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The West Coast of Florida

Florida: Empire of the Sun


The West Coast of Florida opens into many deep, splendid bays with islands by the thousand dotting the serrated shore. Before the War Between the States, its rich lands boasted of enormous sugar plantations and about its towns and villages still cling the glamorous atmosphere and cherished memories of the Old South.

Tourist development along the West Coast began at a later period than on the East Coast, agriculture, industry and commercial fishing occupying the attention of its people. Now, however, the remarkable sport fishing, myriad island beaches and winding, picturesque drives are establishing an international resort reputation for this beautiful section of Florida.

Tampa–The strategic location of Tampa has resulted in its growth as the trade metropolis and distributing center for an immense surrounding territory. The tourist will find this city a convenient headquarters from which to take trips to all parts of the peninsula. Its magnificent bay attracted voyageurs from the earliest times and four hundred years ago two of the greatest military expeditions to the New World landed their forces here-the expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 and of De Soto in 1539. "This port is the best in the world," wrote Narvaez's scribe and De Soto's chronicler was filled with wonder at the endurance of the Indians, who could "outrun even the mounted scouts."

A boulder, recording Narvaez's landing, stands in Bay Front Park, where is also the De Soto oak, one of the earliest meeting places of Indians and Spaniards. The Indians of this region were implacable in their opposition to white men, killing missionaries and soldiers alike.

Not until the American Fort Brooke was built here in 1823 were settlers able to develop the fertile shore and pleasant rolling countryside. A tablet marks the place where this historic fortification stood. During the Seminole Wars, Tampa was the port from which the captured tribes were sent west to new reservations. During the Confederacy, the harbor was several times blockaded and the city shelled by the Union gunboats, which were trying to prevent cotton-loaded ships from slipping out to Cuba. After the war, this section suffered because of lack of transportation facilities and in 1870 there were only seven hundred and eighty-six men in Tampa. When the first railroad came through from Sanford, in 1884, a new era of growth and prosperity began which has continued to the present day.

Henry Bradley Plant built the magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891, with its swimming pool, theatre and race track, while the cigar manufacturers moved in to build Ybor City, that picturesque center of the world's largest cigar industry. During the Spanish-American War a great camp of seventy-five thousand troops was established near Tampa, which then had only twenty-five thousand people.

Each spring at Tampa an entire week is devoted to the festivities celebrating the landing of the pirate crew of Gasparilla on the West Coast. This event attracts thousands of tourists annually, and is comparable to the great Mardi Gras at New Orleans.

No mention of the Tampa section would be complete without Davis Islands, a remarkable residential suburb built on islands in the bay, connected by a causeway to the mainland. Golf courses, tennis courts and recreational facilities of all kinds are available to tourists in Tampa. The new Tampa Yacht and Country Club, now under construction, will have a sea wall and concrete slips for yacht anchorage.

Saftey Harbor–On the Pinellas peninsula, overlooking old Tampa Bay, where the Espiritu Santo Springs draws hundreds of health seekers who bathe in its wonderful medicinal waters, is Safety Harbor. The sanitarium is complete and up-to-date in equipment and has thirty-six different treatments available. Espiritu Santo, or Holy Spirit, was the name given by De Soto to Tampa Bay when he landed here in 1539. There are six golf courses within fifteen minutes' drive and fishing for trout, tarpon, robalo and kingfish is a popular sport.

Plant City–The annual Strawberry Festival at Plant City in March proclaims the supremacy of that luscious fruit in this fertile section of Florida. Five million quarts were shipped from this thriving little city to markets all over the country last year. Golfing, fishing and hunting draw many tourists to Plant City, which is only twenty-two miles inland from Tampa.

Pinellas Peninsula–Gandy Bridge, the longest automobile toll bridge in the world, connects the resorts of Pinellas Peninsula with Tampa. These resorts include the towns of Pass-a-Grille, St. Petersburg, Cordova, Belleair, Clearwater and Safety Harbor.

Almost entirely surrounded by water, the Pinellas peninsular resorts enjoy an unusually cool and refreshing climate even in the warmest days of summer time. Tall Australian pines and palm trees form a verdant setting for many beautiful motor drives on the peninsula and salt-water bathing is a popular sport almost everywhere along the picturesque shore line. Fish caught in these waters include tarpon, kingfish, redfish, sea trout, Spanish mackerel, amberjack, grouper, robalo and sheepshead.

St. Petersburg–Called the Sunshine City, St. Petersburg has a climate so delightful that the largest newspaper gives away its circulation on any day that the sun fails to shine. In nineteen years the paper has been given away only ninety-seven times, an average of five sunless days a year.

