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Tarpon Springs has long been known as the "Sponge Capital of the United States" even after the industry nearly vanished due to the destruction of Florida's sponge beds. Tarpon Springs has been the American sponging city since the arrival in 1905 of Greek sponge divers and the industry's growth until the red tide of the 1940's.

Yet, the city first developed in the 1880's under Hamilton Disston as a winter resort for wealthy Northerners.

WHERE TO START: Turn west off US 19 onto Tarpon Avenue (FL 582), the major business street. Almost a mile away, you will see the tower of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. You are entering the urban core as you CROSS LEVIS AVENUE and notice on your left, the:

(1) L. D. VINSON FUNERAL HOME (1911), 456 Tarpon Avenue, a two-story masonry structure once the home of Levin Dent Vinson, who opened the community's first general store in 1880. Across the street is the: (2) CRETEKOS HOUSE (1916), 455 Tarpon Avenue, a brick house with a large hip roof veranda. Most Tarpon Springs house were frame vernacular, even the spectacular Victorian mansion, but the Cretekos family imported Georgia brick. In the winter cousin Maria Callas, the famous singer, stayed as a child.

The last three houses on the block on the left are more typical of early non-Greek residences, including the second from the end, the large: (3) DR. JAMES A. DOUGLAS HOUSE (1905), 406 Tarpon Avenue, a frame house with a fine gable roof. Douglas was both mayor and town physician.


CROSS GROSSE. The last house on the right was once the: (4) OLD BAPTIST CHURCH (1905), 301 Tarpon Avenue, resembling more the apartment complex it was remodeled.

CROSS RING, entering the commercial blocks. You may wish to PARK IF YOU WANT TO STROLL THE DOWNTOWN SHOPPING DISTRICT.

The last three stores on the left include the: (5) BOYER CHEVROLET SHOP (1910), 208 Tarpon Avenue, built by pioneer Judge D. P. Boyer and revealing its origins with huge doors. Next door is the (6) OLD MOVIE HOUSE (1911), 206 Tarpon, a one-story masonry vernacular building with a curvilinear parapet on top.


At the end of the block on the left is the former: (7) LEOUSIS SALOON (1905), 200 Tarpon Avenue, with its cast stone exterior. Now a fancy restuarant, it was a colorful saloon when it was the site of the fight scenes in the 1953 film BENEATH THE TWELVE-MILE REEF with Robert Wagner and Gilbert Roland.

Across the street is the: (8) D. A. ALISSANDRATOS BUILDING (1909), 201 Tarpon Avenue, a one-story bank structure started as United Divers, a supply house for divers.

CROSS SAFFORD STREET, named for the former Arizona Governor who recruited the first settlers to the Springs. You can't miss on your left the: (9) ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD DEPOT (1908), 160 Tarpon Avenue, which replaced the 1888 Orange Belt Railroad depot which boomed the region. It is appropriately the headquarters of the TARPON SPRINGS HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

On your right is the: (10) OLD DRY GOODS STORE (1912), 163 Tarpon Avenue, a restored two-story masonry building with a rounded southeast corner. Drivers will find it difficult to see every structure without a second trip so I'll describe this downtown block by each side.

On your right next to the Dr Goods Store is the (11) W. H. GOURLEY HARDWARE (1905), 155 Tarpon Avenue, with rusticated block walls. At 143 Tarpon Avenue is the (12) OLD DRUG STORE (1895), with a recessed entranceway. At 139 Tarpon Avenue, is the (13) VASILE FAKLIS DEPARTMENT STORE (1912), the oldest continuous business in town.

The first downtown building up after a disastrous fire in 1894 is the (14) G. W. FERNALD BUILDING (1894), 121 Tarpon Avenue, a general store designed by New Orleans architect Willis Castaing. Next door at 107 Tarpon Avenue is (15) OLD DRY GOODS STORE (1902) and at the end of the block on the right is the (16) GEORGE McARVOY DRUG STORE (1896), 101 Tarpon, once the town post office.

The right side of the block contains, after the railroad station, the (17) COSTAS TSOURAKIS BUILDING (1912), 144 Tarpon Avenue, and the (18) PROGRESSIVE NEWS BUILDING (1905), 130 Tarpon Avenue. At 128 Tarpon Avenue is the brick (19) CADWALLADER BAKERY (1913). Walkers will enjoy a visit inside the (20) TAYLOR ARCADE (1910), 112 Tarpon Avenue, where antiques have replaced movie seats and pool tables.

Next door is the (21) ERNEST MERES BUILDING (1914), 100 Tarpon Avenue, built by Tampa architect M. Leo Elliott as the Hotel Meres and Royal Theater where Will Rogers once performed.

PASS HIBISCUS where on your right is the (22) A. L. ELLIS DRUG STORE (1913), 19 Tarpon Avenue, with its cutaway corner.

TURN LEFT (south) on PINELLAS AVENUE (US 19A). On your left is the: (23) OLD CITY HALL (1915), 101 S. Pinellas Avenue, a two-story Neo- Classical structure with a domed clock. This is the TARPON SPRINGS CULTURAL CENTER with a lovely interior.

