HISTORY OF PINELLAS PARK, FLORIDA

1911-1914

 

Contributed by Mrs. John H. (Catherine) Taylor, Pinellas Park, Florida and written in 1970.

Published in The Florida Genealogical Research Quarterly Volume 4, Winter 1976-1977 Whole Number 8; continued in Volume 5, 1978 Whole Number 9 Pg. 17

 

 

                In the summer of 1969 at the request of Mrs. Allen (Margaret) Harrop, Librarian of the Pinellas Park Library, I sifted through a great deal of memorabilia left to the city at the bequeath of Mrs. Connie Lovelace.  (Editor Note, Mrs. Lovelace had been appointed official Historian for the City of Pinellas Park.)

                As a member of the Federated Pinellas Park Woman’s Club Mrs. Harrop and I were aided by Mrs. William (Dorothy) Boyer in planning a course of action with material available.

                The winter of 1969-1970 found us engrossed with laying the groundwork for a legitimate history of the community.  We began with two of our early citizens, Mr. M. G. Badger “Buzz” and Mr. A.C. BenderAb.”  We met at the Library and held taping sessions with these gentlemen.  As we went through a large assortment of pictures and other materials the early history began to unfold.  These tapes are numbered #1, #2, #3 and were held on October 3, 1969, November 26, 1969 and December 2, 1969.  The transcriptions of these tapes are available in their entirety at the library.  Some of the pictures identified during these sessions were framed and displayed during the 21st birthday of the Pinellas Park Library in December 1969.

                Particular mention must be made of Mrs. James (Flora) Shoecraft.  This gracious lady, at the age of ninety-two (92) just recently celebrated her sixtieth (60th) anniversary in Pinellas Park.  She came here when it was truly a wilderness as the bride of James Shoecraft, who was at time sent by the DuPont Company to be in charge of the dynamiting necessary to develop a community.  He stayed on to make this their home and James Shoecraft raised the first statice in the county.  His nephew, M.G. Badger still shops to markets as far East as Boston, Massachusetts and West as Kansas City, Kansas.

                Tape #1 opens with the following:  “This is “Ab” Bender to identify the pictures, son of Lewis Bender.  We came here in 1911 from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  “My Name is “Buzz” Badger.  I came here with my folks in 1912.  My father was Grant Badger.

 

                                                Mrs. John H. (Catherine) Taylor 1970

 

The Florida Association was incorporated under a charter of the State of Delaware and maintaining business offices at St. Petersburg, County of Hillsborough, State of Florida and 1914-16 Cherry and 1915-17 Arch Streets, City of Philadelphia, PA.  In 1911 and filed with C. M. Knott, Clerk of Hillsborough County on May 31, 1911.[1]

                The association bought 12,800 acres in Western Hillsborough County for the purpose of creating Pinellas Farms.[2]  The land opportunity offered to prospective buyers was that a ten acre farm costing $200.00 or $20.00 per acre and with that a free lot in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida.  By 1912 they were selling from $40.00 to $100.00 per acre and included a town lot or $150.00 for a town lot alone.[3]   The acre in section 29 of the sub-division was platted as the city of Pinellas Park and filed in Hillsborough County May 31, 1911.[4]  The city consisted of an area enclosed by the present 58th Street on the East, by 66th Street on the West, 70th Avenue on the South and 80th Avenue on the North.[5]  Within the area of Pinellas Farms three model farms were created, the purpose to encourage the raising of sugar cane.

