History of Clearwater

Literally translated “Clear Water” from the Native American Indian “Pocotopaug,” Clearwater was named for the abundant fresh springs located along the high bluffs upon which City Hall and downtown Clearwater are now situated.

In 1822, Florida became a territory, and the Clearwater area began to be settled by colonists in the mid-1830s. The first white settler was a French doctor, Conte Odet Philippe, who was the chief surgeon in Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte’s navy. Philippe was the first person to introduce citrus culture to the area by establishing the St. Helena Plantation and first grapefruit grove in an area that is known today as Safety Harbor. Philippe Park, also in Safety Harbor, was part of the original plantation from which several citrus trees still remain.

During the Seminole Indian Wars of 1835, the government built the original Fort Harrison as a recuperation center for soldiers. It was located on the bluffs where Harbor Oaks is today. The fort was abandoned in 1841 and is commemorated by a plaque on Druid Road in downtown Clearwater. The area at this time was known as Clear Water Harbor. “Harbor” was dropped in 1906.

The Federal Armed Occupation Act of 1842 gave 160 acres to any head of family or single man over the age of 18 who would bear arms and cultivate the land. Most settlers farmed vegetables and cotton.

When the first narrow gauge railroad was built in 1888, the Clear Water Harbor community consisted of about 18 families. Henry Plant, the foremost central and west Florida developer of the time, built a standard gauge railroad throughout Florida, including Pinellas County. To boost his passenger business, Plant built several grand resort hotels, among them the Belleview Biltmore, completed in 1897. (Plant was also responsible for building the Tampa Bay Hotel between 1888 and 1891. The Tampa Bay Hotel, with its distinctive Moorish-style minarets, has become an icon and symbol of Tampa, and is now owned by the University of Tampa.)

As Clear Water became known as Clearwater (in 1895), the region became more popular as a resort destination and the area’s population grew steadily. Florida’s first real estate “boom” began in 1921, peaked in 1925 and crashed in 1928, foreshadowing the 1929 market crash and nationwide Great Depression. Pinellas County was created by an act of the Legislature in January of 1912, and Clearwater became the county seat. The city of Clearwater was incorporated in May of 1915. In 1916, the city built the first wooden bridge to Clearwater Beach, opening it up for development.

After World War II, many soldiers who had trained in the area returned here to live. And in 1947, Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, the oldest one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports, began spring training in Clearwater and have been here ever since.

Since 1950, when Clearwater counted approximately 15,000 residents, the population has continued to burgeon until it reached 108,000 people who call Clearwater home (according to the 2010 U.S. Census); that number increases by about 20,000 during the winter months.