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Oldest park in unincorporated Pinellas gets historic recognition

Mark Parker

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Pinellas County Commissioner and Chair of the Pinellas Historic Preservation Board Charlie Justice addresses the crowd during the unveiling of the Crystal Beach historic marker. Photo courtesy of Pinellas County.

The oldest park in unincorporated Pinellas county recently got its day in the sun, as Crystal Beach received a long-awaited historical marker and designation.

The Pinellas Historic Preservation Board and Pinellas Board of County Commissioners dedicated a Florida Historical Marker at Gulf Shore Park in Crystal Beach on Saturday, the latest effort to recognize historical locations in Pinellas County and preserve them for generations to come.

County Commission Chair Dave Eggers, Commissioner and Preservation Board Chair Charlie Justice and County Administrator Barry Burton were on hand to unveil the historical plaque highlighting the area’s rich history.

“I think it speaks to a community when you really want to recognize the culture and the history in the community,” said Eggers. “And I know throughout our 24 cities and unincorporated Pinellas County, we’re looking for opportunities like that every day.”

Situated just west of Palm Harbor and lining the shore of St. Joeseph’s Sound, Crystal Beach is one of Pinellas County’s first communities. As stated in the marker, the first settlers came to the area around 1850. John E. Rebstock of Fort Erie, Ontario, is credited with founding Crystal Beach in 1911, borrowing the name of the much colder beachfront community he developed years earlier along the shore of Lake Erie.

In 1912, developers Dr. J.D. Hanby and A.D. Powers of the Crystal Beach Development Co. laid out plans for the community’s construction, including streets on a grid system and a park bordering the Gulf of Mexico. With an eye towards future development, Hanby and Powers stated that this parcel of land – later named Gulf Shore Park – should forever remain a public entity.

In marketing material from 1927, the early developers wrote, “this park is for all the people all the time. It is the front yard of Crystal Beach, and you are always welcome to come and enjoy the sunsets and cooling breezes.”

That mission statement has stood the test of time, as over a century later, the Gulf Shore Park sits unspoiled in the rapidly growing county, welcoming new generations to enjoy the waterfront while preserving the character of Crystal Beach.

Justice noted that preserving the area’s history is so essential to Pinellas’ identity that it is part of the county’s comprehensive plan.

“We embedded it in our government documents, that historic preservation is important,” said Justice. “And it’s not about just putting up a plaque … it’s about telling our story.

“It’s about telling our story for future generations, telling our story from family to family and neighbor to neighbor.”

Justice added that the county is experiencing dramatic development and renovations, making it more critical to preserve historical resources that have remained untouched, such as Gulf Shore Park. That is the preservation board’s central focus, and Justice explained the board is a certified local government in historic preservation, allowing it to receive grants and resources from the state and federal government.

“We had to go through a lot of work with the state Department of Historic Resources to get this approved, to get this printed, and to get this sent to us and erected,” said Justice. “These markers help tell the story of each little community. Whether it’s for residents walking by or tourists or generations to come, it tells that story, and we think that’s really important.”

Eggers also noted he has been in discussions to explore incorporating the county’s historical landmarks into the local tourism industry, akin to ecotours with a historic and cultural component.

“Because whether it’s folks from within the county or visiting, that’s something that people love to do,” he said. “And I think it speaks to who we are as well.”

 

 

 

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