Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for the 'history' Category

A short life remembered on a small patch of Dunedin real estate

There are two golf courses in Dunedin, and we live in a condo right between them.

 Step out our front door and walk to the left, and in a minute or so you are in front of Dunedin Country Club. Walk to the right, and in about the same amount of time you are walking past a par-three public course, Dunedin Stirling Links.

 I usually walk east, in the Dunedin Country Club direction, when I walk Bo, our puggle. My husband usually goes in the other direction, and heads past Dunedin Stirling Links when it is his turn to walk the dog.

golf course tree 009Down in that westerly direction, not quite as far as Alt. 19, there is a small tree. Its trunk is surrounded by white decorative blocks. We both have walked by that tree many times, but it was only recently that we noticed there was a small plaque in the ground at the tree’s base.

 As you travel around North Pinellas County, there are quite a few commemorative plaques, but you have to pay attention or they simply blend into the background and you never see them. All of them have been put in place for a reason, but they don’t always have room to tell the entire story.

 In this case, there isn’t much more than a name, a couple of baseballs, and a family’s loving sentiment. Here is what it says:



In Memory of
Elliott Richard Pape
Big L
2 – 7 – 87       12 – 5 – 05
We love you
We will see you again
Love Mom Dad and girls

 Someone went to some trouble to plant that tree in a young man’s memory, and I thought I’d see if I could find out more of the story.

 It didn’t take much work.  I went to the St. Petersburg TIMES website (okay, I know, its been called the Tampa Bay TIMES since New Year’s Day, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to calling it that), and found a story published just before Christmas of 2005.

Elliott Richard Pape was an 18-year-old Dunedin youth who worked part-time as a bat boy for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. On Dec. 12, 2005, he was killed in a motorcycle accident as he rode home.

 golf course tree 011Here is what the newspaper said about his death:

 “On Monday afternoon, Pape was riding his 2006 Suzuki motorcycle home to Dunedin. He took the Roosevelt Boulevard exit ramp off Interstate 275 at 4:08 p.m. when he lost control in the turn, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

“He hit the brakes, but the motorcycle skidded into the guardrail, throwing him over the rail and onto the embankment, troopers said.”

 So that’s the story of the tree. I don’t know whether Elliott Richard Pape liked to play golf at Dunedin Stirling Links, but hopefully his tree will grow and prosper, and golfers will stop there once in a while to read the plaque that his family put there.

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Colorful murals adorn New Port Richey real estate

If you’ve spent any time at all on this blog, you know that I like murals.  There’s quite a few of them to be found throughout Tampa Bay, and especially in the various communities of Pinellas County. I’ve written about them before.

Dancers in the Haienda Hotel in the 1920s, as depicted by Mura artist Chad Leninger

Dancers in the Hacienda Hotel in the 1920s, as depicted by mural artist Chad Leininger

Today, I found several of them in an unexpected place.

I live and work in North Pinellas County, and that’s where I do most of my real estate work — Palm Harbor real estate, Tarpon Springs real estate, Dunedin real estate, Clearwater real estate. I also list and sell Pasco County real estate, but I spend less time there than in North Pinellas County.

This morning, however, I had to go north to New Port Richey in Pasco County to look over a house that I may be listing for sale.  After that, I drove a few blocks to downtown New Port Richey, a place I haven’t visited for awhile.

Wha surprise — it was a treasure trove of murals.

One of them featured the Hacienda Hotel, a 1920s-era hotel that was very popular in its day but which has not served any guests for more than the past decade. I need to do a little research on the Hacienda, and when I do I’ll post a story. I like old hotels almost as much as I like murals.

This particular mural was painted on a side exterior wall of Juan’s Black Bean Cafe by a young artist named Chad Leininger. According to an old newspaper article, there are a total of six murals painted on various walls in downtown New Port Richey.

Most of the characters in the mural are local folk. But the artist included himself and some of his family members as well as actress Greta Garbo and baseball legend Babe Ruth. Can you spot them?

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North Pinellas Historical Museum displays Palm Harbor’s past


Hartley home, which houses the North Pinellas Historical Museum

Alright, I know what you’re thinking: “Where the heck have you been?”

