Updated On: 10/2/2012 12:41:32 PM
The Spanish first mapped and explored the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa area in the early 16th century. Panfilo de Narvaez (1528) and Hernando DeSoto (1539) quickly enslaved the Tocobagan Tribe. By the time Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821 for $5 million, the Seminoles had replaced the Tocobagans, who settled largely north and east of Tampa Bay. What would become Pinellas County remained a wilderness except for random camps of American and Cuban fishermen. And clear springs gurgled into the bay from the high bluffs upon which downtown Clearwater now sits.
Around 1832, Natives drove Count Odet Philippe of France from Florida’s east coast to what was then Safety Harbor, part of unofficial Hillsborough County. The Frenchman introduced citrus to the area and coaxed a few more settlers along with him.
On Jan. 25, 1834, the U.S. Legislative Council for the Territory of Florida officially recognized Hillsborough as the territory’s 19th county. Florida became the 27th state on March 3, 1845. Today, Hillsborough boasts a diverse population of 1.2 million, of which 325,709 live in Tampa, the county seat.
Meanwhile, three events conspired to dramatically change the area across the bay. First, a report to the American Medical Convention in 1885 declared the Pinellas Peninsula as "The Healthiest Spot on Earth."
Second, Pyotr Dementyev, a Russian immigrant turned entrepreneur, agreed to run his Orange Belt Railroad from Central Florida to developer John Constantine Williams’ 2,500 acres in the southern part of the peninsula. The two men flipped a coin and Dementyev won, so he named the town St. Petersburg.
As Clearwater, Largo and other communities grew, so did the clamor for independence. After all, a trip to the courthouse in Tampa took the better part of a day. Eventually the state legislature created Pinellas County on Jan. 1, 1912. Clearwater was the county seat. Attracted by the balmy climate — the peninsula is always cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than Tampa — other immigrants began to pour in. Tarpon Springs attracted Greek sponge fishermen and today has a thriving Greek culture. Safety Harbor grew up around its world famous spa.
More than 916,000 people now inhabit Pinellas County, with Clearwater accounting for 107,685 and St. Pete’s 244,769.
On Jan. 10, 1861, Florida and six other southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. The most famous conflicts in the region were the Battle of Tampa in 1862 and the Battle of Fort Brooke in 1863. With the Confederate defeat in 1865, federal troops occupied Fort Brooke and the city of Tampa until 1869.
With very little industry and transportation, the Bay Area suffered in the ensuing years until the discovery of phosphate — a mineral in agricultural fertilizer — in the Bone Valley enticed industry and the railroad. The railroad transported phosphate and cigars, a fledgling industry, to the north. Later, airplanes and automobiles enabled more business development and kick-started the tourism industry.
Tony Jannus, for instance, in 1914 flew his Benoist airplane from St. Pete to Tampa in 23 minutes, skimming across the water at a height of 50 feet. That same year the St. Louis Browns started their annual spring training in St. Pete. The Philadelphia Phillies moved to Clearwater several years later. In 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays commenced their permanent residence in downtown St. Pete’s enclosed Tropicana Field.
In 1924, the Gandy Bridge opened — cutting travel time from Tampa to St. Pete by more than half. The area real estate market boomed throughout the ’20s till the bottom fell out in 1929 and the Great Depression followed.
St. Petersburg recovered over the next decade mainly through large Public Works Administration projects. Nearly $10 million in New Deal funds spurred economic development that included building St. Pete’s City Hall in 1939.
World War II further invigorated the Tampa Bay economy. The U.S. Coast Guard established Bayboro Harbor Station as a training base for troops. Air patrols flew nightly anti-submarine air patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, and the War Department later selected St. Pete as a major technical services training center for the Army Air Corps.
During this time, more than 100,000 trainees filled every hotel in the area, creating a housing shortage as their families looked for a place to live. After the war, many of those trainees returned to live with their families or visit as tourists.
The advent of air-conditioning in the 1950s prompted a mass migration of retirees and another housing boom. The snowbird ebb and flow continues to this day.
The Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater region experiences a subtropical to tropical climate with warm, wet weather during the summer months and cooler, dry conditions during winter (October through February). Temperatures are pleasant during winter, with highs averaging 75.2 degrees and lows averaging 58 degrees, with a record 18 degrees set Dec. 13, 1962. Given these conditions, it’s no wonder snowbirds fly south.
Summer high temps average 85.9 degrees, with lows averaging 68.1 degrees accompanied by sweat-inducing high humidity, severe weather, thunderstorms and hurricanes. Annual precipitation averages 44.8 inches, and August is the wettest month.
Early summer mornings are the best time to visit the beaches, golf courses and outdoor amusements. By noon, the heat and humidity can become oppressive and the great solar engine over the Gulf of Mexico churns out masses of puffy white cumulus clouds. By mid afternoon, huge thunderclouds dominate the western horizon and begin to drift eastward over the Gulf. These eventual storms pour heavy rains accompanied by lightning but pass over quickly, permitting the sun to reappear. By dusk, the great solar engine shuts down and the thunderstorms dissipate in time for a spectacular Gulf Coast sunset.
The Tampa Bay area is the Lightning Capital of North America. Nearly every summer, lightning kills or severely injures someone on a local golf course or beach. According to the National Weather Service, a large enclosed structure is one of the safest locations during a lightning storm. Enclosed metal vehicles are good alternatives. Once inside, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures.
The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 Rule — seek shelter if the flash-to-bang delay (time in seconds from the lightning flash to the subsequent thunder) is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final clap of thunder. For more safety information visit http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov or call (813) 645-2323.
Besides summer thunderstorms and lightning, hurricane season lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the greatest potential for loss of life during a hurricane is from the storm surge — water pushed toward shore by the winds up to 140 mph. As the storm approaches the shore, the surge coupled with the normal tide creates massive 13- to 17-foot waves.
To prevent loss of lives, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have designated evacuation zones that are vulnerable to storm surge, with signs posted 13 feet above the ground to represent the potential water height. It is important to know your evacuation zone and where to go in case of an evacuation. Both county emergency management departments also recommend preparing a survival kit for your family and pets as well as storing important documents in waterproof containers. For the latest shelter and evacuation zone map, visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org or http://www.pinellascounty.org.
Florida’s reputation as the Sunshine State is well deserved. It’s so easy to end up with painful sunburn or worse. Even golf, tennis and sightseeing expose you to potentially harmful UV rays. To avoid any discomfort, preparation calls for sunglasses, sunscreens, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats and an umbrella. read more...