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  • Deborah Kade

Tarpon Springs, Florida



Just 45 minutes north of St. Petersburg and found along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs, population 23,484, was named for the fish found in abundance in nearby waters. But it also is known as the "sponge capital of the world," and for its 51 miles of waterfront allure. In addition, Tarpon Springs' charming downtown center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors to the Historic District can stroll along brick streets while browsing in art galleries, antiques stores, and specialty shops housed in buildings dating from the late 1800s.



Tarpon Springs has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the US.


The region, with a series of bayous feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, was first settled by farmers and fishermen around 1876. Some of the newly arrived visitors spotted tarpon jumping out of the waters and so named the location Tarpon Springs. In 1882, Hamilton Disston, who in the previous year had purchased the land where the city of Tarpon Springs now stands, ordered the creation of a town plan for the future city. On February 12, 1887, Tarpon Springs became the first incorporated city in what is now Pinellas County. Less than a year later on January 13, 1888, the Orange Belt Railway, the first railroad line to be built in what is now Pinellas County, arrived in the city. During this time the area was developed as a wintering spot for wealthy northerners.

In the 1880s, John K. Cheyney founded the first local sponge business. The industry continued to grow in the 1890s. Many blacks and whites from Key West and the Bahamas settled in Tarpon Springs to hook sponges and then process them. A few Greek immigrants also arrived in this city during the 1890s to work in the sponge industry.


In 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving to Tarpon Springs by recruiting divers and crew members from Greece. The first divers came from the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina and Hydra, but they were soon outnumbered by those from the Dodecanese islands of Kalymnos, Symi and Halki. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida and the most important business in Tarpon Springs, generating millions of dollars a year.





The sponge industry helped build a Greek community that is now famous not only for the world's finest sponges, but for some of the finest Greek restaurants, markets, and bakeries in the country.



The 1953 film Beneath the 12-Mile Reef, depicting the sponge industry, takes place and was filmed in Tarpon Springs.

In 1947, a red tide algae bloom wiped out the sponge fields in the Gulf of Mexico, causing many of the sponge boats and divers to switch to shrimping for their livelihood, while others left the business. Eventually, the sponges recovered, allowing for a smaller but consistent sponge industry today. In the 1980s, the sponge business experienced a boom due to a sponge disease that killed the Mediterranean sponges. Today there is still a small active sponge industry. Visitors can often view sponge fishermen working at the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard. In addition, visitors can enjoy shops, restaurants, and museum exhibits that detail Tarpon Springs' Greek heritage.





Fred Howard Park consists of 155 acres and is located on the Gulf of Mexico. It's location provides access to the Gulf by a 1-mile long causeway. The white sandy beach is a popular swim area and also provides a perfect location to view spectacular sunsets.



Always fun to bird watch.





Always enjoy checking out the names of the boats.





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