HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Anclote, in Existence 385 Years, Figures in Legends
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 7, 1932.
The Anclote river, a favorite haunt of pirates hundreds of years ago, today is as some jungle stream of darkest Africa or South America. It cannot be equalled, because prettier scenes than these found along the river, so wild and bewitching, are not to be found in any other state. A national attraction, this romantic, tropical river is visited daily by those who have heard of its charm and beauty. A fleet of excursion boats, made especially for that purpose, make trips daily, winding along the river under overhanging palms and vine-covered trees.
The Anclote river, on maps as far back as 1545, flows along the northern limits of Tarpon Springs, forming boundary line, and into the Gulf of Mexico. It wends its deep way from inaccessible sources between miles of high banks rampant with luxurious tropical foliage. An endless array of beauty is revealed as the boats pass up the river, so richly endowed by Mother Nature. Spanish moss, yellow jasmin, and air plants decorate the intermingling branches of oak, magnolia, bay, palm, palmetto, and other trees. Mirrored stretches along little branches of the river reflect a two-fold beauty of nature’s art.
Here one feels the thrill of penetrating foreign regions apart from civilization. Immobile forms of mammoth alligators resume life-like motion when they quickly slide off a log or the shore into the concealing water as the boat passes. There a large turtle basks in the sunshine. Farther up are more turtles and alligators on rocks and fallen trees. Large fish can be seen swimming in the crystal waters. Above birds, from the smaller varied colored ones to the herons and cranes, sing and move fearlessly in this undisturbed sanctuary.
George Inness Sr., the American landscape artist, and his son, George Inness Jr., a national artist, maintained a cottage, Camp Comfort, on the shores of the upper Anclote and both put the charms of the river on canvas. Much of the subject matter for many of their landscape masterpieces were found along the shores of that jungled stream.
Unlike the upper part of the Anclote, so richly endowed by nature, the lower part, from the sponge exchange to the mouth of the river, a distance of three miles, does not have that tropical atmosphere, but is rich with romance. Pirates, Indians and soldiers have all figured in its history.
Just above the mouth of the Anclote is the old Spanish well, which, according to legend, was visited regularly by the buccaneers who roamed the high seas at the height of the glory that was Spain. They captured and pillaged gold-laden vessels from England and Spain.
The little village of Anclote 25 years ago was a thriving little community, but is now a little fishing hamlet. Just above the mouth of the river, it is located on the north side of the stream. On ancient maps, it dates back to 1545, and since that time it has been a settlement of some kind. There the Indians had a large camp and burial grounds. Pirates, after looting ships, frequently buried their treasure on the islands and the mainland. Today the only landmark of those dashing days of Gasperilla, Captain Kidd, and others, is the old well, now in a state of decay. Legends go that the pirates found the well, which evidently the Indians had used, and water was obtained for their ships. The legend is probably true, for when the sponge industry was in its infancy, the sailors from the sponge vessels used water from the well, declaring it kept fresh and sweeter longer than any other water obtainable.
Legend also has it that along the river and coast in that section, treasures from the looted ships is buried. Attempts have been made in years gone by to recover pirate gold.
At one time there was much excitement when it was learned that the cover of a treasure chest had been unearthed. Jacob S. Disston, millionaire saw manufacturer from Philadelphia, and his brother, Hamilton Disston, who were in charge of the expedition, and many of their friends were present to witness the opening of the supposed chest. It however proved to be nothing but a lid resting on a large flat rock.
About a one and one-half mile from the river’s mouth is probably one of the highest points in Pinellas county. This is Deserters’s hill, and its name dates back to the war between the states. Here deserters from the Confederate ranks attempted to reach the federal gunboats anchored several miles out in the gulf. They were captured, however, and suffered the fate of deserters, and today that point retains its name from that incident.
The present village of Anclote was founded in 1867 by members of the Meyer and Harrison families who came from Marion county. Thirteen years later several English and French families connected with a British company arrived and built their manor houses along the river. Count Tessuere (sic), a French nobleman, erected a large saw mill on the east side of the river opposite Deserters’ hill. The mill was completed and work begun, but disaster came, and it was destroyed by fire. The large boilers fell from their bases and are still on the “mill point,” lying at the water’s edge. Associated with Count Tessiere (sic) in his venture was the titled Englishman, Fauquhar.
About the same time, a British concern attempted to drain Lake Conley, near Anclote, for a rice plantation. Sir Mortimer Murphy, an Irish peer, and another English nobleman from the House of Morrish, spent a fortune in this project before they discovered the lake level was lower than the gulf.
