Tarpon Springs History
Explore Florida's Anclote Key
Immerse yourself in the stories of indigenous tribes, Greek immigrants and fishing industrialists that transformed the coastal city of Tarpon Springs into the vibrant destination it is today. These distinct perspectives intertwine to create the unique history of the area. You’ll get a fascinating history lesson when you marvel at ancient Native American artifacts, colorful Victorian architecture and the natural bounty of the ocean that allowed early settlers to thrive.
“Marvel at ancient Native American artifacts, colorful Victorian architecture and the natural bounty of the ocean that allowed early settlers to thrive.”
Thousands of years ago, the native Timucua people lived here, flourishing due to the abundance of seafood in the Gulf of Mexico and wildlife in nearby maritime forests. Visit the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum to learn about the area’s first inhabitants as you peruse archeological relics excavated from the area.
The settlement of Tarpon Springs didn’t come about until much later—the late 1800s—when Mary Ormond, an early settler from South Carolina, spotted a large, silvery tarpon fish leaping from the waters of the Spring Bayou, thus inspiring the community’s name. In 1881, Philadelphian manufacturer Hamilton Disston surveyed the area, planned the city’s layout and facilitated a railroad route to the new city. This increased accessibility spurred growth in the area, particularly around the Spring Bayou, which became the area’s first tourist attraction due to its freshwater spring bubbling from underground, purported to have healing abilities. The crescent shape of the bayou is why this area is also known as the Golden Crescent.
During the late 1800s, a burgeoning sponge industry took off in Tarpon Springs, where some of world’s finest natural sea sponges could be harvested just off the shoreline. This industry gained traction at the turn of the 20th century, when sponge buyer John Corcoris recruited 500 Greek divers from the Dodecanese Islands and introduced the area’s first mechanized sponge fishing boat. A vibrant Greek community cropped up around the springs, bringing with it authentic Greek restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores. The sponge industry also attracted a number of Black workers from the Bahamas and Key West, adding to the area’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity. Experience this part of Tarpon Springs’ history for yourself when you stroll along the Sponge Docks to see boats hauling in their daily catch. While you’re here, you also can shop for authentic sea sponges and fill up on Greek specialties.
By 1910, Tarpon Springs was a hub of activity, with two lumber mills, cigar factories, an ice plant and an electric plant. The growth continued with the increase of tourism in Florida during the 1920s. Today, tourism is the main economic driver of the area, as visitors from all over come to enjoy the breathtaking natural beauty and outdoor activities such as boating and golfing, and the charming town that is rich with history and culture.