ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Historic Sites of Tarpon Springs, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Historic Sites of Tarpon Springs, Florida
Tarpon Springs, Florida
World-renowned for its history as a sponge fishing
port, Tarpon Springs is a charming and culturally rich
community on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Sponges crowd the decks of
the Little Joe, a boat docked
on the waterfront.
Historic Sponge Port
The city with the largest Greek
population in the U.S., Tarpon
Springs was once a major
sponge port.
Sponge Diving in the Gulf
Greek divers were brought to
Tarpon Springs in the late
1800s to harvest the natural
sponges of the Gulf of Mexico.
Tarpon Springs, Florida - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
Florida's Historic Sponge Fishery
Stunning Coastal Scenery
The blue sky and sparkling
water combine with the rich
culture and history of Tarpon
Springs to make it a beautiful
Florida destination.
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
One of the most unique coastal cities in the
South, Tarpon Springs is a jewel of Florida's
Gulf Coast.

Home to around 23,000 people, Tarpon
Springs has the highest percentage of Greek-
Americans in its population of any city in the
United States. The unique and charming
Greek influences in the community serve as
a cultural reminder of its unique heritage as
one of the premier sponge ports in the South.

Although pirates and later blockade runners
slipped in and out of local waters during the
17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Tarpon
Springs first began to grow as a community
in the mid-1870s. The scenic beauty and
warm climate made the coastal setting a
great place for a winter community and by
1876 the city was taking root.

The name came about, according to tradition,
after early residents spotted tarpon (a large
fish) jumping in local waters. In fact, tarpon of
enormous size have been caught in the Gulf
of Mexico off Tarpon Springs over the years.

On February 12, 1887, Tarpon Springs was
incorporated as a city, becoming the first
such community on the Pinellas peninsula.
The Orange Belt Railroad arrived during the
same year, bringing wealthy Northern
residents who came down to build homes,
churches, businesses and schools. The
building of the Anclote Key Lighthouse soon
began and Tarpon Springs became known
as a popular winter resort.

Thriving sponge beds had been discovered
offshore in the Gulf of Mexico when turtle
fishermen coming up from Key West had
snagged their nets on a sponge colony.
Sponge fishermen began to drift into the
area, but it was not until 1890 that the
sponge industry really took off. A local
businessman named John Cheyney opened
the Anclote River and Rock Island Sponge
Company in that year.

The industry booked so fast that sponge-
packing houses and warehouses were built
in Tarpon Springs and the entire sponge
industry shifted up from Key West, Cuba and
the Bahamas. In 1900, Tarpon Springs was
declared the largest sponge port in America.

The city owes its Greek heritage to John
Corcoris, who was hired by Cheyney. He
introduced mechanized fishing boats and
brought in 500 Green divers to work the
sponge beds. They came from the famed
sponge fisheries of the Greek Islands and
brought their families with them. A Greek-
themed community of businesses, coffee
houses and more soon boomed in Tarpon
Springs. To this day, the city has the largest
percentage of Greek-American residents of
any community in the U.S.
Florida's earliest Sponge Exchange had
been established in
Apalachicola, but by
1908 it had made its way to Tarpon Springs.

The Exchange brought standards to the
sponge industry while also creating a central
location for auctions. Despite hurricanes, a
blight and the Great Depression, the Tarpon
Springs sponge industry prospered. As many
was 150 boats worked the beds until 1948,
when a red tide (a large concentration of
algal blooms) devastated the sponge

The sponges slowly returned and actually
regained full population by the 1970s. The
industry also returned, although not with the
vigor of times past. Sponge boats, many of
them owned by Greek-Americans, still run
out from Tarpon Springs and the sponges
they bring in are sold around the world.

Tarpon Springs today is a great destination
for tourists. In addition to the boats, sponge
docks and waterfront, there are unique Greek
shops, restaurants and more. The sponge
industry still brings in about $2 million a year
to the local economy, but tourism now
accounts for more than $20 million.

Please click here to visit the city's official
tourism site to learn more!
Photos by Lauren Pitone