Blue-blooded romance centered in the noble house of Sutherland, one of the wealthiest family of England. In the summer of 1887, the ocean-going yacht, San Souci, owned by the Duke of Sutherland, dropped anchor at the mouth of the river with the duke aboard. With this famous Englishman was a Mrs. Blair and her little daughter. After dropping anchor they were conveyed to shore in a tender from the San Souci. In fashion becoming to such illustrious guests, they were received at the Tarpon Springs hotel by Gov A. P. K. Safford, first territorial governor of Florida, who was in charge of the 4,000,000-acre tract of land owned by the Disston brothers.
The nobleman was so impressed with the beauty of Florida’s west coast that he bought several large tracts of land. He stayed for only a short time, but returned the next spring and erected a country home on Lake Butler, where he lived a simple country life. After the death of the Duchess of Sutherland in England, the duke and his consort, Mrs. Blair, were quietly married in the little Episcopal church in Dunedin. The Duke of Sutherland’s mansion, as it is known today, still stands on the high hill overlooking the lake.
Anclote — Pirate Town
The following article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on May 5, 1946.
By HOWARD MILLER
Deep into the roots of Florida history, when Spanish conquistadors stalked the land, when pirates ravaged the Spanish main and plundered heavily laden galleons, when later buccaneers preyed on merchant shipping of the infant United States, goes the area where the little community of Anclote now stands.
On the north bank at the mouth of the Anclote river, this quiet, shaded town was the original home of the sponge industry in Florida before Tarpon Springs was ever settled.
Before the first Greek dived off his sponge boat based at Tarpon Springs, sponge “hookers” were fishing the sponge beds and selling them at Cedar Keys and farther north.
Popular legend has it that the early buccaneers watered their ships at the “Spanish Well,” a clear sparkling spring only 25 feet from the beach at the river’s mouth. Certain it is that Spanish explorers touched there.
The “Spanish Well” was probably discovered by Vasco da Gama and Pinida who landed in Clearwater Bay—the whole bay north to Anclote Key was called Clearwater bay—early in the 16th century.
In 1528 Pantilo Narvez, who seemed to be more humane than the average conquistador, attempted to water his ships at the “Spanish Well.” Since the Spaniards had treated the Indians with merciless ferocity, the Indians fought back with every weapon they could.
Narvez, to show his peaceful intentions, sent men ashore in small boats, two at a time at intervals. By the time the eighth man had disappeared into the jungle without a sound Narvez gave up and sailed away.
The town of Anclote as we know it now was settled first in 1866 by Fred Meyer and the Harrison and Cobb families who came from Marion county. They purchased a box of oranges at Brooksville, ate the oranges and planted the seed in Anclote. Some of these trees still bear fruit.
A year later Fred Meyer’s brother, Frank, came to Anclote. Both the Meyers died two years after coming to Anclote, leaving their widows with small children and a wild unsettled country to call home.
Fred Meyer’s grandson, Grady Thompson, a boat builder just returned from five years of navy service as a shipyard inspector, still lives in Anclote with his wife, Ellen. Mrs. Thompson declared they wouldn’t live anywhere else. “Quiet, peaceful and beautiful—what more can anyone want?” she asks.
First land purchased at Anclote, however, was bought by Capt. Samuel E. Hope of Brooksville in 1861, although Hope didn’t come to Anclote until the 1870’s. A hero of the war between the states in which he organized a company in Tampa and was attached to General Lee’s staff, Hope owned most of the land along the river.
At one time there was a thriving English community in Anclote, complete with three-story houses, coal fireplaces, butlers and afternoon tea.
Many of Capt. Hope’s descendants still live in Pinellas county. His daughter, Mrs. Clara Baggett, now 84, lives in Tarpon Springs, his only living child. She recalls the days when Anclote had all the little social graces—hardly expected in what must have been considered a frontier town—of parties, music, schools. Life was very pleasant there.
But as Tarpon Springs built up, Anclote declined. The railroad went through Tarpon and sounded the death knell of Anclote as a growing community. The river channel was deepened and Greek divers came to Tarpon Springs and quickly put the “hookers” out of business So many more sponges and better sponges could be gathered by a diver than by hooking them from their beds.
Today, Anclote’s quiet shady streets have no traffic problem. Fishermen still go out to sea to set their nets and Anclote’s people picnic and fish, sailing their boats on the broad bosom of the river. They’re satisfied with their town. They like it as it is.
The Beginning of Anclote
The following is taken from History of Tarpon Springs by R. F. Pent.
Shortly after the close of the Civil War, Frederic Meyer came from Marion County in 1867 and settled at Anclote about one and one half miles north of the river, about 100 yards west of the Anclote cemetery. He was followed by his brother, Franklin B. Meyer, a few months later.
