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Pinellas County
Pinellas County’s roots run deep
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[Image]
Photo courtesy STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY
A portrait of Odette Philippe done sometime in the 1800s. Philippe is known as the first non-native settler on the Pinellas peninsula.
[Image]
Photo courtesy STATE ARCHIVES OF FLORIDA, FLORIDA MEMORY
Construction of the southern façade of the Belleview Hotel, which opened in 1897.
Pinellas County is a peninsula located on the west coast of Florida sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.

The county is 38 miles long and 15 miles at its widest point. It encompasses 280 square miles and has 587 miles of coastline.

Pinellas is the most densely populated county in the state of Florida with 3,339 people per square mile. The population in 2010 was 916,542. In 2008, it had the sixth largest population in the state and ranked 41st in the nation.

The name Pinellas comes from the Spanish Punta Piñal, Point of Pines. The land mass was discovered in 1528 by Panfilo de Narvaez. Hernando deSoto is said to have explored the peninsula in 1539.

Before Pinellas was a county

The peninsula’s earliest recorded inhabitants lived on Weeden Island around 200 A.D. Tocobago Indians lived in the area now known as Safety Harbor in 1000 A.D.

Odet Philippe established the first permanent white settlement in 1832 in the Safety Harbor area. The first white child born in the county was Odet “Keeter” Booth in 1853. Zephaniah Philipps, a Civil War veteran, settled around Long Key, Pass-a-Grille, creating the first permanent white settlement on the barrier islands.

Hillsborough County, which included the Pinellas peninsula, formed in 1834. In 1834, the federal government passed the Armed Occupation Act, which granted 160 acres to any head of household or single man over age 18 who would bear arms and live on the land in a “fit habitation and cultivate at least five acres.”

In 1855, the first public school opened on land donated by John Taylor, which remains the site of Clearwater High School The first post office was established in 1859 in Clearwater, known at the time as Clear Water Harbor – the first point on the Pinellas peninsula to become a community.

The tourism industry was born in 1885 after Dr. W.C. Van Bibber presented a report at the American Medical Society convention in New Orleans about the healthy climate in Pinellas County.

Tarpon Springs became the peninsula’s first incorporated city in 1887, which was the same year that the Orange Belt Railroad arrived, making its way to St. Petersburg by 1888.

The Belleview Hotel, later to become known as the Belleview Biltmore, was completed in 1897 – one of many resort hotels built in response to the area’s tourism boom. Development of resorts in the Pass-a-Grille/Long Key area on the barrier islands continued from 1900 to 1910 with construction of hotels, beach cottages and a casino.

Greek sponge divers and fishermen arrived at Tarpon Springs in large numbers in 1905, bringing a culture very much in evidence today.

- Suzette Porter

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Tampa Bay Newspapers
9911 Seminole Blvd.,
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Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
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