History Notes: Dunedin during the 1920s

The front page of the Dunedin Times from the 1920s highlights the "Main Street Celebration."

In 1919, the world had just seen the end of World War I, and a horrible pandemic called the Spanish Influenza of 1918. By 1920, 100 years ago, the country and Dunedin made it to the decade that would later be called the “Roaring 20s.” During the 1920s, Dunedin went through an amazing decade of changes, progress and economic prosperity, as did the rest of America.

Dunedin started the decade with a population of 640 individuals, but by 1930, it had over doubled the population to almost 1,500 citizens. At one point, there was talk of increasing the population by over 20,000 individuals with the land boom and the development of Dunedin Isles. Dunedin did experience some scary times as well, such as the Hurricane of 1921 — which still to this day is the worst hurricane on record for Pinellas County. That hurricane was so strong it cut Caladesi (or Hog Island) into two sections. Today, that separation still exists between both islands and is now known as Hurricane Pass.

Along with the land boom of Dunedin Isles, came other building plans. In the 1920s, Dunedin built its first hospital near what is Victoria Plaza today. This hospital at the time was known as a sanitorium and was built by Dr. Mease, a new physician in Dunedin who had just setup his practice. The 12-bed sanitorium would serve as Dunedin’s clinic until Dr. Mease decided to purchase land further up in Dunedin and build a larger hospital in the 1930’s, which still exist today.

The land for sale along Edgewater Drive, known as Fenway on the Bay, became the new site and building project of the Fenway Hotel. The Fenway — which would open in the mid 20s — would also be the home of the first radio station in Pinellas County known as WGHB, the initials of the Fenway owner George H. Bowles.

Sports were on the rise throughout Pinellas County, and Dunedin built an 18-hole pro golf course in the middle of the planned Dunedin Isles complex by well-known designer of golf courses, Donald Ross.

Dunedin also started various new clubs, such as the Dunedin Eastern Star chartered in 1923 and the Dunedin Garden Club, which today is the oldest continuous garden club on the west coast of Florida. On Feb. 18, 1926, the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce was organized with a group of businessmen who contributed a grand total of $8,000 to use for the businesses of Dunedin.

Sailing, which was still extremely popular in Dunedin and had started in the early 1880’s, then had a new group of individuals who decided the old Yacht Club was outdated and incorporated a new organization called the Dunedin Boat Club started in 1929, with its first commodore Dr. H.E. Winchester. The mission of the Boat Club was to design and build a new city boat marina that could be used by all the residents of Dunedin. The Dunedin Boat Club organization is still as strong as ever, and continues to help improve boating in Dunedin.

With so much excitement going on in the community, Dunedin residents decided it was time to get a new local paper. Dunedin at one time had its own local newspaper in the 1880’s, but it was sold and eventually became the St. Petersburg Times. In 1923/1924, Dunedin resident Frank E. Joy started a local newspaper called the Dunedin Times which was published weekly and had a huge following that would continue — minus a few years gaps and a few different owners — until the early 2000s.

Other buildings that still exist in Dunedin today were built during the 1920s. There was the new red brick Atlantic Coast Railroad Station in the center of town, which today is the site of the Dunedin History Museum. Late in the 1920s, on the corner of Scotland and Highland street, the 1888 wooden Presbyterian Church, known as Andrews Memorial Chapel, was relocated on the property and was replaced with a larger Spanish-Mediterranean style sanctuary, funded by the Skinner Family.

Right around the same time the church was being built, the first history book of Dunedin was written in 1927 by M.W. Moore, a resident of Dunedin for 55 years, and the city’s first historian.

Dunedin improvements for the community included buying the first La France fire engine for firefighting, which was purchased in 1922 and arrived in Dunedin by train in 1923. It was tested out on the city dock to make sure it was it working order. The La France fire truck can still be seen today at Dunedin Firehouse Number 62, on Michigan Boulevard.

In regard to the educational progress of Dunedin, the new Dunedin Jr. High School Building on Beltrees was completed in 1926. Grades seven through nine were moved to this building to make room for younger students at the old red brick schoolhouse on Wood street and Louden Avenue.

Finally, two interesting projects occurred during the 1920s, and have definitely change how Dunedin is today.

The first was the extension of Main Street. Some individuals may know the story that Main Street was originally known as Oak Street due to the many beautiful oak trees that lined the street all the way down to the waterfront. When local government separated from Hillsborough County and became Pinellas County in 1912, a new county road was built throughout the county, and for that reason many of the trees were forcefully taken down by county employees to build a new county road. The removal of the giant oak trees is a historic Dunedin tale that someday will also be told. After the trees were removed and the new brick road was built, it was officially changed to Main Street.

However still by the 1920s, Main Street only extended up to what is Douglas Street today, and did not go any further. In late 1924, many discussions were held regarding the extension of the road to go pass Highland and up to where Mease hospital is today. After much attention and meetings, a group of citizens put up the funds of $10,000 to extend the road and continued it up to where Route 580 converges with Main Street today. In 1926, the project was completed, and on July 4, 1926, a grand opening took place with a picnic and dance to celebrate the completion of the project.

Finally, one of the most important changes that occurred in Dunedin in the 1920s was that the “Town” of Dunedin was officially chartered on Nov. 12, 1925, abolishing town government and creating a municipal corporation to be known as the City of Dunedin.

On the evening of May 6, 1926, after state approval, the City of Dunedin swore in the town mayor, W.L. Douglas as the new city mayor, along with four new commissioners rather than councilmen. Besides changing city boundaries and setting certain restrictions, the city hired a manager to maintain the operations of the city of Dunedin.

For those who lived in Dunedin in 1998, many may remember that the community had a huge celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of Dunedin becoming a town. The reason Dunedin became a town was to enforce the new “Hog Law,” which legally allowed Dunedin to remove all the roaming hogs within the community streets.

Maybe in 2026, when Dunedin celebrates the 100th anniversary of becoming a city, the community can have a celebration to recreate the roaring times of Dunedin during the 1920s.