For Tarpon Springs, the boom started in 1887 when railroad service to New York was initiated. Wealthy Northerners came to this popular destination and built beautiful Victorian mansions; established churches, schools and hotels; and started businesses.
Because the waters surrounding this area were teeming with sponges, divers from Greece came here and soon developed a flourishing sponge industry. The many Greeks who migrated here also set up enticing restaurants, pastry shops, and markets giving the area a Mediterranean mystique.
Well over 500 years ago Florida’s earliest inhabitants were attracted to Tarpon Springs because of its rich and diverse environment. They settled by the shore near the mouth of the Anclote River. They buried their dead in earthen mounds along with elaborate pottery and other goods. One such mound, the Safford Mound, was discovered in the late 1800s, east of Pinellas Avenue, near the Anclote River. It contained more then 600 skeletons and a wide variety of pottery illustrating the life style and culture of these prehistoric people. Artifacts from these first inhabitants can be seen in local Tarpon Springs museums.
In 1876 A.W. Ormond of South Carolina and his teenage daughter Mary became the first settlers of Tarpon Springs, building a cabin near Spring Bayou. One year later a lone Joshua Boyer left Nassau to see the world aboard his sloop. He eventually docked near the Ormond cabin, became a welcome guest, built a second cabin and married young Mary. It was Mary who, in 1879, proposed their tiny two-cabin settlement be named Tarpon Springs, after the giant Tarpon that jumped and splashed in the bayou.
In 1881, when Florida was on the edge of bankruptcy, a wealthy Philadelphian manufacturer named Hamilton Disston rescued the state with one of the biggest real estate deals ever. Disston was responsible for surveying the area that became Tarpon Springs and planning the City’s layout, as well as convincing the railroad to come to the new community. The true founder of the town, its benefactor and leading citizen, was Anson Safford. Safford, an investor in Disston enterprises and former Governor of the territiory of Arizona, was President of Disston’s real estate development company, Lake Butler Villa in Tarpon Springs.
Most of Tarpon Springs earliest development occurred around Spring Bayou. The Victorian era residences that line the banks of the bayou today remain as vestiges of Tarpon Springs’ development as a winter resort community, which attracted tycoons and artists alike. The area is called the Golden Crescent because of the crescent-like shape of the bayou and the wealth of its early developers. The bayou, called Spring Bayou because of the fresh water spring that flows there, was once known for its healing waters. It is now a prime spot for manatee watching.