Safety Harbor: A Place of Healing Waters
The history of the Safety Harbor area traces back to the Stone Age. In fact, a 6,000 year old spearhead was found at Marshall Street Park as recently as June, 2008.
Two major points of interest to historians are located in Safety Harbor. The first is the Tocobaga Indian burial mound in Philippe Park. The second is a treasure trove of area history at the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History. Both are well worth a visit when you make your Destination Tampa Bay!
The first inhabitants of the area were the Tocobaga Indians. Safety Harbor is the site of Espiritu Santa Springs, a natural mineral spring discovered by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539 and enjoyed by the Tocobaga centuries ago. In the early 1900s, water from the springs was bottled and sold as having special healing powers. In the 1940s, Dr. Salem Baranoff purchased the property and transformed it intoa health sanatorium where visitors would come for overnight stays to enjoy the mineral and steam baths. Today, Safety Harbor Resort and Spa sits atop the mineral springs, and it is known as the place “where healing waters flow.”
The area’s first permanent white settler was “Count” Odet Philippe, who came to the area in 1842 after the United States government offered free 160-acre parcels of land to encourage homesteaders to settle the land around Tampa Bay following the Seminole War. Philippe had been involved earlier with starting the first cigar business in Tampa. He settled at what is now Philippe Park, where he became the father of Florida grapefruit, avocados and mangos.
Established as Clear Water Harbor in the late 19th century, today’s Clearwater was the site of Fort Harrison, an outpost during the Seminole Wars. Clearwater was incorporated in 1891 and quickly grew into a tourist destination after railroad magnate Henry B. Plant built a sprawling Victorian resort hotel named Belleview Biltmore just south of Clearwater in 1897. In 1915, a bridge was built across Clearwater Harbor which provided access to the beautiful beaches.
During World War II, Clearwater became a major training base for US troops destined for Europe and the Pacific. Virtually every hotel in the area, including the Belleview Biltmore and the Fort Harrison Hotel hosted as a barracks for new recruits. The historic Capitol Theatre, now refurbished and open on Cleveland Street, has a rich history as a popular vaudeville stage in the early 1920s. It eventually transformed into a movie house, closed for several years and reopened in 2009 in a partnership between the city and Ruth Eckerd Hall.
In recent years, the city has been undergoing major redevelopment in the Cleveland Street District in the heart of downtown, including a new marina. Clearwater is the international headquarters for the Church of Scientology which occupies the Fort Harrison Hotel and other properties downtown.
Oldsmar: Automobiles and Industry
Nearby Oldsmar also is a historic Destination in Tampa Bay. In the early 1900s, R.E. Olds – the inventor and manufacturer of the Oldsmobile – took his auto industry millions and purchased 37,000 acres of land at the northernmost tip of Tampa Bay. His vision was to build a city of 100,000 residents complete with luxury hotels, a thoroughbred horse racing track, golf courses, beaches, a shipyard, factories, oil wells and prestigious residential developments.
After spending eight years designing and developing the tree-lined boulevards which link Oldsmar’s bayshore with downtown, then building a 60-room hotel, grocery, drug and hardware stores, a library and school, restaurants and cafes, dairy farms and plantations – and even a waterside casino – R.E. Olds’ dream was shattered when a powerful hurricane hit the city in 1921, devastating the Oldsmar area and the man who gave it his name.
Dunedin: Celtic Heritage and Citrus
Scottish families originally settled Dunedin in the late 1870s and 1880s. In 1899, the settlement was incorporated as Dunedin, the original name of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It remains to this day a stronghold of Celtic tradition and heritage.
The citrus industry and railroad flourished here in the early 1900s. The Atlantic Coast Railroad transported both citrus and passengers along the East Coast, eventually linking Dunedin with St. Petersburg and Sanford. As word spread about Dunedin’s attractive climate and beautiful beaches, tourists from northern states began to flock here during winter months via the popular railway line.
By the 1930’s, Dunedin had become a popular winter vacation destination thanks to three major resorts: the Yacht Club Inn, Dunedin Hotel and the Fenway Hotel, one of the finest resorts on the Gulf Coast. By the 1940s, the orange juice concentrate plant employed some 500 residents and produced an estimated 28 million cans annually that were sent by freight across the country.
The perfect place to start any visit here is with a stop at the Dunedin Historical Society and Museum located in the restored train depot on Main Street. Here you can find a collection of interesting artifacts and vintage photographs depicting Dunedin history dating back to the 1870s.