Author Jim Schnur displays a copy of his latest book “Images of America: Madeira Beach,” which is available through Arcadia Publishing and bookstores in the area.
MADEIRA BEACH – It all started when a graduate student tipped off Jim Schnur to a cache of old scrapbooks at the Gulf Beaches Public Library that were loaded with photos of Madeira Beach from the past.
One thing led to another and before long Schnur, a noted historian and president of the Pinellas County Historical Society, combined the library photos with others from Heritage Village to produce a 127-page paperback book titled “Images of America: Madeira Beach.”
The book is Schnur’s third such effort after others dealing with Largo’s history and the Pinellas County Centennial. It sells for $21.99 through Arcadia Publishing in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Proceeds, Schnur said, will be donated to the Pinellas County Historical Society and the Friends of the Gulf Beaches Library.
Organizing and writing the book was special for Schnur who grew up in Redington Beach, attended Madeira Beach Elementary and Junior High schools, and spent many hours at the Gulf Beaches Public Library in Madeira.
“Putting the book together was like a walk back in my past,” said Schnur. “But better yet a walk back to the past of the beaches.”
Packed with more than 200 photos and informative descriptions with each photo, Schnur’s work chronicles the city’s history from the early days of Noel Mitchell, David Welch and Albert Archibald to present day.
“This is a good time for the book to come out because just about 100 years ago is when Noel Mitchell, the Sandman, was beginning to develop Madeira Beach,” said Schnur. “It was the first noted attempt to settle the island.”
Schnur said Mitchell, a St. Petersburg developer, purchased everything from around 140th Avenue south to John’s Pass and promoted riding the city streetcars out to the Jungle area next to Boca Ciega Bay where he had boats ready to take curious land dwellers out to the island. He later built a hotel on the north side of John’s Pass.
“He marketed it and the book has some great pictures from the early years of his plans,” said Schnur. “This was his version of trying to build a Miami Beach 10 years before Miami Beach took off. He just had a couple of problems – there was no free bridge or toll bridge, and no fresh water.”
The hotel was destroyed in the 1921 hurricane but it wasn’t long before another major step took place.
As Schnur explains in his book, David Welch, an Army veteran of the Spanish-American War who was stationed in Tampa, established a development company in St. Petersburg and purchased all of Mitchell’s holdings, some belonging to Albert Archibald in what is now Treasure Island and most of the beach from 150th Avenue north to Indian Shores.
Through Welch’s efforts, the first causeway and bridge to Madeira Beach opened in 1926.
“The first free bridge to the gulf beaches really opened up settlement of Madeira Beach, which didn’t really exist as a city for another 20 years,” said Schnur. “But it did allow for development around John’s Pass and both sides of the pass because the following year the first John’s Pass bridge opened.”
Madeira Beach developed into a fishing village in the late 1920s and early 1930s. After World War II, the area became more of a destination for retirees.
Residents of Bay Palms Trailer Park, where the current Madeira Beach Marina is located, started looking at the opportunities of incorporation.
“In the 1940s there were no garbage trucks going out to the beach,” said Schnur. “People would just burn their trash in piles. Everybody was using privies until the late ’40s. The water source for the beach at the time was Walsingham Lake.”
The area later incorporated, added the John’s Pass area, which was previously incorporated as South Madeira Beach, and formed what is now Madeira Beach in the early 1950s. Dredging and creation of Crystal Island followed.
After the 1960s, there was no more dredging in Pinellas County, Schnur said, and the move toward condominiums began in the late 1970s.
“What really allowed for the development of condos out there were two things,” Schnur said. “That was the expansion of Gulf Boulevard. The expansion allowed for condos. Once you expand the road and allow for the first condos to come along, all the little mom-and-pop places on the beach saw their values go up. So they couldn’t afford to keep their land and they would sell out to the condos. It was kind of a domino theory in effect.”
Slowly, the smaller cottages disappeared and the business landscape changed.
“So you begin to see some transition out on the beaches,” Schnur said. “In some ways Madeira Beach is a more developed city today, but you can make an argument that it’s a less lively city in terms of frenzied activity. Aside from the weekends of the John’s Pass Seafood Festival at John’s Pass, it’s not as crowded as it used to be down there. There are fewer people moving around because a lot of those condos aren’t full year round. It’s not that the city is dying. It’s just another stage of its life.”
He pointed to the Cajun Diner at Madeira Way and Gulf Boulevard – a business that acted as a meeting spot for beach residents.
“Madeira Beach’s history was relatively easy to write because controversies in that city are small in the big scale of things,” Schnur said. “The biggest controversy you see happening isn’t boiling over at the surface. It’s kind of boiling under the surface, which is the larger question about land use and how much more we can take away from the bay before it became too much. I address that a little in my narrative.”