15 Oct · Admin · No Comments

Tarpon Springs: A Gem on Florida’s Central West Coast

The RV lifestyle allows you to explore local areas, and learn about the history and traditions of the places you visit.

 

Our Hickory Point RV Park is located in the unique city of Tarpon Springs, once called the “Sponge Capital of the World”.  It’s a beautiful, one-of-a-kind area that offers many options for turning your stay into a memorable experience.

 

Learn more about the history of the city, its Greek heritage, and the Sponge Industry before you come visit us.

 

City History & the Sponge Industry

 

Tarpon Springs is located along the Anclote River, from Lake Tarpon west to the Gulf of Mexico. The first settlers in the area arrived in 1876. By 1887, Tarpon Springs was incorporated, with a population of 52 residents. Several accounts state that the name of the city was inspired by the large number of tarpon fish that inhabited the area.

 

The year 1887 also saw the arrival of the Orange Belt Railway, which made travel and trade easier. The Anclote Key lighthouse helped advance transportation by water that same year.

 

The city is best known for establishing the most successful sponge industry in Florida, when John Cheyney founded the Anclote River and Rock Island Sponge Company. In fact, by 1900, Tarpon Springs became the largest sponge port in the U.S. For 30 years, this industry was the largest in the state, bigger than citrus or tourism.

Sponge Boat in Tarpon Springs - Things to See Near Hickory Point RV Park

Sponge Boat in Tarpon Springs

The sponges, which are actually living sea creatures, were discovered in the Florida Keys in the 1820s. Visiting fishermen from Key West discovered sponge beds off the Tarpon Springs coast in 1873.

 

Soon people came to this area to harvest the sponges. Although there were Spongers already living in the area, according to Ed Dorsett (in an article by Nicholas Pilugin published in the Tampa Tribune in 1990):

 

“The old spongers were really the black spongers. We’ve been here long before they (the Greeks) got here. My grandfather was a sponger.”

 

Greek immigrants expanded and refined the sponge industry, with John Corcoris as the leader. He brought in 500 divers from several Greek islands, and was responsible for the first mechanized sponge fishing boat in the city.

 

Sponger Monument in Tarpon Springs Florida - Things to See Near Hickory Point RV Park

Monument to Sponge Divers

The Greek divers introduced the technology of hard-hat diving, plusinformation about the types of boats used in Greece.  Sponge diving was not an easy occupation, as the men would practically live on the sponge boats for 6-8 months each year. Divers were lost every year due to decompression sickness or the “bends”.

 

In 1908 the Sponge Exchange was founded, an organized system for grading and buying the sponges. It was established by sponge divers, boat builders, and others involved in the industry.

 

The sponge industry suffered ups and downs over the years due to the Depression, a destructive hurricane, a blight (that infested the sponge beds), and a red tide.

 

The sponge beds did survive, and regained full strength in the 1970s. The industry then saw a modest revival, and today there are boats and sponge divers who continue to bring in sponges.

 

Greek culture has a deep history in Tarpon Springs, and the city claims the highest percentage of Americans with Greek heritage of any city in the U.S.

 

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

 

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral - Things to See Near Hickory Point RV Park

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, located in the heart of downtown Tarpon Springs, was the first and original Greek Orthodox Christian parish of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

 

The first St. Nicholas Church was built in 1907, and the domed cathedral located in Tarpon Springs today was completed in 1943, modeled after the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople.

Cross Diver Statue at St. Nicholas Cathedral

Cross Diver Statue at St. Nicholas Cathedral

 

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs celebrates Epiphany every year on January 6th with the Cross-Diving in Spring Bayou. The first observance of Epiphany in Tarpon Springs was in 1903, and has now become the largest Epiphany celebration in the country. The famous “Cross Diver” statue is located in the plaza north of the Cathedral.

 

National Register of Historic Places

 

Tarpon Springs Cultural Center

Tarpon Springs Cultural Center

The downtown center of Tarpon Springs is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can walk on its brick streets, and stop in antique stores, art galleries, and restaurants in buildings that date from the late 1800s. Tarpon Springs was Florida’s first recognized Traditional Cultural Property.

Learn more about the city’s history at the:

  • Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum in Craig Park
  • Safford House Museum
  • Tarpon Springs Historical Society

 

Tour the Town

 

Mural in Tarpon Springs - Things to See Near Hickory Point RV Park

A Mural in Tarpon Springs

Today, tourism is Tarpon Springs’ primary economic activity, although you can still see active sponge boats at the docks. There are many things to do and see, including:

  • Greek Restaurants & Bakeries
  • Greek and Florida Souvenir Shops
  • Dolphin Sightseeing Cruises
    Shopping at Tarpon Springs Florida

    Shopping in Tarpon Springs

  • Fishing Trips
  • Sponge Diving Museum
  • Seasonal Festivals & Entertainment

…and of course the Sponge Docks and natural sponges.

 

 

You can stay up-to-date on local happenings through the Hickory Point RV Park Facebook Page, where we share the latest Tarpon Springs events and activities.  Let us know if you have any questions before planning your trip, and we’ll be happy to help!

 

 

Sources:

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/culture/articles/14/Tarpon-Springs-Greektown-National-Register-of-Historic-Places-Viva-Florida-Insider.html

http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/cities/tarpon-springs.html

http://tarponspringsareahistoricalsociety.org/

http://www.fivay.org/tarpon_springs2.html

https://spongedocks.net

http://www.stnicholastarpon.org/

http://www.divingheritage.com/keywestkern.htm

 

 

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