TARPON SPRINGS — Pinellas County commissioners Charlie Justice and Dave Eggers joined Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos and other local officials for a plaque dedication ceremony in the city’s downtown district June 1.
The Tarpon Springs Historic District State Marker, which was installed outside the Mother Meres parking lot at the intersection of East Tarpon Avenue and Alternate 19, is the latest such installation sponsored by the Pinellas County Historic Preservation Board at an estimated cost of just under $2,500.
The gold-on-black, two-sided metal sign contains text highlighting the history of the city as well as its downtown district. The district began in the late 1800s and features several century-old buildings and businesses, leading to it being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
“These historic markers are critically important to our past but also to our future,” said Justice, who chairs the county’s HPB. The 11 a.m. news conference brought several TV news crews to Tarpon Avenue and caused a brief rerouting of the busy street.
“They tell that story of yesterday, and few communities have the history that Tarpon has,” he said. “From the Golden Crescent to the coming and going of the railways to the Greek heritage to the Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs has a history unlike any other in Pinellas County.”
Justice added the markers “are our invitation, that introduction to the history, to tell that story. It might be to a longtime resident who’s coming by. It might be to one of our millions of tourists who come through here. Or it might be to that young person who’s just learning about Tarpon Springs, and it’s an invitation for them to add their chapter to that story.”
Following those remarks, Alahouzos said, “On Feb. 12, 1887, Tarpon Springs was the first city to be incorporated in the peninsula. It was before Pinellas County was created and before Tampa was created, as well. So we have a lot of history in Tarpon Springs.”
Alahouzos then thanked those in attendance, including current and past city and county officials, as well as members of Tarpon’s historical society and Heritage Preservation Board for “keeping the history alive and helping preserve the city’s history.” The mayor then ceded the podium to Dudley Salley, a former city commissioner and city manager who is also a member of one of Tarpon’s founding families.
“Tarpon Springs is very unique,” Salley said, noting Florida was a pristine wilderness as late as the 1870s. He explained how wealthy visitors soon began moving to the area to take advantage of the sportsman’s paradise, making Tarpon a “wealthy winter resort.” He said the area attracted artists, as well, including renowned landscape painters George Innes Sr. and George Innes Jr. and current residents Christopher Still and Robert Stackhouse.
Salley explained how his great-grandmother, Amelia Petzold Meres, arrived by coastal steamer riverboat and “staked out a claim here and built a home and a garden here” before eventually donating the land to the city. He added his grandfather, Ernest Meres, helped expand the city’s sponge fishing industry by bringing in Greek sponge divers as well as co-founding the Sponge Exchange, a popular Sponge Docks attraction. “So, Tarpon is unique and welcoming,” Salley concluded. “This plaque invites all to share in our great heritage that continues in our community.”
With that, a group of officials gathered around as Alahouzos and Justice unveiled the marker, which contains text of Tarpon facts and history compiled by local historian Tina Bucuvalas and Pinellas Historical Board member Tom Scofield.
Justice later spoke about the significance of Tarpon being selected as the site for the county’s 12th historical marker.
“Few cities have the history Tarpon has,” Justice said. “And these monuments are about the history of the community and telling the story of the community and its residents, which is so important and adds depth to the experience for the visitors to the area.”
According to Salley, the recognition is well deserved.
“It’s great to have this plaque to draw visitors and residents to honor our history,” he said. “We’re grateful to the county and to everyone with the city who was involved for this plaque.”