On your right is the massive facade of the: (24) ARCADE HOTEL (1924), 200 S. Pinellas Avenue, once part of a Spanish mission style Boom Time hotel, converted into an arcaded mall.

TURN RIGHT ON BOVER and then RIGHT ON BANANA STREET. Then TURN LEFT ON LEMON STREET and RIGHT ON BATH STREET to reach Spring Bayou. You can walk around this area by parking at the TARPON SPRINGS LIBRARY up Spring Boulevard on your left

Drivers should TURN RIGHT ON SPRING BAYOU. On your right is the unlikely named: (25) REVEREND MILES STANDISH HOUSE (1912), a double varanda facaded house of unsapped pine. Next door is the unusual: (26) THE CRESCENT PLACE (1886), 115 South Spring, a V-shaped Queen Anne mansion designed by hardware manufacturer Edward Newton Knapp to fit his curved lot. President of the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club, Knapp allowed no square rooms in the estate.

TURN RIGHT UP TARPON AVENUE. The second house on the left is the: (27) OLD TARPON INN GUEST HOUSE (1905), 32 West Tarpon, once the auxiliary guest house for the Tarpon Inn which burnt down in 1927, and now a delightful bed and breakfast place.

Next door is the: (28) JOHN K. CHENEY HOUSE (1890), 30 West Tarpon, home for the Philadelphia banker who financed the arrival of the sponge industry to Tarpon Springs from the Dodecanese Islands

TURN LEFT (north) on PINELLAS AVENUE (US19A) and PARK near the: (29) ST. NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL (1943), 36 Pinellas Avenue, site of the largest Epiphany ritual in the United States and a much cherished Byzantine Revival edifice copying St. Sophia in Constantinople. If the church is open, you should see the 23 unique stained glass windows and the three massive Czech chandeliers. The sixty tons of Greek marble once graced the Greek exhibit at the first New York World's Fair.

TURN LEFT down ORANGE STREET. On the right is the: (30) GEORGE INNES MANOR (1883), 34 Orange Street, winter home of America's foremost landscape artist, whose studio attracted dozens of people to the Bayou.

CONTINUE RIGHT ALONG SPRING BAYOU. The big mansion on your right is the: (31) GEORGE CLEMSON ESTATE 1902) 110 North Spring, the most magnificant shingle house on the West Coast, built by a New York hacksaw blade manufacturer. Next door is the (32) GEORGE CLEMSON GUEST HOUSE (1902), now a seperate home.

At 144 North Spring is the (33) MARSHALL ATWORTH HOUSE (1895), the timber baron who discovered the Vermilion Iron Range in Minnesota. Next door is the Queen Anne home of Tarpon Springs' first mayor, the (34) WILBUR DE GOLIER HOUSE (1888), 150 North Spring.

On the curve is the Greek Revival house with Ionic columns known simple as the (35) TSAVARIS HOUSE (1889). At 166 North Spring is the (36) MARY BIGELOW HOUSE (1885), best known as the residence of the mother of the owner of the last house on the block, the (37) HAYES BIGELOW COTTAGE (1899), a T-plan bungalow moved here by famous nature photographer Hayes Bigelow whose pictures of the early Bayou are famous.

TURN RIGHT ON READ STREET. The last house on the right is the: (38) REV. HENRY DE LAYAYETTE WEBSTER (1885) 101 Read Street, founder of the local Universalist Church and composer of the Civil War song LORENA.

TURN RIGHT ON GRAND BOULEVARD and stop at the: (39) UNIVERSALIST CHURCH (1907), 57 Read Street, a one-story masonry edifice with a castellated tower, visited for its six wonderful landscape panels by George Inness Jr.

Before leaving the area, walk up nearby Parkin Court to view the historic: (40) ANSON P. K. SAFFORD HOUSE (1883), 23 Parkin Court, home of the founder of Tarpon Springs, an Arizona Territorial Governor and friend to land developer Hamilton Disston. The house was moved off the Bayou in 1981 and used as a boardinghouse.

VISITING THE GREEK SPONGE DOCKS: One may reach the popular Greek shopping and restaurant district by the Anchote River by driving up Read and turning LEFT ON PINELLAS AVENUE (US19A) or by driving NORTH ON GRAND TO HOPE STREET, a backyard look at and area where Greek divers lived since 1905 when New York sponge exporter John Cocoris recruited divers from the Dodecanese Islands.

Along the route is the (41) NAT STONE APTTEN HOUSE (1884), two-story frame residence of an area pioneer farmer, and the (42) JOHN SAMARKOS HOUSE (1915), founder of the Samarkos Sponge Company.

You will enter commercial Dodecanese Avenue through the older Greek stores and shops, including the (43) ATHENS GIFT SHOP (1912), its cutaway northeast corner a popular camera spot. Parking fills up around noon, especially in front of the famous (44) LOUIS PAPPAS RESTAURANT BUILDING(1975), started in 1926 as the Riverside Cafe by Louis M. Pappamichalopolous of Sparta, who served as a waiter for General John J. Pershing in World War I.   Sadly the restaurant is no longer open here.