History of Clearwater Beach

Authored by Claire Moore; portions added by Andrew Cherry

In the early 1800’s the Seminole Indians migrated to Clear Water Harbor, Florida from Georgia and the Carolinas. Land developers and utility magnates transformed the land into what is now known as a popular vacation spot in the United States. ClearWaterHarbor was incorporated in 1891. In 1895, Clearwater became one word and a few years later, in 1906  “Harbor” was dropped from it’s name.

The first white settler on the Pinellas Peninsula was Dr. Odet Philippe who was a surgeon in the French Navy, and who introduced the theory of planting citrus trees in a row. He also, supposedly introduced the first grapefruit into the United   States. Many individuals and families helped to transform Clearwater into a community they would call home.

Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, thus ending nearly three hundred years of Spanish rule (with the exception of the twenty years under the English from 1763 to 1783). Confrontation between soldiers of the U.S. Army and Indian warriors resulted in a seven-year war that began in 1835. It was a costly, tedious conflict and more that 1400 American soldiers gave their lives in battle. The Indians were driven into the Everglades finally, except for those who surrendered and were transported to reservations in the West.

The Army hastily built a network of defenses in many areas of the state. FortHarrison was erected at ClearWaterHarbor on April 2, 1841. This site was selected primarily for its healthfulness. Sick or wounded soldiers, from other Florida forts, were sent to FortHarrison to recuperate. FortHarrison was named in honor of General William Henry Harrison, who later became President of the United   States.

As the population of Clearwater grew and pioneer settlers began having children, these native Floridians became known as “Florida Crackers”. They were called that because of the distinguishing sounds their whips made when being used on livestock transporting supplies and produce by wagon. Clearwater, like so many other towns in central Florida, relied on agriculture as a means of survival. Tourism and commercialism did not take hold until the late 1800s.

Today, Clearwater is dependent upon good weather for economic success. Tourism is the main pipeline that keeps Clearwater thriving.

The Reverend Mr. Reynolds, a spiritual leader of the community in the early days, was the pastor of the MidwayBaptistChurch organized on March 25, 1866. He supervised the construction of the log building to house the church. Midway Baptist was renamed ClearwaterBaptistChurch in September of 1878. In 1923, the name was changed once more to CalvaryBaptistChurch whose sanctuary occupied a prominent spot in downtown Clearwater overlooking ClearwaterBay. The CalvaryBaptistChurch was demolished in 2005 to make way for a condominium complex, called Water’s Edge, that now stands as the tallest building in downtown Clearwater.

Henry B. Plant was recognized as one of Florida’s greatest nineteenth-century railroad developers. He more than any other person, was responsible for the growth of central and western Florida. In 1888, The Orange Belt Railroad developed by Peter Denans, linked Clearwater with the outside world. In 1895, the Orange Belt Railroad became part of Henry B. Plant’s railroad and he changed the name to the Stanford and St. Petersburg Railroad. Plant was also responsible for one of the most attractive landmarks in the Clearwater area, The Belleview Biltmore Hotel who opened its doors on January 15, 1897. Henry Plant died in 1899 and his son Morton F. actively guided the destiny of the hotel.

In 1914 Morton F. Plant put up a $100,000 endowment to spur the erection of a first class hospital, providing the community could invest $20,000. The citizens raised their share and the building was completed in 1915. The following year Mr. Plant was a benefactor, under a grant from Andrew Carnegie, and built a public library.

Clearwater became one of the first communities in the country to extend women’s suffrage. It came during a special election under a new City charter. The charter concerned the issuance of $10,000, in bonds, to build a bridge across ClearwaterBay to the Island on the Gulf. A number of women voted that bond issue on election day, October 31, 1916 and the vote went 131 in favor to 9 against. Miss Sue Barco was the first woman to cast her ballot.

In 1927, the opening of the Memorial Causeway which joined the downtown area with ClearwaterBeach, took place. It was known as the Million Dollar Causeway and replaced the obsolete, old, wooden bridge that connected the mainland with beautiful ClearwaterBeach. The drawbridge served it’s purpose for many years. However, as the beach became more populated and boats sought more and more passage under the drawbridge, traffic backup and other problems became more than Clearwater residents could bear. As a result, a new high rise bridge was built and opened in 2005 rerouting the traffic from Cleveland   Street to Court Street.