In the meantime, F. B. Meyer had purchased an interest in a sawmill at Cedar Keys and for temporary use he had built a log house on a beautiful site overlooking the river. Mr. Meyer, the writer’s grandfather, went to Cedar Keys with the intention of getting lumber to build a better house. But he contracted yellow fever, came home—and died, in a short time. This left my grandmother, a delicate woman, to rear a large family in the wilderness. Later, Mr. Cobb and the Harrisons moved in, which added some population to the neighborhood of Anclote.
Obtaining the staple foods was quite a problem. Tampa was about 32 miles distant and there was no way of transportation except riding through the forest. Cedar Keys was about 75 miles by boat. The nearest store was a log house on the bay, 18 or 20 miles by water—the spot where Clearwater now stands. Obtaining meat was no great problem as the woods abounded in game—deer, turkey, squirrel, and quail, which afforded the young men a lot of sport. My mother had a pet deer. The soil was very productive.
News of this growing settlement began to spread and soon others were added to this little village. As the sponge industry expanded in Key West, the spongers went out in quest of other fields and discovered that off the coat of Anclote and Rock Island there were beds teeming with sponge of different varieties.
A large fleet of vessels began to appear, bringing men from the British West Indies and Key West. Over 90 per cent of these men were of English extraction and as they made frequent visits ashore they soon became acquainted with women of different backgrounds. In the course of time, many unions took place between these hardy men of the sea and gentle ladies of southern plantations. This combination of sailors and farmers produced the strain of citizenry that settled this party of the country. …
In 1878, Captain Samuel Hope came to Anclote from Brooksville, and as he had large family of boys and girls, who were fond of music, and a wife who played the piano, their home became quite a social center. Captain Hope, who was an ex-Confederate officer, was wounded on the battlefield during the War Between the States. Mrs. Sarah Meyer, my grandmother, left her piano on the plantation as there were no roads in her time—or suitable means of transportation. Later, Allan Hill came with his two daughters, so with the young people of the two Meyers families, life became more interesting for them. …
The historic Spanish Well was a familiar spot to the settlers of Anclote. Supposed to have been dug by the Spaniards, it was about one half mile west of the village near the mouth of the river. It was used for many years by spongers and other boatmen. Many pioneers have drunk water from it numberless times. It has long since disappeared from view, covered by erosion, high tides and mangrove bushes. How interesting it would be to have a marker on that historical spot, to commemorate the activities of the Spaniards and sailors of bygone days.
The Beginning of Anclote
The following is taken from Tarpon Springs Florida: The Early Years by Gertrude K. Stoughton.
In 1867 two men with their families and livestock left their plantations near Ocala and plodded down the primitive road to the north bank of the Anclote River, about three miles west of Tarpon Springs. They were the brothers Frederick and Ben Franklin Meyer; each of the wives was named Sarah. The Meyers obtained land from Captain Hope; they built log cabins, put in their first crops, and planted seeds of the oranges they had brought with them. Before long, however, both brothers died of yellow fever.
The widows and their half-grown children persevered in country so wild that they could hear wolves howl at night—and they never forgot it.
Although Ben Franklin Meyer had fought for the Confederacy, his widow received a small pension from the United States government because as a youth he had fought in the Mexican War. Although Mrs. Meyer had brought her sheets of piano music from Ocala, she was to be an old lady before she had a chance to play a piano in her new home.
Gradually a settlement grew up around the Meyer cabins and was called Anclote—centered on today’s Wacassassa, Seminole, and Osceola Streets. Traders, fishermen, and Key West spongers, many of them British, liked the friendly little homes and dropped in whenever they could. Soon there was a school, a ferry, a post office, and a general store.
Several well-to-do English families came to Anclote as part of a colonization scheme; they planned to drain the marshes and grow sugar cane. The ditches they dug are still there, but the cane was not successful. …
In 1887, however, it became evident that Tarpon Springs, not Anclote, would become a city, for the railroad went to Tarpon Springs. Anclote did share in the hustle and bustle of the sponge boom at Bailey’s Bluff during the 1890s, and the big W. W. K. Decker sponge house on the waterfront was a busy place.
During the Spanish-American War, Green Meyer became locally famous by getting pierced in five places allegedly by the same bullet, which he survived in excellent health.
Today the little community of Anclote has an abandoned chemical company on one side and an electric power plant on the other, but it remains tranquil and modestly residential.
Village a Memory of Days Gone By
The following article appeared in the Clearwater Sun on Nov. 6, 1983.
By CHARLES McKINNEY
ANCLOTE VILLAGE—Gone are the big commercial fishing ships, old stores, a post office, spreading farms, and most of the old-timers.
Small frame houses, shaded by giant oak trees, line winding streets. No signs announce the village. Folks around here simply know about this community tucked away in the extreme southwestern corner of Pasco County just across the Pinellas County line.
The small houses and the cemetery remain. And memories.