It’s a fair question. First, we took a vacation and took the grandchildren up to Campbello Island in New Brunswick, Canada (more on this later). Then we came back to a bunch of moving chores and other demands that couldn’t be put off.  So here we are.

So, without further excuses, here’s a quick report on what we did today — a visit to the North Pinellas Historical Museum in Palm Harbor.

The museum is one of those places you can’t miss, being on the busy corner of Belcher and Curlew roads. But I’ve driven past it a million times and never stopped in before.  Today I resolved to do something different.

Cracker house behind the North Pinellas Historical Museum

Cracker house behind the North Pinellas Historical Museum

The excuse was a yard sale on the grounds of the museum. There were a number of displays of all kinds of used stuff and we did a tour of the grounds before we went inside.  There were scores of people outside, either selling or buying stuff, but surprisingly there was no one inside the museum building excpet a couple of staffers. So we took our time moseying around inside.

The house itself was originally owned and built by the Hartley family, one of the early pioneer families of North Pinellas County.  A very nice museum volunteer told us how the house sat on the dirt road that was the main thoroughfare between Tampa and the Gulf many years ago, and she explained how people traveling over to the coast from Tampa would stop, water their horses, and perhaps use the Hartley’s outhouse.

The house ‘s exterior is made up of concrete blocks which had been cast on the site.  The original block casts, she said, had been purchased from Sears & Roebuck. The house was built between 1915 and 1919.

The museum's parlor

The museum's parlor

Out back is a classic small Florida Cracker house, a simple living structure that was popular a hundred years ago.  Our guide explained to us how the cracker housercame to be in the back yard: A few years ago, the house had to be moved from its original North Pinellas location.  It was decided to move the house south to Largo, where the Pinellas County Heritage Village is located.

Once on the road, however, word came that the 21-acre Heritage Village facility had no room for the cracker house.  So… hurried negotiations resulted in the house being diverted to the North Pinellas Historical Museum site.

There are many things to see at the museum and lots to learn about Palm Harbor’s early days. Drop by sometime — admission is free, although they won’t turn down a voluntary donation.

Chamberlins were part of Palm Harbor history

Grave of Franklin and Ella Chamberlin

Grave of Franklin and Ella Chamberlin

Back in March I wrote about the cemetery at Curlew Methodist Church in Palm Harbor, one of the oldest cemeteries in Pinellas County. You can read that earlier post here.

Not long afterwards, I got a nice note from Michael Chamberlin of California, who said he had enjoyed the article because his great-grandparents, James F. and Ella Chamberlin, were buried in that cemetery. I filed that information away, thinking I would go back up to the cemetery and see if I could find James’ and Ella’s headstones.

It took a little while, but over the Fourth of July weekend we stopped by the cemetery and walked around a bit.

We thought we would be there for a while — there are quite a few graves in that old cemetery. As luck would have it, the very first headstone we saw — the closest one to the church buildings to the left of the main driveway — said “Chamberlin.”

We were pretty sure we had found the right stone, although some of the information was a bit different from that provided by Michael Chamberlin. He had identified his great-grandfather as “James F.”, but the stone identified him as “Franklin.” Michael said his great-grandmother died in 1926, but the stone had the year of death as 1929.

I took a picture of the gravestone and sent it, along with a note, to Michael Chamberlin. he confirmed that his great-grandfather’s middle name was Franklin, and he confirmed the 1926 year of death for Ella Chamberlin.

In his earlier note, Michael said that his great-grandparents were originally from Beloit, Wis., and that they had moved to Florida and bought a 20-acre citrus grove on Curlew Road in 1910. He said their son, George L. Chamberlin, followed his parents to Pinellas County. He became very active in Republican politics here, and during the Calvin Coolidge administration was named postmaster of Palm Harbor.

It’s interesting how one story leads to another. I believe the old Palm Harbor post office was located in the Sutherland Building in old Downtown Palm Harbor, a building which now houses Peggy O’Neill’s restaurant, which I’ve written about previously.  The post office boxes are still in the restaurant, I’m pretty sure. Maybe I’ll try to dig up a story about the Post Office, and maybe a bit more about George Chamberlin.

It’s fun writing about the history of this part of Florida. If you have any interesting old stories about Pinellas County that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.