The building of the MillionDollarBridge in 1927, connecting the downtown area with the beach, helped fuel the boom times that would establish ClearwaterBeach as the area’s prime tourist resort. A trip to the beach in the early 1900’s often included entertainment options at the Joyland Silver Dome, a popular amusement destination, featuring a giant water-slide, dance pavilion and arcade games. Beachgoers gathered at the Dome to watch the selection of Miss Florida, the judging of the Pajama Parade or to swim in the nearby gulf.
In 1948, the Joyland structure was remolded, a second floor was added and the Sea Shell Hotel was born. The Sea Shell was taken down in 1972 to make way for the Clearwater Beach Holiday Inn. The hotel is now called the Hilton Hotel Resort.

The Clearwater Beach Hotel has a lineage that stretch back almost as far as the Community’s roots. The hotel initially began as a private home, built on the Gulf, for Edwin Roux a Barstow lumberman, who had a hand in building a wooden Million Dollar Bridge to the beach. By the 1920’s the popularity of the beach had increased and Roux expanded his home by adding a three story wing and transferring his home into a boarding house and later became a major seasonal resort. In February 1922, the nearby Southern College Classrooms and barracks were destroyed by a fire, the second in two years. E.T. Roux, owner of the Clearwater Beach offered his facility for the homeless college and in later years, the Southern College moved to Lakeland where it became Florida’s Southern College. (At the same time other developers were building on the bay side of the street and thus Mandalay Boulevard was born.)

On July 11, 1941 the Clearwater Beach Hotel made Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!!! A poster read, “Marion Darling” – Lady Porters – Equal of any man.” In 1941, women did not serve as porters that job was reserved for men. However, Marion Darling, a women working at the Clearwater Beach Hotel proved that she was as good a porter as any man.

The lovely rambling wooden structure, that so many of us became familiar with, was built in the 1970’s and received much praise, over the years, from its many repeat customers.The end to the Clearwater Beach Hotel came in 2005 when it was demolished to make ready for the Sandpearl Resort and Condominium complex that opened to the public in 2007.

The Carlouel Yacht Club opened in 1934 and is located at the extreme north end of Clearwater Beach between the Gulf of Mexico and the intercostals waterway. Originally formed as a Social Club for wealthy seasonal (winter) residents, it was fashioned after similar clubs located in Palm Beach. Carlouel served as headquarters for yachting, swimming, tennis, dancing and other functions. The name Carlouel was derived from the first names of the wives of the finders’—Carolyn Hobart, Louise Palmer and Eleanor Randolph, thus the name Car-lou-el !!! Members of longstanding who are still active in the Club include Larry Dimmit, Jr. and Bobby Thompson who are descendants of the original members.

In 1947 Mr. Palmer, sole owner sold the Carlouel Company to the 100 members. Each member paid $1,000 and the Carlouel Corporation was formed. In the mid 1950’s fire destroyed part of the structure and in rebuilding the décor changed from casual to a more formal appearance. It was not until 1954 that Carlouel functioned twelve months of the year.  Clearwater Beach was officially named in 1924 by an act of the state legislature. By 1926 the beach was enjoying the fruits of the Florida boom. The beach is located on the Gulf of Mexico, in Pinellas County, on the west central coast of Florida. The geographic latitude is 27.57 N and longitude 82.48 W. The slogan, “The White Sand Paradise the at is Clearwater Beach, Florida” has been used to describe the beach. It is approximately twenty miles from Tampa Airport.

In 1922, a man named L.B. Skinner began a high subdivision on the beach.  Eventually the residential building at 880 Mandalay Ave, now known as Regatta Beach Club, would be completed in stages; but not without its stories. Even the Smithsonian Institute was interested in the 880 site when, in 1904, it commissioned a dig for both Indian and Spanish artifacts. Ben Skinner, nephew of visionary L.B. Skinner, had developed most of Clearwater Beach, noted in his Oral History that is was possible Cherokee Indians from North Carolina had worked on the construction of 880 because they had also worked at his family’s citrus grove, picking fruit.