                These farms were located as Model Farm #1 just west of the Sugar Mill, or what is now Davis Field.  Model Farm #2 was on either side of Park Blvd. to Long Bayou near the present Florida Fire Tower, and Model Farm #3 just West of 49th Street and 100th and 102nd Avenues.[6]

                The Florida Association, a corporation, was organized by F. A. Davis, his son Dr. A. B. Davis and P. J. McDevitt, according to W. L. Straub.[7]  These men became associated in Philadelphia when Mr. F. A. Davis bought from one of the Diston brothers the large parcel of land in Western Hillsborough County.  Mr. Davis, a publisher in Philadelphia, had his business next door to that of P. J. McDevitt who was a young contractor.  Dr. A. B. Davis had been educated for medicine but never did practice it.  As with many father-son relationships, the generation gap allowed room for the young contractor, McDevitt , and he ws offered the opportunity to enter into the corporation as Secretary and was to fill the working position of general manager of the development.[8]

                Between April 15, 1910 and April 19, 1912 the Florida Association sold one hundred and eleven (111) farms and lots.[9]  An extensive advertising campaign, principally in Pennsylvania, was conducted.[10]

                Although the Pinellas Farms and Pinellas Park were located on the Atlantic Coast railroad, most of the families found the best way to travel to Florida was to go to Baltimore, Maryland where they would board a boat to Jacksonville, Florida and from there come to Pinellas Park by railroad.  Many of the farms that were bought by Pennsylvanians were re-sold at the time and the families did not make the trek to Florida or some, upon their arrival found conditions a little too primitive and sold out their holdings and moved to St. Petersburg.

                The families due to arrive had to be taken care of until their home could be built so accommodations were provided in the form of the Old Colony Houses.  They consisted of two rectangular shaped buildings one of which served as the dining room and the other as a rooming house.  Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Bender ran the dining room from 1911 to 1912.  The Colony House was located just south of the ACL track on the site of Davis Field and behind it was the Sugar Syrup Mill in construction.  The “help” in building the houses and the mill were provided sleeping quarters near the Colony House and were called the Yellow Houses.  Pinellas Park had its own deep well and water tower.  The well still exists,[11] although it is well covered and is easily seen near the concession stand on the Davis Field Ball Park.  The Pinellas Park Library has among its memorabilia of Pinellas Park the original Plaque on the pump.  According to “Ab” many a youngster learned to swim in the old water tank after it was abandoned.

                A partial list of the families who made their home in the Park in the years of 1911-1912 were:  (in most instances the name of the wife is excluded, so the assumption is that for the most part each name represents the head of a household.)

 

Al Cooley

Reene Cooley

Vince Wise

Frank McIntire

Reece Howard, Jr.

Jessie Bowers

________Harmond

Misses May and Lillian German

Rev. Beach

Miss Villie Felts

Bessie Bunn

Joe Williams

Louis Bender

E. M. Kessler

Harold Brennan

Rev. Monks

Mrs. Leonard

James Shoecraft

P. J. McDevitt

Howard Richmond

Charles Kurst

John Schall

Doc. Vogel

Flora Badger and son Homer

_____Seward

____Parkerson

“Pop” Starling

David Link

Dr. Wyman

____DeHass

____Dickens

“Daddy” Campbell

Mrs. Lucy DeChant

Frank McFarland

____Clark

Frank Miller

Mrs. Mary Jane High

Elmer Bailey Howard

____Hoffman

 

 

 

Bert Thomas

The Segee Family

 

                A further identification of some of these people was offered by “Buzz” and “Ab.”  From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Reene Cooley and his wife came here as newly-weds along with his parents the Al Cooleys and were in the first group to arrive.  Vince Wise from Toledo, Ohio.  Frank McIntire and his wife were from Vermont.  Frank came here to make a new start at the age of sixty-one (61) and lived here almost forty (40) years, he was almost one hundred (100) when he died.  May and Lillian German were probably Quakers and were from Pennsylvania, Lewis Bender and his wife and children were from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  James Shoecraft and wife Peg from Toledo.  E. M. Kesslers, Youngstown, Ohio.  Harold Brennan from around Pittsburgh, a coal mining district, his father operated some mines.  Howard and Gale Richmond, probably from Pennsylvania.  Reverend Beach from Alabama, called the “Duke of Birmingham.”  Miss Willie Felts, a relative of Rev. Beach and worked in the Post Office.  Bessie Brenn….lived over near Long Bayou where the Seminole Golf Course is now.  There was no bridge to their farm and they had to take their goods and stores across in a wagon, if the tide was high they would have trouble with the boxes floating off.  Joe williams built a great big house on the West side of what is now 57th Street and 75th Avenue.  “Doc” Vogel, the first Postmaster.  Flora A. Badger, mother of Mrs. James Shoecraft from Toledo.  The sewards and Parkersons both had stores.  “Pop” Starling ran a place called the “Bee Hive” where everbody hung out.  Dave Link lived on the same side of the street just North of what is now City Hall.  (Editor Note this was 1969 location, not the new City Hall on 78th St.)  Link was a commissioner (councilman) for years.  Doc Wyman (veternarian) and P. J. McDevitt, lived in St. Petersburg until their houses were built and then they moved out.  Their homes were on Park Blvd. in the 61st Street block.[12]

