Clearwater Historical Society: Research Page
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Facts about Clearwater's History

The area, which now is Clearwater, was first visited by the white men in 1528. This was 37 years before St. Augustine (1565), 79 years before Jamestown (1607), and 92 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock (1620).

Panfilo de Narvaez, a Spanish explorer, landed on this shore April 15, 1528, with five ships, 40 horses, and 600 men. These facts from Fairbank's History of Florida (1671) and from the works of Miss Dorothy Dodd (Florida State Historian), are accepted as the most accurate available. De Narvaez' landing ranks second only to that of Ponce de Leon, whose discovery of Florida in 1513 marked the beginning of the explorations of the North American continent. De Narvaez found here a large tribe of Indians, which his army drove out. The Indians recaptured their territory, however, and held it until conquered in the Seminole Wars of 1835-42.

Occasional white settlers had begun to move into the area by that time. The first was Dr. Odet Philippe, a French Count, who had been a surgeon on Napoleon's Navy. Dr. Philippe came with his family in the mid-1830's and built a "plantation" on the site which is now Philippe Park.

Fort Harrison was built in 1841 on the bluffs overlooking the harbor, then called Clear Water Harbor, the present site of Clearwater. The fort was named for Gen. William Henry Harrison, who became President Harrison. It was used as an outpost encampment for soldiers stationed at Fort Brook (now Tampa), was abandoned when the wars ended a few months later, and the territory was then opened by the Federal Government for homesteading under the Armed Occupation Act. This meant that homesteads would be granted to settlers willing to bear arms for protection against the still-hostile Indians hiding in the area.

James Stevens was the first of the homesteaders, staking out the fort and its surrounding areas as his claim. He was granted the first land title in 1842. This was the real beginning of the Clearwater of today. For years, a plaque at the entrance of the famed "Brown Estate", on the waterfront bluff in Harbor Oaks, marked the site of Fort Harrison.

The early settlement, which adopted the name of Clear Water Harbor, grew slowly for several years as an agricultural and fishing community. Its only outside contacts were made either by horse-and-buggy, wagon, by foot to Tampa, or by sailboat 100 miles up the Gulf to Cedar Key.

The first area school, the Taylor School, was built in the vicinity of the present Druid Road and Hercules Avenue in the early 1850's. The first school house within the community of Clear Water Harbor was built in 1883.

The first post office, Clear Water Harbor, was established August 20, 1859. David Turner was the first postmaster. According to the U.S. Post Office Department, Clearwater became one word on January 19, 1895, and Harbor was dropped from the name on February 28, 1906.

The Indians who inhabited this area are said to have called it Pocotopsug, meaning clear water. It was so named because of the many springs of clear, fresh water that bubbled up along the shore, and even below the waterline at low tide. The Indians depended on these springs for their water supply, as did the early white settlers. Action of the tides and the "fills" in recent years have completely changed the shore line and eliminated most of the springs.

The first newspaper printed here was the Clear Water Times in July 1873. The editor was the Rev. C. Reynolds, a Baptist minister who, on Sundays, walked to other communities which had begun to grow throughout the peninsula, to preach.

The first hotel, the Orange Bluff, was built here in 1880. A second hotel, the Sea View, followed a short time later in the early 1880's and was built by the late Theodore Kamensky. Sr. It stood near the site now occupied by the City Library.

The railroad was built through Clear Water Harbor in 1888. This was the Orange Belt, a narrow-guage road. It was purchased by H. B. Plant in the early 1890's and converted into standard-guage. It later became the Atlantic Coast Line.

The Belleview Hotel, Belleair, was built by Mr. Plant in 1896 and was opened in 1897 as a plush resort for the wealthy winter visitors who arrived via his railroad. A championship bicycle track was a special feature of entertainment. In the 1930's, the hotel, after several ownerships, was purchased by the Biltmore chain and became the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Clear Water Harbor was incorporated in 1891. Clearwater Harbor received a special charter in 1897. Clearwater was chartered as a municipality on May 27, 1915.

The first ice factory was built here in 1900. It was purchased by the city in 1910. The first public dock and pavilion were built at the foot of Cleveland Street in 1902. The telephone exchange was established in 1903. The library was built on the bluff in 1916 where the new library is being built in 2002. The first city hall with fire station was built in 1911 at 29 North Fort Harrison Avenue.

The act creating Pinellas County was passed by the State Legislature in May 1911. Clearwater became the county seat. County operation began January 1, 1912. The first courthouse was built in 1912 and cost $3700. The second courthouse was built in 1917 and cost $160,000. The third courthouse was built in 1961 at a cost of $6,000,000.

A wooden bridge from Seminole Street to Clearwater Beach was built in 1916 with a hand-cranked rotating boat passage. On November 11, 1927, Memorial Causeway was dedicated, extending from Cleveland Street to the beach with a double lift bridge to accomodate the Intercoastal waterway. Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard also was opened in 1927. In 2002, construction began on a high level bridge to connect Chestnut Street and Court Street to the causeway.

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