Florida: coast by coast V – Tarpon Springs 2

A house in Tarpon Springs' Historic District

The many faces of Florida – Part V 2

Tarpon Springs: its art, architecture, and history

While Tarpon Springs is known widely for its sponge industry, the city has a deeper history steeped in early Florida land development, lumber and citrus businesses, and attracting people to the healing waters of its mineral springs.

Start discovering this rich treasure by visiting the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society in the renovated Train Depot at 160 East Tarpon Avenue.  Their website lists upcoming events and is refreshed regularly.

An early Florida pattern of settlements

Tarpon Springs’ history is one familiar to Florida after the Civil War. Energetic entrepreneurs went down there looking for new horizons. Some bought up raw land and started settlements, especially along the coasts.

The first immigrants to harvest sponges as early as 1887 were divers from the Bahamas and Key West. It was the arrival of the 500 Greek spongers in 1905 that gave the town its colorful, fun-loving flavor.

Between hurricanes, fires and a red tide blight hitting the sponge beds, Tarpon Springs has had its ups and downs, but has always survived, grown, and continues to delight and welcome visitors.

From the beginning, newspaper reports around the country told lively stories of the city’s happenings. This site was updated last in May 2010.

The Sponge Dock area

Centered along the riverfront on Dodecanese Blvd, this is a walking area; park your car, take your time and pop in and out of the shops, exhibits and eateries.

Spongeorama has an excellent presentation of the history and workings of the industry. Youngsters will be impressed by the weight of the diving suits worn by the spongers, especially the huge, copper helmets.

Spongearama Cruise

Other shops have everything from sandals, hats, hemp clothing, loofah sponges to shell jewelry; well, just about anything you’d hope to find in a Florida gift shop. I bought a 6 inch rubber alligator that is still on my dashboard after 14 years!

Tour boats line the riverfront. Stroll along and check out the offerings of each captain. The St. Nicholas Tour line has a short cruise around the harbor, narrated by a diver dressed for sponging. They run frequently throughout the day.

Scheduled trips by the Sun Line Cruise Line, are available for those with a real affinity for everything marine. These 90 minute cruises take you down the Anclote River to the Gulf while a naturalist guide points out the flora and fauna of this fascinating area.

The Tarpon Springs Aquarium features a simulated reef in a 120,000 gallon tank with real sharks and alligators. Children can touch stingrays, baby sharks and horseshoe crabs in a shallow pool, and watch a demonstration done with a live 14 foot python.

Art and Architecture:

The dome of St. Nicholas Cathedral

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is famous throughout the US for its replication of St. Sophia in Constantinople. From its copper dome to its brilliant glass and paintings inside, it is testament to the role of religion in art throughout the centuries. Additional Greek artwork is shown at St. Michael’s Shrine nearby.

The Unitarian Universalist Church is home to twelve of George Inness Jr.’s paintings. Following in his father’s footsteps, he expresses nature in the dreamy, light-infused style of romantic landscape artists. He died in 1926, but some of his paintings can be found in galleries today.

There are tours to Victorian houses, cemeteries, and classic cars all within Tarpon Springs. The Chamber of Commerce is the best place to get up-to-date information on these activities. It is located in the renovated historic Railroad Station.

Activities Nearby:

For Lovers: Spring Bayou B&B is the perfect place to propose, have a wedding, anniversary or simply relax in a dreamy tropical setting while enjoying the springs’ healing powers.

For golfers: The Innisbrook Golf Resort is located just 4.5 miles from Tarpon Springs. A full-service resort with a highly-rated course, there is ample opportunity to loosen up after a challenging game, be it at the restaurant, lounge, spa or your well-appointed suite.

For swimmers: The mineral springs have been visited for years by people looking for relief in the warm, healing waters.  For the more robust swimmers, there are two Gulf of Mexico beaches nearby.

For the trenchermen among you: return to Florida: coast by coast Part V – Restaurants in Tarpon Springs.

For Florida: coast by coast – Part I, click here, then follow the sequence to Tarpon Springs.

Google Map of Tarpon Springs area.

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