“There were 14 houses when I moved here in the early 1900s,” recalled Edgar Sapp, 87, who retired after 70 years as a commercial fisherman. He came from Port Richey—there was no New Port Richey back then—where he said he and his bride lived in the vacated family residence of A.M. Richey, the town’s namesake.
According to local historians, there was no Tarpon Springs until about 1875, and the closest town, accessible only through the forest, was Tampa. There was a store made from logs that offered staple food items. The store was in what is now Clearwater.
Progress in Anclote Village, population about 500, “has been good, for the better,” Sapp says. “Money isn’t worth a lot today, but you get more of it,” he said, after telling of bygone days when the going wage was a dollar or two daily.
He doesn’t go to the Anclote River anymore, he said, because commercial fishing “is gone. Just two part-time fishermen still try around here and they don’t do it regularly.”
Born in Bradenton, Sapp and his wife, who is in a New Port Richey nursing home, observed their 68th wedding anniversary in October. A brother and daughter are buried at Anclote Cemetery.
Another longtime resident, Henry Dix, 84, Sapp’s brother-in-law, lives right across Hickory Lane from Sapp. Down the lane about two blocks, lives another old-timer, Harry Johns, 72.
Johns, who was born in the house next to the one he lives in now, also is a retired commercial fisherman, an occupation he described as a “cruel, hard life.” His father was also a commercial fisherman.
Johns, too, said life today is better than what it was years ago. He spoke of two factors which, he believes, brought about the demise of the local fishing industry: the exodus of the big fish marketers years ago, and the reduced caused by dredging.
Like the Sapps, the Johns’ wedding anniversary is at hand. They will observe 50 years together Nov. 16. Again like the Sapps, the Johns have relatives at Anclote Cemetery—his father, mother and three brothers.
The cemetery is at the end of Cemetery Road. To residents of Anclote Village, burial there is free; others are asked to pay what Johns called a “donation” to help pay for cemetery upkeep. Village resident Rudy Jacobs maintains the cemetery.
Names of some original settlers are on tombstones: Tongay, Goethe, Thompson, Meyer. Fredrick Meyer, 1819-1869, was among the first to settle in Anclote, moving here in 1867. His house was about 100 yards west of the cemetery. His brother, Benjamin F., 1826-1871, arrived soon after.
Sounds of birds and crickets and, in autumn, a wind break the silence in the cemetery.
Encircled by a fence, the well-kept cemetery is surrounded by woods. And on a metal gate at the entrance is a sign that says “Keep Out.”
Group Is Preserving Old Anclote Cemetery
This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 25, 1976.
ANCLOTE VILLAGE—A group of concerned residents who live in this small community near the Anclote River have formed the Anclote Cemetery Association to preserve and care for the burial ground of their ancestors.
William Meyer and his sister Hazel Meyer Anderson say they are probably the only two direct descendants of the founders of this community who still live in the area.
Mrs. Anderson says the property where the cemetery is located belonged to the Meyer family. “Our father William Meyer died first so his brother Green Meyer gave the property for the cemetery. Our grandfather Frederick Meyer was the first person to be buried here back in 1869.”
The oldest date on an existing headstone is 1871. B. F. Meyer, born March 27, 1825, died Sept. 11, 1871. His wife Sarah A. Meyer is buried next to him. She was born June 14, 1831 and died April 15, 1892. The inscription on their stone reads, “Dear parents though we miss you much we know you rest with God.”
Meyer explains that his great uncle B. F. sailed his boat to Cedar Key to pick up building materials. At that time the railroad only came as far south as the key. “There was a yellow fever epidemic in Cedar Key when he got there and he contracted the fever,” Meyer said. “They say he kept saying he wanted to get home before he died and he made it home. This was back in 1871.”
Another stone of note is that of W. E. Weller, 1859-1936. Meyer says Weller was a captain and owned several ships that sailed from Tampa and New Orleans. “When his son Hiram was here putting up this monument to him, copied from the Washington monument, our house caught fire and my momma called and called, he heard her and ran over and put that fire out or we would have lost our home,” Meyer recalled.
“The cemetery was surveyed in August 1913 under the direction of the late L. D. Vinson who was the funeral director in Tarpon Springs. Originally there were about three acres.”
Through the efforts of Wayne Carey, trustee of the association, the deed for the cemetery was filed and recorded last year in Dade City. The association was formed with Gary Parnell as president; William Meyer, trustee; Hazel Meyer Anderson, vice president; and Alfred Lang, treasurer.
Carey says the association intends to continue taking care of the cemetery and plans are under way to put up a fence. “Anyone who lives in Anclote Village can be buried here, if that is their wish,” Carey said.
For the past month association members have devoted each Saturday to a clean-up campaign taking time out at noon for a picnic lunch under the ancient spreading oak trees.