                The Colony House was the scene of the first church services and although it served as a Community Church the first services conducted were by Presbyterians and at a very early date they built the First Presbyterian Church, facing North close to 60th Street and South of the Sugar and Syrup Mill.  The first Catholic Church in Pinellas County was located just East of the railroad tracks, on the South side of Park Blvd.  The building was torn down and the wood used in later years to build the recreation building at St. Paul’s  (Editor note….school in St. Petersburg).

                The First Methodist Church in town was located on 77th Avenue near 58th Street.  Disbanded after about five years.

                As the farms began to develop they put into use a steam tractor to which 6, 8 or 10 wagons were attached. This tractor allowed for a great deal of mobility in gathering sugar cane from various farms to take to the mill.[13]  Soon, a narrow gauge railroad was built to bring in the cane.  It ran from Tyrone North on 66th Street, East on Park Blvd. to the triangle and Railroad Avenue.  Here it turned Northwest down Railroad Avenue to the corner of 60th street where scales were located.[14]  (The site until 1969 of the Boy’s Club prior to the building of their new facilities on 78th Avenue and 61st Street.)  After being weighed the cane was then taken to the Mill for the making of syrup and the farmer given credit for his cane.  After refining, the syrup was shipped on the Atlantic Coast Line.  This was a successful venture for only a short time, perhaps six years.[15]  The reasons for suspending operation were varied.  One account is because of the raising of freight rates, while another is that the mill suspended operations because a manager sent here to supervise the operation was completely inept and that some of the machinery was never uncrated.  The most plausible account offered is by Mrs. James Shoecraft who says that the mill was too large.   “If you had planted every acre in Pinellas county in sugar cane it still would not have been enough to supply the mill.”  The results of course was that the labor and overhead costs were prohibitive.  The building simply sat tghere and deteriorated and was finally demolished during the Hurrican of 1921.

                A number of lovely houses were built in Pinellas Park.  Among them were those of:   P. J. McDevitt, the Misses German, Louis Bender, Dr. Wyman and James Shoecraft.  Others built that were less ostentatious often consisted of  “up and down batten boards” because they couldn’t get the regular cutting like we have today.  In later years they took the battens off and put up regular siding.  These houses were called “Saw Mill Houses.”  Over the cracks between the boards they put a narrow board so it wouldn’t leak, when they could get the siding they took out the little narrow piece and put the siding to run the other way.[16]

                The first Post Office was in the year 1910 and “Doc” Vogel was postmaster.  It was located in the hardware store across the tracks from the Railroad Station.  Later the post Office was housed in a small frame building facing south on the present City Hall Parking lot just East of the Royal Palms Hotel.[17]  Incidentally the frame post office building is now standing on the south side of Park Blvd. in the vicinity of 57th Street and houses the taxi stand.

                In 1912 the first school wzs built.  One room, one story building that sat across from the present city hall.  This one room housed grades one through eight.  In 1915 a four room brick building was built under the supervision of P. J. McDevitt  and still serves as the City Hall.

