Bailey’s Bluff

Some pictures are here. This page was last revised on Dec. 23, 2019.

The official spelling of this geographic feature is Baileys Bluff, as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The BGN discourages the use of the possessive in place names and thus does not include the apostrophe. Pasco County uses the spelling Baillie’s Bluff Road.

A 1981 article in the St. Petersburg Times has:

Bailey’s Bluff, sometimes known as Baillie’s Bluff Estates, is in the extreme southwest corner of Pasco County on the Gulf of Mexico. Bud Wonders and two partners were the original developers, and the first homes were built in the 1940s. Development was slowed because there was no water system and no real access roads. An unpaved wagon-type road (now County Road 76) ran from Tarpon Springs. Roads were paved in he late ’50s, bringing more building to the bluff. In the mid ’70s, Strauber Memorial was paved to give access to U. S. 19. Spring pines dot the entire area and have been saved by the residents and developers. About half of the lots are still undeveloped.There are 74 families living at Bailey’s Bluff, and there are two homes under construction. There is a private beach that houses the Bailey’s Bluff Civic Association headquarters.

History of Tarpon Springs by R. F. Pent has: “Baillie’s Bluff became a center of great activity. The boats from Key West, Apalachicola and Tarpon deposited their sponge there for safekeeping. There arose a great need for handling mail, so a postoffice was established and named Security. Otis Baker was the postmaster.”

Tales of West Pasco by Ralph Bellwood has: “The story about a church being located on the Bluff has some remote truth to it. It was not an organized church but rather an open pavilion with a floor and roof with a rail around it to keep people from falling off if they got too close to the edge.”

The Sponge Fishery of Florida in 1900 by John Nathan Cobb has:

For a number of years many of the “bay” spongers had their kraals at the north end of Anclote Key. As these were exposed to the full force of the wind when blowing from certain directions, considerable loss was sustained on several occasions by the storms washing the sponges out of the kraals and carrying them out to sea. Owing to this the kraals were removed in 1890 to Baileys Bluff, on the mainland about 2 miles north of the mouth of the Anclote River. In 1900 certain of the spongers became dissatisfied and established kraals at Sawyers, about half a mile nearer the Anclote River. The latter are sometimes called the “Cabbage kraals,” from a large cabbage palm standing on the beach just opposite the kraals. At Baileys Bluff there are about 85 kraals, while at Sawyers there are about 40.

West Pasco’s Heritage has: “In the early 1890’s one of the most severe hurricanes ever to hit the coast struck at Bailey’s Bluff destroying piers, warehouses, curing racks and drove the spongers to seek a safer shelter farther south. They moved to the bayous of the Anclote River near Tarpon Springs and Tarpon became the home of the sponge industry from that time on in history.” Hurricanes affected the Gulf coast of Florida in Sept. 1894 and Oct. 1896; presumably the entry refers to one of these dates.

However, a different explanation for the move is found in a Sept. 28, 1897, newspaper article:

For many years the principal dredging has been in progress at Bailey’s point. Now, however, the crews of the sponging vessels have begun to remove their kraals to Anclote key. Several reasons are given for the change in place of operations, the most important of which is the fact that the water around Bailey’s point was being used too rapidly on account of the large number of sponging men there. There are many kraals at Sea Horse key also, but they are used only in winter, when the spongers take a long southern trip. Mr. Decker, one of the prominent sponge men of the state, recently shipped in one day 19 bales of sponges that, according to the prevailing prices, were valued at $7,000.

Sept. 23, 1880. A newspaper reports, “The sponge schooners have two places for cleaning sponges, namely, Anclote Keys and Rock Island.”

Sept. 1888. A coast chart issued at this time shows Bailey’s Bluff.

June 9, 1896. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports:

A big fight between Key West and Tarpon Springs negroes occurred at Bailey’s Point in Pasco County, a place four miles above the mouth of the Anclote river, on Saturday afternoon. The spongers had come into the cralling place at that point to deposit the cash, when a difficulty occurred between a negro who resided at Tarpon Springs and one that lived in Key West. They decided to fight it out fairly, and the Key West negro got licked. This enraged his comrades and several of them jumped on the Tarpon negro and he drove a dangerous knife into the hip and spine of one of the assaulting party. One report is that the negro is dead, but it has not been confirmed. Marshal Brown, of Tarpon Springs, who is also a deputy sheriff, arrested the Tarpon negro, and carried him to Dade City, as the crime was committed in Pasco county. The names of the negroes could not be learned as they are all spongers, and but little is known of them locally.

July 4, 1897. A report on a survey of the Anclote River has:

At Anclote, on the north side of the river and 2 miles inside the bar, and at Sponge Harbor, on the opposite shore, are large warehouses, where nearly all of the sponges are clipped and baled for shipment. As there is insufficient water in the river to bring the sponging vessels to these points, the fleet anchors about 1 mile north of the river at Bailey Point and discharges its cargo by the use of rowboats into large kraals near the shore. From this point the sponges are towed in lighters to the above-mentioned warehouses, which, necessarily, is a slow and expensive arrangement.

