When this area was known only to the Native Americans, clear springs gurgled from the banks into the bay. The springs, long since gone, were located along the high bluffs upon which City Hall and downtown Clearwater are now situated. Early settlers called it Clear Water Harbor, by which it was known until 1895 when Clearwater became one word. Harbor was dropped in 1906.
Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez came to the Pinellas peninsula in 1528. The exact place he first stepped is disputed, but may have been Clear Water Harbor. Narvaez later perished in a storm after crossing Florida on foot with a party of soldiers.
In 1539, Hernando De Soto landed at Tampa Bay. He later died near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Pedro Menendez arrived in 1567 searching for a route across Florida. He brought 10 missionaries to establish missions throughout the area. One of their Jesuit missions was established at Safety Harbor. Those who remained with this mission later perished in battles with the natives, who had been mistreated by previous exploration parties. White settlers did not return to this area until the 1800s.
Florida became a territory in 1822. During the Seminole Indian Wars of 1835, the government built the original Fort Harrison as a recuperation Center for soldiers, and not as a defensive fort. It was located on the bluffs where Harbor Oaks is now. The fort was abandoned in 1841, and is commemorated by a plaque on Druid Road in downtown Clearwater.
The first blacks came to the area with Narvaez's exploration party. The first white settler was French Dr. Odet Philippe, who had served under Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte. He established St. Helena Plantation in what is now Safety Harbor, and raised citrus. His daughter married Richard Booth, and these pioneering families' names are still well known in Clearwater.
The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave 160 acres to any head of family or single man over 18 who would bear arms and cultivate the land. The "father of Clearwater," James Stevens, and Samuel Stevenson were among the first settlers. After a visit in 1841, James Parramore McMullen and his six brothers settled in the Clearwater area. They and their descendants held many important governmental positions throughout the early years.
Most settlers farmed vegetables and cotton. Fish were plentiful. A hurricane in 1846 and a vicious storm in 1848 were among the hardships. The first paper, "The Clear Water Times," was established by Rev. C.S. Reynolds.
When the first narrow gauge railroad was built in 1888, the Clear Water Harbor community had about 18 families. Henry Plant, the foremost Central and West Florida developer of the time, later built a standard gauge railroad through Pinellas County. To boost his passenger business, he built several grand resort hotels, including the Belleview Biltmore in 1897.
Clearwater grew steadily throughout the early part of the century. Tourists and settlers were drawn to the area because of the climate and toutings of early developers and speculators. The Florida real estate boom began in earnest in 1921 and peaked in 1925. The bottom fell out in the bust of 1927, foreshadowing the 1929 market crash and nationwide depression.
When the "Pinellas Point" was first settled, it was Western Hillsborough County. As Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg and other communities grew, so did the clamor for independence. It was a day-long trip to travel to the courthouse in Tampa. By act of the Legislature, Pinellas County was created on Jan. 1, 1912. Clearwater was the county seat.
The city of Clearwater was incorporated on May 27, 1915. The library was built in 1916 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. In the same year, the city built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach, opening it up for development. Morton F. Plant, the son of the illustrious Henry Plant, donated and raised money for the first hospital in 1914.
The population continued to steadily climb. After World War II, a number of soldiers who had trained here returned to live. The Philadelphia Phillies professional baseball team began spring training in the 1940s. From 1950, with 15,000 residents, the population continued to burgeon until it reached the number of citizens that we have today.
For additional information, please visit the Clearwater Historical Society Website.