Special thanks to Michael Chamberlin for providing the information about his family members.

Don: One of 23,952 vets at Pinellas County’s Bay Pines National Cemetery

This is my husband Bill’s story, so I’ll turn it over to him.


On Memorial Day, I visited my old friend, Don.

I had searched for Don on the Internet a number of times, but I never could find him. The last I heard, he was working as a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, but that was back in the 1970s – so long ago that no one at the newspaper had any memory of him. It was like he had sort of evaporated.

mcsheffrey-2-small1Then one day I tried something different on Google. Instead of searching for “Donald McSheffrey,” I tried a search for “McSheffrey, Donald.” And there he was – buried in Plot 55 45-10 at Bay Pines National Cemetery, right here in Pinellas County.
* * *

On Jan. 6, 1968, I started my first newspaper reporting job at the Holyoke (Mass.) Transcript-Telegram. After getting the tour of the building and meeting the other staff members, I was handed over to Don; he was the Transcript’s police reporter, and I was going to be handling his beat on his days off.

Soon we were walking through the cold January air to the Holyoke police station, where Don introduced me around. He showed me the booking sheet, introduced me to the right people, and explained how to get information from the cops without getting in their way.

I was 21; I never really knew how old Don was. His perennially red eyes and the broken blood vessels in his cheeks made it hard to tell. To me, he was a veteran newsman who knew his way around. To him, I was young and teachable. In spite of the difference in our ages, we became buddies.

We drank too much and had a hell of a time.

One day, sparks from a passing freight train set off a grass fire in town, and Don and I went to cover it. The fire had spread up a steep embankment and we couldn’t see whether it was endangering the houses that lined the road above us. We decided to climb the embankment and have a look.

The climb nearly killed us. By the time we got to the top we were so out of breath we couldn’t even speak, so we collapsed in the tall grass, gasping for air. Almost immediately, water started pouring on us, and I picked my head up to see where it was coming from. A woman had come out of her back door and was soaking the tall grass – and us — with a garden hose, and we were too breathless to yell at her to stop. So we just lay in the grass, wet, gasping and laughing our butts off

*  *  *

As well as I got to know Don, he wouldn’t tell me much about himself. I knew that he had two little girls, and I knew that his wife was dead. Other than that, he said little – he wouldn’t even tell me where he lived.

It wasn’t long before I heard the story from some of our co-workers, but I knew Don for several months before he told me about it himself. We were sitting in a bar one night, half-drunk, when he said, “It’s time I told you about it.”

Don and his wife had befriended a man who worked as a writer for a national news magazine. Don said he looked up to the guy, who was very successful and talented. Don and this man drank a lot of beer together. I knew from my own experience that if you knew Don, you were going to be drinking a lot of beer.

One day the man stopped by the McSheffrey apartment when Don wasn’t home. Don’s wife invited him inside and offered him a glass of iced tea. They went into the kitchen, and Mrs. McSheffrey turned toward the refrigerator. When she did, the man grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed her repeatedly. She fell to the floor and died.

Don came home that night and found her. The two babies were still in their cribs, unhurt. The police found the man sitting on a doorstep a block away, where he had been sitting since the murder. He told them that he had always wanted to stab a woman to death, but that he had always managed to fend off the urge and figured it would never actually happen.

*  *  *

About a year after I joined the Transcript, Don decided to quit and move to Florida. He got a job at the Bradenton Herald, and he said he was pleased that there was a bar just a few steps from the newspaper’s front door. He had already met the owner/bartender, who he said was a nice guy.

We promised to stay in touch, but we didn’t.

*  *  *


Don is one of 23,952 veterans buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery in mid-Pinellas County

There isn’t much to learn from Don’s gravestone at Bay Pines. He was born in 1934, which solved a small mystery – he was 34 when I met him. He died in 1990, which would have made him 56 years old.  I wonder if the alcohol got him, but I guess I’ll never know. I wonder if his daughters live close enough to visit his grave.

The gravestone also noted that he served in the Air Force, and was an Airman 2nd Class. I remember that he talked about that a little. I think he served in Korea as an airplane mechanic, and I seem to remember that he said he liked the military.