In the early 1920’s a new pavilion was built on Clearwater Beach and was located about where the Palm Pavilion is located today. However, a hurricane in 1921 undermined the foundation of the pavilion and in an attempt to salvage part of the building, the second story was removed, relocated across the street on Mandalay Boulevard and became the Clearwater Yacht Club. The Clearwater Yacht Club stood for many years until it was demolished in the 70’s in order to provide space for a public park.

The Clearwater Beach Pier dates back to 1912 when the city of Clearwater included construction of a municipal beach pier as part of a forty million dollar bond issue. The structure was often crowded with sightseers who arrived in their automobiles and used the beach as a parking lot. Pier 60 got its name because that is where State Road 60 West ends.

In 1940 Clearwater Beach was still in its neophyte stages. The south end of the beach was known as “Little Pass” and the north end called “Big Pass.” The water at Clearwater Pass, where 440 is located was narrow and the water deep. Dredging the beach and building the jetties, as well as the new construction in the area, changed the makeup of the whole beach. This allowed the development of the first fingers on the south end of the beach.

The Clearwater Beach Marina was built in the early 50’s to accommodate recreational boating. In addition to marine services facilities the complex was also home to Sea-O-Rama, a tourist attraction featuring sea life exhibits. Now the Marina houses businesses catering to tourists interests, including: souvenir shops, restaurants, a post office and barber shop. Heilman’s Beachcomber dining room and cocktail lounge is as popular today as it was in the early fifties. Motels and business in the early sixties were dependent upon good weather and tourism for their economic success. Fishing from a bridge in Clearwater was enjoyed in 1964 as were the palm trees on ClearwaterBeach on a breezy sunny day.


The Clearwater Marina Harbormaster’s Office says stingrays are back in area waters. Swimmers are reminded to do the “Stingray Shuffle” when entering the water. The shuffling feet create a disturbance that causes stingrays to move away. If a sting does occur, see a beach guard immediately for a hot pack treatment.  The peak of stingray season is May through October. For further information contact the Harbormaster’s Office at 727.462.6954.

Shephard’s on Clearwater Beach first opened in 1976 as the Lagoon and has morphed from a rather pedestrian lodge to a full-fledged resort of the highest order. Now the resort is expanding by adding an additional tower that will provide several additional guests rooms.

The Clearwater Gazette is reporting that a ban on dogs and fireworks is recommended for Clearwater Beach. It seems that the nesting seabirds that were once a part of the beach have disappeared. A six-year study lead by Dr. Beth Forys, Professor of Biology at Eckerd College Department of Environmental Studies, seems to explain what has happened. The study concluded that there is considerable evidence that dogs, cats and fireworks on Clearwater Beach, have a detrimental effect on nesting seabirds. There are five species of birds that have nested on Pinellas County municipal beaches and could be nesting on North Clearwater Beach. These are the Black Skimmer, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, Wilson’s Plover and the Snowy Plover.

Researchers found that Clearwater is the only beach municipality, in Pinellas County, where dogs are allowed on the beach. There were more than twice as many dogs on Clearwater Beach in 2008 than in 2007. The report indicated that even dogs on leashes were seen by the birds as a threat, causing them to abandon their nests. If the nest is exposed to the hot sun, even for a short time, the heat can destroy the eggs or chicks. The season for nesting birds on the beach lasts from early March to late August.

Dr. Forys presented her findings to the Clearwater Beach Association board of directors, who voted to urge the Clearwater City Council to ban both dogs and fireworks along the beach front.

The Clearwater Gazette also reported that Clearwater Beach is no closer to building a beach parking garage than it was in September of 2008, when the City Council was to make a final decision on its location. About a month ago, Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin reported that the opportunity for locating a garage at the Britts/Surf Style site, on Gulfview Blvd, was becoming less promising because of Britts failure to obtain construction financing and their unwillingness to begin negotiating contract details, in the face of that lack of financing.

