DUNEDIN — Name this town: It’s the oldest settlement on the west coast of Florida between Cedar Key and Key West and was home to Pinellas County’s first radio station.
Still pondering? This town was also the place where the United States government tested the Alligator, an amphibious vehicle that eventually carried U.S. Marines ashore on Japanese-held Pacific Islands.
Dunedin, that’s where.
Trudy Kelly’s new book, “Dunedin: Its History and its Charm” is not just a book of trivia, though it contains facts that Dunedin residents, both native-born and newcomers will find interesting. According to the 73-year-old mother of two and grandmother of four, there were more than just a few aspects of the town’s history that drew her interest.
The most surprising thing she learned after she started writing the book was that Dunedin had plenty of stories that needed to be told, she said.
“After the Civil War ended in 1865, settlers came to Florida to have a better life,” Kelly said. “Land was easy to own; life was hard at the beginning but a great community began to form on this part of the Gulf coast.”
“I worked a year writing this book,” Kelly said. “The subjects for the chapters seemed to fall into place. The chapters helped detail how the town’s history formed the town of today.” For instance, Kelly found that women built the town in the 1860s by cementing families and the social lives of its residents.
“It has always been important for Dunedin residents to make sure their children had activities to keep them busy and recreation to keep them active,” Kelly said. “Not only that, but the women were active participants in making the community better. Individual women, women’s church groups and women’s community groups helped people of all ages who needed assistance, both in Dunedin and outside the community.”
A good example of what Kelly speaks: the Dunedin Garden Club, begun on the first day of spring of 1929. Since then, generations of women have helped beautify the town, planting Victory Gardens in World War II and other patriotic and civic undertakings. Today they educate kids at the elementary school on the importance of gardening and the environment.
Kelly became interested in Dunedin and Pinellas County after living in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. She and her husband moved here and have never left.
“My husband and I have lived in this area for 14 years,” she said. “We now live in Clearwater but lived in Oldsmar for 10 years.”
She was the librarian at Schiller International University, which was located inside the historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin. The old building and other historic aspects of the town created what she calls her “great appreciation for the Fenway and Dunedin” that led to her to write her first book on local history.
That book, “The Fenway Hotel: The Grand Lady of Dunedin — Her Struggles, Successes, and Survival” was first published in 2016, followed by a second edition in 2018. Kelly is inclusive when it comes to writing her books. She involves locals and pegs their memories to ensure she has things in proper historic context.
As a librarian, she verified facts in local histories and, most importantly, in contemporaneous accounts of events in newspapers.
“The greatest challenge was to take the histories of Dunedin that were already published and combine the histories together,” she said. “To verify facts, I used the Dunedin Times. Without this newspaper, I don’t think I could have written this history.”
Unlike many authors, Kelly doesn’t mind involving other people in her work.
“I also had the greatest team of readers — residents of Dunedin — who made sure that I wrote the history as honestly as possible and reminded me of things I forgot or didn’t include,” she said.
She also encourages writers of all ages to have the confidence to write and publish their own books.
“Writers don’t always have to go through a publisher,” she said. “My husband and I have each self-published two books each. We have a fantastic graphic artist who designs the covers and prepares the pages to be printed and a great local printer who works with us.”
Her book is a pleasant read for those looking to learn about what makes Dunedin tick. Chapters include the schools that educated Dunedin’s children; what early families built for lodging, how the game of golf formed the town’s history; history of recreation and sports teams, including the arrival of the Minor League Dunedin Blue Jays; and the role military and fraternal organizations play in the town’s history, and other subjects.
“Dunedin: Its History and its Charm” is available at the Dunedin History Museum, Dunedin Fine Art Center, Back in the Day Books, Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, and gift shops around town.
Oh, and by the way, orange concentrate — a process that made Florida rich — was invented in Dunedin, according to Kelly’s book.