                The Pinellas Park Drainage District was formed in 1914 with the Florida Association acting as guarantors for the sale of the bonds.[18] The equipment was assembled at McIntire’s Bayhead.  This bayhead can now be identified in part as Shoecraft Park.  The dredge was owned by John Campbell.  There were several canals dug in order to supply drainage to the whole area.  The children and citizens of the community knew each one of its number, however the identification of the first two will serve to point out the massive system built then and still existing.  Ditch #1 started at U.S. 19 and 100th Avenue just South of the overhead pass, goes West to 56th Street and Southwest to the Railroad.  Runs just South of the SPJC Administration building then West along 86th Avenue to Cross Bayou where it empties.  Ditch #2 starts at 78th Avenue and 46th Street.  South to 75th Avenue, from there it runs north across U.S. 19 along behind the State Police (Highway Patrol) Barracks and the Easter Seal Buildings to 82nd Avenue.  There it runs East and empties into Saw Grass Lake.[19]

                In August of 1914 the area known as Pinellas Park applied to the State of Florida for a City charter and Governor Park Trammell (1913-1917) appointed Harold Brennan as mayor until the town could have their first election after the charter was approved.  The first Town Council meeting was held October 17, 1914 and P. J. McDevitt was elected as the first Mayor.  Mr. McDevitt served for three (3) years and was succeeded by James Shoecraft who not only served as Mayor of Pinellas Park very ably for 35 years but also served the county as County Commissioner for many years.

                Civic responsibility was assumed in the form of the first fire truck for the community of 1912.  The two-wheeled chemical tank was housed on 50th Street across from the sugar Mill and was manned by a crew of Volunteers.  Most important perhaps of this volunteer group was Frank Miller who had the only teams of horses in town and was ably assisted by Homer Badger, Jim Shoecraft, Brace Slater, Walter Bender, Og Vender, Edward Hoffman and others.  The fire alarm was sounded by ringing a bell that was mounted in a belfry over the Fire House, unlike the siren of today the volunteers answered the fire alarm call by charging to the Fire House with a fire bell on their horses.

                Any attempt at a history of the origins of Pinellas Park must also include the Royal Palm Hotel, located on 60th Street and 77th Avenue.  This hotel was the second building built in Pinellas Park and was owned by H. M. Reese and is still the oldest building in town and houses the Beaux Art Theatre.  (Editor Note….this property is still in the hands of the family and presently owned by Bruce Reese, nephew of H. M. Reese.)



[1] Hillsborough Co., Plat Book 7, p.5.

[2] Ibid, P.5.

[3] Florida Association “The Growth of a Village,” (Philadelphia, PA. 1912)

[4] Hillsborough Co., Plat Book 5, P. 57

[5] Ibid., 5 p. 57 as interpreted by Fred W. Lawrence, City Engineer, City of Pinellas Park, March 14, 1971.

[6] Hillsborough Co., Plat Book 7, p. 4.

[7] W. L. Straub, History, History of Pinellas County, (St. Augustine, Fla.: Record Co. 1929) p. 115.

[8] Frank McDevitt, son of P. J. McDevitt, St. Petersburg, Fla.  Interview March 4, 1971.

[9] Hillsborough Co., Grantor-Grantee Records, A-K.

[10] Straub, op, Cit., p. 115.

[11] M. G.Buzz Badger and A. C.Ab Bender, Tape #1 interview, October, 1969.

[12] Op. Cit., Tape #3

[13] A. C.Ab Bender, identification of November and December issue of Pinellas Park News, (promotional newspaper published by the Florida Assoc.) Tape #1.

[14] M. G. Badger, interview March 28, 1971.

[15] Marie McDevitt Swagger, Interview March 21, 1971.

[16] Badger and Bender, op. Cit, Tape #1

[17] Badger and Bender, Tape #2, Interview December 2, 1969.

[18] Frank McDevitt and Marie McDevitt Swagger, op. cit. interview

[19] Fred W. Lawrence, City Engineer, City of Pinellas Park, official city map interpreted.