Standing by Don’s grave on Memorial Day, small American flags flutter next to each grave stone for as far as you can see. Besides Don’s, there are 23,952 of them at Bay Pines.

Each one of those stones represents a person who lived and breathed and served in the U.S. military. And there is a story to tell about each one of them.

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Downtown Clearwater

Around 25 years ago, the city of Biddeford, Maine decided to try to bring some attention to its old downtown area.

Biddeford was an old mill town, and its brick mill buildings no longer housed the textile companies and other businesses that had depended on the water power that was provided by the adjacant river. In its heyday, enough money flowed through Biddeford to pay for a pretty nice downtown commercial area, with brick office and retail buildings as well as attractive municipal buildings.

Those buildings had once featured very nice architectural details, but many of them had been covered up or removed as the buildings had gone through a series of renovations.

The old Peninsular Telephone Co. building in Clearwater

The old Peninsular Telephone Co. building in Clearwater

But those renovations seldom extended up to the upper floors and the rooflines. If you looked up there, you could see some very fancy and attractive brick designs, windows and eaves. The city wanted to draw attention to those high-up fancy old touches and details rather than the decidely unattractive street-level renovations.

So they came up with this slogan: “Look Up, Biddeford!” They used that slogan on the cover of brochures and posters that featured details of Biddeford’s best top-story architectural work.

All of which is a long way of getting around to an old brick building in downtown Clearwater that houses a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. If you walk down Cleveland Street you may only notice the donut shop facade, but if you walk on the other side of the street and happen to look up, you will see a very beautiful three-story brick building with some nice architectural touches not unlike the ones 1,500 miles to the north in Biddeford.

I was in downtown Clearwater late Friday and I spent a little time admiring the building. In the middle of the brick facade above the second-story front windows is a granite square with a single carved word: “Telephone.” That got my curiousity stirred up, so I did some research when I got home.

This Cleveland Street building was built in the early 1920s for the Peninsular Telephone Co., Pinellas County’s first real telephone company which was granted a franchise to operate in Clearwater 1901. The company was actually formed in Bradenton by a couple of brothers who got into the telephone business when they installed a telephone in their grocery store so customers could phone in their food orders.

That idea worked so well that they opened other food stores, all with telephones. Soon, they found that the telephone business had more profit potential than the grocery business. before long, they were operating telephone companies in a number of Florida Counties.

In this particular building, Peninsular Telephone ran a commercial office in the rear of the first floor, while the switchboards and phone operators toiled away on the second floor. A Rexall drug store occupied the front of the first floor.

Later, Peninsular Telephone sold out to General Telephone, which became GTE, which became Verizon.

Later, the 9,000-square-foot building fell into disrepair, as did all of the downtown Clearwater area. At some point, the beautiful windows and brick work were covered with a slick slathering of stucco. For a number of years, the first floor was occupied by a commercial blood bank facility which paid for blood donations, mostly from local homeless people.

Around 2003, the stucco was stripped away and the building was restored. It now is a proud component of downtown Clearwater’s re-emergence.

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Fort De Soto is Pinellas County gem

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

Q — What is the very best beach in America, according to TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel community?

A — Fort DeSoto Park, right here in Pinellas County.

Fort De Soto is at the very southern tip of Pinellas County, within sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects Pinellas County with Manatee County (home of Sarasota) to the south.

And TripAdvisor isn’t the only outfit that thinks so. In 2005, Dr. Beach (who rates beaches around the country, too) named Fort De Soto’s North Beach the best beach in the U.S.

Pinellas County maintains a number of parks, and Fort De Soto is the largest by far. It is made up of five separate islands and covers 1,130 acres. It was first opened in 1962, and almost 3 million visitors come by every year to sunbathe, swim, boat, kayak and fish.

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

The county bought the property from the federal government for just $12,500 in 1938. But then war broke out a few years later, and the property was sold back to the federal government (for a profit — $18,404) which used it as a bombing and gunnery range during World War II. After the war ended, the federal government sold it once again to Pinellas County, this time for $26,500.

We had some free time on Sunday afternoon and we visited Fort De Soto with our two grand-daughters. A lot of people were there enjoying the day, but the sheer size of the park made it feel sparsely populated. There is a 35-cent toll on the road that leads to the park, but Fort De Soto itself is free — not even a parking charge. But that may change soon, so this summer is a great time to explore the park for free.