In the many large shell mounds left by the aboriginal inhabitants of the Pinellas Peninsula, Smithsonian archaeologists have found carved shells, weapons, bowls and skeletons, together with European coins and crocks. To this wild and beautiful shore General John C. Williams brought his family in 1877 and later, in 1888, induced a Russian exile, Peter Demenschoff, to extend his Orange Belt railroad from Longwood to the coast. The naming of this celebrated resort, in honor of his native Russian city, is attributed to Demenschoff. The well-known green benches for tourists, the six miles of municipally-owned waterfront, the million-dollar pier and splendid yacht club are interesting features of the city. Recreational parks, boating, fishing, comfortable hotels and beautiful homes are among its attractions. Big league baseball teams have their winter training quarters here.

Pass-A-Grille–Reached by causeway across Boca Ceiga Bay, lies Pass-a-Grille, ten miles south of St. Petersburg. In early times this was the favorite landing place of buccaneers, who roasted wild cattle for their feasts here. As early as 1841, it was called Pass-aux-grillarde on a government survey, meaning "Pass of the Grillers." This crescent-shaped isle, set in the deep blue of the Gulf bay like a precious gem, has become an up-to-date resort with all conveniences and every form of recreation.

Clearwater–Located on the highest coastal elevation of the state, Clearwater was the site selected for the erection of Fort Harrison in 1841, where sick soldiers were cared for during the Seminole Wars. The log buildings of the fort stood at Harbor Oaks overlooking the water in three directions, facing toward Old Tampa Bay, Clearwater Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The first oranges grown here found no market, but now Clearwater is the center of some of the finest groves in the state. In 1895, the Plant System built the beautiful Belleview Hotel, which brought many tourists to this section. With its fine hotels, golf courses and beaches on a chain of keys reached by a tropically-planted causeway, Clearwater is indeed a delightful resort city.

Dunedin–This is a charmingly landscaped community on the slopes of the Pinellas Hills, overlooking Clearwater Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, just twenty-two miles west of Tampa. Outdoor sports on land and water are enjoyed here the year round. An eighteen-hole golf course is located within the city limits and six other courses are four to eight miles away.

Inverness, Brooksville and Dade City–These are inland towns of the West Coast section which offer good accommodations to tourists. Much citrus fruit is raised in this section, as well as papayas, bananas, persimmons, avocados and grapes. A Spanish moss factory is located at Inverness.

Bushnell–Near Bushnell is the scene of Dade's massacre, where an entire company of troops were attacked from ambush and killed by the Indians. This occurred in 1835, during the Seminole Wars.

Dunnellon–Phosphate deposits, the fossil remains of millions of prehistoric fish, were first discovered near Dunnellon in 1889.

Cedar Keys–Directly south of Bronson, Cedar Keys is noted for its Gulf fishing and good hunting in the surrounding forests.

Yankeetown–One of the newest of Florida towns, Yankeetown is located on the Gulf at the mouth of the Withlacoochee River. Six beautiful rivers with innumerable creeks and branches empty into the Gulf within six miles of here. Fishing, hunting and boating are excellent.

Tarpon Springs–Hundreds of small varicolored boats of the sponge fishing fleet line the waterfront at Tarpon Springs. Curio shops display marvelous varieties of sea fans, ferns, sponges, odd fish and shells brought in by the Greek divers. Turkish coffee shops and the largest sponge exchange in the world are interesting points. For twenty-six years, the Greek Epiphany Service in January has drawn thousands of visitors to see the head of the Greek Church of America throw a gold cross into deep water for divers to compete in finding. George Ennis, the artist, who lived here, has left a beautiful collection of his paintings in the little church, where they are open to public inspection every afternoon.

New Port Richey–This is the winter home of Thomas Meighan, Gene Sarazen and other national figures and is located beside the picturesque Cotee River. The river was first named Pithlachascotee, so called for the Indian Prince Pithla and his betrothed Princess Chascotee, who died on her wedding day. Golfing, boating and surf bathing are enjoyed here the year round.

Lake Jovita–The neighboring town of Lake Jovita has five fine schools within a half-mile. Game animals include squirrel, opossum, fox and deer. Quail are plentiful in open season and the lakes and rivers abound in fish.

Homosassa–Eight miles up the Homosassa River, so clear that hundreds of fish can be seen swimming over the grassy bottom, is the town of Homosassa. It is the site of the great sugar plantation of Senator David Yulee, Florida's United States Senator just before Secession. Union gunboats raided the place in search of Jefferson Davis' correspondence and ruins of the buildings can be seen in the jungle set aside as Yulee Park.