April 17, 1900. A newspaper reports, “Rev. J. C. Porter returned Monday from Tarpon Springs, where he held services Sunday. An important feature of the day was a trip to the gulf, six miles down the Anclote river, at its mouth, where a building was dedicated for religious worship, for the use of the sponge fishermen of that important rendezvous. One hundred sponge boats were present with 1000 persons to take part in the exercises. Miss Sterling of Philadelphia was the prime mover in securing this building and assisted in dedicating it to the spiritual welfare of the sponge wayfarers of the gulf. The sponge industry is in a flourishing condition and the returns are large.”

1902. A document, “An Account of the Pavilion Church and Reading Room for Sponge Fishermen, both white and colored, on the Gulf of Mexico at Bailey’s Bluff, Pasco County, Florida, founded by Emma M. Stirling, March 1900,” is published. Emma M. Stirling (1838-1907) was a Scottish woman who wintered in Tampa.

April 15, 1902. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports:

Miss Emma Stirling, whom many in the city already know through her work with bands of mercy, has recently returned to Tampa from a visit to Tarpon Springs. At that place she has put up a pavilion church and reading room for the sponge fishermen. The building is 75×50 feet in size and the permanent tables, chairs, and benches are just now being put in. The building is well insured. It is located at Bailey’s Bluff. The ground about it has been cleared, flowers are to be grown, and the spot will be very attractive. Now gifts of papers and magazines that have been read are asked for, and a place to which they can be sent will be decided upon. Miss Stirling will pay the necessary expense of postage and express. At one place where such a request was made the lady says that people must have emptied their houses of every scrap of literature that could be spared, and a fine amount was collected. It is a good work and will probably meet a friendly response. Other adornment of the building will be placards ordered by the lady from New York, bearing the “Apostle’s Creed,” “Ten Commandments,” “Lord’s Prayer,” “Beatitudes” and “Twenty-third Psalm.” Mr. A. E. Drew will superintend the work now, though it is union in character.

Jan. 13, 1903. The Tampa Morning Tribune mentions that Miss Stirling established “a Church Pavilion and Reading Room for the sponge fishermen at Bailey’s Bluff, Pasco county, which is a great pleasure and benefit to the men for whom it was built.”

April 21, 1904. In “Fifty Years of a Sponge Fisher’s Life,” The Independent, April 21, 1904, Carlos Barker writes:

But the Pavilion? It was Miss Stirling that got that for us. She was down here spending her first winter, when she used to visit the kraals and the Bluff, and see how lonesome and dull the men were on Saturdays and Sundays; nowhere to go, nothing to do when we were through cleaning. Just sleeping on our boats at night, and in the day-time, if it wasn’t work, just loafing around our sponge-piles, or the keeper’s shack, till it was time to start on another week’s round.

The first thing we knew, Miss Stirling had started a fund for a Pavilion up here above the kraals. She put in a good deal of money herself, and got some from people a long way off, then some from the boat-owners in Key West and other ports. When the building was well begun she came among us for contributions, and we gave her whatever we could. She gives us credit for helping lots. That was three winters ago. In a few months it was finished up, and you see now we’ve got something to be proud of and enjoy forever. Why, I expect my children’s children to get good out of that Pavilion.

You don’t wonder I like to say it over and over, “Thank God, they built the Pavilion in my day!”

April 26, 1905. The Tampa Morning Tribune reports that “a colored sponger, Alfred Sunders, was drowned Sunday night on his way back to the schooner ‘Impulse,’ from Bailey’s Bluff.”

May 19, 1905. The Tampa Morning Tribune carries an appeal from Miss Stirling “in behalf of the Pavilion church and reading-room for sponge fishermen at Bailey’ Bluff on the Gulf of Mexico.’ (Frances Mallett recalls that the pavilion was still standing in the early 1930s.)

Oct. 6, 1918. The Tampa Morning Tribune has: “LOCAL NOTICE TO MARINERS. Florida—Gulf coast—Anclote anchorage. Turn beacon and Bailey’s Bluff beacon reported down on September 28, 1918, will be replaced as soon as practicable, without further notice.”

Book Excerpt

The following is taken from Tarpon Springs Florida: The Early Years by Gertrude K. Stoughton.

For some fifteen years the center of the Florida mainland sponge industry was at Bailey’s Bluff just north of the Anclote River mouth. Nothing remains today to show that it was ever there. …

During the nineties the land belonged to Samuel Baker of Elfers, who leased it first to Cheyney and then to Wyatt Meyer for a sponge market. Meyer built a long wharf jutting into the Gulf, with a water tank at the end, and set up crawls which he rented to boat owners. He also built a dwelling house for his family, and a little house for the watchman, and he had a general store with a post office named Security.

Sometimes fifty sails dotted the water, as the men in their dinghies poked and probed with their longpoles. They wore yellow oilskins and blue denim. Some of the crews were experienced Bahamian or Key West Negroes and some were Florida “crackers,” new to the trade but quick to learn.

