Palm Harbor Museum gears up for reopening

This is Florida Avenue looking west, early 1900s.

Welcome back!

After weeks of closed doors, the Palm Harbor Museum will reopen Friday, June 19, with limited hours on Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for guided tours by reservation only. You may schedule your visit through the museum’s website or Facebook page by following the Eventbrite tickets link on those sites. Visitors must make advance reservations for guided tours at 10:15 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. or 1:15 p.m. Follow the Eventbrite link on the museum Facebook page’s event “PHM Guided Tours” or go to

The museum will be sanitized between groups, and groups will be limited to six people at a time. Visitors and volunteers will be required to wear masks inside the museum and follow social distancing while in the house.

“What a crazy year we’ve had so far,” said Carol Cortright, operations manager. “We were picking up such momentum during the first three months of the year with our expanded hours, well-attended Meet Me at the Museum lectures, successful English Tea and monthly Free Family Days, which were bringing in up to 100 visitors, many of them new to the museum.

“The Palm Harbor Museum operates on a very narrow shoestring to present fun educational exhibits and programming. The museum needs help from its first line of support — our cherished members — more than ever right now. Is your membership up to date? How about gifting a membership to someone to celebrate a special day or accomplishment? Our team of dedicated Board members and volunteers are working hard to get the museum back on track. Stay tuned for ways you can help!”

Additional volunteers are still needed to work as tour guide docents, costumed reenactors and grant writers, in addition to ongoing projects already in place. Please contact the museum at to request more information.

Meet Me at the Museum will resume Sept. 8 with Nancy McKibben presenting “Wall Springs—Then and Now.”

New projects to begin

While the museum has been closed, the staff has been busy making plans for reopening. One project is to create the first comprehensive permanent exhibit showcasing the history of the Palm Harbor region. A generous grant from the Faith Mission Fund through the Pinellas Community Foundation is allowing the museum to begin the initial phase of this project. The grant will fund exciting interactive displays throughout the redesigned museum galleries. Working with museum staff as a contract consultant/designer is David Knupp, curator at Dunedin History Museum, and creator of several outstanding exhibits there.

Palm Harbor Museum also will unveil a new participatory exhibit space opening this fall celebrating you! One wall in the central hallway will feature contributions from people today, reminiscing and sharing experiences built around a central theme that will change periodically. Send us your stories, photos, artwork and anything else you want to share with museum visitors from near and far. Our first theme will be all about Florida — fun in the Sunshine State.

Oral history interviews continue

Museum volunteers continue to conduct monthly oral history interviews with participants who tell stories relating to local history. Over time, the museum has developed a rich collection of interviews. Many of these are available via YouTube. Videos are maintained in the museum collection for research purposes, as well as used in support of exhibit themes. As part of the Faith Mission/PCF Grant 2020 project, a listening station is planned where visitors can listen to selected interviews. If you are interested in interviewing a family member for posterity you can schedule use of the museum video equipment and you can ask the questions that bring out the experiences so unique to your family history. The cost is $50 to arrange for your interview to be filmed. You need only supply a thumb drive to receive your unedited video footage to take home the same day. The museum team can support you with samples of relevant questions to guide your interview process. Call 727-724-3054 if you have questions or to set up an appointment.

“We had a wonderful start to the year with plans for several fundraising events, which is the way we are able to stay open,” said Palm Harbor Historical Society President Jean Barnes. However, because of the forced closing of the museum, “we are now in the same situation as many others in having to appeal to our members, friends, and community to help us through the upcoming months while we try to gain our momentum back, taking care to keep our volunteers and visitors healthy,” she added. “We ask you to help us by renewing your membership with the museum and donate where you can. We appreciate all you do for us to keep your local history museum alive!”

Reflecting on history

While there are no recent events to highlight, we are spotlighting some excerpts from “Palm Harbor by the Decades: The Early Years,” remarks delivered several years ago at an annual membership meeting of the Palm Harbor Historical Society. This account will be continued in the July Beacon.

“As we look at the history of the northern Pinellas peninsula, we must remember that the history of human settlement spans thousands of years. Although the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 brought some homesteaders to areas of the central and lower Pinellas peninsula, much of the Palm Harbor area remained unsettled. This did not mean, however, that human footprints could not be found. Members of the McMullen, Booth, and the handful of other pioneer families during the antebellum period certainly allowed their cattle to graze on the lands south of Lake Tarpon, and no fences inhibited the travel of these animals as they roamed from the Curlew area over to Old Tampa Bay.

“William Lawrence Thompson and his wife, Julia Holland Thompson, came to the area from Levy County and generally are considered the earliest permanent settlers of the Palm Harbor area. They settled into a log cabin with a dogtrot breezeway by the early 1860s, around or immediately after the Civil War. Their daughter married J.W. Alderman in November 1884. Alderman came to the area from Leesburg. Henry Tinney came to the area of Ozona during the same time period. William Frederick Nigels, an 1832 native of what is now Germany who came to South Carolina in 1855 and fought for the Confederacy, arrived sometime between 1865 and 1867, homesteading near present-day County Road 1, a place where he began to grow citrus. His son, David Arthur Nigels, born in 1869, homesteaded on land near his father.

“By the late 1860s, a few families settled in the Ozona area and, over time, carved out an overland trail towards Tampa. Part of this early path became present-day Tampa Road from Ozona eastward through Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. Curlew Pioneer Cemetery was established in late 1869 along the extension of Belcher Road just north of Curlew Road on land donated by John Alexander Sutton, the founder who had arrived a year earlier. Sutton also established the adjacent Curlew Methodist Church. The logs for the church were hauled by ox cart from this land to the waterfront and sent by raft to Turner's sawmill below Clear Water Harbor. According to a story related by one of Sutton's sons, William P. "Uncle Will" Sutton, John's only request was to name the church. Noticing the many pink curlews along the coast, he called the church Curlew Methodist. The name "Curlew" soon was used throughout the settlement.

“James Kilgore of Anona served as the first minister on a part-time basis. According to the church history, Kilgore usually walked 18 miles from Anona to Curlew on Saturday, preached his sermons, and walked back to Anona on Monday. William Frederick Nigels served as the first superintendent of the Sunday school. The original church burned to the ground in January 1882. Services were held outdoors until a new sanctuary took shape in 1883. The church was later rebuilt in the early 1900s.

“A post office began operation at Bay St. Joseph in 1878. This settlement later became the heart of old Palm Harbor. Steamers delivered the mail to the growing settlement three times per week by 1885, three years before rail service came to the Pinellas peninsula.” (To be Continued).

Several books offering additional historical accounts and photos of early days, including “Around Palm Harbor” by Winona Jones, are available for sale at the museum.

Palm Harbor Museum is located at 2043 Curlew Road (at Belcher Road). The Palm Harbor Historical Museum is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the rich historical heritage of the Palm Harbor Area including Crystal Beach, Curlew, East Lake, Ozona and Wall Springs. Visit the museum website at or contact us at 727-724-3054 or