in 1887, the President, Grover Cleveland, ordered the construction of the one hundred-foot Anclote Key Lighthouse, at the cost of $35,000. Images courtesy of Lighthouse Friends
The light from the giant kerosene lantern could be seen from sixteen miles out to sea. Not only did the lighthouse provide security for the Florida Gulf Coast, but it made it much easier for cargo ships to find the Anclote River and the docks of Tarpon Springs. Images courtesy of Lighthouse Friends
Today the lighthouse still operates from the Anclote Key Preserve State Park, which can only be reached by private boat or ferry. This photograph was taken in 1954. Images courtesy of Lighthouse Friends
The lighthouse was decommissioned in the 1980s, but was restored to operating condition and relit in 2003 through the efforts of the Friends of Anclote Key State Park & Lighthouse organization, and by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society. Images courtesy of Lighthouse Friends
While the President was thinking about protecting the country, the people of Tarpon Springs were making plans for their settlement's future. Twenty-five local business owners worked together to promote Tarpon Springs as a city for relaxation and health as well as for business, so in February of 1887, the voters agreed that Tarpon Springs should officially become a city of Hillsborough County, Florida. It was the first incorporated city on the Pinellas Peninsula.
Patience, my boy. Hillsborough County? I thought Tarpon Springs was in Pinellas County.
While the people of Tarpon Springs worked together to transform their settlement into a city, the people of Hillsborough County were not so quick to work with the people of the Pinellas Peninsula to develop a transportation system for the western hinterland. Their eyes were on Tampa. Port Tampa and Tampa Inn, circa 1900, courtesy of FloridaMemory
The back country, my boy. A sparsely populated semi-wilderness. Also known as The Boonies. Hinterland?
In the summer of 1911, after a poorly built bridge in St. Petersburg collapsed under the weight of a mule wagon, Hillsborough County officials ignored the complaints of the Pinellas Peninsula people. This angered the Pinellas residents so much that after years of talking about it, they finally voted to separate from Hillsborough County. In January, 1912, Pinellas County was created. No! Boo!
So that's why 1887 was so important. They got a lighthouse, AND they became the first incorporated city in what was going to be Pinellas County. That is only part of it, my boy. The best is yet to come.
In the years following the Civil War, railroad construction boomed as people rushed to settle the lands in the West. As the tracks crept westward, they also expanded in the South, as people from the North learned more about the sunny Florida coast and the riches it promised. Plant System train at the Belleview Hotel in Belleair near Clearwater, Florida Courtesy of FloridaMemory
In 1885, just two years before Tarpon Springs officially became a city, the Orange Beltway Railway began construction of a line between Lake Monroe near Sanford and Lake Apopka.
A Russian immigrant named Peter Demens gained control of the Railway from the original owners over a debt, and made plans to connect the railroad from Sanford with the Pinellas Peninsula. It was in 1887 that the railroad reached Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs’ First Train Depot Built in 1888, courtesy of TSAHS
So...in 1887, Tarpon Springs became a city, got a lighthouse, and also got a railroad. That's a real haul! Indeed it is, my boy. But that was only the beginning.
The arrival of the railroad in Tarpon Springs opened the doors to economic development for the entire Pinellas Peninsula. Within a year, the railroad had reached the southern end of the peninsula. The people there were so grateful they named their settlement St. Petersburg in honor of Peter Demens, the Russian immigrant from St. Petersburg, Russia, who had headed the drive to bring them the railroad. Peter Demens, courtesy of Winter Garden Heritage Foundation
Orange Belt Railway Old Engine #7, Demens at far right, courtesy of TSAHS
The railroad connected the Pinellas Peninsula to the outside world in a new and exciting way. It was no longer necessary to travel for days by slow boat or wagon - passengers could now travel in comfort from New York City to Tarpon Springs in just a day and a half. Railroads of 1890 Map courtesy of Humboldt University
The railroad also carried people who were looking for work. African American families arrived and found work with the Tarpon Springs sponge docks, courtesy of TSAHS railroad, in the citrus groves, and in a growing industry that would become very important for Tarpon Springs - sponging.
While the train was important for tourism in the area, in its early years, the railroad was most important to the growth of the area's agriculture and aquaculture businesses. In the warm waters off the coast of Florida and in the Bahamas, sponges were collected from small boats by men using very long poles with a hooked end. Sponge hooker using diving bucket and sponge hook, 1920s, courtesy of FloridaMemory
By 1890s, the Tarpon Springs sponge industry, led by a man named John Cheyney, had achieved great success. Sponges were brought to Bailey's Bluff, near the mouth of the Anclote River, where they were placed in stake enclosures called kraals to be washed by the Gulf waters until they were ready to be sold. Photo from Scientific American Supplement, 1904
Cheyney hired a man named John Cocoris, who helped change the way sponges were collected off the waters of Tarpon Springs. Courtesy of Wikipedia contributor J Williams (JW1805) John Cocoris, courtesy of FloridaMemory
Instead of using a long pole with a hook, the men who Cocoris brought from Greece wore a diving suit and helmet. Air was pumped down to them through a hose which made it possible for them to stay underwater and collect many more sponges than could be hooked by the poles, from much deeper water. John M. Gonatos, sponge diver, courtesy of FloridaMemory
In 1905, five hundred Greek boatmen and sponge divers arrived, and within a few years, many Greek-owned businesses were prospering along the streets of Tarpon Springs. M. Gonatos Building, built 1927. Photo by R C Turple, 2014