The five towns of the Manatee River, including Palmetto and Ellenton on the north bank, Bradenton and Manatee on the south, form a charming group of cities connected by a concrete bridge over the Manatee River, which is several miles wide here. On an island in the river, is the fifth town, Terra Ceia. In 1854, Dr. Joseph Braden built a stockade at the junction of Manatee and Braden Rivers as a refuge during the Seminole raids. The walls still stand, as does an even more ancient chimney at Manatee, so large that an automobile could be driven into it.

On the outskirts of Ellenton is the old Gamble mansion, where Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Secretary of State, was concealed from the Federals until he escaped to Nassau. The Gamble house is now a Confederate memorial, containing an interesting collection of relics.

Bradenton has a popular recreation ground, with a band shell and fine auditorium. A director of sports assists in tourist activities, and the beach on Anna Maria Island is equipped with bathhouses and all conveniences. Golfing, tennis, shuffleboard and bowling on the green are some of the sports enjoyed at Bradenton.

Sarasota–On Sarasota Bay, where hundreds of tropical islands parallel the shore, is the colorful city of Sarasota. March brings the exotic Sara de Sota pageant, a celebration based on a legend of the love of De Soto's daughter for an Indian prince, in which celebration the Ringling Circus, wintering here, takes part. Ringling millions have spread a maze of resorts over Sarasota, Lido, Venice and Treasure Island beaches and have added materially to the prosperity of this section.

In 1885, a young Scotchman, J. Hamilton Gillespie, built one of the first golf courses in America at Sarasota and many others have since been completed. Palatial homes of the Ringlings, the Potter Palmers, Princess Cantacuzene, Oliver Curwood, W. J. Burns, Stanley Field and others are here. The John and Mabel Ringling Art Museum ranks among the finest in the United States.

Punta Gorda–The most famous of the West Coast pirates, Gasparilla, had his stronghold near Punta Gorda at the mouth of Charlotte harbor, where Pierre La Fitte, brother of Jean La Fitte of New Orleans fame joined him. Many attempts have been made to find their buried treasure, reputed to be worth eleven millions of dollars. This is the home of the silver tarpon, many of which are caught even with hand lines from the concrete bridge over Charlotte Harbor Bay. Hunting, fishing and good hotels appeal to the sportsman here.

Fort Myers–San Carlos Bay and Pass, at Fort Myers bear the name of the great Indian chief of Menendez's time (1567) who, when told that the greatest man in the world was Charles V of Spain, assumed the name of Carlos also. He bestowed his sister upon Menendez, who felt obliged to accept the gift, although the princess was both old and homely.

Fort Myers was established in 1850 and named for Col. A. C. Myers, chief quartermaster of the Florida troops who were fighting against the Seminoles. The fort also served as a base for Federals during the War Between the States.

Modern Fort Myers is noted for the hundreds of varieties of palms which line its streets and especially the double row of Royal Palms on its main thoroughfare. It is the winter home of Thomas Edison, whose experiments in rubber here have attracted worldwide attention. Many other celebrities, among them Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Dr. Henry Miles and Elsworth Milton Statler, have homes at Fort Myers.

Golf, bathing at beach and pool, fishing in Gulf and stream and scenic drives through magnificent orange groves are some of the principal attractions at Fort Myers.

Barron Collier has started a tremendous development program south of Fort Myers, made possible by the opening of the Tamiami Trail to Miami. In 1913, Collier bought Useppa Island, the first link in a chain of five resorts owned by him, where millionaire fishermen come from all over the country.

Everglades–Headquarters of Collier's great development is at Everglades, where a rod and gun club offers unusual facilities for sportsmen. Here the successful fisherman or hunter may, if he desires, taste the savory prizes of his own prowess, whether it be wild turkey, red snapper, snipe, duck or quail.

Sanibel Island–Located in the Gulf, near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, Sanibel Island is noted for its tarpon fishing, and as the site of many beautiful homes and estates.

Farther south is Naples, where tourist accommodations, surf bathing, golf, fishing and hunting are available.

Ten Thousand Islands–Off the coast of Collier County lie the Ten Thousand Islands, where the waters are literally teeming with hundreds of varieties of fish and the tropical jungles are thickly populated with many kinds of game.

Cape Sable–North of Cape Sable is the largest of the Seminole Indian reservations, whose interesting inhabitants come to the coast trading stations to barter for their simple wants. Cape Sable is the southernmost point of continental United States.

Tamiami Trail–From Fort Myers south along the coast and then eastward through the great Everglades district, runs the Tamiami Trail, connecting Tampa and Miami. This is one of the great engineering feats of modern times, the roadbed being built by excavating a canal and then grading the material thrown up on the bank.

Excerpt from "Florida: Empire of the Sun" Published by the Florida State Hotel Commission, Tallahassee, Florida. 1930.


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