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When this area was known only to the native Indians, mostly Timucuan, Calusa
and Apalachee tribes, clear springs gurgled from the banks into the bay. The
springs, long since gone, were located along the high bluffs upon which City
Hall and downtown Clearwater are now situated. Early settlers called it
Clear Water Harbor, by which it was known until 1895 when Clearwater became
one word. Harbor was dropped in 1906.
Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez came to the Pinellas peninsula in 1528.
The exact place he first stepped is disputed, but may have been Clear Water
Harbor. Narvaez later perished in a storm after crossing Florida on foot
with a party of soldiers.
In 1539, Hernando De Soto landed at Tampa Bay. He later died near the
headwaters of the Mississippi River. Pedro Menendez arrived in 1567
searching for a route across Florida. He brought 10 missionaries to
establish missions throughout the area. One of their Jesuit missions was
established at Safety Harbor. Those who remained with this mission were
later massacred by the Timucuans, who had been mistreated by previous
exploration parties. White settlers did not return to this area until the
Florida became a territory in 1822. During the Seminole Indian Wars of 1835,
the government built the original Fort Harrison as a recuperation Center for
soldiers, and not as a defensive fort. It was located on the bluffs where
Harbor Oaks is now. The fort was abandoned in 1841, and is commemorated by a
plaque on Druid Road in downtown Clearwater.
The first blacks came to the area with Narvaez's exploration party. The
first white settler was French Dr. Odet Philippe, who had served under Gen.
Napoleon Bonaparte. He established St. Helena Plantation in what is now
Safety Harbor, and raised citrus. His daughter married Richard Booth, and
these pioneering families' names are still well known in Clearwater.
The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave 160 acres to any head of
family or single man over 18 who would bear arms and cultivate the land. The
"father of Clearwater," James Stevens, and Samuel Stevenson were among the
first settlers. After a visit in 1841, James Parramore McMullen and his six
brothers settled in the Clearwater area. They and their descendants held
many important governmental positions throughout the early years.
Most settlers farmed vegetables and cotton. Fish were plentiful. A hurricane
in 1846 and a vicious storm in 1848 were among the hardships. The first
paper, "The Clear Water Times," was established by Rev. C.S. Reynolds.
When the first narrow gauge railroad was built in 1888, the Clear Water
Harbor community had about 18 families. Henry Plant, the foremost Central
and West Florida developer of the time, later built a standard gauge
railroad through Pinellas County. To boost his passenger business, he built
several grand resort hotels, including the Belleview Biltmore in 1897.
Clearwater grew steadily throughout the early part of the century. Tourists
and settlers were drawn to the area because of the climate and toutings of
early developers and speculators. The Florida real estate boom began in
earnest in 1921 and peaked in 1925. The bottom fell out in the bust of 1927,
foreshadowing the 1929 market crash and nationwide depression.
When the "Pinellas Point" was first settled, it was Western Hillsborough
County. As Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg and other communities grew, so
did the clamor for independence. It was a day-long trip to travel to the
courthouse in Tampa. By act of the Legislature, Pinellas County was created
on Jan. 1, 1912. Clearwater was the county seat.
The city of Clearwater was incorporated on May 27, 1915. The library was
built in 1916 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. In the same year, the city
built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach, opening it up for
development. Morton F. Plant, the son of the illustrious Henry Plant,
donated and raised money for the first hospital in 1914.
Since then, the population continued to steadily climb. After World War II,
a number of soldiers who had trained here returned to live. The Philadelphia
Phillies professional baseball team began spring training in the 1940s. From
1950, with 15,000 citizens, the population burgeoned. The population today
is around 102,000, with another 20,000 winter residents.
This document was excerpted from the pamphlet "Population and Early History"
produced by the City of Clearwater Public Information Office.
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