The Council directed Irwin to discontinue discussions with Britts, instead focusing his energies on another beach property on Clearwater Beach, the former Lucca Development site on South Coronado. That property was recently acquired by iSTAR Financial in foreclosure proceedings. iSTAR had interest in selling the proposed garage site to the city, but had already begun negotiations with private investors for the package sale of all three of the former Lucca parcels. “All we can do is see how this is going to play out for the next two or three weeks,” Irwin said. “At that point if none of these are viable I think you have to look at what other options might be available or where you might want to go.” Vice Mayor George Cretekos was not shy about exploring another option he has favored in the past, a city-owned beach-front surface parking lot on South Gulfview Blvd. Councilmembers John Doran and Carlen Petersen have strongly objected to building a beach-front garage in the past. And the beat goes on…

Mike Brassfield, Times staff writer for the St. Pete Times, reported, “As the Hyatt Aqualea rises on Clearwater Beach, its color palette turns heads.” The hotel’s developer calls the color “coral.” It’s bright! It’s bold! It’s three different shades of a sort of shocking pink-peach-orange color, so bright, it stands out. No one will have a hard time locating it, and that’s what the developer wants. He stated, “When people come over the bridge, we want them to see the Aqualea.” Come December, the resort is expected to open it’s doors for all to enjoy. The resort includes: 250 condo-hotel units, 18 larger residential condos, a 750-space parking garage, a spa, fitness center, club, pool and restaurant.

Four years after the plan was approved to build the Clearwater Beach Resort and Hotel at South Gulfview Blvd. and Coronado Drive, Council members now want answers from the developer, Dr. Kiran Patel, as to why it’s taking so long. Patel, a cardiologist and wealthy philanthropist from Tampa, had no experience as a developer when he purchased the property on Clearwater Beach for $40-million promising to build a premier resort there. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Patel struggled for many months to create his development plan before finally bringing in, as a partner, the Related Group, a successful and prolific Florida developer. According to the Times, no one from the Related Group has joined Patel at recent meetings, and the city wants proof, from Patel, that the Related Group is still onboard before they vote to extend the development agreement.

The property was turned into a dirt parking area for beachgoers. Some weeks ago, Mayor Frank Hibbard received an agreement, from Patel to pay for construction of an attractive temporary parking lot on the hotel site. Since then, the area has been graded, landscaped and had an irrigating system installed, with Patel paying up to $150,000 for the work.  Update:  That site has once again been scrapped and Ocean Properties has plans for a new hotel, potentially braded as a W!

On the Beach has heard that a half-dozen activists from Clearwater Beach, Sand Key and Island Estates are launching an effort to explore whether the three island communities can secede from Clearwater and start their own city. The activists, who are exploring de-annexing from Clearwater call themselves the Islands Independence Initiative. They are also concerned about the lack of a beach parking garage while the city spends millions to construct boat slips downtown. They are also convened about a refusal to use Penny for Pinellas money to move Island Estates utilities underground. Other problems include: a period of time when the city didn’t enforce rules forbidding short-term rentals on North Clearwater Beach; the approval of the Cabana Club project on Sand Key; and city actions that allowed a developer to seek a rezoning for the Shopps at Sand Key.

ClearwaterBeach is now organizing a plan deemed “Beach by Design” in order to compete with South Beach Miami.  “Beach Walk” for example is a key component of ClearwaterBeach’s current renewal plan.  Completed in 2008, it is a half-mile long winding beachside promenade that stretches from south ClearwaterBeach north to Pier 60 Park. It has improved the overall beach experience by providing better beach access for more strolling, sunset gazing, dining and shopping.

Beach Walk also attracts interest from private developers, who have brought new upscale hotel rooms, suites, condo-hotels, and residential and rental condominiums to the beach.

Today, new construction includes Sandpearl Beachfront Resort and the Aqualea branded as a Hyatt Beachfront Resort.  These two beautiful privately owned resorts were both sold to investors as condo hotels have a low turnover, as the investors who purchased units in these amazing buildings have chosen to retain the investments in their portfolio.

According to the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, expect to see the beach’s renewal continue with two additional large-scale private developments beginning

Sources of information: Clearwater Historical Society, Clearwater Public Library Achieves, Yesterday’s Clearwater by Hampton Dean, and the. St. Petersburg Times