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Al Boyd’s boot

It wasn’t so long ago that North Pinellas County was little more than orange groves and open land. Because of that, the area isn’t exactly chock full of old stories and legends. But there is a pretty good story involving Boot Ranch. Boot Ranch is now a shopping center, but it used to be a good-sized ranch that was owned by one Al Boyd.

Al Boyd's boot

Al Boyd's boot

Since Al called his spread Boot Ranch, he built a great big boot to mark the entrance of his driveway — a 17-foot bit of concrete footwear that bore the image of a Brahmin bull. At the time, the boot stood at what is now the intersection of Tampa Road and McMullen Booth.

The Boyd ranch was a large spread that covered a significant bit of acreage in North Pinellas County. But, like all the other large tracts in the area, it was eventually sold to make way for housing developments, apartments and a big shopping center, appropriately named the Shoppes at Boot Ranch. When the shopping center was built, the big boot was painted white, pink and light green (not exactly cowboy colors) and was moved to a place of honor in the shopping center parking lot. That is where it still stands today.

Here’s the interesting part:

If you look closely at the base near the boot’s toe, you can see the faint outline of a small window. And if you walk around to the back, you can see the faint outline of a painted-over door.
Legend has it that Al Boyd had a small room built into the boot.

According to legend, Al was unhappy that some locals used to drive by and take pot shots at the boot. He asked the sheriff about what he could do to retaliate, and the law officer said he could return the fire if he were in or near the boot — that returning fire would be tantamount to self-defense.

So, Al reportedly would hang out in his little room in the boot and wait for gun-toting ne’er-do-wells to drive by. If they opened fire on his boot, Al supposedly would stick his rifle through the window of the boot and return fire. One night he supposedly peppered the door of a passing pickup truck when the occupants took a few shots at the boot.

The boot had a colorful past, just like Al Boyd. It seems kind of sad that it is living out its final days in a shopping center parking lot.

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New Pinellas County park is on the way

Who would have ever thought that you would have to actually travel to a park to see an orange grove in Pinellas County?

It wasn’t too many years ago that North Pinellas County was almost one big orange grove. As recently as the 1980s, orange groves still dotted the area. The subdivision where I live was an orange grove until it was subdivided in the mid-1980s. We still have a couple of orange trees in the backyard that are left over from those days.

orange-treeNow, Pinellas County is about to open a new county park in Largo that will be devoted in part to preserving a bit of  Pinellas County’s orange-growing history.

The county bought 157 acres in Largo (at Belleair and Keene roads) from the Taylor family back in 1998 (for $13 million), and later they bought a few additional acres. This coming December, the county hopes to open the land as Eagle Lake Park. Some of the Taylor family’s orange groves will be preserved so people can see what orange grove farming was like in Pinellas County.

Pinellas County has some great parks, and Eagle Lake Park will just be the newest one. You can learn more at

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One of the oldest cemeteries in Pinellas County

Kids can be pretty hard to figure.

Take my granddaughter, Caitlyn.  She is eight years old and in the second grade. Now, you’d think a young girl like that would have plenty of fears — the dark, or things that go bump in the night.

Caitlyn reads the inscription on a gravestone

Caitlyn reads the inscription on a gravestone

So where do you think she’s been pestering us to take her?  To a cemetery.

We haven’t really been able to figure out where this cemetery thing came from, but she’s really fascinated. So this past weekend her grandfather decided to take her on a field trip.

Since I had written recently about Curlew Methodist Church, that’s where they went — Curlew Methodist has one of the oldest graveyards around here, and there are quite a few gravestones that date back to the 1880s.

Caitlyn loved it.  She enjoyed reading all the inscriptions, and she liked learning about the people who were buried there.  She decided that the Jones family must have been pretty big around here, because so many of them had headstones in the cemetery. And she liked reciting some of the short poems she found on some of the stones.

She wasn’t scared at all.

“The ghosts are only around at night, anyway,” she said.

Caitlyn said she was going to tell all about her cemetery adventure at the next Show and Tell at her school.

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