The sales were held outdoors, where the cleaned sponges were piled up under the trees. There was one packing house at the Bluff, but most of the sponges were hauled in rack-sided wagons to the packing houses in Tarpon Springs. The major buyers were Cheyney and Ernest Meres, but the list must include A. P. Beckett, John B. Cowsert, W. W. K. Decker, Leon S. Fernald, G. A. (Bert) Louden, Duncan Morrison, Arthur Pinder, and several more.

Also at the Bluff was a large tabernacle where services were held on Sundays. Many townspeople attended, bringing picnic lunches to eat under the trees. Some of them still remember the rich and powerful voices of the blacks singing, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

Rounding the curve to the left were the small Lone Cabbage and Union crawls, and then Decker’s packing house at Anclote.

Across the river from Anclote was a small community called Sponge Harbor, and this was the mooring place for many of the boats that worked out of Bailey’s Bluff. There was a long wharf, marine ways, and a two-story dwelling house and general store. There were also a few streets and blocks of houses for the black sponge men. No trace of this place remains today. [The area is currently known as Point Alexis.]

All the sponge beds in the Gulf of Mexico had long been claimed by the Key West spongers, including those north of Anclote Key, and when the first men from Bailey’s Bluff put out to sea, the “Conchs” attacked them like a swarm of hornets. There were many small rough battles, and many beatings and boat burnings; but the local men learned to stick together and fight back, and proved as tough as their assailants.

From the beginning Cheyney had pursued a peaceful policy—there were sponges enough for all. He approached Aram Arapian, the Key West sponge magnate, with offers to share the facilities at Bailey’s Bluff. The rivalry continued, however, until the Spanish American War, when the Spanish fleet was known to be cruising somewhere in the Gulf; and at that time the whole Key West sponge operation was moved to the comparative safety of the Bluff.

They might have remained after the war, but Arapian wished to hold an unchallenged position in the south, and his men had a fierce island loyalty. The Key Westers went home, and renewed their attacks on their recent hosts.

In spite of constant harassment, however, the Bailey’s Bluff sponge business was successful. Over $1,000,000 worth of sponge is said to have been shipped by Cheyney alone by 1901.

Lost Paradise Comes To Light In Bailey’s Bluff Development (1956)

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on April 1, 1956.

NEW PORT RICHEY – A lost paradise came to light last week with the completion of 3½ miles of new road from U.S. 19 to Bailey’s Bluff on the coast.

The area, heavily wooded with large oaks, is the highest land on the Florida West Coast and in the early 1880s was the hub of the Florida sponge trade, which then supported a fleet of 200 sponge boats.

A decade later a hurricane hit the settlement, destroying piers, warehouses, and curing racks, and drove the spongers to seek shelter in the bayous of the Anclote River five miles to the south at Tarpon Springs.

The Bluffs finally faded from sight when in 1916 the heart of the district became a part of an entailed estate that was not to be settled until the youngest minor became of age; then, for nearly 20 years after the entailment was lifted the estate trustees refused all offers for the property.

E. J. Harrison, president of the Pasco County Board of Realtors, had in past years, like many others, written the estate asking if the trustees would consider an offer for the property, and like many others, had been told the property was not for sale. On a quiet day early last summer Harrison received in his morning mail a listing for the sale of the Bluffs. Immediately phones began to ring and before the close of business that day, Harrison, with his associates, Harry A. Summers and E. D. (Bud) Wonders had purchased the tract.

The Harrison organization is now developing a hundred acres, calling it The Bailey’s Bluff Estates. They have completed the building of 5½ miles of shell roads, with 66-foot wide right of way. The property is subdivided into 289 lots, of which 280 are waterfront. The natural contour of the land is in three ridges of 15 to 40 foot elevation, paralleling the coast. Between the ridges, Harrison is digging three large bayous, connected with canals from the Gulf. These man-made waterways lying behind high ridges will give wonderful protection to all boats during storms that draw less than four feet of water at low tide.

The minimum lot frontage is (illegible) feet, and all are highly restricted. This week contractors started building a $22,000 residence for Fred Hubble of this city, with Walter A. Gibson of St. Petersburg have one planned.

The official opening of the development will not be (illegible) the utilities we in. The power and telephone companies expect to have their lines completed by mid-April. Pre-opening sales have been made to local people who were familiar with the property. Some of the early buyers are R. A. Cooper, president of Gulf State Bank, New Port Richey; J. L. Polson, Dade City commissioner and executive of the Pasco Packing Company; W. E. Vinson, Elfers citrus grower; Dr. George S. Rothmeyer, surgeon, St. Petersburg; Stanley Cochrane, former Pasco County commissioner; and Mike Summers, superintendent Michigan State Game Conservation Commission.

The Harrison organization is somewhat novel in this day of branch and tract offices, large roadside signs and flamboyant display advertising, which is being generally used by real estate developers, particularly in selling large subdivisions when the price range is over $3,000 a lot. Harrison plans no increase in his organization nor does he intend to carry more than the normal advertising program. He put his sales philosophy into words when he said, “Once in a coon’s age a real estate man gets a natural and when he does there is no necessity to saddle the property with a big promotion budget, as there are thousands of potential buyers hunting the right property.”

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