PINELLAS PARK – Mel Dinsmore moved here when the city had 650 residents.
Over the years he’s been mayor, a city commissioner, a newspaper reporter who once captured a suspect wanted in several states, a police officer and a chiropractor.
Now president of the local Historical Society, Dinsmore spins stories about a time when the city was little more than flower farms, cattle pastures and open land.
The son of a professional singer, Dinsmore moved to Pinellas Park from Pennsylvania after World War II.
“It was a rough town in those days, with lots of bars,” Dinsmore said. “The population in 1946 was 650.”
Pinellas Park had its own unique brand of locals that helped give the city its reputation. There were few paved roads and Park Boulevard ended at what is now 66th Street. The only other surfaced roads were 59th and 60th streets.
“There was no direct road to Seminole in those days,” Dinsmore said. “All land past 66th Street was sand and trees.”
Flooding always was a problem because the city is in a basin. The old post office was operated by a Major Stevenson and the Atlantic Coast Railroad station was located near where Park Station now stands. It was one room with benches and a large potbelly stove.
Dinsmore, 81, became a volunteer policeman under Chief Lou Wagonblast, who doubled as a meter reader and local judge. The city was known for its Park Boulevard speed traps, and, because of its central location in the county, there were plenty of traffic violators.
Laws were lenient and bendable. Locals were given breaks while outsiders paid the fines or did jail time. There were few homes and even fewer businesses.
“I bought two lots on 59th Street near 71st for $250 each,” Dinsmore said. “A lot on Park Boulevard cost $300.”
Dinsmore was a natural to head the local historical society. The society’s first headquarters was across from city hall. The three-bedroom home was razed to make room for an animal hospital. Artifacts were stored, but much of it now is on display at Park Station.
The society’s goal is to recognize the city’s founders and leaders who have been forgotten over time. Jean Cromwell, the city’s historian, has played a major role in gathering material about the city’s past.
“We have many artifacts that have been donated by descendants of original families,” Dinsmore said. “Some of the stored items will be exhibited at a later date.”