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County Historic Preservation Board to Host Summit in Safety Harbor

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Courtesy: City of Safety Harbor

Take a walk downtown and you’re bound to notice taller buildings and fewer trees than there were just a couple of years ago. But there are still old buildings and homes that give our city the charm that makes it so unique.

There are homes throughout the downtown corridor that were here 100 years ago. But many homeowners don’t know the full histories of these structures.  There are also homes with historical markers out front. What does one do to learn more about their home or business building and its story?

New construction began when Safety Harbor was first occupied by non-native peoples. We’ve had neighborhoods pop up where orange groves once covered the land. We’ve had buildings burn to the ground, buildings torn down, and we’ve seen old buildings refurbished and given a new purpose.  Take, for example, the Safety Harbor Senior Living building on the north corner of Philippe Parkway and Main St. It was constructed during the Florida boom years—the 1920s. Newspapers described it as being one of the most modern buildings in Pinellas County. It had hot and cold running water in each room, telephones, and, uncommon for that time, an elevator.

For several decades, there was a building across the street from it nicknamed the Silver Dome building, for the dome on its roof. It was built so poorly, though, that by the 1980s it had been condemned and torn down. There were buildings where the library stands today, including apartments and a movie theater. They’re all gone now.

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USF Archaeologists Dig Philippe Park

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Pinellas Point: An artifact found at the site (3 cm/1 inch). (Photo/Louis Claudio)

If you have recently jogged in Philippe Park, taken an easy bike ride, or hiked up the mound, you may have noticed USF Professor of Anthropology Dr. Tom Pluckhahn and his team of student archaeologists surveying, digging and sifting through sandy dirt nearby for evidence of the Tocobaga culture that once inhabited this land.

Dr. Pluckhahn surveying area near mound. (Photo/Louis Claudio)

The word Tocobaga is familiar throughout the Tampa Bay area—from kayak tours and a disc golf course, to Cigar City’s red ale. But how many of us appreciate the history behind the name? Tocobaga was a civilization that thrived along Tampa Bay about 500 years ago. Their villages were likely scattered throughout the area, but believed to be headquartered near the mound they built in what is now Philippe Park.

When visiting the area today, it may be difficult to imagine that area was once home to a thriving civilization. Much of what is known about the Tocobaga derives from journals of Spanish missionaries and explorers who arrived in the area in the 16th century. Their short reports provide a tantalizing but severely incomplete account of what was clearly once a prosperous and intricate culture.

Over the past century, there have been several excavations of the site. Archaeologists with the Smithsonian Institution completely excavated a burial mound in the 1920s but their report of the work is only a few pages long. In the 1940s, archaeologists with the State of Florida completed small excavations in the “temple” mound and village. Despite these efforts, there is still a lot that is not known about the Tocobaga culture.

Today, the park we love for its native flora and fauna, for the beautiful Tampa Bay, and for the shaded picnic spots, offers no visual evidence of those who were here centuries ago. Except, of course, for the mound, where a powerful chief’s home once stood.

Dr. Pluckhahn hopes to discover more.

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Whispering Souls Cemetery Clean Up

Bring gloves, clippers, a wheelbarrow (if it’s easy) and friends! Remember bug spray, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Stories, Poetry, & Art from Across Florida

Warren Firschein & Laura Kepner discuss A Brief History of Safety Harbor

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